Fishing in Maine :
Information below was provided by A Fisherman's Guide to Maine.
By the early 1600’s, a number of settlements had been established along the south coast between Kittery and Casco Bay. In 1639, Royal Governor Ferdinando Gorges officially declared that this territory would be called the Province of Maine. Most early inhabitants were either tenant farmers from Europe who wanted to own a piece of land or people trying to escape religious persecution. Making a life here wasn’t easy though, and historians estimate that the combined effects of the harsh climate, lack of food and conflicts with Indians caused half of these early settlers to die within their first five years of residency.
Travel between settlements was also difficult, and mostly done by either footpath or boat. In an attempt to promote colonization, a road that could accommodate horses and allow for delivery of mail was established between Boston and Portland in 1707. During the next century, a network of inns and taverns that provided travelers with food and lodging was also built. These developments prompted the construction of many new homesteads within close proximity of the road and established this region as the heart of colonial Maine.
Sawmills in York, Berwick, Wells and Falmouth established lumbering as the first major industry in this area. Limestone and granite quarries also provided many jobs. Most people who settled here however, made their living as farmers, who chopped and burned the trees from the land, and grew crops in the soil that was left behind. During the peak of colonization that occurred during the 50 years that followed the Revolutionary War, thousands of acres of land were cleared annually. Many early diaries describe smoke-filled skies that persisted for months over southern Maine, and floods that carried large burdens of ash and soil into the area’s streams.
In addition to causing these profound environmental disturbances, colonization also led to the introduction of exotic warm water species such as perch, pickerel and bass to southern Maine waters. The combined effects of these actions resulted in the destruction of most local brook trout fisheries by the time that Maine joined the Union in 1820.
The saltwater fisheries in this area held up much better to this initial barrage of human activity. In fact, striped bass and Atlantic salmon were so plentiful, that for many years colonial law stipulated that indentures could not be forced to eat them more than six times per week. Alewives and shad were even more abundant, and frequently were netted in the spring for use as fertilizer. Early writings indicate that this astounding bounty of anadromous fish seemed inexhaustible to many early settlers. Less than a century later however, these runs were nearly completely destroyed by the dams and pollution of the Industrial Revolution.
One place that managed to avoid many of the hardships that plagued the other fisheries in southern Maine was Sebago Lake. Sebago is one of the four original homes of landlocked salmon in Maine and historically was known as a lake that produced very large fish. The first written account of a Sebago salmon is in the 1825 diary of novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne who wrote, “On the way home from Frye’s Island, Mr. Ring caught a black-spotted trout that was almost a whale. It weighed, before it was cut open, eighteen and one-half pounds.” Another account from a few years later states, “Acres of water were boiling with smelts and salmon but a boat’s length away, and very ordinary and everyday fishermen were reeling in from twelve to eighteen pound fish.” Salmon up to 20 pounds continued to be taken from Sebago through the early 1900’s. But by 1950, the size of the average fish had dropped to below 4 pounds.
Around 1960, salmon fishing on Sebago reached an all-time low. So for the next three years, the Department of Inland Fisheries conducted a study to explore the reason for this decline. They discovered that the widespread aerial spraying of a little known insecticide called DDT caused a dramatic drop in reproduction and growth rates of salmon and a number of other animals. These findings, along with Maine author Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, contributed greatly to the environmental movement that blossomed throughout the country a few years later.
Because of it’s size, the easiest way to discuss fishing on Sebago is to outline the opportunities that are available within reasonable distances of the major access points. On the north end of the lake, a heavily used boat launch can be found just off Route 302 at Sebago Lake State Park. This area is popular because it is located at the mouth of the Songo River, which supports a heavy run of smelts, and attracts large numbers of hungry salmon in the spring. On weekends during April and May, it’s not unusual to find 50 boats working sewn smelts or tandem streamer flies back and forth across the dropoff at the mouth of the river. Early season trolling here can be a slow, bone-chilling experience if the fish aren’t feeding and I have been skunked on several occasions. Anglers who are on the water early and put in their time however, often get rewarded with some of their biggest fish of the season.
Another productive area for trolling can be found along the west-side of Cape Raymond, from the Notch that separates it from Frye’s Island through the Dingley Islands. This area can be reached either from the state park or a launch site at Sebago Lake Basin that is located just off the White’s Bridge Road. Legendary guide Art Libby fished this area for many years and felt that the key to success here was keeping your offerings close to shore. He often said that, “early in the season, the smelt ain’t out in deep water, and neither are the salmon.” Over the years, I’ve found this to be excellent advice and caught many fish within 10-feet of the rocks.
The best access to the southern part of the lake is from the boat launch at Sebago Lake Station. In the spring, salmon can be spread along the southwestern shoreline from the Lower Bay all the way to Ward’s Cove. Over the years, dozens of fly patterns like the Miss Sharon, Senator Muskie, Bibeau Killer and Green Wonder have been devised by prominent fishermen such as Art Libby, Bob Bibeau and Carroll Cutting to fool Sebago salmon. Live smelts, Rapalas, Mooselook Wobblers and Cecil’s Smelts have also taken countless numbers of fish. Despite this disparity in terminal tackle, one golden rule that many people follow is that trolling speed should be slow immediately after ice out and increase proportionally with the water temperature. Once a thermocline becomes established, many anglers on the south end of the lake switch to deep-trolling for togue in the vicinity of the Camel’s Pasture.
The most innocent looking hotspot on the entire lake is the 300-yards of shoreline adjacent to the dock at Sebago Station. This area is particularly good in the fall, and several years ago, I landed three 20 inch salmon in just a couple hours of fishing during the extended catch and release season in October. This section of the lake is characterized by a gradually sloping gravel beach and has no inlet or outlet, so to someone not familiar with its reputation, it looks very ordinary. In fact, the first time I ever visited this spot, I walked out on the dock, took a quick look in the water, and left without even rigging up my rod. According to biologist John Boland, “What makes this particular place special, is that this is where many hatchery-reared salmon are released; and each fall, many of them return back, looking for a place to spawn.” Trying to pinpoint one fly that works best is difficult, because I’ve seen fish taken on everything from small nymphs to large marabou streamers. Probably the most reliable method is to fish small attractors like the Pink Lady or Mickey Finn on a sinking line under low-light conditions.
Sebago Area Rivers
Department of Inland Fisheries statistics indicate that nearly 35% of the salmon caught in Sebago Lake are wild fish that have been produced in the Crooked River. Thus, my favorite time to fish here is in the fall, when many large salmon leave the lake and head upriver to spawn. Since the water flow is not regulated by dams, the key to late season success here is timing your visit to coincide with a flush of rain that will trigger fish to move into the river. When you hit it right, salmon can be found anywhere in the 12 miles between the Route 302 bridge and Bolsters Mills. The river is sand-bottomed and fairly shallow throughout most of this area, so fish tend to congregate in deep corner pools that have some current moving through them. Frequently, I will use a bright marabou streamer to prospect likely looking water for signs of fish, and then switch over to smaller nymphs if they are reluctant to take the larger fly. Since the Crooked is a narrow river whose banks are lined with deciduous hardwoods, getting your fly fouled by leaves and floating debris is an annoying problem that you will often encounter during the fall season.
Two other smaller tributaries on the north end of Sebago Lake are the Muddy River in South Naples and Panther Run in Raymond. Both these places are early season fisheries that are dependent on a strong flow of water to draw fish into them from the lake. Each year however, a number of salmon are taken by anglers who work streamer flies along the edges of the fast water below the Muddy River bridge and in the pools below the dam on Panther Run. Later in the season, Panther Run also receives a generous stocking of brook trout that usually provides fast fishing throughout the river for a couple of weeks.
The Presumpscot River forms the outlet of Sebago Lake and represents the only season-long river fishery in the drainage. Most angling takes place within 2 miles of the lake in the Eel Weir by-pass section of the river. This is a relatively new fishery, because up until 1992, virtually all of the outflow from Sebago Lake was diverted into a man-made canal for hydroelectric generation. Since minimum flow rates were mandated as part of a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dam relicensing agreement, the Department of Inland Fisheries has managed the upper Presumpscot as a cold water fishery with great success.
According to biologist Francis Brautigam, “Because of its close proximity to the Portland area, the department’s goal for this revitalized section of river is to provide a high quality cold water fishing experience for the maximum number of anglers possible. And, the best way to do this is through liberal stocking and fairly restrictive regulations.” Right now, the river is stocked 8 times per year, primarily with brook and brown trout that range from 8 to18”, and is open year-round to fly-fishing only. Despite heavy fishing pressure, this short stretch of river elicits many favorable comments from the anglers who fish here.
I usually visit the upper Presumpscot after most of my favorite northern haunts have closed in the fall. October through early December is a great time to be on this river and I have caught trout on dry flies here until well after Halloween. A gravel parking area on the south side of Route 35 is the main access point, and a number of productive runs and pools can be reached by walking a short distance up or downstream. Because of its crystal clear water and heavy fishing pressure, nymphs fished with a strike indicator, or small wet flies and emergers are usually the most effective way to catch these wary trout.
Brook trout are also stocked in the spring below three other dams located on the next 7 miles of the Presumpscot River. But, since minimum flow requirements have not been mandated, these stretches become too warm and dewatered to hold trout in the summer. In a recent conversation, biologist John Boland told me that his department is working toward having minimum flows established for these dams and hopes to eventually establish quality coldwater fisheries here.
The final Sebago area fishery of note is the Pleasant River in Windham. A 2 mile stretch from Route 302 to the River Road is frequently stocked with oversized brook and brown trout, and is restricted to catch and release fishing with artificial lures only. Bucktail streamers like the Little Brook Trout and Warden’s Worry, along with wet flies and nymphs produce well for April fly fishermen, while small Roostertails, Mepps spinners and Al’s goldfish are popular with spin fishers. Hatches usually begin by early May and provide dry fly fishermen with plenty of action on fish that can be seen rising in the tailouts of many of the larger pools.
Sebago Area Lakes
To help narrow down a nearly overwhelming number of choices, I asked biologist John Boland to list his favorite Sebago area lakes according to fish species. For both salmon and togue, he liked Thompson, Kezar and Lake Auburn. He also added the Ossipee Lakes to his salmon list and liked Great East Lake for togue. Selecting brown trout fisheries was more difficult, but eventually Mousam and Crystal Lakes, along with Hancock and the Range Ponds emerged as his top choices. Other popular local salmonid waters include Moose, Trickey, Cushman and Bryant Ponds. Since warm water species can be found throughout this region, John felt that highlighting just a handful of lakes might be a bit misleading. Eventually though, he picked Little Sebago, Long, Lovewell and Androscoggin Lake as his top-rated bass, pickerel and perch fisheries.
Conspicuously absent from this list is Square Pond in Shapleigh, which has a well-deserved reputation for producing large brown trout. Despite being fairly heavily developed, this 950 acre pond regularly yields fish in excess of 5 pounds, and in 1996 produced a state record brown that weighed an amazing 23.8 pounds. The main reasons for the preponderance of large fish here is that landlocked alewives were introduced as a forage fish in the early 1980’s and the state stocking program was discontinued shortly thereafter because the public access site to the pond was lost. This produced an environment that provided the limited number of trout in the pond with a nearly unlimited food supply and allowed them to grow at phenomenal at a rate. This situation is changing however, because the state recently purchased a site for a new boat launch and will probably resume stocking. For several years though, it was interesting to see how large an ordinary stocked brown trout could grow if it was left alone in a favorable environment.
The introduction of landlocked alewives also benefited several other local lakes that lacked enough smelts to support their cold water fisheries. For example, less than 5 years after alewives were introduced into Kezar Lake, the catch rate for salmon nearly doubled and the size of the average fish increased by 3 inches. Improvements have also been noted on Mousam Lake, and Hancock and Crystal Ponds. Based on these results, the Department of Inland Fisheries will continue to look for lakes in this area that might benefit from the introduction of alewives. It is important for these introductions to take place in a deliberate, well thought out manner however, because there is always risk involved when transplanting species.
My favorite place to be at ice-out is Lake Auburn. Located just beyond the border of the state’s third largest metropolitan area, this 2,300 acre body of water might seem like an unlikely spot for a quality fishery. But Lake Auburn has always had a healthy population of smelts that allowed its togue and salmon to grow to bragging size. And, since it serves as the water supply for the cities of Lewiston and Auburn, it is closed to ice fishing and has a number of other restrictions.
This lake gets heavily fished starting at midnight of opening day when bank fishermen line up along Lake Shore Drive to plunk jack smelts and shiners along the edge of the receding ice. I usually wait at least until there is enough open water to launch a 12 foot boat at the landing on Route 4 and troll around Salmon Point up to the inlet in North Auburn. Live or sewn smelt fished slowly on a sinking line is usually the most reliable way to catch early season salmon and togue. But once the water warms up a bit, tandem streamers like the Nine-Three and Umbagog Smelt, along with Rapalas and Mooselook Wobblers also produce their share of fish.
SOUTHERN MAINE RIVERS
St. George and Sheepscot
The St. George is the better known of these waters, and flows nearly 30 miles from the outlet of St. George Lake in Liberty, until it reaches tidewater in Warren. Brown trout are the primary target for most fishermen here, and some of the deep pools in the hard-to-reach sections of the river can hold gorgeous fish up to 20 inches. When the water level is good, the 4-mile stretch between Searsmont and North Appleton is a great place to spend a day float-fishing from a canoe. The only serious white water is the 200-yard run that is located immediately above the Ghent Road Bridge. After scouting, if you decide it looks too difficult, you can line your canoe down along the west-bank. Of course, you can also catch plenty of trout simply by wading the shallow riffles and pocketwater near the bridges. But I find that the extra effort required to take a canoe through this section is worth it, because many of the best holding pools are away from the road.
Other St. George hotspots include a one-mile section between Appleton and Sennebec Pond, the runs below the outlet of Sennebec Pond, the small stretch of moving water between Round and Seven Tree Pond and the deep holes between the Middle Road and Warren Village. Along with brown trout, these lower sections also produce lots of smallmouth and largemouth bass, pickerel and white perch. In fact, white perch can be so numerous, that during their spawning runs in early May, people flock to popular locations like Ayer Park in Union to fill 5-gallon buckets with these tasty fish.
The Sheepscot River contains brown trout, brook trout and a few salmon in both its main stem and West Branch. Much of the river is lined with dense vegetation and is tough to navigate with a canoe. A number of paved roads and trails criss-cross the area from Palermo to Whitefield though, so anglers willing to beat the bushes can usually find a productive place to fish.
The most popular section of the Sheepscot is the 2-miles of riffles and pools that are found below the Palermo Fish Hatchery. In many places, the river here is less than 20-feet across, yet because of its high productivity, this stretch has produced a number of fat trout for me over the years. Hatches are reliable during May and June, and fish can often be taken on dry flies floated tight against a half-submerged log or undercut bank. When no fish are showing, a bead head nymph with a small wet fly as a dropper can also be effective. The Department of Fisheries is so impressed with this section of river, that they made it catch and release in 1997, and are managing it solely on the basis of natural reproduction.
A number of other places, including the hard-to-reach section of the West Branch between Route 3 and the Dirigo Road, and the area in the vicinity of Route 17, also produce consistent catches of trout. The lower Sheepscot from North Whitefield to the Head Tide Dam is generally deep enough to float with a canoe in the spring and a few trout are taken in the faster flowing areas. The number of bass, pickerel and perch in your catch increase as you move downstream.
Androscoggin and Saco
Both the Androscoggin and Saco arise in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and travel more than 120 miles before reaching the sea. The Androscoggin is the better trout fishery because of its habitat and the fact that it receives inputs of cold water from a number of tributaries. The upper 25 miles of the Androscoggin, from the New Hampshire border to around Rumford, is the longest stretch of trout water on either of these rivers.
The most popular time to fish the upper Androscoggin is from when the spring runoff subsides in late May until the water warms up in July. During this time of year, browns and rainbows can be caught from most of the pools and riffles that can be reached from Route 2 or the North Road. But this is a large river whose broad flood plain is frequently occupied by farm fields that can make access and roadside fishing difficult. The best way to solve this problem is to float the river in a small boat or canoe. Launch sites are located in Gilead, Bethel and Newry, but a canoe can be slipped over the bank in a number of other places. When the water is high enough, some people will even begin their trips in the lower reaches of tributaries like the Wild or Sunday River.
Early in the season, flies such as Muddlers, Hornbergs and the Little Brook Trout, along with lures like the Panther Martin, Little Cleo or Rapala will all produce trout. Two reliable places to catch fish at this time of year are the deep pools that are associated with many of the river’s islands, or anyplace where the river flows around rock ledges. The ledges near the bridge that crosses the river at Gilead have been particularly productive for me. When the water temperature approaches 70oF, most trout will abandon their lies in the main river and move to the mouths of cooler inlet streams or spring holes. During the heat of summer, concentrations of fish can sometimes be found in the vicinity of tributaries like the Wild River or Wheeler and White’s Brook. These trout are usually most active during low light periods in the early morning or evening.
Smallmouth bass become much more numerous south of Rumford, and even though thousands of trout and salmon are stocked here each year, I always think of this part of the river as a bass fishery. Like most other large bass rivers in Maine, the action on the lower Androscoggin doesn’t really pick up until after the spring runoff has subsided, and the water temperatures have pushed above 55oF. From June through September though, the 50 miles of river from Dixfield to Lisbon Falls produces some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the state. During certain times of year, striped bass and an occasional sea-run brown trout can also be found below the Central Maine Power Company Dam in Brunswick. This area is best fished from a boat, which can be launched from the landing located just off Route 1 on the south shore of the river.
The Saco is generally a deep, slow-flowing river that looks like bass habitat in most places. But in addition to plenty of smallmouths, this river also provides anglers with some good trout fishing as well. The 15-mile stretch between Hiram Falls and the Route 25 bridge in East Limington is regularly stocked with both brookies and brown trout. And each spring, many anglers work accessible places such as Hiram Falls, Steep Falls and Limington Rips in search of these fish. Brown trout are a smart, long-lived fish that can survive under less than optimal environmental conditions and many here grow to bragging size. Occasionally, a 5-pound brown will be caught by someone who is out canoeing the river, or by a casual angler who just happens to get lucky. But most of these large holdovers are taken by experienced Saco River regulars who wait until the water warms up, and then fish around spring holes, and at the mouths of cold inlet brooks, where these fish are concentrated. Many trout are also stocked each year on the lower river between West Buxton and Union Falls.
Tributaries of the Androscoggin and Saco
East of Rumford, three other tributaries that hold trout are the Webb, Nezinscot and the Little Androscoggin Rivers. The Webb is a fishy-looking river that flows beside Route 142 for about 12 miles, from the outlet of Webb Lake until it joins the Androscoggin River at Dixfield. Fishing for small native brook trout and stocked browns is usually best in deep corner pools and at the mouths of inlet brooks in the spring. Bass become predominant here once the water warms up in the summer. The Little Androscoggin and Nezinscot Rivers usually provide better trout fishing opportunities, primarily because they are more heavily stocked. Both of these rivers are divided into a number of fishable sections by dams and a patchwork of roads that criss-cross them. A couple of popular stretches on the Little Androscoggin are the fast-flowing areas below the dams in Mechanic Falls and Minot, and the riffle and pools sections above the villages of Oxford and West Paris. Productive places to fish the Nezinscot River are the 2-miles of moving water between the Turner Mill Dam and the Route 117 bridge, and the roadside pools in the East and West Branches above Buckfield .
The largest tributary in the Saco watershed is the Ossipee River, which flows beside Route 25 for about 17 miles. A few salmon and rainbows that migrate across the New Hampshire border are available in the upper river, but brook trout and browns make up the bulk of the catch. The Kezar Falls to Cornish stretch is fished quite heavily in the spring, but warm surface water drawn from Ossipee Lake allows bass to dominate this area in the summer.
The Little Ossipee River is a classic-looking trout stream that often provides better fishing. It is heavily stocked with brookies and browns both above and below Lake Arrowhead, and has a popular catch and release section on the upper river. Generally, the Little Ossipee is a healthy river that is biologically productive and can produce holdover browns that measure over 20 inches. Surveys conducted by the Department of Fisheries on both the Ossipee and Little Ossipee Rivers however, have shown that a significant loss of large trout takes place between November and April. This suggests that many stocked trout survive the heavy early season angling pressure and high summer water temperatures, only to perish sometime during the winter. Biologist Jim Pellerin says, “This indicates that these rivers, and probably a number of others, experience a significant amount of mortality due to winter-kill. Most people are familiar with the problems that high water temperatures pose for trout, but few realize that water temperatures below 32oF can be just as deadly. This type of winter-kill typically occurs in shallow, fast-moving streams that lack a suitable amount of deep water for trout to use as a cold weather refuge.” The department plans to do follow-up studies on this problem in the future.
SEA TROUT IN COASTAL RIVERS
Today, along with the Ogunquit and Royal, sea-run browns can be consistently caught in other south coast rivers like the Mousam, York and Spurwink. According to biologist John Boland, the major reason for this improvement is that the Department of Fisheries has put a greater emphasis on sea-run brown trout, and recently begun to stock larger numbers of hatchery fish in these rivers. Of course, things are rarely that simple, and he feels that the move from stocking spring yearlings, to introducing larger fish in the fall that are better equipped to cope with ocean predators has been very beneficial. Focusing efforts on rivers that have an extended estuary system for brown trout to feed in, rather than those that flow abruptly into the sea, has also been a key to success.
The reason I like sea run browns so much is that the fishery peaks in the fall and winter. So, long after my favorite north woods fishing holes have begun to freeze over, and all the stripers and blues have headed south, sea-run browns are still available to soothe my fishing addiction. Fish average around a foot-long, but can grow to over 20 inches. In places that aren’t fished very heavily, or where the water is flowing well, small bright-colored streamers such as the Warden’s Worry or West Branch will draw plenty of aggressive strikes from fish as they are worked down and across the current. However, in most flatwater pools or areas that receive a lot of pressure, I usually have better luck using bead-head nymphs with a small wet fly or scud tied on as a dropper. All these sea-run rivers are currently open to spin fishing and give up a fair number of fish to lures like Mepps spinners, Little Cleos and Al’s Goldfish.
Most sea-run brook trout are wild fish that provide a much different type of angling experience than the browns. Since they are native, they can be found in streams throughout the mid-coast and Downeast regions. Research shows that one-third of the brook trout in these coastal streams spend part of their life in salt water. Much of this time is spent in the estuary where food is more abundant. Brook trout that have gone to the sea are usually larger than those that have spent their entire life in fresh water. But even in colonial times, these ‘salters’ rarely grew larger than 3 pounds in Maine.
The erratic distribution and movements of sea-run brook trout make them tougher to catch than sea-run browns. They are most common in coastal streams in early spring and late fall, and much of my success has been during April high water in brooks that only measure a couple of rod lengths across. Typically I fish with a small spinner and worm rig that can be worked through corner pools and undercut banks on a light rod. However, a couple of friends who live on the coast near Frenchman’s Bay shift their efforts to larger streams as the waters drop, and have good success catching sea-run brookies on flies until the end of June.
When conservation efforts allowed striped bass populations to rebound in the 1980’s however, sport fishermen focused much more attention on them than they did in the past. This led to a proliferation of tackle shops and guide services that broadened the scope of angler’s interests to include previously under-utilized species such as sharks, tuna, mackerel and flounder. Today, saltwater sport fishing has grown into a multi-million dollar industry that provides many of the best opportunities for quality angling in the state.
Because of its convenient access, and the fact that fish can be relatively easy to catch, saltwater angling seems almost custom-made for newcomers to fishing. And the Maine coast is particularly inviting because its myriad of islands, marshes, rivers and bays breaks the ocean up into a patchwork of small pieces that an angler can safely explore with a small boat or sea kayak. Of course, the Maine coast also has many open expanses of blue water that can be dangerous to venture onto in anything less than a 25-foot powerboat. Generally however, if someone with a smaller craft just uses some common sense and keeps an eye on the weather, they can usually find a safe and productive place to fish.
In a book like this, it would be impossible to outline all of the fishing spots that can be found along Maine’s 3,500 miles of coastline. So to keep things manageable, I will simply group the major saltwater sport fish into three categories and discuss some of their general characteristics and fishing strategies under these headings.
The annual cycle for striped bass begins when small fish arrive along the south coast in May. As the ocean waters warm, large chools of 15-21” stripers gradually work their way north, until they reach the mouth of the Kennebec River in early June. Good numbers of ‘schoolies’ can also be found from Penobscot Bay to the Narraguagus River by late June. Stripers become much less abundant beyond Machais, and even though the fast-flowing currents of Cobscook and Passamaquoddy Bays look like ideal habitat, these waters never hold significant numbers of these fish.
Large stripers show up in southern Maine a couple of weeks after the schoolies and travel far up most coastal rivers to feed on eels and assorted bait fish. At this time of year, schools of fish are seen feeding boldly on the surface and can be taken using surface poppers, Rebels, Yo-Zuris and a variety of rubber stick baits such as Sluggos. Trolling with rubber tubes tipped with bloodworms can also be effective, and is a good technique to use when no fish are showing on top. As the season progresses, the rivers warm up, and most of the bait fish and stripers drop down toward the cooler waters of the Atlantic Ocean. In August, many fishermen in search of large stripers abandon the rivers completely in favor of live-lining mackerel or fishing eels around the off-shore islands. This approach is not universally accepted however, and I know several guides who catch big fish on flies and surface poppers in shallow, up-river locations all summer long. Regardless of where you fish, to maximize your success in the summer, it’s important to get out early or stay out until dark.
A tough lesson that has taken me years to learn is that most large stripers in Maine are caught along the south coast from Rockland to the Piscataqua River. Since I live in the Bangor area, this has been difficult for me to accept, particularly since I have little trouble catching plenty of schoolies in the Penobscot River. Over the years though, I have put in lots of time hunting for a local honey-hole full of trophy stripers, but never have been able to find one.
When I spoke with Department of Marine Resources biologist Tom Squires about this, he chuckled and said, “The fact that most large striped bass are taken in southern Maine shouldn’t be surprising. After all, Maine is on the extreme northern end of their range to begin with, and the only reason that these fish come here is to feed on the seasonal abundance of bait that can be found in our waters. So, once a group of fish finds a place on the south coast that has an adequate water temperature and food supply, there really isn’t any incentive for them to travel any further.” Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, and from time to time an occasional large striper is taken around Belfast or Blue Hill. But generally, if you are looking for a big one, the odds are in your favor if you concentrate your efforts in southern Maine.
Mackerel are another summer migrant that arrives shortly after the striped bass. But unlike stripers that come up from the south, mackerel spend the winter out in the open ocean, and then swarm inshore when the surface temperature approaches 55oF. Mackerel are more widely distributed than stripers and can be caught throughout the summer off just about any breakwater from Kittery to Eastport. Because they are so ubiquitous, there is a tendency for some fishermen to look down on mackerel a bit. Many of my fondest fishing memories however, involve sun-splashed afternoons spent with my kids chasing schools of mackerel among the lobster traps in Belfast and Rockland Harbor. These feisty relatives of tuna can reach 18 inches and put up a good battle on light tackle.
Mackerel are commonly caught by trolling shiny lures like small Kastmasters or Diamond Jigs about 100 yards offshore in 20 to 40 feet of water. Many people also use multi-hook Christmas Tree rigs that can produce up to 5 fish at once when you encounter them in a large school. I enjoy fly fishing for mackerel with bright bucktail streamers or small yellow woolly worms on a sinking line. To maximize your success with flies, it’s best troll for awhile, or use a fish finder to help locate a large group of fish. Then, once a school is found, you can break out your fly rod and catch a mackerel on nearly every cast. Often, the biggest problem is maintaining contact with this constantly moving group of fish. This can be solved by occasionally dropping a cupful of cut bait or chum over the side of the boat.
Bluefish are the most exciting and unpredictable species of on-shore game fish in Maine. Frequently, blues only make a brief, late-season appearance at a few random locations along the south coast. And in some years, they fail to show up at all. That’s because Maine is on the northern fringe of the bluefish’s range, and we typically only see lots of them when population densities in mid-Atlantic waters are extremely high, or when large groups of baitfish draw them northward. Occasionally things work out just right however, and these voracious predators descend on the Maine coast in schools that can cover several acres.
f you have never watched a school of bluefish drive alewives or pogies to the surface, and then savagely slash through them until they are gorged, the sheer ferocity by which these fish attack their prey is hard to imagine. So, perhaps the best way to convey the excitement that bluefish can provide is to describe an experience that I once had on the New Meadows River.
The day began innocently, with a few rumors of bluefish being caught in the lower river near Cundy’s Harbor. So, I drove to the landing, and loaded two of my kids, who were 6 and 8-years old at the time, into our 12 foot boat, and set out for a couple hours of fishing. We trolled two rods with large Big Macs for about an hour without a strike. Then, just after passing the entrance to The Basin, a large bluefish slammed into the lure that my daughter Kristen was trolling. The fish immediately took off on a blistering run, so I killed the motor and told my son Tyler to get his lure into the boat as fast as possible. As he was madly reeling-in his Big Mac however, another monster blue intercepted it, and headed off in the opposite direction. For more than 15-minutes, we had fish jumping, reels screaming and sheer bedlam aboard our little boat. Somehow, we managed to land both fish, which turned out to be 12 and 13-pounders. But once I got them aboard, and the kids got a look at their thrashing teeth, they immediately jumped up on their seats and began screaming, which is about the time that all hell really broke loose.
When bluefish are actively feeding, they can be caught on just about any fairly large plug, spoon or fly that looks like a bait fish. Fresh bait like mackerel, pogies or alewives appeals to their olfactory, as well as their visual senses, and can be particularly effective. Wire leaders should be used to increase your chances of landing these toothy predators.
Since bluefish are a more mobile, open-ocean dwelling species than stripers or mackerel, frequently the biggest problem that anglers face is finding them. Unreliable as it may seem, word-of-mouth is often the best way to determine the likelihood of encountering fish in a certain area. For example, if I am considering making a trip to John’s Bay or Harpswell Sound to fish for blues, I will call a couple tackle shops or talk to some friends in the area to see how people have been doing. If they say they haven’t seen a bluefish for two weeks, chances are I’ll stay home and get some work done around the yard. On the other hand, if they say that the blues have been tearing up that section of the coast lately, it won’t take me very long to get there. Once in an area that contains fish, I often just troll around and keep my eyes open for signs of surface activity, feeding birds or clusters of other boats. Bluefish can be caught at any time of the day, but they are usually easiest to find in the early morning when the wind is calm.
Due to the island-studded nature of the coast however, there are a number of wind-protected places where bottom fish can be taken from a small boat. Flounder are generally easiest for anglers to reach because they typically are found in fairly shallow harbors and bays, which either have soft clay or mud bottoms. These tasty fish are strict bottom feeders that can be taken on a variety of fresh baits including sea worms, earth worms, cut squid and clams. But, unlike other bottom dwellers that respond well to jigging, flounder bite best on a bait that doesn’t move. To help keep my boat motionless, I always drop one anchor off the bow and another from the stern.
Bluefin Tuna are truly giants of the sea, and most which are caught in the Gulf of Maine average between 600 and 1000 pounds. Early in the summer, scattered pods of Bluefins roam widely, so your best chance at success is by trolling. Typically, whole mackerel on multiple-hooked rigs called Daisy Chains are used for this type of fishing. Later in the season, these tuna frequently settle into a more limited area and are most often taken by still-fishing with large chunks of bait. Because of the specialized rods, reels, line and hooks needed to handle such enormous fish, there is little chance that the average recreational angler will ever land one. But, for someone who is interested in an opportunity to tangle with one of the largest sport fish in the sea, a Maine Bluefin Tuna fishing charter might be just what you are looking for.
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