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It’s hard to believe it’s Memorial Day already, which means June is not far off. In fact, we turn another calendar page on Friday, which is also not far off. We all wait a long time for winter to end and summer to begin, but time keeps slipping away from us. There are folks who can’t or won’t take a day off because they claim they have no time to spare, but there’s no better way to renew your energies and perspective than by spending a day doing little or nothing once in a while.
As it happens, Maine’s free fishing days are also this weekend (June 2 and 3 to be exact), and that’s good news for anyone who wants to wet a line but can’t justify the cost of a license for the one or two days a year they can shake free of real life. For these two days, anyone in Maine (resident or non-resident) who wants to fish may do so without a license as long as they follow the general rule regarding equipment, creel and length limits. It’s not very often that we get a chance to do much of anything for free, so start planning now to spend at least one of those days on the water.
This is the ideal time to kick grandpa out of his rocker or get dad out of his office. Even better, find a few kids who want to go fishing but don’t have anyone to teach them. Fishing is an enjoyable, relaxing pastime even when you do have a license, but the pleasure is enhanced on these few days of the year when a license is optional. It’s also something anyone can do at any age – Maine boasts a variety of easily caught species ranging from small pond horned pout to coastal stripers. Tackle and equipment varies, of course, but the first rule of order is to get out there and wet a line!
Fishing fanatics might suggest going for trout or salmon with a fly rod, but the most practical option is to rig up a few poles with light line (4-pound test is fine), a light wire hook and a fat garden worm and head for the nearest white perch pond. Perch abound in Maine, are easily caught and are delicious fried or in chowder. There are no size or bag limits on perch and it doesn’t take a fisheries degree to fool them, making them an ideal target for the occasional angler.
The easiest route to a feed of perch is to paddle a boat or canoe into the center of a small pond or lake cove, drop anchor and drop a line about 10 feet down. You will soon find a school of perch (maybe higher in the water column, maybe lower), and then it’s a matter of hook and haul till you’ve got enough fish to feed your craving. It’s an easy matter to catch 30, 50 or 100 perch on most of Maine’s warmwater lakes, and it’s always tempting to catch more, but remember that it takes about as long to fillet a batch of perch as it does to catch them. If you plan your trip so you’re on the way home by dark you’ll probably be up cleaning fish till midnight!
For pure fun, nothing beats a day on a pickerel pond. These toothy fish bite well throughout the day and are actually one of the few aggressive fish you’ll find during the normally dull midday period. I’ve spent many a free lunch hour casting to noontime pickerel and have taken piles of them using nothing more elaborate than a thick, rubber grub fished on top with a large hook imbedded in the plastic lure.
Pickerel are predators with a keen eye and lightning reflexes, so all you have to do is toss your top-water lure out there, let it sit a minute (which builds anxiety among pickerel, which won’t touch an immobile bait), and then start reeling. Twitch the rod tip to get the bait to skip and bounce along the surface, pausing occasionally. If there are pickerel nearby (and 20 feet is considered “nearby”), you’ll soon know about it. If nothing else, you’ll see the tell tale wake of an interested fish. Many times a pickerel will zoom up to a lure and then hesitate a moment, waiting for the lure to move again. At the next turn of the reel handle, the fish will slam the lure with a swirl and a splash.
Any lure or bait that moves along the surface with a gurgling splash will attract pickerel. I use plastics or fly-rod-sized Jitterbugs (small, frog-pattern plugs with weedless, upturned hooks) and fish in water that is choked with weeds, grass and other cover. You’ll rarely find pickerel in open water – they prefer to hide behind logs, lily pads or brush so they can surprise their prey in an unexpected rush. Witness the charge of a hungry pickerel and you’ll feel glad that you’re not a frog or minnow! These guys are all teeth and they mean business.
Some folks object to pickerel on the grounds that they are full of bones, but that’s just not a problem these days. The trick is to scale and fillet each fish, and then lay the fillet skin side down. Make a series of cuts in the flesh about one-quarter inch apart and down to (but not through) the skin in a crisscross manner. You should hear those nasty Y-shaped bones crunching away in the process.
Cook the meat as usual (breaded and fried, broiled or stewed) and enjoy. The bones melt in the cooking, leaving the flesh white, sweet and succulent.
Whether you choose to target perch, bass, trout, pickerel or any of Maine’s great game fish, have fun, enjoy the trip and keep only what you can eat.
Best of all, for two days in June it’s free!
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