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We’re getting into the period often called the “summer doldrums” when it’s hot, dry and the days are as long as they’re going to be all year. Before long you won’t be able to find a trout in a small stream anywhere, and aside from deep-water togue fishing or picking away at pickerel or perch, there’s not much for a summer fisherman to do, or so it might seem.
Fortunately, our area of Maine has an extensive system of rivers and large streams where the new king of the angling sport resides. It may make old-timers ill to hear it, but Maine’s smallmouth bass are now leading the pack when it comes to the most popular summers species in the state, and for good reason. There was a time when bass were considered trash fish of the lowest denominator, but things have changed over the years. Now, Maine is known for its great smallmouth fishing, and the rivers in our area are on everyone’s list of best places to be this month.
I started fishing for bass some 30 years ago when, as a hungry homesteader in Orneville, I found time to make a few casts in the Piscataquis and Sebec rivers on my way home from work. I’d been told the rivers were full of trout, but in summer the most common species you’ll find there is bass – and some nice ones, too!
There’s a pool above Rhoda’s Bridge in Milo that produced my biggest smallmouth ever, a 5-pound beauty that took a little yellow jig on the very first cast. At first I thought I’d hooked a giant pickerel (which the river is full of), but two or three jumps into the fight I realized I’d tied onto one of the few trophy-sized fish I’ve had the pleasure to hook.
I found (mostly by repeated visits) that the bass in that stretch liked to hold in deep water just beyond the junction of the two rivers. It’s a long cast from shore but if you use a heavyweight jig and can cast accurately you’ll be able to just reach the fish. If you have access to a canoe or small boat, you can anchor out there and catch bass of bragging size all day.
If you have the time and inclination, a great trip is to put in at the East Dover bridge and paddle leisurely downstream to the trestle just above Rhoda’s Bridge. The trip can take all day if you go slow, or at least 4 hours if you like to paddle more than fish. I’d recommend the slow route because the river is full of bass and many of them will be found in the shoals and riffles encountered along the way. Fish above and below the fast water and hang on – there can be a dozen or more good-sized fish in each pool, and quite often you’ll find at least one bass that’s over 20 inches long!
I recently made the trip and, just for kicks, used a fly rod with a popping bug. The river was shallow and slow at the time, which means the bass were bunched up in the deeper pools. I’d cast close to shore, pop the bug over the deep water with vigor and lots of splashing, and pretty much had a fish on with every cast. I’ll use a fly rod if the fishing warrants it, and in this case the popper out fished lures hands down.
There are all sorts of bays, inlets and coves to fish along the river and most of them will contain bass, along with a giant pickerel or two. Almost any lure will work, but a gold Mepps spinner, a natural Rebel or Rapala or, later in the day, a black or frog-colored Jitterbug will bring them in. If you start getting antsy or need to get off the water sooner, just troll a Jitterbug or other noisy topwater plug as you paddle along and you’ll find fish.
The Sebec River, the Pleasant River in Milo and the Sebasticook River out of Hartland contain some of the best summer bass fishing in the state. Of course, the famed Penobscot River around Bangor also provides legendary bass fishing, but you don’t have to go that far for good sport this month.
Also, don’t be afraid to fish some of the feeder streams off these major rivers. One of the biggest bass I never landed was hooked while fishing off the first bridge on Alder Stream up from the Piscataquis River in Orneville. I was not paying attention as I made a leisurely first cast, and of course I paid the price. I was watching some ducks swim around on the opposite bank and never noticed the ominous wake in the shallows behind my lure. The fish struck, jumped twice and then took off with my favorite lure – and it was as big a smallmouth as I’ve seen in Maine! Naturally, I fished the same spot 100 times since and, also naturally, never raised the fish again. Maybe you’ll have better luck!
By the way, bass are great eating and there’s no crime in keeping a few for the chowder pot. I’d recommend keeping the smaller, just-legal fish rather than the bigger specimens. And, don’t be put off by the black spots in the flesh. A harmless parasite that’s common in bass, the spots disappear in the cooking and don’t affect the flavor or texture of the fish.
A lot of anglers take a look at the low, warm water that’s common in June and July and decide to put their tackle away for another year, but this is the time for some great bass fishing. Spend a morning or evening on one of our local rivers and I guarantee the first lunker that hits your lure will change your way of thinking about bass. You’ll never see a trout or salmon fight as hard or as long, and the best part is there are plenty more of them waiting around the next bend. I used to guide for bass and guaranteed 100 fish a day or no pay – and I never had to guide anyone for free!
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