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Now that all the bear hunters and early-season deer hunters are safely tucked into the forest, this is the perfect time for the rest of us to go fishing! When the fall hunting seasons kick in the majority of sportsmen abandon the water for the woods, which means you can expect to have most any river, lake or pond to yourself for some great fall angling action.
Many Maine waters (except streams) are open to fall angling through September for all species, and from Oct. 1 through Nov. 30, lakes and ponds are open to fishing for all species, but all trout, landlocked salmon, togue, and black bass must be released alive at once. The best way to identify waters where late-season fishing is allowed is to access the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Web site or consult a copy of the Maine 2007-2008 Open Water Fishing Regulations.
Generally, after Aug. 16 through Sept. 30, these waters may be fished with lures or flies with a one-fish limit for trout, salmon and bass. After Sept. 30, angling is allowed in lakes and ponds in certain counties through Nov. 30 under catch-and-release rules. No bait is allowed to protect the fishery. You can expect to catch trout, salmon, bass, pike and other popular (meaning large) species at this time of year, and the odds are you won’t bump into too many other anglers because, being fall, they’re probably out hunting!
Although flies and lures are legal for fall fishing, I always make it a point to crimp the barbs of my hooks down to make releasing fall-caught fish easier and less traumatic on the fish. It’s been determined that about 3 percent of fly-caught fish will die as a result of being hooked, and to me that’s not acceptable in a sport where releasing the fish is required. Though you can’t guarantee the survival of every fish that is caught (some are foul-hooked by mistake and injure themselves in the process of being netted), but using sharp, barbless hooks does minimize the damage.
Another trick is to play hooked fish quickly to the net, and then unhook and release them immediately without additional handling, trauma or stress. If you don’t have a net, bring the fish in quickly while keeping it in the water, grab the hook shank with your fingers or pliers, and then slip the hook out of the fish’s mouth. Avoid touching the fish at all, but if you must handle your catch, be sure your hands are clean and wet, and only touch the fish for as long as it takes to remove the hook and get it going under their its power again. Trout and salmon are especially fragile species, but no fish can take rough handling and survive.
If you are going to fish the fall bite, consider using smaller lures fitted with single hooks to avoid deep or damaging hookups. Most flies are tiny enough to be less of a threat, but crimping down the barbs will help reduce or eliminate injuries to the fish.
In general, the best fall fishing is in the heads and tails of the deepest pools. Some fish will be found in isolated runs and riffles where food is abundant, so don’t be afraid to try a few casts into any slick water that looks as if it could hold a fish. Fall trout and salmon, especially, are prone to move about, so don’t pass up a stretch that seems to be calling your name!
For the best, fastest action and the most uncomplicated fishing, I’d recommend going for bass wherever they are legal game in fall. A cool-season smallmouth is an aggressive battler, especially in moving water. I find, too, that some of the biggest fish of the year (certainly since the spring spawn ended) are caught in fall, perhaps because the cooler water brings them out of the depths and into the shallows where most anglers spend their time.
In any case, you won’t have to wonder if a smallmouth has taken your fly or lure. They hit with authority and fight with tenacity, traits that have made Maine bass fishing a household word among anglers who know what they are talking about. Fall bass are especially aggressive, perhaps because the dormant days of winter are coming, but you can expect to enjoy some spectacular jumps and dogged deep-water fights from these red-eyed toughies.
Fortunately, bass may be landed by simply “lipping” them. That is, grip the fish’s lower jaw between your thumb and forefinger and simply lift the fish out of the water. This temporarily immobilizes the fish and makes them easy to unhook and release. This even works in the water, so if you’re using barbless hooks and work quickly, you can unhook and release a played-out bass in mere seconds, even without a net, sending him back where he came from with no wear and tear.
If you have never tried fall angling, consider a day on the water soon just to experience the joys of fishing without bugs, competition or summer’s heat. Spend a cool fall day casting to pools and riffles that may well contain some of the biggest fish of the season. Remember, the fish that have survived this long are going to be big, fat and hungry, and the cooler water temperatures will draw the real lunkers of any river, lake or pond into the shallows where they have not been in months.
A great way to spend a fall day is to hunt early and late in the day (the perfect times to catch a Maine whitetail off guard), and then fish through the middle of the day when warmer temperatures make wading or canoeing a truly pleasant experience. The best days of the year are upon us, so make the most of them while you can. Winter is fast approaching and that means you won’t be able to wet a line again till April, and that’s a long way off for most of us!
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