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It’s the middle of April already and things are heating up for Maine sportsmen. Fishing is on the minds of most folks right now and for good reason. I the good weather holds and there are no torrential rains (any more than we’ve already had) the rivers and streams should be low and slow enough to fish.
Angling at this time of year is essentially (literally?) testing the waters. I know fishermen who won’t even look at a fishing rod till May 1, and there are others who refuse to fish unless the water temperature is at or above 55 degrees.
Just as some people shop with or without a sale going on, some fishermen will fish for the pure joy of being out there. Catching something is irrelevant to these folks. What matters is being on the water in the warm spring sun, listening to the grouse drumming in the distance and knowing that, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, the trout will start biting in earnest.
I am among those who feel the urgent need to go out even when the odds and tradition are stacked against me. I have not missed an opening day in decades, but that’s not to say I’ve caught my limit every time. In fact, if my notes are anywhere near accurate, I spend most of the first two weeks fishing . . . but not catching!
There is some truth to the old adage, “Fish when the poplar leaf is big as a mouse’s ear,” roughly the end of April or early May, and you can’t go wrong if you start fishing when the air and water temperatures are at their ideal, but you’ll miss out on some of the more important aspects of the angler’s world.
I enjoy running into pairs of black ducks or wood ducks while I’m poking around a promising pool, and most trips I’ll see a deer or two crossing in the shallow riffles of a clear-flowing tailwater. Always the hunter, I tend to forget about fishing at such moments and mentally mark these places for further investigation come fall.
In recent years I’ve been seeing increasing numbers of wild turkeys in and around my favorite spring fishing holes. A rare sighting just 20 years ago, wild turkeys are found statewide now, and the central Maine population is growing. The spring hunting season opens in a few weeks, yet already there are signs that the turkey breeding season is already in full swing. I have seen some big males strutting and gobbling along my best trout streams, and small groups of gobblers, jakes and hens can be seen in almost any farm field, if you look hard enough.
I’ve had some interesting encounters with other wildlife while fishing that helped make those fishless days more tolerable. For example, one day I was fishing hard and not really paying attention to the water above my target, a big, flat rock that I was sure had at least one fat trout beneath. I made cast after cast to that certain spot that had to be hit if a fish were going to see my offering, but I kept missing it by mere inches.
I was bent low to the water, staring straight ahead, focused only on that smooth seam of water, and suddenly a huge wave came downstream to me, almost knocking me over. I swung around to see what was happening just as a group of otters came barreling around the corner at full speed! One of them literally brushed my leg as he went by, but none of them seemed to notice or care that I was standing there. Just like that the otters took over my pool! Several seconds passed and then one, two, three otters surfaced, all with fat trout in their mouths! At first I was angry at the intrusion, but then I realized who the true fishermen are. The otters must fish to survive, I don’t, so I just watched the show for a few minutes till the troup vacated my (now empty!) pool and headed downstream.
Another time I was standing mid-stream in one of the best native trout streams in our area and, once again, fishing hard. I began to hear a peculiar hollow thumping sound that I thought was either a barrel floating downstream or perhaps a canoe bumping on some rocks. It was a familiar sound but not on that small stream. Besides, I could see quite a distance upstream and there was nothing in view.
I continued to fish but the thumping kept on, getting closer, and I finally decided to find out what the source of the noise could be.
I took about two steps upstream and made my discovery, a definite rarity in the outdoor world. Coming around a bend in the stream, bouncing from rock to rock, was a 10-pound snapping turtle! The reptile was spinning out of control in the swift current, tapping each rock in turn, and his thick, heavy shell gave off a deep, booming sound every time it hit stone.
The turtle whirled helplessly downstream, obviously disoriented and certainly out of control, but I knew he’d survive the trip. It did explain, however, all the times I’d come across big turtles and wondered why their shells were so chipped and scratched. I guess more than one big snapper has had to run the gauntlet while trying to cross a river or stream!
I think my favorite spring encounter occurred some years ago when I was fishing a “secret” trout stream in LaGrange. My mind was more on fishing that day than hunting, and so I may have overlooked a few important tracks. Wading upstream against a fierce current, I had come to a pinch point where the relatively wide main stream came down to a flow about two feet across. Standing directly on the past point of land, giving me nowhere to go but downstream (in waders, no less) was a huge black bear! The bruin had been watching me fish and apparently saw no cause for alarm, or he simply wanted me to get close enough for an attack, but the instant he realized what I was, he stoop up, turned and ran in the opposite direction. That’s the closest I’ve been to a black bear that I wasn’t hunting with dogs or over bait. I am sure I could have touched him had my spinning rod been just twice as long. I don’t remember if I caught any trout that day, but I will never forget that bear!
String up your rod and head for the water. The water may be too high, too cold or too muddy, but there’s more to fishing than just catching fish, and you may miss out on something really exciting!
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