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It’s not often that Maine gets a dose of Southern-style heat, but these 90s-and-up days we’ve been having come pretty close. The heat, humidity and “dead air” that’s been lingering in the Northeast have kept most folks in and close to the fan with a glass of cold lemonade near at hand. Only a fool would be outdoors in this kind of weather!
Enter the intrepid Maine sportsman. Fool or not, there is some great trout fishing to be had despite the hot and heavy atmosphere. I despise the heat, especially the thick and clinging kind, but just when you think it can’t possibly be worse, step out the door. This year, it seems, the deer flies are especially abundant (and hungry!). It’s not often that you can drive 10 miles, pull over and find a dozen of them buzzing around the car door, just daring you to get out!
I have my vehicle rigged so I can jump out, spray Ben’s 100 all over me and get my gear out before the flies have had a chance to land. I use spray insect repellent because it covers more skin faster – and those flies will find the least patch of flesh that hasn’t been treated! I even found them targeting my fingers and knuckles because the rest of me was glistening with Ben’s. The miserable little bugs are vicious and relentless this year, but if you want to be outdoors, you have to deal with them.
Thus covered and treated from head to toe, I can concentrate on my mission for at least four hours. Then I will have to re-apply my fly dope or just run for it. The bugs wait patiently till I’m “ripe” again, and then they dig in.
One old-fashioned way to beat them is to snap off a two-foot length of hardwood sapling, one covered with as many leaves as possible. Use this as a sort of fly swatter. I learned this little tip from Carleton Reynolds, my old wood-cutting partner from Milo. We’d stand there in the woods debating how best to cut a certain stand of spruce, fir or white birch, all the while waving our swatters around as if we were signaling a distant aircraft. Pretty funny, but it works! Without something like that, you’d go pretty much nuts just being outside, and there’s no fun in that!
At this time of summer the only way to find trout is to head into the woods and look for secluded bends and pools on the small streams that wind and twist through the region like capillaries. Many of the bigger rivers, streams, lakes and ponds are too warm or too deep for casual fishing, but our little brooks are ideal places to find trout in mid-July. While it may be hot as Hades in the open, it’s surprising how cool and breezy it can be inside the forest. In the low, swampy places where the best July trouting may be found, the deep holes will be cool and dark, perfect hiding places for heat-stressed brookies.
It truly is a pleasure to disappear into the woods surrounded by the leafy greens that surround most small trout brooks. Always dark and cool, these are the places trout prefer when the heat of summer is bearing down on more open waters. I fell into one of these brooks as I jumped across it (no more than 3 feet wide, but the mossy bank gave in and dumped me) and was shocked and amazed to find that the water was not only deep (over my head) but ice cold! It looked to be no more than knee deep, but it was in fact more than twice that deep, and I actually had a hard time getting out of it because the over-hanging bank crumbled like peat moss in my hands.
Falling in is a good way to cool off but it’s not a very good approach to fishing. Now I creep as close to the water as I dare, and then slip a fat garden worm on a small hook and just lower my offering into the water from as far away as possible.
Most of the trout will be in the tight, brush-covered holes and runs that are very difficult to reach, but a little patience will go a long way. Take some time, get set up to fish and then make your first cast a careful one. With a little persistence and patience you can pull two or three fat little brookies out of each hole. The biggest fish may be only 10 inches long, but these are all bright, colorful native trout, beautiful to behold and beyond delicious in the frying pan.
On these hot summer trips, I’ll bring a canvas pack cooler filled with ice to keep trout destined for the skillet as fresh as possible. I may keep only two or three fish from a morning’s catch, and then rush home to get them cleaned and sizzling beside a handful of home fries, fiddleheads and bacon.
It is legal to fish for (and keep) stream trout until Aug. 15, when anglers must switch to artificial lures and catch-and-release tactics. To be honest, “lures” are not going to be of much use on streams you can jump across, and catching them for fun on flies is not really a great adventure because they are so easy to catch in the first place. You can expect to catch a dozen trout under 6 inches for every “lunker” you encounter, so there’s always the risk of injuring fish by hooking or handling them roughly. Use barbless hooks and release these tiny trout under water with a quick flip of the barbless hook. Any more trauma than that and it’s likely that the fish won’t live out the day.
While you’re sitting there by the screen door wondering how much hotter it’s going to get, close your eyes and imagine a cool, dark stream just a mile or two from home. It’s full of hungry brookies and no one has fished it in years. Hmmmm . . . . just thinking about it makes me want to spray on some fly dope and head for the water right now!
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