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June 20 means we are smack in the middle of the best smallmouth bass fishing of the year. Things were actually a little spotty earlier in the month due no doubt to rainy, cold weather and higher-than-normal water conditions. I fished several local ponds just a few weeks ago and caught a bass here and there but overall the fishing was nothing to get excited about.
Now, however, bass are well into their spawning mode statewide, and anglers with the time and inclination to fish close to shore with bite-sized spinners, diving minnows and plastic worms should have more than enough rod-bending action to satisfy their cravings.
It’s interesting to learn what lures fishermen prefer. As a rule, the lure they caught their first bass on will be deemed “the best” until they try something else, which may not ever happen because bass tend to chase anything at this time of year.
My favorite bass lure is the one that catches fish for me on any given day. I’m not shy about switching lures if yesterday’s “favorite” doesn’t produce. It’s not necessary to fuss over bass the same way trout fishermen cater to their quarry. Some fly-fishermen will go through every pattern in their vests in hopes of getting a strike, but most bass anglers can catch a fish on every lure in their tackle box if they want to change lures that often.
We are lucky to have so many great bass hotspots in our area. It’s almost impossible not to catch a bass in Sebasticook, Indian Pond, Nokomis Pond, Wassookeag or any of the other warm, shallow lakes nearby. Thanks in part to a well-entrenched catch-and-release philosophy among most bass anglers, there are plenty of fish to catch no matter where you go.
If I had to choose my favorite bass-fishing scenario, I’d have to say it is paddling along one of our bass-rich rivers (the Piscataquis, Pleasant, Sebec and Sebasticook rivers come to mind), and just spending the day drifting and casting to anything that looks remotely like a bass hideout.
Thanks to the relatively narrow corridor provided by most of these rivers, bass have two choices: shore or tailwaters. I like to drift down the middle of the stream channel and cast to either shore targeting rocks, logs, eddies and anything that looks like it might be wide and deep enough to hold a bass.
The best part about bass fishing is that you can make the most heinous of angling mistakes and still catch fish. In fact, it is not unusual to hook and lose a fish, come back 30 minutes later and catch the same bass again. Devout trout fishermen consider smallmouths to be “stupid” for this reason, but if these detractors were three-inch minnows swimming past a bass guarding its nest, they’d find out that those “stupid” fish are merely defending their territories, and anything (including doubtful minnows) will end up being part of the daily menu.
It’s the aggressive nature of smallmouths that have lured so many anglers away from the search for salmonids. With a cosmopolitan appetite and a willingness to strike at anything that resembles (even barely so) something edible, bass are the perfect fish for anglers who want action – and lots of it.
In addition, bass are probably the hardest fighting freshwater fish in the U.S. Any smallmouth over three pounds is going to make you wonder what’s on the end of your line, and if the fish has current or depth on his side, you will earn every bass you land. Certainly hooked salmon are equally spectacular with their flashy jumps and tail-walking in the short term, but you can hook and land three landlocks in the time it takes to subdue one bass of equal size. (I used to record the length of time it took to land various fish from nibble to net and the smallmouth always won!)
If you don’t have a canoe, kayak or other small craft, it’s always possible to walk the shoreline (on a river or pond) and catch all the bass you want. There are bound to be some areas that are too deep, rocky, muddy or weedy for good wading, but if you work your way around them you should have no trouble catching some good bass.
If worse comes to worse, simply fish the water above and below the many bridge crossings in our area. You should be able to catch bass in Sangerville, Guilford, East Dover, Milo (especially in the giant pool where the Piscataquis and Sebec rivers meet) or, if you have the time, try the railroad trestle in Medford. Every time I’ve fished that short run I’ve caught dozens of bass and, most days, there’s no one there but me!
Perhaps the greatest advantage of June bass fishing is that all the lures you’ll need for a great morning or afternoon can fit in one pocket. When river fishing, I tend to favor a gold Mepps spinner, but if the water is deep and rocky I’ll go with a 3-inch Rebel or Rapala silver minnow.
When I’m in a canoe casting toward the shore of a pond or lake, I like a yellow Mr. Twister Teeny spinnerbait or, if weeds are a problem, a purple or black plastic worm with a single hook buried in the head-end of the worm. When fishing with any plastic worm or grub, be sure to give the fish time to take the bait and turn it in its mouth before setting the hook. The old rule of “count to three” still holds when using plastics for bass. Let the fish take the lure and let the line go slack. When it starts moving again, set your hook and hang on!
We can expect excellent bass fishing from now till well into the fall. When your favorite trout waters dry up or quit producing, do yourself a favor and head for the nearest bass water. You may not catch the next state-record smallmouth, but you won’t be skunked, either. Not many trout fishermen can make that claim!
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