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With a full week to go before Maine’s spring turkey-hunting season opens for all comers (Youth Day is Saturday, April 28), it only makes sense to spend the interim pursuing some other sensible, logical outdoor pastime . . . such as fishing!
Thanks to one of the mildest winters on record and a warm, dry spring, fishing conditions have been perfect ever since April 1, when restrictions on open water fishing in all categories were lifted.
This is the first year in decades that I have seen anglers at just about every bridge crossing or pond access in the state. They may not have been doing a lot of “catching,” but the law doesn’t mandate success, it merely opens to door to participation.
Surprisingly enough, trout fishermen are having good luck right off the bat, which is a rarity during normal years, when deep snow, cold rains and incessant runoff keep the fish down and dormant nearly into May.
What I found most interesting, however, is that warmwater species (bass, crappies, pickerel and perch) that are generally disinterested in early spring have been taking baits and lures with enthusiasm not normally seen till late May or even early June.
My annual test water for spring fishing is a small pond near home that contains a good population of bluegills, yellow perch, smallmouth bass and pickerel. I figure if you can’t catch at least one of these dependably aggressive species on your favorite lure or bait then it’s simply not yet fishing season!
Most years when I try the pond in April there’s not much action, but this year all species were receptive to my old, reliable gold Mepps spinner. In fact, when I tested the waters two weeks ago I caught one of every species including some black crappies (calico bass in some circles) that were 12 inches long!
The most pleasing aspect of warmwater fishing is that you don’t have to work as hard for your catch. Most of these species are found in schools or pods, so if you catch one you are likely to catch a dozen. Also on the plus side, there is no bag limit on bluegills, white perch, crappies or yellow perch, so you can keep all you need to make a family-style fish fry of sweet, boneless fillets. By the way, spring perch and crappies are among the best-eating fish in Maine. The only people I know who don’t like them are the ones who have never tried them (the “I only eat trout” crowd).
Now is the time to teach the kids how to fish. With no bugs, no leaves, no spider webs or oppressive heat to deal with, fishing in April is a pleasure. Good fishing may be had from shore or right off a dock or bridge, but if you have access to a boat or canoe, so much the better. Cruise slowly along shore, cast into the shallows and retrieve your lures or baits slowly back to the gunwale. Let the bait sit in the water for a few seconds before pulling it out for another cast because lazy (or cautious) fish will follow it right back to the boat and then hit it just as you pull it out of the water. This is where some big fish and great lures are lost every year. The scenario is perfect for disaster: Short line, no slack, tight drag and angler inattention. The fish comes up, takes the bait and dives back down to the bottom, snapping the line behind him and leaving a thoroughly surprised fisherman in his wake.
Just another lost fish, right? Ha! I can recall losing the biggest fish of my career back in 1957. It was a giant northern pike that had followed my bait right back to the boat and was waiting for it to break the water. I remember seeing the lure (a red-white Dardevle) hanging there just under the surface. When I started to pull it out of the water for another cast a pike twice the size of our boat paddle came up and took a swipe at it. There was a great deal of splashing and all kinds of great advice from my brother in one end of the boat and my uncle in the other but, alas, the fish broke free. I endured many long hours of “should haves” and “would haves” after that but, by heck, I’ve never arbitrarily pulled a lure out of the water since then. I do the “figure 8” thing, I let it rest, I twirl it around the boat . . . anything I can do to give the fish one more look at it. It only figures that I have never had a boat-side strike like that since then, but one of these days it’s going to happen and I’ll be ready!
According to the sages (whoever they are!) the best fishing won’t be for another few weeks, something to do with poplar leaves and mouse’s ears. Humans have a way of talking themselves out of most anything that’s fun because of some long-standing rule or tradition, but those who bend the rules and flout tradition once in a while often have more productive days overall.
Traditions are one thing, exceptions are another, and I think most sportsmen will agree that 2012 has been an exception in many ways. Blame it on global warming, La Nina or any number of cosmic quandaries (the Mayans, maybe?), but the bottom line is that there’s good fishing to be enjoyed right now. There’s no telling how the odd winter just passed will affect this spring’s turkey season, but for now the fish are being cooperative and that’s a plus in anyone’s ledger.
Skip the yard work, landscaping and gardening for a week or two and make the most of this unusually warm, balmy spring. Fish, hunt or scout for shed antlers but get out there and enjoy this great late-April weather. Things could change very quickly; after all this is Maine!
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