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It surprises me no end to see how popular bass fishing has become in Maine. Not so many years ago trout and salmon ruled, and on many occasions as recently as the 1980s I saw fishermen (and a few guides) toss 5-pound smallmouths up on the river bank – “trash fish” is what they called them.
These days bass and bass fishing have been elevated to star status, with fishing tournaments being held on most of Maine’s biggest bass lakes and millions of dollars being invested in boats, motors, sonar, fishing tackle and related gear, all in the interest of catching, but not keeping, Maine’s smallmouth and largemouth bass.
Both species are lumped together and called “black bass” by state fisheries managers. The species has become so popular that recent new laws protect bass during the spring spawning season, which happens to be in progress right now. From April 1 through June 30 the daily bag and possession limit is one bass over 10 inches. From July 1 through September 30 the bag limit is three fish over 10 inches but only one may exceed 14 inches. From October 1 through March 31, the daily bag limit is one fish over 10 inches. We’ve certainly come a long way from throwing them up on the bank to feed the raccoons!
There’s good reason that bass continue to gain in popularity. Always aggressive and eager to strike a bait or lure, bass are easy to find along shore in lakes, ponds and rivers statewide, especially in spring as they tend their shallow-water nests. Back in my guiding days I guaranteed clients 100 bass a day or the trip was free – I never had to bite the bullet! On a good day in spring one can easily double that number, although not all of them will be 5-pound fish. Bass as small as 6 inches will attack a “grown-up” lure and fight like a champion, so every catch counts. Bass in the 10- to 15-inch range are very tasty as well although the majority of anglers release their fish, which only guarantees a bright future for bass fishermen. These fish are tough and resilient, too. I’ve caught dozens of bass over the years that had one or more lures stuck in the corner of their jaws, and on several occasions re-caught fish that had gotten away with one of my own lures. Gotta love a fish that isn’t afraid of a few treble hooks.
Overall, bass fishing is much easier (and cheaper) to get into than other types of fishing. A 6-foot medium-weight fishing rod, 6-pound test line and a sturdy reel will handle any bass one might encounter in Maine.
Selecting lures for bass fishing can be daunting for someone new to the sport. There are thousands of variations on the basic theme of lures that gurgle, wiggle or jiggle and bass will take them all, especially in spring. My entire collection of bass lures consists of just four basic types: a Jitterbug for topwater action, a Mr. Twister Teenie spinnerbait for shallow, open water, a 3-inch silver Rebel minnow and a gold Mepps spinner, which is a killer lure for rivers and rocky structure. I have caught bass with those four basic lures for over 50 years and have never had a day where at least one of them didn’t produce fish.
I’ve been fishing with guys armed with $40,000 bass boats, suitcases full of lures and racks of different rods and reels but, at the end of the day, I caught just as many bass as they did. When you have the lure bass are interested in showing them 100 others won’t do you any good. These fish are nowhere near as fussy as the average trout or salmon.
Fishing from shore can be challenging for those who don’t want to get their feet wet because brush, saplings and unstable footing can create some frustrating situations. Where wading is an option the fishing is much easier, although deep water and silt can make walking along shore a challenge of its own.
Ideally, one should opt for a small boat, kayak or canoe to fish near shore, just far enough from the brush and driftwood to allow an accurate cast with few snags hang-ups. If you make enough casts into shore you’re likely to end up with a lure in the trees from time to time, but it’s easy enough to paddle in and retrieve errant baits, saving $5 in the process. Wading and shore fishing can result in lost lures that are simply impossible to get to, so plan ahead and bring extra lures just in case.
Because spring bass are already as aggressive and territorial as a fish can be, getting them to strike is usually not a problem. Target anything that looks like a hiding place for bass including fallen trees, logs, rocks, overhanging limbs and driftwood jams. Drop your lure as close to the target as possible, let it rest a few seconds and then begin your retrieve. Quite often a bass will jump to meet a lure before it hits the water, while others will take the bait during the short “rest” period. It’s very unusual for a bass to let a lure go more than two or three cranks of the reel handle but just to be sure, continue to retrieve the lure at a slow, steady pace right back to the rod tip. Some fish will hit the lure just before it comes out of the water, so be prepared for that. When this happens give the fish some slack line or he may end up breaking the line with his sharp teeth or gill plates.
Though bass are masters at filling their stomachs the occasional fish will miss a strike. Stop retrieving the lure and let the fish recover. Wait a few seconds and then continue the retrieve. Usually the fish will hit again. Another option is to return to that same spot in 30 minutes or so and then try again. It’s a good bet that the fish won’t miss a second time!
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