In my July 27 column I said that Maine’s black bear hunting season opens Aug. 25, which is true if it were 2014, but of course this is 2015 and the actual season opener is Aug. 31. I’m not sure why or how the wrong date got in there but after 25 years of churning out weekly columns I was bound to make a mistake at some point. This is a good example of why hunters (and fishermen, for that matter) should always refer to the current laws and regulations as published by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Details can get lost in translation in newspapers, magazines and on blogs and Web sites as well. Saying you saw it in the paper won’t fly with the judge!
Looking on the bright side, this gives hunters an extra week to get ready. Readers who were planning on hunting bears this season should make their adjustments and tweak their plans accordingly. At worst you’ll need an extra week’s worth of bait, which isn’t a bad thing. Bears come readily to some sites and more reluctantly to others, as you’ll discover if you decide to get into the wild and wacky world of bear hunting.
Meanwhile, there’s still plenty of time to get in some great late-summer fishing. For quantity of sport the most logical targets are bass, pickerel, bluegills and the perches (white and yellow). All of these species are abundant and aggressive in late summer, and if filling the freezer with sweet fillets is your goal you can’t go wrong with any of them. There are some size and bag limits on bass and pickerel but you can catch and keep all the perch and bluegills you want.
It’s interesting to me how tastes vary among fishermen. Some I know are devout fans of bass and won’t keep even one, although most fisheries biologists insist that keeping a few won’t deplete the population. Pickerel fans are likely fewer in number but those who know how to prepare these bony fish swear by them. Simply scale and fillet the fish, and then make a series of cuts ¼-inch apart in the fleshy side of the fillet. Cook as usual and those pesky Y-shaped bones will melt in the process.
In Maine the most popular panfish is the white perch. Most old-timers I know yearn for a good “feed of perch” at this time of year, and the biggest fans will plan to spend a day on the water and not come home till they’ve filled a trash can with the biggest, fattest specimens they can find. Because white perch travel in schools it’s quite possible to end the day with fish weighing anywhere from 1 to 3 pounds, and that is some good eatin’, as they like to say. If there’s a down side to perch fishing it’s that all those fat perch need to be filleted and frozen as soon as possible. This could mean several hours of nifty knife work at the end of a long day of fishing, but the results are more than worth it. Breaded and fried or grilled, there’s hardly a fish in the state that beats a freshly-caught white perch on the plate.
Bluegill fans are equally enamored with their favorite angling target, and for the same reasons. Bluegills are common and abundant statewide and are easily caught in shallow, weedy water close to shore. Small but aggressive and determined, it’s not difficult to take a canoe-load of ‘gills using a small fly-rod popper or tiny piece of cut bait fished in and near the lily pads. On a good August day it’s not difficult to catch a bluegill on nearly every cast. Not all will be palm-sized lunkers but at the end of the day you’ll have more than enough fish for a good feed plus some for the freezer.
In this day and age of bass and trout reverence it’s easy to forget that one of the most popular of all “other” fish is the lowly bullhead or horned pout, essentially a short, fat, dark-colored cousin of the catfish which, in the South and Mid-West, is the most popular fish of all. The bullhead is one of those popular, common but ignored species that deserves better. It’s not even listed in the record books (cusk and catfish are, however). As I recall the biggest bullhead ever caught in Maine was something like 3 or 4 pounds, which is a monster among horned pout. I’m sure there are bigger ones out there but the vast majority of bullheads weigh less than 1 pound.
To catch all the horned pout you want, simply show up at a shallow, muddy lake around sunset armed with your favorite fishing rod, a dozen snelled No. 8 hooks and a container of night crawlers, liver chunks, chicken parts or just about anything else made of meat that will stay on a hook. Toss your offering as far out as you can reach and then sit back and wait. In weedy areas, a bobber will help keep your bait out of the salad, and if you have access to a boat or canoe all the better. You’ll catch all the bullheads you want just above the mud in knee-deep water and there’s no need to go any deeper. Don’t worry, they will find you!
Maine’s bullheads are ridiculously easy to catch, easier to prepare and delicious on the plate. Just grab the fish behind the head with one hand and, with the other hand, snap the head sharply backward. When the spine cracks keep on pulling the head toward the tail. Properly executed, the head, skin and entrails will come away in one hand while the meat and tail will come away in the other hand. Total elapsed time should be about three seconds once you get the hang of it. Bread ‘em, fry ‘em and ring the dinner bell. That’s all there is to it!