Can it already be the last day of July? It seems like only yesterday that we were all waiting for winter to end and backyard gardeners were hoping the cold and rain would cease so we could get our cucumbers, tomatoes and squash planted. Now we’re just a few weeks away from wrapping up the growing season and getting ready for fall. I don’t recall seeing the seasons go by so quickly when I was younger, but maybe in those days I was too busy with other things to notice. Now I have more time to sit, watch and ponder, and it seems that almost every day there’s a new sign indicating radical change is on the horizon.
Last week, for example, I took a tour of my blueberry barrens and decided it would be several weeks before I would start picking. Turns out I was off . . . by several weeks! I happen to have one large, productive high bush plant in my yard that has always yielded three quarts of berries. I normally ignore it because I’ve found that staring at the fruit clusters won’t make them grow any faster, but this week, I decided to take a closer look and was amazed to see that more than half the berries were ready to pick. In fact, the birds and the Japanese beetles had already stolen or ruined a good percentage of the crop. I ran inside to get a quart container and began picking as fast as I could. I filled one box and got halfway through another before I had to wander the yard in search of more blueberries. The next bush I found was also loaded with ready-to-pick blueberries, and the low-bush varieties were heavily laden as well. I put a hold on all other activities (naps included) and proceeded to pick four quarts (my winter quota). There are at least four more quarts of berries still to be picked plus dozens more that will likely never see the inside of the freezer.
Thanks to the slow spring and hot summer my squash, cucumbers and tomatoes seemed to be slacking but suddenly all are now heavy with vegetables that are nearly ready to pick and process. I thought I had “several weeks” to wait for them to ripen as well but apparently they know that, spring weather conditions notwithstanding, it’s now or never.
My standard operating procedure is to have the gardens dismantled and tilled by the end of September so I can spend all my spare time in the woods. Most of what I grow is ready to harvest in mid-August so there’s no need to worry about timing. I will be putting out some bear baits in anticipation of the September-October trapping season but filling the freezer for winter is my first priority. Before the week is out I’ll have my allotment of blueberries put away, and shortly afterward I’ll have a good supply of raspberries and kiwis in the freezer. The vegetables will get their turn as they ripen and mature, so with luck and a few busy weekends I’ll be caught up and ready to hunt come Oct. 1.
If I keep an eye on things and don’t lag behind I should be able to get in a little more fishing this summer as well. The brook fishing season ends Aug. 15, and in most years that date is overly generous because the majority of Maine’s small streams and brooks have dried up or gotten too warm for trout. This year, however, the long, cold spring and rainy weather kept local brooks at optimum levels. My most recent trip produced a limit of brookies in just two pools, which is outstanding for July brook fishing. The deep holes are the preferred targets because the shallow runs and riffles in between are usually too warm and exposed for a trout’s liking. Anglers who are adept at slipping a fine-wire hook adorned with a garden worm into log jams and undercuts should have no trouble finding fish right through the end of the season.
The very best bass fishing is behind us now but plenty of smallmouths can be found in ponds, lakes and rivers well into September. At this time of year I like to fish the bigger rivers like the Piscataquis, Pleasant, Sebec and Sebasticook, which big, aggressive smallmouths can be found lurking near bridge crossings and stretches of exposed ledge in downstream pools.
River bass seem to be more than happy to take a lure or bait even on the warmest of days. I try the bridge pools first and then, when the action slows down, I’ll drift or paddle downstream and work the brushy banks, rocky shoreline and deep pools where most of the biggest bass will be found.
For more than 50 years now I have been fishing the pool above Rhoda’s Bridge in Milo and not once have I ever been skunked. I start in the fast water below the bridge, work the abutments (both sides) and then the faster water just upstream. The shoreline can be tough to fish on foot but when I bring my kayak or canoe I make some great catches along both shores. The pool below where the Sebec River feeds into the Piscataquis is also a great spot, as is the water above and below the railroad trestle.
It can take several hours to fish this area, even longer for those who want to try up the Sebec River to the dam in Milo, and the water above the railroad trestle always holds plenty of bass, too. All of the rivers in central Maine are full of bass that are feisty and cooperative during the month of August. They are more than happy to take whatever you throw at them but if all you have is a 3-inch Rebel floating minnow or a gold Mepps bucktail spinner no Maine smallmouth will turn you down. The minnow imitation is most productive when the water is shallow (6 feet or less), but the spinner will take more fish out of deep holes and pools that may get down to 10 feet or more.
Fish for river bass early and late in the day and save the chores for mid-day. They will be there waiting for you – there’s no doubt about that!