In the last three decades, black bass have interested a steadily growing number of Maine anglers – folks who think largemouths and smallmouths offer more action and larger fish than trout can provide them each season.
This month, these two species spawn in lakes and ponds, and largemouths choose waters of 1- to 4-foot depths and smallmouths 1- to 12-foot deep. During the spawn, the fishing gets as good as it ever does for these pugnacious critters.
Smallmouths begin building nests for egg laying when waters reach 60- to 65-degree Fahrenheit, and largemouths start at 60 degrees and increase activity as waters near 65 degrees. When using a thermometer, I prefer to see waters hold a target temperature – say like 60 degrees – for three days in a row.
After finding these nests in shallow water, my bass-fishing strategy always includes a fly rod, which has a rich tradition in Maine. I like these slender wands for the challenge, but lures with spin- or bait-casting rods attract a huge following.
My idea of a fun bass fishing day begins with cloud cover and no wind, creating a silvery surface except where shadows creep from shorelines. In my younger years on bass waters, I’d often cast streamers and bucktails that imitated prevalent baitfish and did well. Males defend the nests and strike at intruders to protect eggs and young.
These days, my favorite fly choice from spring through fall is a No. 4 chartreuse Wooly Bugger. Bass may mistake a Wooly Bugger for a leech or baitfish, but I have no clue as to why chartreuse works better than a black Bugger.
Crayfish are a favorite smallmouth food, but exact imitations may fail big time. In crayfish waters, a very rough-looking, hairy crayfish with lots of moving hair and hackle generates strikes, too.
With Polarizing sunglasses, casters can see circular smallmouth nests on shallow bottoms. Smallies build these structures as small as 12 inches across and as wide as nearly six feet, and in my experience, the most common sizes run between the two extremes. Smallmouths prefer making nests in pea-sized gravel.
Largemouths have similar sized nests, and this species also likes pea-sized gravel but utilizes packed sand, marl or clay.
Largemouths in Maine average 1 to 11/2 pounds and measure 10 to 13 inches, and smallmouths weigh the same and average 9 to 13 inches. However, they grow much larger. The state record largemouth is 11 pounds, 10 ounces and smallmouth is 8 pounds, but the records are over 40 years old. Just the same, 4-pound smallies and 6-pound largemouths are always a possibility on any cast in many of the state’s bass waters.
When learning to fly-fish in my late teens, black bass gave me great fly-fishing practice for playing trophy salmonids. Those big smallmouths prepared me for wrestling landlocked salmon from the Penobscot’s West Branch in my early 20s. A few years later, experience with landlocks helped me play Atlantic salmon in Canada – the old learning curve in action.
New fly rodders can fish for black bass, stripers, bluefish or mackerel and learn the finer points of playing fish. And right now in the bottom half of the state, bass waters with spawning fish lie near every one of us.
Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editshiror and photographer, may be reached at