May 26, 2013

Allen Afield: Bass fishing in Maine -- an experience like no other

By Ken Allen

Maine's black-bass anglers find lots of action during most months from mid-spring to fall, but fishing peaks in the next five weeks, depending on latitude and elevation, as males defend spawning beds in the shallows.

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Smallmouth bass, feisty and fun for anglers, can provide great opportunities for anyone who wants to become proficient at playing good-sized fish on fly rods.

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Our smallmouth bass in particular offer a world-class experience, an overused description in outdoor sports, but this species provides that much quality -- and serious anglers from the West Coast to Europe know it.

This column appears in three newspapers, and they cover the regions that hold the best bass fishing around -- southern Maine, central Maine, western mountains, midcoast and Down East. Anglers could choose one county anywhere in the five areas, and in one lifetime they may not have enough time to hit all the bass waters adequately.

Let's take central Maine, where I bass fish:

We have myriad lakes and huge ponds with heavy-bodied bass, but we also boast plenty of small bass ponds and rivers with hand-carry launches and often light development. The bass-boat crowd hits big waters but ignores classic, underfished bass havens, little places that rank as my favorite. Plenty of fly rodders and ultralight spin anglers with canoes live for casting along wooded shorelines for fish described in pounds, not inches.

One bassing spot in Somerville ranks as my favorite destination, even though it just holds largemouths. Turner Mill Pond stretches a narrow 31/2 miles, and contains islands, coves and peninsulas that make it look like a still river. I started casting there at age 7 and have also guided on it for bass in the late 1990s.

The pond never bores me after all these years. On most trips its black, weedy waters have provided me with fast bass action and the occasional pickerel.

A feature of the pond intrigues me, too. When I was a kid, this was straight pickerel water, but IFW stocked largemouths many years ago, even though the pond belongs to the Sheepscot River drainage, an Atlantic salmon water. Go figure.

But as the old saying goes, if life gives you lemons, make lemonade, and through the decades I've done just that on this pond.

If someone wants to become a serious, diehard bass angler, then buying a big bass boat and arsenal of bait-casting rods, spinning lures and so forth make plenty of sense, and Maine is the place to do it.

But for many of us, bassing becomes an occasional diversion in late May and June during spawning, a change from trout and salmon.

For us, fly fishing makes sense for bass, particularly for novice fly rodders.

And here's why newbie fly fishers should do it:

Folks who want to become proficient at playing good-sized fish on fly rods can't go wrong by practicing on bass, and while doing it, they can have a ball with high-flying smallmouths that appear to be propelled by rocket boosters instead of fins. That builds skills for wrestling trophy salmonids.

One spring in my late teens, the late Lawrence French and I fished Sheepscot Pond for wild-fighting smallmouths, which I knew then gave me needed experience playing fish with a fly rod. That year, one evening outing got me in a raft of trouble with a girlfriend, when I skipped a dinner date to go bass fishing with Lawrence. Yes folks, fishing is serious business.

Nothing beats a popper for bass just to see the water explode as a smallmouth or largemouth smashes it on the surface, but day in and day out, I've enjoyed the most consistent action with a leech-imitating Wooly Bugger -- a black one tied with a body made from peacock herl and black yarn (the iridescent sheen imitates a leech), and particularly -- and are you ready for this -- with a chartreuse Wooly Bugger. Bass love this bright-green option.

However, anglers might try a Barne's Special in waters with yellow perch, Red Gray Ghost in places with smelts, Muddler Minnow in spots with sculpins, Blacknose Dace in localities with a dark stripe on each side and crayfish imitations in the same color and size as this crustacean in the water.

Which illustrates a tip. Matching a prevalent forage item creates fast action, so smarty-pants, match-the-hatch types can conquer bass waters.

Here's another point about late May and early June smallmouths. At times they delicately sip hatching mayflies and caddises from the surface, just as trout and salmon do. Veteran trout fly fishers know the drill.

In the 1980s on Long Pond in the Belgrade Lakes, I'd fish from a 20-foot canoe and cast to rising bass, brookies and landlocks.

It was fun fishing, like in a northern Maine trout pond -- 16 miles from the capitol dome.

Yes, bass offer many reasons to fish for them, including good practice and faster action than for salmonids, decent eating and more.

But we need no excuses to explain why we're spending a day with bass instead of salmonids.

These feisty members of the perch family offer just plain fun without any reasons beyond that, and in Maine's bottom third, it would be harder to find a water without bass than with them.

Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at:

KAllyn800@yahoo.com

 

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