Fall foliage and flying fish

Bill Graves, Special to The County
9 months ago

My cousin was out and about scouring field and forest attempting to fill a zone 6 bull moose tag. Another pair of friends were floating the Aroostook River for ducks, while still another trio of gunning buddies had set up goose decoys in a cut grain field. I’d had an invitation to visit North Maine Woods and the Realty Road for partridge, and another wondered if we shouldn’t attempt to bag a tom turkey. A couple of others were taking full advantage of archery season for deer.

All were surprised and somewhat puzzled upon learning that in the midst of October’s multiple gun and bow seasons, I’d be in a boat, on a river, with fishing rod in hand. Several did not even realize fishing season was still open, and for most Maine outdoorsmen, late August or early September is changeover time from cast to blast equipment. I’m fine with this annual changeover, since there are far fewer anglers on the waterways and more open pools for me.

Smallmouth bass were the quarry of the day and the Medway boat launch on the Penobscot River the starting point. With a predicted high of 68 degrees, only a breath of a breeze and the sun playing hide and seek with intermittent clouds, the conditions were prime. Tom Wolters from Madawaska Lake and Frank Koehn from Blaine, both avid smallmouth enthusiasts, were eager to share the boat ride and the river, its shoreline in full autumn foliage splendor.

It’s a bit of a drive from northern Aroostook to Medway, but one of the closest spots to enjoy steady action from aerobatic, acrobatic bronzebacks. Pound for pound, few freshwater fish can match the fight of a smallie and the prolific leaping and thrashing to throw the hook. We stopped for a tasty lunch along the way, having decided to arrive at about 1 p.m. to allow the sun to warm the water a bit and perhaps invigorate the fish. 

Various colors of 5-inch Senko worms kept bass biting all afternoon on a recent autumn outing. (Credit: Bill Graves)

Unusually steady summer and fall rain had kept most waterways higher and colder than normal. We found that to be true as we launched in heavy, high flow and chatted worriedly about unfavorable conditions. Only one other vehicle and empty boat trailer graced the large parking area, perhaps another ominous sign.

We cast our usually productive top water poppers and chuggers, shallow-running divers and even flashy spinner baits for almost an hour with very little action. I switched over to a Texas-rigged plastic worm and had a strike and miss, a hook-up that pulled free after two jumps and then caught the first bass. Tom got the hint and began casting a wacky-rigged 5-inch Senko worm on a 2/0 hook with a weed guard. Within 15 minutes he enjoyed five strikes and two bronzebacks that were released. All of us were soon casting various colors of wacky-rigged worms.

Over the next three hours our wacky worm trio experienced 74 strikes, producing 48 hook-ups  and a total of 32 bass boated. Considering baits having to be changed, break-offs that required hook and worm replacement and yours truly out of the game for about 15 minutes due to a reel/line snafu, that’s a whole lot of action. 

Moreover, the smallmouth were mostly large in size, 75 percent being 2 to 3 1/2 pounds, and extremely high-leaping and hard-fighting considering the high, colder-than-normal water conditions.

Tom Wolters of Madawaska Lake tried out the wacky-rigged worm after topwater baits failed, and the afternoon air was filled with large leaping bass. (Credit: Bill Graves)

Three or four somersaulting jumps were common and one of my larger bass greyhounded across the surface over 20 feet in and out of the water six times on one run. Penobscot bronzeback fishing is always productive, but that many bass, that large and gymnastic, made for an amazing autumn afternoon. Six of the bass were invited home for a fish fry since Frank was having family visiting from out of state the next day, and all the rest are ready to bite and fight again.

Late-season bass casters in the Crown of Maine may find a trip north to the St. John River more convenient. Also open until the end of November, bass and muskie are fair game in the border waters. There are numerous other waterways open to fall fishing. All are listed online or in the annual fishing law handbook. Since it’s spawning season, regulations such as artificial lures only and immediate release are in effect for most species, and it’s wise to check guidelines for any spot you might fish.

Despite the vast array of hunting opportunities, don’t overlook some last-chance fishing as well. Global warming trends seem to be offering Aroostook sportsmen better autumn weather and I’ve enjoyed a couple of cast and blast combo days the last couple of years. How about you? Remember where your spinning or fly rod is; the bass fishing is outstanding.