It's been a busy start to the 2021 Maine striped bass charter season for me. I've finally got a day to catch up on boat maintenance, some tackle upgrades, and maybe even cutting the lawn that is out of control. I'd characterize late May fishing in the Kennebec as encouraging and first week of June as disappointing. It just seemed to take a while for enough stripers to move into our waters to produce consistent fishing. We'd get waves of bass but patterning the fish was a real challenge for me. That changed this past week. It finally feels like June should, like we remember, like we think about in January, and while I'm thankful to grab an extra hour of sleep and get some items crossed off my ever-expanding to-do list, it's killing me not to be on the water this morning.
I've been horrible at updating fishing reports, photos from charters, random thoughts on fly tackle or news on boat improvements. Just wicked busy...so here's a quick brain dump of fishing thoughts that haven't evaporated from my consciousness:
The Minn Kota trolling motor is a gamechanger. Total gamechanger. I've been fishing with one for something like 15 years and we finally seem to be seeing an exponential growth in the number of saltwater anglers with a trolling motor mounted on the bow. I've helped quite a few other guides understand the value of this fishing tool and been unabashed in my absolute confidence that they would find the investment in a trolling motor well worth the cost. Ask 10 saltwater guides their go-to jig, favorite braided line, or most trusted crab fly pattern and you'll get a wide range of answers and some really diverse opinions. Ask that same group if the significant initial cost to add a trolling motor to their boat was worthwhile and I'll bet a bottle of really good tequila that 10 out of 10 will say "Absolutely"! If you're thinking about adding one to your boat but not yet convinced, come to the Maine Boatbuilders Show at Portland Yacht Services July 23-25. I'll be running in-water demos. I'll put the remote in your hands and teach you how to use it and very quickly, you will know.
Trolling motors can change how we fish a section of good bottom structure, a defined edge, an island shoreline. Here in the Kennebec River we've had a tradition drifting over or along the area we want to fish, allowing multiple boats to access the same area. One jamoke dropping anchor screws it up for all. Those of us who use trolling motors need to think about how we do so in spots where etiquette has always been to share that water. This is a very different norm than what we expect fishing a flat. It deserves far more attention than I'm going to give it today, so if you read this post and have input, send it my way.
Why don't I buy more white bucktails when I find good ones? I was at Eldredge Brothers Fly Shop earlier in the spring pawing through bins of deer tails and stopped my search after finding 4 that I really liked. Foolish me. I certainly don't have a habit of buying too little fly tying material but somehow I perpetually underbuy white bucktail and hooks.
No matter your skill or experience tying saltwater flies, invest a little bit of your screen-time watching HMH Vices Pro Tier
Brammer's videos on Beginner Predator Flies. Really good stuff for people with all levels of experience. And another reminder (to both of us) that we can do so much with white bucktail, so buy more of 'em.
We've got herring of all sizes in and around the Kennebec. From Bath on up river to Merrymeeting Bay I see more river herring that are either about 4 inches in length or adults. In the Lower River (my own distinction that is Bath down through Phippsburg, Georgetown and Popham) we have same sizes plus much smaller herring that may be either Atlantic herring (aka sea herring) or river herring. These dense schools of small, slender bait can produce some fussy striped bass as they key in on the little bait. I keep at least one rod rigged and in easy reach with an adult herring imitation - something big - like a 10' Fin-S-Fish or a Super Snax or big spook plug. When we see stripers chasing these hefty baits across the surface, I want someone to grab that rod and fire it forthwith into the melee.
We should all be thankful for the incredible success here in Maine restoring runs of river herring. Efforts by the Department of Marine Resources to both trap and truck spawning adults and to remove fish passage impediments make us the envy of every other state in the Northeast where alewives and blueback herring are in trouble. The possibility exists to significantly improve on what we currently see for river herring numbers with dam removal and/or improvement of fish passage at the 4 lowest dams on the Kennebec. There will be opportunity ahead for you to participate in the effort lead by the state and non-profit organizations to continue this work. Herring keep fish in this river all season long, so if you fish it, I hope you'll get involved in sustaining it.
Water clarity and temps are more like early July than mid-June. If you love to sightcast to shallow water striped bass, get out there now. It will be interesting to see if this drought continues how it influences our fishing in July and August. There's one flat in particular that has at times been incredibly productive mid-summer even when the water on it was 78 degrees. I stopped fishing it for a bit two years ago as we were having to spend a lot more time reviving fish. It's easy to convince ourselves that if they swim away they are fine, but that isn't always the case.
I finally got down to Duxbury, MA to visit with Chris Aubut in his rod building workshop. We only had an hour to talk about rod design, component options, application of different blanks, and what I'm ordering from him next. I'm absolutely head over heels about the first Aubut Rod that I've just put into service and people who've fished it feel the same way. I'm in the process of putting together an order of 4 or 5 new rods for Fritz after he spent two days with the Aubut in hand and I'm in line for another spinning rod and a fly rod. More details on these to come...
Another big hit with my folks are the Scientific Angler Sonar Titan Triple Density lines. This is the next evolution of integrated sinking shooting lines that Jim Teeny popularized and a really advancement, not just a slight improvement. You feel like you're fly casting, not just slinging a string attached to a length of chain. The new SA cardboard spools are pretty cool. What a smart way to cut down on a lot of often wasted plastic packaging. Save a few of the plastic spools you have for line swaps - they last a lifetime and a half - as I expect other line makers to follow suit with this switch.
Weather forecasting has come a long way in the time I've been running charterboats. I sometimes still listen to the NOAA weather radio while cleaning up the boat for nostalgia sake. The tools we have available to us on our phones are incredible. Still, accurate wind predictions on the ocean are very difficult and far less reliable than temperature, participation timing and amount, fog, thunderstorm warnings. I blew a call last week with a fly angler when I suggested we not go on an evening outing due to wind. It was honking at 2:00 pm, the forecast included wind overnight and the next morning, and it turned out to be one of those breathless evenings when you can see fish pushing water from a long distance away. Ugh.
A couple of my loves:
- an early start (has really paid dividends this week)
- foggy days
- the community of guides who work together in this watershed
- cold brew coffee at 10:00 am after a 2:15 am alarm
- my post-trip nap
- being organized and having a routine
- my Humminbird Mega Side Imaging
- anglers who actually practice their fly casting and my casting when I've been practicing
- the universal appreciation for the beauty of this setting from all of the people in my boat
- fishing in Maine in June
A couple of reminders to myself that may help you out:
- using my alarm to prompt moves to a particular location helps
- using my alarm to remind me to reapply sunscreen is critical
- turning my screen brightness down to 8 on my fishfinder/chartplotters uses a lot less voltage
- making more cold brew needs to be a daily task
- buy more white bucktails when I find good ones
- tell people to bring a water bottle in their pre-trip email to cut down on the plastics waste we generate
- plan a mid-season fishing trip for myself in 2022
Thanks to all of you who have come out with me already or have made plans to fish this season. It's really fulfilling for me to spend time with you on the water.
Capt. Peter Fallon