March 24, 2018
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Bass now sit atop state’s piscatorial totem pole

Drawing by Tom Hennessey | BDN
Drawing by Tom Hennessey | BDN
By Tom Hennessey

Steel wool clouds were scrubbing an aluminum sky when Steve Forrest and I launched his Grand Laker canoe on West Grand Lake. Though the famed fishing ground had shed its winter coat early, the water was still cold owing to windy overcast days and frosty nights. Consequently, the usually hard-hitting landlocks were “taking short.” So much so that, hours later, while warding off the chills in Steve’s camp, we figured our streamers had been struck by a dozen or more salmon. Yet only three were netted: a pair of healthy 19-inchers and Steve’s 3¼- pounder that leaped and flashed like lightning.

For the uninitiated, conversations in fishing camps cover a lot of water. Accordingly, while agreeing that spring fishing doesn’t get any better than trolling streamers for landlocked salmon, Steve and I allowed that bass fishing had reached the top of the state’s piscatorial totem pole. Think about West Grand guides booking more bass anglers than salmon and togue fishermen. Likewise, the majority of fish shown on TV 2’s “Big Ol’ Fish” segments are bass, largemouth and smallmouth. Moreover, it’s common now to see high-tech bass boats with 200-horse outboards being towed to tournaments. Obviously, the changing times have changed bass fishing in this neck of the woods.

Nevertheless, because you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, I’ll stick with casting fly-rod poppers from a quietly paddled canoe. And given my druthers, especially now that bass (typically males) are belligerent in guarding spawning beds, I’d opt for an overcast day on the Penobscot River’s world-class smallmouth fishery, where catching and releasing 30 or more wouldn’t be unusual. And where, while working a popper in foam-flecked pools and eddies, I’d pause to watch an eagle soaring or an osprey hovering or, perhaps, a hen black duck with a brood in tow.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t be thinking about ponds with spawning beds glowing in gravelly shallows darkened by the reflections of steeple-like spruces. Not to mention the yodeling of loons, painted turtles plunging from rocks and logs, the chanting of baritone bullfrogs and dragonflies perched atop the purple flowers of pickerelweed. All of which, along with just enough breeze to discourage the black flies, are good excuses for being late for supper.

Clearly, the distractions enjoyed while bass fishing are as many and varied as the lures in your tackle box. But no matter how pleasant those distractions may be, they’re not as satisfying as the cartwheeling, tail-walking, tug-of-war contests initiated by strikes that are sometimes deceivingly slow and gentle but most times sudden and violent. Sporty fish, these bass, once disparaged hereabouts as trash fish. But now that Maine’s abundance of productive bass waters has been discovered it’s not surprising that bass fishing has reached the top of the state’s piscatorial totem pole.

Tom Hennessey’s columns and artwork can be viewed on the BDN website at Tom’s email address is

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