For many Mainers, the first few weeks after ice-out on their favorite lake can be among the best times of year to fish, as gamefish such as landlocked salmon linger near the surface, providing the opportunity to fish without using heavy tackle, weights or downriggers.
And when the weather’s nice and warm(ish) and the wind isn’t blowing (too hard), spending a few hours in a boat on one of Maine’s productive lakes can be a joy.
If you’re one of those people who loves to troll for salmon in the spring, you’ve already got your secret techniques that always work. Maybe you always spit on your bait before dropping it in the water. Maybe you begin your trip with the same good-luck streamer fly every time. Whatever your secret, there’s always room for improvement — or another superstition.
Rob Dunnett of Brewer is one of those avid spring trollers. He’s quick to point out that he’s no expert — 10 other anglers might have 10 other techniques, he says — but he gets out as often as he can and usually catches fish.
His preferred method is an old-fashioned one: He likes to troll tandem (two-hooked) streamer flies near the surface of the water, just two or three inches down.
“It’s kind of classic Maine fishing and it’s something that happens here that doesn’t happen anywhere else,” Dunnett said. “If you talk about a tandem streamer anywhere else in the country other than in northern New England, they have no idea what you’re talking about. And to go out and put it behind a boat and drive around and hope to catch a fish, they just think you’re crazy.”
Dunnett is lucky to live near some great landlocked salmon waters, and will often take a buddy and spend a few hours trying his luck at lakes within a half-hour of home. His rationale: Many streams are currently “blown out,” and the flow doesn’t allow for effective fishing. The lakes? They’re a different story. And the fish are often willing to participate in the game.
“The landlocked salmon this time of year head toward the shallow water, where it’s warmer, and they follow the smelt that are coming up to spawn,” he said. “Then the smelt hang around the shoreline for a little bit. So they’re following the baitfish.”
His technique is quite simple. He uses fly rods equipped with a floating fly line.
“I troll basically on the surface, I troll with really long leaders, about 18 feet long of monofilament so the fly can get down [a couple of inches], but as I’m tracking right along the shoreline, I’m not worried about getting hung up on rocks and losing flies to the shore,” Dunnett said.
Among the flies he relies on: the ARF 1820, a beaded tandem streamer that he designed for Annika Rod & Fly in Brewer. The 1820 refers to the lengths of the first two fish he caught on the fly: 18 inches and 20 inches. The ARF stands for Annika Rod & Fly.
Kevin Dunham, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife regional fisheries biologist for Region F in Enfield, said trolling in the springtime can lead to some fantastic fishing.
“For salmon anglers, trolling a Grey Ghost or Maple Syrup fly on the surface just after ice-out using a nine-foot, five or six weight fly rod is a piscatorial delight,” Dunham said. “A couple area waters to try are West Lake in T3 ND and Cold Stream Pond in Enfield, both ice-free. The ice has also gone out of Nicatous Lake which offers a good opportunity to catch some hold-over fall-stocked splake.”
Frank Frost, the regional biologist in Region G, who works out of Ashland, said spring trollers have countless options when it comes to the lures they might use.
“There are so many options for lures out there today, that I couldn’t possibly offer up any suggestions. The old stand-bys (Mooselook Wobblers, Dardevles, etc.) are what I would suggest but these old, popular options have been swamped by a lot of high-tech ones,” Frost said.
Wherever you go, and whatever lure you use, a quick warning: It’s only May. The wind will blow. Even a tiny breeze blowing across that 45-degree lake will chill you. Dress appropriately. Most important: Wear your life jacket. Don’t leave it under your seat, or on the other side of the boat. Wear it.