A "Yesterday" Kind of Day
by Pete Kallin
Every serious fisherman who travels to various places to catch fish has shown up and been told, "You should have been here yesterday!" I went out fishing on Long Pond the morning after Tropical Storm Elsa blew through the area, bringing high winds and almost 2″ of rain.
The first thing I noticed was that the surface temperature of the lake had dropped over 5°F overnight, from about 73°F to 68°F, a temperature that portended possible trout feeding near the surface. I then spotted birds "working" the surface. There were small flocks of seagulls diving down to the surface near groups of loons, including a "raft" of about ten birds. While many people think the gulls are harassing the loons, what they are actually doing is trying to scavenge baitfish and parts of baitfish the loons are dropping while trying to swallow their catch, I knew the loons were feeding on a large school of landlocked alewives and catching so many they were having trouble swallowing them all. It also meant that there were probably smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, or brown trout chasing the same school.
I headed towards the action and got a couple of leadcore line trolling rods ready. The low profile leadcore line I use has a different color every 10 yards, and for each color you let out, it drops your lure about 5 feet deeper in the water column. If you let out 5 colors (50 yards behind the boat), your lure is down about 25 feet, depending on your speed, water temperature, and a few other variables.
As I approached the area where the birds were working, my fish finder began chirping fish alarms and I saw that there was a large school of baitfish from 30 to 50 feet deep in the colder, lower oxygen water below the thermocline and a school of larger fish (most likely smallies) between 20 and 25 feet down at the base of the thermocline, where the dissolved oxygen levels are a bit higher and more comfortable for the larger fish.
Every now and then one of the larger fish would dive down into the low oxygen water, grab a few alewives, and come back up to digest them a bit. I decided to rig one of my trolling rods with a silver, pink, and blue Mooselook wobbler that resembles an alewife and let out five colors to get it down to about 25 feet. I put the rod in one of my rod holders and pulled on the line a bit to make sure the drag was set properly. I set my "clicker," which alerts me when a fish is pulling the line out.
As the drag started clicking, it suddenly sped up and started pulling out as a fish hit while I still had my fingers on the line. I grabbed the rod and reeled in a nice, 18 inch (about 4 pounds) smallie. As I netted the fish, I noticed three or four other big bass chasing the one on the end of my line, trying to figure out what that one was chasing.They were scarfing up the alewives that the fish I was playing was regurgitating as it exerted itself. I snapped a quick picture of the fish, released it, dropped by lure back in the water, and started to let out five colors again. At about color 4, I had another fish on. As I landed the fish, I could still see big bass following the one on the line.
I then decided to use my 9-weight flyrod with a sinking tip line, rigged with a green Todd's wiggle minnow fly. It was a little trickier with the flyrod because I had to anticipate where the school was moving, let the line sink down, and retrieve the fly through the fish. It was also more challenging and more fun, but I continued to land fish, all between 16″ and 19″ long (3 to 4 pounds). I ended up with ten before 10 a.m., when the water skiers began circling the lake and the birds and the fish suddenly disappeared.
I think that the sudden change in water temperature probably triggered "Winter is coming" instincts in both the loons and the bass and triggered their fall feeding frenzy a month or two early. I also realized that tomorrow, whenever I told anyone about the fishing, I was going to start with the preface, "You should have been here yesterday!"
As I cruised back towards my dock, I noticed a pontoon boat in the middle of the lake with a bunch of kids on foam rafts. It was a couple of families from PA and NY who were renting a camp on Long Pond for the week while visiting with the Knight family of Readfield. Everyone was having a great time. The next day, I hiked The Mountain and ran into a 3-generation group of the Terry Family from PA, MA, and Camp Merryweather on Great Pond. One of the moms said she was, "taking advantage of the pandemic by working remotely," which happened to get her and her kids an extra three weeks on the lake this summer.
Take advantage of the rest of the summer and get out on the lakes or hike or bike in the hills. And take a kid along. You will be creating memories that will last. Check out the events at the 7-LA website and on the sign in front of the Maine Lakes Resource Center. On August 22, there will be a full-moon hike at French Mountain. More info at the 7-LA website. Pick up a map of the local trails at Day's Store or at the MLRC. You can also download maps for individual trails from the Trail System page on the 7-Lakes website.