My earliest memory of Maine was something my dad said before I moved here 22 years ago. He told me a story of when he was on vacation here and saw a man fishing in a shirt and tie and dress pants.
When Dad asked the man why he was fishing in the middle of a weekday, the man said it was his lunch break, and then added something like, “I fish on my days off and I fish on my lunch break. And that’s why I live in Maine.”
Many of us (as many as 250,000 resident fishing license holders) would say if you’ve never fished in Maine, then you’ve never really lived here.
With more moose, black bear, lynx, brook trout and bald eagles than any other state in the Northeast, Maine has a pristine, natural landscape. And fishing binds you to that rugged land.
As Jim Bernstein, manager at Eldredge Bros. Fly Shop in York, said: “When you hook a fish you are connecting yourself to something wild. There are many critters that fish rely on to survive and there are many other critters that rely on that fish to survive. By letting that fish go, you are not disturbing the balance there, but you are still a part of it.”
For those who have never cast a rod and reel but wanted to, we’ve simplified it, with some help from the experts.
Here is everything you need to know to go freshwater fishing here, and really know Maine.
TIP 1: THE GEAR
You can spend anywhere from $50 to $5,000 (and we know some who do spend the higher amount). But fortunately for you, we live in a tourist state where fishing shops cater to tourists looking to get into the sport easily.
At The Tackle Shop in Portland, owner Dana Eastman said Old Port tourists stop in all the time looking for a “combo set” to fish in freshwater or saltwater, without having any idea how to do either. You can get everything you need to go freshwater fishing for $40 to $70. There are five basic pieces of gear you need:
• A rod and reel, which can also be purchased as a set, runs from $30 on up.
• Fishing line, which is best purchased separately so it’s put on the reel fresh, costs $4. Fishing shops have machines that can put it on for you, often at no charge.
• Lures or bait cost under $10. But considering you’ll want to go fish many days in a row, spend up to $30 for as many as 20 plastic Sluggos, Yum Dingers and spoons. All of these will drive a smallmouth bass mad.
• A freshwater fishing license, which can be purchased online or in many outdoor retailers. For nonresidents, an annual license costs $64, for residents, the annual license is $25. One-day or multiple-day licenses can be purchased for between $11 and $47.
If $65 for gear and $25 for an annual license sounds like a lot to try a new sport, consider you can use it (except the annual license) for many years to come.
TIP 2: TECHNIQUES
Fishing is like baseball. It involves an overhand throw, and a lot of waiting around.
Casting a spinning rod for the first time can seem strange. And there is a definite danger of the line getting tangled.
Every spinning reel has a spool, which holds the line; a handle, which allows you to reel in the fish; and a bail, the horizontal lever that releases the line.
Before you cast, release the bail to release the line. Then hold the now loose line against the rod as you cast, otherwise it will come off the spool.
Then reach back for that overhand throw while keeping your index finder on the line, and bring the rod over your head quickly while releasing your finger – and with it the line – at the last minute. The result should be the line shooting out over the surface and your bait or lure lofting up and landing on the water. At that point, close the bail.
You can slowly reel in the line to mimic a swimming or injured fish, or let it sit out there. Assuming a fish eventually bites your lure and hook, the rest is easy.
When you feel a tug, pull your rod back to set the hook. Then reel in the fish by turning the handle. When you get your hands on the fish, keep it in the water while you grab the end of the hook and release it from the fish’s mouth. If you’re not going to eat the fish, do this as quickly as possible, then let it go.
Eastman, from The Tackle Shop, said casting technique can be the hardest thing for novices to get right, but he says casting is less important than knowing where the fish are and what they’re eating.
This is what all the experts will tell you: Think like a fish. If that sounds impossible or even intimidating, fear not. The best way to think like a fish is to talk to fishermen. If you can’t find any, look for changes in the water: reeds, big boulders, currents, or a fly hatch going off. Study the lake, pond or river where you’re fishing. Get to know it. Explore different areas.
And remember, fishing is about relaxing, not worrying.
TIP 3: THE MUST-HAVE RESOURCE
Maine has 6,000 lakes and ponds, the vast majority with public access, which makes it easy to find your own fishing hole if you’re open to adventure.
So while this cellphone-ready and Wifi-dependent culture may tell you differently, we suggest you go old school and use a paper map.
That’s right, because the single best resource you can buy to help you find lakes, ponds, rivers and streams and the access to all these fisheries is “The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer.”
“It’s Maine’s fishing bible,’ said Bernstein, of Eldredge Bros Fly Shop.
This atlas that costs about $20 is produced for other states as well. But for Maine’s wild country that can be crisscrossed with logging roads – even in southern Maine – this is the best tool to find fisheries, boat ramps, trailheads, campgrounds and a plethora of outdoor adventure suggestions.
Certainly, you can buy fishing guide books and field guides, but no other resource will give you all the rivers and lakes, the boat ramps, and the back roads for the entire state.
“I have three or four old copies. I never throw them out,” Bernstein said. “I get them for every state I fish. And they’re handy when your cellphone dies and you have to find where you’re going.”
TIP 4: WHERE TO FISH
Everyone who fishes asks about the best places to drop a line. But we think nothing is more fun than finding an unfamiliar water and exploring it.
But for first-timers, we put together a list of some popular waters that generally offer fast fishing. Once again, this is only a sampling. This is Vacationland, after all.
• Southern Maine: Mousam River in Kennebunk, but also up around Sanford; the Presumpscot River in Westbrook; Great Pond in Cape Elizabeth.
• Sebago Lake region: Sebago Lake at the state park in Casco; Brandy Pond and Long Lake in Naples; and Highland Lake in Westbrook.
• Central Maine: The Androscoggin River in downtown Lewiston and Androscoggin Riverlands State Park; Lake Auburn from Lake Shore Drive; Sabattus Pond from Martin Point.
• Moosehead Lake region: The West Outlet of the Kennebec River along Route 15 between Rockwood and Greenville; Moosehead Lake at the Greenville Junction wharf and Lily Bay near Lily Bay Brook; and Shadow Pond in Greenville Junction.
Always check the state fishing laws to see what waters are fly-fishing only: maine.gov/ifw/fishing/laws/
TIP 5: WEBSITES AND FISHING SHOPS
Whether you’re going out fishing for the first time in your life or your first time in Maine, you’re going to have questions.
What’s the best bait to use in a certain lake? Where can I catch smallmouth bass? Where does the state stock brown trout?
Once again, fear not. Here is a sample of local fishing shops. These shops all have local knowledge of lakes, ponds and rivers. Again, it’s only a sample, but as you learned in tip four, to catch fish, talk to fishermen:
• Dag’s Bait & Tackle, 559 Minot Ave., Auburn, 783-0388
• Eldredge Bros Fly Shop, 1480 Route 1, Cape Neddick, 363-9269
• Maine Guide Fly Shop, 34 Moosehead Lake Road, Greenville, 695-2266
• Rangeley Region Sport Shop, 2529 Main St., Rangeley; 864-5615
• Saco Bay Tackle Co, 977 Portland Road, Saco; 284-4453
• Sebago Bait, 483 Roosevelt Trail, Windham, 894-7141
• The Tackle Shop, 61 India St., Portland; 773-3474
• Van Raymond Outfitters; 388 South Main St., Brewer; 989-6001
And don’t forget, you need a fishing license. Don’t try to convince the game wardens otherwise. So here is the state web page where you can buy one, as well as the website for the stocking report, so you can follow the hatchery trucks: