This story was originally published in October 2019.
Many anglers view the end of summer as the end of their fishing adventures for the year, or at least until snow flies and ice covers their favorite lake or pond. Others are more reluctant to pack away their fishing gear and claim that fall fishing can be as good as one will find here in Maine.
“I think the biggest thing for most people is the quality of the fish in the fall is so superior to what we see in the spring,” said guide Jeff McEvoy, who owns Weatherby’s hunting and fishing lodge in Grand Lake Stream. “[The fish] are all kind of spawning-ready, and they’re just fat and healthy and big. They’ve been in the lake all summer feeding on smelts, so they’re in prime form in the fall when we’re fishing for them [in the stream].”
A quick word of warning: The state’s general fishing law states that Maine’s rivers, brooks and streams are closed from Oct. 1 until March 31. Therefore, anglers interested in fishing during October (or later) must find waters that are governed by special rules. Among some popular options: Grand Lake Stream, which is open until Oct. 20, East Outlet of the Kennebec River (open year-round), St. George River (open year-round) and the Presumpscot River (open year-round).
Be sure to check the S-code section of the state fishing law book to make sure the water you’re fishing is actually open.
Rob Dunnett, an avid fly fisher from Brewer, said the predictability of the fishing is a big lure for him.
“The main draw to fall fishing is that trout and salmon, especially the larger fish, move into the streams and rivers as the waters cool to stage and actively feed before the spawn,” Dunnett said.
Jeff Reardon, the Maine brook trout project director for Trout Unlimited, has chosen to spend his autumns targeting upland birds and waterfowl and giving spawning wild native fish a break. But he says he used to enjoy some fall fishing when he had more free time and remembers some good times on waters that don’t have wild fish populations.
“[I enjoyed catching] landlocked salmon on streamers. This was mostly a late September event, but it carries over into October on some waters — like Grand Lake Stream,” Reardon said. “A lot of times fall salmon are not present or have lock jaw, but every once in a while you’d hit a day when the fish would just slam streamer flies if you got the presentation right.”
Streamer flies typically imitate a bait fish, or are bright-colored “attractor” flies that are designed to elicit an attack by a predatory fish.
Those fishing memories are still vivid for Reardon.
“I’m not sure anything is more fun than swinging a streamer past a spot you suspect might have a fish and watching a salmon follow the fly as it swings and then grab it,” he said.
How to succeed
So, how do you catch fish in the fall in Maine? These avid anglers have a few tips that are sure to help tip the tide in your favor.
“It’s a great time of year to swing streamers and wet flies for those beautifully colored fall fish before winter takes its grip,” Dunnett said. “Bright body colors seem to be better in the fall. Wet flies like partridge and orange. Streamers like the Barnes special or Wood special.”
McEvoy said the fish that settle into Grand Lake Stream have been eating smelts all summer and are likely to chase streamers. He likes flies that are red or yellow, and he likes to fish them fast, stripping the line in rapidly after making a cast.
“To get a fish to strike you need to stimulate the predatory response. So you need to make your fly dance,” McEvoy said. “If you just cast out steady and slow, they’re going to watch it swim by, and you’re probably not going to do anything, but if they feel like they have to make a decision quickly or they feel threatened by something that’s coming into their territory, they’re going to chase it.”
Reardon said catching a landlocked salmon might be less complicated than you think, but paying homage to those who fished before you may enhance the experience.
“Doing it on traditional Maine streamers is not necessary — the salmon will hit a wooly bugger or a god-awful articulated tungsten-head synthetic hair streamer just as hard — but the traditional patterns like a Shufelt special or a Colonel Bates or a black ghost just feel right,” he said.