This story was originally published in July 2020.
Many Mainers spend a lot of time fishing inland lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, but rarely venture to the coast to wet a line.
Here’s a not-so-secret fact about Maine that deserves restating: We’ve got more than 3,000 miles of coastline, and those who want to give coastal fishing a try won’t have to look far to find spots to go.
Heck, we’ve got more coastline than California! Why not fish it?
The best part: You don’t even need a boat.
The Bangor Daily News asked three veteran anglers to share some thoughts about saltwater fishing from shore, and they were happy to provide some tips on catching striped bass and mackerel.
With inland waters warming and trout and landlocked salmon fishing consequently slowing down, now might be the perfect time for you to pack up some gear, head to the coast, and give saltwater fishing a shot.
What am I looking for?
If you grew up fishing small streams or ponds, the mere thought of trying to figure out what’s going on in the ocean can be daunting. Dee Dauphinee, a longtime angler who lives in Bradley, has a few areas he targets while fishing for stripers.
“I try to find estuaries and cast for them during the last three hours of incoming, or the first three hours of outgoing tides,” Dauphinee said. “I also look for causeways into/out of salt ponds, which are all up and down the coast.”
And Dauphinee said Maine’s southern beaches often provide perfect spots to fish for stripers.
“If there’s a beach on a salt pond, or a wide area where a river system enters the sea, I like to walk up and down the beach with my 8-weight [fly rod] and a floating line,” Dauphinee said. “I’ll watch for signs of fish activity: Baitfish such as 3-inch silversides jumping out of the water, flashes of bass slashing in the shallows after the baitfish, sometimes in 2-3 feet of water, stripers breaking the surface, and sea birds trying to eat the bass’s leavings after attacking a school of baitfish.”
John Kirk, an angler who lives in Portland, said he’s spent the summer fishing early mornings for stripers, and low tide on various soft, dark-bottomed flats around Portland has been best for him.
“There has been a combination of juvenile sand eels and aquatic worms on these flats for about a month. Look for birds — particularly terns — diving and picking up bait on the water,” Kirk said. “Very often you will also see fish break like a smallmouth bass hitting a popper. You can spot the fish by their wake, in sometimes less than a foot of water, or even seeing tails and dorsal fins out of the water. It’s very fun fishing, akin to hunting.”
Kirk said that kind of fishing can be found anywhere you find stripers in Maine. Typically, the striper runs are better in southern Maine than they are on the midcoast, but during some years striped bass do come into the Penobscot River in decent numbers. Just look for shallow sand and mud flats that dump into deeper water, and you’re apt to find the stripers.
“The fish will fall off the flat as the water drops and will very often come back in when the tide comes in,” he said.
For Jeff Reardon, a veteran angler from Manchester, times of day and the stages of the tides make a big difference.
“Dawn and dusk are great for stripers. Nighttime is even better,” Reardon said. “Things slow down a lot on bright days. I like a late falling or early incoming tide at the beachfront river mouths. On rocky shorelines, I prefer higher and incoming [tides].”
What do I use?
Anglers who target mackerel from piers or docks in coastal Maine often use multi-hook “tree” rigs that can lead to some fast action and more than one fish on the line at a time.
For Dauphinee, a fly fisher, even freshwater flies designed to fool salmon and trout can work.
“It’s fun to fish for mackerel from docks and bridges using Micky Finn [flies] or anything small and flashy,” Dauphinee said. “With mackerel fishing with flies, you want to strip the fly back steadily and quickly.”
That tactic may change if you’re fishing for stripers, Dauphinee said.
“You need to mix up your presentation. Slow, fast, jerky, sitting still between hauls,” he said. “See what’s working that day.”
Dauphinee has had luck with white or silver Clauser minnow patterns. Flies that look like sand eels also can produce results.
While fishing can be great fun, one fact remains: There’s not a fish out there that’s worth your life. And when you’re fishing tidal water, sometimes at night, danger lurks everywhere.
“If you want to catch the really big [stripers], your best bet is to fish at night. The monster stripers feel more comfortable feeding close to shore after dark,” Dauphinee said. “But night fishing comes with concerns; wading — or even just walking along the seashore’s wet rocks — can be death-defying.”
Dauphinee said it’s important to be familiar with the terrain you’re fishing, and to know how you’re going to get back out of the water when you’re wading after dark.
“Your orientation and memory of which rocks to stand on changes quickly with the tides,” he said. “I’ve gone night-time striper fishing a few times, but I don’t go now that I’m 60. It feels downright dangerous to me.”
Even if there are no rocks, wading can be hazardous, Kirk said.
“Make sure you have a way out of the fishing area when the tide turns. The channel that was knee-deep earlier might have five feet of water when you try to go back to shore,” Kirk said. “Also, beware of mud. That next step can be messy and potentially dangerous.”
And while you’re out there, make sure you take good care of the fish. Fitting your rod with line that’s strong enough that you’re able to land a fish quickly will help ensure it’ll swim away after you release it.
“Fighting fish on undersized tackle may seem like fun but it stresses the fish and can result in a dead fish after release, particularly in warm water,” Kirk said. “We all like to take pictures of our quarry, but keep ‘em wet.”
According to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, anglers are only allowed to keep one striped bass per day, and that fish must be between 28 and 35 inches long. The use of circle hooks is required when fishing for stripers with bait.