Ice won’t be out this weekend but there is open water about so there are fish to be caught if you know where to look. Most of the snow is gone from the woods which means stream water is beginning in warm to that magical 40 degree mark when smelt begin they spawning runs. It’s a covert operation. They are currently gathered around the mouth of most rivers and streams. When stream water reaches 40 degree and light fades away after sunset smelt head upstream to spawn. Once a run begins it lasts just about a week as long as the water temp remain 40 or above. A cold rainy day or a snow fall will shut a run down. As soon as it warms the run continues. Like many of naturers wonders a smelt run is an event like no other. Wherever it is legal to take two quarts for personal use or consumption you’ll find a gathering. Brook trout, salmon and lake trout won’t be far from the bounty of food.
One such spot is where Ragged stream enters Caribou / Chesuncook lake at the Golden Road. There is no dipping of smelt there anymore but back when you could we have seen so many smelt crammed into the pool below the falls, smelts get pushed out on the banks. Both Caribou and Chesuncook Lake are over run with salmon. As a result growth rate is slow so not many salmon meet their full potential. A douple seasons ago the state imposed a No Bag Limit on salmon under 16″. If you are looking for a batch of salmon for smoking there is going to be some crazy fishing around the mouth of Ragged Stream for the net week or two. There is a gravel launch at the campsite on the Golden Road just north of the Ragged Stream bridge. Pay attention to the wind direction. If it’s out of the north it can get rough. It’s best to go when it’s calm or a south wind.
Smelt runs are just now beginning. Smaller streams generally are first with larger rivers being last. A perennial favorite is the Moose River in Rockwood. It’s one of the last to run. It won’t happen until Brassua Lake, which feeds it is ice free. Until the river water reaches 40 degrees you’ll find millions of smelt holding at the mouth of the river just off the drop in 30-60′ of water. Your fish finder will mark many big fish feasting right there. Once Brassua is ice free and begins to warm smelt start slipping into the river under the cover of darkness to spawn with trout and salmon at their heals. It’s going to be a wild state of affairs when it happens. Once fish enter the river they will remain for some time because there is also a substantial drift of smelt into the river from Brassua Lake.
Moosehead should go ice free this coming week. The window of opportunity for hooking up with a very big brookie is just around the corner. Both brook trout and salmon will be tight to shoreline feasting on adult spawning smelt. Traditionally anglers use a small boat with a tiller motor and troll tight to bouldery shorelines using tandem smelt style streamers. It’s not the zone you want to take your bay boat. Most use fly rods with sinking line. Play out a couple long lines with 20′ leaders. Work the contour where you can see the bottom on one side and not on the other. If there are two of you, one might want to cast a third line equipped with a smelt pattern toward the boulders then let it swing out behind your boat. Fish will follow your fly and if they don’t grab that one they will likely grab one of your set lines out behind. The scenery is fabulous and there isn’t a fish swimming anywhere any prettier than a brookie.
One word to the wise when you begin poking around the backcountry this time of season… be careful where you pull over or turn around. Frost has just come out of the ground and even though it may look dry there are many soupy spots where you could be up to your axles in short order. This time of season we always toss in a spade, come along, and high lift jack just to save that seven mile hike for help. When someone has to take a leak we make a habit of stopping right in the middle of the road. You not going to cause very many traffic jams.