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Fall Undersold Downeast

This column appears in the November, ’13 issue of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. Pictured are (left) Bob Lloyd from FL, and (right) Andy Hoover from PA

Bob LloydAndy Hoover

“Why aren’t there other boats on this lake today? Why aren’t other people fishing?”

It was a classic, stump-the-chump question that I couldn’t answer.  The temperature was 74 degrees.  The water reflected a profound, azure sky, and the sun shimmered on riffles caused by a light breeze.  There were no insects.  There was no humidity. It was certifiably among the best days of the season.  And my sports, a couple from Smyrna Beach, Florida, both fly fishers, were catching hard-fighting game fish one after another.

Even more confounding, they were one of only two couples staying at a sporting lodge that offers 50 beds!  That’s four per cent occupancy.

The problem was, it was September 12th. How is that a problem you ask?  Well, if you’re in the demographic group Gen X or younger, there are of course school concerns, and so September vacations are a non starter. Understood.

But that still leaves an awful lot of people who could be availing themselves of some of the best weather and fishing Downeast Maine has to offer. In fact, a quick Google search will show that the fastest growing age group in the population is over 55. And it’s comprised of the folks with the most discretionary income and free time to do things like travel to Grand Lake Stream to see those sparkling blue lakes, catch the heaviest fish at the end of their growing season, and witness the beginnings of resplendent fall foliage.

And yet, the town, the lodges, the lakes and streams are barren compared to the company they kept only days before.  All for no good reason other than calendar dates and old stigmas, summing up to the misconception that things are over in Maine after Labor Day.

That’s a bad rap.  Over the past dozen or so years, I’ve cultivated a roster of clients who now exclusively book their trips for September.  The rewards of that decision keep them coming back year after year.  It’s not that there’s anything special about my particular brand of guiding.  It’s the fact that you’ve got so much going for you before you ever wet a line.  The strongest likelihood of lots of beautiful days in a row seems to occur in September.  On the other hand there’s a much smaller chance of a withering heat wave than in July or August.  And the fish?

Well, let’s take smallmouth bass first.  Essentially, they have about four months to get everything done.  The spawn and the weight gain must take place between late May or early June, and the end of September or early October depending on the year.  As the season progresses, they are on the feed nearly full time.  Anglers will see bass with beer guts in September–the result of feedbags full of crayfish, shiners, and every available forage.  Sometimes, it seems in the late season as though these fish sense the end when water temperatures drop, and they respond by speeding up the feeding frenzy. When the water temps dip below 50, they go into a kind of dormancy.

Next, landlocked salmon.  They are moving in droves toward the stream in advance of spawning time. On the lakes, it becomes easier, using a Gray Ghost or Governor Aiken or other preferred fly to locate a salmon near the lake’s surface as water turns colder and the thermocline climbs  I’ve paddled very slowly down West Grand Lake in a canoe in September trying to count the shadowy shapes below me–salmon moving towards the dam.  I couldn’t keep up. Meanwhile, the stream fishing can light up at any time during the month and then just keep getting better until the season closes October 20th.

The marketing energy to bring people here seems to work well for the early season.  Unless that’s a fallacy and the early business would come anyway.  What seems to need spiking, and focus, and selling, is the late season business.  If you’re guiding here in September, you’re in a good position to measure activity.  While it’ often said that the GLS area boasts the highest concentration of guides in Maine, there are seldom six of the them guiding fishermen in September on the same day. More likely, it’s two or three.

In my own travels, I talk it up, show pictures and testimonials, and try to  cheerlead the business any way I can.  I wonder what would happen if not only lodges, but the Chamber of Commerce decided to try to spritz fall fishing. Their spring togue tournament was a big hit, so there’s a track record there for success.  It may be true, as the saying goes, that “opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work,” but here’s one just begging to be tested.

Randy Spencer is a working guide and author of “Where Cool Waters Flow: Four Seasons with a Master Maine Guide.” His new book, “Wide and Deep,” is due out in April. Visit www.randyspencer.com