Downeast in August

At the start of August I spent a week on the coast in Downeast Maine, about an hour north of Bar Harbor. The fishing was a bit lackluster but clear skies and minimal wind helped make up for it.

I caught several pollack, the small “harbor” fish that often stick to the bottom along much of Maine’s shoreline. The very first saltwater fish I ever caught was a pollack. That was 20 years ago and when I landed it I had no idea what it was, nor had I heard of a pollack. I’ve been educated since then and, on this trip, put in some time targeting this species. The mackerel weren’t running so I tried fishing my trusty diamond jig on bottom. The rule in these waters is that if you fish on bottom you’ll get pollack, fish higher in the water column and you’ll catch mackerel. Jigging on bottom worked well and pollack, even small ones in the 12 inch range, put up a decent fight on a medium action spinning rod. I caught several in an afternoon and kept some to fillet. Most of the fish took the jig in spite of also fishing a piece of pogy (Atlantic Menhaden) on bottom. I only caught one pollack on bait.


A pair of mackerel and a lone pollack. At least we didn’t get skunked!

My wife and I put in an afternoon of fishing and somehow she managed to pull out a pair of mackerel, one of which was probably close to 16 inches, the longest mackerel I’ve ever seen. I had no luck until the last few minutes when I took a pollack. When I got these fish dressed out for the freezer I took a look at the stomach contents. The larger of the mackerel had recently eaten a sand eel of approximately three inches in length and the pollack had a small shrimp.

Regarding the pogy I’d used for bait, this was a new experience for me. According to Bub Johnson, our contact at the lobster docks, this was the first time the pogy had run since the 1990s. The first morning, when the tide was in and the water was calm, I saw the water boiling near shore. I put in the canoe thinking it was mackerel but quickly discovered it was pogy. I cast to them for a bit and even tried some flies but couldn’t get anything to bite. I learned later that day via internet search that pogy are plankton feeders and won’t take lures, bait or flies. The only way to catch one is to snag them. I figured that out on my own and hooked one for the express purpose of using it for bait. It’s too bad they won’t take a lure or fly because they put up a terrific fight even when hooked near the mouth, as mine was. I found that with the canoe I could ease up the school to within 10 feet. Watching them feed and go about their daily routine was quite a sight. A school of thousands of fish, about 14 inches in length apiece, slowly rotating in an orderly circle, in a column extending from the surface where their backs broke the surface down past where my polarized sunglasses could see. The only drawback is that apparently when the pogy run, the mackerel don’t.

Given the time away from the daily grind, the time with family, the good weather and bucolic coastal scenery, the lack of fish was hardly detrimental.

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