Fishing for rainbow trout on Little Sebago Lake in Windham and Gray, Cumberland County, Maine (August 1, 2021)

 

Ideal summer trolling conditions: early morning, wind still, low cloud deck, and no traffic!

 

Little Sebago Lake covers 1,898 acres and is located in Windham and Gray, Cumberland County, Maine (see The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer map 5 C2). To reach the public boat launch, drive north through downtown Windham on Route 302 (Roosevelt Trail) in the direction of Raymond, turn right on Anglers Way at the light by Bob’s Seafood restaurant and Franco’s Bistro, drive past Pettingill Pond, and just follow the blue boat launch signs. The distance between Route 302 and your destination is exactly 1.3 miles. The hard-top boat launch is spacious and has plenty of parking. It also offers a convenient porta potty.

 

 

A school of aggressive white perch chased me away to another area of the bay where I found this 15″ rainbow trout.

 

Little Sebago Lake is a top smallmouth and largemouth bass fishing destination in southern Maine, and supports annual bass tournaments. Less well-known and appreciated by the angling public is the fact that that this lake also sustains a modest rainbow trout fishery. The state releases around 700 bows each fall, which translates to less than half a fish per acre, which is sparse. Those fish that escape the intense competition from other species grow fat and big on the abundant local forage base. These rainbows quickly grow to 2 to 4 pound, with the occasional 4+ pound fish. Ironically, the best time to target this cold-water species is at the height of the summer! Here’s the reason why: the warm water temperatures will drive the trout all the way down to the top of the thermocline which is found about 25 ft. or so below the surface. Temperatures down there are typically in the mid 50’s to low 60’s, which is ideal for this species. However, even if they wanted to, the rainbow trout cannot go any deeper. The reason is that a severe seasonal oxygen deficiency develops in the cold-water layer below the thermocline in response to excessive bacterial metabolism in the substrate. This peculiar condition literally “concentrates” all the bows in a narrow band of cool and adequately-oxygenated water only a few feet deep, which makes it much easier to target them. These fish will scatter far and wide, and are therefore much more difficult to catch, in the winter, spring, and fall when the temperature and dissolved oxygen conditions allow them to move far and wide around the water column. Click here for a depth map and more fisheries information. General fishing law applies in the summer.

 

Peaceful and quiet: just the way trolling should be.

 

I arrive at the public boat launch at 5 am and motor off 15 minutes later. The air temperature is in the high 50’s and forecast to rise into the high 70’s by mid morning. Sunrise is at 5:30 am and I’m glad to be able to fish the “Golden Hour” (i.e., 30 minutes before plus 30 minutes after sunrise) during twilight when the light levels are low. I’m also pleased to see a low cloud deck which will help hide the sun until later on this morning. I’m focusing all of my efforts in the basin in front of the boat launch, even though Little Sebago Lake consists of four separate but interconnected basins. The reasons for this choice are as follows: (a) the deepest water in the whole lake (30 to 50 ft.) is located 500 ft off the launch (i.e., no need to motor all over the lake), and (b) the other three basins are much shallower and are therefore less likely to hold a lot of rainbow trout this time of the year. Before leaving home, I printed out the depth map for this lake and drew a circle around the 30-ft. contour line in the boat launch basin. This simple trick avoids wasting precious fishing time blindly looking for the right depth. By the way, this kind of fishing requires a depth finder in order to stay within the required depth zone and avoid getting stuck on the bottom.

 

This big one made my morning! At the height of summer, the bows are forced to congregate in a deep but narrow band of cool and oxygenated water, which makes it easier to target them.

 

I’m trolling using a portable downrigger and my spinning rod to place two Mooselook wobbler spoons 25 ft. down. I also use an eight-weight fly fishing rod teamed up with lead core line and three large double-hook streamer flies tied one to the other; I’m fishing four colors down and constantly “rip” the fly rod to impart erratic movements to the flies below. I’m pestered by white perch for the first 1.5 hours of fishing, catching five of them and missing several others. A large school is roaming through the area because I also see dozens of splashy rises. I’ve lost my Golden Hour and I need to change tactics… One silver lining about all this unwanted activity is that the dissolved oxygen situation is evidently fine 25 ft. down! I switch out the two spoons and three flies for different patterns and colors, buzz across the bay to get away from the pesky white perch, and place my lures back down 25 ft. That approach works. Over the next 2 hours or so, I get four heavy hits (no more white perch!), three hook-ups, and land two rainbow trout measuring 15 inches and 18 inches. I just love it when the plan works! It’s now 8:45 am: the sun has appeared from behind the morning clouds, and the speed boats and water skiers have started their day of fun on the water. I decide to call it good. I leave a happy camper and vow to return for more of this sweet drug at a later date!

 

The results: I caught two rainbow trout (largest = 18 inches) in 3.5 hours of fun fishing.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Subsequent review of published dissolved oxygen (DO) data collected from Little Sebago Lake over the past two decades at “Station #3” (i.e., the basin in front of the public boat launch where I fished this morning) shows that the thermocline in July, August, and September is indeed located at just about 25 ft. below the surface. A severe DO deficiency typically starts developing below the thermocline in late July and can then work its way up through the thermocline in August and September. Based on these insights, I conclude that July is the best month to troll for brown trout in this basin because (a) the trout will seek the cool temperatures at or just above the thermocline and (b) the water down there is still plenty oxygenated at that point in the season. However, as the summer progresses, and depending on the year, the low DO may break through the thermocline and force the trout further up in the warmer water column. Hence, between early-mid August and late September, I might place my lures up to 3 ft. higher in the water column (22 ft. down) to avoid the lower DO water, but no more than that because any higher and the water would be too warm to hold trout… The bottom line is that success with summer trolling for trout in this lake depends crucially on carefully managing your fishing depth. Placing lures 2 ft. too low or 2 ft. too high could easily result in catching no fish at all…

Was the information in this blog useful? I invite you to share your thoughts and opinions. Also, feel free to discuss your fishing experiences at this location.

 

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