Smallmouth bass fishing on Panther Pond, Raymond, Maine (May 8, 2015)

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The eastern shoreline of Panther Pond, with Betty's Neck in the left background.

The eastern shoreline of Panther Pond, with Betty’s Neck in the left background.

Some of the best smallmouth bass fishing on Maine lakes occurs in mid-spring when the fish are moving in-shore to prepare to lay their eggs. Typical smallmouth bass spawning habitat consists of a clean, rocky and bouldery shoreline in 2 to 10 ft of water, with easy access to nearby deeper water. The fish start moving in these shallows when the water temperature reaches the low 50’s in early May. Actual spawning typically starts towards the end of May when the water temperature hovers between the high 50’s and mid 60’s. The smallmouths feed aggressively in May in order to fatten up in preparation for the spawn. The goal, therefore, is to position oneself at the right place and the right time, using the right lure and the right fishing technique, in order to take advantage of this short window of opportunity.







The secret weapon: a 4" grey-white unjointed floating Rapala with the central treble and the two front-facing hooks removed

The secret weapon: a 4″ grey-white unjointed floating Rapala with the central treble and the two front-facing hooks removed


One way to catch pre-spawn smallmouth bass is to use a “classic” approach of pounding the shoreline with a surface lure or plastic bait, or probing nearby deeper areas with diving lures. My preference is to troll right up against the shoreline using a shallow-diving floating Rapala. I don’t know what it is about Rapalas, but smallmouths just LOVE pouncing on them. Based on previous experience, I use a white-and-dark grey colored 4” unjointed lure. Since fishing with nine hooks is gross overkill, I remove the middle treble hook and also cut the forward-facing hook from both the front and back trebles (note: Rapala hooks are high quality, so store those middle hooks in a small box to replace rusted hooks on other lures). That still leaves plenty of hooks to catch the fish! As a bonus, cutting off the two front-facing hooks greatly decreases the chances of snagging the lure. The trolling part allows one to cover a lot of real estate in a relatively short amount of time. Keep in mind that pre-spawn bass aren’t bedding yet, but instead are roaming around the shallows to feed and check out the available spawning areas.


A nice smallmouth bass caught in Panther Pond

A nice smallmouth bass caught in Panther Pond

I want to test out this approach on Panther Pond, located in Raymond, Cumberland County (see the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer map 5 C2). This 1,450-acre lake is a well-known fishery which supports a robust smallmouth bass population. Click here for a depth map and more fisheries information. One access point is via permissive trespass on the rough and unimproved launch by the outlet dam on Mill Street. Cars and trailers can be parked on the side of the road but space is available for only a couple of vehicles. Another access point is the hard-top boat launch located at the southern end of Crescent Lake. That route requires motoring down the Tenney River which connects Crescent Lake to Panther Pond. I arrive at the Mill Street launch with my 12 year-old nephew Christian at 6:30 pm. We’re going to troll the rocky shoreline on the eastern side of the lake up to Betty’s Neck. The water is 54°F, exactly where we want it for pre-spawn bass. The weather is sunny but a bit nippy on account of a cold northern breeze.





Behold, the Beast!

Behold, the Beast!

We motor out on the lake and start trolling with our Rapalas no more than 20-30 ft offshore in 4 to 10 ft of water. In fact, in some spots, I have to be careful not to run my boat into submerged boulders. It’s clear though that the smallmouths have started to move inshore because the action is immediate and non-stop over the next 1.5 hours. Christian is frustrated because I’ve caught eight bass and he has yet to have a nibble. The trick to trolling with Rapalas is to make the lure look unpredictable. That means constantly jerking the rod, sometimes hard and sometimes soft, to cause the lure to make sudden erratic dives followed by floating back up. This action mimics a wounded or dying fish which triggers the predator instinct in the bass. Christian hooks a really nice pickerel but loses the fish when it unhooks right next to the boat. I get a tremendous hit, followed by line ripping off my reel. I clearly have a substantial fish at the other end, and know that to be the case when an enormous smallmouth bass bursts forth into the air. Holy mackerel, this thing is HUGE. I give it plenty of line to play with and ease off on the line tension just a bit to prevent it from jumping too much and throwing off the hook. The fish tires and finally makes it to the boat. It measures 22” and weighs 5 lbs! This is definitely one of the largest bronzebacks I’ve ever landed!! It gets released to be caught another day. The sun has dipped below the horizon by 8 pm and a switch has been turned off. The fish stop biting and it is high time for us to get back to the boat launch before it gets too dark.


The results: I caught 15 smallmouth bass (largest = 5.0 lbs), whereas Christian caught 3 smallmouths in 1.5 hours of fantastic evening fishing.


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