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April 14, 2009

The Maine Event

Fish for stripers the unconventional way - on the flats of Casco Bay.

Some people drive fancy cars, live in big houses and drink expensive wine to make them happy. For me, it's always been the little things that put a smile on my face. It's hard to imagine many things better than sitting on a deck on a cloudless afternoon with a cold brew in one hand and a fresh "lobstah" roll in the other - all the while musing over a morning of chasing stripers on the flats of Casco Bay.

Protruding from the water like the icebergs of the Arctic Sea, the islands of Casco Bay, Maine, are referred to by some as the Calendar Islands - a name derived from the myth that the bay enclosed 365 islands. Although the myth has long since been proven untrue, the stunning landscape dotting this body of water forms a labyrinth holding hidden treasure for anglers.

Captain Eric Wallace ( has been fishing these waters for many years. Casco Bay spans 220 square miles and contains more than 14,000 acres of fishable flats. Mastering a body of water to Wallace's extent can only be achieved one way - logging as many hours on it as possible. What's more interesting is that Wallace has done so without a trolling motor and with minimal use of an outboard; instead, he has relied on two of fishing's more rudimentary tools: a push pole and a poling platform.

Some time ago, Wallace was on the water and a rod went overboard.  The outfit drifted into the shallows, and Wallace followed a little too far.  He got in too shallow for his boat and stuck. While waiting for the tide to turn, he watched as hundreds of striped bass - big and small - used the deeper part of the flats like a metropolitan interstate. From that point on, he knew the way he fished the waters of Maine had forever changed.

Chasing stripers as if they were  bonefish, permit or redfish isn't typical, but it can be more productive than conventional methods. Be warned, though: Casco Bay is one unique piece of water. Hundreds of islands that look alike and tides that flow like flash floods on a daily basis make for a complicated and intimidating environment. However, after fishing and collaborating with the pioneer himself, I was able to extract four key ingredients to hitting pay dirt on Casco Bay.

Rivers That Run Through It
Right off the bat, anglers need to put a heavy focus on rivers like the Royal, Presumpscot, Harraseeket and Cousins. These are the perfect environments for a variety of striper forage and act as gateways to flats action on Casco Bay. Shad, blueback herring and alewives use these rivers like highways during the spawning season. These huge pushes of bait moving through the rivers are what bring the stripers to Maine in the first place. Around mid- to late June, the bait reaches the end of the road and has no choice but to scatter throughout the flats at the mouths of the rivers - and the stripers are close behind.