BETHEL — George Westerberg of Lovell has fished most of his lifetime.

But come April 1 — Maine’s traditional opening day of open-water fishing on several water bodies — the 80-year-old member of the Mollyockett Chapter of Trout Unlimited said he won’t be fishing. Instead, he’ll wait until mid-May.

For the past 20 years, he’s taken to fly fishing. It can be done on April 1 by fishing the bottom of rivers with weighted nymphs that bounce along the bottom where the fish are at that time of the season, Westerberg said March 23 the Western Maine Fly Fishing Expo in Bethel.

“When I started having more fun putting the worm on my grandchildren’s hook, I decided there’s got to be another way to fish and that’s when I discovered fly fishing,” he said.

“Typically, fly fishing doesn’t get started until the middle of May, because (the fish) are eating the bugs that live on the bottom of the water — the river, the stream or the brook — and they don’t come up until the (surface bugs) start hatching, the sun comes out and the waters warm up.

“So you have to fish down deep for them,” Westerberg said. “You have to nymph, using these flies that imitate the aquatic insects. But you can’t get there until the water warms up.”

He said fly fishing in western Maine heats up in mid-May and runs until the water gets too warm in June. Then, trout and salmon go deep for cold water and don’t return to the surface until September when water temperatures cool, leaving warm water fish such as bass and perch for anglers to more easily pursue, Westerberg said.

Anglers will find open water April 1, he said.

“It’s probably not too much different this year than it’s been historically,” Westerberg said.

“It’s just the opening is a little earlier in some places than it used to be. I’m going to wait until the fly fish start hitting the surface,” he said. “But the salmon fishermen will probably be out on opening day, because they can troll for them.”

Salmon are a coldwater fish, he said, “but you’re not going to catch them on the surface with those little flies; you have to be trolling for them.”

Angler Ed Muzeroll of Sidney, the owner of Muzzy’s Flies, said he won’t be out opening day either. He likes to wait for warmer temperatures and lower water flows.

“There’s guys that have fished all year long,” Muzeroll said at the expo. “I mean, they go down to the Mousam River and they know where the water is open. They’ll go through the snow.

“A lot of guys will go out (opening day),” he said. “If it’s cold out, they’ll spray their guides and their rods with Pam (to keep them from icing up). So they’re crazy. I’ll go out myself, but it will probably be mid-May or late-May before I really get out there in my 20-foot canoe.”

Like Westerberg, Muzeroll said he believes there will be plenty of fishing opportunities on April 1.

“On the rivers, you’ll be using big, weighted nymphs so they get down on the bottom and bounce around on the bottom, because the fish are lethargic,” Muzeroll said.

“The water’s so damn cold, you know. It’s like us in the winter, we don’t move too fast.”

State fisheries biologist Francis Brautigam said the biggest challenge come April 1, isn’t catching fish. It’s  finding open water along the shore.

Last season, record heat in March rendered that moot. However this March saw a return to below-freezing temperatures after a warm-up, and then a big rain that caused ponding atop the ice.

 “I think we’re in pretty good shape as far as that goes this year, because of this recent cold snap again,” Brautigam said.

He suggested the Mousam, Presumpscot, and Saco rivers in southern Maine, for good April 1 fishing, he said.

They were heavily stocked last fall, thanks to legislation last year that gave the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife an extra $200,000 to increase fish production, Brautigam said.

Lakes and ponds were also stocked last fall, but he said rainbow and brown trout aren’t easily caught in the wintertime.

“So those fish really carry over and provide really good spring fisheries,” he said.

“And then some of our better salmon lakes are closed to ice fishing, so again, the open-water anglers really benefit in places like Sebago, so the fishing will be really good for salmon.”

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