This controversial Maine fish makes a really good sandwich

By Chris Sargent

It’s safe to say responses would vary greatly if you polled an audience of experienced Maine anglers for their thoughts on largemouth bass.

They would range from those who would love nothing more than to erase them all with one push of a button, to those who happily took out a second mortgage on their home to finance a bass fishing addiction.

The disagreement has to do with bass being introduced illegally into waters that had trout and landlocked salmon in past years, often destroying the more traditional fisheries. But bass are here to stay, and the popularity of the fishery continues to grow in Maine.

Photo courtesy of Chris Sargent
LARGEMOUTH BASS — This is one of many hungry, cooperative largemouth bass Outdoors contributor Chris Sargent has pulled from a favorite local pond.

I’ve landed somewhere in the middle: not overly impressed with their common, often illegally introduced presence, but also appreciative of the ease at which they can be caught, especially when the trout stop biting. 

I’m not likely to invest in a $70,000 bass boat anytime soon, but watching a hungry largemouth dance across the surface of the water after inhaling most any bait or lure always makes me smile. Besides, despite being commonly disregarded as table fare, they make one heck of a fish sandwich.

A couple weeks ago, I returned from a quick two-day trip to Rockwood for my annual Moose River trout and salmon canoe trolling expedition. 

No matter how hard I tried, the fish just wouldn’t cooperate. I was comforted only by the fact that several other folks I talked with on the river were in the same boat, and reports indicated that most success was being found beyond the inlet, out in the choppy lake.

There was no way I was taking my little 13-foot Old Town out there, so I tucked tail and came home empty-handed. 

With my springtime craving for fresh-caught fish still unsatisfied, I needed to come up with a plan. After navigating a minefield of busy schedules, social responsibilities and other engagements, I coordinated a last-minute evening fishing rendezvous at a small local pond to target some hungry bass with my best friend Dan. 

The gear list was short: rods, a couple camp chairs, snacks, three dozen of Moosehead Bait and Tackle’s finest crawlers, and my canoe for Dan’s 17-year-old stepson, Cole, to paddle around in. A short time later, we met up, and parked within 50 feet of our spot.  

We quickly divided up the crawlers, then I helped Cole set off in the canoe to paddle the shoreline while Dan tied on a No. 6 baitholder hook. Our home for the evening was just a few yards down the shore, all but hidden from view, and Norman Rockwell himself couldn’t have painted a prettier scene. 

Tucked neatly against a steep, rocky bank, the rickety old dock jutted out a few feet over the crystal-clear water. The small cove was well protected by a thick wall of cedar, pine and other evergreens whose branches extended well beyond the water’s edge.

Scattered breaks in trees allowed the sun to snake its way through, turning patches of yellow, sandy bottom into little pots of gold. Just as we took our first steps onto the dock, a half dozen or so pumpkinseed sunfish, accompanied by a foot-long bass, scattered for cover beneath a nearby sunken tree. 

Before I could finish tying on my hooks, Dan had already landed the unofficial state-record pumpkinseed, and a healthy 13-inch largemouth. It was a great start, and after the initial frenzy, action slowed enough for us to settle in, unwind and enjoy some much-needed relaxation. 

Over the next couple hours, we caught a handful more sunfish, and more than a dozen feisty bass. In the end, we both had our limits of two bass, each with one well more than 14 inches, and the bonus jumbo pumpkinseed. 

More concerned with paddling, catching tree limbs, and just enjoying the evening, Cole managed to boat a nice bass as well, but put it back to be caught another day. 

It was nearly dark when I returned home, and I hurried to filet my fish before bedtime. The next day, I let a few of them soak in a wash of buttermilk, egg and hot sauce. Just before dinner, they were tossed in flour mixed with cajun seasoning, dipped into the wash a second time, then tossed in the flour mixture again. 

When the oil in a deep-sided cast iron skillet hit 365 degrees, they went in to fry for a minute or so before being nestled on a bulky roll with mayo, lettuce, tomato, cheese and a dollop of tartar sauce. 

Paired with Emily’s homemade garlic dill pickles, and a few Cabot sour cream and onion chips, it was a meal fit for a king. 

I really need to step up my game on next year’s Moose River fishing trip. There’s nothing better than toting home a trophy salmon, brook trout or togue from the north country, but I found out this year that nothing feels much worse than getting skunked. 

Next spring I’ll hit it hard, give it my all and try my best. But at least I know of a nearby rickety old dock where I can always get a great fish sandwich.

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