Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Red and Gray Fox The Red Fox - Wildlife Quiz

The Red and Gray Fox The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and the Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) both exist as members of the canine family. The red foxes native range includes the entire Northern Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to North Africa, North America and Eurasia. The less prolific gray foxes range extends throughout the southern half of North America and into northern parts of South America. Gray foxes are special creatures as no other canine’s range spans both North and South America.

Red foxes possess the innate ability to inhabit and thrive on the edging of urban areas. This trait, allows red foxes to prosper over the less adaptable gray foxes in more “civilized” habitats. Unlike red foxes, gray foxes have the unique ability to climb trees to escape from predators or search for food. This trait is extremely unusual, as grays are the only American canine capable of climbing trees.

Crepuscular creatures, both red and gray foxes prefer to hunt during dusk and dawn. Red and gray foxes both have seasonally varied diets, gaining nourishment from a wide assortment of plant and animal matter including rabbits, mice, garbage, fruit, berries and insects.

Red and gray foxes practice monogamy, both tending to choose a singular mate for life, unless that mate is killed. Red and gray foxes mate in the early spring, with females (vixen) typically birthing litters of between 4-8 pups in late April or early May. Pups of red and grays stay with parents for up to 6-7 months before venturing forth to find their own territories. In captivity, red foxes have been known to live as long as 15 years but in the wild they typically do not survive past 5 years. Gray foxes tend toward having slightly longer life spans with some having survived to 20 years in captivity.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What is the native range of the red fox?
2. What is the native range of the gray fox?
3. What is special about the native range of the gray fox?
4. What special ability do gray foxes posses?
5. What is the diet of the red and gray fox?
6. Both red and gray foxes prefer to hunt during dusk and dawn, what category of creature does this make them?
7. How long to red foxes live?
8. How long do gray foxes live?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. The native range of the red fox includes the entire Northern Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to North Africa, North America and Eurasia.
2. The native range of the gray fox extends throughout the southern half of North America and into northern parts of South America.
3. Gray foxes are special creatures as no other canine’s range spans both North and South America.
4. Gray foxes are the only American canine capable of climbing trees.
5. Both red and gray foxes gain nourishment from a wide assortment of plant and animal matter including rabbits, mice, garbage, fruit, berries and insects.
6. Creatures that hunt during dusk and dawn, are categorized as crepuscular.
7. In captivity, red foxes have been known to live as long as 15 years but in the wild they typically do not survive past 5 years.
8. Gray foxes tend toward having slightly longer life spans than red foxes with some having survived to 20 years in captivity.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Spring Togue Fishing on the Grands and Youth Turkey Hunting

During the beginning of April, most togue will still be on or near the surface, but as water temperatures begin warm up by the end of the month, the trout begin their annual migration to deeper more oxygen rich waters. This period of transition can have togue spread throughout the water column and at times difficult to locate. A depth finder can serve to simplify finding fish as it allows anglers to map out suspended schools of smelt. Find the bait, find the fish. Successfully anglers’ work the perimeters of these bait balls, knowing that large togue and salmon typically troll around the perimeter of these clusters, awaiting weak or injured fish to venture outside the school. In April, these schools of bait-fish typically hang in the 30 to 40 foot range, so begin searching at that point and expand search area as appropriate, looking at deeper water as the month progresses.

After years of fishing with lead core line, Luhr-Jensen spoons and down riggers, I have recently begun employing a different tactic when chasing togue into deep waters. I enjoy success through simplification by employing the 3-way swivel technique. This method is comprised tying two 3-foot pieces of line to a three-way swivel and attaching a 1 or 2 ounce weight on one line and a small lure on the end of the other. The rig is attached to the rod and reel by a 10-12 pound braided line. The braided line is preferred over monofilament, as braided creates less drag and doesn’t stretch when a quick hook set is required. This straightforward set-up is capable of deploying lures or bait down to depths of 60 feet. While most anglers will be fishing such classics as the Swedish Pimple and DB Smelt, I have also had great luck with the Sutton Silver Spoon and Classic Silver Vibrax Blue Fox Spinner. Also, don’t be afraid to go small when chasing big togue, as smaller lures can be extremely effective.

East Grand Lake (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 45, A-4) and West Grand Lake (Map 35, B-3, B-4) both hold excellent populations of healthy togue. Anglers looking to explore these two lakes would be well served to explore trolling around the drop offs that exist around Norway Point and Five Islands on East Grand Lake and Hardwood Island and the western shore of Whitney Cove on West Grand Lake.

Take a Kid Turkey Hunting
April 30th is youth spring wild turkey day, with Down East youths eligible to shoot 1 bearded wild turkey. This season, youth’s statewide of any age that hold a junior hunting license, including a junior lifetime hunting license, may hunt under direct supervision of an adult. The adult must be a person 18 or older, who has been approved by the youth's parent or guardian and holds a valid Maine hunting license or has completed a hunter safety course. The new law, implemented on January 1, 2016, eliminates the previous minimum age of 10 years old to hunt. So for example, this turkey season I will be joined by my 7 and 9 year olds, both of whom are now, thanks to the new law, able to hunt. The law stipulates that junior hunters, under the age 10, must be “within 20 feet, of an adult supervisor.” A point in the language of the law, designed to reinforce the critical importance of an adult being right beside the youngster at all times. This law is exciting, as it allows Maine to join the ranks of 39 other states that currently allow kids of any age to hunt with adult supervision.

Youths, under 10 will need to use a bow and arrow, crossbow or 20 gauge shotgun or greater, as Maine law prohibits the use of .410s to hunt turkeys. For some small framed hunters, the 20 gauge can pack a punch, so make sure to lessen the chance of injury or accidents by practicing shooting, weeks ahead of the opener. Recoil absorbing autoloaders, 2 ¾ inch loads and ample recoil pads can help to ensure youth do not develop bad flinching habits from the start.

When attempting to locate turkeys Down East, it pays to slowly walk or drive along logging roads and snowmobile/ATV paths. This method of “running and gunning”, is easier on little legs and allows turkey hunters to be mobile and more apt to locate early morning gobblers. While prime turkey hunting locations exist throughout Washington County, a fun and exciting hunt can be had by starting in Northfield (Map 26, B-2) and driving the logging roads into Smith Landing, the beautiful Great Falls (Map 26, B-2) and continuing south following the Machias River into Whitneyville. For coastal hunters I suggest exploring the 649-acre Jonesboro WMA (Map 26, C-2).

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Norway Rat - Wildlife Quiz

The Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus), goes by a long list of alternate names, including; brown rat, sewer rat, Hanover rat and wharf rat. Despite the numerous names, it is most commonly know simply as rat. The rat exists as a highly adaptable species, well evolved to survive in a wide variety of rural and urban environments.

Rats exist on all continents except Antarctica, thriving in some of the most extreme environments on earth and making it one of the most wide spread mammal species on the planet. Strangely, the Norway rat did not originate in Norway but rather naturalists believe it originally came from China, rapidly distributing itself throughout the world by stowing away in cargo ships.

One of the largest muroids, or members of the “rodent” family, rats weigh approximately 10 ounces with brown or dark grey bodies averaging 10 inches in length. Stories of rats exceeding the size of house cats, likely arrive from wild exaggeration or misidentification.

Highly prolific, rats breed up to five times a year, producing litters ranging in size from 1-14 young. Underground burrows serve as nurseries, as well as providing shelter from the weather, protection from predators and food storage. Ninety-five percent of these young will succumb to predators, sickness and starvation in their first year. Those individuals fortunate enough to avoid these unfortunate ends live to approximately 3 years of age.

While rats have poor vision, they do posse’s exceptional hearing and a highly developed sense of smell. These use these to their advantage when trying to locate food and find prey, in areas that contain little to no visible light.

Rats consume both meat and vegetables (omnivorous) and have been observed consuming everything from fruits and grains to fish, clams, insects and even small birds. As with other pack animals like wolves, rats exist in a social hierarchy with each individual knowing its place within the structure of the pack. When food supplies dwindle or living spaces become crowded, rats lower in social order will be killed by alphas within the group.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What is another name for the Norway rat?
2. What is the distribution of the Norway rat?
3. From what are of the world did the Norway rat originate?
4. How much does a Norway rat weigh?
5. What percentage of Norway rats die during their first year of birth?
6. How long does a Norway rat live?
7. What do rats eat?
8. Are Norway rats pack animals?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. The Norway rat is also known by the names, brown rat, sewer rat, Hanover rat and wharf rat.
2. Rats exist on all continents except Antarctica.
3. Naturalists believe the Norway rat originally came from China.
4. The Norway rat weighs approximately 10 ounces.
5. Ninety-five percent of these young will succumb to predators, sickness and starvation in their first year.
6. Norway rats live to approximately 3 years of age.
7. Norway rats consume both meat and vegetables (omnivorous) and have been observed consuming everything from fruits and grains to fish, clams, insects and even small birds.
8. Yes, Norway rats exist in a social hierarchy with each individual knowing its place within the structure of the pack.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Spring Fishing in Beautiful Grand Lake Stream, Maine

This is a short article I wrote for the March/April 2016 edition of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) Newsletter....ENJOY!

Spring Fishing – March/April Spring Fishing the Grand
The long Memorial Day weekend marks our annual spring fishing trip, to the classic salmon habitat of West Grand Lake. A full month before the weekend, the planning begins in earnest, as family and friends make the fishing gear transition from ice fishing to trolling. Ice shacks hauled off shaky ice, become reverted temporarily back to garden sheds. Trolling rods, yanked from garage rafters, undergo thorough inspections and reels containing last season’s lines are stripped off and new installed. Flies and lures, beaten from last season’s angling battles, are checked for bend shafts, missing barbs and have their hooks re-sharpened. Though perhaps a tad bit excessive in preparation, it puts me more at ease absolutely knowing the strength and quality of my fishing line, gear and tackle, rather than relying on pure faith, when battling a wall worthy salmon or lake trout (togue).

Late May, brings with it hordes of hungry salmon and togue, intoxicated by newly available forage and driven wild by hunger, after the desolate winter season. Despite their wanton desires to fill empty bellies and replace depleted fat reserves, this does not mean, that the fish are always biting and hungry. Last season, our first day of fishing was marked by incredible action, spurred by a titanic eruption of Hendrickson mayflies that whipped the salmon into a feeding frenzy. In a day of trolling the lake from sunrise to sunset, from the Grand Lake Stream Village landing to Hardwood Island and concluding at the mouth of Whitney Cove, we succeeded in bringing 20 salmon to the boat. Most fish were between 15-17 inches and included one well-fed football shaped monster that succeeded in registering 18 inches. Our second day was considerably more difficult and the salmon needed A LOT of “convincing” to elicit strikes. Through trial and error, we managed to get several average salmon into the boat, finally hitting gold with any lure containing the color “pink”. The remainder of the weekend was marked by high winds, cold temperatures and our last half-day of fishing, yielded not a single strike.

As in all angling adventures, there are highs and lows, times when the fish bite and times when the “strikes” go cold. Show me a map of West Grand Lake and it would be difficult for me to indicate a specific spot where I have fished and not caught many fine salmon and togue including; Whitney Cove, the Throughfare, around Hardwood Island, Oxbrook, Pineo Point and many other locations. I am confident that when the fish are biting, anyone with a basic sense of direction and a good depth map will find success.

West Grand Lake should not be trifled with any time of year but especially during the early season. Those wishing to fish its watery depths need to have a backup plan should weather turn dangerously nasty. The ice may have long since receded but unfriendly winds can still nip flesh and past trips have run the totality of extremes from arctic conditions, to sunny blue bird days spent lounging around in shorts and t-shirts. As the saying goes, this is typical of Maine weather and it is better to simply be prepared than second-guess what Mother Nature might decide to offer up.

Fly-Fishing Grand Lake Stream
An alternative, when the weather turns wild on West Grand Lake, is fly-fishing Grand Lake Stream. The area below the dam on the West Grand Lake end of the stream is popular and can get crowded. Don’t be disappointed, most people freely offer advice on what flies are working and will help point you to fish. For a more tranquil experience, don’t be afraid to leave this area and thoroughly explore the stream, finding your own secret spots. If you are short on time and/or experience, the area lodges will happily assist you in finding a registered Maine guide to lead you around the stream and take you to the best pools. Fishing is often fast and furious during the first three weeks of April, with hungry salmon eager to bite hard on any imitation smelt patterns.

Widely considered one of the top landlocked salmon rivers in the state, Grand Lake Stream regularly produces salmon of between 16 and 20 inches in length, with larger fish always an exciting possibility. Regulations set a length minimum for salmon at 14 inches and a one fish bag limit on salmon. The dam pool is by far the most popular (and also most crowded location) so those wishing for a quieter and more pristine experience, it is good to explore other areas of the stream. Fly fishing this time of year can be a struggle, as the combination of cold and wet takes it toll on those unprepared to meet the challenge.

Cold water zaps heat from the body 25 times faster than air so it is critical that when fishing, care is taken to stay warm and dry. Maine’s spring is notoriously fickle and daily temperatures can range from below freezing to mid 60s. Being prepared with insulated waders, gloves, hand warmers, layered clothes, good food and hot coffee can make sure anglers remain comfortable as well as safe. A mistake made by many anglers is fly fishing with the same waders used during the summer. These waders are simply ineffective when compared against the larger and more insulated waders designed specifically for warmth and with over-sized boots to better accommodate heavy socks and heater packs. Feet are typically the area most susceptible to the wet and cold and even in the extreme cold, feet usually sweat and sweat will make feet damp and chilled. Wearing more socks will not make feet warmer but will instead impede circulation. Instead, a simple two-sock system should be used comprised of a thin nylon/spandex “liner” sock (no cotton), used to wick moisture away from the skin, and a second thick wool/nylon sock, for warmth. Care should be taken to ensure toes can still wiggle within the wader, as a restrictive fit inhibits blood circulation, making feet cold. On very cold days, chemical heat packs placed between the two socks provide additional warmth for very little bulk.

Fingers are the second body part that will suffer in the cold. I carry at least two pairs of gloves so that I can replace them if I get a hand wet unhooking a fish. Synthetic, hydrophilic gloves constructed of neoprene or fingerless wool gloves are the most popular options. In extreme cold, I will put chemical heater packs in both my pockets to warm fingers quickly if they take a dunking. The obvious trick to successfully fishing in gloves is practice, learning how to effective fly fish while wearing them. A couple quick practice sessions at home on the lawn go a long way in learning what works and what doesn't before venturing a field.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Rabid Writing Turns 100

This March 2016, I publish my 100th article. My first article, Bear Hunt Taken to the Extreme, was published in July of 2008 and since that time I have enjoyed writing almost monthly for The Maine Sportsman, first as a writer for their monthly specialty columns, then moving into a permanent contributing writer for the magazine's monthly Washington County and Wildlife Quiz columns.

In November of 2014, I decided to also begin writing for the Sportsman Alliance of Maine newsletter and have been a monthly contributor since that time, crafting articles on a wide variety of subjects.

I contribute much of my writing success to starting this blog in February of 2008. This platform allowed me a chance to frequently post articles and have them commented on by the general public. This provided me with the motivation to keep writing and eventually come to thoroughly enjoy writing as a fun and relaxing hobby. My very first blog article, Hunting the Snowshoe Hare, is one that I still frequently re-read to see just how far my writing style has grown in the past seven years.

I maintain a full directory of all of my published works here so that others may have a chance to see my previous article and perhaps learn something new that will allow them success in the woods, learn about a new hiking of camping spot or find a new great place to fish.

Thanks to everyone for following along, I am looking forward to writing the next 100!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Togue, Brook Trout and Long Distance Coyotes

The Noble Togue
In the time before anglers in Maine vigorously pursued monstrous pike and muskie, the noble togue existed as Maine’s only true leviathan of the deep. Easily capable of exceeding 15 to 20 pounds, pulling a massive togue up through the ice has long been the dream of many an angler. Every few years, a lucky fisherman is seen, pictured in this magazine, grinning from ear to ear as he or she proudly displays their hefty catch. For the rest of us fishing for togue, to achieve our own chance at greatness, is a pursuit that borders on obsession. Many Maine waters harbor titanic sized togue including

Beech Hill Pond in Ellsworth (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 24, C-1) that currently boasts being the birth place of the state record togue, a 31 pounds 8 ounces monster caught by Hollis Grindle in 1958.

Other state favorite waters, among togue fishermen, include Moosehead Lake with excellent boat launches located in Greenville (Map 41, D-2) and Rockwood (Map 41, A-1) and Sebago Lake (Map 5, D-1 and C-1). In Washington County, East Grand Lake (Map 45, A-4) and West Grand Lake (Map 35, B-3, B-4) both are extremely popular destinations, rich with fine fishing opportunities for trophy sized fish. While an average togue, in Maine waters, typically runs between 2-4 pounds, the chance of an angler hooking into a much larger sized fish is always a distinct possibility. Anglers chasing togue in March, depending on the season’s weather, typically enjoy fishing for togue through the ice as well as via open water trolling.

To maximize the chance of finding and landing one of these impressive wall hangers, it helps to understand a little bit about togue, their habits and the habitat in which they live. Togue are a cold water game fish that requires deep, cold lakes that hold plenty of dissolved oxygen. As water temperatures warm as winter turns to spring and then summer, togue sink deeper and deeper into the depths to inhabit waters that are less affected by the warmth of the sun. In March, however, togue can be found feeding on the surface and ice anglers can catch them by using smelts just under the ice. Typical for this time of year, on West Grand Lake, more togue will be caught on tip-ups rigged for salmon than on togue rigged tip-ups set in deep water just a few feet off bottom. If trolling, spoons or minnow imitation plugs works great and lures such as Rapala Husky Jerks and Shad Raps or spoons like the Williams Wabler or Mooselook Wobbler in silver or silver/blue are all time tested favorites.

Primary feeding times occur during early morning and late evening, so fishing efforts should be concentrated on these prime times. Feeding times can be extended on rainy, cloudy or foggy days so plan to fish later if these weather conditions exist.

Dialing in Long Distance Coyotes
 My shot hit low, sending specks of gravel flying in all directions. Amazingly, the coyote stood as still as a statute, likely trying to decide in which direction he should make his rapid escape. The pause left me with an additional shot opportunity and this time I didn’t miss, the round from my .223 dropping him squarely in his tracks. Pacing out the distance, I quickly realized the cause for my initial missed shot. I had originally estimated the distance at 200 yards but as my footfalls piled up, the number of yards between us edged closer to 250 yards. The extra yardage had caused my first shot to hit a full 4.5 inches lower than I had anticipated. Only luck had allowed me to capitalize with a second shot, a bonus opportunity typically lacking when hunting most game animals.

The lesson to be learned is that yardage can be extremely difficult to effectively judge, especially when hunting large expanses of open terrain. Possessing even a budget conscious (under $200) range finder, like the Bushnell Truth, Redfield Raider 600, Simmons Volt or author favorite, the Nikon Aculon, allow sportsmen to precisely measure distances to targets and adjust shot opportunities as necessary. Once dialed in, predator hunters will enjoy pursuing long distance coyotes on down east Maine’s expansive frozen lakes and immense blueberry barrens.

Coyotes frequently can be seen, in the early evening and at dusk, patrolling edgings for food. The Ridge Road in Cherryfield (Map 25, D-3 and C-3) snakes past Schoodic Lake (Map 25, C-3) and terminates at Crebo Flat (Map 25, B-3), providing access to great long distance shooting possibilities.

Brook Trout Fishing for Kids
Adults looking to take junior anglers spring fishing should check out Foxhole Pond (Map 25, C-2). The pond is regulated by an S-11 rule allowing fishing only by persons less than 16 years of age. IFW regularly stocks the pond with brook trout, including spring yearlings 7-9 inch, fall yearlings 12-14 inch and 16-18 inch retired brood stock. The daily bag limit on Foxhole Pond is 2 brook trout with a 6-inch minimum. To access Foxhole Pond, travel north on Rt. 193 from Cherryfield for approximately 8 miles. After passing Wyman’s Blueberries, a sizeable blueberry field will appear on the right with a large radio tower. Take the dirt road after radio tower. The first road encountered on the right is the old hatchery road, the second road on the right, leads to Foxhole Pond. A short drive and the small pond will appear through the trees, on the left side of the road. It is a privilege to have access to this pond, so visitors should make sure to pack in and pack out any garbage.

Out with the New and In with the Old – Appreciating a Vintage Snowmobile

I recently purchased a new snowmobile. Now, before I go any further, I must clarify that this sled is “new” to me and was bequeathed to me by its previous owner after 43 years of faithful service. The snow sled I am referring to is a1972 Ski-Doo TNT 440. The TNT acronym stood for Track ’N’ Trail, and for its time, the sled was a giant leap forward in snowmobile design. The TNT’s biggest selling point for riders was that it provided a greater degree of sportiness and more horsepower than its contemporary competitors, setting a new industry standard. The TNT helped transform the sport of snowmobiling, by showing the public that snowmobile riding was “fun” and that these machines could be enjoyed for much more than basic utilitarian service.

Technological Marvel, But Uncomfortable
The sled was a marvel of technology back in the 1970s. Even to this day, the TNT still boasts a number of qualities that have some modern riders taking a serious look that this and older sleds for their style and functionality. By no means a perfect sled, the TNT isn’t the type of snow sled that a person would want to take out for a 200 mile trail ride. Non-ergonomic handles, lack of power steering, a simple bench seat and awkward straight T-handle steering bars make the TNT a dinosaur compared to the riding luxury afford by modern day sleds.

Comparing Old and New Comparing new versus old sleds, modern day sleds feature:
•Vastly superior suspension systems
•Better fuel efficiency
•Less noise
•Less pollution, and
•Less chance of mechanical failures

Vintage sleds, in general, are:
•Lighter weight
•Easier to maintain, and
•Inexpensive to purchase.

Vintage sleds share many of the same basic components still present on today’s sleds: engine, drive belt, track, skis and seating. However, those components have evolved to increase safety and improve comfort. And as components are made more safe and comfortable, inevitably their weight and cost increase. Vintage sleds typically weigh less than 300 pounds, and cost less than $500. Compare this to present day sleds, which can cost upwards of $8,000 and can tip the scales at 800 or more pounds.

Slower Top Speed an Advantage?
Few vintage snowmobiles from the 1970s and early 1980s had engines greater than 40 horsepower or were capable of exceeding speeds, much beyond 50 mph. Today, even basic entry-level models provide 50 or more horsepower, and some of the most popular-selling sleds boast 100-plus horsepower. Some of today’s high-horsepower sleds are capable of exceeding 100 mph, speeds that to some recreational observers seem unnecessary outside of controlled racing environments. Vintage sleds are a viable option well worth exploring, and can be advantageous for individuals not looking to participate in long trail rides or needing to travel at great rates of speed. In certain circumstances I actually prefer the vintage sleds for their lack of horsepower, as I prefer that my children learn to sled on a machine capable of a top speed of 30 miles per hour.

Portability and Ease of Maintenance
Vintage sleds are also a good option for those owners who want the ability to easily load the sled into the back of a truck or get it unstuck from a snow bank without straining their backs. Repairs and maintenance on these sleds is simple and straightforward, and with very little mechanical knowledge most individuals can fix basic problems without the need to take the sleds into repair centers. For these reasons, sportsmen looking for a sled to use ice fishing, allowing kids to ride around the yard and slow cruising on short trips are likely to see the value in these old sleds.

The prevalence and love of vintage snowmobiles has give rise to a subculture of individuals who proudly maintain, ride and even race these machines both for fun and for show. Their love of these “antiques” has fueled websites, chat rooms and several events that occur throughout the winter season in Maine highlighting these fun to ride dinosaurs. In October, I attended the third annual vintage snowmobile show held the Augusta Civic Center. It was a fun event for kids and adults alike, as many vintage sleds were on display for spectators to admire. In addition, the Turner Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club ( vintage snowmobile race will be held this winter. For the past 15 years, the club has hosted the “One Lunger 100,” proclaimed as the northeast’s only vintage snowmobile race. Finally, the Northern Timber Cruisers Snowmobile Club ( maintains an antique snowmobile museum, located across from their clubhouse in Millinocket. The museum currently contains 36 antique snowmobiles, making it one of the largest collections of antique snowmobiles in the northeast. On display are machines such as the 1943 Eliason Motor Toboggan, the 1961 K-95 Sno-traveler (Polaris) and several Bullcats from 1962-63. Of course, the modern sleds of today will eventually become the antiques of tomorrow. The sport of snowmobile riding will continue to evolve, and as it does, so too will changes in the overall design of snowmobiles. There will always be those of us curious to see the next big advancement in snow machine technology and design and also those of us who will lament about the “good old days” when sleds were simpler, slower and easier to maintain. Whatever your snowmobiling passions, drive safe, wear a helmet and enjoy the winter season!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Winter Camping and Togue Fishing

Winter Camping
While certainly a challenging pursuit, there also exists something distinctly exciting about sleeping out under the stars in the middle of the winter. When done properly and in a prepared manner, camping out in the winter can be a fun experience. Over the years, I have spent well over a hundred winter overnights, in temperatures that registered well below freezing. Mt. Ranier, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Aconcagua and more locally, Mt. Washington and Mt. Katahdin have on more than one occasion fully tested my training and resolve. I remember one particularly long evening, sleeping in the bed of my pickup truck at the Abol bridge parking lot, when the temperature (with the wind chill) sank to 65F below zero.

All of these adventures serve as testaments to the critical importance of being fully prepared for the winter environment, well before heading a field. To say that I have been completely comfortable on every night I have spent outside in the winter season would be a lie; however I have never felt like I was ever in any danger of frostbite or hypothermia during any of these excursions. Proper training, mental attitude and gear matched to the environment are all keys to having a successful winter camping outing. First winter camping experiences should be conducted in close proximity to home or a vehicle, incase temperatures plummet and someone gets dangerously cold. Miles from civilization in the middle of the Maine wilderness is no time to find out that a sleeping bags thermal rating is inadequate and that someone is hypothermic.

I cannot stress enough the importance of having good quality gear that is suited to the environment. Most critical, a synthetic sleeping bag rated to -20F and a waterproof bivy sack to protect it from the elements. While down is lighter than synthetic, down is worthless when wet and in Maine’s fickle weather, eventually it will get wet, despite best efforts. With this exact set-up, I have thrived in every type of extreme weather and temperature I have ever faced from freezing rain to ice storms and blizzards.

Once skills develop, winter camping is a great way to explore vast areas of the state by allowing sportsmen the opportunity to set up remote camps and hunt and fish from these locations. How exciting to wake up already at your favorite ice fishing hole or snowshoe far into the backcountry to hunt coyotes and then simply camp for the night, not having to worry about returning home before nightfall.

After thoroughly practicing winter survival skills, experienced winter campers will enjoy an overnight stay at Elsemore Landing (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, B-3). This primitive campsite, accessible by snowmobile, allows ice fishermen direct and early morning access to Pocumcus Lake. Anglers can then choose to fish the salmon rich eastern shore of Pocumcus or head further north into Junior Bay (Map 35, A-2) and West Grand Lake (Map 35, A-3, A-4). Snowmobilers planning to travel into Junior Bay and West Grand Lake should use extreme care in crossing the body of water between Pocumcus and Spring Cove. This narrow gut called the “Throughfare” rarely freezes solid, even during the coldest winters, and many snowmobiles have plunged through the ice here over the years. Play it safe and only cross through this area by following the snowmobile trail that hugs the left hand shoreline next to the Throughfare camps.

Ice Fishing
If looking for an adventure not quite so “cool”, consider renting a lakeside retreat and fishing from the comfort of a heated cabin or ice shack. Many of the lodges that advertise in this magazine provide fine accommodations at modest pricing. If looking down east for a chance to potentially score a record book togue this hard water season, consider staying at Greenland Cove Cabins (Map 35, B-3, B-4) in Danforth, located on the shores of pristine East Grand lake. In talking with 13 year owner Weston Lord, he is predicting that 2016 will be yet another stellar year for harvesting lake trout, keeping in pace with the previous several years. Fishing regulations on the lake, limit the daily harvest to one togue over 18 inches, a practice that has allowed the lakes population of lake trout to grow to enormous proportions.

In a typical weekend, Weston says it isn’t unusual to catch several 8-10 pound togue and lots of “smaller” fish in the 4-5 pound range. When fishing for togue, make sure to rig tip-ups with plenty of backer line, as depths on East Grand can easily exceed 100 feet. Suckers, sea run smelt and large golden shiners all work well when fishing for this aggressive trout species, just make sure to bring plenty! Also, ice anglers will typically encounter a high level of success with jigging. The classic Swedish Pimple tipped with a large sucker or other dead baitfish being a good solid choice. East Grand Lake opens to ice fishing on January 1st, so make sure to call ahead if planning a cabin stay as accommodations go fast! From my own personal experience, in staying at lake side cabin and ice fishing, no equipment is more critical than having boots that easy to slip on and off. Muck boots and similar footwear, lacking lacings, make runs from the cabin to the ice much easier. When returning from the outside, nothing is quite as nice as having a set of slippers back in the cabin, to make sure the walk back to the card table isn’t interrupted by an accidental step in wet snow and slush.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wildlife Quiz - Gray Squirrels

The Eastern Gray Squirrel’s (Sciurus carolinensis) native range stretches from northern Canada, all the way into sections of Texas and Florida. A species well adapted to survive in a wide variety of rural as well as urban environments, the gray squirrel has rapidly spread across the country, largely displacing native red squirrel populations.

Highly prolific, gray squirrels breed twice a year, once in the spring and again in late summer. Gray squirrels construct nests comprised of dry leaves and twigs called a drey, usually constructed in the crotch of a tree. Litters range in size from 1-8 young, with only one in four managing to evade predators, avoid sickness and starvation to survive to one year of age. Of those individuals fortunate enough to survive the first year, about half perish in the follow year.

In preparation for winter, gray squirrels hoard tremendous amounts of tree buds, berries, seeds, acorns and even some types of fungi in small caches for later consumption. Scientists studying the behaviors of gray squirrels have estimated a single squirrel make thousands of caches each season. To prevent other animals from retrieving cached food, squirrels will sometimes pretend to bury a food item, if they feel they are being watched.

Those who have spent time watching the antics of the gray squirrel in woodlands and parks across the country will surely note this species amazing ability to descend a tree head-first. Gray squirrels rank as one of few mammalian species that can accomplish this amazing acrobatic feat. The squirrel does so by turning its hind paws so that the claws point backwards, allowing the squirrel to easily grip the tree bark.
Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What is the native range of the gray squirrel?
2. How often does the gray squirrel breed?
3. What are the nests of gray squirrels called?
4. How big are gray squirrel litters?
5. What percentage of gray squirrel young survive the first year?
6. What do gray squirrels eat?
7. How many caches do scientists estimates gray squirrels make in a season?
8. What amazing acrobatic feat can gray squirrels accomplish?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. The native range of the gray squirrel stretches from northern Canada, all the way into sections of Texas and Florida.
2. Gray squirrels breed twice a year, once in the spring and again in late summer
3. The nests of gray squirrels are called drey.
4. Gray squirrel itters range in size from 1-8 young.
5. Only one in four managing to evade predators, avoid sickness and starvation to survive to one year of age.
6. Gray squirrels eat tree buds, berries, seeds, acorns and even some types of fungi.
7. Scientists studying the behaviors of gray squirrels have estimated a single squirrel make thousands of caches each season.
8. Gray squirrels are one of the few mammals that can descend a tree head-first.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ice Fishing Cusk and Whitefish

This is a short article I wrote for the Jan/Feb 2016 edition of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) Newsletter....ENJOY!

The Electric Ice Auger
After suffering a back injury, battling blizzards last December, I realized that if I wished to have any hope of continuing my passion for ice fishing, I needed to find a better way of hacking a hole through the ice. My old gas powered ice auger, had been a valuable workhorse, in my ice fishing arsenal, for over 20 years but its imposing back breaking heft and ability to shake the fillings out of my mouth had me searching for a more viable option. A year ago, I would have scoffed at the prospects of an “electric” powered ice auger but the Ion Electric Ice Auger is an amazing piece of equipment. Powerful, fast and QUIET, the 8 inch ION will drill up to 40 holes through 2 feet of ice on a single charge. At just 22 pounds, the ION is just shy of half the weight of my old gas powered ice auger and boasts special blades that create smooth breakthroughs and no jarring stops. Add the ION’s ability to reverse its blade and flush slush down the hole and it’s plainly obvious that this auger should be on every anglers most wanted list.

Cusk Fishing
Now suitably equipped, why not try out your new ice auger on the hard waters, chasing the elusive and often underappreciated cusk. Although perhaps a less glamorous fish to pursue than the prized salmon and trout, these freshwater members of the codfish family are one of the finest freshwater fish to consume. Bearing an eel like resemblance and broad head with an enormous mouth, cusk have a strange appearance that has unfortunately caused many an ice fishermen to leave this odd looking fish on the ice for the scavengers. Those individuals, who specifically fish for cusk, will profess that they having a delicious firm white meat and delicate flavor. Cusk are even sometimes described as the poor man’s lobster. Primarily nocturnal bottom-feeders, cusk are rarely caught during the day by ice fishermen, further adding to their misunderstood nature. By the end of February, however, cusk begin leaving their deep-water hideaways to spawn leaving them decidedly more vulnerable to anglers. At this time, cusk can readily be taken during the early morning or late afternoon, near dawn and dusk.

Cusk can be jigged quite easily using lake trout lures (Silver Leadfish or Swedish Pimples) or phosphorescent light emitting jigs, sweetened with chunks of sucker, minnow or shiner. Since cusk locate food by smell, for increased success crush the bait slightly to allow the oils to better disperse in the water. After dropping your jig on bottom, slowly lift the lure and bait up to 6 to 10 inches and let it drop to bottom again. Cusk will normally grab the bait as it sits motionless on bottom, just before the upward stroke. Maine fisheries biologists report that Maine cusk average 18 inches and 24 ounces in their eight year of growth, 20 inches and 32 ounces in their tenth year, and 24 inches and 62 ounces in their thirteenth year. The largest angler-caught cusk recorded in Maine was 18 pounds 8 ounces.

Well-known cusk fishing lakes include: East Grand, West Grand, Pocumpus and East Musquash. Outside of Down East, healthy cusk populations exist in Sebago, Chesuncook, Pemadumcook, Brassua, Spencer and Musquacook.

Lake Whitefish
Another savory fish that frequently takes a backseat to the trout and salmon is the whitefish. Lake whitefish normally grow 14-20 inches long and weigh 1-3 pounds. One look at the silvery white sides and bellies of these fish and it is easy to see from where their name “white” fish is derived. Many anglers catch whitefish by accident while targeting other species like lake trout. While these two species share the same deep, oxygen-rich waters, whitefish congregate in large schools and aren’t “slope-oriented”, tending to instead prefer “flats”. For anglers, this means that by carefully drilling holes in the right locations and using the correct lures and presentations whitefish can be specifically and successfully targeted. Whitefish prefer depths in the 40 to 60-foot range. While whitefish are bottom dwellers, feeding primarily on larvae found in the lakes muddy substrate, they will frequently strike lures jigged well above where they are schooling. It therefore pays to begin your jigging well above where fish are congregating on the bottom and work the jig in slowly.

Proper jigging technique for whitefish is critical, start by pointing the rod tip toward the hole, then slowly lift, pause, let the lure fall under controlled slack, pause, gently shake the lure, pause again, then repeat the entire sequence. Popular jig include the diminutive half ounce C60 Williams Whitefish Spoon and the #6 Swedish Pimple. Both lures can me made more attractive by adding a small piece of florescent glow tape that can be periodically recharged by anglers with a small flashlight. Whitefish have keen senses of smell and taste, so jigs should always be tipped with a small piece of shiner. Maine ice anglers will frequently have an old wrench or other heavy instrument on a long piece of fishing line that is typically used to stir up the mud on the lake bottom. This simple trick simulates a school of whitefish feeding and will sometimes whip a group of whities into a feeding frenzy. Those interested in trying their luck fishing for “whities” would be well served to follow the lead of these long time angling experts.
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