Spring Turkey Season was a lot of fun this year and I was fortunate enough to harvest two nice birds. The first a 20 pounder with a 9 inch beard and 1 inch spurs, shot on May 4th. The second bird was a 14.5 pounder with a 9.5 inch beard and 1/2 inch spurs shot May 11th.
Its raining, the kind of wind driven rain that comes at you sideways, tearing at you in an attempt to find chinks in your suit of waterproof armor. It’s a cold, penetrating, wetness desperate to succeed in its mission to drench and chill you to the bone.
Early spring in Maine has reached its climax and mud season is in full swing. Pleasantly warm days quick digress as nighttime temperatures still threaten frost and a person cold, wet and unprepared in the wilds could easily slip into a life-threatening situation. It is exactly this time of year that outdoorsmen underestimate, often leading into serious trouble.
It is critically important to stay dry and certainly preferable to be comfortable in Maine’s unforgiving and fickle weather conditions and doing so successfully, requires high quality clothing. Clothing designed thoughtfully, with care and capable of shrugging off even the most horrific of weather conditions.
Enter onto the scene, the new Bad Axe Jacket from Carhartt EXTREME. This is the kind of gear you want to have on when you need to punch Mother Nature in the mouth to get the job done. The lightweight, rugged, rainproof nylon shell and high strength nylon reinforced cuffs wrap you in a veritable coating of waterproofing. Stretchable inserts at the elbows and back enhance ease of movement, and full-length side zips allow heat venting for active hikers and backpackers.
The Bad Axe is LOADED with practical features that guarantee it will be your “go to” jacket when the weather turns gnarly. Zippers feature rubber seams similar to a dry suit, making them impervious to anything Mother Nature can throw at it. The breast pocket allows you to throw in your MP3 player and snake your headphones through an interior hole, making it easy to continue listening to your favorite tunes, in even the most inclement of weather!
When you need to rely on a product built for the ultimate in outdoor performance, this jacket needs to be on your list! Stay tuned as I continue to test the Bad Axe jacket throughout the summer and fall, putting it through the most rabid of Maine's changing and challenging environments!
Muskrats (Ondatra Zibethicus) spend most of their lives living a semi-aquatic existence. Marshes, ponds and streams filled with cattails and other favored vegetation such as water lilies, pondweeds, wild rice and pickerelweed are almost guaranteed to hold healthy populations of this omnivorous rodent.
Telltale signs of muskrats inhabiting these biomes include dozens of small domed houses constructed of mud, small sticks and vegetation. Though the muskrat is famous for this unique structure, closely resembling a small beaver lodge, they also inhabit burrows dug into the banks of the water bodies in which they are living.
Evolution has provided the muskrat with the unique ability to close off its ears to keep out water and they can hold their breath underwater for approximately 15 minutes. A scaly laterally pressed tail and partially-webbed hind feet make them efficient swimmers and well adapted to watery environments.
Including its 9-inch tail, an average adult muskrat is 20 inches long and weighs up to about 5 pounds.
A muskrat’s body is primarily reddish or dark brown while its underbelly is a lighter brown to gray brown on more mature animals.
Predominantly nocturnal, muskrat activity peaks at night, when the cover of darkness best protects them from their many natural predators, such as birds of prey, otter and mink.
Prolific breeders, muskrats are capable of producing two to three litters of 6-8 young each every spring and summer. Breeding begins in April and young are born only a month later, after a gestation period of only 30 days.
Muskrat young called “kits” and grow amazingly fast, able to live on their own in a little over one month.
The soft and warm pelts of muskrats remain a valued commodity in the fur trade. The Maine trapping season for muskrat runs statewide from the end of October till the end of December.
Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What are muskrat young called?
2. How long can a muskrat hold its breath underwater?
3. Counting its tail, how long is a mature muskrat?
4. How old does a muskrat have to be before it can live on its own in the wild?
5. Are muskrats omnivores, carnivores or herbivores?
6. How long is the muskrat gestation period?
7. How many litters do muskrats typically have in a year?
8. When is the trapping season on muskrats?
Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. Muskrat young are called kits.
2. A muskrat can hold its breath underwater for approximately 15 minutes.
3. Counting its tail, a mature muskrat is approximately 20 inches long.
4. A muskrat only needs to be about a month old before it can live on its own.
5. Muskrats are omnivores as their diet is comprised of both plants and small creatures such as frogs, crayfish and baby turtles.
6. The muskrat gestation period is only 30 days.
7. Muskrats typically have two to three litters of 6-8 young every spring and summer.
8. The muskrat trapping season runs statewide from October until the end of December.
Looking out across my front yard are 1/2 a dozen small specialty boats. From aluminum and fiberglass canoes, to porta-boats, kayaks and sculling floats these various watercraft all fit very specific purposes. A few months ago I came to the realization that some individuals may be interested in learning more about small boating options and so I drafted a story that was accepted by the Maine Sportsman. I also prepared a short 1 minute video on the assembly of my porta-boat that I think many will find very interesting for individuals unfamiliar with this type of watercraft.
Any sportsman knows that to be successful you need the right tool for the job. You don’t hunt deer with #8 shot shells and you typically don’t take a small boat out on the Atlantic. In choosing a small boat it is important to remember that only when used within their limitations are they safe. Careful attention must always be paid to a number of concerns including; maximum horsepower ratings, carrying capacities and anticipated weather conditions. Ignoring any of these details can prove life threatening.
Porta-Boat Assembly Video Actual Process takes 5 minutes but in this FF version you can see the entire assembly process in 1 minute.
The fine folks at Duluth Trading Company have gone and done it again, creating yet another fantastic product. This latest creation is a microscopic jade embedded, ultralight weight wicking fabric that actually lowers skin temperature!
The clothing containing this space age technology, that I do not even attempt to comprehend, comes in a huge selection of pants, shirts, shorts and even hats, all designed to make working through the heat of summer more comfortable and enjoyable.
This exciting heat taming line of clothing is called the Armachillo work wear series and the ad boasts that it will “stand up to Texas sized heat”.
Well, that might be good and all but what I want to know is how do these clothes stand up to Maine blackflies, mudseason, bass fishing, piling a couple chord of wood and shielding my arm from the misguided blade of a chainsaw!?! To answer all these questions, I formulated a series of tests, of their khaki long sleeve Armachillo shirt, designed to push the shirt beyond its limits in the oppressive Maine wilderness.
Sliding on this shirt reminds me of naked margarita night . . . instantly cool, refreshing and extremely unrestricting. Loaded with bellowed pockets and features like UPF 40 protection, an antimicrobial finish for fighting odor and buttons on the sleeves to keep them rolled up, make the shirt more functional than a Swiss army knife.
The arrival of spring brings with it mud season and the annual migration of Maine’s state bird, the blackfly. This sloppy season and nasty little biting insect work together to make Maine’s spring season a challenge for even the most well equipped sportsman, however, they were no match for my Armachillo shirt. The 100% nylon construction means it is basically impervious to dirt, grime and of course MUD. The long sleeves, high collar and long back kept me tucked in, covered and protected from the angry hoards of rampant blackflies and even while cutting, splitting and stacking wood the shirt allowed for a full range of movement without becoming untucked or sleeves unrolled!!
Unfortunately, the Armachillo shirt will not stop the rapidly spinning blade of a chainsaw, so I suggest that while cutting wood care is taken to ensure you do not get your arms or torso near the dangerous end.
While Duluth markets this shirt as “work wear”, it should also be noted that these clothes would be perfect for hiking, backpacking, fishing, canoeing or enjoying any and all of your favorite Summertime sporting pursuits. Be sure to follow along with my Duluth shirt and me this summer as we explore Maine’s wilderness and waters in cool comfort!
Disclaimer: I don't know what makes me write stuff like this, I will most likely grow-up to be one of those really old guys who always wants to talk to you about his colon. I hope those of you reading will sympathize with my plight and maybe even a few of you will be in the "been there done that" club. Ok, enough talk! Hope you enjoy the story!
Sitting quietly in the turkey blind, watching the woods awaken on a beautiful spring morning, the peaceful solitude is suddenly disturbed. Out of the darkness, you hear a low rumbling sound, as if a freight train is hurtling toward your position. As you strain your senses, to hear and determine the cause of this rude interruption, you realize against all your worst fears, that the sound is coming from your lower intestines.
This predicament causes you much angst as you realize that a trip outside of the turkey blind now will most certainly spook the entire field for the remainder of the morning. As you fight back the growing discomfort, you know that your time is limited. Checking your watch you think, I can hold it 6 more hours. As beads of sweat break out on your forehead and goosebumps appear on your arms, you realize that you are totally lying to yourself. The cinqo de mayo celebrations, consisting of 4 jalapeno laced burritos, 5 spoonfuls of spicy salsa, 4 hot wing appetizers and 6 Coronas will sadly have their revenge. With a heavy heart, you come to the conclusion that the rebel uprising will not be quelled lest the Mexican invasion be eradicated.
Searching your pockets, all you manage to find is dryer lint and the powered remains of what, may at one time have been paper towel. Frantically, you rummage through your turkey vest finding only spare shells, Redman chaw, a box call and the dried mummified remains of something that may have once been a ham sandwich. Cursing now with displeasure, discomfort and distaste at your complete failure to prepare for this catastrophe, you begin to eyeball the upper two thirds of your brand new smart wool socks. Remembering that they cost you 20 bucks you quickly make the decision to find an alternative. Staring out of the blind window, you try to remember exactly what poison ivy looks like, while at the same time trying to forget that you badly failed botany in college.
Now completely and utterly on the verge of total collapse, you quietly squeeze under the blind wall and fumble for a handful of nearby shrubbery. As thorns tear into the softest part of you palm, you let out a soft whimper and speedily search for a plant less likely to leave your bottom permanently mutilated. With frightening clarity, your mind projects a picture of the Canadian flag and you remember something about a maple leaf. Seeing a tree now with a similar adornment of photosynthesizing projections, you grab an entire handful.
With all of these delays, you have now reached terror alert level red! Tearing at your belt buckle, like you have lobster claws for hands, you somehow manage to drop your drawers. Your mind screams NOW and in seconds, you are overcome with happiness, the battle for intestinal tranquility is won!
While doing what you can to clean up the crime scene, you note a large double beard tom slide quietly back into the woods and you realize that in all wars there are survivors and there are casualties, to the victor goes the spoils so to speak. You have won today Mr. Turkey but watch out for me tomorrow, for I come armed with Imodium and cheese!!
Have you ever had to hike a couple miles out of the woods carrying a big Tom turkey over your shoulder? By the time you get back to the truck with your poultry prize, your wrist can feel like it was gnawed upon by rabid gray squirrels. Rather than suffer the wrath of carpal tunnel syndrome, this simple device can be constructed in minutes and greatly assist in transporting your turkey out of the woods.
Please see the short video below, detailing how with a short piece of 550 paracord and a piece of dowel or pcv pipe one can early transform these simple items into a handy turkey carry lanyard.
Spring Fishing West Grand Lake
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 wildly by hunger, after the desolate winter season. Despite their wanton desires to fill their empty bellies and replace depleted fat reserves, this does not mean, however, 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.
Look for West Grand Lake on DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, B-3, B-4.
Fly-Fishing Grand Lake Stream
A predictable 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.
May fly and caddis patterns are good choices or for more specific advice, fly- fish with the suggested flies, from the local town store/fishing shop.
Use caution when wading the stream and be sure to bring a full arsenal of bug spray. Typical of May the stream is typically so thick with blackflies that opening your mouth will result in collecting enough to make a fairly healthy sized appetizer.
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.
Look for Grand Lake Stream on DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, B-4.
Last Minute Gobblers
By the end of May, turkey hunting has typically digressed to the point of sheer desperation. The gobbling has all but shut down, the black flies are miserable and with each labored footfall, the noon day sun makes sweat oozes from every pore. A month of hard hunting, has taken its toll on body as well as spirit and early mornings now necessitate much coffee to fuel bodies beyond the front door. The barely containable excitement, felt in the first few weeks, has now faded and hunters begin to accept that they may end up birdless. I encourage you to continue to be vigilant and not succumb. Instead refocus your attentions and hold out for those last few days.
Late season turkeys require you to add a few different tactics to your normal turkey hunting tool kit. This includes calling less if at all and leaving the decoys at home. Examine the ground carefully for fresh tracks and scratchings, indicating recent travel activity. Find these often used woods roads and trails that frequently force turkeys into narrow connecting points between roosting and feeding areas. Incorporate deer hunting tactics, and sit at these ambush locations. Use a blind, have a seat, good bug spray or a Thermacell and prepare yourself for a long sit. With the right amount of patience and perseverance, that late season gobbler will be yours! Good Luck!
If you have ever
rippled the surface of any of Maine’s truly Grand lakes, you would be hard
pressed not to have encountered the large, green, iconic Grand Lake canoe
patrolling these waters. In the course of Maine’s historic past, few emblems
serve as better symbols of Maine’s rich sporting tradition and outdoor heritage than the venerable Grand Lake canoe. It has been coined by many as the quintessential
Maine fishing craft and in over a century of service, been bestowed countless
accolades and honors by its dedicated followers.
As a boy, I have
fond memories of canoeing polypropylene canoes down the Kenduskeag, Machias and
Moose Rivers but these adventures pale in comparison, to the day I took my
first ride in a Grand Lake canoe. I remember cringing, as I set a small
tentative gravel covered foot on the heavily varnished wood ribbed hull,
fearful to scratch what appeared more an artists sculpture then the floor of a
boat. After considerable prodding, by my patient Uncle, I finally settled into
the handcrafted caned bow seat and laid my tiny hands on the finely crafted
gunnels. Speeding up West Grand toward Pocumcus Lake, powered along by a
comparatively small 9 hp Johnson outboard, I was amazed by our ability to out
distance larger watercraft boasting twice the output of the Johnson. As we
effortlessly sliced through the chop, the cool September wind whipped through
my hair and I silently promised that one day I would own one of these majestic
Early development,of this form of canoe, is credited to Herb Bacon and Joe and Bill Sprague, each
man responsible for elaborating on the basic design, with his own unique style,
adding the features each deemed most important. A testament to its form and
function, it is still produced by a few remaining master craftsmen, each
employing building techniques refined and perfected over decades. Constructed
with intensive care, to successfully build a Grand Laker a man must not only be
able to build a serviceable canoe but also one able to survive decades of hard
use/abuse in the field.
Perfectly adapted, to its intended environment, the
original design has undergone few perceptible changes since the canoe was first
birthed sometime in the 1920’s. Still ribbed and planked with local cedar,
trimmed with fine hardwoods and boasting a stern typically constructed from a
single piece of strong dense mahogany, the craft appears more work of art then
workhorse. Do not be fooled however by its intrinsic beauty, for the craft is
powerful and capable in the water. While many others have borrowed from the
original forms and managed to replicate the canoe, few have managed to
duplicate. Novice craftsmen, who make sacrifices in the quality of materials or
fail to build with loving devotion toward the craft, are simply building a big
canoe and not a vessel worthy of the name Grand Laker.
Despite the best
that mother nature can and have thrown at these craft, the local residents
operating them, know well their strengths and weaknesses, possessing a healthy
respect for what they can and cannot do. There is a saying, that you should
fear greatly the man who owns but one gun, for he most likely knows how to use
it well. After generations of use, with some well cared for canoes handed down
from father to son for several generations, it is not uncommon for a baby to
have ridden, boy to have operated and man to now own the same canoe.
it is the pilots of these venerable craft, whom are the most critical and
important component of their design, for it is their experience knowing how to
accurately predict the weather, avoid the rocky shoals and innate connection to
the canoe that creates such an impressively capable watercraft. Captained by a
registered Maine guide, the Grand Lake canoe or simply “Grand Laker”, in the
native tongue, is a notably handsome means of conveyance, with strength and
size striking a perfect balance with its grace and agility in navigating often
challenging bodies of water.
unfamiliar with these impressive capabilities, will likely scoff at the idea a
canoe would be stable enough to handle the extreme weather produced by some of
Maine’s largest lakes. Guides, sports and mix of outdoorsmen owning these
craft, can attest to how capable and comfortable they are during a long day on
the water. When Maine’s fickle weather becomes ugly, turning an otherwise calm
day on the water into a white knuckled escapade, where frenzied whitecaps
threaten to swamp lesser watercraft, I would pick the Grand Laker as my escape
In its most recent
form, the twenty foot Grand Laker is capable of transporting three adults and
gear comfortably and with its fine tracking in rough water and ability to draft
less than 7 inches, it is perfect for everything from trolling for salmon to
casting for small mouth bass. Its narrow profile and wooden hull make it
maneuverable and light enough to get into boulder strewn fishing hot spots,
unable to be navigated by heavy aluminum boats. Though quick and nimble, its
wide berth still provides a stable platform for an angler to stand while
casting or fly-fishing. Able to be outfitted in a variety of styles and
configurations, it is not uncommon to see canoes rigged with fish finders,
downriggers, rod holders and a number of other fishing implements. Lastly, no
adventure in a Grand Laker would be complete, should it not contain packed
neatly into its bow, all of the elements necessary to enjoy the infamous shore lunch.
remaining a testament to the original blueprint, the traditional Grand Laker
has not been immune to the winds of change. This truth is evident in the crafts
most sizeable evolution, which occurred in the 1950’s, when outboard motors
began replacing paddles as the preferred mode of propulsion. These “advancements”,
forced the canoe’s previous artistically upswept double ends, to be replaced by
today’s more utilitarian square stern. Modernization was repeated; around the
same period, when the canoes high maintenance painted canvas exterior (still
available today if requested by customer) was replaced with the easier to
maintain fiberglass skin.
The boat will
effectively manage engine sizes from 8-10 hp. Thinking of the specific needs
and scenarios when/where it will be typically operated, the 9 hp engine seems
the most popular selection and is a great fit. Some canoes are even fitted with
an additional electric trolling motor, increasing the crafts maneuverability in
Due to its weight
(averaging an empty weight of around 160 pounds) and size, the 20 foot Grand
Laker is typically transported using a small boat trailer. Though light weight
in comparison to the large aluminum v-hulls it would be impractical to expect
to be easily loaded into the back of a pick-up truck or onto a roof top
carrier. Trailers also have the added the benefit of allowing the canoes to
remain loaded with equipment, gas tanks and motors easing deployment another
day or at a different fishing location.
With trailer and
motor the current price tag of a Grand Laker is just under $10,000, with some
used models available for half that price. Still, owning one of these fine
craft may not be an option for every outdoorsman. Watercraft produced by
Oldtown canoe, offer sportsmen a less expensive option but will never compare
to the beauty of the handcrafted Grand Laker. Better to save your pennies and
go with the classic!
This winter season, My moultrie game camera captured this short video segment of a fisher on the coyote bait site. Most Mainers, even those with considerable time spent in the outdoors, have never even seen one of these medium sized members of the weasel family in the wilds. Catching one on camera is truly unique and exciting! Enjoy!