Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Stay Warm and Comfortable Flyfishing this Spring

After long months of inactivity, anglers anxious to fly fish open waters would be well served to make a pilgrimage to Grand Lake Stream (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, B-4). Open April 1st to fly fishing only, hoards of anglers descend upon the stream, drunk on the prospects of pulling fat silversides from the stream’s turbulent, ice cold waters.

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.

Those new to the “stream” will be well served to hire a Maine guide to help them identify the best fishing spots and pick a winning combination of line, flies and gear to ensure a successful and rewarding fishing trip. No matter what your skill level, the local Professional Maine Guides, having worked these waters their entire life, will depart upon you some new understanding that will make you a better fly fisherman. The Grand Lake Stream Guides Association (www.grandlakestreamguides.com) is an organization composed of local Registered Maine Guides striving to continue the traditional standards of the guiding in the Grand Lake Stream area. This devoted group of professional guides is dedicated to promoting a quality, ethical and legal outdoor experience for all. Guides can be procured through the local fishing lodges or contacted directly through the “members list” on the guide’s association website.

My Uncle Charles "Kim" Vose and Cousin Brett Vose (207-796-5403) are both long time Grand Lake Stream residents, guide association members and in my slightly biased opinion, two of the best guides in Washington County. If looking for a fishing guide in Grand Lake Stream make sure to give them a call! 

Anglers arriving later in the month would be well served to explore additional fly fishing areas in and around Grand Lake Stream. Another destination, a short drive from Grand Lake Stream, is the impressive St. Croix River, open to fly fishing beginning April 15th. Two spectacular options exist on the river, both offering pools and riffles prime for fishing salmon and trout. The first location exists in the small town of Vanceboro (Map 46, C-3), approximately a quarter mile down river from the Vanceboro dam; anglers will find ample 16-18 inch salmon and 13-15 inch native brook trout, ravenous from their long winter spent under the frozen surface of Spednic Lake. The second fishing location exists in Princeton (Map 36, B-2), about a half mile down river from the Grand Falls Dam. Here in this pool, landlocked salmon congregate, having dropped down from Big and West Grand Lake in search of forage.

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. Though I have yet to try them, several hunting friends raved about the effectiveness of the new Thermacell boot heaters in keeping their feet warm during late season deer hunting.

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 18, 2015

Wildlife Quiz - The Rainbow Smelt

The Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax) enjoys a widespread dispersal across the North American watersheds, including the tributaries of the Atlantic, Pacific and even Arctic oceans. While native to Maine, including one of the few landlocked populations, the prolific smelt has through the years expanded, by the hand of man, into non-native areas, such as the Great Lakes.

Maine smelt can grow to a median size of 6-8 inches in length, depending on the presence of optimal environmental factors, including abundant food, clean water, absence of prey species and decreased competition from other fish species. Rainbow smelt in some northern Maine lakes have been known to grow to an impressive 14 inches and live for over seven years!

The rainbow smelt’s name comes from the iridescent purple, pink, and blue reflections on the fish’s sides. While this oddly bright coloration may appear to poorly camouflage the smelt from predators, scientist predict that since the rainbow smelt is a “schooling” species, the shimmering pattern acts to confuse prey, allowing the school to more easily escape predation. Though relative small in size, rainbow smelt posses strong jaws lined with pointed teeth. Though juveniles feed mostly on plankton, adults aggressively feed on worms, insects and even small fish. In turn rainbow smelt are heavily preyed upon by almost all Maine fish species, making them an all time favorite bait for anglers.

Shortly after ice out, the lower sections of streams can sometimes be black with thousands of rainbow smelt as they prepare to spawn. The female smelt release eggs that instantly attach to the streams gravel, sand or even submerged vegetation. The male smelt then haphazardly release milt (sperm) that fertilizes the eggs. Both males and females then leave the eggs unattended and the eggs hatch 1–4 weeks later, depending on water temperature.

Wildlife Quiz Questions: 
1. What is the distribution of the rainbow smelt?
2. Do landlocked populations of rainbow smelt exist?
3. What is the median size of a Maine rainbow smelt?
4. How long can a rainbow smelt grow?
5. How long can a rainbow smelt live?
6. Do rainbow smelt school?
7. What do rainbow smelt eat?
 8. How long does it take for fertilized rainbow smelt eggs to hatch?

Wildlife Quiz Answers: 
1. The rainbow smelt inhabits the tributaries of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.
2. Yes, Maine has been documented as having one of the few identified populations of landlocked rainbow smelt.
3. Maine rainbow smelt can grow to 6-8 inches in length.
4. A rainbow smelt can grow up to 14 inches.
5. A rainbow smelt can live up to 7 years.
6. Yes, smelt gather together in schools.
7. Rainbow smelt eat worms, insects and even small fish.
8. Rainbow smelt eggs hatch in 1-4 weeks, depending on water temperature.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hunting the Snowshoe Hare

My Son Prepares for His First Hare Hunt
This short article was originally published as my VERY FIRST blog posting back in February of 2008 and more recently RE-published in the Sportsman Alliance of Maine (SAM) March/April 2015 Newsletter . . . enjoy! 

At 7:00 AM the air temperature was negative two degrees Fahrenheit and as the first rays of morning light filtered down through the tangle of spruce trees it provided little warmth. Using a handcrafted pair of ash snowshoes three of us trudged through the deep snow, every breath of frosty morning air making our lungs ache. It made no difference, however, as the distant sounds of half a dozen beagles made our hearts race and blood boil.

This was February hare hunting in Maine at its finest and my brother, father and I were working ourselves to various points within a spruce thicket to patiently await the moment when the hounds would stir the snowshoe hares from the comfort of their daytime resting spots.

I maneuvered myself slowly into position, at times crawling on my hands and knees until I finally managed to find an opening were I had an area of limited but acceptable visibility. As the dogs began to work the property, their infrequent howls and barks quickly rose to an excited crescendo as they picked up the fresh scent of hares.

About 100 yards to my right, three rapid shots rang out from my Brothers Stoger 12 gauge semiautomatic and I had just enough time to ponder if he had bothered to remove his duck plug when two additional rounds thundered into existence. Moments later, the sounds of the small collar bells began to mix with the howls and I knew that the dogs would be on top of my position any minute. I readied my Franchi 612 semiautomatic 12 gauge and prepared to ambush the unsuspecting hare by delivering a lethal load of 2 ¾ inch Federal number 7 ½ s. Being my first hare hunt, however, I was unprepared for the sight of a single frantic hare and 7 highly excited beagles that practically ran me over. My composure wavered and belly rolled with laughter and in that instant my chance to safely discharge my weapon vaporized. Insult was added to injury as the last beagle stopped put two paws up on my knee and looked at me as if to say “next time pull the trigger dummy”.

The party rolled off to my left and was quickly out of sight and once again I could only hear the chorus of excited beagles. I marveled at the pitch and cadence of the dogs as it changed and fluctuated as they would lose the hare’s scent and then find it again. About 5 minutes passed and about 75 yards to my right, I heard the roar of my Dad’s Ithaca model 37 pump action 12 gauge come alive. One shot and then it seemed an eternity passed before the second shot stretched out over the snowy landscape. I listened intently and half expected to hear an excited yell but eventually determined that the snowy thick spruce landscape had deadened Dad’s celebration.

Time passed slowly as the hounds tracked the hares in a giant circle around my position and I finally had a chance to catch my breath, acclimating to my surroundings. The air temperature had started its slow climb from the negative to the positive and rich sunlight filtered down through the tangled spruce branches. I took off my heavy insulated parka and hung it on a nearby branch and used my snowshoes to pack down a small area. These two actions allowed me a much higher degree of maneuverability and I practiced a swing with the shotgun in the tight quarters.

All morning, the tireless hounds moved with speed and agility through the area and at times I would see a quick flash of movement but was unsuccessful in being able to determine with enough confidence and speed what was dog and what was hare. Frequent shots bellowed to my left and right and I was pleased to know that my Brother and Dad were working overtime to significantly decrease the hare population in Bingham, Maine. As the sun crept high overhead, the smell of frying onions wafted up the slope and made my stomach rumble. I heard a horn blast from our guide Bob’s Suburban and my thoughts quickly turned from hare hunting to a hot cup of black coffee and a decadent lunch of one of the best outdoorsman foods of all time, the hot dog.

Upon arriving back at the road, I was excited to see that Bob had on his Coleman cook stove prepared for us a feast fit for a king. Slowly, my Brother and Dad appeared out of the woods both rabid with the adventures of the morning, covered in spruce needles and looking like snowmen. As they walked down the road toward the truck, I was more than a little bit surprised to see that neither of them seemed to be carrying any hares. I breathed a barely perceptible sigh of relief, as I realized that their morning of hunting had been as productive as mine and in the end I has saved more money on shells.

Through lunch and an impressive desert of chocolate brownies, we relayed to each other our missed shot opportunities. Stories relayed by my brother, included a description of one impressive rabbit that had managed to entrench himself in a bunker of dead logs and somehow narrowly escaped the barrage of lead that rained down upon him. We all laughed until we all thought we better get back to hunting before we completely wore ourselves out.

Fortunately for the hares, our afternoon was filled with much of the same general mayhem and missed shot opportunities that we had encountered during the morning hours. While I finally managed to get one shot off before the hunt ended, I too was unable to harvest even a single hare. Though the day ended without a single hare to show for our Herculean efforts, we all agreed that we would not have changed a single instant. As we get older, life has a way of adding more responsibilities to young men and as the years have passed it has becomes increasingly harder to manage a getaway with my Dad and Brother. Because of these limitations, I will always hold these treasured moments spent together as much more valuable than the harvesting of any game animal.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ice Fishing at Kid only Ponds!

By March, many of the hardwaters of the state have begun slowly returning to their liquid state. This change comes with the longer days of sunlight and temperature that creep well up into the proximity of down right balmy. By March’s end, many favorite fishing spots will be unsafe but at the beginning of the month, on typical years, the ice remains thick and safe. March’s higher average day time temperatures make it a fun month to introduce kids and new anglers to the sport of ice fishing.

While die hard ice fishermen will typically weather any storm and subject themselves to any chill in pursuit of their preferred quarry, those new to this icy sport typically enjoy the experience more when the weather is milder. Making the fishing experience enjoyable, is a critical step in ensuring that children and new anglers will develop a passion for ice fishing and pass on this heritage to the next generation.

For optimal angling success, it pays to choose fishing ponds that support healthy populations of “trash” fish such as yellow perch, pickerel and bass. These voracious species will typically keep folks yelling “FLAG” and on the run for hours. The most productive fishing ponds will have slow days, so veteran anglers make sure to pack Frisbees, footballs, cribbage boards and other games so that should boredom occur, it can be quickly diverted. Even milder winter temps still nictitates the intake of high calorie “comfort” foods such as snack cakes, candy bars, beef jerky and cookies, critical to keep bellies filled and bodies properly fueled. Extra heavy duty clothes, shelters and portable heaters are not typically necessary in March, as long as there is a spot to get out of the wind. Caution should be paid, however, to footwear as lakes this time of year tend to be very wet. Boots must be waterproof, otherwise a fun day on the ice can rapidly descent into a cold and uncomfortable day.

Adults looking to for a great place in Washington County and Down East to take junior anglers ice fishing would be well served to check out Foxhole Pond (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 25, C-2), on headwaters of Great Falls Branch Brook in Debois. The pond is regulated by an S-11 special rule allowing fishing only by persons less than 16 years of age and with a restriction of two lines per person. (NOTE that this is a change from the S-9 restriction on Foxhole Pond last year that had previously allowed the pond to additionally be fished by “complementary” license holders.)

Foxhole Pond is a small irrigation pond used to provide water to the local blueberry barrens and cranberry bogs. It is a privately owned pond, managed by a jointly by an agreement between landowners and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW). Landowners allow public access and every year, IFW stocks the pond with brook trout, including spring yearlings 7-9 inch, fall yearlings 12-14 inch and 16-18 inch retired brood stock.

Due to the locations popularity, it is best fished early in the ice fishing season but by March enough fish typically remain to make for an eventful day on the ice for young anglers. Baitfish are not typically needed, when fishing Foxhole pond, as fish will readily take worms and a large assortment of jigged lures. A container of crawlers or worms, kept in a jacket pocket, to protect them against freezing, is all that is needed to provide enough bait for a fun filled afternoon. 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. Bringing a small portable butane or white gas stove will ensure that plenty of hot cocoa can be served without constructing a fire.

Although closed to ice fishing, North and South Meyers Ponds (Map 25, C-3) and the Grand Lake Stream canal both allow open water fishing for person’s under 16 years of age (S-11) and are also stocked yearly to provide lots of excitement for junior anglers. The Meyer Ponds are listed in the 2015 fishing regulations but the Grand Lake Stream Canal is not. For more information on fishing the canal and directions more information can be obtained at the Grand Lake store or from the local sporting camp proprietors.

Additionally, the Middle River (Map 26 C-3) in Marshfield from below the bridge on the Marshfield Road downstream to the mouth of smelt brook is governed by a S-9 special rule, meaning it is open to fishing for person’s under 16 years of age as well as persons holding complementary fishing licenses. More information on who qualifies for a complementary fishing license can be found in the IFW fishing law book or online at www.maing.gov/ifw.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Wildlife Quiz - Maine’s Snowshoe Hare

The showshoe hare (Lepus americanus), also called the varying hare, has a home range spanning across all of North America. Snowshoe hare have evolved to become well adapted to their snow covered environments. Hare’s have the amazing ability to shed their brown summer coats and grow white winter coats that help them better blend into winter environments. As summer approaches, the brown coat replaces the white, allowing the hare to hide better in the earthy tones of its summer habitat.

The name snowshoe comes from the hares second incredible adaptation, its sizeable hind feet, appearing almost too large for its diminutive body size. The animal's large hind feet help it from sinking into the deep snow when it walks and hops. Snowshoe hares also posses heavily furred feet and ears shorter than most other hares, both critical adaptations designed to protect it from freezing Maine the temperatures.

Mostly crepuscular (creature of the dawn and dusk) and nocturnal (night time dweller) snowshoe hare do a majority of feeding at night. Hares feed on a wide variety of plants such as ferns, buds, twigs and grasses but will also less commonly feed on dead animals such as mice.

During the day, hares do not rest in burrows but instead prefer to conceal themselves from predators by hiding in shallow depressions under heavy spruce thickets and brush piles.

Prolific breeders, hares may birth between up to 30 young per year. Females (does) have the ability to become pregnant by males (bucks) while already pregnant with young (kits) because female hares have two uteri. Typically the hare breeding season begins in March and continues till around June. The gestation period lasts an average of 37 days, with birthing of kits starting in April and stretching into late July.

Wildlife Quiz Questions: 
1. What is another name for the snowshoe hare?
2. What is the home range of the snowshoe hare?
3. What trick of camouflage has the snowshoe hare evolved to better evade the sharp eyes of predators?
4. How have snowshoe hare adapted to their cold environments?
5. Do snowshoe hare eat meat?
6. Do snowshoe hare dig burrows?
7. What are baby rabbits called?
8. How many young can snowshoe hare birth in a single year?
9. What are female rabbits called?

Wildlife Quiz Answers: 
1. A snowshoe hare is also known by the name varying hare.
2. The home range of the snowshoe hare stretch across all of North America.
3. Snowshoe hares have evolved to evade predators by growing white winter coats and brown summer coats to better blend into their natural environments and fool the sharp eyes of predators.
4. Snowshoe hare have adapted to their cold environments by having short ears and feet covered with thick fur.
5. When food is limited, snowshoe hare have been documented eating meat.
6. Snowshoe hare do not dig burrows, instead the prefer to conceal themselves from predators by hiding in shallow depressions under heavy spruce thickets and brush piles.
7. Baby rabbits are called kits.
8. Snowshoe hares can birth as many as 30 young per year.
9. Female rabbits are called does.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Friends First Coyote Hunt

This short article was recently published in the Sportsman Alliance of Maine (SAM) January/February 2015 Newsletter . . . enjoy! 

I remember fondly one particular evening a few years ago when I had the distinct pleasure of taking a friend out coyote hunting. This particular outing, it was an impossibly frigid January evening but my friend as excited and I aimed to please. Heading out the door, I noted that the thermometer on the deck read -17 degrees F, cold enough where we needed to use extreme caution exposing any flesh to the elements for fear of frostbite. A brilliantly bright full moon cast eerie shadows throughout the woodlands making my eyes swear they could see movement even when there was none. The short walk to our set-up location did precious little to warm us in the brutal cold but that meant little as I looks at my friend and he was grinning.

After 15 minutes of sitting on a high granite shelf overlooking the edge of an expansive frozen swamp with the sounds of wounded snowshoe rabbit blasting on the electronic call, a chorus of several excited song dogs started howling LOUDLY west of our position. Immediately after this auditory barrage a very concerned friend, his adrenaline pumping and nerves slightly frayed, slowly turned his head in my direction and whispered "WE are going to DIE!" This comment was soon followed by a remark inquiring about how many rounds of ammunition I had decided to bring and how fast I could work the bolt action on my rifle.

As my friend was only along to watch and was not carrying a firearm as a true “friend”, to further frazzle his already frayed nerves, I cranked the electronic call to its highest volume and hit "lone coyote howl". My poor, poor friend immediately flinched violently in his seat, his eyes expanded to the size of dinner plates and I am fairly certain he released something from his lower intestine in an uncontrolled fashion. I had all I could do not to burst out in hysterical laughter. Repeating the call several more times I could tell the old boy was at the end of his proverbial rope and I whispered, "that was me" lest he attempt to run for it. Thankfully, my friend has an incredible sense of humor and all I received as a through description of where I could stick my electronic call instead of the physical beating I probably deserved.

In my friend’s defense, if you have never hunted predators like coyote, bobcat and bear you are likely unaware of how vulnerable it can make you feel, when a coyote howls or a bobcat or black bear silently stalks past you by only a few feet. The hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and goose bumps spring forth from your body as the primitive mind regresses to a time when man was the hunted and not the hunter of these beasts. The feeling is similar to what it is like to watch a horror movie; there is something unique inside each of us that simply enjoys a good scare. When you combine this adrenaline packed punch with the challenge of calling and the added struggle against the winter season, you begin to see the attraction of hunting these predators. The winter season is a playground for predator hunters high on the excitement of being able to hunt bobcat, fox, coyote and even raccoon.

While it is enjoyable to target each of these animals with game calling, another popular method is the placing of bait. Bait piles containing road killed deer carcasses frequently draw all four of these furbearers, making morning and evening sits especially exciting as the hunter is never sure what critter might suddenly appear. December marks the beginning of the coyote night hunting season and dedicated sportsmen not afraid to subject themselves to the fury of the Maine winter are typically richly rewarded. Constructing warm shelters, for sitting in on cold winter nights, is mandatory for hunters to be able to hide movement and remain comfortable for long hours when the mercury plummets. These shelters range from drafty old retired ice shacks to well insulated, propane heated condos with lazy-boy recliners and bunks. With the trick to killing more coyotes, directly tied to spending as much time as possible on a bait site, comfort certainly pays huge dividends.

After investing over a hundred hours last winter sitting on bait sites, I can tell you that the most important consideration is having a comfortable chair. On a calm still evening, were even the smallest sound is amplified, a chair that allows you to sit practically motionless for 6-8 hours in absolutely critical. Maintaining “baited sites” is a labor-intensive process and hunters employ a variety of methods to attempt to keep sites refreshed with bait and active. Hungry critters can wipe out an active bait site fairly quickly, leaving hunters with nothing more to hunt over than skeletons. To battle this problem, many employ filling five gallon buckets with meat and water, freezing them solid. This allows critters to smell and dig at the bait, only extracting small morsels at each visit. This keeps predators hungry and coming back often to check on the site. Another method, I employed this previous hunting season is taking 4 large logs, nail them together in a square shape and cover the top with chicken wire, bait is then place under this chicken wire frame. Predators are able to see, smell and dig at the bait through he chicken wire but it is extremely difficult for them to eat more then a tiny amount at each visit.

Several laws exist dictating the placement of bait. These include proximity rules related to distance from dwellings, campgrounds and roads. Bait sites must also be labeled with a clearly visible 2 by 4 inch tag with the name and address of the baiter. Bait sites are subject to Maine’s litter laws and must be cleaned up when requested to do so by the landowner or within 20 days from the last day the site was hunted over. It is illegal to place bait on ice of waters that serve as municipal water supplies, or their tributaries. Before determining where to place a bait site, hunters should become thoroughly familiar with these laws and limitations. Individuals without direct access to public land will find that many opportunities exist where hunters can place bait on the edging of frozen lakes and ponds.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Electric Ice Augers, Cusk and Lake Whitefish through the Ice

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 in Washington County 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. Every February, a large village of ice fishing shacks appears in Junior Bay on West Grand Lake, as dozens of anglers vie to chase whitefish. Those interested in trying their luck fishing for “whities” would be well served to follow the lead of these long time angling experts.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Why Maine is a Hunting and Fishing Paradise

The following is a short blurb that I wrote for the Maine Department of Tourism in October of 2014, it describes why Maine is a hunting and fishing paradise. Enjoy! 

Maine’s impressive diversity of fish and game, untouched forests and pristine waters make it the dream destination for hunters and anglers. Boasting healthy populations of both large and small game species and large variety of native and stocked fish, Maine provides a rare sporting environment difficult to find anywhere else in North America. Moose, black bear, whitetail deer and wild turkey, snowshoe hare, ruffed grouse and woodcock all call the Maine woods home, while countless salmon, brook trout, smallmouth bass and lake trout inhabit the gin-clear waters.

No matter the season of the year, Maine’s abundance species and habitats, offer unique fishing and hunting opportunities, sure to match the interest and passion of every sporting man and woman. Maine’s size and low population density provide assurance that any trip taken afield is only filled with the sounds of peace and quiet. Fly fish a tranquil lake, where the only competition is a bald eagle or hunt a remote section of the backcountry devoid of the footprints of another human being. Through its vast expanses of public and private lands, both remote and accessible hunting and fishing exist, providing exciting sporting options for people of all skill levels. From extreme, rugged backcountry off the grid excursions to extravagant sporting camps and plush accommodations, Maine has an adventure to match every person’s ability, needs and budget. Whether pursuing whitetails over its jagged granite hewn mountains, fishing for striped bass on its rocky coast, chasing moose across the vast expanses of the north country or casting a dry fly into some long forgotten secluded pond, Maine’s geological features and topography are as incredible as the game animals that inhabit it.

 In Maine, hunting and fishing are more than simply outdoor pursuits; they are an integral part of our lifestyle, culture and traditions. Maine supports these ideals, by fostering a warm and welcoming environment for all sporting men and women through its network of registered guides who work tirelessly to help veteran and novice hunters and anglers alike safely enjoy their visit to Maine’s woods and waters. Maine’s exquisite natural beauty has persevered through the ages and its quiet atmosphere of relaxed splendor, nourishes the soul, enriching any outdoor experiences and making it easy to understand why sporting men and women have flocked here for generations.

Maine is truly special, the colors here are exceedingly vibrant, the smells lighter and more fragrant, the water sweeter, it is a place where the totality of success is measured not in the fish caught or animal shot but rather that one departs, from their time spent here, knowing that new friendships have been made, dreams accomplished and with the unflinching realization that they must soon return to this extraordinary place. Come to Maine and create hunting and fishing memories that will last a lifetime.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wildlife Quiz - Cusk

The Cusk (Lota lota), also know as burbot or freshwater cod have unusual anatomies, possessing heads similar to catfish with body length swim fins, giving them an eel-like appearance. The mouth is large and wide, with a single chin barbel hanging prominently from the lower jaw. Cusk range in coloration from a muted tan to a dark brown, overlaid with contrasting dark brown to black spots.

According to Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists, Maine cusk require almost 13 years to reach just 24 inches, making them one of the slowest growing fish species in the State. The largest recorded cusk caught in Maine was an 18 pounds 8 ounces behemoth caught by Annette Dumond, in 1986 while fishing Eagle Lake.

Cusk usually reach sexual maturity around their fourth year of life, with spawning season occurring deep under the frozen ice between the months of December and March. As broadcast spawners, male and female cusk will simultaneously release sperm and eggs into the water to be fertilized. Eggs then settle onto the sand or gravel where they stay until they hatch, a period of time stretching from 50 to 100 days depending on water temperature. Cusk have been know to live as long as 20 years.

Crepuscular hunters, cusk prefer to hunt for food in the twilight hours of dusk and dawn. Though primarily piscivores or fish eaters, cusk will also eat insects, frogs, snakes and even birds. In Maine, anglers occasionally catch cusk on deep water togue traps but more typically they are caught at night on deep water traps fished with dead fish bait.

Cusk meat when deep-fried becomes a delectable treat and many even profess that cusk has a taste and texture similar to lobster.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What are other names for the cusk?
2. What part of a cusk’s anatomy make it very different from other fish.
 3. What color are cusk?
4. How long can cusk grow in 13 years?
5. What was the largest cusk caught in Maine.
 6. What year of life do cusk reach sexual maturity?
7. How long are cusk able to live?
8. What kind of hunters are cusk?
9. What are piscivores?

Wildlife Quiz Answers: 
1. Other names for cusk include burbot or freshwater cod.
2. Cusk have body length swim fins, giving them an eel-like appearance.
3. Cusk range in coloration from a muted tan to a dark brown, overlaid with contrasting dark brown to black spots.
 4. Cusk are a notoriously slow growing species, typically growing only 24 inches in 13 years.
 5. The largest recorded cusk caught in Maine was an 18 pounds 8 ounces behemoth caught by Annette Dumond, in 1986 while fishing Eagle Lake.
6. Cusk reach sexual maturity around their 4th year of life.
7. Cusk can live to be 20 years old.
 8. Cusk are crepuscular hunters, cusk prefer to hunt for food in the twilight hours of dusk and dawn.
9. Piscivores are creatures that eat primarily fish.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Ice Fishing Salmon, Predator Hunting Coyotes

Cathance Lake, (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 36, E-4) in Washington County, was one of the first Maine lakes to be artificially stocked with landlocked salmon. Occurring in 1868, using salmon eggs obtained at Grand Lake Stream, the lake has since grown into a hugely successful salmon fishery. The lake’s 2,905 acres and 75 ft watery depths provide excellent habitat for salmon, perhaps one of the most consistent salmon fisheries in eastern Maine. Salmon caught by ice anglers typically range from 17 to 19-inches with the chance to pull up a larger trophy fish always a possibility.

Brook trout are produced in several of the lakes tributaries and anglers tend to catch 10 to 12 inch fish in the lake with 14 to 16 inch trout a possibility Ice anglers on foot will park at the plowed and well maintained boat launch on route 191 and walk the 1 mile up the lake to Todd Island. Good fishing exists all around Todd Island and the island also provides shelter and a place to build a small fire should the weather turn difficult.

Anglers targeting salmon will encounter more success if they bring smelts. While salmon will bite shiners, a much larger degree of success will be managed by those willing to invest a little more expense and effort and use smelts. If unaccustomed to using these bait fish, know they are notoriously difficult to keep alive. Bait buckets equipped with small aerators will increase the chances of keeping bait actively swimming all day long.

Predator Hunting 
Sportsmen often ask me how they can become more successful at hunting coyotes. While these individuals tend to employ fairly sound hunting tactics, they fall short on a few critical details that hurt their success rate. While scent control is always an issue with coyotes, also is having camouflage well matched to the intended hunting area and seasons.

By being mindful of the anticipated hunting location and watchful of the surroundings, hunters can more easily blend into the environment and achieve greater success. Winter’s first snowfall vastly changes the visual environment and camouflage patterns useful in the spring, summer and fall are no longer effective. As bad as dark camouflage patterns are against an open snow covered field, white or snow camouflage patterns are equally bad when contrasted against dark woodland backgrounds. High contrasts create easily visible silhouettes. In the winter, exercise caution when using white camouflage in dark woodlands as the wary eyes of predators will easily see your movements. In these situations, a mixed camouflage choice consisting of white pants and a favorite woodlands pattern will break up your outline better than all white. Other good examples include, hiding in a snowy brush pile wearing Seclusion 3D winter or wearing the white and blotchy green Flecktarn pattern when hunting a snowy pine or spruce thicket. The trick to perfecting camouflage is to create less sharp lines by blending to create a more “fuzzy” silhouette.

Sportsman looking to enter into the world of winter hunting need not break the bank, a set of military surplus white nylon pants and jacket for $20 and polyester winter hat and gaiter from Walmart for $5 creates a set that allows hunters to quickly and easily adapt to different winter hunting scenarios with minimal effort. Other “thrifty” options include using white hooded painter coveralls or simply a white bed sheet (just remember that cotton will quickly absorb water and ice up).

While hunters typically understand the importance of effective camouflage, those looking to confuse the sharp eyes of predators, must also carefully examine their face, hands and feet. Always on the move, turning side to side and looking up and down, the face frequently alerts game animals to a hunter’s presence. Hunters can negate this issue by employing slow movements and choosing a facemask that fits properly. A properly fitting facemask assures a hunter will consistently wear it and that it doesn’t block ones vision at the time of the shot. I own half a dozen different facemasks. For example, one is fleece lined for late season deer; another is all mesh for June turkeys, then there is the neoprene ½ mask for January sea ducks and finally the full face fleece lined balaclava for hunting late season coyotes in brown woodlands camouflage and all white. The trick is to have a wide enough selection to allow matching facemasks to the weather and the natural hunting environment.

Ungloved hands create a lot of visual disturbance whether repositioning a firearm for a shot or scratching an itch. I have several different pairs of gloves designed to match the weather and blend with the environment. Critical with gloves, as previously mentioned with facemasks, is perfect fit. A badly fitted glove can inadvertently place pressure on a trigger and cause it to fire at an inopportune time. On the other hand, a glove that is too thin may allow better trigger feel but be ineffective in warding off the cold. Chemical heater packs and mittens with trigger openings are a great way to insulate with less “bulk”, allowing more control over a rifle’s safety and trigger.

Of all the body parts, feet are without a doubt the most often forgotten. While not nearly as critical to camouflage as head and hands, in certain situations feet can really stand out. Think hunter dressed in white camouflage standing in a snow-covered field with brown boots and YIKES you can see what I mean. What most don’t realize is that feet are incredibly easy to camouflage without buying a dozen different pairs of boots. One of the easiest things to do is to simply pull pant legs completely over the top part of the boot rather than tucking them in. This will succeed in hiding about 70% of the boots total visible area.

 Coyotes prefer to expend as little energy as possible in winter and will frequently travel snowmobile trails to more efficiently travel through areas with significant snowfall. This creates great ambush locations for hunters wanting to try out their new winter camouflage pattern. Great hunting can be accessed at the end of the Carson Road in Calais (Map 37, C-1). Following the impressive network of logging roads and well-packed snowmobile trails make walking, snowshoeing or cross-county skiing into the vast woodlands an easy endeavor. Stalking into areas such as Carson Heath (Map 37, C-1), the Flowed Lands Ponds (Map 37, C-1) and Beaver Lake (Map 37, C-1) are sure to provide hunters with an exciting afternoon.
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