Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Phantom Brook Trout of the Union River

Last spring, I was visiting with some old college buddies in Mariaville and staying in a rustic camp, a stone’s throw from the Union River. I had been lured to this area by sweet promises of 12-14 inch brook trout, so plentiful that they had to be practically beaten off an angler’s line with a canoe paddle. Upon arriving at camp, however, I was greeted by my good friend Pat who proclaimed, “Watahs too high and there ain’t nuf blackflies, fish jus won’t bite.” Apparently, I had been inadvertently bamboozled. According to Pat, a spring flood of unusually high water and an uncharacteristically poor blackfly mating season, had combined to extinguish my plans of landing numerous brook trout. Unfazed by the dreary forecast, my companions and I, over the next two days, threw just about every conceivable lure into the Union River, in an all-out effort to perhaps entice one brook trout to bite.
No Trout, Try Turkeys
After two days fishing, I grew tired of the drudgery and asked my friend Pat if he would like to try turkey hunting. Pat, a dyed in the wool deer hunter, had never hunted turkeys and he was excited to give the sport a try. One thing that I quickly learned, however, was that chasing old Tom around the blueberry fields of Mariaville is VERY different than chasing turkeys in Central Maine. While we did manage with several hours of effort to see a few hens, the lack of gobbles sent us back to camp well before lunch time.
            Unlike Pat and me, my other friends decided that despite days of not catching fish, today was THE day and their glass half full philosophy could not be challenged. Their plan was to travel several miles upstream, on the Union, and try a couple untouched pools, Pat’s only warning to my friends was, “Do not attempt to cross the river, it’s treacherous.”
A Cryptic Txt Message
            Pat and I were returning to camp, when I received a cryptic txt message asking if Pat had a come-along or if he knew where we could get one. A few minutes later, I received another txt message asking if Pat had rope. We both grew concerned that my friends had not heeded Pat’s warning, so I immediately called my friend Dave to find out what had happened. Dave answered his phone and relayed that he and another friend had buried one of the vehicles in the Union river and it was in danger of being washed downstream. I hung up the phone, concerned that we would now all soon be involved in what could potentially be a dangerous extraction of an ATV or potentially a truck (it was still unclear) from a hazardous section of the Union River.
Missing Wheeler!?!
             As we pulled into camp, I quickly scanned Pats camp yard and counted trucks and ATVs. I looked at Pat and said, “Odd, all the vehicles are here.” Pat replied, “Not all the vehicles Bub, where’s your ATV?” I immediately looked into the woods where I had parked my ATV and it was in fact gone.
The Apology
            Dave immediately came apologetically groveling out of the camp, spewing out comments like, “Thought I put it in neutral.”, “I shouldn’t have parked it on a hill.”, “I think the four of us can extract it.”, “There really isn’t much damage.”  At this point, it’s pouring buckets, so while Pat was digging through the woodshed for rope and a come-along, I proceeded to go into the camp to don my rain gear. This was also my chance to take a few calming breaths, so as not to choke my friend Dave to death. Dave, unable to contain his guilt, followed me into camp and continued his barrage of apologies. At that point, I was honestly kind of beyond it, the wheeler was insured and replaceable/repairable if necessary. Instead, I grew increasingly concerned that someone could potentially get seriously injured trying to extract it from the rushing water. Seeing the concerned look on my face, Dave told me to look out the camp window as a deer was walking by, as I looked up, there was my ATV safe and sound parked right next to the woodpile in back of the camp. It might not have been “April Fool’s Day”, but that was one fantastic practical joke.
            The four of us proceeded to retell this story over the next two days, to anyone who would listen and laugh hysterically every time and with each retelling, the story grew more and more outlandish, as all great stories do. I feel extremely fortunate that I have such good friends who are willing to invest their precious time in making sure my days on this earth are as exhilarating as possible.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Kill More Coyotes with the Right Light

Spotlight Right         
By mid-March, the ice on many of Maine’s lakes and ponds begins to grow thin. For those who don’t enjoy the possibility of taking an icy plunge, we begin to think of other outdoor pursuits. One of my favorite March activities is chasing coyotes. As with deer hunting, there always seems to be something new to learn about hunting these wily creatures.
Red, Green or White Light
            One of the latest discussions is around the use of spotlights. Basically, spotlights for night hunting come in three basics colors, red, green and white. While red is more traditional, green appears to be increasingly more popular and the new kid on the black is white. A search online will yield testimonials singing the praises of each of these lighting systems. So how does a hunter choose?
            In my experience and from what I have read about the experiences of other hunters, green lights, though exceedingly popular, seem to be the poorest choice for predator hunting. Red and white lights tie for second, with a slightly higher number of hunters preferring red, including me. There is even scientific research indicating most manufactured “red” spotlights emit visible light in the 620 nm wavelength but a true red and the best “red” for predator hunting are spotlights that emit light in the 660 nm wavelength. White lights have gained a lot of popularity over the past several years and more and more hunters are using them, especially those who enjoy videotaping their hunts.
Quick Scan
Ultimately, despite the color employed, hunter success in the field is dependent more on how the spotlight is used and less on the chosen color. For example, coyotes can't see red light but that doesn't mean a direct blast with a spotlight (of any color) won't send them running. When scanning fields for coyotes, quickly scan back and forth looking for eyes. Red lights are extremely effective in picking up a coyotes eyes. This is because coyotes have a “mirror”, called a tapetum lucidum, beneath their retina that collects and focuses light back into the retina, enhancing their ability to see in low light conditions. Looking for that eye reflection is the key to success and all that is required to do so is a 3-4 second sweep of a field. Scanning is of course much easier, if it is done with two people, with one person operating the spotlight and the other operating the firearm. 
Properly Identify Target
            After identifying a reflection, it is critical that hunters properly identify their target, a task that is exceedingly difficult when only an animals eyes are identified. Most coyotes will spook, if hit with the direct beam of a spotlight for more than a few seconds. Instead, use the softer light on the edge of the spotlight beam to identify the target without sending it running off. 
Shooting at Night
            For those unaccustomed to shooting at night, it is critical that one is extremely familiar with the area. Houses, domesticated animals, non-target wild animals, other hunters, etc. can quickly turn a fun night in the woods into a nightmare. I prefer to hunt coyotes at night with a shotgun rather than a rifle as shots tend to lose velocity quickly, limiting the lethal range which a bullet can fly. Also, a majority of the successful hunting at night is up close and personal with a most shots occurring at 30-40 yards. A cardinal rule of all hunting but especially night hunting is if you aren’t 100% sure of your target don’t shoot.  
Full Moon
My favorite time to hunt coyotes is under a full moon. The moon illuminates the night better than any spotlight ever made and it’s completely natural. Placing an electronic call on the edging of a small frozen pond and sitting back in the woods 10-20 yards creates a fantastic ambush location. When things work perfectly, a coyote will creep down the woods edging, exposing itself against the ponds snow covered surface, just as a hunter has a perfect shot. More often than not, however, the coyote winds the hunter or spooks but that is the challenge of hunting coyotes, close range at night.
Light, light, light!
            When the full moon isn’t shining, a hunter’s best friend is a spotlight. My best advice when selecting a quality light is don’t penny pinch. A good quality spotlight, that will perform well in Maine’s cold climate and won’t easily break, is somewhat pricy. Good spotlights include the Orion H30 ($129.95), the Predator Tactics Reaper ($199) and the Wicked Lights W403IC ($219.95). All of these models also have the ability to throw light well over 100 yards, a feature that will come in handy as a coyote hunter’s knowledge of an area and skill level increases and they decided to transition to using a rifle. Also, these high power light systems are incredibly helpful in picking out coyotes on bait sites where extended range is likely to be needed.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Northern Pike The Scourge of Maine

Photo – 44” Northern Pike caught by Chris Stevens on 1/1/19 on 6-lb test while crappie jigging on Unity Pond, Photo taken by Michael Dubois.

Northern Pike The Scourge of Maine
According to the 2008 NORTHERN PIKE ASSESSMENT Prepared by Francis Brautigam Regional Fisheries Biologist Region A of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, Division of Fisheries & Hatcheries, “Northern Pike were initially introduced into Maine during the 1970’s, as a result of an illegal introduction to the Belgrade Chain of Lakes. Pike became well established and subsequently colonized other lakes within the Belgrade Lakes drainage. Early spawning, early utilization of fish forage and subsequent rapid growth, opportunistic foraging habits, and large size potential are qualities that enabled pike to successfully establish as a dominant predator in the Belgrades, where habitat is not limiting. The recreational fisheries that initially developed were characterized by large size quality. Pike averaged over 30 inches long and exceeded 7 pounds. This exciting new fishery was producing fish of larger average size than that offered by more traditional existing fisheries and the popularity of this sportfish grew. The perceived success of the Belgrade Lakes pike fisheries likely contributed to numerous subsequent illegal pike introductions to new waters within central and southern Maine.”
Pike Continue to Expand Distribution
In the 2008 assessment, IFW listed 28 lakes and ponds that held viable populations of Northern Pike. Currently, IFW has since revised this distribution to now include 3 additional lakes and ponds, with many more first-hand reports being submitted by ice fishermen, yet to be confirmed by IFW. These new bodies of water, include, the Saint George drainage, Round Pond, White Oak Pond, Sennebec Lake and Unity Pond (see photo). In order to confirm a species presence, IFW biologists/wardens must actually collect the fish.
The Belgrade Lakes Region is one of Maine’s top fishing destinations for anglers looking to catch big pike. Of the Belgrade Lakes, Great Pond, (Map 20, E-4) Messalonskee Lake, (Map 21, E-1) Long Pond, (Map 20, E-4) North Pond, (Map 20, D-4) all contain trophy pike upwards of 20 plus pounds. Northern Pike enthusiasts enjoy fishing for this toothy and aggressive species in late February and March, when trophy size adult pike concentrate in shallow water areas with the approach of the spawning season.
North Bay on Great Pond
Late season typically finds me fishing the shallow waters of North Bay on Great Pond. The area of the large bay in and around Snake Point are typically my favorite spots. Access to this location can best be made by parking at the “Sweet Dreams” convenience store located at 164 Village Road in Smithfield (362-2010), just make sure you buy something at the store before heading out, to help support the continued use of this gracious access point. North Bay is accessible by a 1.25 mile snowmobile trail leading directly from the store to the lake.
Jigging for Pike
Pike will eat almost anything and as such, have been caught by anglers on almost every type of fishing lure imaginable, including the apparently new hot bait, red hot dogs (Google it!). With that said, however, there are certain lures that tend to work better than others when in pursuit of big, wall hanger Pike. Vertical Spoons like the Swedish Pimple and Acme Kastmaster, are favorites and their performance can be improved by adding a piece of cut bait on one of the hooks, a killer combination. Drop the lure to the bottom, lift, drop and lift 5-6 more times then hold it still. Pike often hit the lure when it stops moving. Often I let the lure sit for a couple seconds, then proceed to give it a slight twitch before jigging again. Often that little twitch is all it takes to elicit a brutal strike.
The Story of the Unity Pond Pike as Told by Michael Dubois       
While jigging for Crappie with a 24 in rod and 6 lb test line, Chris Stevens from Waterville hooked a massive Northern Pike (see photo).
The day before we caught the Pike, Chris Stevens and I were on Unity Pond fishing and spoke with the local IFW biologist Scott Davis. We specifically asked him if there were Pike in the pond to which he replied, not to his knowledge. He also has a shack on the pond and fishes there quite often, so we figured he was accurate. We would have large schools of Crappie on our flasher and suddenly they would disappear only to reappear a few minutes later, so we had surmised that a large fish like a Pike was moving the school around. This happens to us on Messalonskee and quite often we get bit off by Pike.
Suddenly, all of the Crappie disappeared, a large image appeared on the flasher and then Chris’s pole folded in half. When he set the hook, we knew that Scott Davis was wrong! 
Chris had just had carpal tunnel surgery and after 10 minutes or so, he asked me to take the rod as his hand was getting sore. I fought the fish for about 10 minutes and gave the rod back to Chris, as his hand felt better and it was in fact his fish. Again, Chis fought the fish for some amount of time and then relinquished the rod back to me for the same sore hand.
The first time I brought the fish to the hole, we both agreed that there was no way for us to land it and that no one was going to believe us. We could see the lure hooked on the furthest tip of the upper jaw thus preventing the line from getting near any of the teeth. I gave Chris a pair of rubber insulated gloves and told him that he would need to reach into the hole and grab the pike.  He did just that, lifting the pike out of the water about 2 feet, then with one shake the Pike was back down the hole and ran out most of the line on the reel yet again. We then decided to use the ice scoop to try and scoop the Pike out. Same deal except this time Chris had the pike 2 feet out of the hole a second time, the scoop broke and away went the pike for another lengthy fight.
I gave Chris the pole back and said, “I would show him how it’s done”. I too grabbed the pike with the gloves and lifted it 2 feet out of the hole and it shook and I too dropped it back in the hole. One last fight for Chris and this time, I was able to grab the fish and drag it out onto the ice. 
We walked over to the biologists shack and took a picture in front of his name tag as we figured no one would believe that it came out of Unity Pond. We also contacted Scott who did pick-up the head and aged the Pike at 9-11 years old. We estimated it at about 20-25 lbs and she was carrying about 4 lbs of eggs.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Maine's New Crossbow Law

New Crossbow Law
There seems to be a fair amount of confusion around the recently passed crossbow legislation, which allows for the use of crossbows during the October archery season and the fall season on wild turkey. To help answer some of these questions, here are the facts as provided by a review of the legislation and feedback from Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Background Information on the Law
Governor Janet Mills expanded hunting opportunities by signing into law Legislative Document 27 (LD 27), "An Act to Allow the Use of a Crossbow for a Limited Duration during the October Archery Season on Deer and the Fall Season on Wild Turkey." Sponsored by Rep. Tim Theriault (R-79), the bills intent is to expand crossbow hunting opportunities during archery season for three years beginning in 2020. There is currently some uncertainty as to whether the law will allow the use of crossbows during the expanded archery seasons.
In my discussion with IFW, it was explained that there are still some aspects of the law that will require clarification before fall 2020. In fact, the legislature may make modifications to the current legislation language when they reconvene in January. Possible changes include clarifying whether crossbows can be used in expanded archery zones during the September season and a discussion on whether some crossbow hunters would be allowed to shoot an antlerless deer during the October archery season without an any-deer permit. From my conversation with IFW, it appears that hunters may want to wait before running out to invest in a crossbow until they realize exactly what the state is selling us.
New Laws Purpose
            The purpose of LD 27 is to provide additional opportunities for hunters to pursue deer. Currently, the archery season on deer is four weeks long, and the average whitetail take during a season is 500 deer taken by approximately 10,000 hunters. This is obviously an abysmal success rate. IFW feels that the use of crossbows during the October archery season will not markedly increase harvest rates on bucks or result in negative consequences for the deer population. Additionally, research studies, conducted by states who have implemented similar laws, have shown that allowing more crossbow hunting would increase hunter recruitment numbers, adding more new hunters to the sport. Overall, more crossbow hunting is good for our wildlife, our hunters and our state.
Law Not Popular with Everyone
Despite the positive impact this law could potentially have, not all of the state’s sporting groups were willing to support the bill and it was opposed by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the Maine Professional Guides Association and the Maine Bowhunters Association. Fortunately, the hunters of this state rallied, during the legislative hearing, to assist in making the bill a law. 
The Dilemma
            I feel that this new law is a step in the right direction, with crossbows having full inclusion in the firearm seasons in 26 states and legal during archery and firearms seasons, in some capacity, in 23 other states, the time for Maine to progressively move forward and allow the use of crossbows during the October archery season and the fall season on wild turkey makes sense. What does not make sense to me is that the law is only, at this point, valid for three years and that some aspects of the law still require clarification. Given that a crossbow is a sizeable investment and that IFW requires a special course to use this weapon during hunting season and that sportsmen will need to practice to operate this weapon safely and effectively to harvest game, limiting the law to three years is badly flawed logic. It is my belief that because of the current three year limitation, few hunters will take up the crossbow until the law is finalized and implemented to last for good.
Currently Allowed Crossbow Special Usage in Maine
Only those hunters 65 years of age or older or hunters with a permanent disability, who have been issued a special handicap permit, may use a crossbow to hunt deer during the archery season. This is of course as long as they have the required permit, license and have successfully completed the required crossbow safety education courses.
I Own a Crossbow
            Despite my reservation with the new law, I am a crossbow owner. Though I have only had my crossbow for two years, I have been thoroughly impressed with the capabilities of this impressive weapon. The TenPoint Turbo GT ($999) fires a bolt at 360 feet per second and comes with almost everything needed (bolts, scope and quiver) to start hunting immediately. My model also includes the Accudraw which allows the shooter to pull back the bow limbs with a hand crank mechanism instead of having to pull back the draw string by hand or by using a special pulley device. Given the power of this weapon, I find the Accudraws mechanical assistance mandatory. In future articles, I plan to talk more about using a crossbow for hunting in Maine to support others who are looking to explore the capabilities of this weapon. 
I would like to thank Nate Webb of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for his assistance in helping to make sure that the information provided in this article was as accurate as possible.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

On Thin Ice

On Thin Ice
            On December 7th 2018, I was fishing with a friend on Togus Pond. A car drove by and asked us, “How much ice?” When I replied, “Three and a half inches.” The driver responded, “You guys are $%&* nuts!” Likely unknown to the driver was that we were only fishing in water less than 2 feet deep and ventured no further than a dozen feet from shore. When ice fishing during the early season, there is no reason to risk life and limb when brook trout are frequently found in shallow water only a few feet from shore. While nobody wants to take an icy plunge through the ice in December, if it happens in two feet of water, it’s an inconvenience and not a tragedy.
Spud Light
            Thin early season ice means little effort is required to pop in holes. Typically this task can be easily accomplished without the use of an ice auger. Ice fishermen can instead use an ice chisel or a “spud” to punch the necessary hole in the ice. This means that it’s not necessary to lug around a heavy auger, a task that as I grow older has less and less appeal.
Keep it Light
When ice fishing brookies, it pays to modify fishing outfits to match the intended target species. Success often is easier won when heavier “pike”, “salmon” or “togue” sized fishing rigs are replaced with lightweight tackle such as 4-pound leaders, BB sized split shot and miniscule number 10 sized hooks. Also using alternate baits can entice finicky brookies into tripping flags. Last season while fishing Savade Pond (MAP 13, C-3) three of us caught our limit of trout using Northern Redbelly Dace while our closest neighbors caught nothing using Common Shiners. Also, when baitfish fail to do the job, try using a small piece of earthworm an inch long, it is sometimes the light snack trout are looking for. In freezing temperatures, keep worms inside a jacket pocket to keep them from becoming unusable. Be sure to check lines frequently, keeping ice build up to a minimum and ensure bait remains fresh and active. Often the act of slowly lifting and lowering lines will “stir the bait” and elicit a strike.
A Bit of the Measure
One handy tip I picked up this ice fishing season is using a 25 foot tape measure to determine water depth. In shallow water (less than 25 ft.) this method is much faster and more accurate than the standard practice of tying a weight to the line. Additionally, by gently tapping the end of the ruler on bottom, anglers can quickly determine if the bottom is rocky, sandy or muddy. Using this method, I found that by taking along a notepad and paper I was able to drill, measure hole depths, record the information and map the entire fishing area in minutes. If wishing to set lines at a specific depth, I lay the tape measure on the ice and stretch out the fishing line along its length, this makes dropping the lines to correct depth extremely accurate.
Deeper PRO
Individuals preferring a more technical method of measuring ice hole depth would be impressed by the Deeper PRO Smart Sonar ($189) portable wireless fish finder. This cool hi-tech piece of equipment is a must for ever avid ice fisherman. The device wirelessly generates its own Wi-Fi signal, syncing with smartphones and pairing with the companies free Deeper App. The Deep PRO dual beam sonar is capable of scanning down to 260ft. Find fish, their size, suspended depth as well as underwater structure, vegetation, bottom contour, hardness, water depth and temperature.
Stocking Reports
            Several lakes and pond in the central Maine area receive generous stockings of 10 inch brook trout. As mention previously, my favorite spots include Togus Pond in Augusta and Savade Pond in Windsor. As of this printing, the stocking reports had not yet been posted, however, both these ponds historically receive hundreds of brook trout in October and November ranging from 7-18 inches.
Overcast Skies and Flags Will Fly!
Brook trout, do not bite exceptionally well for 48 hours after a low pressure system. However, fish do tend to feed aggressively 24 to 36 hours before a low pressure moves through. When the weatherman predicts temperatures in the 30’s, overcast skies and flurries, it’s going to be a good day to fish!
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