Thursday, May 19, 2016

FOR YOU TO LIVE, SOMETHING MUST DIE

Discriminating against someone for being a hunter is a supremely unfortunate aspect running rampant within our society. I find this news disheartening. Hunters and non-hunters alike need to stand strong against those who would disparage an individual for their legal and ethical choice to harvest their own food. This is important as much of the anti-hunting rhetoric is built on a word that needs to be eliminated from our vocabulary, HATE. As a society, we need to embrace each other for our differences and not force each other into living lives based on our own personal convictions and preconceived notions of right and wrong. Anti-hunters are NOT crusaders on a mission to save animals; anti-hunters are bullies on a mission to attempt to abolish hunting while spreading hate and discontent in their wake.

I find it alarming to read stories of someone sending a HUMAN being a death threat because they killed an ANIMAL. Have these people lost their minds? When did it suddenly become okay for the life of a human being to be considered of lesser value than that of an animal? This skewed notion of right and wrong is completely unacceptable. Larger and larger segments of our society are simply losing their connection to the natural world. This departure, from the roots of our very existence, is creating a misinformed sub-culture detached from the reality of what it means to be an integral part of the circle of life.

Farmers are loathed because they till the land, killing thousands of mice, shrews and nesting birds, where crops are planted, butchers are hated for killing and processing the pigs, cows, lambs and chickens we eat, loggers are sent death threats because they cut down tree to keep houses warm throughout the cold winter months. The cowards, inspired to target these hardworking people, do so from anonymous social media accounts using threats and obscenities they would never dare utter directly to a person’s face. These types of people typically eat meat, wear leather jackets and burn wood pellets to warm their homes but are unable (or perhaps unwilling) to understand that their very existence is dependent on living things dying for them to survive. Even the strictest vegetarians and eco-conscious individuals must kill plants to eat to fuel their bodies so that they may live. Considering these facts, why have so many in our society completely lost the ability to see beyond their limited view of the world where living things are no longer seen as food? “Hunting” is at its core, the very definition of what it means to be personally and intimately connected to your food supply.

Outside of the United States, a vast majority of the world still lives a subsistence existence. Unfortunately, we here in America seem to have fallen out of sync with the rules of nature and I fear that continuing on this path will lead to the de-evolution of our species. If we hope to advance as a species, we need to reconnect with the natural world and stand up to support and defend each other for our unique differences, loves and passions. My words are not meant for anti-hunters, for it is highly likely that their minds are already set upon a path that will not be changed. Instead, I want to reach out to those non-hunting individuals who are perhaps currently sitting on the fence and wondering which way to bend. I also want to encourage large companies and small businesses alike to stand strong to support hunters, hunters who buy their products, hunters who uphold the law, hunters who pay taxes and hunters who valiantly and tirelessly work to support a traditional way of living that mankind has relied upon for survival for thousands of years.

Also, here is an older piece I wrote about killing animals for sport.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Pick Up Bow Hunting and “Expand” the Possibilities

Bow hunting has the exciting ability to open up a world of new possibilities for Maine hunters. Unlike firearms, the bow and arrow appear too many in our society to be a more “environmentally friendly” or “green” method of harvesting game animals. This is likely because compared to their modern day cousin the firearm; bows are quiet, arrows incapable of traveling great distances and the pursuit of game with the bow and arrow a sport romanticized on TV and in modern day movies. This perception allows archery to be more readily accepted by residents in urban areas, where the general population would otherwise normally disallow hunting with firearms.

While hunting opportunities exist across the state for archers looking to pursue game in residential areas, archers not wishing to compete against firearm hunters, wanting to have the ability to hunt from mid September to mid December and to potentially hunt close to home, the state of Maine’s expanded archery zones provide great deer hunting opportunities. Hunters who have a valid archery license are able to purchase multiple expanded archery antlerless permits for $12.00 each, and one expanded archery either sex permit for $32.00.

The state’s expanded archery zones were established to provide deer hunting opportunities in urban areas without negatively impacting or human safety. Most of these small parcels of land are residential developments interspersed with small woodlots and existing within city and town limits, areas unable to be hunted with firearms due to municipal ordinances.

Currently, there are 11 different expanded archery zones, including the cities and towns of: Augusta, Bangor, Bucksport, Camden, Castine, Eliot, Lewiston, Portland, Waterville, parts of WMD 24 and WMD 29.

Within these zones, a vast majority of the acreage is privately owned, almost exclusively requiring landowner permission to hunt. In addition, large sections of additional acreage is unhuntable due to sanctuaries, local ordinances or because individual landowners do not support hunting and/or trespass on their land. While this creates an added burden to archers attempting to find areas to hunt, let me stress that it is well worth the additional effort. This past hunting season, I saw no fewer than 7 deer, within the bounds of the expanded area I was hunting, including 4 does, two 6 pointers and a massive 12, that total equates to more deer than I have seen in the Maine woods in the previous 4 seasons combined! While I was unsuccessful in harvesting one of the massive brutes, I encountered, I did manage to harvest a 110lb doe, my first with the bow and arrow.

The excitement of bow hunting, along with the added thrill of being able to see so many deer has me hooked on hunting the expanded archery zones. While these areas do require considerable planning to hunt successfully, this season I was able to learn a few key elements that tip the odds in the sportsman’s favor, when hunting these zones. It should be no surprise that pre-season scouting is essential. To accomplish this successfully, good aerial maps supplemented with tax maps of the area and a GPS are essential. In the expanded zones, it is important to not only know where you are but also upon whose property. Having both maps readily accessible makes it easier to find huntable areas and immediately follow up by phoning and asking the owner for permission to access. Without a tax map, hunters will encounter a lot of signs stating, “Access by Permission Only” but with no indication on the sign who to call for permission. Once a suitable hunting location and permission is secured, get in early to scout, find an ambush location and get out. With hunting in these zones starting in September, hunters should know the property and have stands in place by July. While a majority of these properties are small and in close proximity to human habitation, the deer can still be easily spooked if their core area suddenly receives a human invader.

Expanded zones located in close proximity to areas allowing hunting with firearms can often be safe havens for deer during the November regular statewide firearms season. Hunting the expanded zone throughout October and November, I noted a spike in deer activity and the number of deer seen during this time. While some of this increase in sightings can likely be contributed to the rut, I feel that some of the increase is also due to the much lower hunting pressure that exists in the expanded archery zones. In addition, to what I learned about he expanded archery zones previous hunting season; I also learned a ton about what it take to be a successful bow hunter.

After several years of practicing with the bow and arrow, this past hunting season, I felt I finally had the confidence and skill needed to shoot my first deer with the bow. While I had the “mechanics” of shooting a bow down, what I realized is even more critical, to being a successful bow hunter, is being able to negotiate all of the unforeseen elements that occur when shooting a bow. One of the most difficult things for me to overcome was shooting with a face mask. After the first week of fighting with the masks Velcro straps, feelings of claustrophobia and eye holes that never seemed to actually fit over my eyes, I finally gave up and began using camouflage face paint. This small change changed my entire bow hunting game and I will NEVER use a facemask for deer, turkeys of ducks ever again. I had thought that the paint would be messy and hard to remove but by carrying a few baby wipes in a Ziploc bag, I was amazed at how easy it was to clean up after hunting. The second important consideration for me this season was related to overall comfort. Knowing that I would likely be spending large amounts of time high in the treetops, I invested before the season started in two pieces of new equipment that transformed my comfort. The first piece of equipment was insulated, waterproof bibs that made long sits extremely comfortable. With the extra cold protection on my legs and lower back, my feet were considerably warmer and I was even able to still wear them on even the mildest of days if paired with a lightweight jacket. The second piece of equipment was a three-section articulating bow hanger by Realtree. This simple device screws into the side of the tree and a swing arm bring the bow to any forward or side position the archer chooses. This take the bow out of ones lap and hangs it readily within reach, making it available to grasp when required, with little movement. Having the bow hanging facilitates stretching, taking a drink or relieving yourself without the worry of dropping ones bow, thereby greatly increasing the ability to be more comfortable.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Wildlife Quiz - The Porcupine

The North American Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), ranges from Alaska into sections of northern Mexico, where it favors woodland habitats with high densities of evergreens. A wild porcupine can live 5 years, where it spends a majority of that time in the tops of evergreen trees in pursuit of its favorite foods. An herbivore, porcupines eat a wide variety of conifers as well as green plants, berries, seeds and nuts. Also know simply as the porcupine, it exists as a member of the “rodent” order of animals.

The porcupine is the second largest rodent in North America, losing by only a narrow margin to the beaver. Mature porcupines grow to a snout to tail length of 2 to 3 feet and weigh around 12 pounds, with some impressive specimens tipping the scale at a whopping 35-40 pounds. Porcupines come in various shades of brown, gray, and even white.

Porcupines are nocturnal and are usually found during the day lounging peacefully high up in the branches of a tree or caring for young deep underground in simple burrows. Porcupines are perhaps most well known for their impressive coat of sharp quills that defend them from predators. Adult’s backs and tails are covered with almost 40,000 quills. When attacked, the porcupine defends itself by swinging its tail like a club and pounding quills into its hapless enemies. In the past it was believed that porcupines were capable of launching or throwing its quills, this is of course a fallacy. Each quill comes equipped with tiny barbs that slowly push the quill in even deeper, making removal necessary and extremely painful.

Despite its impressive defenses, porcupines still occasionally become meals for bobcats, coyotes and fishers who have learned to attach the porcupine’s unprotected nose and belly.

Wildlife Quiz Questions: 1. What is the range of the porcupine?
2. What is the average lifespan of a wild porcupine?
3. What is the average weight of an adult porcupine?
4. What impressive maximum weights have some adult porcupines reached?
5. How long do porcupines grow?
6. What do porcupines eat?
7. How many quills do adult porcupines have?
8. What predators eat porcupines?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. The range of the porcupine stretches from Alaska and into sections of Northern Mexico.
2. The average porcupine lives 5 years in the wild.
3. The average weight of an adult porcupine is 12 pounds.
4. Some adult porcupines have grown to reach 40 pounds.
5. Porcupines grow to a snout to tail length of 2 to 3 feet.
6. An herbivore, porcupines eat a wide variety of conifers as well as green plants, berries, seeds and nuts.
7. Adult porcupines have almost 40,000 quills.
8. Despite its impressive defenses porcupines are still fed upon by bobcats, coyotes and fishers who have learned to attach the porcupine’s unprotected nose and belly.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Shoot Coyote, Serenade Turkeys and Beat Blackflies

Coyotes Hungry
 May has long been one of my favorite times of the year to hunt for coyotes. Even nighttime temperatures creep into the low 30s, a mercury reading practically balmy after long winter nights in the shooting shack with frozen toes and fingers, my body teetering on the edge of hypothermia. Coyotes also begin becoming more active, as both parents constantly search to find food to feed new born pups. Bait sites can light up during this time of year and the call of the screaming rabbit often brings them running. Hunters can monopolize on this small chink in the armor and harvest a few song dogs with minimal effort. Those heading down east, in pursuit of coyotes, won’t be disappointed. Still evenings, shortly after sunset, are frequently fractured by the piercing howls and yips of packs of coyotes on the hunt. In order to kill more coyotes, think food and explore locations where cupboards are not quite bare.

Discussions with farmers will typically yield stories of coyotes stealing chickens, grain and other food stuffs. Hunting these properties is usually as easy as just asking and often yields lasting friendships. Route 9 running from Amherst (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 24, A-2) to Beddington (Map 24, A-1) contains many of these old farmsteads as well as Route 1 running from Topsfield (Map 45, D-5) to Danforth (Map 45, B-3).

Turkey Serenade
Turkey seasons this year, in wildlife management districts (WMDs) 7-29, runs from May 2nd to June 4th, with hunters eligible to harvest two bearded turkeys. Northern zones WMDs 1-6 will continue to be governed by a split season and a limit of one bearded turkey per hunter. In my discussions with sportsmen both young and old, many share that the single biggest reason they don’t turkey hunt, or why they have been unsuccessful in harvesting a turkey in past seasons, is they don’t properly understand how to call spring turkeys effectively. While learning the basic “yelp” is easily mastered by a majority of sportsmen, progressing to learn the complexities of the cluck, cackle, purr and gobble are lost to many. This is unfortunate, as these additional calls often make the difference between success and eating tag soup. While the Internet offers many how to videos on how to create a sweet sounding turkey serenade on a box or slate call, the truth is that most of us simply don’t have the time need to effectively learn these skills.

Electronic calling devices are legal for the hunting of turkeys in Maine and serve as a great way for those short on time or new to the sport to quickly master the calls needed to harvest a big tom turkey this season. While some of these calls easily run into the hundreds of dollars, I have had great past success using my smart phone and a small Bluetooth speaker. With this set-up, I can easily place the Bluetooth speaker 30-40 yards away and send turkey calls to it from my phone. Portable, easy to quickly deploy and with waterproof speakers available, it is a virtually problem free electronic calling solution for just about every sportsman. If investing in a Bluetooth speaker, remember it will also serve hunters well predator hunting and during deer season! Large flocks of turkeys comprised of hens, jakes and toms can frequently be found in strutting across the blueberry barrens throughout all of May. Hunters with good optics can often find these flocks and using the topography devise stocks that will bring them to within shooting distance.

Fun places to spot and stalk, or as I like to call it wish and walk, include the expanse of barrens existing to the East of Pleasant River Lake (Map 25, A-2) and stretching to just beyond the area categorized as “The Middle Grounds” (Map 25, A-3, B-3).

Beat the Blackflies Camp NOW!
Day time temperatures in May can be downright pleasant and night time lows still remain enjoyable, when spent around the pleasant glow of a roaring campfire. Add to the reasonable temperatures, the fact that blackflies and mosquitoes typically do not emerge until the third or forth week of the month and it’s easy to understand why May is my favorite month to camp. No need for reservations in early May or time spent worrying about not finding a suitable lot, as most primitive campsites will be largely deserted till Memorial Day weekend. Hadley Lakes (Map 25, A-3) and Pretty Pond (Map 25, B-3) both contain primitive campsites capable of supporting tents as well as small RVs and will additionally put hunters within easy driving distance of several prime turkey hunting areas. If traveling from Bangor to Calais, Hadley Lake is found by taking a right hand turn onto the dirt road immediately following the Wilderness Lodge. After about a mile, the road veers to the right and a small road turns left. Follow the smaller road to the campground. For those traveling from Bangor to Calais and wanting to visit Pretty Pond, take the next dirt road after the Pleasant River Lake road. The dirt road roughly parallels Mopang Stream for approximately four miles before Pretty Pond emerges on the right.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Red and Gray Fox The Red Fox - Wildlife Quiz

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Spring Togue Fishing on the Grands and Youth Turkey Hunting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Norway Rat - Wildlife Quiz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 14, 2016

Spring Fishing in Beautiful Grand Lake Stream, Maine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Rabid Writing Turns 100

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 7, 2016

Togue, Brook Trout and Long Distance Coyotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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