Monday, May 4, 2015

Brook Trout and Turkey Down East

The month of May presents the last chance anglers have to chase brook trout before the waters warm by months end, making this species nearly impossible to catch. Two spectacular locations to pursue this endeavor are Simpson and Norse Ponds. Not only are these ponds regularly stocked with brook trout but they also both boast spectacular scenery sure to impress even the biggest curmudgeon.

Fishing Brook Trout
Simpson Pond (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 26, D-3), located in Roque Bluffs State Park, sits just a few hundred yards from the Atlantic Ocean. The location is stunning so be sure to bring a camera as the park’s beautiful landscape is further enhanced by its abundant wildlife. During the early spring, Great Blue Herons, Bald eagles, Hooded Mergansers, Barrow's Goldeneye, Eiders, Surf Scooters, Blacks and Mallard ducks are plentiful.

While the fishing prospects may at first not look like much, this miniscule 21 acre pond regularly offers up brook trout and brown trout weighing between two and three pounds. Stocked by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) every fall with brown trout and every spring with brook trout, the pond is a favorite fishing destination for shore-anglers using a worm and bobber. While the small pond can be effectively fished from shore, a canoe or kayak (motorboats are prohibited) provides anglers with the added flexibility to explore some of the harder to fish areas, frequently holding second season brook trout that sometimes attain lengths of 13-15 in. On calm evenings, it is an absolute joy to fly fish by wading the ponds shallow waters (5 ft maximum), tempting trout with small caddis and mayfly patterns. Anglers with kids will be pleased to know that the park is a wonderful area for families with easy hiking trails, a sandy ocean beach and a pond side picnic tables, fireplaces for cookouts, and swings for children.

Norse Pond (Map 27, C-2) exists as part of the 1,775-acre Bog Brook Cove preserve located in the heart of Maine’s Bold Coast. The 10 acre pond located east of the scenic fishing village of Cutler was stocked in the fall of 2013 with 350 brook trout measuring about 8 inches. Norse is a unique fishing location, as reaching the pond is only possible by hiking approximately one-mile on the Moose Cove trail. Access is further hampered by the ponds boggy shoreline that makes fishing from shore difficult. Anglers who overcome these obstacles by carrying in small kayaks or float tubes are usually richly rewarded with brook trout ranging from 11 to 15 inches. Legend states that Norse Pond was created by Norsemen as a water supply for one of their coastal Maine encampments. While these claims have been refuted by experts, it is still fun to walk the impressive bold cost trails and imagine that these ancient adventurers once walked these trails and gazed upon these same magnificent shores. To access the Norse Pond trailhead travel 18.5 miles north on Route 191, from the junction of Route 1 and Route 191 in East Machias. A small parking area and sign exists at the trail head.

Turkey Hunting 
Turkey hunters Down East were surprised during the spring 2014 turkey hunt by a last minute decision by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) to suspend the previously scheduled opening of spring turkey hunting across all of Washington County. This change happened so rapidly, that last year my published May column still had mention that turkey hunting throughout Washington County would be open. While I understand that IFW made this choice because it was worried about the number of turkeys that managed to survive during the harsh winter, it was ultimately a poor choice that added unnecessary confusion among sportsmen. One less year of turkey hunting is not going to magically ensure turkeys are permanent Down East residents. As long as IFW doesn’t again change its mind; turkey season is scheduled to run May 4, 2015 through June 6, 2015 with youth day for both residents and nonresidents occurring on May 2, 2015. According to IFW’s website, ALL Wildlife Management Districts (WMD) are open to hunting spring turkeys with bag limits per WMD as follows: WMD's 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 , 28 and 29 with two (2) bearded wild turkey bag limit and WMD’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8, with a one (1) bearded wild turkey bag limit.

When attempting to locate turkeys, it pays to slowly walk or drive Washington Counties thousands of miles of logging roads and snowmobile / ATV paths. This method of “running and gunning” allows turkey hunters to be mobile, locate early morning gobblers and setup quickly for a chance at harvesting one of these impressive and beautiful birds. Prime turkey hunting locations exist throughout Washington County, with a fun and exciting hunt starting in Northfield (Map 26, B-2) and driving logging roads into Smith Landing, the beautiful Great Falls (Map 26, B-2) and continuing south following the Machias River into Whitneyville. For a coastal hunters searching for a WMA to explore, I suggest the 649-acre Jonesboro WMA (Map 26, C-2). For more specifics on the spring turkey hunt, see the IFW website at: www.maine.gov/ifw.

Friday, May 1, 2015

May and June Have this Sportsman Talking Turkey

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

My boots strip dew from the tall grass leaving behind ghostly footprints that will disappear soon after the sun crests the horizon. Not a single breath of air circulates; the absolute stillness magnifies the sound of my heavily beating heart. The early spring morning darkness and thick fog hang heavy, concealing my approach. A crow screams out in the distance, making me distinctly aware the slumbering forest is awakening, my pace quickens. Suddenly, a gobble erupts from the tree line and my arms break out in goose bumps. Am I too late? Was I seen approaching? Is the hunt over before it had even begun? Hastily setting up my portable blind, I hope against hope that the hunting gods will be kind.

There is something distinctly awakening about an early spring turkey hunt. Maine’s forest seems greener, dew sweeter, the sun’s light warmer and smells more pungent. Perhaps it is the previous months of relative hunting inactivity or the return to the woods after a long cold winter, either way pursuing Old Tom sure has a way of stirring man’s primitive soul.

Hunting turkeys with bow and arrow is a sport designed to test the patience of man. Along with the time that must be devoted to practice and preseason scouting, hunters must also be prepared to spend hours in the field awaiting an ethical shot opportunity. Many dedicated archers will devote an entire season of effort and never get a turkey. For a majority of sportsmen, this challenge is what makes the sport exciting.

Preseason Scouting Experienced archers turn these diminutive odds in their favor, by patterning birds before the season begins. Throughout the season, birds will continue the same basic day-to-day schedule even if disturbed by light hunting pressure. Monitor changes in behavior, be flexible and modify ambush plans as necessary to match the bird’s routines. Adaptability insures you are consistently where the birds want to be. Natural terrain features like rock walls, logging roads, pathways connecting fields and other funnels will help direct birds to within bow range.

Blinds
A ground blind is an archer’s best friend. Offering a portable means of hiding from Old Tom’s sharp eyes, protection from Maine’s fickle spring weather, as well as biting insects they are worth the investment. To choose from the multitude of offerings, it pays to “try before you buy”. Sportsmen should sit in a variety of blinds and review them for space, weight, visible shooting lanes and available amenities (gear hooks, bow holders, lights). Other important considerations are blinds possessing a degree of water resistance. Some of the more budget conscious blinds are not waterproof. If you select one of these blinds, use silicon spray to coat both the inside and out to insure you stay dry. The final decision should be a balance of cost and function that makes the most sense to you.

Maine in the spring is ripe with biting insects. To combat these pests, ground blinds equipped with shoot through mesh are invaluable. Hunters will also encounter and need to combat the deer tick. These nasty critters carry the serious and debilitating Lyme disease. To protect your person, rake away all leaf matter and debris from the inside of the blind footprint, dose with a liberal application of bug spray and be sure to tuck in clothing. After each hunt your clothing should be run through the washer and dryer to guarantee that no ticks fall off your clothing and find their way into your living quarters. Spouses frown on deer ticks crawling up their legs when they are cooking morning breakfast! Finally, sportsmen should conduct a “tick check”. This ritual consists of stripping to your birthday suit and dancing in front of a full-length mirror to insure no stowaways have jumped aboard.

Bow Hunting Lessons Learned 
Decoys are both a benefit and a curse. Mature Toms can be extremely leery about approaching a decoy. If using decoys be sure to set them no further than 5 yards from your position. If a bird decides to investigate this gives you an excellent point blank opportunity. If a bird hangs on the outside perimeter you will still be provided with a 20-25 yard shot. Turkeys adore the rain and some of my most productive days have occurred when it is pouring. Do not be afraid to go out in heavy precipitation, as birds will be out in force. Besides, watching turkeys shake like wet dogs is a comical show not to be missed. A bow need not be set to high poundage for turkey hunting. A lighter weight will allow for a more controlled draw and a longer hold, a definite plus for spooky Toms.

To make sure your arrow arrives at the correct destination, archers should study turkey impact shot charts so they clearly understand exactly where a critical shot must be placed. Arrow quivers attached to your bow can be a liability as they change the balance of your outfit. They can also be difficult to manage in the close quarters of a hunting blind. If you plan to use your quiver while hunting make sure to have it attached during your practice sessions. I take mine off the bow once I arrive at the blind, so that it doesn’t interfere with shooting.

Final Thoughts 
Maine’s turkey population is increasing rapidly and this spring is the perfect time for you to get out and arrow one of these magnificent birds. For many sportsmen the most difficult part of any hunt is the waiting game. Turkey hunting can for some be a quick trip into the woods and at the same time for others it can be a season long event. Persistence will pay in the end for the dedicated archer. The trick is not to lose hope, don’t be disheartened and remember that your trophy bird could be just over the next hillside.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

FREE camp for young adults with cancer & their families

Indian Rock Camps (AKA Camp Clearwaters), located in pristine Grand Lake Stream, Maine will be hosting a completely FREE week at their camps for children and young adults (up to 40 years old) with cancer and their families. While there exist several children’s cancer camps in Maine, none allow admission by young adults, until now! Jo-Anne and Ken Cannell are happy to host this annual CELEBRATION OF LIFE in loving memory of their daughter Gretchen, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 12 and bravely fought this fight for 14 years. The camp is free for Maine residents and reservations will be honored on a first come first serve basis. For more information, or to secure one of the limited spots please contact Jo-Anne Cannell at 207-796-2822, 1-800-498-2821 or by email at: indianrockcamp@gmail.com

Monday, April 27, 2015

Tradition

The son’s strokes are inexperienced, the father whispers instruction and the paddle digs deeply into the gin-clear waters. The child smiles, as the kayak slides effortlessly across the glass calm lake. A brilliant sun crests the horizon, igniting the morning sky. The man having seen a thousand sunrises relishes in his child’s enjoyment of the exquisite sight. Trout ripple, ospreys soar, a beaver tail slaps . . . the boy intently watches in silent awe. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wildlife Quiz - Black-Capped Chickadee

The black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), know more commonly as simply “Chickadee”, may be found in a wide diversity of habitats, including mixed woodlands, field edges and marshes to residential neighborhoods. Boasting an impressive range, Chickadees may be found throughout the United States and even as far north as Alaska and the Yukon. Though capable of over thirteen distinct and complex sounds, the chickadee’s name was derived from its most commonly known chick-a-dee-dee-dee vocalization. Though seemingly a simple sounding call, scientists have determined that through these five notes, chickadees can communicate to the other members of the flock potential threats, food sources, location and group movements.

Chickadees are notoriously tolerant of humans, easily tempted to take food from a person’s hand. This curiosity along with their endearing over-sized heads and diminutive bodies make the chickadee a favorite at birdfeeders. The chickadee’s popularity is apparent, as it serves as the state bird of both Maine and Massachusetts, and as the provincial bird of New Brunswick, Canada.

Caterpillars, small insects, seeds and berries comprise the diet of the Chickadee, with black oil sunflower seeds a winter favorite to be scoffed from winter bird feeders. Chickadees commonly hide food items for consumption at a later time when other food may not be as readily available.

The chickadee mating season starts in April and ends in Jun. The male chickadee contributes greatly to raising the young by providing food to the female and to the young throughout the entire brooding cycle. Clutch sizes very from between 6-8 eggs, deposited in nests usually constructed in the protected hole of a tree. Young develop rapidly and typically leave the nest 10–15 days after hatching. The maximum recorded lifespan of a chickadee is twelve years of age but in the wild, due to high rates of predation, rarely survive longer than a few years.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What is the distribution of the chickadee?
2. In what habitats can chickadees typically be found?
3. What are chickadees able to communicate through their seemingly simple vocalizations?
4. In what US States do chickadees serve as the state bird?
5. What comprises a majority of the chickadees diet?
6. When is chickadee mating season?
7. How many eggs do chickadees typically lay in a single clutch?
8. What is the maximum age of a chickadee?

Wildlife Quiz Answers: 
1. Chickadees may be found throughout the United States and even as far north as Alaska and the Yukon.
2. Chickades may be found in a wide diversity of habitats, including mixed woodlands, field edges and marshes to residential neighborhoods.
3. Through their seemingly simple vocalizations, chickadees can communicate to the other members of the flock potential threats, food sources, location and group movements.
4. The chickadee serves as the state bird of both Maine and Massachusetts.
5. A majority of the chickadees diets is comprised of caterpillars, small insects, seeds and berries.
6. Chickadee mating season starts in April and ends in Jun.
7. Chickadees lay in a typical clutch between 6-8 eggs.
8. The maximum recorded lifespan of a chickadee is twelve years of age.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Free an ATV with the “Z”

The hour was late and in attempting to hurry back to camp, I inadvertently misjudged my ATV’s ability to successfully navigate a sizeable mud filled obstruction and was immediately and hopelessly mired. Having suffered through multiple back operations and lacking a wench, I was in the middle of contemplating the long and arduous walk back to civilization when I suddenly remembered I had some rope and several carabineers packed into the back seat of the ATV. Equipped with the right tools and knowledge, even the most basic equipment can be fashioned into a simple machine able to greatly add to a person’s ability to maximize their strength, both reducing fatigue and the potential of personal injury.

The z-pulley system, learned during my experiences mountaineering on some of the highest peaks in North America, is commonly used in wilderness rescue situations such as rescuing a climber trapped in a crevasse. The “Zs” practical applications, however, stretch well beyond the mountains. In the back country, the “Z” is useful for hauling out mired ATVs, pulling a moose out of the woods and even for recovering a boat pinned in whitewater.

A simple arrangement of ropes, carabineers and pulleys, the “Z” provides a three to one (1 pound of force to move 3 pounds of weight) mechanical advantage, allowing heavy objects to be moved with limited manpower. Similar in function to a block and tackle system, the “Z” employs the use of (1) a length of high tensile rope approximately 100 feet long, (2) two pulleys, (3) two shorter lengths of rope of smaller diameter than the main line for tying the two prusik knots and (4) a length of high tensile rope for attaching the “Z” to the anchor.

To set-up the Z-pulley system:
1. Establish an immovable anchor capable of supporting the full weight of the intended load.
2. Thread rope through pulley #1 and pulley #2 and tie rope to ATV.
3. Using a smaller diameter piece of rope, tie prusik knot #1 a few feet in front of the ATV on the main rope. Attach the smaller diameter rope to pulley #1 using a carabineer or simply tie it into the eye of pulley #1.
4. Using a smaller diameter piece of rope, tie prusik knot #2 a few feet in front of pulley #2 on the main rope. Attach the smaller diameter rope to pulley #2 using a carabineer or simply tie it into the eye of pulley #2.
5. Attach pulley #2 to the anchor point using the smaller diameter rope and carabineer or simply tie it off to the anchor point.
6. The operator then pulls on the free end and adjusts the placement of prusik knot #1 as needed. When operating the “Z” system, constant attention should be paid to the anchor, movements of the ATV, and the condition of the main rope.

To help mitigate these dangers, people should be well clear of the ATV, anchor and lines unless they are operating the “Z”. It is also advisable to attach a jacket or life vest to the end of the main line close to the ATV to decrease the chance of the line breaking free and creating a serious flying hazard. Should the main rope slip out of the operator’s hands or the operator need a break from hauling, prusik knot #2 is in place to arrest and hold the position of the main rope, keeping the ATV from recklessly falling back into its beginning towing position. This mechanical safety, however, should be cautiously trusted.

While the “Z” hauling system can be set-up to function using carabineers instead of pulleys, the mechanical advantage is much less due to the added friction caused by the rope running through carabineers. The added money for a couple pulleys is well worth the investment. When buying pulleys for your “Z”, it pays to buy a special climbing pulley like the Petzl Oscillante. Climbing pulleys are able to be easily clipped on and off the main rope, while standard pulleys require a user to thread the main line through them to place them in the correct position. Costing under $20, climbing pulleys are a thrifty investment that greatly simplify setting up and dismantling the “Z” system.

Practice makes perfect, so before venturing into the backcountry and suddenly needing to set-up the “Z” (likely in the dark and during a thunder and lightening storm), I caution individuals to first setup and operate the “Z” first in their backyard as this tends to decrease frustration and increase safety.

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.
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