Friday, March 28, 2008

Duck Camp - Part II by Steve Vose

As the clock ticks down the final seconds, my Franchi 612 is loaded with number two Faststeel and we both silently wait for the first birds to decoy. I don’t have to wait long when a group of three white wing scoters swing in to take a closer look at the spread. Two shots ring out from the back of the boat and one of the white wings hits the water. My brother flashes me a quick smirk and I know that it is now officially game on! The early morning brings opportunity after opportunity of nice pass shooting for scoter and buffle heads and as the morning progresses the flocks of eiders begins to arrive. Before long we have singles and groups ranging up to 50 eiders flying by the boat and landing in the decoys. It is sometimes difficult to make sure that you pick and stay on a specific target in the larger flocks and experience has taught us that the smaller groups of fewer than 10 birds allow more ethical shooting and there is much less risk of injuring birds not centered in your shot pattern.

It is important in these situations that you choose your set-up points in natural funnels. Location, location, location it is amazing that 100 yards further to the right and we may have went the whole day without a single shot at a buffle head. However, experience in this bay has taught us that certain specific areas will produce more opportunities to harvest birds than others.

The morning progresses as planned and though the weather is cold it is far from unmanageable and we enjoy some good shooting and share a bag of eider jerky and a large thermos of steaming hot black coffee. As the day’s limit of birds begin to near were begin to slowly make plans to begin the laborious chore of disassembling the blind, picking up anchor lines and stowing decoys. Suddenly, a pair of Eiders flies straight into the decoys and grabbing the Franchi I manage to get off a quick shot and drop the back bird a beautiful hen. Motoring out from behind a protected rock shelf we glide out into the turbid water and I ready the net in preparation of collecting the final bird of the day. With a quick sweeping motion the bird is recovered and I have difficulty maintaining my composure as I note that the bird is banded! Later, as I enter the information from the tag over the provided 800 number I am informed that the band belonged to a two year old female eider that had been tagged on Petite Mahan and had probably spent much of its life cruising the shores and shoals of Downeast Maine.

We complete the task of packing up decoys and cruise back to the crowded landing. Many other sea duck hunters and guides are there clamoring about the days hunt and many of the guided clients are huddled in the nearby trucks shivering and looking half frozen. The Atlantic is an extremely frigid place during prime sea duck season and it always amazes me that despite warnings by the experienced sea duck guides how clients still arrive inappropriately dressed.

The drive home is filled with excitement and Ozzy and Korn blast freely over the trucks stereo as we begin planning for next season’s duck camp. The gregarious nature of most waterfowlers make them pleasant people to be around so if you are looking for good company and the promise of an excellent hunt do not waiver but instead join the growing ranks of the truly converted and organize your first annual “Duck Camp”.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ice Fish Like A Kid Again by Steve Vose

By the end of an extremely long day suffering through cold temperatures without even a wind flag to show for our efforts, I was beginning to question why I had even decided to come on this particular fishing trip. The temperature had continued to fall steadily and as the clouds rolled in I knew that it was doubtful conditions would improve. It proved a laborious task, fumbling about with frozen fingers picking up traps, packing gear on pull sleds and trekking the quarter mile back to the vehicles. To say I was a little bit disheartened may have been an understatement and while I understand the sport is called “fishing” and not “catching” it was painfully obvious to me as I trudged through a blinding blizzard toward the anticipated warmth of our vehicles that something fundamental had changed in my understanding of the sport of fishing. It was at this moment that I decided to follow a new fishing mantra and start to fish like a kid again.

I was three years old when my Dad took me ice fishing for the first time on a small body of water in Washington County called Vose Pond. It is a small pickerel pond a short snowmobile ride from my childhood home and hot fishing action could always be guaranteed as long as you had something to use to bait your hooks. Through my youth, I had enjoyed many an outing with my family ice fishing on various pickerel, bass and perch ponds throughout the northeastern parts of Maine. Some of my fondest memories were of outings on Conic Lake.

As I grew older, I began to move beyond this “childish” degree of ice fishing and instead of wanting to catch lots of fish I decided that I would rather only catch one or perhaps none at all. This practice of mine to suffer through hours of fishing for that one glimmer of hope at actually catching something continued for years and years until that one faithful Saturday and my childhood memories of ice fishing transported me back to a simpler time when ice fishing wasn’t about trophy’s it was about the number of flags.

Once the gear was packed in our trucks we began to formulate our plan of attack for the next day of fishing. “Same spot same time tomorrow?” came the familiar query from my friends. “No way!” came my very unfamiliar reply. “What, my friends exclaimed, you don’t want to catch the big one?” “No, I replied I have something else in mind . . . meet me tomorrow around 9:00 AM at the landing on Lower Togus Pond.”

That evening I watched the weather report and noted that the winds would be straight out of the north and that the temperature would continue to be in the twenties. Planning ahead of this forecast I packed a few additional items on my pull sled that evening in preparation for tomorrow’s ice fishing activities. Late that morning, I was met by a confused group of my friends many of whom where trying to decide if I was losing my mind and had decided to try for a state record pickerel. After discussing the game plan to the group we moved slowly around the north side of the lake to small cove I knew well from my spring bass fishing trips. This location, protected us from the high winds and also allowed us to enjoy the benefit of the sunshine as it reached high into the late morning sky late.

We immediately began drilling holes and I quietly sat back in my crazy creek chair to enjoy the show. My friends could barely get in one ice-trap when a flag would go up and they would have to run to tend it and by the time we had in all twenty traps we had 5 yellow perch, 2 bass and several pickerel on the ice. Also using a stashed axe cut some wood I started a small fire on a small rock outcropping. As my friends continued to run for flags I filleted out the fish as they were brought in to our “camp” and by 12:00 I had accumulated a sizeable amount.

It was a this time that I decided to produce a large stainless steel cook pot filled with chunks of raw potatoes and onions barely covered with water that I had sealed tight with duct tape the night before. As this concoctions was brought to a simmer I gently lay the fillets on top of the potatoes and onion and added some salt and pepper. My friends watched in amazement and a few began to drool. When the fish approached completion I added a Nalgene bottle (32 oz) of a mixture of half cream and half milk and after 5 more minutes of simmering over the open flames handed out the bowls and spoon.

As I sat there in my chair warm comfortable and filling my stomach with perhaps the best fish chowder I had ever eaten I pondered if perhaps this had been one of the best days I had ever spent ice fishing. As we all sat around the small fire busily eating my friend spoke up and asked “So next weekend we back to try for the big one?” Well, I guess that some people never learn or perhaps it is just that for some hope springs eternal and like an idiot I replied, “Sounds like a plan to me!”

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Turkey Time

The Cabela's Turkey Hunter's and RedHead (BassPro Shop) catalog both arrived. Looking out the window I note that the snow banks are still peaking above the window so I am having a hard time getting excited about the up coming spring turkey hunt. I guess the best way to beat the end of the winter blues is to buy some new turkey gear, dust off and oil the Browning BSP 10 gauge and review a few photos of some of the previous hunts I have been on. Included is one my favorites. Diesel in FULL camo!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Duck Camp - Part I by Steve Vose

While some outdoorsmen clamor on about the long held ritual of deer camp there is an uprising of a few on the fringe individuals who have shunned this sacred time honored tradition and have instead opted for the temptations of duck camp. One will undoubtedly ask what possible force in this universe could pull a man away from Uncle Frank’s venison chili, bad cigars, bodily vapors and late night poker games? To properly explain this divergence from the norm, I need to transport you back in time to November 19-21st of 2007 waterfowl season and to the days that marked the first annual Vose family duck camp.

During the three days of sea duck hunting, we had managed to hunt through mixed weather conditions in and around Blue Hill Bay, Naskeag Point and a few other areas. The ducks had been flying exceptionally well and our daily bag included a number of different species including Eiders, White Winged Scoters, Red Breasted Mergansers, Long Tails, Golden Eyes and Buffleheads and though each were healthy adult specimens many of the sea ducks still displayed plumage typical of early season birds.

Currently it is 3:00 AM, lying in bed a chill runs down my spine as I listen to the sound of the wind breathing freezing rain against the windowpane. In the distance, my alarm sounds its annoying whine and I slowly make the long laborious crawl back to complete consciousness. The rich aroma of strong black coffee comforts me as my brother hurries to fill our thermoses and make breakfast sandwiches. Now partially awakened by the fragrant aromas, I begin to dress and methodically add layer upon layer of hydrophobic polyester and Gore-Tex in hopes that the combination might just allow me to stay somewhat dry. As the mercury hovers around freezing on the ocean this time of year, proper dress becomes critical. Freezing salt spray and bitter north winds can contribute to making a trip on the ocean gunning for sea ducks a miserable experience for the uninitiated.

Most people would have to ask what kind of man wakes well before dawn in the chill of late fall to then sit in a boat as the salt spray and cold winds tear into his inadequate layers of clothing. To this, I would remark that those who have to ask have never experienced a morning on the Atlantic watching the first rays of sun break over the horizon, reveling at being the first in the nation to see the start of a brand new day.

We move though our various protocols and mental checklists and attempt to prepare as best we can for our long morning on the Atlantic. As we leave the house at 3:30 AM, I note that the deck thermometer reads 25 degrees Fahrenheit; from past experience I know that the temperature on the water with the predicted wind will drop that number considerably. After close to a decade of sea duck hunting up and down the coast of Maine, I have grown well acquainted with the fickle nature of the Atlantic Ocean and know well the ways of the wind, weather and waves and how they can change a good situation to bad in an instant. Sea duck hunting in late fall and into the winter is always an interesting endeavor. Preparation is key to having an enjoyable experience and this includes not only having the equipment to make the hunt safe but also keeping you from freezing into a block of ice.

The ride to the landing is a comfort, settling into the seat of the truck and slowly sipping my coffee I begin to discuss with my brother our plans for the morning hunt. “Well”, he says “our best bet is probably going to be Naskeag Point, I’ve been hearing that a lot of Eiders been down there recently off of Devils Thumb plus I figure that with the way you been shooting the last couple days you need all the opportunities you can get.” My brother always seems to not only know exactly where the birds are going to be flying but also possesses a studied knowledge in precisely what it takes to get me going.

After about 50 minutes of driving from Ellsworth, we finally arrive at Naskeag Point and begin the preparations necessary to launch my brother’s 16 foot V-Hull Lund. The landing already contains one sea duck guide service and as we make preparations to get underway two more guide boats pull up as well. It looks like it is going to be a busy morning and with some luck the clients in the other boats will get the birds moving and keep them moving all morning.

Seeing that our primary spot was already occupied we slowly head out across the harbor and set-up on the northern shore in our alternate location. Eighteen Eider decoys and twelve Scoter decoys are set out in parallel lines in front of the boat on two long one inch in diameter nylon lines, fixed at each end with old lifting weights. We then position the boat so that it blends into the rock ledge and anchor it in place. Lastly we raise the canvas blind system and sit back and relax for a few minutes before it is legal shooting time.

Tune is as the remainder of the story will be posted shortly . . .

Monday, March 3, 2008

Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) in Maine?

This photo was just e-mailed to me from a friend in Jonesport-Beals, Maine. Any duck hunters on the site are sure to enjoy the sight of this BEAUTIFUL Pintail feeding with a flock of Mallards. If anyone else has any rare duck sightings please send to me and I will post.
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