Monday, March 4, 2013

Washington County Report – March

The Maine Sportsman - New England's Largest Outdoor Publication – Has assigned me as the writer for the magazines monthly Washington County Report. The column will highlight seasonal hunting, fishing and outdoor activities in Washington County, Maine. The copy below is the originally submitted unedited version. Enjoy! 

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Last Minute Ice Fishing 
By March, winter’s icy grip on Washington County begins slowly loosening and snow covered landscapes begin springing back to life. This final conclusion, at the end of a long cold winter, always seems to renew my passion to get back into the wilds. Historically warmer days and longer amounts of daylight make all outdoor activities more enjoyable. Gardner Lake Salmon and Monster Pickerel March starts with most waterways ice covered and safe to travel, however, as the month progresses, ice anglers must use extreme care and monitor the ice thickness frequently. This period of transition differs wildly each year, sometimes occurring at a snail’s pace and sometimes happening rapidly and with little warning.

Those still ice fishing this month, will typically enjoy some absolutely amazing days on the ice. Past trips, have yielded anglers in t-shirts, as lunchtime temperatures push almost 60 degrees F. Days like these, spent throwing the pigskin around the ice, make glorious memories even when few fish are caught. For the college crowd, at my alma mater the University of Maine at Machias, these types of days meant skipping classes and chasing salmon on Gardner Lake in East Machias. Access to Gardner Lake is easy thanks to a fine-looking boat launch just a few miles outside of the town of East Machias. After the intersection of Route 191 and Route 1, follow Route 1 for an additional 1.5 mi until you see the Chases Mill road on your left. Drive down Chases Mill road until it crosses Chase Mill stream. The landing is immediately after the bridge on the right. Park at the landing and you will see that a short walk to the north, sits a large island that over the years has provided countless ice anglers a base of operations for their day of lazy angling enjoyment. Use care when approaching and especially leaving the island, to stay on the northwestern island shore and walk straight back to the landing. This time of year, the ice on the eastern side of the island can begin losing stability, due to the shallow water and current created by Chase Mill stream.

Salmon populations on Gardner Lake are not what they have been in years past; in the 1960’s 4.5-pound fish were always a possibility. Nowadays, typical salmon run about 16 inches or less, with the lake still producing larger specimens from time to time. Anglers should expect slow fishing for salmon and fairly regular flags triggered by small mouth bass and pickerel. While salmon populations seem to be dropping, chain pickerel populations have been on the rise and it is not unusual to pull one through the ice 20 inches or larger. Look for Gardner Lake on DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 26, B-4.

Coyotes Desperate but not STUPID
By winter’s conclusion, coyotes get a little more daring, as their fat reserves dwindle and access to easy meals diminish. This scenario provides the perfect opportunity to hunt these wily predators, as occasionally growling stomachs can short circuit their survival instincts and provide hunters with a small advantage. This does not mean that hunters should not continue practice good scent control and use wind direction and positioning to their advantage. Even a hungry coyote is extremely cautious and hunters who think otherwise will go home without firing a shot. The individual who hunts coyotes and despite best efforts continues to come up empty handed, needs to honestly review their hunting practices and determine what they are doing wrong. Coyote hunters primarily fail because they do not pay enough attention to wind direction and proper positioning. Plan to encounter difficulties when hunting unfamiliar areas or locations. With no previous understanding of the topography, setting up for that “good” shot becomes difficult or impossible.

Pre-scouting to become familiar with an area and understanding the predominant wind direction makes it infinitely easier to arrive at a hunting location and not waste time setting up and making unnecessary noise. Spots visited frequently can even be brushed out ahead of time with available cover materials or canvas camouflage cloth. Tag teaming coyotes with another hunter is more fun, safer than hunting alone and makes for better averages. With one person carrying a rifle for long-distance shots and the other a shotgun any reasonable distance the coyote appears, will be in optimal shooting range. Also, while one hunter manages the calling, the other can always be prepared to discharge their firearm should Wiley appear!

Dog Gone Snowshoe Hare
My Grandfather thoroughly enjoyed tracking hare on snowshoes during the month of March. Armed with a .22 Colt Woodsman pistol, instead of the more popular scatter gun, he always surprised us by coming home with a hare or two. The old man had a secret tied to this success, endless amounts of patience. Without the assistance of man’s best friend, to chase hares from their hiding places, hunters must walk and stop frequently to make hares nervous enough to bolt into the open. Slowly and methodically walking ten steps and then pausing for thirty second to one minute, usually makes them run for the hills! While stopped, hunters should carefully examine every small detail of their surroundings, looking for anything that appears out of place. A nose twitching, round black eyes or an off colored patch of snow, all can betray a bunny’s camouflage IF a hunter remains vigilant. Keep an eye on your back trail, as often hares that do not immediately run, will attempt escape after passing.

Hunting for rabbits is typically more fun and successful if done with a partner. Just remember that when hunting in tandem that you will be hunting thick covers and determining each other’s exact position is often difficult. Always wear a florescent orange hat and vest! Not everyone has the time or the resources to manage a pack of beagles but that should not disappoint hunters from trying to walk a few snowshoe hare out of the woods this month!

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