Monday, April 29, 2013

Spring Fishing, Early Season Fly Fishing and Last MInute Gobblers

Spring Fishing West Grand Lake 
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 wildly by hunger, after the desolate winter season. Despite their wanton desires to fill their empty bellies and replace depleted fat reserves, this does not mean, however, 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. Look for West Grand Lake on DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, B-3, B-4.

Fly-Fishing Grand Lake Stream 
A predictable 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.

May fly and caddis patterns are good choices or for more specific advice, fly- fish with the suggested flies, from the local town store/fishing shop. Use caution when wading the stream and be sure to bring a full arsenal of bug spray. Typical of May the stream is typically so thick with blackflies that opening your mouth will result in collecting enough to make a fairly healthy sized appetizer.

 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. Look for Grand Lake Stream on DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, B-4.

Last Minute Gobblers
By the end of May, turkey hunting has typically digressed to the point of sheer desperation. The gobbling has all but shut down, the black flies are miserable and with each labored footfall, the noon day sun makes sweat oozes from every pore. A month of hard hunting, has taken its toll on body as well as spirit and early mornings now necessitate much coffee to fuel bodies beyond the front door. The barely containable excitement, felt in the first few weeks, has now faded and hunters begin to accept that they may end up birdless. I encourage you to continue to be vigilant and not succumb. Instead refocus your attentions and hold out for those last few days. Late season turkeys require you to add a few different tactics to your normal turkey hunting tool kit. This includes calling less if at all and leaving the decoys at home. Examine the ground carefully for fresh tracks and scratchings, indicating recent travel activity. Find these often used woods roads and trails that frequently force turkeys into narrow connecting points between roosting and feeding areas. Incorporate deer hunting tactics, and sit at these ambush locations. Use a blind, have a seat, good bug spray or a Thermacell and prepare yourself for a long sit. With the right amount of patience and perseverance, that late season gobbler will be yours! Good Luck!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Venerable Grand Lake Canoe

If you have ever rippled the surface of any of Maine’s truly Grand lakes, you would be hard pressed not to have encountered the large, green, iconic Grand Lake canoe patrolling these waters. In the course of Maine’s historic past, few emblems serve as better symbols of Maine’s rich sporting tradition and outdoor heritage than the venerable Grand Lake canoe. It has been coined by many as the quintessential Maine fishing craft and in over a century of service, been bestowed countless accolades and honors by its dedicated followers.

As a boy, I have fond memories of canoeing polypropylene canoes down the Kenduskeag, Machias and Moose Rivers but these adventures pale in comparison, to the day I took my first ride in a Grand Lake canoe. I remember cringing, as I set a small tentative gravel covered foot on the heavily varnished wood ribbed hull, fearful to scratch what appeared more an artists sculpture then the floor of a boat. After considerable prodding, by my patient Uncle, I finally settled into the handcrafted caned bow seat and laid my tiny hands on the finely crafted gunnels. Speeding up West Grand toward Pocumcus Lake, powered along by a comparatively small 9 hp Johnson outboard, I was amazed by our ability to out distance larger watercraft boasting twice the output of the Johnson. As we effortlessly sliced through the chop, the cool September wind whipped through my hair and I silently promised that one day I would own one of these majestic watercraft.

Early development,of this form of canoe, is credited to Herb Bacon and Joe and Bill Sprague, each man responsible for elaborating on the basic design, with his own unique style, adding the features each deemed most important. A testament to its form and function, it is still produced by a few remaining master craftsmen, each employing building techniques refined and perfected over decades. Constructed with intensive care, to successfully build a Grand Laker a man must not only be able to build a serviceable canoe but also one able to survive decades of hard use/abuse in the field.

Perfectly adapted, to its intended environment, the original design has undergone few perceptible changes since the canoe was first birthed sometime in the 1920’s. Still ribbed and planked with local cedar, trimmed with fine hardwoods and boasting a stern typically constructed from a single piece of strong dense mahogany, the craft appears more work of art then workhorse. Do not be fooled however by its intrinsic beauty, for the craft is powerful and capable in the water. While many others have borrowed from the original forms and managed to replicate the canoe, few have managed to duplicate. Novice craftsmen, who make sacrifices in the quality of materials or fail to build with loving devotion toward the craft, are simply building a big canoe and not a vessel worthy of the name Grand Laker.

Despite the best that mother nature can and have thrown at these craft, the local residents operating them, know well their strengths and weaknesses, possessing a healthy respect for what they can and cannot do. There is a saying, that you should fear greatly the man who owns but one gun, for he most likely knows how to use it well. After generations of use, with some well cared for canoes handed down from father to son for several generations, it is not uncommon for a baby to have ridden, boy to have operated and man to now own the same canoe.

Some argue it is the pilots of these venerable craft, whom are the most critical and important component of their design, for it is their experience knowing how to accurately predict the weather, avoid the rocky shoals and innate connection to the canoe that creates such an impressively capable watercraft. Captained by a registered Maine guide, the Grand Lake canoe or simply “Grand Laker”, in the native tongue, is a notably handsome means of conveyance, with strength and size striking a perfect balance with its grace and agility in navigating often challenging bodies of water.

Sportsmen, unfamiliar with these impressive capabilities, will likely scoff at the idea a canoe would be stable enough to handle the extreme weather produced by some of Maine’s largest lakes. Guides, sports and mix of outdoorsmen owning these craft, can attest to how capable and comfortable they are during a long day on the water. When Maine’s fickle weather becomes ugly, turning an otherwise calm day on the water into a white knuckled escapade, where frenzied whitecaps threaten to swamp lesser watercraft, I would pick the Grand Laker as my escape vehicle.

 In its most recent form, the twenty foot Grand Laker is capable of transporting three adults and gear comfortably and with its fine tracking in rough water and ability to draft less than 7 inches, it is perfect for everything from trolling for salmon to casting for small mouth bass. Its narrow profile and wooden hull make it maneuverable and light enough to get into boulder strewn fishing hot spots, unable to be navigated by heavy aluminum boats. Though quick and nimble, its wide berth still provides a stable platform for an angler to stand while casting or fly-fishing. Able to be outfitted in a variety of styles and configurations, it is not uncommon to see canoes rigged with fish finders, downriggers, rod holders and a number of other fishing implements. Lastly, no adventure in a Grand Laker would be complete, should it not contain packed neatly into its bow, all of the elements necessary to enjoy the infamous shore lunch.

While still remaining a testament to the original blueprint, the traditional Grand Laker has not been immune to the winds of change. This truth is evident in the crafts most sizeable evolution, which occurred in the 1950’s, when outboard motors began replacing paddles as the preferred mode of propulsion. These “advancements”, forced the canoe’s previous artistically upswept double ends, to be replaced by today’s more utilitarian square stern. Modernization was repeated; around the same period, when the canoes high maintenance painted canvas exterior (still available today if requested by customer) was replaced with the easier to maintain fiberglass skin.

The boat will effectively manage engine sizes from 8-10 hp. Thinking of the specific needs and scenarios when/where it will be typically operated, the 9 hp engine seems the most popular selection and is a great fit. Some canoes are even fitted with an additional electric trolling motor, increasing the crafts maneuverability in close quarters. Due to its weight (averaging an empty weight of around 160 pounds) and size, the 20 foot Grand Laker is typically transported using a small boat trailer. Though light weight in comparison to the large aluminum v-hulls it would be impractical to expect to be easily loaded into the back of a pick-up truck or onto a roof top carrier. Trailers also have the added the benefit of allowing the canoes to remain loaded with equipment, gas tanks and motors easing deployment another day or at a different fishing location.

 With trailer and motor the current price tag of a Grand Laker is just under $10,000, with some used models available for half that price. Still, owning one of these fine craft may not be an option for every outdoorsman. Watercraft produced by Oldtown canoe, offer sportsmen a less expensive option but will never compare to the beauty of the handcrafted Grand Laker. Better to save your pennies and go with the classic!

Story by Registered Maine Guide Steve Vose

Monday, April 15, 2013

Fisher Game Camera Video

This winter season, My moultrie game camera captured this short video segment of a fisher on the coyote bait site. Most Mainers, even those with considerable time spent in the outdoors, have never even seen one of these medium sized members of the weasel family in the wilds. Catching one on camera is truly unique and exciting! Enjoy!

video

Monday, April 8, 2013

Wildlife Quiz - The Eastern Brook Trout

A Maine native, the Eastern Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) also goes by several other nicknames, including Squaretail, Brookie and Speckled Trout. Brook trout have long, streamlined bodies with an adipose fin between the dorsal and square tailfin. Fins have a distinctive white leading edge.

Color is largely variable, depending on habitat, water quality and food sources. Specimens run from dark green to almost black with wormlike markings, also called vermiculations, along the back. Males even boast sides of bright orange-red, during the height of breeding season.

Brook trout are not tolerant of high-water temperatures, preferring a range between 57-60 degrees Fahrenheit. During the height of the summer, brook trout will seek the shelter of rocks, logs, undercut banks and deep pools to escape the heat, only moving to shallow waters after sunset to feed.

Brook trout are extremely sensitive to pollutants, needing cool, clear water to survive. Therefore, the overall health of a body of water is directly connected to the wellbeing of its brook-trout population. With optimal conditions, brook trout inhabiting streams can live almost 3 years while those living in larger bodies of water, such as lakes and ponds tend to live upwards of 5-6 years.

Brook trout typically spawn between September and October, with eggs hatching into fry within two to three months. After hatching, fry feed primarily on insects and will move onto larger prey including crayfish and even small rodents as they mature. Maine anglers favor the brook trout, as exquisite table fare. Every year, novice and expert alike pursue the delectable squaretail by means of the worm and bobber, super duper, various flies and even live minnows through the ice.

Wildlife Quiz Questions
1. Does a brook trout’s mouth extend past its eye?
2. When do brook trout spawn?
3. When do brook trout become sexually mature?
4. What is the average length of the three-year-old Maine brook trout?
5. What is the current state of Maine record brook trout?
6. What grows faster stream or lake brook trout populations?
7. Are brook trout related to salmon?
8. How many states list brook trout the state fish?

Wildlife Quiz Answers
1. Yes, a Brook Trout’s mouth extends past its eye.
2. Brook trout spawn typically between September and December.
3. Brook trout become sexually mature at around one year of age.
4. The average length of a three-year-old Maine brook trout is 13.3 inches.
5. The current state record brook trout is 9-pounds, 2-ounces. It was caught by Patrick Coanon Mousam Lake on 1/8/10.
6. Stream populations or brook trout are typically slower growing than lake populations.
7. Yes, brook trout are in the family group Salmonidae and related to salmon.
8. Eight sates have brook trout as the state fish, including Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Spring Fishing , Turkeys and Zombies

The month of April means transition. Winter breaths its last dying breath and lakes and ponds begin transitioning back to their liquid states. Historical averages, predict that ice out on West Grand Lake will occur before the end of the month and anxious anglers will be practically foaming at the mouth to begin trolling for salmon and togue.

While diehards will launch their boats onto West Grand as soon as possible, personal preference, finds my family and friends invading Grand Lake Stream over the long Memorial Day weekend, about a month after the predicted ice out. This later start, certainly doesn’t guarantee good weather but the daylight lingers longer and the average temperature tends to be higher, helping to make the fishing more enjoyable.

Instead of tempting fate on the waters of West Grand, I propose this is the perfect month to invest time in conducting a bit of early season prepping, for the beginning of turkey season. 

Turkey Hunting 
 With the huge success of the reintroduction of the eastern turkey to Maine, most of the state now is able to participate in a productive spring hunting season. Though Washington County has seen an impressive increase in the number of wild turkeys over the last several years, the population still does not rival what can be expected in some of the more southern WMDs. Washington County shines, however, in light hunting pressure, with most hunters seeing very little competition throughout the course of a season. This leads sportsmen to a more enjoyable and laid back hunt and birds that respond well to calls through the spring season.

Wildlife Management Districts (WMD) 19 and 28 are both open to spring wild turkey hunting. This allows for turkey hunting throughout a majority of Washington County, excluding coastal WMD 27 which includes the communities of Calais, Machias, Lubec and Milbridge. For more specifics on the borders of 19, 28 and 27 please see the IFW website at: www.maine.gov/ifw.

By far the single most important aspect of any successful turkey hunting trip is scouting. Putting boots on the ground, thoughtfully listening for awakening early morning birds, watching their daily patterns and determining where they roost in the evening, will allow hunters an excellent chance of harvesting a trophy bird. When locating birds, practically any loud game call will work, including duck, bard owl, crow and even coyote howls. I fondly remember one morning, getting a big old tom furiously shock gobbling, to one of my favorite mallard duck calls. The only rule to scouting birds being never attempt to locate gobblers with hen calls, until you are actually hunting them. Educating turkeys to understand a predator (human) is making hen calls will only lead to problems once the season begins.

Prime turkey hunting locations exist throughout Washington County, with some locales obviously much better than others. Do not limit your hunting to large open fields, as often better hunting options exist on smaller skidder roads, snowmobile trails and power lines where the compacted areas better funnel birds into effective range. After locating that perfect hunting spot, plan to hunt on weekdays, rather than Saturdays. Hunting pressure is lighter during the week, reducing potential conflicts with other hunters. Nobody wants to go through the heart wrenching dilemma of arriving at their prime hunting location, only to find someone already parked there. Also, if possible find multiple locations in which to hunt, should your first or even second choice become compromised.

Every year it greatly surprises me the large number of people who attempt to shoot a turkey and simply miss what should have been an easy shot. This regrettable situation can typically be avoided by knowing well the operation, range and pattern produced by your shotgun. To accomplish this task safely, select a gun range or one of the many large open gravel pits that exist around the state. While Washington County contains several gravel pits where firearms enthusiasts can ply their trade, my favorite pit can be found on Route 9 (the Airline) 1.5 miles from the wilderness (Eagle Mountain) lodge, driving toward Calais at GPS coordinates N 44 54.346’ W067 51.509’.

Be sure to practice shooting from a sitting stance, as this will likely be the same position you will be in while targeting turkeys in the field. Know your effective kill zone by pacing off your intended range and examining the number of pellets that hit your intended target. When in the field pace off this identical distance and mark it with three sticks, making a half circle directly in front of you. Put your decoy about 20 paces out approximately in the center of this ½ circle and you are now prepared to critically hit any turkey that enters this defined space.

Target Shooting 
While at the pit, be sure to bring along your favorite shotguns, rifles and pistols and spend a little extra time practicing your shooting skills. Hand held launchers are an inexpensive way to throw clay pigeons or if shooting alone, the spring powered foot triggered rigs, provide hours of fun. For those of us liking more bang for our buck, bring along some tannerite (www.tannerite.com). This legal exploding rifle target, adds a lot of joy to long range target shooting. Upon impact, with a high powered rifle round, a sizeable explosion occurs from these relatively diminutive targets, making it impossible to question if a target was hit, even at extended ranges.

Lastly for the close range pistol shooting, I recommend bringing along zombie targets. My favorite is the relatively inexpensive two dimensional Birchwood Casey's Darkotic Zombie targets that ooze such realism; I can almost smell the rotten flesh. For big spenders, zombieindustries.com has an impressive selection of three dimensional bleeding zombie targets and also offer their own exploding rifle targets (similar to tannerite) called “Zomboom”, as well as wide selection of life sized paper zombie targets.
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