Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ice Fishing the Final Days, Shed and Snowshoe Hare Hunting

Ice Fishing 
For ice-fishing anglers, the beginning of March marks the waning and final opportunity to hit favorite hardwater fishing hot spots. With days getting longer and the sun cresting ever higher and higher in the southern sky, ice begins to recede and by the end of the month many ice-covered lakes across the state have become impassable and unsafe to walk upon. In these conditions, it pays to have a few lakes and ponds in mind that allow access to shallow fish filled waters without use of snowmobile or ATV. These alternate locations, allow for late season angling without the risks associated with larger, deeper lakes currently undergoing various stages of defrost. This late in the season, I stick close to shore primarily targeting brook trout. This ensures that if I were to encounter thin ice and an accident to occur, I would only break through into 2-3 feet of water. When ice fishing late season brookies, it pays to modify fishing outfits to match your intended target species. Success often is easier won when heavier “salmon” or “togue” sized fishing rigs are replaced with lightweight tackle such as 4-pound leaders, BB sized split shot and miniscule number 10 sized hooks. Also using alternate baits like earthworms can entice finicky brookies into tripping flags. A small piece of worm an inch long is often the light snack trout are looking for. In freezing temperatures, be sure to keep worms in an inside jacket pocket to keep them from quickly becoming unusable. Check lines frequently, keeping ice build up to a minimum and checking to ensure bait is fresh and active. Often the act of slowly lifting and lowering lines will sometimes “stir the bait” and instantly elicit a strike.

Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, fish stocking reports indicate that 6-mile lake in Marshfield (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 26, B-2) was socked in 2013 with 300 10-inch, 1,950 8-inch and 50 13-inch brook trout. This 55 acre lake sits immediately adjacent to route 192 about 6 miles north of Machias. A small boat launch/picnic area is typically plowed and provides good parking and excellent access the hardwater.

Shed Hunting
Sportsmen looking for a real challenge this spring should take on the monumental task of shed hunting. White-tailed deer annually drop their impressive headgear during the months of January and February, leaving them lying on the forest floor. These dropped treasures are not only fun to collect but they are also profitable for those looking to sell them on the open market. Not a task for the fait of heart, his monumental endeavor has a low success rate but when a large shed is finally found, the excitement is paramount to actually shooting a trophy buck! Slowly patrolling the woods on snowshoes and keenly looking for the telltale distinctive “points” melting out of the snow is the usual method. Others employ the use of a dog to assist in finding sheds. Though about any dog can be trained to find sheds, “retriever” breeds, like the Labrador have a fine nose, disposition and attitude, making them perfect for a broad spectrum of sporting endeavors including locating sheds. Training a dog to find sheds is a relatively simple matter. Instead of teaching the dog to chase a tennis ball, owners substitute a deer antler. Upon retrieving and bringing the antler back to the owner the dog is richly praised and rewarded with treats. Over time, the dog associates finding and bringing sheds back to the owner with a positive experience it will want to repeat over and over. Deeryards, where whitetails cluster together during the winter season, offer a good opportunity to find sheds. Deer concentrations in these areas are much higher than the surrounding countryside and shed hunters are able to better maximize their time and efforts. Areas like those found around the area know as “Day Hill” on Route 9 in Wesley (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 36, E-1), provide a great starting point to begin searching. Shed hunters should remember to train their eyes to be on the lookout for Moose antlers, as occasionally these impressive racks can also be found!

Snowshoe Hare Hunting 
Thickly wooded areas not only attract wintering deer but also large numbers of snowshoe hare. Shed hunters would be well advised to carry a .22 handgun to seize opportunities, while looking for sheds, to shoot hare when the opportunity presents itself. Hunting season for snowshoe hare runs until March 31st and the daily bag limit stands at 4 with a possession limit of 8 of these delicious critters. Snowshoe’s average about 3.5 pounds and make a hearty meal for two people. Marinating or stewing is typically necessary to make snowshoe hare easily edible, as the meat contains precious little fat and tends to be notoriously tough. Time is the most critical element in successful cooking, as the meat must be very slow simmered for 2 hours or 8-12 hours of marinating employed to achieve the desired palatable effect. “Stewing” is a simple method of cooking on low heat until the meat can easily be removed from the bone. “Marinating” involves soaking the meat in wine, vinegar, lemon juice or buttermilk to tenderize it. While dozens of recipes exist, my preferred method is to cover the skinned and gutted hare in a mixture of white wine and garlic cloves and let to set overnight. The next day, red wine, a chopped onion, bay leaf, salt and paprika are added and the hare is slowly simmered for approximately an hour and a half. This process of marinating and stewing creates tender, succulent meat that knows few equals.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Wildman & The Savage Go Icefishing

Collection of photographs from a fun day out in No Name pond in central Maine with the Wildman and the Savage. After a few near misses, the Savage FINALLY gets his picture taken with his "first" fish. Enjoy!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Wildlife Quiz - Rainbow Trout

Rainbow (bottom), Brook Trout (Top)
Rainbow Trout
Because of their natural ability to thrive in hatcheries, Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) or simply “Rainbows”, have been introduced across most of the United States and inhabit many streams and lakes throughout the state of Maine. Though an introduced species, many anglers enjoy catching this transplant for food and sport despite its ability to over compete many native fish species. Maine anglers normally catch stream dwelling rainbows in the 8 to 16-inch range; with occasional lake caught fish reaching upwards of 5-6 pounds.

*The current state of Maine record rainbow was 6.52 pounds pulled out of the Androscoggin River by Steven Day in 2007. 

Rainbows posses’ silvery colored sides and a white to pale yellow belly color with a prominent reddish colored band, extending from the cheek to the base of the caudal fin. A sizeable numbers of small black dots cover the entire body with heavier spotting generally occurring along dorsal areas. Rainbow coloration can be highly variable, depending on size, sexual condition, and habitat.

Rainbows are opportunistic feeders, relying on a variety of food items for sustenance, ranging from insects to crustaceans. Rainbows inhabiting streams tend to feed heavily on terrestrial insects, such as grasshoppers, ants and aquatic insects. In lakes, rainbows feed primarily on crayfish, snails, small fish and fish eggs.

Rainbows spawn in the spring and early summer. Female rainbows dig depressions in the gravel with their tails, into which eggs are deposited. A male fertilizes the eggs, covers them with gravel and leaves them to incubate and hatch. After hatching, young rainbows swim free of the gravel and begin searching for food. With luck, stream dwelling fry will avoid predators, grow-up and live almost 3 years while those living in larger bodies of water, such as lakes and ponds tend to live 5-6 years. The oldest recorded specimen of rainbow reached a ripe old age of 11 years.

Wildlife Quiz Questions 
1. Are rainbow trout an introduced species in the state of Maine?
2. What is the average weight of a stream caught rainbow trout in Maine?
3. What was the weight of the largest rainbow trout caught in the state of Maine?
4. What is a prominent feature of the rainbow trout that easily distinguishes it from other species of salmonids?
5. What do rainbow trout eat?
6. When do rainbow trout spawn?
7. How old do most lake and pond dwelling rainbow trout live?
8. What was the age of the oldest rainbow trout?

Wildlife Quiz Answers 
1. Yes, rainbow trout are an introduced species in the state of Maine.
2. The average weight of a rainbow trout caught in Maine is between 8-16 inches.
3. The largest rainbow trout caught in the state of Maine was 6.52 pounds.
4. Rainbow trout are easily distinguished from other salmonids by a reddish colored band, extending from the cheek to the base of the caudal fin.
5. Rainbow trout are opportunistic feeders and eat everything from grasshoppers and ants to small fish, fish eggs, crayfish and snails.
6. Rainbow trout spawn in the spring and early summer.
7. Most rainbow trout inhabiting lakes and ponds live to be between 5-6 years.
8. The oldest rainbow trout lived to be 11 years old.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Reader's Bobcat Hunting Success!

The following is a letter that was forwarded to me from the editor at the Maine Sportsman, from a reader that shot this impressive bobcat from the advice he garnered from reading my monthly column. I certainly makes my heart swell with pride when something I write assists another outdoor person in the field and reminds me once again why it is I write. Thanks to Nancy for providing me with Nate's story!

Dear Maine Sportsman Magazine,

My husband Nate is an avid outdoorsman. He enjoys the expanded hunting opportunities afforded by predator hunting. It allows him to basically hunt year round. On the 29th he donned his hunting gear and headed for the woods. He brought with him his screaming cottontail call by quaker boy. His favorite call.

He'd read recently, in the Washington county column of the Maine Sportsman, tips on calling in Bobcats by Steve Vose, so heeding the advice outlined in the article, he called a lot longer and waited patiently for the cat to come in. Normally calling in coyotes and foxes he calls for a 1/2 hour and moves if he doesn't call anything in. While hunting for bobcats he's learned to call more frequently and stay on the stand longer.

 It took an hour of calling to bring this bobcat in for the shot. He shot this bobcat in Bristol. He'd noticed many bobcat tracks in the rabbit hunting area recently which inspired him to go try to relieve some predation on the rabbit population.

He had made about his 10th call when he saw the bobcat coming through the furs. It slowly made its way to the brook, Nate was sitting on the opposite side of the brook bank. As it crossed the ice he made the shot. Nate was impressed with the size of the bobcat, the size was unexpected. It is a 24lb female bobcat. Let me know if you need any other details.


Monday, March 10, 2014

WIldlife Quiz - Yellow Perch

Yellow Perch
The yellow perch, (Perca flavescens) belongs to the Percidae or perch family of fishes. Yellow perch are native to the North American continent but dispersed widely from its original predominant range of the eastern United States and Canada due to its popularity as a sport and commercial game fish. Yellow perch have gold or yellow colored bodies and possess unmistakable dark vertical stripes. This unusual color pattern has given them the nickname “tiger trout” by anglers. The dorsal fin, contains several sharp spines that work to protect the fish from predators and provide unsuspecting anglers with an unpleasant surprise.

Yellow perch are a relatively diminutive species of game fish, averaging between 5-8 ounces. It is not uncommon in health yellow perch waters, to occasionally catch large adults reaching 10 inches and weighing 10 ounces.

*The largest yellow perch caught in Maine was a monsterous1 pound 10 ounces behemoth taken out of Worthley Pond in East Peru, it currently stands as the state record.

A gregarious species, yellow perch often travel in large schools, making fishing for this delectable game fish exciting once anglers locate them. Rarely taken from waters more than 30 feet deep, yellow perch tend to prefer living a majority of their lives eating and breeding in shallow waters. Perch are prolific breeders, with male yellow perch reaching sexual maturity at three years of age, females at four. Perch spawn in the spring, typically in April and June. Mating occurs with females first releasing a sticky, gelatinous mass of eggs that adheres to dense vegetation and fallen trees. During the spawning season, males release milt around the eggs to fertilize them. Eggs and sperm are randomly mixed and soon after fertilization, the young hatch.

Yellow perch typically live 9-10 years Body size predominantly determines the diets of yellow perch. Juvenile yellow perch eat small insects like mosquitoes while the larger adult yellow perch dine on crayfish and the eggs and fry of other fish. In turn, bass, walleye and northern pike all prey on perch. 

Wildlife Quiz Questions: 
1. What family of fishes do yellow perch belong?
2. What is the primary defense weapon of the yellow perch?
3. What is the native range of the yellow perch?
4. What do male yellow perch release on the female yellow perch eggs to fertilize them?
5. What was the weight of the biggest yellow perch caught in Maine?
6. What is the average weight of an adult yellow perch?
7. When is the mating season for the yellow perch?
8. What is the average life span of a yellow perch?
9. What fish species prey on yellow perch?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. Yellow perch belong to the Percidae or perch family of fishes.
2. The primary defense weapon of the yellow perch is a dorsal fin, containing several sharp spines that help protect the fish from predators.
3. The native range of the yellow perch runs across the eastern United States and Canada.
4. The male yellow perch releases milt onto the female’s eggs to fertilize them.
5. The biggest yellow perch caught in Maine weighed 1 pound, 10 ounces.
6. The average weight of an adult yellow perch is 5-8 ounces.
7. The mating season for the yellow perch runs from April to June.
8. The average life span of a yellow perch is 9-10 years.
9. Yellow perch are preyed upon by bass, walleye and northern pike.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Game Cameras Bring Spring Turkey Hunting Success!

Spring Turkey Scouting 
Sportsmen typically employ game cameras as a primarily means to track the movements of white-tailed deer, however another less frequent usage quickly gaining in popularity is using these devices to track the movements of other game species such as turkeys. Spring turkeys tend to follow regular patterns that can be easily monopolized on to help hunters be in the right place at the right time. If not currently using game cameras during spring turkey scouting, I strongly suggest giving them a try!

In support of these valuable hunting tools, here are a few hints and suggestions I have amassed through the years.

Where & How to Place Your Game Camera:
1. Place game camera facing north. If faced south into the rising and setting sun, a majority of photos will be washed out.
2. Make sure there is no vegetation in front of camera, for aesthetics and to avoid false triggers.
3. Point cameras at a 45-degree angle to a game trail (NOT perpendicular) as this provides more time for the camera to “trigger”, taking a photos of the entire animal and not simply it’s hind end as it passes by the camera.
4. Set cameras in areas that funnel animals (edges of bodies of water, trails, field edges, etc.) to be where the animals travel, increasing the chance of capturing them on camera.
5. Place camera 15-20 feet from the intended photo area. Most trail cameras can detect motion out to at least 30' but it pays to be conservative.
6. If strapping a camera to a tree, ensuring it's large enough to not blow in the wind.
7. Place camera 20”-25” off the ground, lower than typically set for deer.

Hints & Suggestions for Setting Your Game Camera:
1. Place camera in live mode, wait for the camera to trigger ensuring it works correctly.
2. Turn camera on and confirm all settings, especially date & time.
3. Test batteries and replace as necessary. Buy a battery tester, it will prove invaluable.
4. Check and verify motion detector's range. Test it out at home before deploying the camera in the field.

Care of your Game Camera:
1. The best defense against theft is a well-hidden camera.
2. Place moisture absorbing packs inside camera case if necessary.
3. Make sure the glass in front of the lens is spotless. Small smudges show up big in pictures.

*Maine law requires that game cameras be clearly labeled with the owner’s name. Also, if game cameras are deployed on another persons land, the landowner must grant permission before a camera can legally be placed on their property. 

Spring wild turkey hunting runs from April 28th to May 31st and is now open statewide in Wildlife Management Districts (WMD) 1-29. This season’s change, now allows turkey hunting throughout all of Washington County. Previously untouched prime hunting areas will likely hold trophy gobblers that have never been hunted. For the sportsman this presents a fantastic opportunity to pursue toms that have never heard the sweet clucks of a hunters box call or been fooled by a hen turkey decoy.

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.

For a hunters searching for a Wildlife Management Area to explore in Downeast, I suggest the 649-acre Jonesboro WMA (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 26, C-2). For more specifics on the spring turkey hunt, see the IFW website at:

Early Season Bass 
In the spring of the year, as the water temperatures begin to slowly rise, bass become increasingly active. This creates great fishing in as early as April, with activity remaining steady up to the end of June. While it is certainly no secret that Washington County contains numerous truly epic lakes and ponds, each filled to the brim with small mouth bass, success at catching them is not always an easily accomplished endeavor. A number of factors including time of day, finding good bottom structure and lure selection present a few of the variables that need to be considered. Nothing can compare with first hand knowledge of a lake or pond. Knowing where to find bottom structures that hold fish like sunken beaver lodges, underwater weed beds, sunken logs and stumps, rocks, shoals, ledges, drop offs, islands and other such areas will put you leaps ahead of other fishermen. Polarized sunglasses and the benefit of calm water, greatly facilitate the process of finding areas containing ambush cover for hungry bass. Mark these areas with a GPS and these fishing hotspots will be enjoyed for years to come.

While many of these waters may be fished from shore with success, reaching the best fishing spots requires breaking free from the crowded boat launches and accessing areas that see little fishing pressure. All manner of watercraft can be used, as long as care is taken to respect the anticipated weather conditions. Maine’s lakes are notoriously fickle and a beautiful day on the water can quickly turn life threatening. Always wear a life jacket, as water temps will only allow minutes of survival time before your body will fail to function and drowning occur.

When bass fishing, I prefer to carry two fishing poles, one equipped for working weed filled areas and one for more open waters. By having two poles instantly available, anglers can quickly and easily match the intended fishing area without wasting time cutting and retying lures. My go to weedless lure is the “Zoom Super Fluke” and I would never dream of leaving the dock without having a handful of “Terminator” spinner baits in an assortment of different colors. Wabassas Lake (Map 35, C-3) presents great options for smallmouth bass fishing with, according to recent IFW reports, between 1.8-3.5 caught per hour and an average length of 13.5 inches.
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