Duck hunting in December is wrought with challenges and only the heartiest of sporting men and women brave the frigid north winds in an effort to perhaps get lucky enough to bring home a late season mallard or black duck for the stew pot. With inland waters rapidly freezing, waterfowlers head Down East where the regions salty bays and inlets typically take longer to freeze. In years past, some of my most memorable outdoors adventures have occurred during these late season hunts, fighting extreme cold, battling against spitting snow squalls and struggling to stay dry in showers of freezing rain. This type of hunting builds determination, strength and character.
A thin layer of ice creaked under the weight of my kayak as it slid through the water, questioning the sanity of my actions and causing me to ponder how long a person could dwell in these frigid waters before losing consciousness and succumbing to eternal sleep. I estimated the life would drain from a body in less than 10 minutes and considering my distance from shore, my lifejacket would serve only as a body recovery device, a thought that made me shiver. I needed to concentrate and make each paddle stroke with care, no mistakes. After a tentative few minutes, I managed to find a secluded spot in the bay, below the intertidal zone, on the end of a small island. Hidden behind the roughly fractured granite boulders and rockweed, I was buffeted against the wind and confident in the location, I awaited the time of legal shooting with unbridled excitement.
A slow morning dragged along, thankfully made considerably more enjoyable with hot coffee, hand warmers and the scattering of ducks flying just out of lethal range that kept my heart-pounding heavy in my chest. Finally after many hours, cold fingers and frosty toes dictated it was time to return to civilization.
Though not a duck fell that morning, hunting in this environment is always a triumph . . . a win in the classic battle of man against the elements and against his own perceived capacities. This positive outlook in the face of the impossible seems a trait of most hunters but even more so in waterfowlers who always manage to find their glasses half full despite the adversities they may face and understand that it is always better to try and fail then never to have tried at all.
Sportsmen and women feeling they possess the intestinal fortitude to join the ranks of this brave group of late season salty hunters, calling themselves foul weather fowlers, would be well served to dress warm, pack heavy loads of shot to penetrate the thick down of late season ducks and head Down East to try their luck on Maine’s rugged coast. Areas such as the mouth of the Machias River (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 26, C-4) and Chandler River (Map 25 B-5) both offer protection from the icy north winds while still providing opportunities to harvest ducks late into December. A majority of the hunting done in these locations is accomplished by pass shooting, a practice of hunting requiring no decoys and no calling; it is simply about being in the right place at the right time so choose your set-up locations wisely, using pinch points, ledges and sheltered coves to your advantage.
The Publication, “Public Shoreline Access in Maine A Citizen’s Guide to Ocean and Coastal Law”, produced by the Marine Law Institute, states that Maine law allows public access to the intertidal zone as long as the access is related to the purposes of fishing, fowling, and navigation. Unfortunately, this law does precious little to stop a landowner from filing unfounded complaints with the local authorities or disrupting a hunt in progress with their screaming curses of displeasures. Having lived though past encounters with these individuals, as much as one would like to teach them a lesson in the letter of the law, it is frequently more advantageous to simply walk away and find a different area to hunt.
The South Zone is open from November 3 - December 23, 2014 while the Coastal Zone is open from November 14, 2014 to January 3, 2015. Please see IFW law book for daily bag limits and species information.
Hunters looking to chase ruffed grouse, gray squirrel and snowshoe hare rather than ducks will be excited to note that many woods roads throughout Washington Conty remain open throughout December as global warming takes its toll on Maine’s early season snowfall totals. Typically there’s not a lot of snow this month so there’s good access to some fantastic late season hunting spots for small game. Maine’s primary wilderness artery the Stud Mill Road provides easy access to prime hunting areas but is hit hard by hunters in October and November, this late in the hunting season hunters should explore areas well off this main thoroughfare. Consider heading north by Brandy Pond (Map 34, D-3) and Upper Oxhead Pond (Map 34, C-3) and continuing to Spring Lake (Map 34, B-4). Hunters may harvest ruffed grouse and gray squirrel until December 31st, 2014 and snowshoe hare until March 31st, 2014
Jones Pond Rainbows
Anglers looking for excitement should head over to chase rainbow trout in Jones Pond in Gouldsboro (Map 17, A-1). This 467-acre pond is primarily populated with brown trout, smallmouth bass and chain pickerel but last fall IFW stocked the lake with 930 rainbow trout, averaging 13 inches in length. Though Jones Pond is open throughout December to catch and release fishing with artificial lures only, starting January 1, anglers will be able to fish with live bait and keep rainbows in accordance with general law, stating 2 fish over 12 inches.
IFW fisheries biologist Greg Burr states that “fishing through the ice for rainbows is extremely difficult and that they don’t respond well to shiners.” The best way to fish for rainbows is by jigging with worms, maggots or mealworms on diminutive hooks rigged with lightweight lines. Any angler landing a rainbow through the ice has managed to achieve a trophy catch and should be pleased with their efforts at pursuing this crafty species of trout. Anglers that do not achieve success through the ice will be well served to return to Jones Pond shortly after ice out when rainbows feed more actively. Spring time Rainbows can be caught, employing the same trolling techniques used for salmon.