Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wildlife Quiz - The Rainbow Smelt

The Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax) enjoys a widespread dispersal across the North American watersheds, including the tributaries of the Atlantic, Pacific and even Arctic oceans. While native to Maine, including one of the few landlocked populations, the prolific smelt has through the years expanded, by the hand of man, into non-native areas, such as the Great Lakes.

Maine smelt can grow to a median size of 6-8 inches in length, depending on the presence of optimal environmental factors, including abundant food, clean water, absence of prey species and decreased competition from other fish species. Rainbow smelt in some northern Maine lakes have been known to grow to an impressive 14 inches and live for over seven years!

The rainbow smelt’s name comes from the iridescent purple, pink, and blue reflections on the fish’s sides. While this oddly bright coloration may appear to poorly camouflage the smelt from predators, scientist predict that since the rainbow smelt is a “schooling” species, the shimmering pattern acts to confuse prey, allowing the school to more easily escape predation. Though relative small in size, rainbow smelt posses strong jaws lined with pointed teeth. Though juveniles feed mostly on plankton, adults aggressively feed on worms, insects and even small fish. In turn rainbow smelt are heavily preyed upon by almost all Maine fish species, making them an all time favorite bait for anglers.

Shortly after ice out, the lower sections of streams can sometimes be black with thousands of rainbow smelt as they prepare to spawn. The female smelt release eggs that instantly attach to the streams gravel, sand or even submerged vegetation. The male smelt then haphazardly release milt (sperm) that fertilizes the eggs. Both males and females then leave the eggs unattended and the eggs hatch 1–4 weeks later, depending on water temperature.

Wildlife Quiz Questions: 
1. What is the distribution of the rainbow smelt?
2. Do landlocked populations of rainbow smelt exist?
3. What is the median size of a Maine rainbow smelt?
4. How long can a rainbow smelt grow?
5. How long can a rainbow smelt live?
6. Do rainbow smelt school?
7. What do rainbow smelt eat?
 8. How long does it take for fertilized rainbow smelt eggs to hatch?

Wildlife Quiz Answers: 
1. The rainbow smelt inhabits the tributaries of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.
2. Yes, Maine has been documented as having one of the few identified populations of landlocked rainbow smelt.
3. Maine rainbow smelt can grow to 6-8 inches in length.
4. A rainbow smelt can grow up to 14 inches.
5. A rainbow smelt can live up to 7 years.
6. Yes, smelt gather together in schools.
7. Rainbow smelt eat worms, insects and even small fish.
8. Rainbow smelt eggs hatch in 1-4 weeks, depending on water temperature.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hunting the Snowshoe Hare

My Son Prepares for His First Hare Hunt
This short article was originally published as my VERY FIRST blog posting back in February of 2008 and more recently RE-published in the Sportsman Alliance of Maine (SAM) March/April 2015 Newsletter . . . enjoy! 

At 7:00 AM the air temperature was negative two degrees Fahrenheit and as the first rays of morning light filtered down through the tangle of spruce trees it provided little warmth. Using a handcrafted pair of ash snowshoes three of us trudged through the deep snow, every breath of frosty morning air making our lungs ache. It made no difference, however, as the distant sounds of half a dozen beagles made our hearts race and blood boil.

This was February hare hunting in Maine at its finest and my brother, father and I were working ourselves to various points within a spruce thicket to patiently await the moment when the hounds would stir the snowshoe hares from the comfort of their daytime resting spots.

I maneuvered myself slowly into position, at times crawling on my hands and knees until I finally managed to find an opening were I had an area of limited but acceptable visibility. As the dogs began to work the property, their infrequent howls and barks quickly rose to an excited crescendo as they picked up the fresh scent of hares.

About 100 yards to my right, three rapid shots rang out from my Brothers Stoger 12 gauge semiautomatic and I had just enough time to ponder if he had bothered to remove his duck plug when two additional rounds thundered into existence. Moments later, the sounds of the small collar bells began to mix with the howls and I knew that the dogs would be on top of my position any minute. I readied my Franchi 612 semiautomatic 12 gauge and prepared to ambush the unsuspecting hare by delivering a lethal load of 2 ¾ inch Federal number 7 ½ s. Being my first hare hunt, however, I was unprepared for the sight of a single frantic hare and 7 highly excited beagles that practically ran me over. My composure wavered and belly rolled with laughter and in that instant my chance to safely discharge my weapon vaporized. Insult was added to injury as the last beagle stopped put two paws up on my knee and looked at me as if to say “next time pull the trigger dummy”.

The party rolled off to my left and was quickly out of sight and once again I could only hear the chorus of excited beagles. I marveled at the pitch and cadence of the dogs as it changed and fluctuated as they would lose the hare’s scent and then find it again. About 5 minutes passed and about 75 yards to my right, I heard the roar of my Dad’s Ithaca model 37 pump action 12 gauge come alive. One shot and then it seemed an eternity passed before the second shot stretched out over the snowy landscape. I listened intently and half expected to hear an excited yell but eventually determined that the snowy thick spruce landscape had deadened Dad’s celebration.

Time passed slowly as the hounds tracked the hares in a giant circle around my position and I finally had a chance to catch my breath, acclimating to my surroundings. The air temperature had started its slow climb from the negative to the positive and rich sunlight filtered down through the tangled spruce branches. I took off my heavy insulated parka and hung it on a nearby branch and used my snowshoes to pack down a small area. These two actions allowed me a much higher degree of maneuverability and I practiced a swing with the shotgun in the tight quarters.

All morning, the tireless hounds moved with speed and agility through the area and at times I would see a quick flash of movement but was unsuccessful in being able to determine with enough confidence and speed what was dog and what was hare. Frequent shots bellowed to my left and right and I was pleased to know that my Brother and Dad were working overtime to significantly decrease the hare population in Bingham, Maine. As the sun crept high overhead, the smell of frying onions wafted up the slope and made my stomach rumble. I heard a horn blast from our guide Bob’s Suburban and my thoughts quickly turned from hare hunting to a hot cup of black coffee and a decadent lunch of one of the best outdoorsman foods of all time, the hot dog.

Upon arriving back at the road, I was excited to see that Bob had on his Coleman cook stove prepared for us a feast fit for a king. Slowly, my Brother and Dad appeared out of the woods both rabid with the adventures of the morning, covered in spruce needles and looking like snowmen. As they walked down the road toward the truck, I was more than a little bit surprised to see that neither of them seemed to be carrying any hares. I breathed a barely perceptible sigh of relief, as I realized that their morning of hunting had been as productive as mine and in the end I has saved more money on shells.

Through lunch and an impressive desert of chocolate brownies, we relayed to each other our missed shot opportunities. Stories relayed by my brother, included a description of one impressive rabbit that had managed to entrench himself in a bunker of dead logs and somehow narrowly escaped the barrage of lead that rained down upon him. We all laughed until we all thought we better get back to hunting before we completely wore ourselves out.

Fortunately for the hares, our afternoon was filled with much of the same general mayhem and missed shot opportunities that we had encountered during the morning hours. While I finally managed to get one shot off before the hunt ended, I too was unable to harvest even a single hare. Though the day ended without a single hare to show for our Herculean efforts, we all agreed that we would not have changed a single instant. As we get older, life has a way of adding more responsibilities to young men and as the years have passed it has becomes increasingly harder to manage a getaway with my Dad and Brother. Because of these limitations, I will always hold these treasured moments spent together as much more valuable than the harvesting of any game animal.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ice Fishing at Kid only Ponds!

By March, many of the hardwaters of the state have begun slowly returning to their liquid state. This change comes with the longer days of sunlight and temperature that creep well up into the proximity of down right balmy. By March’s end, many favorite fishing spots will be unsafe but at the beginning of the month, on typical years, the ice remains thick and safe. March’s higher average day time temperatures make it a fun month to introduce kids and new anglers to the sport of ice fishing.

While die hard ice fishermen will typically weather any storm and subject themselves to any chill in pursuit of their preferred quarry, those new to this icy sport typically enjoy the experience more when the weather is milder. Making the fishing experience enjoyable, is a critical step in ensuring that children and new anglers will develop a passion for ice fishing and pass on this heritage to the next generation.

For optimal angling success, it pays to choose fishing ponds that support healthy populations of “trash” fish such as yellow perch, pickerel and bass. These voracious species will typically keep folks yelling “FLAG” and on the run for hours. The most productive fishing ponds will have slow days, so veteran anglers make sure to pack Frisbees, footballs, cribbage boards and other games so that should boredom occur, it can be quickly diverted. Even milder winter temps still nictitates the intake of high calorie “comfort” foods such as snack cakes, candy bars, beef jerky and cookies, critical to keep bellies filled and bodies properly fueled. Extra heavy duty clothes, shelters and portable heaters are not typically necessary in March, as long as there is a spot to get out of the wind. Caution should be paid, however, to footwear as lakes this time of year tend to be very wet. Boots must be waterproof, otherwise a fun day on the ice can rapidly descent into a cold and uncomfortable day.

Adults looking to for a great place in Washington County and Down East to take junior anglers ice fishing would be well served to check out Foxhole Pond (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 25, C-2), on headwaters of Great Falls Branch Brook in Debois. The pond is regulated by an S-11 special rule allowing fishing only by persons less than 16 years of age and with a restriction of two lines per person. (NOTE that this is a change from the S-9 restriction on Foxhole Pond last year that had previously allowed the pond to additionally be fished by “complementary” license holders.)

Foxhole Pond is a small irrigation pond used to provide water to the local blueberry barrens and cranberry bogs. It is a privately owned pond, managed by a jointly by an agreement between landowners and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW). Landowners allow public access and every year, IFW stocks the pond with brook trout, including spring yearlings 7-9 inch, fall yearlings 12-14 inch and 16-18 inch retired brood stock.

Due to the locations popularity, it is best fished early in the ice fishing season but by March enough fish typically remain to make for an eventful day on the ice for young anglers. Baitfish are not typically needed, when fishing Foxhole pond, as fish will readily take worms and a large assortment of jigged lures. A container of crawlers or worms, kept in a jacket pocket, to protect them against freezing, is all that is needed to provide enough bait for a fun filled afternoon. The daily bag limit on Foxhole Pond is 2 brook trout with a 6-inch minimum.

To access Foxhole Pond, travel north on Rt. 193 from Cherryfield for approximately 8 miles. After passing Wyman’s Blueberries, a sizeable blueberry field will appear on the right with a large radio tower. Take the dirt road after radio tower. The first road encountered on the right is the old hatchery road, the second road on the right, leads to Foxhole Pond. A short drive and the small pond will appear through the trees, on the left side of the road. It is a privilege to have access to this pond, so visitors should make sure to pack in and pack out any garbage. Bringing a small portable butane or white gas stove will ensure that plenty of hot cocoa can be served without constructing a fire.

Although closed to ice fishing, North and South Meyers Ponds (Map 25, C-3) and the Grand Lake Stream canal both allow open water fishing for person’s under 16 years of age (S-11) and are also stocked yearly to provide lots of excitement for junior anglers. The Meyer Ponds are listed in the 2015 fishing regulations but the Grand Lake Stream Canal is not. For more information on fishing the canal and directions more information can be obtained at the Grand Lake store or from the local sporting camp proprietors.

Additionally, the Middle River (Map 26 C-3) in Marshfield from below the bridge on the Marshfield Road downstream to the mouth of smelt brook is governed by a S-9 special rule, meaning it is open to fishing for person’s under 16 years of age as well as persons holding complementary fishing licenses. More information on who qualifies for a complementary fishing license can be found in the IFW fishing law book or online at
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