Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Smoking Cold Whitetails and Ice Hot Fishing Action

Muzzleloader Whitetails
For some hearty sportsmen, the first two weeks of December mean hunting the state’s whitetail deer population with muzzleloader. For those looking to join in on this challenging pursuit, the hunt is open statewide November 30th to December 5th and in WMD’s 12, 13,15 through 18, 20 through 26 and 29 from December 7-12th. In the past several seasons, hunters have enjoyed light snow on the ground during the first few weeks of December, allowing an excellent opportunity for sportsmen to track deer.

Compared to stand hunting, chasing deer on the ground is an exciting way to pursue this elusive and crafty game animal. A popular method of locating deer tracks still employs driving logging roads at first light and looking for fresh tracks. Once a fresh track of suitable size is located, the hunter slowly and methodically follows the track until the animal is found, the track is lost, the hunter tires or night falls. While a process simple in thought, tracking and still hunting is an art form and more often than not the deer wins.

Hunters can increase their chances in this endeavor by continued practice and by pre-scouting prime areas using game cameras and putting boots to the ground. Hunters looking to try their luck during this year’s muzzleloader season would be well served to begin their search for tracks by driving the roads surrounding First Lake (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, E-4) and Second, Third and Fourth Lake (Map 35, D-4). These areas not only contain a vast maze of navigable logging roads but also contain direct access to suitable deer habitat.

Ice Fishing White Perch on Baskahegan Lake
By late December, my thoughts turn to hardwater fishing and part of my regular daily routine is the monitoring of ice conditions on area lakes and ponds. Depending on the year, early ice fishing can be had on Baskahegan Lake (Map 45, C-3) in Topsfield, Maine. At 6,815 acres Baskahegan Lake is the third largest lake in Washington County and boasts a highly productive warm-water fishery. The lake is open to ice fishing for all fish except salmon, trout, togue and bass from ice in until December 31; and then open to ice fishing for all fish species from January 1 through March 31. Early season anglers tend to target the hearty white perch population, where there currently exists a generous 25 fish bag limit.

Ice fishing for white perch is one of my favorite things to do, as they are relatively easy to catch and rank as one of the most delectable fresh water game species. Generally white perch populations consist of large numbers of undersized fish, which some anglers perceive as fish that should be released to grow to a larger size. Smaller fish are however the product of an overabundant, slow growing population and need to be harvested to increase the growth potential of the overall population. Thinning of overpopulated white perch populations also has the added benefit of enhancing the growth and production of other desirable sport species in those waters.

When fishing Baskahegan or other lakes and ponds containing white perch, anglers should temporarily put aside their catch and release philosophies and instead work to fill their freezers. The best times to fish for “Whites” is dawn and dusk, when the species is at its most voracious. Anglers should target these aggressively feeding fish in a zone approximately 2-4 feet off the bottom. Drilling 3-4 times the number of holes needed at the beginning of the day allows anglers to later quickly and efficiently cover a large area to locate fish without added fish scaring noise and physical effort. A wide variety of lures and baits can be employed to put fish into the bucket but for anglers preferring to jig, the Swedish pimple in size 0 and small perch jigs in pink, red and orange seem to be perch favorites. If bites don’t begin occurring quickly, anglers should switch lure color, jigging speed and location until fish begin biting; this is all part of the excitement for the perch angler, figuring out that perfect combination that will trigger an explosion in the action.

For those employing the use of ice fishing traps, a light weight line of 4 pound is recommended. A smelt or shiner presented about 4 feet off the bottom can typically entice even the most finicky of whites to bite. Once a trap springs, pull up the perch and immediately drop a jig into the hole. The struggling of the caught fish is sometime all that is required to whip the rest of the school into a feeding frenzy and anglers can often pull several additional fish out of one hole. While it is perfectly acceptable to employ this method on your own holes, etiquette dictates anglers refrain from employing this method on the holes of their friends.

Baskahegan is an extremely large body of water but a majority of the fishing occurs in close proximity to the boat access site in Brookton about one mile from U.S. Rt. #1. Those wishing to encounter more fish would be better served to travel by snowmobile or ATV to some of the more remote areas of the lake such as Lindsey Cove at the mouth of Baskahegan Stream or the northern tip of Long Island.

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