Monday, March 21, 2016

The Norway Rat - Wildlife Quiz

The Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus), goes by a long list of alternate names, including; brown rat, sewer rat, Hanover rat and wharf rat. Despite the numerous names, it is most commonly know simply as rat. The rat exists as a highly adaptable species, well evolved to survive in a wide variety of rural and urban environments.

Rats exist on all continents except Antarctica, thriving in some of the most extreme environments on earth and making it one of the most wide spread mammal species on the planet. Strangely, the Norway rat did not originate in Norway but rather naturalists believe it originally came from China, rapidly distributing itself throughout the world by stowing away in cargo ships.

One of the largest muroids, or members of the “rodent” family, rats weigh approximately 10 ounces with brown or dark grey bodies averaging 10 inches in length. Stories of rats exceeding the size of house cats, likely arrive from wild exaggeration or misidentification.

Highly prolific, rats breed up to five times a year, producing litters ranging in size from 1-14 young. Underground burrows serve as nurseries, as well as providing shelter from the weather, protection from predators and food storage. Ninety-five percent of these young will succumb to predators, sickness and starvation in their first year. Those individuals fortunate enough to avoid these unfortunate ends live to approximately 3 years of age.

While rats have poor vision, they do posse’s exceptional hearing and a highly developed sense of smell. These use these to their advantage when trying to locate food and find prey, in areas that contain little to no visible light.

Rats consume both meat and vegetables (omnivorous) and have been observed consuming everything from fruits and grains to fish, clams, insects and even small birds. As with other pack animals like wolves, rats exist in a social hierarchy with each individual knowing its place within the structure of the pack. When food supplies dwindle or living spaces become crowded, rats lower in social order will be killed by alphas within the group.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What is another name for the Norway rat?
2. What is the distribution of the Norway rat?
3. From what are of the world did the Norway rat originate?
4. How much does a Norway rat weigh?
5. What percentage of Norway rats die during their first year of birth?
6. How long does a Norway rat live?
7. What do rats eat?
8. Are Norway rats pack animals?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. The Norway rat is also known by the names, brown rat, sewer rat, Hanover rat and wharf rat.
2. Rats exist on all continents except Antarctica.
3. Naturalists believe the Norway rat originally came from China.
4. The Norway rat weighs approximately 10 ounces.
5. Ninety-five percent of these young will succumb to predators, sickness and starvation in their first year.
6. Norway rats live to approximately 3 years of age.
7. Norway rats consume both meat and vegetables (omnivorous) and have been observed consuming everything from fruits and grains to fish, clams, insects and even small birds.
8. Yes, Norway rats exist in a social hierarchy with each individual knowing its place within the structure of the pack.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Spring Fishing in Beautiful Grand Lake Stream, Maine

This is a short article I wrote for the March/April 2016 edition of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) Newsletter....ENJOY!

Spring Fishing – March/April Spring Fishing the Grand
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 wild by hunger, after the desolate winter season. Despite their wanton desires to fill empty bellies and replace depleted fat reserves, this does not mean, 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.

Fly-Fishing Grand Lake Stream
An 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. 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. Fishing is often fast and furious during the first three weeks of April, with hungry salmon eager to bite hard on any imitation smelt patterns.

Widely considered one of the top landlocked salmon rivers in the state, Grand Lake Stream regularly produces salmon of between 16 and 20 inches in length, with larger fish always an exciting possibility. Regulations set a length minimum for salmon at 14 inches and a one fish bag limit on salmon. The dam pool is by far the most popular (and also most crowded location) so those wishing for a quieter and more pristine experience, it is good to explore other areas of the stream. Fly fishing this time of year can be a struggle, as the combination of cold and wet takes it toll on those unprepared to meet the challenge.

Cold water zaps heat from the body 25 times faster than air so it is critical that when fishing, care is taken to stay warm and dry. Maine’s spring is notoriously fickle and daily temperatures can range from below freezing to mid 60s. Being prepared with insulated waders, gloves, hand warmers, layered clothes, good food and hot coffee can make sure anglers remain comfortable as well as safe. A mistake made by many anglers is fly fishing with the same waders used during the summer. These waders are simply ineffective when compared against the larger and more insulated waders designed specifically for warmth and with over-sized boots to better accommodate heavy socks and heater packs. Feet are typically the area most susceptible to the wet and cold and even in the extreme cold, feet usually sweat and sweat will make feet damp and chilled. Wearing more socks will not make feet warmer but will instead impede circulation. Instead, a simple two-sock system should be used comprised of a thin nylon/spandex “liner” sock (no cotton), used to wick moisture away from the skin, and a second thick wool/nylon sock, for warmth. Care should be taken to ensure toes can still wiggle within the wader, as a restrictive fit inhibits blood circulation, making feet cold. On very cold days, chemical heat packs placed between the two socks provide additional warmth for very little bulk.

Fingers are the second body part that will suffer in the cold. I carry at least two pairs of gloves so that I can replace them if I get a hand wet unhooking a fish. Synthetic, hydrophilic gloves constructed of neoprene or fingerless wool gloves are the most popular options. In extreme cold, I will put chemical heater packs in both my pockets to warm fingers quickly if they take a dunking. The obvious trick to successfully fishing in gloves is practice, learning how to effective fly fish while wearing them. A couple quick practice sessions at home on the lawn go a long way in learning what works and what doesn't before venturing a field.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Rabid Writing Turns 100

This March 2016, I publish my 100th article. My first article, Bear Hunt Taken to the Extreme, was published in July of 2008 and since that time I have enjoyed writing almost monthly for The Maine Sportsman, first as a writer for their monthly specialty columns, then moving into a permanent contributing writer for the magazine's monthly Washington County and Wildlife Quiz columns.

In November of 2014, I decided to also begin writing for the Sportsman Alliance of Maine newsletter and have been a monthly contributor since that time, crafting articles on a wide variety of subjects.

I contribute much of my writing success to starting this blog in February of 2008. This platform allowed me a chance to frequently post articles and have them commented on by the general public. This provided me with the motivation to keep writing and eventually come to thoroughly enjoy writing as a fun and relaxing hobby. My very first blog article, Hunting the Snowshoe Hare, is one that I still frequently re-read to see just how far my writing style has grown in the past seven years.

I maintain a full directory of all of my published works here so that others may have a chance to see my previous article and perhaps learn something new that will allow them success in the woods, learn about a new hiking of camping spot or find a new great place to fish.

Thanks to everyone for following along, I am looking forward to writing the next 100!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Togue, Brook Trout and Long Distance Coyotes

The Noble Togue
In the time before anglers in Maine vigorously pursued monstrous pike and muskie, the noble togue existed as Maine’s only true leviathan of the deep. Easily capable of exceeding 15 to 20 pounds, pulling a massive togue up through the ice has long been the dream of many an angler. Every few years, a lucky fisherman is seen, pictured in this magazine, grinning from ear to ear as he or she proudly displays their hefty catch. For the rest of us fishing for togue, to achieve our own chance at greatness, is a pursuit that borders on obsession. Many Maine waters harbor titanic sized togue including

Beech Hill Pond in Ellsworth (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 24, C-1) that currently boasts being the birth place of the state record togue, a 31 pounds 8 ounces monster caught by Hollis Grindle in 1958.

Other state favorite waters, among togue fishermen, include Moosehead Lake with excellent boat launches located in Greenville (Map 41, D-2) and Rockwood (Map 41, A-1) and Sebago Lake (Map 5, D-1 and C-1). In Washington County, East Grand Lake (Map 45, A-4) and West Grand Lake (Map 35, B-3, B-4) both are extremely popular destinations, rich with fine fishing opportunities for trophy sized fish. While an average togue, in Maine waters, typically runs between 2-4 pounds, the chance of an angler hooking into a much larger sized fish is always a distinct possibility. Anglers chasing togue in March, depending on the season’s weather, typically enjoy fishing for togue through the ice as well as via open water trolling.

To maximize the chance of finding and landing one of these impressive wall hangers, it helps to understand a little bit about togue, their habits and the habitat in which they live. Togue are a cold water game fish that requires deep, cold lakes that hold plenty of dissolved oxygen. As water temperatures warm as winter turns to spring and then summer, togue sink deeper and deeper into the depths to inhabit waters that are less affected by the warmth of the sun. In March, however, togue can be found feeding on the surface and ice anglers can catch them by using smelts just under the ice. Typical for this time of year, on West Grand Lake, more togue will be caught on tip-ups rigged for salmon than on togue rigged tip-ups set in deep water just a few feet off bottom. If trolling, spoons or minnow imitation plugs works great and lures such as Rapala Husky Jerks and Shad Raps or spoons like the Williams Wabler or Mooselook Wobbler in silver or silver/blue are all time tested favorites.

Primary feeding times occur during early morning and late evening, so fishing efforts should be concentrated on these prime times. Feeding times can be extended on rainy, cloudy or foggy days so plan to fish later if these weather conditions exist.

Dialing in Long Distance Coyotes
 My shot hit low, sending specks of gravel flying in all directions. Amazingly, the coyote stood as still as a statute, likely trying to decide in which direction he should make his rapid escape. The pause left me with an additional shot opportunity and this time I didn’t miss, the round from my .223 dropping him squarely in his tracks. Pacing out the distance, I quickly realized the cause for my initial missed shot. I had originally estimated the distance at 200 yards but as my footfalls piled up, the number of yards between us edged closer to 250 yards. The extra yardage had caused my first shot to hit a full 4.5 inches lower than I had anticipated. Only luck had allowed me to capitalize with a second shot, a bonus opportunity typically lacking when hunting most game animals.

The lesson to be learned is that yardage can be extremely difficult to effectively judge, especially when hunting large expanses of open terrain. Possessing even a budget conscious (under $200) range finder, like the Bushnell Truth, Redfield Raider 600, Simmons Volt or author favorite, the Nikon Aculon, allow sportsmen to precisely measure distances to targets and adjust shot opportunities as necessary. Once dialed in, predator hunters will enjoy pursuing long distance coyotes on down east Maine’s expansive frozen lakes and immense blueberry barrens.

Coyotes frequently can be seen, in the early evening and at dusk, patrolling edgings for food. The Ridge Road in Cherryfield (Map 25, D-3 and C-3) snakes past Schoodic Lake (Map 25, C-3) and terminates at Crebo Flat (Map 25, B-3), providing access to great long distance shooting possibilities.

Brook Trout Fishing for Kids
Adults looking to take junior anglers spring fishing should check out Foxhole Pond (Map 25, C-2). The pond is regulated by an S-11 rule allowing fishing only by persons less than 16 years of age. IFW regularly stocks the pond with brook trout, including spring yearlings 7-9 inch, fall yearlings 12-14 inch and 16-18 inch retired brood stock. 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.

Out with the New and In with the Old – Appreciating a Vintage Snowmobile

I recently purchased a new snowmobile. Now, before I go any further, I must clarify that this sled is “new” to me and was bequeathed to me by its previous owner after 43 years of faithful service. The snow sled I am referring to is a1972 Ski-Doo TNT 440. The TNT acronym stood for Track ’N’ Trail, and for its time, the sled was a giant leap forward in snowmobile design. The TNT’s biggest selling point for riders was that it provided a greater degree of sportiness and more horsepower than its contemporary competitors, setting a new industry standard. The TNT helped transform the sport of snowmobiling, by showing the public that snowmobile riding was “fun” and that these machines could be enjoyed for much more than basic utilitarian service.

Technological Marvel, But Uncomfortable
The sled was a marvel of technology back in the 1970s. Even to this day, the TNT still boasts a number of qualities that have some modern riders taking a serious look that this and older sleds for their style and functionality. By no means a perfect sled, the TNT isn’t the type of snow sled that a person would want to take out for a 200 mile trail ride. Non-ergonomic handles, lack of power steering, a simple bench seat and awkward straight T-handle steering bars make the TNT a dinosaur compared to the riding luxury afford by modern day sleds.

Comparing Old and New Comparing new versus old sleds, modern day sleds feature:
•Vastly superior suspension systems
•Better fuel efficiency
•Less noise
•Less pollution, and
•Less chance of mechanical failures

Vintage sleds, in general, are:
•Lighter weight
•Easier to maintain, and
•Inexpensive to purchase.

Vintage sleds share many of the same basic components still present on today’s sleds: engine, drive belt, track, skis and seating. However, those components have evolved to increase safety and improve comfort. And as components are made more safe and comfortable, inevitably their weight and cost increase. Vintage sleds typically weigh less than 300 pounds, and cost less than $500. Compare this to present day sleds, which can cost upwards of $8,000 and can tip the scales at 800 or more pounds.

Slower Top Speed an Advantage?
Few vintage snowmobiles from the 1970s and early 1980s had engines greater than 40 horsepower or were capable of exceeding speeds, much beyond 50 mph. Today, even basic entry-level models provide 50 or more horsepower, and some of the most popular-selling sleds boast 100-plus horsepower. Some of today’s high-horsepower sleds are capable of exceeding 100 mph, speeds that to some recreational observers seem unnecessary outside of controlled racing environments. Vintage sleds are a viable option well worth exploring, and can be advantageous for individuals not looking to participate in long trail rides or needing to travel at great rates of speed. In certain circumstances I actually prefer the vintage sleds for their lack of horsepower, as I prefer that my children learn to sled on a machine capable of a top speed of 30 miles per hour.

Portability and Ease of Maintenance
Vintage sleds are also a good option for those owners who want the ability to easily load the sled into the back of a truck or get it unstuck from a snow bank without straining their backs. Repairs and maintenance on these sleds is simple and straightforward, and with very little mechanical knowledge most individuals can fix basic problems without the need to take the sleds into repair centers. For these reasons, sportsmen looking for a sled to use ice fishing, allowing kids to ride around the yard and slow cruising on short trips are likely to see the value in these old sleds.

The prevalence and love of vintage snowmobiles has give rise to a subculture of individuals who proudly maintain, ride and even race these machines both for fun and for show. Their love of these “antiques” has fueled websites, chat rooms and several events that occur throughout the winter season in Maine highlighting these fun to ride dinosaurs. In October, I attended the third annual vintage snowmobile show held the Augusta Civic Center. It was a fun event for kids and adults alike, as many vintage sleds were on display for spectators to admire. In addition, the Turner Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club ( vintage snowmobile race will be held this winter. For the past 15 years, the club has hosted the “One Lunger 100,” proclaimed as the northeast’s only vintage snowmobile race. Finally, the Northern Timber Cruisers Snowmobile Club ( maintains an antique snowmobile museum, located across from their clubhouse in Millinocket. The museum currently contains 36 antique snowmobiles, making it one of the largest collections of antique snowmobiles in the northeast. On display are machines such as the 1943 Eliason Motor Toboggan, the 1961 K-95 Sno-traveler (Polaris) and several Bullcats from 1962-63. Of course, the modern sleds of today will eventually become the antiques of tomorrow. The sport of snowmobile riding will continue to evolve, and as it does, so too will changes in the overall design of snowmobiles. There will always be those of us curious to see the next big advancement in snow machine technology and design and also those of us who will lament about the “good old days” when sleds were simpler, slower and easier to maintain. Whatever your snowmobiling passions, drive safe, wear a helmet and enjoy the winter season!
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