I won’t bore you with all the details, but in the nutshell, I did a 2-hour trek to check the camera at Stand #3.
I was anxious to get in the house to see what was on the card, but I had set some bird seed on the steps to put out on my return because I would have ice cleats on.
I turned the corner of the house at about 3 PM, and there was an ermine, black-tipped tail, black eyes and black nose, sniffing the Magic Rock!
Then I noticed a red squirrel running like hell across the wet spot and into the pines. I’m assuming that the squirrel used one of the tunnels in the snow to make his escape. The ermine, a short-tailed weasel, was sniffing vigorously on the rock.
I think this might be only the third time I have seen a weasel in the ermine state. Except for the spots of black, you can imagine how perfectly camouflaged they are in the snow.
I vividly remember one running (or should I say “bounding”?) over both of my boots on Stratton Mountain.
I also remember seeing a least weasel in the white state, though I can’t remember where, running along a stone wall just a few feet from me when the ground was bare–so no camo advantage for him.
The camera, by the way, produced only moose videos–coincidentally on the 11th of January and the 11th of February. They’re not good videos because the moose was too close, and it was snowing both times.
I think it was a bull because I *think* I saw a waddle (the hair-covered growth coming from the neck). I’ll scrutinize more later. Until then, here’s a 2017 video that shows a good moose waddle.
Here in the comfort of my living room, I just got to observe a long-tailed weasel hunting in my yard.
I happened to look out my south facing picture window and was watching a red squirrel on the edge of the little swamp when I noticed a similar-sized animal off in the woods heading towards me. It was instantly obvious that it wasn’t a squirrel, not just because of its speed, but the tempo of its movements–some herky-jerky, some quite fluid–kind of like John Belushi just before he climbs the ladder at the sorority house in Animal House.
The squirrel saw it coming, climbed a small bush, and got into a defensive position. The weasel came close enough to it to get a good look and smell. It then proceeded to head towards my front yard and the big feeder. I can’t imagine why he didn’t attack the squirrel, but he must of thought better of it…or he wasn’t very hungry.
He left the feeder and proceeded up the front walk towards the front stairs until he was literally right below me. He was so close that I could even see two specks of white on either side of his black nose.
All this time he was being trailed by a male cardinal and when he reached the last feeders he picked up a pair of blue jays that followed his every step.
He then went down one of the many holes in the snow near the big boulders and disappeared.
This was easily the longest I ever got to observe a weasel. Even the one that bounded over my boots on Stratton Mountain was gone in less than a minute.
All this in less than 5 minutes. I was having a “poor me” day. I was bemoaning my lack of hunting time this year. Well this little incident changed all that instantly. I was suddenly very grateful for where I was. What if I didn’t happen to look out the window at that very moment?
Some miracles come in small glimpses of time and size, but they’re miracles nevertheless.
In the movie and the book, A River Runs Through It, the author quotes his father, a Presbyterian minister, about the different types of fly fishermen.
“He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume…that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.”
There is something extra special about fishing and catching fish on a dry fly. It is hard to explain to a non-fisherman or for that matter a fisherman that does not fly-fish. Maybe this story about my first trout on a dry might explain it for you and me.
I was fishing with my father at Nashoba Brook in Acton, MA one evening. We were fortunate enough to have our favorite pool to ourselves. We were fishing with the tried and true garden tackle–worms. We were catching absolutely nothing, but there was one trout consistently rising under the alder bushes on the lower left side of the pool.
I went into the back pocket of my fishing vest and pulled out an old Pflueger fly reel that my father had given me. I attached it to my 5.5-foot Horrock-Ibbotson ultralight fiberglass spinning rod that my father had purchased for me earlier that year from a department store on Washington Street in Boston. It was anything but a fly rod, but as soft as the action was, I thought I could make it work as a fly rod for this instance. My father looked on kind of puzzled at my actions, but said nothing. The fly line was silk, and the leader was catgut. Both were very old, and God only knows how long it had been since my dad used them last.
I had never used this reel ever before, nor had I ever cast a fly rod in my life in a fishing situation–only having practiced a time or too with my father’s 9-foot bamboo fly rod. I had already started to collect some flies, including a few I had tied with my father and had them in a old metal fly box. I knew I had a fly that would be a close match to the mayflies that were hatching. So I put on a Yellow Sally in about a size 12.
I made one cast and fell a few feet shy of my mark. My next cast was exactly where I wanted it. I watched without much expectation as the fly drifted right over the spot where the trout had been rising, and much to my surprise the fly suddenly disappeared in a splash. I instinctively set the hook, and the rainbow trout was airborne. I swear that my father was twice as excited as I was. He started repeatedly yelling, “Don’t horse him!”
And I could hear him scuffling around behind me. Finally, I brought the 12-inch trout to the net. Today that would barely be an average trout, but back then it was considered much better than the 8- or 9-inch average that trout were then. My dad was beside himself with joy. Repeatedly patting me on the back both physically and verbally. That was not the father that I knew on a daily basis.
That was where and when my passion began. Later that year, Dad gave me that bamboo fly rod for my 13th birthday. That’s right; I was 12 that day on Nashoba Brook. I have spent the rest of my life trying to repeat the perfection of that evening.
Fast forward 61 years, and I was introducing my grandson to this aspect of my life. With me was my son Tony, who had long ago become a believer and a skilled dry-fly fisherman. Tony and I were awaiting Ian’s arrival at the Androscoggin River that evening, and we were full of anticipation as we had several trout rising in front of us. I had not managed to interest a fish to an offering until I heard “Hi Grampy.” As I turned to acknowledge Ian’s salute, a brown trout took my fly.
It was indicative of what was to follow. Ian was not set up, and the light was dimming fast so I offered him my rod, which had a Griffith’s Gnat on the business end. A little coaching from his grandfather, and soon Ian was into a trout. It was the first trout he’d caught on a dry fly since our 2011 trip to Montana. Tony, across the river, was into some fish of his own.
As the darkness overtook the pool, the three of us had each landed a couple of browns each, and Ian and I managed a 14-inch salmon. It was the end of a perfect hour.
Day 2 started out with threatening skies, which worked very much in our favor. We were off to Upper Dam, which lies between Mooselookmeguntic Lake and Upper Richardson Lake. It was home to one the most famous fly tiers of all time, Carrie Stevens, the inventor of the Grey Ghost streamer and many others.
With all the history, and the fact that this place is well managed for both brook trout and landlocked salmon, it is exceedingly popular with the fly fishing community, as fly fishing is the only legal method of fishing here. In my many previous trips here, I have never had the place to myself–not even a minute. Ian’s luck continued to play out as that was exactly what we found when we arrived. I was shocked! I sent Ian down to the tail end of the pool, and he promptly caught a brookie and that would be followed by several others. Some were taken on my Village Pond Special (VPS) fly (a wet fly), some on dry flies.
Tony was soon into a few brookies and a salmon, using my Grampy’s Copper Flash for one and dry flies for the rest.
I managed two salmon and three brookies, all on dries.
Unfortunately the threatening skies cleared, and just like flicking a light switch, two things happened; the fishing came to a screeching halt and other fishermen started showing up. We quit while we were ahead, and we were very grateful to do so. It was the best couple of hours I ever spent in this beautiful and historic place, and I was very grateful to have shared it with my son and grandson.
So now came time to work. A main goal of this trip was to retrieve a boat that Tony and I had literally dragged into another famous place that I’ve written about before called Pond in the River. It was made famous by Louise Dickinson Rich and her 1942 book We Took to the Woods about her life there in the previous decades. Pond in the River has since become famous for its brook trout and salmon. A number of rules changes has made it impractical to keep the boat there any longer.
I remember distinctly that when Tony and I brought the boat in, Tony said “I’ll never take this thing out of here” because it was a very steep, rocky, and stump-strewn drag downhill. Well now that drag was going to be uphill!
I knew I was not going to be much help, so I settled in the truck for what I assumed was going to be a 30- to 50-minute wait as the boys went down to the pond to retrieve the boat. I was shocked when what seemed to be just a few minutes, I heard their voices. My first thought was one of them got injured. To my surprise, there they were, just 11 minutes later with the boat ready to go onto the trailer. I don’t know how they pulled it, off but they did.
I was so tired after the day’s events that I took the evening off. Tony and Ian put Tony’s square stern canoe in the Androscoggin River below the dam just before sunset. They caught a salmon and a brown but they were into the fallfish big time. They were all caught on dries.
Part of my mission on this trip was to introduce Ian to these almost sacred fly-fishing waters so that he will have a lifetime to enjoy them and maybe he will think of me sometimes when he does. Next on the list was another very famous place known as
Camp Ten Bridge on the Magalloway River. Camp Ten Bridge is so famous in fact that if you look closely on most Maine maps it will be on there–in the middle of nowhere. When we arrived, I was not surprised to see five gentlemen, dressed right out of the Orvis catalog, taking a coffee break at their SUVs. I was sure that they had beaten the water to a froth and cast every conceivable fly into that beautiful pool, but I knew the fish in that pool had never seen a VPS. As I went down to the best spot in the pool to cast from I could almost hear the other fishermen saying “fat chance” under their breaths.
As Tony and Ian took up positions at the next pool down, I started casting my trusty VPS. On about the fifth cast, I felt a slight tap. I placed my next cast in the same spot, but retrieved my line at speed equal to the current so as to make the fly look like it was in a dead drift. I saw a flash of silver and instantly felt the strike. A split second later the fish, a salmon was airborne. I think it had to be in full view of the fishermen above me on the bridge, but I couldn’t look now. After a feisty battle, the 17-inch salmon was in my net and a moment later returned to his beautiful home. I turned to hear the SUVs pulling away. What’s that commercial say, “Like that, only better”? I’ve caught many nicer salmon, thankfully, in my life, but that one was special. Ian too put the VPS to use there. He caught a brookie in that second pool.
That evening we returned to the dam on the Androscoggin. Tony took top rod honors that night with a few browns and a salmon, and Ian caught a brookie. I played the role of observer and coach.
The last day was devoted in part to reaching another goal. It is called Lincoln Pond. Each of the last three years, Tony and I have made serious attempts to reach this place. Part of the problem was that topo maps showed several different roads that would get you close, but each year we would try one only to find it more impassable than the last.
Finally we had a good lead thanks to tips from a retired warden and a current fisheries biologist named Elizabeth. We were optimistic. The road was very treacherous, especially as we had some rain the night before.
That said, it proved to be shorter than the others that we tried. Elizabeth had described to a tee the “parking spot,” and but for Ian’s sharp eyes, we would have driven right by the few blades of flattened grass that indicated “the spot.” As close as we were to the pond, about 80 yards from the water, it was still hidden from view by the density of the trees. We finally reached our goal. It was beautiful, and there were signs that others had made the effort to get here too, but they had a distinct advantage. They left boats there, as we did at Pond in the River, but they got here to fish by using ATVs, hence making the treacherous ride much less so. They also fashioned lures out of Moxie soda cans.
As Tony put it, “What could be more Maine than that?” I guess they could have tipped the lures with whoopie pies!
Well after all this, we realized we could not be there under worse conditions, bright sun, cloudless and the moon was not right either.
The only fish we raised were some brookies taking cover in and around a beaver house. So we took solace in our victory of sort, but realized this was not the day that we had pinned our hopes on, and hastily, but not very quickly, retreated.
We made our way to Aziscohos Lake. There I would rest as Tony and Ian did some trolling at what was the worst part of the day on a day that was anything but suitable fishing conditions. Tony did manage a sizable fallfish among the several they caught.
Well now it was time for Ian to depart. I hoped, and think, he enjoyed this nearly as much as I.
With only the evening left to fish, Tony and I headed back to the Androscoggin. Tony wanted to take a few fish home to eat, as he had some company coming and they were anxious to try some salmon and trout. Sometimes things just work out as you would like, unlike the Lincoln Pond experience. It was like ordering fish off of a menu. Tony caught two very nice (and legal size) salmon of 17 and 18 inches.
I added a 13-inch brown trout out of the several that I caught that evening.
Again it was dry-fly fishing at its best. It was a perfect way to end a perfect trip with two treasured fishing partners.
The last thing Debbie said to me as I left this morning was “Don’t forget your pistol. The last thing I need is you running into a bear.” Thirty minutes later, just 60 feet from my Buck Hump camera, I was looking at one of the biggest bears I had ever seen, and there wasn’t 40 feet between us.
I was very conscious of the fact that my walk in was very quiet and that a good breeze was blowing in my face.
My trail to Buck Hump is a mix of very thick young spruce–which I have tunneled through–and small, low-bush blueberry openings.
I was coming out of the spruce, and just as I was about to put a step out into a blueberry opening, I noticed an antler sized dead spruce branch under foot. I purposely stepped on it to make a snapping sound to alert any animals in the proximity of my presence. What a great move!
One more step, and I was in the open. There, directly ahead of me, standing upright and looking directly at me, was this very large bear. No doubt he heard the snap and stood to see what caused it.
I don’t know who was more stunned. We stared at each other for what seemed minutes, but I’m sure it was seconds, before I said “What’s up?” Thankfully he whirled and headed back up my trail.
I can’t imagine what might have transpired if I had not broken that stick. I’m sure that the two of us would have continued walking towards each other, and no doubt we both would have been even more startled.
As it turned out, when he whirled, it did nothing to diminish my initial thoughts of his (thankfully a him) size. He was very wide to say the least, barley fitting in between the spruces on the trail.
I looked at him long enough while we were staring at each other that I was able to estimate that his beautiful, light rust-colored muzzle was about 8 or 9 inches long and 3 or 4 inches wide. His head was much bigger than a basketball hoop. His hair glistened in the sunlight. He was a picture perfect example of his species. He wasn’t unlike the one I caught on the Seven-Point Swamp Stand camera last November.
By the way, my pistol was in my backpack. It might as well have been in my truck for all the good it would have done me if things went bad. Life lesson: If you think you might need a gun, then you’d better have it where you can get to it…in a hurry.
Now I knew he had just passed my camera–a matter of feet away–and I was sure that I’d get great videos of him. WRONG! The camera was dead. Three of the eight lithium batteries had died. I’m not sure why. Frustrated, I put a new set of alkaline batteries in–that I almost did not take with me–to get it through until my next visit.
The camera shot dozens of videos. The best were of two young bucks and a young bull.
Still with my adrenaline pumping, I rushed to get to the camera at the cutover. I knew that I was in trouble when the camera was not on the tree. As it turns out, it had been destroyed by a bear. It was several feet from the tree, and both the strap and cable holders were snapped off.
The sensor cover had been punctured by teeth.
“Well,” I thought. “At least I’ll have the video.” WRONG. That camera was dead too! The lithium batteries let me down again. The camera had been dead for three weeks or so.
Two more interesting things that I observed on the way home:
1) I saw a spot near the cutover that looked like it had been tilled. It was about 8 feet by 12 feet and oval shaped. Maybe if I was not already fuzzy with the day’s happenings, I could have figured it out. It was not turkeys or deer. It was either a bear eating ants or a moose looking for a dust bowl.
2) I found a porcupine skin. This was the work of a fisher cat. They eat the porcupine from the underside after forcing them out onto a small limb. I caught a fisher on the camera near the brook by Stand 1 back in January.
That was 90 minutes that I will not soon forget.
Here we are in just about the middle of the meteorological winter with less than 40 days until March.
What started out a little mild, eventually turned to record cold in terms of temperature and time. We were probably near a Winter Severity Index (WSI) disaster. Add that to some significant snow earlier in December, 31” by my tally, and things were looking very gloomy.
As I explained in previous blogs tagged “WSI,” such as “Winter Severity Index Report for 2015,” a Winter Severity Index (WSI) day is any day that the snow is more than 18” deep or the temperature is below zero. If both of those criteria are met in the same day, it is then a 2 WSI day.
A flock of turkeys that I saw regularly was getting decimated by the sub-zero nights and days, aided by strong winds. At first there were eight. Then a few days later there were five, and finally I saw only two.
The others *probably* froze to death while roosting. We’ll never know, as any carcasses are surely consumed by a host of predators and scavengers. That said, I have seen two flocks of more than a dozen birds during this thaw.
By my tally, we had 14 WSI days in the last week of December. (Again, that’s two for each day that the snow was more than 18” deep and the temperatures went below zero.)
January continued that trend for the next week with another six, 2-WSI days. As the temperature rose, it was only the snow that was adding to our WSI total.
With this wonderful and unprecedented thaw, everything has changed. We now stand at 31 WSI so far for the season. That is good, but far more than we have had in the previous five years. In 2016 (See https://wlags.wordpress.com/2016/02/20/the-matriarch-moose-of-j-e/) and 2017 for example, we had only 1 WSI for each of the last two months.
However, it all comes down to March and April. Those are the “make it or break it” months. We are in a good spot for now, with the deer and turkeys able to move about freely.
Today I ventured out to check snow depths in the woods. They ranged from bare ground in the large evergreen groves to 8” on the northeast-facing slopes. Four inches is a good average of what I saw.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
This is a story of two old friends that still manage to do things the “old fashioned way” and have some success. It is appropriate that this story takes place on Veterans Day. My best friend Paul is a veteran of the Vietnam War, a great person, hunter, and the best shot I ever saw. I could elaborate on all of those things, but I choose to focus on a couple of them.
One of the many terrible effects of his service in Vietnam was the loss of sight in his left eye. That is worse for him than most because Paul is left handed, and that means that his left eye is his master eye, which is of supreme importance as a shooter. Hence, he had to learn to shoot right-handed, and with that, he is still one of the best two shooters I know.
Paul and I met on a rainy Saturday morning in mid-October 1961, while we were pheasant hunting at the farm across the street from my house. After a brief introduction, I invited him to hop into my 1949 Dodge semi-automatic transmission to hunt another spot. We spent countless days together hunting and fishing over the next 56 years. As many as we have shared, it still isn’t enough to satisfy me.
The next December I was with Paul when he missed a big buck, but later on a snow-covered mountain in New Hampshire with temperatures about -15 F, he would get his first deer.
The next November, I was with him on that same mountain when he got his first buck.
That same day I missed the first deer I ever shot at. We agree that our first misses were “buck fever.” In our excitement, we had put the front sight on the deer but never lined up the rear sight. That means that every missed shot, his seven shots at that one deer and my three shots at my deer, went harmlessly over the deer’s back. That would never happen again to either of us.
To show you what kind of person he is, there was another day of deer hunting that shows his heart. It was the last day of the 1963 six-day deer season in Massachusetts, and we were hunting on the east side of the Berkshire Mountains.
I tracked and shot my first my first deer, a four-point buck. Seconds after I fired, I heard a shot and knew that it would not be good. Fifty yards away, two men were standing over my buck, and they were not going to let me have it even though I showed them where I had hit it. I was chagrined to say the least. I swore that I would never again hunt in a place where that was a possibility.
At about the same time, Paul shot a deer that had obviously been wounded earlier in the lower leg. It certainly could have survived such a wound, but Paul put it down on the spot with a perfect shot. Several minutes later, two men showed up and told Paul that they were the ones that had shot it earlier. They made a less than good shot, but Paul gave them kudos for sticking with it to try to make the best for all concerned, including the deer. He saw the disappointment in their eyes, and he could tell that this deer meant real food to them. Without hesitation, Paul told them to tag it and take it home. A tale of contrasting humans if I ever saw it in a single day.
There is a dying method of hunting that Paul and I have employed all of our lives. The technical term is “still hunting,” which is, in my mind, a misnomer because you are not standing still, you are moving. Sometimes you move very slowly, and at times, you might actually run. I prefer to call this type of hunting “tracking.” It is all about reading sign, like track, droppings, rubs, and the like. I readily admit that today’s method of hunting, which came about with the invention of portable tree stands, is far more successful than tracking. That said, there is nowhere near the satisfaction that there is when you hunt like my Native American great-great-grandmother Euphemia from New Brunswick and her husband, Andrew Smith from NH, did in the Canadian Maritime Provinces and Maine about 180 years ago. My father always said that I got all of my genes from those two.
The season before last, at the ripe old age of 69, Paul found himself in the northern reaches of NH, literally a stone’s throw from Canada. In 1960s, he was given the nickname “Tote Road’ because of his success still hunting the old logging roads. Well here he was “pussy footing” down another tote road more than 55 years later. Again success. Paul shot the biggest deer of his life, a 217-pound monster. It was the seventh largest muzzleloader buck shot in the state that year.
All this brings me to this past Thursday, the second day of deer season. I had put in countless hours scouting over the previous four months, and I had success finding a bachelor group of bucks. That’s a group of bucks that hangs together until the rut kicks in, at which time all bets are off, and these former friends become mortal enemies. I even got trail camera videos of smaller bucks rubbing larger bucks with their antlers–a sign of submission.
When the group broke up, it was increasingly difficult to keep track of them as they sought out new territories. I set out to find at least one to justify my many hours in the woods. That morning, I went to an old haunt high up on the mountain where, in years past, the bucks would hang out free of human interference. It was a long hike for these almost 73 year-old legs, but I knew I could do it.
I made my way to a spot where a gully runs downhill to the south, and a sharp, rock-strewn ridge runs east to west. I sat down on one of those kitchen table-sized granite boulders, as much to rest as to observe. I checked my GPS and it indicated it was 7:04 AM. My lucky number. I saw that as a sign to stay on the rock longer than I had planned, and after a little bit less than an hour, I heard, thanks to my new hearing aids, a slight sound to my right.
I saw the back of a good-sized deer heading down the mountain. My first thought was that it was a buck, simply because of its size. When it got below me, it was obvious that it was a very large (and no doubt old) doe. She was making tracks. She definitely had some place that she wanted to be, and she was getting there at a pace just short of a trot. Then it dawned on me that she was probably in estrus, and a buck might be in hot pursuit. I was right.
A minute behind her was a smaller deer. At first, I thought that it might be her skipper from this spring, but as it got to an opening in the sunlight, I saw a tiny antler. It was obvious that she was a big doe, and it was just as obvious that he was a small buck.
Then they were gone. I gave a little prayer of gratitude to the God of hunting and waited for the adrenaline rush to subside. After about 10 minutes, I decided to resume my tracking. I went to check out the area below me to read the sign and evaluate the level of activity. Once down there, I heard a slight sound above me. I turned and looked up to see a head and antlers coming at me at about the same pace that the other two were doing.
I had only a second to take my rifle off of my shoulder. As I did, the buck cut to my right, just a few feet below the rock that I had been sitting on. He stopped behind a large hardwood tree, I think because he detected my movement. He had his head just out to the right of the tree.
I was not going to take a neck shot because neck shots are too risky so I waited for his next move, and when he did, I pulled the trigger. It was a shot that Paul would be proud of–right through the heart. For the second time in minutes, I thanked the God of hunting with blessing me once more with a gift from the heavens.
There’s an old hunter saying that “When they are down, the work begins.” It is very true. With the help of my son, Tony and my brother-in-law Dana, it took longer to field dress the deer than it did to get it down the mountain. Tony wisely dragged up my ice-fishing sled, and we used it to drag (more like “sled”) the deer down the steep slopes. That sled made the haul so much easier as the oak leaves were slick and the acorns were like ball bearings.
My first phone call was to Paul. He had actually called me on a whim, just as I got in the house.
He said, “Congratulations. We may be old, but we can still get it done.”