Better than a Well-Laid Plan

Better than a Well-Laid Plan

Sometimes a whim is better than a well-laid plan. We had planned to fish the Magalloway River, but we were skeptical about the number of fishermen, having seen so many on the Androscoggin yesterday. We figured that river would be crazy with fishermen this morning, but the weather was just bad enough that maybe some would not venture out so early.

But we decided to stop at the dam anyway. We were encouraged when we didn’t see any cars parked there, but as it turns out a couple of guys walked there. One of them had the premier spot, but we decided to give it a shot at a couple of the lesser places to cast from.

I got there a little before Tony, and I took a lower position and motioned Tony to one of the outlets as he approached.

On his first cast I could see that he was into a fish–a little smallmouth. That was quickly followed by a nice perch.

Yellow Perch

Yellow Perch

A few minutes later, as the rain picked up in intensity, I watched as his rod doubled over and then started throbbing almost violently.

I was sure at that point that it was brook trout, and by the bend in his six-weight rod, I knew that it was a good fish. After a few minutes, Tony called down to me that it was in fact a brookie.

Then I saw its head come out of the water and saw the distance between its dorsal fin and tail, and I knew I needed to get up there. Tony always fishes with barbless hooks, and that can come back to bite you when dealing with brook trout because of their head-shaking tactic.

Even the other fishermen knew that this was something special because they stopped fishing and even offered their assistance, which included a measuring tape.

Finally Tony managed to get it to the net. It was a gorgeous 17-1/2” brookie. Other than our Labrador trip, this fish rated the biggest on his all-time list of brook trout.

Tony's 17.5-Inch Brook Trout

Tony’s 17.5-Inch Brook Trout

With a little gentle handling and a chance to recover, the trout was back where he belonged, in the river.

Tony had taken all the fish on this trip thus far, on a fly he tied himself several years ago, a small, dark streamer.

So I headed back down to my spot and immediately tied on the same fly. A nice brown trout found it to his liking on my first cast.

The rain was coming down even harder now. It was the kind of day that if you were inside, you probably would not go out, but once you were out, what the heck; what’s getting a little more wet and cold? It certainly was putting our rain gear to the test.

We caught several more fish, including a couple of nice bass, but as the rain let up, so did the fishing.

My 15-Inch Smallmouth Bass

My 15-Inch Smallmouth Bass

When the rain finally stopped, you would not have known that there was a fish in the river.

We then turned our attention to fishing with my friend Brian that evening. Brian is almost a legend in these parts. He grew up north of the Notches, and knows the woods, lakes, and rivers of this area of N.H. and Maine.

He is also a guide and specializes in moose, both for hunting and photography. He has taken photos of moose that ended up in many magazines.

Brian met us at Lake Umbagog at about 5:30 PM, and we jumped into his 21’ 250 HP boat and were ready for action.

Brian and I in His Speed Machine

Brian and I in His Speed Machine

I must admit that I never went 60 MPH on freshwater before, but that’s what we were doing in what seemed like seconds.

We covered the 10+ miles to our spot in about 10 minutes. I trip that with my 40 HP motor, would have taken me twice that if I dared to go full throttle, and I wouldn’t do that.

We got some nice photos of a mated pair of eagles.

Mated Pair of Bald Eagles

Mated Pair of Bald Eagles

Despite Brian’s intimate knowledge of the lake, the fishing was tough. We managed only a few decent  bass (all caught by Brian), a few respectable pickerel, and perch, and that was that. So even with an expert and the best equipment, sometimes the fish win.

Brian with a Smallmouth

Brian with a Smallmouth

WLAGS

 

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Winter’s Victim, Part 4: Winter’s Savior

Winter’s Victim, Part 4: Winter’s Savior

From March 14 through my visit on the March 30, there were varying intensities and frequencies of visits. The most notable was from a vulture because they are not frequent visitors in the winter. My guess is that it was migrating because it only stopped by for a meal on the go.

Turkey Vulture Takes a Turn

Turkey Vulture Takes a Turn

Another surprise was the fisher, not because it came at all, but rather that it only came once.

A Fisher Checks Out the Carcass

A Fisher Checks Out the Carcass

There were countless visits by coyotes, even after all of the deer was consumed, except hair, including the morning that I checked the camera. You can see in this photo from that morning how little was left at that point.

What's Left

What’s Left

The bobcat visits were much less frequent, but did provide some great photos.

Bobcat's St. Patrick's Day Feast

Bobcat’s St. Patrick’s Day Feast

The ravens were a constant, and they were by far the most photographed critters over the last two weeks.

The Ravens Were a Constant

The Ravens Were a Constant

A mouse even got involved. I had to look closely, but one night as a coyote approached you can see a mouse scooting away. The coyote barley gave it a look, unlike almost any other time when he would have turned himself inside out to catch it.

There were more great photographs than we could reasonably include in a few blog posts. Instead, we’ll just include a slideshow here.

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All in all, this young buck provided much needed sustenance to many forms of life during the very trying days—the most trying days—of winter, as fat reserves are all but gone this late in the winter for most of these animals.

Having said that, I still am sorry that this little spike horn buck did not live to see his second spring.

WLAGS

What Spring?

What Spring?

Just 14 days ago, I sent an email to friends and family touting signs of spring. Well, that was like calling a no hitter in the 8th inning. Since then it has snowed seven out of those 14 days, and sometimes those flakes lingered into the next day.

We have had eight consecutive Winter Severity Index (WSI) days with no end in sight. As I explained in Winter Severity Index Report for 2015, a 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.

The average snow depth right now is 27” on the level. Here is a photo of our front picnic table with a yardstick protruding.

 

A Yardstick Shows 27" on Our Picnic Table

A Yardstick Shows 27″ on Our Picnic Table

The birds—juncos, blue jays, and cardinals—are going in and out the end facing you as well as the tables on the deck and under the Lund to seek shelter from the snow and wind. We are now putting birdseed in those spots to help them out.

Our Tables and Boat Offer Birds Shelter from the Snow

Our Tables and Boat Offer Birds Shelter from the Snow

Here is a photo of our moose weathervane that is now sitting on 27” of snow. It still has another 29” protruding above the snow line. In the winter of 2015, it was completely covered by snow.

Our Moose Weathervane in 27” of Snow

Our Moose Weathervane in 27” of Snow

 

This winter has been tough since about the Super Bowl, but I have seen many worse winters. For example, the winter of 1968 – 1969 killed hundreds of thousands of deer in New England, especially in VT. It started snowing the night before opening day, and it seemingly never stopped until March. I shot an 8-pointer on the day after Thanksgiving that year, in the middle of a blizzard.

Then in 1993, we bought the camp in Antrim. When we passed papers in January, the ground was almost bare, but it was the worst March ever. We got snowfalls of over 2 feet on several occasions. We had to get help from neighbors to get into the driveway almost every Friday night, and we had to hire people to shovel the roof.

In 1999, when we bought our first place in Washington, we had to hire a frontend loader to get in the yard, as the snow banks were 8 feet tall and at least that wide.

So why has this winter been so bad? Because it has been like death from a thousand cuts. The most snow in any one storm was only 9”, but we have been getting 1” to 5”seemingly daily. Even on the days it doesn’t snow, it blows so much I have to use the snowblower anyway. I have used more gas in the snowblower in the last week than I did in the truck. Having said all that, I know if I want to live here, and I do, I have to accept it as a form of dues that I must pay.

The Guide Snowblowing on February 12

The Guide Snowblowing on February 12

The snow does have its upside. To the farmers of centuries past it was “poor man’s fertilizer” or “white gold” because of the nutrients that leeched into the soil for spring planting. From a fisherman’s view, it provides the necessary runoff to provide spawning conditions and suitable fishing conditions for many species. That was never more evident than it was last April when Tony and I could not get into the setbacks to hunt pike because the water was so low.

Low Water in the Setbacks Last April

Low Water in the Setbacks Last April

That in and of itself is almost funny. Ten months ago, we went to great lengths to catch a pike in New England, but seven months ago, we were for the most part very disappointed to hook one when were in Labrador. We were seeking more vaunted species, such as brookies, salmon, and lakers. Nevertheless, we appreciated the pike when the other species were not active. We enjoyed catching them on poppers and better yet when they provided us with a meal as our food supply got low.

Pike Was Added to the Menu

Pike Was Added to the Menu

Here we consider them at the top of our list of targets for good reason. Their size, their fight, and their slashing strikes. It’s all on your perspective at the time and place you are in at the time. I’m already looking forward to getting into those setbacks this spring.

It’s the same with the snow and winter in general. I have not been able to get out ice fishing or snowshoeing nearly as much as in years past, and that makes a difference. Despite the rigors of this winter, the ice fishing conditions have not been good in large part to a milder than usual January. So much so that there have been several fatalities of snowmobilers going through the ice just in the past 10 days or so, both here and in VT and Maine.

A couple nights ago, wardens rescued a Canadian man and his two dogs from Mount Lafayette near Mount Washington, at 1:00 in the morning. They said that all three would have perished in just another hour or two.

I’m sure that my game cameras are level with the snow and maybe even under the snow in places as I write this. If the weatherman is right, and we hit 40 on Sunday for the first time since January 21, I’ll try to reach them then.

The upside to all this is that whenever spring gets here, it will be thoroughly appreciated!

WLAGS

 

Labrador Part 6: Hike, Pull, Catch, Soar, and Dive

Labrador Part 6: Hike, Pull, Catch, Soar, and Dive

Day 5 of Fishing

July 1, 2016

When we got going on Friday we were once again put in the very capable hands and feet of Simon. We headed to the lower portions of the McKenzie River because no one else had fished those sections yet this season. These sections are extremely important in August and less so in July. It would also require our longest walk and the most boat changes of our entire trip.

Simon was up and off right on time with us in tow. It is more difficult to negotiate the narrow trails with fly rods, waders, bugs, and mud. Thankfully some of the mud had dried up since our initial hike on Monday. Our trip took us through some of the nicest country and beautiful water of the entire week.

One of the Beautiful Stretches of the McKenzie We Fished

One of the Beautiful Stretches of the McKenzie We Fished

We noticed that the further we walked downstream the fewer insects and even fewer bait fish we were seeing. The water seemed cooler too. That all seemed to contribute to a lack of game fish. We fished one great looking stretch and pool after another.

"We fished one great looking stretch and pool after another."

“We fished one great looking stretch and pool after another.”

All we managed were three pike–another indication that the water was cooler and that the brookies in particular were not going to be sharing the water with those toothy critters.

"All we managed were three pike."

“All we managed were three pike.”

We did see and Tony did get some awesome photos of the eagle at Elbow Pool.

The Eagle Didn't Like Us Being Near Its Nest

The Eagle Didn’t Like Us Being Near Its Nest

The Eagle Returning to Its Perch

The Eagle Returning to Its Perch

So we reluctantly started our trek upstream, which included Simon having to pull the canoe upstream for 100 yards or more. Not an easy task even under the best of conditions.

Simon Pulling the Canoe Upstream with Us in It

Simon Pulling the Canoe Upstream with Us in It

We were tired and admittedly a little discouraged when we reached Salmon Pool, and Simon perked up as he spotted a “nice” brookie rising in the middle of the pool. He set up Tony in position to best reach the fish. This fish was going to be a real challenge. It was obvious that this fish was going to be very fussy about the fly and its presentation. It took some time, but finally the fish took Tony’s presentation and a great battle ensued. In the end he was netted. A beautiful 19-inch, 3.5-pound brookie. It took the edge off a tiring and somewhat disappointing day.

Tony's 19-Inch, 3.5-Pound Brook Trout

Tony’s 19-Inch, 3.5-Pound Brook Trout

Just as we were about to leave, Simon noticed another trout rising almost in the same spot. So I was up, and having Tony’s fish taking a liking to Tony’s fly, I used his rod. This fish, like Tony’s, was very fussy about presentation, and it took a few casts to get it just right. Eventually I did get the presentation right, and he took the fly. It was another fish that was greatly appreciated, even in this river of monsters. My fish was just shy of 19” and 3.5#.

Another Beautiful Brookie

Another Beautiful Brookie

 

Both of these trout would have been our biggest brookies of all time before this trip.

I then managed a smaller salmon to cap things off.

The rest of the trek up river and back to camp was much more enjoyable because of Simon’s sharp eye and those beautiful fish.

After dinner, we witnessed the “contest” that Andrew and JP had going. They had challenged each other to dive into Andre Lake each night that they spent there in 2016. We all ran down to the dock to watch them brave the chilly waters. The water in the lake had *warmed up to* 53 degrees Fahrenheit by today, July 1. Imagine the temperatures when they arrived on June 12, the day that the ice went out on the lake.

Zula Watches JP and Andrew After Their Dive Into Andre Lake

Zula Watches JP and Andrew After Their Dive Into Andre Lake

After that excitement, Burt said, “I bet I know where you are going tomorrow.” He was right. Nothing short of Hell or high water would stop us from going back to the Quartzite!

WLAGS

Exploring, not Fishing, Part 5

Exploring, not Fishing, Part 5

Below is my son Tony’s write-up of, this, our final installation of the “Exploring, not Fishing” series.

WLAGS

——————

After three days of staring at topo maps, driving dirt roads, being bitten by black flies and mosquitos, and not catching many fish, we decided to take the easy route on our last day. But before we took the easy route, that stubborn streak that my dad mentioned kicked in.

It was eating at both of us that two days prior, we didn’t find the access points described to us to those two remote ponds. We had emailed one of our sources, and he sent us some updated directions. Much to our surprise, we easily found the access to the smaller pond. The path was good, but steep. It was 160 steps to the water.

The Path Was Steep

The Path Was Steep

And the water was inviting.

Inviting Water

Inviting Water

With that easy, successful start to the day, we decided to test our luck and find the bigger pond. Unfortunately, much like the rest of this trip, luck was not on our side. We paced back and forth, bushwhacking our way in the areas we were directed by our source. After more than an hour of this, we finally decided that, since our source hadn’t been there in several years, the path he once used had grown into the standard Maine thick brush. We eventually decided to walk down a gated path to at least see the pond close up.

The Bigger Pond

The Bigger Pond

After giving up on any reasonable access to the bigger pond, I was looking forward to fishing the smaller pond. Its beauty (and obvious lack of fishing pressure) was calling me like a siren’s song. Dad wasn’t falling victim to that song today. He was beat from hiking up and down hills through thick brush on a muggy June day. He was not prepared to drag my grandfather’s 12-foot V-hull down that steep path to the smaller pond.

Instead, we decided to fish another place that Dad had always wanted to try, West Richardson Pond. What’s more, at this pond, we could launch the boat without having to carry it and all of our gear for hundreds of paces. There wasn’t a boat launch, but we could drive right up to the water’s edge and use our electric trolling motor. That combination was a luxury that we hadn’t yet afforded ourselves on this trip.

As we were putting the boat in the water, we saw a stocked brookie swimming around. Having hardly seen our primary quarry all week, save the little one that I caught on a dry fly at Pond in the River our first night and the three little ones that Dad had caught at Little Kennebago, we were understandably excited. My grandfather always said, “The hardest fish to catch is the one that you can see.” With that in mind, we didn’t try to catch that brook trout, assuming that there were hundreds of others. But this being a true “exploring, not fishing” trip, we ended up not seeing another trout all day at this pond.

Part of the problem is that despite West Richardson Pond allowing both spin fishing and fly fishing, we only had fly fishing equipment with us because our intent was to fish the fly fishing-only remote ponds for which we had spent all morning searching.

We trolled and casted every type of fly (dry, wet, emerger, streamer, small, large, dark, light) on every type of line (floating, “slow” sinking sink-tip, fast sinking sink-tip, “slow” full sinking, and fast full sinking). All we could muster were “a brace of dace,” as Dad’s best friend, Bob would say. They weren’t really dace—at least not by name, though they have many names. Mainers call them “Chubs.” We call them Fall Fish. We caught a couple of small Yellow Perch too. Nothing to write home about, as Dad would say.

We Tried Every Fly in the Box

We Tried Every Fly in the Box

Defeated, we headed back to our cabin to regroup and formulate our plan of attack for the evening.

For our last evening’s fishing, we once again decided to take the “easy route.” We went to Big Dummer Pond, a popular, accessible, well-stocked pond. Despite the easy access, people still chain up boats there.

A Sign for Lazy Fishermen

A Sign for Lazy Fishermen

As we were launching, we shouldn’t have been as surprised as we were that it was loaded with tadpoles, just as there had been in the puddles “near” Lincoln Pond, in Pond in the River, in B Pond, and in West Richardson Pond.

Ubiquitous Tadpoles

Ubiquitous Tadpoles

The wind was fairly calm, particularly on one end of the pond. Some flies were hatching, and some of the stocked brook trout were taking advantage of the situation. They were obviously schooled up. We’d see several breaks, even some coming clear out of the water, which is unusual for a brook trout. But by the time we arrived on the scene, they would move just out of casting distance. We’d chase them further, and we’d even anticipate where they’d pop up next. Having put several flies right on them, it was eventually clear that they weren’t susceptible to dries, which is also unusual for stocked brook trout, who will usually hit anything that floats. “Matching the hatch” is usually not necessary. We tried to match the hatch, but it was a numbers game. There were several species of flies hatching. They were all quite different sizes and colors. We tried artificial flies that mimicked any one of the real flies, but we just couldn’t get the right combination of size and color to entice a strike. Our assumption is that they were feeding on the smallest (and most numerous) flies that were hatching, which were too tiny for us to mimic. The loons were successful in catching those rising fish, but we weren’t.

Frustrated, we resorted to our tried-and-true tactic of trolling with high-speed sinking fly line. That produced our only fish of the night—a 10-inch brook trout. Dad caught that square tail on a soft hackle fly that he had tied himself, which always makes catching a fish that much more special. He caught that brookie at 6:30 PM, which gave us two hours to try to repeat our success. Dad did have several more hits. He even had a few on, but we couldn’t get another one to the net.

The Only Brookie of the Day

The Only Brookie of the Day

We knew that the forecast was for heavy rain the next day, so our plan was to just get up and drive home. That made this night our final hoorah. As the sun set and the wind died, more and more fish rose in more places over the pond. The loons began feeding more heavily. One called out several times—I’ll never grow tired of hearing that melancholy song.

Fishing Loons

Fishing Loons

As we watched the sky grow dark, it felt like the bottom of the ninth inning. We wanted desperately to salvage the “fishing” part of this trip with at least one fish over 12 inches, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Bottom of the Ninth

Bottom of the Ninth

Over the course of this trip, Dad and I discussed, debated, and tried to convince ourselves that this was a scouting trip, not a fishing trip. Given that we stopped to buy a topographical map on the way and that we drove by many easily accessed fishing spots to navigate down a thin, dotted line on that map, it should have been obvious that our goal was scouting.

Despite all that, at times it was hard to swallow that this wasn’t a fishing trip. We didn’t pick those places to scout (and fish) by chance. Several of the ponds that we scouted are known to have large fish. We thought, “We might not catch many fish, but maybe we’ll catch one or two memorable fish.” The excitement of potentially hooking into the fish of a lifetime added to the aura of these hard-to-reach waters.

Other places that we scouted are known to have a lot of fish, but not many big ones. We thought, “We might not catch any monsters, but at least we’ll have some fun.”

In the end, it was the fish that decided that this was a scouting trip, not a fishing trip, but it was so much more than that. It was an adventure. What’s more, it was an adventure that we shared together, and that made it truly special for both of us.

Scouting Report for September 29, 2014

I had a game plan in place as I left the house this morning, and as usual it didn’t come out as planned. I wanted to move the camera from the beaver bog to somewhere where the field scan feature could be better utilized.

When I got to the bog, I saw moose tracks headed right for the camera. I followed, and sure enough he passed so close to the tree that I think he rubbed against it. That turned out to be true as when I downloaded the card at home there he was in all his glory, with his butt inches from the camera! The only way that I knew it was a bull was because he turned his head slightly so you could easily see his antlers that were about the size of Louis’s. He definitely was not the one that I have been seeing at Buck Knob. That one is much bigger. To confirm that this guy was in rut, all it took was a little 25-yard walk towards Dana’s potential stand, and there was a fresh wallow.

Potential Stand Site Near the Back Edge of the Bog

Potential Stand Site Near the Back Edge of the Bog

I like the two spots that I think we might put a stand in, but the foliage is such that the camera would be almost useless until some leaves fall. Right there at the base of those stands, I picked up a good buck track and followed it in the usual trail towards Rte. 1. Then as it got closer, I lost it. Then I noticed a break in the stone wall. I checked it out, and sure enough he passed through it. I followed him through some tremendous cover, thick balsam and spruce, 6’ to 15’ tall. I almost had to crawl, but if I stayed in his track I barely had to duck a few times, but there was no room on either side. Bingo! He took me right out to the field, and he never had to go through any open spots! You just suddenly find yourself there. So I set the camera up on the field. I’ll check it before the weekend.

The bog, by the way was filled with winterberries–another benefit of beaver ponds, especially abandoned ones. Those berries are critical to migrating song birds, especially Canadian robins and cedar waxwings.

A Banner Year for Winterberries

A Banner Year for Winterberries

The beavers are in the middle of another construction site. They are building dams on the right side of Rte.1. This will give them safe passage to a whole new food source.

Why I Live Here. This Morning at the Beaver Pond

Why I Live Here. This Morning at the Beaver Pond.

The brook trout have already taken up residence as they are getting ready to spawn. The beavers are gathering food at the new sight and dragging it across the road to the lodge.

Where the Beavers are Dragging Brush Across Rte. 1

Where the Beavers are Dragging Brush Across Rte. 1

WLAGS