The Fisherman’s Serenity Prayer

The Fisherman’s Serenity Prayer

Of all the things that an outdoorsman has to deal with as far as weather in concerned, wind is the one he has the least control over. Rain is easily dealt with, for example. Put on the proper apparel and you are good to go. Snow and cold? That’s the same scenario. With wind however, in most instances, there are is nothing we can do to alter its effect on us or our activity. Maria simply wins out.

Such was the case on our most recent trip to Moosehead Lake. We arrived late afternoon only to find the wind churning up the lake to the point that even boats larger than ours were tied up to their docks. No one was fishing.

An early alarm Tuesday was just to get an earlier start to the same gusty, even stronger winds. We launched and took a brutal and wet beating for a couple of hours that included snow flying horizontally, but even the fish were sitting this one out. A few days before our arrival, the annual smelt run had started and everyone was catching fish even the feathered fishermen. Eagles, osprey, mergansers, were all enjoying the spawning fish and the larger salmon that were in hot pursuit of the smelt. The cormorants arrived with us.

The next morning was marginally better, and Tony managed a nice salmon (shockingly caught on a perch Rapala, even though there were smelt everywhere). Now the problem included a bright sun that salmon shun. It was bitter cold and windy, and the sun was now another obstacle to any success at all.

 

Tony's 17.5-Inch Landlocked Salmon

Tony’s 17.5-Inch Landlocked Salmon

After a morning of more frustration, we decided to let Maria have her way for the rest of the day, catch up on our sleep, and take a badly needed hot shower. While Tony showered, I took to the dock to take a few casts. I put on an old favorite lure that had served me well in similar circumstances over the years, and I proceeded to lose it on the bottom on my very first cast. When would my luck change? I went back into the cabin and purposely put on a lure that I had never caught a fish on and would not blink if I hung it up on the bottom.

My first cast with it resulted in the lure getting tangled on itself, no doubt due to the wind. I pulled off my next cast without a hitch. The lure landed at just about the midpoint of the river, and I started a very aggressive retrieve. BANG! I hooked a beautiful salmon, but now, not having not thought this situation through, I found myself in an awkward place. Here I am on this dock, a couple of feet above the waterline, between two boats that the salmon could use to hang me up on, and not a soul around. I resolved the the dock issue by borrowing a boat net from one of the boats, but I had to keep the fish away from props and such. It worked. I landed him, and as luck (good) would have it, Amy the camp owner came by just in time to take a picture so I could release the 20″ salmon quickly without harm.

 

My Surprise 20-Inch Salmon

My Surprise 20-Inch Salmon

By all that is holy, that incident broke many standing rules for catching a salmon, but I don’t care. It worked and I was officially off the schneid. Well that turned our luck around. We conceded the lake to the wind and decided to fish smaller bodies of water where the wind would be less of a factor.

To do this we would have to enlist the services of an old friend, his son, and even his daughter. Mike, a retired game warden has known us for thirty years. Someday I’ll tell you how we met, but not today. Mike’s only son, Kody at 20 years old, is a mountain of a young man, whose arms are bigger that my legs. That said, he could not be more soft spoken, gentle, or more respectful. Top that off with an intimate knowledge of everything that lives in these parts, and he is the perfect guide.

Tony and I had pretty much made up our mind to fish a secluded pond where we had had success on previous occasions, but Kody was very convincing in an effort to get us a to fish another pond. We had some luck at this pond many years ago, but our last few trips there were anything but rewarding. Kody convinced us that by adding a canoe to the mix, it would be a good place to go. Who were we to question a young man who spends his days working with game wardens and biologists surveying streams and lakes?

He would supply the canoe and meet us there down a long, rough dirt road. He beat us there, and by the time we arrived, he had taken the 140-pound canoe on his back and set it in the pond for us!

As Tony and I got into the canoe, we noticed a leak. I didn’t think much about it, thinking that we could bail if we needed to. Kody however was having none of that, insisting that he was going to fix it now. I was thinking to myself “How’s he going to fix a leak in a fiberglass canoe here, now? No way!” He walked back to his truck and returned with a small propane torch, a plastic Gatorade bottle, a knife, and some duct tape.

This, I had to see. Kody proceeded to heat the surface of the canoe. Kody then takes the piece of the Gatorade bottle and heats it on the bottom of the canoe, partially melting it. He then covered it all with the duct tape. It worked! Yankee ingenuity at its best.

Kody Repaired the Leak in the Canoe

Kody Repaired the Leak in the Canoe

This pond is a beautiful, solitary place, and it was a great break from the hustle and bustle of the lake. However, it was not out of Maria’s reach; even this little pond had whitecaps. The long and short of it was we did not catch a fish. But we had many short strikes and follows from what were exactly what Kody had promised, some beautifully sized and colorful brook trout. We left very pleased, and knew that under better conditions we would have some success at this beautiful pond.

As we departed in the dark, we saw several woodcock, snowshoe hares, and a moose. We agreed then to come back the next evening.

We were exactly right. A change in the weather resulted in a change in the trout’s attitude. The next night they were so aggressive in their strikes that they all but took the rod out of our hand. We caught several gorgeous brookies, the smallest of which was 13″.

Tony's 14.5-Inch Brook Trout

Tony’s 14.5-Inch Brook Trout

This evening made the trip, thanks to Kody and his sister Delaney, who came along the second night to help us and later help her brother check smelt nets to check the runs for Fish and Wildlife biologist surveys. She, by the way, shot her first buck last year, at the age of 15, with the help of her brother, after putting on 15 miles in those mountains in one day!

Kody's Smelt Net

Kody’s Smelt Net

When you meet two young people like these, you are left with so much hope and appreciation. The hope being that there are many more out there like these two hard working, caring, and respectful young people. The appreciation that these youngsters have managed to become who they are in a place so void of the now expected norms of what a teenager needs to just exist, is astounding to me. Yes they have cell phones, but with limited service and they use them for more practical things, like a flashlight, a GPS, or for an emergency. I never heard a ring tone, nor did I ever see them checking their phones once in my presence.

Tony and I discussed next year’s trip during our six-hour ride home. Was it worth it? We are getting tired of the hassles involved in fishing the big lake, such as depending so much on trying to time the smelt run, finding the accommodations to meet that timing, putting up with boat traffic, and very unpredictable weather.

We came to the same conclusion. We would not come back next year but for the fact that we are blessed with a good friend and his wonderful children. We, at this point are planning to go back, but only if we get to spend more of our time with Mike, Kody, and Delaney.

Mike and Kody Towering Over Me

Mike and Kody Towering Over Me

Many years ago, when I first started taking Tony here, we did it simply. We fished the smaller rivers, lakes, and ponds using only waders and a 10-foot Jon boat. As we got older, we increased our tools, our expense, and our levels of aggravation.

Sunset Over the Pond

Sunset Over the Pond

What brought me here originally with my father so many years ago was the simplicity and beauty of it all. Thankfully, the place has not changed a bit. We have to change back to those simple ways with simple expectations, and a greater sense of appreciation for what was and what is…

Tony and I Getting Back to More Simple Fishing

Tony and I Getting Back to More Simple Fishing

On many occasions while we were here, my father would say, “This is God’s country” or “This has got to be Heaven.”

I hope heaven is half this beautiful.

WLAGS

Advertisements
The Moose Are Very Active in J.E.

The Moose Are Very Active in J.E.

Today, there was moose sign EVERYWHERE! As I stated last time they were using all “my” trails.

This photo is of what greeted us as we passed through the gate. It is bull droppings on Rte.1 right along the beaver pond. The droppings stretch from me to my granddaughter. In hind sight, I should have paced it off.

Bull Moose Droppings

Bull Moose Droppings

I took this photo of the brook at the same place I did last time to show how much things have changed in six days.

The Brook Six Days Later

The Brook Six Days Later

We were in moose sign all morning. One passed right in front of Stand # 1 and just to the left of Stand #2, just out of camera’s view. Then that one, a bull, headed for the Tunnel, where it bedded down. Note how much bigger this bed is compared to the earlier ones.

Bull Moose Bed

Bull Moose Bed

There were several sets of track going up and down the trail from Stand #1 to Stand #3 and past the Fork. We came across four beds, countless droppings, and browse sign. There was no hair or ticks in any of the beds, thankfully. This photo is in the gully at the end of Route 1A, below Dana’s Knob. 

Gully

Gully

As soon as we went through the Tunnel, the sign increased as we were now in the Matriarch’s home range.

She and the bull were obviously spending some time together. Would you believe that they were all over Buck Knob but never stepped in front of the camera?

After checking the camera at Stand #1, which my granddaughter had to climb, where there was much sign, we headed for the camera by the gate.

All along the way—the field, Frog Pond, and both brooks—there was sign. This all had to happen in the last 24+ hours because of all the snow we lost after the snowfall 36 hours earlier. These conditions are ripe for shed hunting.

Tony Found These Antlers in J.E. in 2010

Tony Found These Antlers in J.E. in 2010

On another note, my frustration with the Stealth camera continues!

There were moose, fox, and coyote tracks in front of the camera—most of it crossing, despite my effort to aim it down the trails—and not a SINGLE video of any of them! But all is not lost. It took a good daytime video of a bobcat. However, again the poor trigger speed reared its ugly head. The bobcat was in the middle of the screen (moving right to left) before the camera triggered. In other words I got half the video I should have.

It frustrates me to the point that I’m ready to shoot it, but I’m already down two cameras as my two oldest Bushnell cameras finally died last fall.

It is looking like that not-so-crazy woodchuck in Pennsylvania might be right.

WLAGS

 

The Matriarch Moose of J.E.

The Matriarch Moose of J.E.

I was greeted by moose sign everywhere at J. E. this afternoon. I wanted to see how the wildlife was handling this current COLD spell. I took one photo to show the babbling brook that is no longer babbling. It is one of the very few times that I have seen the brook not running due to ice.

Frozen Brook

Frozen Brook

I honestly cannot remember the last time I saw this phenomenon. A minus 50 wind chill and many hours of subzero temps will do that.

As I approached Stand #2, I crossed fresh (less than 12-hour old), moose track coming down the gully between the first 2 stands by Dana’s Knob. When I got to #2, the moose had crossed towards the Fork before reaching the camera. The camera by the way had a great midday video of a coyote.

I tracked the moose only because I was confident that she had passed long enough ago that I would not spook her. I didn’t want to stress her under these conditions forcing her to burn badly needed calories. I did want to look for any sign of winter tick. The good news is, if you look at the photos I took of two of her beds, there was no hair loss and no ticks.

Moose Bed With Just a Few Hairs

Moose Bed With Just a Few Hairs

Another Moose Bed

Another Moose Bed

My walking stick, which I included in the photos for reference, is 54″. She traveled all of my trails, which are actually game trails (mostly deer and moose trails) that I choose to follow from place to place.

She, the matriarch moose of J. E., has been there for at least 6 years and maybe 7 if you include her first year as a calf. She spends most of her time between the swamps near the main trail and the swamps nearer Eccardt’s. Her favorite bedding area is the knoll that overlooks Buck Knob. I have caught her there on the knoll laying down more than once.

The Matriarch Moose in 2012 (Photo Taken from Stand #3)

The Matriarch Moose in 2012 (Photo Taken from Stand #3)

I am concerned about her calves. I was confident she had a calf this spring, but saw little sign of it by early fall. My concern is twofold. My first concern is our large bear population. Bears kill far more calves in New England than do coyotes, for example. We got a video of a cow (presumably her) with a calf and a bull at Buck Knob in mid-September.

My second concern is the winter ticks. Tony and I have seen infestations in years past. Calves are the first victims of ticks.

There is one other concern about our matriarch, that maybe she is getting too old to breed. She had at least three different suitors during the rut this past fall. One was a particularly large bull that definitely was the top dog of the mountain.

So if she is still a viable mother, by Memorial Day we should see sign of a calf, or two actually because of this mild winter. Their birth rate is often tied to the mother’s condition after the winter.

Speaking of a mild winter, we just recorded our first two WSI days. Some biologist refer the WSI as Wildlife Survival Index, others the Winter Severity Index. In either case, at this time last year I had recorded 19 WSI days so far for the year, and it extended to every day after that in February. So barring an extreme cold spell and a couple of big storms, this should be a good year for most of the wildlife.

Coyotes do not fare as well in mild winters as you might think. They do better when the deer are forced into yards because of deep snow and make for easy pickings. This might explain why I continue to see coyotes traveling as individuals instead of traveling in packs or family groups that are required to take down larger game. They are in the “every coyote for themselves” mode, concentrating on rodents and small game, which is more easily done by a single animal.

Ruffed grouse (locally called “partridge”) also do better in deep snow because they actually fly into the snow in the afternoon to use the snow as insulation to make it through nights like last night.

Snowshoe hare (or “varying hare”) also bury themselves in the snow for warmth so they are more at risk in extreme cold when there isn’t adequate snow cover.

WLAGS

 

Winter Severity Index Report for 2015

Each year the NH Fish and Game Department tracks the severity of our winters to evaluate its effect on wildlife. Of most importance to the sportsmen of the state is the effect on white tailed deer. The average adult doe goes into the winter with about a three-month supply of fat reserves. Theoretically every WSI day takes an additional day off those reserves.

A Doe Starts the Winter with 3 Months of Fat Reserves

A Doe Starts the Winter with 3 Months of Fat Reserves

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.

You can use WSI to classify a winter season this way:
30 to 50 WSI: moderate
50 to 80 WSI: moderately severe
80 to 100 WSI: severe
100+: extremely severe

I have the state WSI records from 1964 through 2009 and my own after that. The worst winter on record was 1969 to 1970 with 112 WSI state-wide average.
The best winters were 2005 and 2009 with just 13 WSI.
The statewide average is 47 due to the White Mountains and the area north of the Notches.
The mean average for our Wildlife Management Unit (WMU), I2, is 33 WSI.
For the WMU immediately south of us, H2, the average is 26 WSI.

I have tracked, by my measurements the number of WSI *so far* this winter. We have had 39 consecutive days of 18”+ of snow on the ground plus 14 days of subzero temperatures. So my WSI is at 53 right now; not good, not terrible.

I was out today taking a multitude of measurements, and it is tough to average, but I believe we have broken the prolonged negative streak. The snow depth ranged from 10” on steep south-facing slopes, to 22” in spots shaded or facing northeast. Most places it was between 14” and 18”, so I’m averaging it to be 16”.

Deer are built to deal with severe weather. Their metabolism will slow dramatically during severe weather, but for only so long. March is the killer month, and believe it or not April is too. The deer are at the end of their reserves, so late snows and prolonged cold snaps in those months are the worst. When the fat reserves are gone, their bodies then go after the marrow in their bones. Once that happens there is no going back. They may live on for days, even weeks, but in the end they are gone. It is a terrible thing to see.

Deer Are Built for Severe Weather

Deer Are Built for Severe Weather

The winter of 1969 in Vermont, which at the time had the densest deer population in the country, was a disaster. Vermont went into that winter with about 350,000 deer. That spring it was estimated that less than 150,000 survived. I saw 14 dead deer in an area smaller than my living room. That was a day that I will never forget.

The only good thing that came out of that was that the legislature returned control of the deer herd to the biologists of Fish and Game after Fish and Game officials took truckloads of dead deer to the state house in Montpelier. The state would never again see the deer population that they had in the 60’s, but they would never again see such carnage either.

POLITICS HAS NO PLACE IN WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT!

I’m off my soap box now. Every March I think of that day, and I worry about those animals like I do the family dog.

WLAGS

First Ice Fishing Trip of 2015

My first day of ice fishing since I got off the Disabled List was today at the invitation of Harold and his father Dave.

It was a strange day of weather, considering it has been bitter cold for a few weeks because it was a balmy 29 degrees as we loaded the machines.

The first surprise was the thickness of the ice—15 inches! I would not have been surprised if it were twice that because of the recent temperatures and the lack of insulating snow.

We made our way to the middle of the western shore. We set tip-ups in 2 feet to 20 feet of water. We baited them with shiners, worms, and salmon eggs.

Checking a Tip-Up

Checking a Tip-Up

It wasn’t long before we had our first flag. It was an eating-sized yellow perch. We would catch several of those and many more smaller ones. Most of them were caught by Harold with his jigging rod with a 1/16-ounce tungsten jig.

One of Harold's Jigged Perch

One of Harold’s Jigged Perch

The best fish of the day was a fat, 18-inch pickerel that Harold caught on a shiner.

Harold's Pickerel

Harold’s Pickerel

I managed a 15-inch pickerel and a few perch caught jigging.

We had a nice brunch of venison steak from Harold’s first deer, sausage, peppers, onions, and potato salad, perfectly prepared by Dave.

Not long into the morning, we were greeted by a light drizzle, which would turn into a full-fledged rain before noon. Cold is one thing; cold and wet is another.

So we broke camp, loaded the snowmobile and ATV, and headed for our trucks.

It wasn’t a great day, but is was a good day to spend with good friends, good food, with a few fish thrown in for fun and supper. It felt really good to get out after weeks of being house bound. Times like this take the sting out of winter, and helps the wait for spring pass more quickly.

Thank you guys.

WLAGS

“Water, Water” or “He’s Back”

I couldn’t make up my mind how to title this, so I chose two of the most important things that I saw today.

I made my way from the back door to the junction of Routes 1 and 1A. When I saw that Rte. 1 was still very wet, I knew that I should have worn my rubber boots. So I turned up the higher Rte. 1A and immediately saw fresh deer droppings. I think they are avoiding the higher water levels too.

The flora and fauna are definitely taking on the fall look. The sarsaparilla is turning brown, the Indian pipes are in full bloom, and the Indian cucumbers are not quite ripe. The same can be said for the blackberries. The bunchberry is however in the ripe stages with a bumper crop. There were little streams of water flowing everywhere, and in many places the old logging road looked like a cranberry bog in flood stage.

Bunchberries

Bunchberries

You could see even in the smallest trickles of water where a week ago they were gushing streams clearing a path to the bigger brooks and ponds. I’m sure that sometime in the last 60 years I must have seen an August like this, but I can’t remember one. It looks like May or October with these kinds of water levels, and the ground cannot absorb anymore now and probably not for days to come.

I made my way up to Buck Knob, and at first I was taken aback at the swath of bunchberries, but these were almost void of fruit. Then I put 2+2 together, and I figured out that here I am standing in the spot that is home to more bears than anywhere else for miles around, so that explained it. The bears are grazing on them. They are edible for humans, by the way.

Then I made my way to the red hot Stand #2, and bingo, there was sign from every conceivable critter, including fresh buck droppings. Then down to Stand #1, where I slapped myself upside the head. I forgot to put a card in the camera last week!

So I made my way home. I was pretty proud of myself. After doing all that, I was done and home in less than an hour and a half. Not bad for a 69 year-old who four days ago was in the emergency room. When I got home, I was greeted by four crows that had been feasting on *all* of my ripe tomatoes! Hell hath no fury like that of a ticked off Italian tomato farmer.

The camera at Stand #2 showed an amazing amount of activity, largely because the acorns are falling early. There were several videos of deer and two of bears. The first of which checked out the camera 90 minutes after I set it last week. When there was no animal on the video, the camera was recording footsteps repeatedly.

The big news however is that our black canine is back! The not so good news is that the video quality is not suitable for this blog. I’m hoping that Tony can “photoshop” it. The black coyote/wolf was there in daylight again, as were almost all of the animals, except one doe and another that had a fawn. All in all, I have never had a single camera placement that has produced so much in such a short time, and that is especially true in the summer.

Welcome to my little slice of heaven.

WLAGS

Debbie’s New Fly Rod

We set out to our favorite fly fishing only (FFO) pond on Friday morning. No need to get up early as the weather and the moon were about perfect.

Our Favorite Fly Fishing Only Pond

Our Favorite Fly Fishing Only Pond

This particular pond has always fished best on cold, wet days with a wind anywhere between east and north. It was perfect with the wind out of the northeast at between 2 and 5 mph.

Debbie was using her brand new Fenwick fly rod for the first time—a 9’ 5-weight. She had the first hit not five minutes into our day, followed by several short strikes as we made our way down “Tiger Alley,” so named for the stretch where we catch many of our tiger trout, a hybrid cross between a male brook trout and a female brown trout.

Rainbow

Rainbow

As we reached Eagle Rock (you can guess why we call it that), there were dimpling trout everywhere, no doubt feeding on emerging nymphs. I was into four fish very quickly. Debbie was undeterred and was soon into a big fish. She fought it for several minutes, and just as it was coming into view, the fly pulled out. Now she was deterred! She buckled down and proceeded to kick the trout’s and my butt nine ways to Sunday.

We were sharing the trout with several other fishermen, namely an eagle, three osprey, a great blue heron, a merganser, and three loons. All seemed to be doing as well as Debbie.

As we headed for the launch, we were about even at 13 fish apiece. Two older gentlemen were putting in, so at Debbie’s suggestion we stayed out of there way and fished out in front of the boat launch until they were done.

Well, in the next 30 minutes (because she didn’t want to leave) she proceeded to catch six more, including the biggest fish of the day—a fat 16” rainbow, to my one.

Debbie's 16" Rainbow

Debbie’s 16″ Rainbow

It was the perfect end to a perfect day, and a great way to break in a new fly rod.

Selfie

Selfie

PS: All of the fish were taken on either my Grampy’s Copper Flash fly or my Village Pond Special fly, which this time I tied with rust brown and copper crystal flash.

Grampy's Copper Flash (What's Left of It)

Grampy’s Copper Flash (What’s Left of It)

WLAGS