We’ve Come A Long Way

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One of the first fishing trips John and I went on with his family. We caught a bunch of brook trout.

As I was talking with John the other day, it occurred to me that we’ve changed so much over the last thirty something years. We married in October of 1984, and through all these years, we’ve persevered and have become what some have referred us to as a “power couple.”
IMG_20160507_110851408I laugh when I hear this because it’s usually in the context of hunting and fishing and all the things we do together. It’s quite a compliment, but honestly, it’s just about being together and enjoying what we do. Our kids are grown and off doing their own things with friends and family, so we have more time together that we didn’t have when we were raising our three kids. Hopefully they’ll take some of the times we spent hunting, fishing and wildlife watching with them and pass it onto their families.

So how did we get here?

My dad was pretty strict, but I think it was his own fears that made these rules. I remember not being allowed to go into the woods. My father’s house was only on two acres, but apparently he felt that was more than enough for us to get into trouble, so we (the kids) weren’t allowed to “wander off” and had to stay in the backyard. As an adult, this had lasting effects as I was dreadfully afraid of the woods and what might be lurking in those woods. The first time John and I went for a walk, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a partridge took off. I was never aware of my surroundings and all I remember was that I didn’t enjoy mosquitoes, and I certainly didn’t go looking for wildlife. Even when my family spent time at the camp lot, a parcel of land that my parents bought in the mid 70’s, that had an old school bus on it that we turned into a camper, we were not allowed to explore beyond our boundaries. Now when I hear partridge drumming, it only makes me want to find it.

From the age of 4, my oldest son Zack would want to go “hunting” with his BB gun, so he and I would put on our orange and take walks in the trails behind our house. We never saw anything, but he got the chance to work on his stalking skills and just loved every minute we were out there. I, on the other hand, never went beyond the trails because that’s all I knew.

One of these times, we hadn’t gotten further than 30 yards off the edge of the field, when I spied legs walking down the right trail. In my mind, I thought this was one of John’s cousins who is tall and skinny and who also lived next door. While I was wondering what he was doing out back, I soon realized it was a rutting moose coming down the trail. His head was down and his antlers…huge antlers…were going side to side as if to challenge us. I grabbed Zack by the arm and made a run for it back toward the house. I wanted Zack to see it, but I didn’t want the moose to charge us. I went into a full asthma attack as we hid behind a tree. We never saw it up close because I was so concerned about getting away from the scary monster, and meanwhile the moose changed course and headed down a different trail.

Zack grew to love the outdoors so much that he’d wander off all day. I’d worry and every night, I’d have to yell, “Zack-Ah-reeeeee“, for him to come home. He certainly explored beyond my boundaries, but would come home with stories of his travels and of all the stuff he saw in the woods.

When my husband was a young boy, he would sit around and listen to the men tell hunting stories, but moose hunting wasn’t allowed then so there were only stories of beastly moose and how scary and unpredictable they are. As a youth hunter, he had an encounter with a rutting moose that charged him, which left a lasting impression. John was set up in front of an oak tree while hunting deer. A moose came in to the smell of his buck lure, and when the moose saw John, he charged. John ended up yelling and kicking leaves at the moose and eventually shot over its head to scare it off. He retold this story  as a teenager and said it was one of the scariest moments as a kid he could remember. Then while in college, John was working the wood yard when a young moose wandered into camp. John decided to challenge himself and he was pretty impressed that he was able to make calls to the moose and eventually scare it off. It was then that he realized moose weren’t all that scary.

Thirty plus years later, we’ve grown to understand moose, and fully appreciate their presence in the woods. We’ve successfully hunted, tracked, and called them in just for the sake of seeing if they’d respond. There are no longer fears associated with moose or any animal for that matter.  If anyone had told me ten years ago, that I’d be hunting bear, or that I’d get my grand slam, I would have laughed. I am no longer afraid of the outdoors, the dark, the water (somewhat),  or going beyond my boundaries and stepping out of my comfort zone. I am still challenged when I face new adventures and those old fears creep in; however, I know I have the skills to be competent in the outdoors, so I just push forward challenging myself at every chance I get.

We’ve come a long way from where we were thirty years ago. I hope that if you’re thinking of getting into hunting and fishing or even just nature, that you’ll not put it off for another day. Don’t expect it to be perfect when you do venture out. Just take each time as a new and learning experience. I’m so thankful for who we’ve become both as people and as a couple. I can’t imagine life any other way.

 

Why I Carry – A Woman’s View

When I first started hunting, my husband chaperoned me and took me to my treestand in the dark because I was afraid of the woods; that is, I was afraid of what I couldn’t see. I wasn’t used to the sounds of the forest and which animals make what sound. I didn’t grow up spending my time in the woods, so it was all new to me. On more than one occasion I’ve watched other hunters walk by me in my treestand and not even see me.  And more than once, I’ve had a hunter whom I don’t know approach me while I was hunting. No matter when it happens, it’s just plain rude, but I’ve never been afraid.

Over the years, I’ve become very comfortable in the woods, and I no longer need the hand-holding I once relied upon; however, being comfortable in the woods isn’t the same thing as being a woman alone in the woods. When I hunt with my rifle, I never worry about being a woman alone in the woods. I’m not the paranoid type, and it’s never been an issue, but I always had my rifle.  I hunt in areas that are family lands, or where private land owners give us permission. I pretty much know who’s hunting and when they’re hunting, and a rifle automatically provides me protection.  So when I began bow hunting, I didn’t automatically carry a handgun along with my bow. In fact, it never crossed my mind. I went about my hunting business as I always did.

Then came that afternoon, as I was walking down into my stand, I was met by two young men carrying a shotgun in my woods. Men I hadn’t expected. Men I didn’t know. And I didn’t like that since all I had was my bow.  This was my first, Oh crap, moment. As they approached me, the only upper hand I had on the situation was that they were hunting in my area, where they didn’t have permission. I overheard one even talking about my family and how we hunt there…so they knew us. I kept reminding myself that I had a phone, but that might not even be an option should I have a confrontation with these guys. I was at a definite disadvantage, but didn’t want to make it obvious.

I remained authoritative but friendly. I asked them where they were hunting because I was hunting there. After a brief awkward conversation, they knew I was annoyed and they were in the wrong, so they tucked their tails and headed back from where they came. At this point I was more annoyed than anything. By the time I got to my stand, I was late by a half an hour, and watched the tail of a deer as it bound off. That night’s hunt was ruined.

A few days later, I decided to try again. I was on a quest to get my royal crown/grand slam and I wasn’t about to let any opportunity to hunt go by. It was perfect weather for bow hunting: cool and almost no wind and the rut was close. So I left work early and headed into the woods. As I neared my stand, I was once again met by one of the two men I had met days earlier. I was more than annoyed, but apprehensive because he had spotted me coming down the trail,  and was walking right toward me. This time, he was carrying a rifle, not a shotgun, and I with only my bow. My second, Oh crap, moment. He wasn’t bird hunting either. He acted nervous and tried to make light talk and claimed he was hoping he’d see a coyote…okay. Once again, the situation came into my favor as I had basically caught this guy hunting out of season even thought I couldn’t prove it. This guy had basically been traipsing all over my area where I had planned to hunt. Second hunt ruined.

After this second round of uneasiness, I resolved to the fact that I needed to carry a handgun, if not as protection, then simply as a peace of mind. I learned long ago that one thing a woman should never be is the victim of opportunity. It’s better to feel safe than to be a victim, and if that means taking along a gun, then so be it. And besides, John and I  carry a gun while we’re bear baiting, camping, and trapping, so this would be no different, except John wouldn’t be with me.

img952009.jpgI’ve had training and I have a concealed carry permit so when I headed into the woods, I brought along my .44 Taurus for the remainder of the season. It’s like a cannon in my hand, but I can shoot it. I’ve since moved to a different handgun, a Taurus P38 ultralight that’s easier to shoot, and also lighter to carry.

It’s seems strange to say that carrying a gun made that much difference, but it did, for me. I particularly liked having it when I hunted expanded archery in the city. Hunting in unfamiliar areas took the edge off worrying about being bothered or confronted by a stranger. I could focus solely on my hunt.

When it came time to hunt again, instead of heading back to the same spot, I found a new one and set up a blind. I’m happy to say that I got my first bow deer and my royal crow quest was complete.

IMG_20161025_202959730Being a woman hunter in the Maine outdoors is one of the most enjoyable and empowering things I’ve done in my life, and if carrying a handgun while bow hunting is going to make me feel safer while I do the things I love, then I’ll continue to carry. I’ve even taken it along on my adventures with girlfriends, and it’s been well received. Whether I’m bird hunting, fly fishing or bow hunting, I plan to keep making memories and have my handgun with me.

If you’ve wanted to do things but the fear of doing something is because you feel vulnerable, then you might want to consider getting a handgun, training and certification to carry it (even though a concealed carry permit isn’t required…for now).

Happy hunting!

A Girls Day Out

I’m taking a break this week. I’m still tired from all the hunting I’ve been doing and still doing. Instead, I’m sharing this week. One of the great things about being an outdoors woman is finding friends who are also outdoors women.

My friend Erin and I have been fishing a few times. Earlier in the summer, we went out on Serpentine Stream where I fished as a kid. Read Erin’s story about our day of fishing in her blog, and a strong cup of coffee .

I’ll have more stories to come from our adventures of the past and future. I can’t wait for opening day 2017 on Grand Lake Stream with my friends, Robin(who also has a blog), Taylor and Erin!

Enjoy! I’ll be back next week.

 

More Bear!!!

I had been dreaming of bear hunting all week, and I can hardly sleep at night! With hunting scenarios running through my head, I imagined what it would be like to finally have a bear…Saturday has been too long coming!

I Can Hardly Sleep at Night!

John and I decided to change things up this year. The plan was to bait only once a week. I had been dreaming of bear hunting all week, and I can hardly sleep at night! With hunting scenarios running through my head, I imagined what it would be like to finally have a bear…Saturday has been too long coming!

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Mr. Lefty

Well, plans change occasionally, and this week, I couldn’t bait on Saturday because I was attending the all-women guide school course in Augusta that Women of the Maine Outdoors organized. As I sat there all day, I wondered if John had seen any bear on our baits. Were they still hitting? How many? Any big ones? Any sows with cubs? So many thoughts filled my mind about the fact that I wasn’t there helping and that I was also missing out on the adventure with him. To my delighted surprise, John decided to wait for me and we went up to the mountain on Sunday. Even with the threats of thunderstorms and rain, I was excited…giddy in fact.

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Too little…I’ll pass on this one.

Prepping to get there takes a considerable amount of time. I brought an extra change of clothes, new batteries for the game cameras, new SD cards to switch out, and a jug of ice water to keep us hydrated. I helped load the  bait, caramel, nougat, scents, and grease. In no time, we were on the road; after a quick fuel stop and breakfast to fuel our bodies, we headed to the mountain. We had only one quick rain shower on our way so the woods weren’t too wet. Riding in wasn’t bad this time either. We re-distributed the weight of the bait so that the four-wheeler was less tipsy. There’s nothing better than riding down the dirt road in the wild and smelling the sweet smell of anise oil and bait.

IMG_20160816_214232269_HDRWhen we arrived at my bait site, we found all the bait gone from the blue barrel, most of the grease gone, but some pink nougat still left. The bears had been there every day taking turns throughout the day and night getting some much needed food. We still have one skinny one, but he just appears young, not tick infested as some other hunters have suggested. In the middle of the pile of bait left outside the barrel was the most beautiful 6 inch-ish wide bear track I’d ever seen. This was from a BIG bear. My heart raced as I wondered if it was Scrapper. I wouldn’t be able to tell if it was since I had crushed my digital camera the week before, so I no longer have a way to check cards until they go into the computer. Dang!

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Little white patch on the throat…he’s a new one.

To my delight, we believe there are FOUR (eeekkkk!!!) bear visiting my site. One in particular does not like my camera. He’s chewed and gnawed on it several times. Luckily Moultrie built it right and it’s still hanging on….not a scratch on it!! Even after he spun it around the tree, I was lucky enough that he spun it BACK to almost where it was in the beginning. Note to self: camouflage that camera. We weren’t so lucky on John’s bait. A bear finally hit it, but he also attacked the camera and although he didn’t break it, the camera wasn’t facing the bait for the last three days. As last week, I’ll post videos on my Facebook page since I can’t put videos here. Be sure to check out the bear bathing itself in the grease!

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OMG…biggest bear ever!

I sure hope I find a way to sleep before I start sitting in my stand; the last think I need to do is fall asleep and miss one! This weekend’s forecast looks spectacular; I can’t wait to see who’s come to eat this week.

In Pursuit of Striper

101_7563Fishing on the Maine coast for striped bass, which most fisherman call Striper, is one of my favorite types of fishing. We have tried fishing for striped bass with eels, worms, poppers, mackerel and crabs. Nothing has worked as well as quahog clams. The bigger the clam the better. The weight of the clam eliminates the need for a sinker.

HPIM0634aQuahog clams are big clams that we pick from the sand at low tide. This is perfect since we fish right when the tide turns and comes in. Well, we don’t actually pick them unless we buy them at the grocery store, but we prefer to get our own. quahogWe go out waist deep into the cold ocean water. We use our feet to feel the sandy bottom underwater while trying to stand in one place with the waves coming in. Standing with both feet together, John does the jig…a twisting motion to work his feet into the sand and feel a clam under his feet. I can’t use both feet together because the movement hurts my knees, so I use only one foot and move it back and forth moving the sand and digging a hole with my foot until I feel a clam. We  then use our toes to get underneath the clam and free it from the sand. Then comes the torture of getting the upper body wet. I do the big dip underwater to retrieve my clam. Into the suit it goes, and then I move onto another spot. We stock up on clams to use for future fishing as well as for the moment.

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Tyler with his ocean pole at sunset.

Once we have enough clams, we grab our ocean rods. These rods are heavy duty with open faced reels. On the end of the heavy line is a big swivel and very large circle hook size 00.

Using a clam knife, we open the live clam and free it from its shell. If you freeze the clams for later use, they open just like they do when cooked. You can literally pull the clam apart without a knife. I like to make sure I cut the clam so that I get all of the big muscles that close the shell for added stability on the hook. Carefully, we weave the clam onto the hook so that the foot of the clam is threaded last. The idea is to get the clam onto the hook so that it won’t be cast off when you make the cast. There’s nothing worse than watching a big old clam fly through the air and not attached to your line!

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Out on the rocks at low tide. (c)SWarren

Fishing at low tide allows us to get out far on the rocks so that we’re not getting tangled in the weeds. However, you have to keep an eye on the tide. On several occasions we’ve had to practically swim back to the main land because of the tide coming in. I prefer to fish on the rock ledge on a peninsula over surf fishing. I want to have the rod in my hand when the fish bites.

 

Casting out into the water, the clam is allowed to sink slowly and then a slow reel in. Sometimes there’s a bite before the swallow, and other times, it’s simply one big swallow and a striper is on the line. If you’ve ever caught a large-mouth bass, then you’d love striper fishing. Striper fishing is one of the most exciting fishing I’ve ever done.With minimum lengths of 28 inches, fish get big quick.

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Nothing better than the walk of success.

Occasionally we fish for striper and catch something else. On our first outing this year, I had bites and nibbles tugging away at my bait. Every time I tried to set the hook, I got nothing. Finally, after losing my clam and putting another one on, I had another bite. With my polarized glasses on, I was able to see a school of fish grabbing at my big clam. These were not striper. With a quick switch to a mackerel jig with a tad of clam, we were catching pollack!

 

Not nearly as exciting as striper, but lots of fun to see the youngest excited to catch something.

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Pollack for supper!

We’re hoping to get back out on the rocks for another chance to get a big one. If you fish for striper, give quahogs a try. And remember to bring along some smaller hooks for those fish that show up when you least expect it. Someday I’ll learn how to fly fish for them stripers…always a new adventure waiting to happen.

 

PS: Remember to wear a life jacket if you go out in a canoe or kayak, especially on the ocean..

 

Florida Adventures for a Maine Girl – Part II

Air Boat Ride in the Swamp!

In Maine we truly have it lucky. There aren’t many spots where a person can take a dip in the water and not worry about encountering some animal that wants you for lunch. I spent my entire childhood swimming in everything but a pool or the ocean. Worst case scenario a snapping turtle or water snake encounter occurred; both are certainly enough for me to get out of the water, but I know I’m not at risk of dying.

IMG_20160425_094428498On the other hand, Florida’s hot weather makes one want to jump in the water, but unless it’s a pool or the ocean, you’d be crazy to do so. As a matter of fact it would be a cold day in you-know-where before this girl ever ventured out into the swamp with anything smaller than an 18 foot motorized boat, let alone put my toes in it!

Before we ever got in the boat, the captain let anyone who wanted to, hold a gator. I was surprised how smooth its skin is; not rough at all, but very luxurious. I can see why their hides are so highly sought after. This gator looks small but its actually three years old. They grow fast for the first four years, then grow slowly thereafter. So a six foot gator is approximately 20 years old!

Our Florida trip included an air boat ride into the swamps of Florida. Imagine seeing all these nice homes along the shoreline of Lake Panasoffkee, yet no wharves, no boats and no one swimming. In fact, at best the the lake is only four feet deep, heavy with peat and is described as a flood plain that’s spring fed. The only way you can navigate the lake is with an air boat. The nice thing about an air boat is that it glided over everything and didn’t disturb vegetation or wildlife but let us get really really close.

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Just as we have in Maine, we followed a stream to navigate our way to the lake. On the way through, we saw several alligators and birds. Our guide said that it wasn’t a great day to see snakes but they see them often. I was okay with not seeing any snakes.

Doc1-ANIMATIONThe air boat was actually pretty tame. It wasn’t as loud as we expected because our captain didn’t try to take us on too much of a thrill ride. I didn’t want to miss  any wildlife so slow was good. He’d open it up do swerve then slow down so that we wouldn’t get wet.

One of the waterways we took came to a dead end. Our captain threw out a handful of pelleted dog food. The water bubbled with fish! This spot was the location of the natural spring and with a spring comes lots of food and oxygen for fish, so the fish hang out here. I wish he had offered us to go fishing too!

IMG_20160425_104600434Our ride ended with our captain showing us a honeybee tree. The bees were actively making honey in the old tree. If you get the chance to go ANYWHERE, I highly recommend that you stop and really get to see how people live and experience the culture. Now I can say I know what an alligator swamp looks like, and I know for sure I never want to live near one!

Next week: Part III – Alligators in my backyard!

Sharing Fishing Secrets

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Salmon caught on a Grey Ghost

As a sportsman, one of the most important things you can do is share your knowledge. We constantly are told to share our knowledge. Take a kid fishing. Keep the traditions and heritage of hunting and fishing alive by getting people involved. Yet there is a paradox to that when it comes to fishing. Fisherman clam up when you ask them for advice. They pride themselves on their secret lures, techniques, lines, and spots. It’s almost a given not to ask a fisherman what he’s using for a fly because he probably won’t tell you. It’s always been my beef, so every chance I get, if someone asks, “what are you using?” I tell them with a smile and honesty.

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My fly boxes. (c) S. Warren

Sometimes fisherman lie to other fisherman. This happened to us in New Hampshire when we fished Echo Lake a couple years ago. We ran into two old Maine fishermen and we had seen them catch fish after fish. So as they left, we asked them what they were using. They seemed nice enough, but after spending an hour or so using the fly they recommended, we decided we had been had because those fish wouldn’t hit it even once. After we changed to another fly, we had luck.

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Up river at my favorite fishing spot. (c) S. Warren

Same thing at our favorite fishing spot. A fisherman came in and nudged me out of my spot. At the time, I hadn’t learned to stand my ground, but in a matter of a minute from taking over my spot, I watched this guy haul in the THE biggest salmon I’ve ever seen. And you guessed it. I didn’t dare ask what he had used. The cardinal rule prevented me from asking. So I didn’t learn anything except that I couldn’t catch what he did.

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Grizzly King by Big Y Fly

So when we run into fisherman that not only want to talk about fishing, but also want to share their “secrets”, it’s refreshing. We had the pleasure of going to a local discount store because they had just gotten in a huge fishing assortment. As we grazed the isles an old man dressed in a red flannel shirt, jeans, and wearing a bear claw necklace approached us. His head held a very old wide-brimmed, woven hat, and he walked with a walking stick as tall as him. His face was covered in a full white beard and his voice soft. As we walked by, the old man started sharing his stories. He was an old Maine guide who used to trap the Allagash in his younger days. He’s 87 now and can’t do much, but he can fish. He asked if we had ever been to Seboomook Campground by Pittston Farms. We had indeed been there. He proceeded to tell us what we need to use in order to catch the BIG salmon. The funny part was that as he got to the part of the story telling us what streamer to use, he stopped. His voice got low, and he said, “I’m waiting for that young man to leave” nodding to the man a few feet down the isle who had apparently been listening intently. After the man left, he looked into my eyes and said, “Grizzly King”.

 

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Then he told us about Little Pond and how to catch big trout there.  Turns out Little Pond is well known and our two sons went there last year. When the oldest heard about our conversation with the old Maine Guide, we decided we had to get to Little Pond to try fishing.

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Our two sons in the canoe.

It was cold and windy, but the sun shining on us was nice since it had been about a week since we had seen Old Sol. Little Pond doesn’t allow motorized anything so we hauled our two canoes down the nice trail to the launch area. There we met a fisherman who was also fishing, rowing a boat around the lake with his fancy made fly rods. He even called us over to see his rods. But he wasn’t interested in sharing how he fishes. He was interested in getting compliments for everything he said about himself. We didn’t learn anything from him except that the rod he makes is probably way out of our price range.

We didn’t have any luck catching fish using the old Maine Guide’s technique, but we did get cold. As we were paddling back to the launch area, we met a local man and his Corgi dog. He was just FULL of information and amazingly, he couldn’t wait to share it with us.

After telling us we needed lead core line, big minnows and a lot of patience we found that a lot of what the old Maine Guide told us was similar to what this man shared except the old Maine Guide used a streamer and the local man used an artificial lure.

We’ve learned a lot about fishing in the last two weeks from people who were willing to share their secrets. I hope that if you are a fisherman, you’ll take a moment and share your secret instead of keeping it to yourself. You’ll find it’s much more gratifying .