No Land to Hunt? Ask….or Find It.

First of all, it’s important for anyone, man or woman to ask to hunt land that isn’t yours.

Sperson knocking on dooro I started following a group of women hunters, and a question came up about hunting when you have no land of your own, and what to do when you aren’t very comfortable about knocking down doors to ask.

First of all, it’s important for anyone, man or woman to ask to hunt land that isn’t yours. Even if the land isn’t posted, if you feel you have to sneak around, it just won’t feel right. And the last thing you want to do is be chased off land you didn’t ask to use, because you now know the answer would be no for sure.

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Town map…find your spot and then find the owner

There are ways to find available land no matter where you live. Look for access by permission only signs and find the owners if it’s not listed on the sign. Don’t be afraid to go to the local town offices to look at town maps, or get online and find landowner information from tax assessing records. You won’t find a phone number, but you will find a name and address, and that’s a start.

I was scared to death to ask a farmer to hunt turkey, especially being a woman. Low and behold, despite their surprised look of a woman asking, the owner was cordial. She had promised it to another hunter, but if I could wait until Thursday, then I could have it. Turns out she knew my Dad, and was happy that I was a Norridgewock native. Small steps may lead to a big opportunity.

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LaGrange to Medford Trail

There’s a lot of public land in Maine that’s accessible to hunters. Now I know it’s annoying that there are some places that people used to hunt that are now off limits because land was donated to a group or cause, and they make their own rules. Many of these organizations don’t consist of hunters, and because patrons might feel afraid, they restrict hunting…blah, blah, blah…it’s not going to change unless we are part of the process. The one thing that will help all hunters is making sure good landowner relations continue to protect what we do have access to use. So asking is best.

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Bigelow Preserve

So I did a little digging. I can’t give away all my spots, but this will help you find public land to hunt. Be thorough and do your homework on the area. First of all, you can hunt on public lands and even some state parks, but you have to put on your detective hat and scout the land. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has some great information on their website. Hunting is not allowed at State Historic Sites or Memorials, and there’s a list of places you can and can’t hunt right there to review. You can search by activity and these are the public lands and state parks that came up for hunting. Just be mindful to know the rules pertaining to state parks and when you can hunt. I was surprised to see so many options in southern Maine, since I’ve never really considered it anywhere near accessible to hunters…but it is. I live farther north and don’t hunt in southern Maine, but there are lots of opportunities to  hunt.

Bear hunting has more restrictions/requirements, but bear hunting is still allowed on public lands, but by permit or lottery. It’s either by straight application and the sites are split equally among requests, or a lottery is done if the number of requests outnumber the number of sites. More information about how to apply is found here.

There’s also information on gathering (berries, mushrooms, fiddleheads) which has become very popular, and as with hunting, permits are required for some types of gathering.

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My moose from zone 5 in North Maine Woods

Another source for hunting is the North Maine Woods, which is actually several timber companies that let you access their land for a fee. You pay at the gate, and the land is there to hunt. Just know the zone rules for whatever game you are hunting. Now when we hunt the NMW, it’s a trip, week long or at least three days because we live so far away, so it’s not something right out your door, but it’s nice to know it’s there. And there are several registered guides throughout the NMW that can help you get that deer, moose, bear or whatever you want.

IMG_20190826_120920641.jpgAnother source is paper company land closer than the NMW. We rabbit hunt “north” and it’s on paper company land. Some companies such as Wagner and Weyheuser, have a permit/lease system for bear hunting, and it’s pretty gobbled up by a few guide services, so don’t be totally discouraged because they hold some sites for DIY’s like us, and sometimes sites become available. They have roads to bird or rabbit hunt, deer hunt, moose hunt, and even bear hunt if you’re lucky enough to see one not over bait, so it’s not a total loss.

And a fairly new option I sort of stumbled upon is land trusts not state owned, such as the Ezra Smith Wildlife Conservation Area, donated by George Smith and family, and is managed by the Kennebec Land Trust which allows hunting on most of its parcels of land. There’s quite a comprehensive list so go to their website and check it out.

img_20191015_235710_011.jpgNow getting back to landowner permissions. The ONLY way we bear hunt on private land is because we got landowner permission, and in return, we give back by maintaining his road. We feel so privileged that we have this access and we take it very seriously. And all we did was ask.

My son hunts on land that isn’t his, and all he did was ask. And he asks every year. I’ve hunted turkeys on land that wasn’t posted, but we still asked. The landowner appreciated it and told us so.

no hunt signAnd you’ll have some landowners who are anti-hunting or what I call land greedy (it’s mine all mine and you can’t use it even if I don’t) and they have their signs posted everywhere, but sometimes conversations can lead to opportunity such as just asking to bow hunt instead of rifle hunt and a door opens. Sometimes not, but it’s worth asking.

Ask a farmer. He may hate those turkeys eating into his silage pile, and wants you to “shoot all of them.” And if all else fails, ask friends if you can hunt with them. You may just find a mentor. Many friends make a trip to hunting camp each year and/or leave their own property un-hunted. Opportunity….Ask. Ask. Ask.

You may just be surprised to find more people are willing to let you hunt than you realize. Access is only a knock away. The more we talk to landowners, the more we build relationships that will help protect the future of hunting.

Good luck and be sure to identify your target before you shoot.

 

 

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.

 

Summer, Where art thou?

So spring has taken too long to arrive. I’m not sure if it’s because winter began in October, or if spring really is lagging. The warm weather certainly hasn’t arrived.

Last year we were fishing in the river by the end of April and hammering the salmon. This year, we were on the river in our winter underwear, praying for a bite and a little sun to warm us up. I never thought I’d be saying this, but the mosquitoes and black flies finally have arrived so it shouldn’t be much longer. Just take a look at the difference a year can make. Mother Nature is miraculous, and she’s working hard to catch up.

These are photos of the end of April thru the middle of May 2017. I’m still waiting for my birds to return to my wreath.

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In 2018 we were fishing, finding and foraging all through May. Turtle were laying their eggs, fish was abundant as were the mushrooms. We didn’t get many morels, but it was a dry spring.

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This year, we’re still waking up to a heavy frost and the camper heater has run all night long. Mayflowers stayed in the bloom the longest ever. We just found fiddleheads up north when they’d gone by at home. We haven’t found any oyster mushrooms, but the morel mushrooms didn’t disappoint in this wet weather and arrived right on schedule. The salmon are just beginning to bite, the brook trout are just starting to rise for mayflies, but we still haven’t seen a deer fawn, moose calf, or turtle. We’ve still seen some amazing animals: grouse, beaver, frog eggs, rabbits, geese and goslings, wood ducks, mergansers, and we even spotted some chaga. Oh, yeah, that is bear scat and a snake. We photograph everything we find. Enjoy!

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The week’s weather finally is starting to look like it might actually be sunny. I hope you’ll get out and enjoy the outdoors.

A Tribute

As Mother’s Day and Father’s Day fast approaches, I am facing my firsts without my parents. Many of you know that I unexpectedly lost my mother last June, then my father passed suddenly and unexpectedly in September 2018. Life was feeling pretty grim, and then I was dealt a sucker punch to the gut when my older sister, Kathi, passed away unexpectedly in February 2019. It’s been rough, and it honestly still hurts, but I’ve had some time to think about each of them, and how much they contributed to my being who I am today. This is a tribute to them.

When you’re born, you get “your mother’s eyes, or your father’s nose” and temperament falls in there somewhere. Yes, biology has a lot to do with who we are as people, but what really makes me who I am, is all the stuff  Mom, Dad, and all of us went through together as I grew up.

IMG_20180912_070021976I didn’t come from a hunting family. My mother’s family hunted and fished, and my mother loved to fish from the time she was old enough to hold a pole. I remember my mother telling me how hungry she was as a child so I can only imagine how much a caught fish meant to a hungry belly. I don’t have many photos of my mother, only a few in her youth, but the ones I found show her holding a nice fish.

My father’s family was known to be outright poachers in order to feed themselves. In fact, the one time my grandfather bought a license, he was teased by the town clerk. As a teenager, I remember asking my father why we didn’t hunt. His response was that he hated mosquitoes. At first this seemed odd since mosquitoes are gone by November then he told me that my grandfather made him go hunt with him in the spring and summer, and as my father batted off mosquitoes, my grandfather kept scolding my father for moving. And my inheriting my father’s mosquito magnet traits explains why I hate them so much.

Later in life, my dad fished on Serpentine stream in his party boat, but he really didn’t care if he ever caught anything; he preferred playing cribbage with his in-laws.

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So how is it possible that I love hunting and fishing so much? Yes, I am very thankful to have such a loving and supportive husband who has been willing to show me and share with me his love of hunting and fishing. John took me out on my first turkey hunt, my first deer hunt, and we learned how to fly fish together, but while some say it’s only one person that they credit as making it all possible, I say, it really isn’t all him. Without the love and support from my family, I never would have had the qualities necessary to try this new way of life or the belief that I could do it.

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My mom ❤

You see, my mother was way ahead of her time. She fished when none of her friends fished; however, she wasn’t a mother who just stood by while the kids fished. She fished and fished well, usually out-fishing all of us.

She was a survivor, never having it easy, but she persevered. My mother never emphasized beauty over brains. I watched my mother go to work every day in the shoe shop. We didn’t have the luxury of having a stay-at-home mom, but working gave my mother confidence and independence, and eventually, she worked her way up to having a salaried job that was typically held by men. She was never afraid to try anything, and she even coached the only girls baseball team in the league when only boys played ball and society hadn’t figured out how to indoctrinate girls into softball. As a young girl, I preferred to hit the baseball over softball. I loved the “crack” of the bat and the speed of the ball, and the fact that I truly believed I was a better baseball player than a lot of the boys I played against.

I also remember my mother donning a big orange jacket, loading her gun and in her little go-go boots, head out for an afternoon of deer hunting. That was my mom. She wasn’t afraid to try anything even though she wasn’t particularly athletic. I never heard my mother say she couldn’t do anything because she was a girl…never, ever. And for that, I am truly thankful.

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My Dad in his Army National Guard uniform

My father worked every day, never missing work even when he didn’t feel good or got hurt on the job. I remember my father pushing through the pain of two broken heels after falling from a ladder and going to work on crutches. My father showed hard work paid off, and taking care of the family came first.

He also worked on his education as a non-traditional student and earned his electrician’s license while also being enlisted in the Army National Guard, and working all the time.

My father could fix anything, and my father was smart. I always thought I got my smarts from him, but I realize that my mother was smart too.

Dad showed me that if you wanted something bad enough you had to work for it. He taught me the ability to stick to something and never give up. While my father teased me for being “butch” and liking to do “boy” things, he never made me stop doing what I loved to do. He let me, be me, and didn’t try to make me be someone I wasn’t. And for that, I am truly thankful.

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My Dad and I at my college graduation. I too was a non-traditional student.

FB_IMG_1552430135599My sister Kathi was my role model growing up. I watched her overcome adversity as a teen mother, and finish her nursing education. I was always so proud of her accomplishments. She worked full-time and went on to earn her college degree while maintaining a family, a house and home. I got to see the stability and independence she gained by being able to have a professional job. She too learned from my parents that perseverance and hard work pays off, and despite obstacles we may have encountered, we could do anything.

 

Kathi even began hunting long before me. I was so impressed to hear her stories, and listen how both she and my younger sister went hunting. Kathi was always my biggest cheerleader no matter what I did in life, including when it came to my blog and the hunting stories I wrote. And for that, I am truly thankful.

Time will heal my broken heart, and my loved ones will continue to influence who I am. Although I may not be everything, or any one thing, that my three family members were, there are bits and pieces of their genes and characteristics coursing through my veins, and in my heart and mind, they have given me the strength to be persistent, to persevere, and to know that I can do anything I set my mind to doing, including being the best outdoors woman I can be. And for that, I am truly thankful.

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Me and John sharing a turkey hunt together. And for that, I am truly thankful.

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!

We Happened Upon a Chanterelle

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A bowl full of chanterelles

Last year we began foraging in earnest. We searched and picked and identified as many mushrooms as we could. We were able to identify three edibles: oysters, lobsters and chanterelles. Chanterelles are our favorites, and we managed to find a nice flush up north.

Looking around home yielded a few golden goodies, but nothing like last year’s bounty. We had pretty much resolved that we wouldn’t be so lucky as last year.

In preparation for bear season, we decided that John’s site needed to be moved to a more covered and discreet area that the bears would be comfortable visiting. We decided to go to the mountain and scout, and hopefully find time to look for some mushrooms.

On our way out of the campground, we realized we forgot our mushroom bags. As we turned around to go back, I spied that golden unforgettable, chanterelle color right by the road! Sure enough, we scored. We scored even more when we searched into the nearby woods.2017072295111640_2

Chanterelles right in the full sun!

After scoring so many mushrooms, our bags were full. We reorganized and emptied one bag, then headed into the woods on the mountain. After we decided where the new bear site would be, we decided to hike out the easy way instead of through all the mud we encountered earlier.

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I filled my fanny pack!

On our way, we happened upon some chanterelles, and then again, and again. Every time we found a bunch, we’d be so excited. Of course, we yelled, “Bingo” to keep our good fortune coming. We found them in many different places, but one consistency was finding them on the sides of roads where the soil is hard in mixed woods of fir and hardwood. We found them in shade, in sun, and under bushes…they just seemed to be everywhere!2548

The size of the Chanterelles kept us yelling in excitement!

This year’s haul was twice what we got last year. They’ve been sauteed in butter and frozen, and are now waiting for the right time to accompany our moose meat, venison, or bear dinner.IMG_20170723_074815810Over three gallons picked and trimmed.

Mushroom foraging has been a lot of fun. It’s given me exercise and we’ve created some great memories together. The season still holds many surprises, but for now, we’ll be focusing on the bear hunting season. Preparation is under way and the baits are out. Hopefully, I’ll have something to report on next week!

Until then, tight lines on those fish, keep your eyes down in the woods for fungi treasures, and keep practicing your shooting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Music of Finding Trumpets

One of the great things about living in Maine is that there is always something to do. Foraging for wild mushrooms has become the thing to do when fishing or hunting isn’t on the schedule. I love getting out into the woods and really seeing the woods from a different perspective. The woods in the spring look different from the summer and fall, and part of foraging is spent looking for deer and other critter sign as well as mushroom identification, which will help me determine where to hunt come deer season.

Normally we don’t forage where we hunt, i.e. at home. We’re usually up north fishing or bear hunting, and so we forage where we camp. A couple weekends ago, our plans changed. The weather wasn’t looking great and so we decided to stay home. On a whim, I wanted to take a walk and check for mushrooms in our neck of the woods.

Boy oh boy, we’ve been missing out! Last year we scored our first Chanterelles ever up north. We’ve made several trips to “our secret spot” to pick them this year, but the yield has been far less than last year. Little did we know that we had them in our woods! Not only did we pick Chanterelles, but we scored on the ever elusive, not-so-elusive-if-you-know-where-to-pick, Black Trumpets. In fact, we almost stepped on them! You need to look where you’re going when you hunt for Black Trumpets. Once we spotted them, they seemed to be everywhere! Every time my husband or I would find a bunch, we’d yell “Bingo!” with the sound of excitement, and it never got old hearing the music of finding Trumpets.

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Our first patch of Black Trumpets. Little did we know how many more were hanging out nearby!

Not only did we find Black Trumpets, we hit the mother load!  In just three short pickings, we harvested over 30 pounds of these delights. I read that these mushrooms sell for $35 to $40 per pound…but we’re keeping them. I’ve also shared with family and friends so they could try them, and I hope to still pick more before the season of Trumpets ends.19894982_10211005941158065_3142371527501338295_nIt turns out Trumpets grow in oaks, and that’s precisely what we have. Now don’t get excited…our oaks are off limits to foragers and hunters alike, but there are plenty of oaks and beeches in Maine, and I’ve seen many foragers scoring big this year. I guess all the rain we’ve been getting does have its benefits.

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Chanterelles to be sauteed and froze.

I dried them, I sauteed and froze them, and of course, we ate them. They are as good as the mushroom experts claim.

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Scrambled eggs with Black Trumpet mushrooms and Sharp White Cheddar Cheese. YUM!

I’m hoping I’ll be putting those mushrooms on burgers, in gravy with moose steak, and in soups and rabbit pot pies. I’ve never used dried mushrooms, so this is a new adventure for me.

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It’s not quite time to begin the bear season, so I’ll be fly fishing and foraging more. Stay tuned; I still haven’t found the elusive-to-me, Chicken of the Woods, Shaggy Mane or Hedgehog mushrooms. I hope the music doesn’t stop just yet…I sure do love those Trumpets!

For more information about edible mushrooms you can search for in Maine, I suggest getting a good guide and checking out this website. Remember to never eat a mushroom that you cannot identify.

Fish Tales from the Dead

The Fish That Almost Wasn’t

It’s been an better-than-average spring thus far for fishing the Dead River. We’ve fished it enough to learn what to use when, and have worked our way up from not catching anything to catching pretty often. Unlike last year, this year, it’s been a bonanza as we’ve been very successful in the spring catch of landlocked salmon and native brook trout. Knowing what to use is the key to catching fish.

Fishing the Dead River can be frustrating. If it’s down at night, it could be high in the morning because often times the river levels are determined by the white water rafting schedules. I keep the release dates bookmarked on my phone so I can check to see if the river will rise. If it does, it doesn’t drop until 1 p.m. “They say” the best fishing is right after the drop. Honestly, the best fishing is first thing in the morning before they open the dam, and at night when the mayflies hatch or when the fish are feeding just before sunset. This coincides when fish usually feed.

One Sunday, as soon as the river dropped, the trucks poured in. Men in their waders grabbed spots quicker than I could get my waders on despite the fact the water wasn’t even fish-able yet. My mistake. So as I got ready to fish, there was ONE spot open on the island…one spot that was also one of my favorites. As I got ready to cross onto the island, a guy fishing to the left looked over his shoulder and quickly scooted into the spot I had eyed for myself. I was annoyed, but there was still one spot left on the far right near the rapids, IF I could get there first. I quickly changed direction and tried to get over there as quick as I could.

DEAD RIVER AREAAs I made my way across the pools and around to the end, I notice a hatch taking place. I felt like I as being invaded by tiny blue-green bugs and they floated and flew all around me. Some type of mayfly, but to me it didn’t matter. I had my sinking line on my rod that I use with nymphs. There was no chance I was going back to change my lines since this was my ace in the hole, and the only spot open.

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My fly boxes sorted by fly type

I pulled out my dry fly box and retrieved a Blue Wing Olive and tied it onto my tippet (the end of my line). I made my way to my spot. The guy fishing where I originally wanted to fish was throwing his line about half way down to me on my left. Perfect. I’d fish more to the left and have access to the deeper water and where the fish were jumping on my right. Meanwhile another fisherman came up and started fishing behind me in the large pool. I kept thinking, “Please don’t hook me”.

I took a couple casts to get the hang of the sinking line with the lure. The lure would float at first, then quickly sink from the weight of the line and the fast current. I took a third cast and landed a small 10 inch salmon. I let it go. The fish were jumping, so I concentrated on placing my fly above the jumps and drifting the fly toward the fish. My confidence was building…I cast again. On the fifth cast, just as my fly started to sink, I got a hit!

The hit was so hard and strong that fish began to run and fight, and the line was stripping out of my hand that was holding the line. As I began reeling in my excess line,  the entire reel fell off my rod!!!! Luckily I was still holding onto it! I tried for a brief moment to put it back on, but a one-handed attempt was asking to lose the fish I had fighting at the end of my line. I quickly stuffed the reel into my waders so I was once again using two hands to fight this fish.

I finally got the line stripped back in so that I could net my beast. He was huge! It’s the biggest salmon I’ve ever caught. The net barely held it. Its tail hung out and in one giant flop, he was out of the net again. After netting the fish a second time: this time holding onto the tail through the net, and schlepping all my gear and line out of the deep water, I blurted out to the guy fishing behind me that I had caught my biggest fish ever. He seemed undaunted. The girl on shore with the cell phone trying to get reception (LMAO- as if) looked at me like I was a crazed woman. The guy off to my left was now changing out his fly/lure…lol.

IMG_20170529_145015211I was elated, and at that point, I decided I wasn’t stopping until I got my fish on the tailgate of the truck so I gave up my spot and headed up. I killed my fish, (which is really humane) and set him on the tailgate. I tried to take a selfie but my arm wasn’t long enough and the fish was too big!

To my surprise, NO ONE had taken my spot in the ten minutes I took to deliver my fish to the truck. I headed back down and reclaimed my spot. Three casts later I was hauling in my second largest fish I’ve ever caught. I was so excited. The kid fishing behind me now had questions and was offering up his help to keep this fish in my net. What are you using? What are you catching? Where should I cast? The guy to my left was still changing out his flies. Me, I was on Cloud 9! Worst part was that hubby had made his way up the upper pool and had no idea I was slamming the fish.

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Hubby finally showed up to get a photo of my fish…me out of my waders.

I gave up my spot. I had my two limit salmon and the kid behind me was dying to try my spot. I gave him a few pointers before I left. The guy who had been fishing on my left…left.

I took my fish up the truck and laid it next to the first one. Fish number one measured 21.5 inches, and fish number two measured 19.5 inches. A number of people who showed up to fish just as I was trying to take pictures of my fish had lots of questions. It felt great to share my experience…and to see the little glean of envy from the men. It’s not often I get to catch a big one, let alone two, so it felt wonderful.

So all those guys thought they had the best spot, but I was the one who had the best catch. Lesson learned. There’s fish everywhere…you just have to know how to catch em…

Happy Fishing and always remember to share your knowledge, and to be a courteous fisherman.

 

 

Foraging for Mushrooms in the Maine Woods

A couple years ago, I got interested in finding edible wild mushrooms. I never imagined how addictive foraging can be, but the bug bit, and it bit hard, not only for me, but the hubby as well. When we’re in the woods, we spend as much time searching for mushrooms and trying to identify them, as we look for critter sign.

I started out finding the “easy” ones and found them behind my house. Lobster mushrooms were one of the first. Lobster mushrooms are bright orange and ugly. I have slowly been learning different mushrooms, and verifying my finds before ever considering putting anything in my mouth. Lobster mushrooms have a weird texture and although they supposedly have a lobster taste, I didn’t like them.

 

We’ve also found loads of Chaga mushroom. Chaga has lots of medicinal properties and makes a wonderful tea after you grind it. It’s more like wood than mushroom, and you can’t saute it and throw it on a burger. However, it’s highly prized and sought after, and I have a load of it. Having a husband who cuts trees all day has proved to be advantageous in finding Chaga.

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Biggest piece of chaga ever scored…15 pounds and it’s only half of it!

I’ve also found Reishi, but haven’t tried it. I’ve heard you can cook it on the barbecue, but it’s most often used in tinctures as a medicinal supplement…hence, I recognize it, but I haven’t used it.IMG_20160717_121857252

Once I starting being able to identify mushrooms, I expanded my search to oysters. Oyster mushrooms vary during different times of the season, but spring oysters are easy to find because of the anise-like smell they have, and they grow distinctly on popular trees. I prefer fall oysters to the taste of spring oysters. Fall oysters seem dryer, and more like the mushrooms bought in the store.

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Fall oysters found in the fall while deer hunting.

The real addiction came when we found Chanterelle mushrooms. Chanterelles are said to be one of the most tasty wild mushrooms, and I can’t agree more. No matter how they are cooked, they are delicious! They are easy to spot since they are bright yellow in the woods, but their look-a-like Jack-o-lantern mushrooms are extremely poisonous and should not be confused with Chanterelles. There is also a Scaly Vase Chanterelle and False Chanterelles that some mistake as the good one. False chanterelles tend to be more orange-brown and the stems are different and it’s toxic…so it’s very important to make sure you know what you’re picking. Click here for more pictures and more information on chanterelles compared to look-a-likes

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Mushroom season is just kicking off. I follow Maine Mushrooms on Facebook and have learned a lot of information from other mushroom foragers. I also have a book on mushroom identification I keep handy.

In particular, this is morel season. Morels are said to be mostly in the southern Maine and the coast, so the last thing I ever expected to find was a morel north of Waterville, Maine. But I did. I scored big! Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d find a morel. You have to be almost on top of one to not miss it. They are easy to miss since they blend in so well. It’s not a mushroom you can spot from far away. I was lucky and found one standing all by itself on the side of a logging road. Hubby and I decided to really hunt and we found several more. We went over the same area where we initially found them, and found a few more we had missed the first time!

Morels have to be cooked. I chose to coat mine in flour and saute them. I only cooked half of them so I could try them just sauteed. The bigger ones had more flavor, and I can say I like them as much as chanterelles! I’m ready to go find more!

Still on my bucket list: Trumpets, Chicken of the Woods, and Hen of the woods, which I’ve never found any of them, and Bolettes, which I’ve found plenty but have yet to feel comfortable enough to eat one.

Foraging for mushrooms is a lot of fun and is a great way to spend time in the woods when you can’t fish or hunt. Hopefully I’ll be back with more tales of my foraging.

I’m in the Dog (uh Bear) House

Baiting for bear requires a lot of steps: filling the bait barrel, putting out caramel, re-dipping the anise oil wick, filling the grease and nougat buckets, scenting up the area with grease…and lastly, setting the camera.

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My bait site with my new popcorn barrel…holes stuffed with marshmallows

I always start with the camera first to remove the SD card and put a new one in; however I never start the camera until we are done all of our work.

 

At my site, the bait was all gone. It was filled the most bait we’ve ever put in a barrel. I also had a popcorn wheel that was added bonus, and that too was emptied. I changed out the batteries in my game camera as they only showed 13% life, and I want them to make it through the week. The bear were busy this past week, and I couldn’t wait to see my videos

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First Bear in since adding popcorn barrel-perfect shooting time

Off to John’s site. As we approached the site, we scanned for bear and saw the barrel was down. That means we had bear. The videos will tell us how many, how big and most importantly what time  the bear were there. As we go to get the SD card, we found the camera was open. At first, I was hoping the bear had been there, but the SD card was never pushed in, and the camera was never activated. With bear season beginning Monday, August 29th, this week was the most important in collecting information for the hunt.

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To put it mildly, John was…well you know…PO’d. To make an argument short, he’s now in charge of his own camera.

We didn’t speak to each other until we got back to the truck. We loaded our gear and headed out to find mushrooms. We found an off-road and stopped in the shade to view the one card with videos.

As we moved through the videos, I had at least three different bear on my site. One video showed a shootable bear being chased off the bait by another bear. (See Facebook to see it.)  I think I actually heard the bear in the background on the previous video, but he didn’t actually show until dark.

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That was only until Tuesday. My camera batteries gave out on Tuesday and there were no more videos to watch. No videos of my popcorn wheel being emptied, no videos of whoever else came in and most importantly when. I do have a bear coming in right at dusk so my hopes are someone will be back on Monday. The sow and cubs hadn’t returned, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t come in later. Guess Monday will be a surprise for all of us. Stay tuned.

We ended our day with some fly fishing therapy on the Dead River. John broke the no-fish-caught streak all the campers were having when he hauled in a nice 15 inch landlocked salmon. What a beauty…Tomorrow nights supper.

PS…My blind is still up and no bear tried to eat a camera this 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.

Being the Image of a Woman Hunter

Hunting has empowered me to do things I never imagined I could do, and that’s the image I want every woman and girl to identify with.

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My buck (c) S. Warren

Life is full of ups and downs. I recently got turned down to be a team member of an organization for women who hunt. I realized after I applied that I probably wouldn’t be chosen, not because I wasn’t qualified, but because I didn’t fit “the image”they were seeking. Just looking at their website, I knew I didn’t fit. I felt like I was back in high school waiting for approval from the popular girls.

It’s kind of funny since I’ve never been a clique sort of girl. In fact, as a young girl, I avoided them.  I never hung with the “in” crowd in high school and pretty much kept to myself. It was much easier to do my own thing than face any type of rejection because I didn’t measure up in some way to standards set by someone else.

Those standards of beauty and perfection haunted me all my teen years, but over the years I’ve learned to be comfortable with who I am, but I will admit I still have my insecurities that try to whisper in my ear from time to time. I pride myself on the fact that I’m not like everyone else, and I think that’s one of the reasons hunting and fishing is so attractive to me. I can be me, and I can be good at what I do…and it doesn’t get any better than that.20160604_095711-1

In a time when women and girls are the fastest growing demographic and are becoming the “new face” of hunting, I’ve also discovered that the hunting industry as a whole is guilty of setting the same type standards for women and girl hunters that we see in fashion magazines where our worth is our youth and beauty. We aren’t seeing the real images of  women hunters as a whole, but a merely a slice of the pie. Most notably, we aren’t seeing women hunters over the age of 35. It’s as if they don’t exist, unless you know where to look for them.  After some help from friends, I found a few for inspiration: Michelle Bodenheimer, Barbara Baird, Mia Anstine, and Kirstie Pike. There are plenty of women who were hunting and fishing long before Eva Shockey arrived, and for all you know, they could very well be your neighbor, your co-worker, or your banker.

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Still has on mascara and is young woman. photo by RealTree

With media constantly setting the standards of beauty and bombarding girls and women on a constant basis to be perfect, one of the main themes women hunters should be emphasizing is to encourage women and girls to become empowered and stand up to these pressures. On one hand we’re telling girls it’s cool they don’t wear bows, but instead shoot them, while on another hand, we’re subliminally telling them that they should look like a model. I don’t want these persistent images to dissuade women and girls from hunting because they won’t fit “the image” portrayed in magazines, television, online, or by a group.

I like to think that I represent women who hunt–real women, or at least older women. I am no Eva Shockey. I’m not twenty-something years old with a skinny body and long flowing hair. I am 52 years old, fighting the battle of the bulge, and I don’t wear makeup when I hunt…ever. BUT I can hunt and fish. I’m an avid hunter and fisherman, not a professional. This means, I don’t always get a deer, and most often not a trophy deer. My fish are average, not trophies. And I know there are many, many more women out there just like me. They’re just out in the woods and water doing their thing.

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Hunting has empowered me to do things I never imagined I could do, and that’s the image I want every woman and girl to identify with. I want women of all ages to step out of their comfort zones and be recognized for their skills, and not be judged on beauty standards set by others. This hunting and fishing thing isn’t for just a select group of women.

If you have the desire to learn to fish or hunt, then it’s time to put aside any insecurities and just do your thing.

Whether you’re ten or thirty or fifty years old, you’re never too old to start. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be passionate and want it.

If you need camaraderie, then find women who are like you by taking a hunting safety class, joining a local sportsman’s club, or using social media (that’s how I’ve found a lot of my new friends).  Don’t forget to ask sisters, daughters, nieces and friends to join you. Finding others with the same interests will help you build the confidence to do your thing.

Meanwhile, I’ll be out doing my thing and not stressing about whether or not I fit in.
I hope you’ll join me.

For the Love of a Bass Fishing Son

I’m am the first person to admit that I enjoy fishing, but fly fishing is my true love when it comes to fishing. Other than white perch fishing, we really spend all of our time fly fishing. So when the youngest son, Tyler, started bass fishing this year, I was a bit baffled. We had invested a considerable amount of money in all this gear for him to go fly fishing with us, and now all of a sudden he’s bass fishing. What gives?! We don’t even eat bass!

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Spinner bait photo by http://rumbadoll.com/

As this school year came to end, it also was the end of high school for all of us. Tyler was graduating and then starting his summer job the following Monday. In the spirit of making this his time, we planned a full weekend of bass fishing on the lake in the boat. I have to admit I didn’t have a huge amount of enthusiasm for bass fishing, but this wasn’t my weekend, it was Tyler’s.

Sure, we had caught bass before with the spinner bait I kept in the tackle box, but I was out to catch anything, not targeting bass. And most of the time, I was using crawlers, not bass lures. I still remember the fight to get this one into the boat and from the smile on my face, I had fun catching him. I released him since we don’t eat bass.

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One of the few small mouth bass I have caught. I was fishing for perch with a worm! (c) S. Warren

 

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Big brother Zack, youngest Ty, and future son-in-law Aaron showing off their ice fishing catch. (c) S. Warren

As I recall, fishing on East Pond was pretty fun. Among the white perch, sunfish and pickerel, we caught several bass each summer, and my oldest son was great at pulling large mouth bass through the ice on East Pond each winter. To me, East Pond with connects to Serpentine Stream where I learned to fish, was more known for the white perch run–a kid’s fishing paradise. In 2013, the lake changed. The biologists removed a lot of fish because of the need to control algae blooms and this also seemed to affect the bass population.

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Dad and Ty with his first large mouth bass on Messalonskee Lake, Sidney, ME.

Now looking back, I realize Tyler fell in love with bass fishing long before he ever put a fly rod in his hand. There is nothing like a good fight on a kid’s pole to get hooked. We stayed at a camp on Messalonskee Lake and the entire week was spent fishing on the dock for bass.

Now it’s all starting to make sense!

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One happy boy with a very nice large mouth bass. (c) S. Warren

 

Tyler has changed a lot over the years, and I guess his love of bass fishing has always been there. He’s pretty amazing with his casting moves. I, on the other hand, need to learn how to use my new Ugly Stik spinning rod. I couldn’t seem to get the bail down on my reel before the frog hit the water. I watched bass repeatedly slam my frog, but I couldn’t set the hook because I was just not fast enough. There’s actually a lot more method to bass fishing than I ever thought, and it’s a lot more fun than I remembered. I have a lot to learn about bass fishing from my son, and I’m looking forward to every chance I get. You’re never to old to go fishing with your kids, and eventually they’ll teach you a thing or two. Happy Fishing!

Florida Adventures for a Maine Girl- Part I

In case you don’t know me, I love to travel. I’m not well traveled, so even a trip that is routine for some is an adventure for me and my family. This year, we decided to go back to Florida for one more adventure. We were thinking this would be our last time there since we have a long bucket list. Our trips in the past have covered Disney, Universal Studios, and Sea World, but we had never been to Busch Gardens. So in the name of roller coasters, animals and white sandy beaches, Tampa it was.

However, this year, we wanted to expand our adventures to more than theme parks and water parks. I surprised John with a Florida hog hunt for his birthday. All the plans were made. I really wanted to go, but they charge a lot and even for a spectator, the price is almost the same. Then you have to add in butchering, taxidermy and shipping the meat home, it’s just not worth all that money…so Tyler and I planned an afternoon of our own adventure to keep busy while John hunted. We dropped John off in the middle of no where with his guide. We set our point on the GPS to find him later and then we headed to the Shell Factory in Fort Meyers. They had amazing display of taxidermy. If you’ve ever been to Cabela’s, then picture Cabela’s on steroids. Most were African animals but there were also some animals from North America. Many of the animals can no longer be hunted today.

The hunt gave John a chance to see what the Florida forests look like. We actually saw a place that wasn’t swamp but instead very sandy! The density of the forest is a lot like Maine only with different species of trees and plants. We saw lots of birds and Old Man’s Beard hanging from all the trees. I spotted a deer from the highway. No hogs. Yes, that’s a feeder and when it went off, John thought the hogs would come running. They didn’t. We did meet another woman hunter who, along with her husband, bagged an alligator that morning and was also sitting for a hog the same night as John. They didn’t get a hog either. Guess we’ll be going back to Florida, the company honored it’s pledge for a guaranteed hunt and gave John a certificate good for 5 years to try again.528_2

We took some time to talk with our guide and his helper. It’s pretty incredible to see them get all excited over what we hunt compared to what they hunt. We stood around sharing photos from our phone cameras of moose and deer hunts, turkey hunts, beaver trapping, and of course, fishing. Eventually the mosquitoes had the final say, and I retreated to the car. As we said our goodbyes, I spotted an armadillo running across the lawn. It was too dark to get a good photo. (Honestly, Tyler just an hour before, told me they carry Leprosy so I wasn’t about to go try to catch it.)

The following morning was our official last day of fun. As we left the hotel and headed to the car, we heard noises in the woods off to our right. I spied a cat spying something in the woods. Tyler spotted them first. I couldn’t believe it…there in the woods were about six baby hogs…I don’t know where Mom was, nor did I want to know! Pretty amazing no hogs showed up where they were supposed to be but then show up at our hotel! A little salt in the wound for John, but we had a good laugh afterward.

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Pigs in the underbrush…they’re there, but hard to see. (c) SWarren

Next week: Part II –  Air Boat Ride!

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 .

 

 

 

 

 

TBT: Brook Fishing to Fly Fishing 101

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Fishing for brook trout before access was an issue. (c) S. Warren

Before we got married, my husband John and I would fish for brook trout in Mount Vernon, Maine. It was one of the few places where a brook trout were more than six inches long and not many people fished the brook. At first I wasn’t a fan of brook fishing because my lines seemed to always get tangled in a bush. I spent as much time untangling my line from tree limbs as I did actually fishing. I ended buying short kiddie poles and they worked great for brook fishing. This is probably when I really learned how to fish and learned how to tell when a fish bites, and only then did I really started to enjoy fishing.

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Showing off their catch to the kiddos. circa 1990

Eventually I graduated up to being able to fish at East Carry with my husband’s family. Fishing East Carry was special because it was the only place we could catch big brookies…or so we thought. Back then fishermen were allowed to keep 5 fish over 8 inches and could catch them using the “plug” fishing method, which is simply big night crawlers on a #4 hook, no bobber, and slow reeling in the line to attract the fish. And these fish ranged in size of 12-16 inches most of the time. We had so much fun and we usually caught our limit–obviously too much fun because now fishing on East Carry is restricted to artificial lures only, and only two fish can be kept. We’ve learned to limit ourselves as well. We release way more than we keep.

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Our take home for everyone but not the entire amount caught. circa 1982 (c) S. Warren

Spring brook fishing in Mount Vernon became an annual outing with our kids until someone started blocking access. After a brief confrontation with a person who wasn’t the landowner but only someone who wanted the fishing and the access all for himself, my husband defied the man’s yelling and continued on his way. He was taking our youngest, who loved to fish and he wasn’t about to let this guy ruin it; however, it did ruin the fun and the son didn’t want to go there anymore.And that was the end of brook fishing there.

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Otter Pond at sunset. (c) S. Warren

That’s when we decided to take him to Otter Pond. Other than fishing East Carry, we never really fished for trout. Otter Pond is a tributary pond to East Carry Pond; it’s a small road accessible pond that has brook trout and it allows for worms. Perfect!

We had artificial lures too, and the boy was awesome using them, but I never caught anything except bottom or a tree limb with a treble hook lure, so I wasn’t all that excited to spend a whole weekend trying to catch fish with them. Then came the brilliant idea. We decided to teach ourselves how to fly fish so that we could once again fish East Carry Pond. Fly fishing was a new adventure for all of us. We would always see fish surfacing on the far side of Otter Pond, but never where we could get to without a canoe.So we loaded up the camper and the canoe, and set out to take the boy fishing for the weekend. We tried brook fishing along the way. We didn’t have a lot of luck but fishing made the boy happy and that’s all we hoped for.

All three of us in the canoe: John paddled from the back, I was in the front and Tyler was in the middle. We spent the weekend taking turns casting, perfecting the casting technique, tying on different flies, and learning the art of setting the hook. We caught fish after fish and release most of them. We saved enough to have one meal which we cooked over the campfire that night.

Yes, there were squabbles followed by awkward moments of silence.  “Mom went out of turn”, “the fish jumped by me…not you”, our lines became tangled, Dad didn’t say “casting” before he started casting, and the boy almost jumped out of the canoe when he saw a spider in the tackle bag…but all in all, it helped us learn how to work together, to communicate,  and to enjoy each others’ company, and for that, I’ll always cherish these memories.

Now we pretty much only fly fish unless we’re fishing for perch in Great Pond or striped bass on the coast. Fly fishing keeps the mind busy and there’s seldom boredom with fly fishing…and catching a fish on a fly is so exciting. When it’s too windy to fish the pond, we head to the river. It makes wading the river currents and casting and interpreting the waters all the more satisfying.

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On the far side of East Carry by the Appalachian hut.

For almost six years, the three of us have fly fished out of the canoe and explored the pond. The youngest now 18 years old, isn’t as excited to go because we marathon fish, but we’re hoping we can coax him to join us a few times before he starts his summer job. As much as we’d like him to join us, we’ve learned to go without him, and enjoy sunsets and fish rises on East Carry. We don’t do much brook fishing anymore…but if you get the chance, it’s another great way to get yourself or a kid outdoors.

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Sunset on East Carry and fly fishing the hatch. ❤

 

TBT: Fishing the Serpentine

If you read my stories, you’d think I was born and raised with a fly rod in my hand. The truth of the matter is that I wasn’t…

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Serpentine Stream 2013. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans, Central Maine Newspapers

If you read my stories, you’d think I was born and raised with a fly rod in my hand. The truth of the matter is that I wasn’t, and I wasn’t even a very good fisherman for a long time. I don’t think I caught my first fish until I was at least 13 years old, and when I finally caught a fish it was a yellow perch using a worm and red-n-white bobber.

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An old Polaroid Instant photo of Zack, Mom and Becky posing under the big pine tree with a nice bass that Zack caught at the camp lot . circa 1991. (c) S. Warren

My parents had a camp lot (no camp) on Serpentine Stream in Smithfield, Maine. Each summer we’d camp, fish and cook by the campfire. Back then (and probably still now) we didn’t swim in the stream because the bottom was too slimy, and there were sticks and clams to contend with, so fishing was pretty much the only thing to do to keep a kid busy. The stream was pretty full of algae and the catch consisted of bass, pickerel, sunfish, and yellow and white perch. Occasionally we’d see a water snake or a turtle, both which waned any urge to try to to swim in the stream no matter how hot it seemed. The stream now also has crappy thanks to the illegal dumping of the non-native fish, which at one point almost wiped out the white perch.

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My daughter fishing at the camp lot..concentrating on the reeling. circa 1989 (c) S. Warren

I never seemed to be able to catch anything except the tall pine’s bough that hung out over the water and still grows where I stood to cast. All of my siblings fished and caught fish pretty darned near every time they threw in the line. I would spend hours watching my bobber dance on the water, but never could set the hook to pull in a fish. Good thing I wasn’t a reader or I probably never would have picked up a fishing pole again, but since I enjoy doing things over sitting still, I continued to try.

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Author and oldest son Zack fishing with her silver Shakespeare that she still owns and fishes with on Serpentine Stream, Smithfield, ME. Circa 1989. (c) S. Warren

Once  John and I had kids of our own, we took the kids to the camp lot on Serpentine Stream to fish for the first of many times. My parents spent weekends at the camp lot so it became a Sunday tradition to pack up the kids, meet my parents at camp, and have Sunday breakfast over the campfire. It is here that I taught my kids how to fish.

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Youngest son with Dad catching his first small mouth bass on Serpentine Stream. (c) S. Warren

The camp lot and stream has been the place where most of the kids in our families learned to fish. Throughout the years, we’d bring the kids to fish after work. It’s still a great place for a kid to catch a fish, especially in the spring when the white perch are running and for bass fishing in the summer. My brother built a camp further down on Serpentine and his two boys are avid fisherman. In one afternoon, they caught “between 12 – 15 fish that were over 3 lbs”! Fishing runs deep in the family. My other nephew, Chris, even ice fished on the Serpentine this winter!

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Nephew Brady caught this 5 lb. 5 oz.  largemouth bass on Serpentine Stream in 2015. photo credit: Brady’s Dad (c) B. Shields

 

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My nephew Chris with a black crappy from the Serpentine. “He caught pickerel, crappy, smallmouth bass, and yellow perch! Lots of fish! Mom navigated, but says she needs to get in on the action next time!” photo credit: W. Shields

A lot has changed over the years. Serpentine Stream is now called Serpentine waterway (not by me); East Pond is sometimes referred to as East Lake (not by me) by those trying to market it to campers from away, and there’s now an Ice Cream Place in the town village that draws customers in boats down the stream from East Pond.

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photo credit: Ice Cream Place Smithfield ME

According to an article in the local newspaper, “speeding boats have wiped out the algae”and “speeding boaters and jet skiers along the Serpentine waterway also were unwittingly threatening a comeback of the Sandhill crane, a species that recently returned to Maine after being pushed to the brink of extinction. A speed buoy was installed at both ends of the Serpentine waterway to help control boat traffic.” I wouldn’t want to endanger the Sandhill crane, but I didn’t think killing some algae was necessarily a bad thing since the last time we tried to use the boat launch at the camp lot to take our boat out, the entire trailer was blanketed in algae plants, and it us forever to get all of it off. In the age of Eurasian Watermilfoil threats and not knowing if we had it on our boat, we haven’t used the launch since, but instead use the public launch on the other end of East Pond.

bobberSo April 1st kicks off the official open water season. If you don’t have a little slice of heaven on the Serpentine, try to find one, or plan a canoe trip down the Serpentine. Then buy a license and don’t forget to take a kid fishing! Maine will also offer a free weekend of fishing for adults on June 4-5, 2016 and if you still don’t have a place to take a kid fishing, the State of Maine offers many spots around Maine that with exclusive kid friendly – kid only fishing. No matter what you do be sure to get out there!

I’m thankful for the camp lot to still be in our family, and I can’t wait to take my grand kids there when they learn to fish. In the meantime, after seeing  my nephew Brady’s large mouth bass, I’m planning on making a trip down the Serpentine to see if I can catch what he’s been catching!

 

Spring Mud Makes Maple Syrup

Spring is a season that I can’t wait to be over. March brings on mud season. I hate mud. I don’t want to walk in it, drive in it or have it in my house. It’s usually too gross to be in the woods once the snow is gone, but until the snow goes, it’s prime maple sapping time.

John started making maple syrup a few years ago to spend time with our oldest son. This soon became a time spent with the youngest son (pictured above). Now it’s my turn. This is the first year that I’ve helped put taps in the trees and checked on the sap buckets, and helped with the boiling process. I’m learning a lot even though I’ve been a spectator for many years. We don’t have a lot of fancy equipment or complicated setups; just some pails, tree taps and nails to hang the bucket.

Before the season even began, John found a couple dead maples to cut, split and stack by the fire pit. The fully dry wood makes for a really hot fire. The fire has to be constantly tended so that it stays hot, and the boiling sap watched so that it doesn’t burn.

Maple syrup season begins when it’s freezing at night and warm during the day. The sap will run until there’s no longer a swing in temps from night and day. We’ve only had our taps out for a week and a half, but the first day we got six gallons of sap. Then came a couple fully cold days followed by rain so no sap flowed. Today Maine broke a record and hit 65 degrees. And the sap flowed again.  After collecting sap, John had it the lobster pots and boiling before I even drove in the driveway from work.

In no time, he had boiled down all the sap we had collected today and added it to the sap he had boiled down on Sunday. Once it reaches a small enough amount and is gold honey colored, we bring it inside and finish the boil down process on the stove. Once the syrup reaches a full rolling boil and closes in the center, the syrup is ready to be poured through a filter into a jar.

This part is tricky so not to overfill the filter and not burn yourself. I held the filter and watched for over pour as John poured syrup. We had to alternate the filters because they get plugged with sugar sand or the syrup cools so that it flows slower through the filter. We ended up with a full quart of syrup. This will be great to enjoy at breakfast on Easter and Christmas, hopefully in the company of our kids.

I have a feeling our sap season won’t be long this year. That’s okay, because I just started getting my water alerts for the river levels on the Dead River…and that means fly fishing season will be here soon…hopefully sooner if they ever drop the river. In the meantime, I’ll tolerate the mud with some fly tying, and I’ll enjoy my chaga tea with a little bit of maple syrup. Yum!

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Learning in My Down Time

FLY2Almost two weeks ago, I was out in the woods getting my mind clear, looking for antlers and trudging through some pretty deep snow when my foot fell deep through a snow covered brush pile. I fell flat on my face; my .22 barrel drove into the ground, and I got this incredible burning pain in my left knee. My foot had become lodged so that when I fell, there was no give, and the knee took the brunt of the fall. After a few curse words I got up and walked out, but the knee was incredibly stiff and sore. By the next day, I could barely walk on it and I feared the worst. What I don’t need is a torn ACL since I’m already the candidate for a knee replacement and with fishing season beginning in about a month, the last thing I want to do is be sidelined when I should be casting my fly rod. A trip to the doctor and I was told no torn ligament, just a good knee sprain that needs rest.

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My new fly tying kit. It came with some supplies but I also got a lot more separate items.

So what to do in the meantime? I decided that I was finally going to put my down time to good use and learn how to tie some of the flies I most often use. Before I ever got hurt, I had decided I wanted to learn how to tie flies. Besides the fact that we spend a lot of money on flies, I have this sense of pride that I can do anything I set my mind to, and especially if it means I’m going to save money.  I mean A LOT of money… every time we hit L.L. Bean, Cabelas, Pinkham’s in North Anson, Sandy River General in New Sharon, or Jack’s in Farmington to name a few, I never seem to get out of any of these stores before I’ve spent at least $20 in flies. It’s like an addiction…I love having all my fly boxes full with several of each kind of fly because we’ve all lost a favorite fly that is the only one catching fish.  John, Tyler and Zack have all owned fly tying kits and all of them know how to tie flies, so this winter I bought my very own fly tying kit and stocked up on supplies. This cost me a good $100 even with the fly tying kit being on sale, but I figured I’d get my money back in no time. The average cost of a fly is $2.25 so I need to make about 45 flies in order to break even on my out of pocket expense and not buy any more supplies or flies or I’ll be in the hole.

“NO PROBLEM”…In my mind I’d soon be cranking out the flies and waiting to get a call for my work.

Being able to tie flies can’t be that hard. I’m naturally good with my hands, and I’m not afraid to use them. I’ve sewn wedding dresses. I can build with wood and have had lots of experience. I can paint. I can tile. I can make things…I am freaking awesome when it comes to doing stuff like this….how hard can it be to tie a fly?

A hell of a lot harder than I imagined!

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photo credit: orvis.com

 

What I failed to calculate is the learning curve. I am a perfectionist which probably doesn’t help. I want it to be perfect the first time. I want it to look like the flies we buy. If only I didn’t feel like no matter which way I turn the vise, I have two left hands and neither one of them is talking to the other one. My first fly attempt is a Hare’s Ear nymph. This is what they’re supposed to look like.

 

IMG_20160228_212746709These were hot last year and since there were no bugs, these nymphs were the only thing catching salmon. Dubbing sounds harmless enough, but it’s a nightmare to work with. Dubbing is dyed rabbit fur. It’s used to make the bump on the nymph…How much, how thin, too thin, too thick..gahhh! It seems like the harder I tried to make it look clean, the worse it looked.

 

 

 

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Feeling confident! (c)SWarren

 

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Before dubbing was applied. (c) SWarren
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Please let this be over!

 

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My first two Hare’s Ear Nymphs. A big learning curve!

 

My second fly is a green Woolly Bugger, a fluffy fly that when wet resembles a fish. I emphasize fluffy as I think half of the marabou feathers got sucked up my nose when I tried to get what I needed for the fly.  I also made a black one. Add a Hare’s ear nymph to it and you’ve got a great combination for catching brook trout and salmon. I wasn’t as disappointed with the Woolly Bugger as the Hare’s Ear Nymph, but I know that all I need is practice.

 

 

So just like fly fishing, I will need to take baby steps. My return on investment may not happen until next year, but I’ll try not to be so hard on myself and try to remind myself that every expert was once a beginner.

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Being a Woman of the Maine Outdoors

I have always loved being active in the outdoors and consider myself a Woman of the Maine Outdoors. I’m even a board member for a non-profit Women of the Maine Outdoors; yet winter has always been my least favorite season, and my least active season. Two reasons: I have asthma, and I detest being cold.

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Our new fireplace

It’s easy to stay inside where it’s warm, where there’s a movie and warm fireplace, where I always have housework to be done, where there’s laundry to keep up, a wood stove to fill, and home projects to get done.  I avoid it all the rest of the year so I don’t know why I care now!

My usual outdoor cycle begins with fly fishing and camping activity in the spring even if there still are snowbanks to climb over. My knees get really sore from activities so I end up taking lots of ibuprofen and acetaminophen and do a lot of whining. Once bear season arrives in August, I hope I have enough wind to help haul buckets of bait. Bear season ends just in time for deer season when I hunt every single day I can because the knees don’t hurt as much, the asthma is under control, and I’ve built endurance to enjoy every minute. Then winter comes. I spend the majority of my time indoors.

In the last few years, I’ve been lucky to do a snowmobiling trip, maybe go snowshoeing once, get coerced into ice fishing once, and then I wait for spring. By spring, I’m completely out of shape and the mad cycle begins all over again. I’ve decided that if I’m to be someone who represents Woman of the Maine Outdoors, then I need to change!

In an effort to break the cycle, I’ve been getting outdoors this winter. Keeping my deer cameras out and allowing myself the time to get out into the woods has been the best thing I’ve done in years.

I go prepared with my new hunting fanny pack I got for Christmas. I bring along my inhaler, phone with camera, eye glasses and a compass just in case. I am finding new adventures and wildlife in the woods every time I go out! I’ve found more tracks of animals I never knew were there. I have fox, owls and deer on my game camera.

For now I haven’t had to put on my snowshoes because the amount of snow has been minimal but walking in the snow is still giving me a good workout. We are giving the snowshoes a new coat of marine varnish to make them like new again for when the snow does finally arrive. It’s almost time for our annual ice fishing trip to Moosehead, and I’ll be getting out my one trap and hoping to catch that monster togue or brookie.

Actually, let’s be honest. I’ll be happy to get a flag.

Maybe this weekend, I’ll get the chance to do some rabbit hunting or to try my luck at coyote hunting~I guess I better buy my licenses!

Whatever you do, take time for yourself with or without someone, and get out there~being a woman (or man) of the Maine outdoors begins with baby steps. If you don’t have private land, there are lots of trails for public use and you’ll be surprised what you can see…even in the city I’m told there’s some solitude in the woods. Hats off to my baby sister Wendi for “getting out there”.