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.

 

Take A Slow Wild Ride

I know that sounds confusing, but let’s face it; we miss a whole lot of stuff driving too fast. I can’t tell you how many people drive right by or into wildlife because they’re so intent on getting where they’re going that they don’t take the time to slow down and really see what’s around them.

When my children were younger, many of our Friday or Saturday nights were spent cruising the back roads hoping to see some wildlife. “Moose rides” we called them, but we often saw way more than moose. To this day, my kids can recount a certain ride where they saw a bull moose fight, a baby bunny, or where we stopped and caught fish in our travels.

The secret to seeing wildlife is: Number one: knowing where to go. Number two: going at the right time of the year, and number three: going at the right time of day. But really if you want to see wildlife, just take a ride into rural Maine. A slow ride. Grab a friend, lover or family, and get your eyes off your phone and into the fields, the woods, and the roads. I’m not saying you have to go 30 miles per hour the whole time…but 60 won’t do you any good and you might even hit one of the animals you’re trying to spot…so slow down. Be aware of your surroundings, including cars behind you who aren’t out for a wild ride, and be ready to slow to a stop, take a picture, and share the experience and make memories.

In the beginning of the spring, April, we start our rides to go fishing. This time of year, we see a lot of yearling moose who have just been cast off from their mothers who are getting ready to calve. These moose are extremely scared, tend to stay in the road, run up the road, and may even come up to your vehicle as one did for us this spring. The moose always look pretty scraggly, but it’s just the shedding of their winter coats.

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We also see a lot of rabbits. One of the games we play with the kids is that everyone gets to guess how many moose and rabbits we’ll see. The winner only gets bragging rights, but it gets the kids involved with looking to spot animals. We’ve seen woodcock with chicks, fox with kits, grouse alone, and with chicks, deer with fawn, moose with calves, bucks, coyotes, snakes, bear, turtles, turkey, rabbits, and sometimes we even spot mushrooms..all from the seat of our truck.

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Where to go: For moose, we go north/northwest of Norridgewock…areas include Bingham, Athens, road to Greenville, Rangeley and US Route 16, Oquossoc, Kingfield, and north of Lexington on the Long Falls Dam Road. For deer, just take a drive. They’re literally everywhere from the interstate, to farm fields, to within the city limits. Some of the biggest deer in velvet that I’ve ever seen have been in Augusta.

When to go: early spring to see turkeys gobbling in farm fields, deer getting their first taste of grass, pregnant cow moose, yearling moose, laying turtles in the gravel roadside, and if you’re lucky enough, a bear with cubs. Mid-spring  delivers for moose with calves, moose and deer in general, rabbits with babies, grouse with chicks, birds of all sorts including hawks and owls and even sand hill cranes. Fall is great to see moose in the rut, and partridge to shoot in October. Most of the time when we hunt for partridge, we’re riding roads looking on berms to spot roosting birds…use this time to start early and get to know where you see them for the fall bird season.

We always plan our rides so that we arrive at our destination around dusk. You should plan to drive slower than normal and keep an eye out. This is the time many animals come out to eat, hunt, or travel. We bring a spotlight to help spot animals. We never have any kind of hunting equipment in the car either, because it would look bad to a game warden or police officer. You can use lights except from September 1 to December 15, when “it is unlawful to use artificial lights from 1/2 hour after sunset until 1/2 hour before sunrise to illuminate, jack, locate, attempt to locate or show up wild animals or wild birds except raccoons which may be hunted at night with electric flashlights during the open season (IFW).”

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So no matter when you head out, you’re apt to see something. Just slow down and watch the sides of the roads, the trees, the skies, and take it all in. There’s always something out there to enjoy, to share, and to learn about. You won’t forget it, and neither will the kids.

Happy Riding!

PS Don’t forget your camera. Many of these are taken with my phone camera so the resolution isn’t as good as it could be.

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..