Mud Season Maintenance

Mud season is gross. Hunting and trapping has ended for the most part, with the exception of coyote and beaver. There’s not enough snow for the snowmobiles, and too much mud or granular snow for the four-wheeler. Even though they change the laws each year to allow for early fishing, I don’t usually take part due the icy cold waters. Even with wool socks and waders, I get cold, so it’s April 1st for me.

So what is there to do? Well March mud season is my maintenance season. It’s when I start getting everything ready for fishing and camping, and put away all things winter.

The snowmobiles barely made it into the trailer before the snow melted. We’ve charged the batteries and started the four-wheelers. We’re still checking sap buckets using the four-wheeler where it’s still frozen so we can boil maple syrup. That’ll continue for another week or so. It’s been a slow season, but that’s okay since John tore his Achilles tendon and will be limited for a while. The snowshoes have been given a nice coat of marine grade shellac and they’re hung up for the season.

The traps are hanging under cover in the pavilion (which John affectionately calls the Slaughterhouse) we built two springs ago so the rust should be minimal.

One of our biggest projects was cutting three big pine near the house. It certainly made a big change since it involved taking down our game pole. We’ll put that back up this week in some nearby pines that we didn’t cut down. So the big work is done.

Three giant pine gone. No more worrying about them falling on the house or shading my solar panels.

Now comes the fun part. I LOVE organizing my fly boxes. I have four MFC and a magnetic fly box, but even that never feels like enough. Every year, I get a stocking full of flies from Santa but this year, I also got a .50 each deal on a bunch of hare’s ear and other nymphs at LLBean so I’ll really need to take a look at the condition of some of the flies I have and see if they’re worth saving so I can make room for my new ones.

I’ll get out my fly rods and give the lines a good cleaning so they’ll glide nice and fast, and maybe even get in a few practice casts. I don’t know if you have this issue, but when I first start fishing at the start of the season, my arm gets tired. Good thing I’m actually trying to get in shape for it…me and my tiny weights. I’ll let you know how that goes.

I also have a bunch of trolling lures and new trolling rods that we need to set up for some early trolling on Great Pond. Lead core lines, backer line, braided line leaders and Grandma lures will make for some fun pike fishing, though I wouldn’t mind catching a brown or rainbow on Long Pond. Guess I better get the boats registered!

I hope you’re getting your gear ready. The season is short here in Maine, so prepping makes for more play and less work. As the experts like to say, “Tight lines”. Okay, some of you may find that hokey, but you know what I mean. Good luck fishing!…how’s that?

Mentoring Women Trappers Begins with Bear Trapping

I am new to trapping. I’ve only been trapping since the last bear referendum, and when I got my trapping license, it was solely for bear trapping. During the bear referendum is also when I met my friend, Erin.

What I didn’t realize was how challenging and exciting all trapping is, and bear trapping got me hooked. Every year, I learn a little more about where to trap, what types of lures to use, which different types of traps to use, how to trap in water v. land, etc. There are so many different aspects and challenges to trapping, that there’s really never a dull moment. 

My husband, John, and I run a little trapline behind our house. When I can, I invite my friend Erin along for the trapline check so that she can see what we do. As I’ve become better at trapping in general, so has my bear trapping. We’ve adapted our trapping as we’ve learned from our mistakes, and that goes for bear trapping too.

This year, Erin got a moose permit, and she expressed wanting to complete the grand slam. I completed the grand slam in 2016, so I know how hard it is to make it happen. To help her out, I offered to help her get a bear by trapping if she didn’t go on a guided dog hunt, which is how she usually gets her bear. Even though Erin has had a trapping license for a few years, she had never trapped a bear, and this year, she was all for trying and taking me up on the offer.

To get started, John and I lent Erin one of our pipe traps, and I helped her set it, set up a bait site and then bait the trap.  In addition to the trap, we set cellular cameras up to monitor not only the bait site, but also the trap specifically. Two cameras on every site has become our go to method just in case one dies when you need it the most. 

Sitting in the treetops. I put up a second hang on stand beside Erin’s tree stand. The winds had me holding on for dear life! The whole tree would sway in every direction.

Once bear were coming in, they were all pretty much nocturnal except for one. The first night the cable was set, a bear got caught, but as quick as it was caught, it literally stepped out of the loop. Turns out the compression spring needed to be tightened.  Since we have to check traps each day, we decided to sit over the bait just in case that same bear came in during daylight hours. We went in early and reset the trap and fixed the compression spring with a wire rope clamp. We sat until almost the end of legal shooting and decided nothing would come in because of the crazy winds. The wind was swirling so much, there was no hope of seeing anything.

We drove home not really thinking we’d be so lucky to have a bear that night. We were wrong. No sooner had we gotten home and settled in, my phone started sending “you’ve got bear” notifications. As I went to send a text to Erin, I got a text from her, “Is that a #$@! Bear?!” “Trapped?” “Yup!” I said, “and you need to meet us and we’ll help you get it.” 

The three of us loaded into the truck and drove to the site, discussing how the harvest would happen. Once we got to the bait site, Erin loaded her gun before we headed in. We walked in without a word. I went up the tree stand first and helped Erin get settled. We used our flashlights to spot the bear while John stayed on the ground. John ended up having to shine his flashlight too, since the foliage and shadows were blocking Erin from getting a good shot. As I held my flashlight and the branches out of the way,  I told her to shoot when she had a good shot. There’s no hurry. Take your time. Erin made a clean one-shot kill. She had her bear! Erin gave me a big hug and thanked me for helping her. It was rewarding to see her so excited and seeing her adrenaline kick in. 

We gave Erin the whole experience down to the field dressing, loading and transporting of her bear.

Next up, I plan to help her in setting the fisher exclusionary trap that I made for her last Christmas.

With the explosion of women hunters interested in bear trapping, there is a great opportunity to get more women into trapping in general. I hope that if you are a bear trapper, you’ll consider helping a fellow hunter trap a bear, and invite them along for a day on your trapline. The addiction is real and once they see the challenge, they too will be hooked.

How to Find Fiddleheads for Next Year’s Harvest

Now is the time to start searching!

Every year, at the beginning of the fiddlehead season, I see countless people asking, “Is this a fiddlehead?” It seems like a no brainer finding them, but I forget that when I was growing up, my mother would have done anything to know how to find fiddleheads and not have to buy them. Since fiddlehead spots are heavily guarded as sacred, it’s just much easier to find your own spot than to even think of asking someone or possibly contributing to over-harvesting on a popular spot.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you can find fiddleheads even now for next year, and perhaps even easier than when the season starts and definitely with less competition.

Best of all, finding fiddleheads out of season means you’ll be well prepared for next year. Chances are, you will find fiddleheads where you least expect to find them, and they’ll be bigger and less picked-over than the popular picked spots on the river.

Yes, fiddleheads do grow on the river banks, but that’s not the only places they grow. In fact, the biggest fiddleheads I’ve ever found weren’t found on the river, but in the woods, along a road, far away from the river. John and I spend a great deal of time driving logging roads all over Maine. This is the time of year when you can easily spot the ostrich a.k.a. fiddlehead fern.

There are two things you look for when scouting for fiddleheads; fern fronds (the leaves), and spores. Fiddleheads are the beginnings of the ostrich fern, which are easy to spot now that they are in full display. Another distinguishing attribute is the grooved stem of the fern. There are only 12 ferns in Maine, and most of them don’t look anything like the ostrich fern, so once you learn the twelve, it makes it far easier to finding fiddleheads, but really, just learn what the ostrich fern looks like and you won’t have a problem finding fiddleheads.

Fiddlehead ferns have very distinct foliage with very sharp points and slender leaves. Once the fiddlehead season is over, the ferns unravel and fill the roadsides along with other ferns that are often mistaken as fiddleheads. They are taller than most ferns. They look rather majestic and stand upright like ostrich feathers. If the ferns are large and are around three feet tall, then you most likely have found a mature batch with nice sized fiddleheads to found next spring.

So look carefully and look for sharp edged ferns. I’ve included photos so that you can really see the difference.  The first picture is fiddlehead fern. The others are not fiddlehead ferns, and when you compare them side by side, it’s easier to tell them apart. Fiddleheads will often grow amongst other ferns. In the picture with John picking fiddleheads, there are other ferns already up and open…and they’re not fiddleheads. Look at the photo of the fiddleheads up close; you will see the leaf structure of the fiddlehead fern before it opens up.

Fiddlehead ferns are bright green like a fiddlehead, not lemon green, or blue green…and not glossy like a Christmas fern.
Fiddleheads emerge from a cluster of root ball. You can usually find the dried spore pods as an indicator of where to look for fiddleheads.
John picking fiddleheads. See the other ferns that are not fiddleheads. They are paler green and have rounded leaves. Also note the seed pods from last year’s fiddlehead crop. New fiddleheads are emerging from the base of each bunch of dried fronds.

So the next time you get the chance to ride some roads, bring along your Gazeteer and mark locations that you can return to next spring. You won’t find those beautiful ferns, but you will most likely spot the dried spore pods that are left behind. So if you find yourself still not finding fiddleheads by the ferns, then try concentrating on the spore pods. Ostrich fern spore pods are very distinct, and you’ll know for sure you’ve found your spot. Not only are they neat to discover, but they make great decorations in a simple vase.

Ostrich fern spore pods look like a brown ostrich feather.
Remember that the fiddlehead has to have a grooved stem.

The other important thing to remember is timing. Since most of our fiddleheads are found north of where we live, we find that our mountain fiddleheads can be as much if not more than two weeks later before they’re ready to harvest, so don’t get discouraged if they’re not readily found the first time you check. Patience and persistence will get you the prize!

One other thing to consider if you are foraging on paper company land is to look for herbicide use nearby. Large clear-cuts will get sprayed yearly, so I like to make sure there aren’t any signs of herbicide use before I pick.

Happy Foraging!