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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

TBT-My First Moose Hunt-Wk 2

I kept saying over and over in in my mind: Don’t give up! when all I wanted to do was sit down.

We Climb Down a Mountain

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Beaver dam photo by SWLA.org

By mid-morning we were a bit discouraged. We stopped into the local store for coffee and snacks and ran into an old friend of John’s dad. After some conversation, we told him we were moose hunting. The gentleman knew “exactly where to go to get a moose” and told us where we needed to look. He and his grandson hunt this area for deer, and they often see moose. We were excited again. We thanked him and headed out for what we thought was a climb down a small hill to a bog.

It had recently snowed but then half melted away, which made walking more difficult. The temps had warmed, but it still wasn’t overly warm…unless you’re hiking a few miles. We parked the truck and headed out to scout for moose. There was a small trail at the top of the mountain, but we cut off from the trail and headed straight down over the mountain. We managed to jump two nice doe on our way down. This “small hill” ended up being a monstrosity. It was about a mile and a half downhill before we ever came to the bottom of the hill. There we hit another walking trail but continued straight on through in hopes we’d reach the bog.

Walking downhill was awkward for my ailing knees. On top of that, I was completely over dressed. I had on my big L.L. Bean boots with wool socks, my green Johnson woolen overalls, heat gear turtleneck, hunting jacket and orange hunting vest…and I was carrying my rifle. I was drenched with sweat before we got to the bottom of the mountain.

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Beaver dam photo by SWLAmaine.org

We crossed a small stream, then a few hundred yards later, we hit a flooded area and then a beaver dam. I prayed the water wouldn’t go over the top of my boots. We managed to get to the beaver dam. We then shuffled our way across the edge of the dam, holding onto the tips of branches. Somehow we managed not to fall in. Once on the other side, we heard some crashing and immediately noticed we had jumped two moose.

 

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Young moose photo by SWLAmaine.org

I was in a dilemma. I had made it clear that I would absolutely not shoot a moose with a calf no matter how old. This appeared to be a cow and calf, or two cows; we weren’t sure. We decided we might be lucky enough to spot a bull so we decided to track them. We tracked through the bog, twisting, winding, slopping our way through a maze of woods and moss from which I didn’t think we’d ever find our way out. We tracked the moose for almost three hours. Good thing John has “iron boogers” to get us out. We never caught up the the two moose, and as dark closed in on us, we finally gave up and headed back.

By the time we got back to the beaver dam, I was exhausted. I was thirsty beyond thirsty. We hadn’t brought one ounce of water with us. Our short trip turned out to be the whole afternoon. I shimmied my way across the beaver dam and through the wet land. As we came upon the bottom trail we had initially seen, I spotted a brook with crystal clear cold water. Against protests from John, I laid down and took a good healthy swig of spring water. I didn’t know where we were and at the time, I didn’t care. It wasn’t connected to the beaver dam and it tasted lovely. By this time John had thought I had gone insane. Perhaps I had. You probably shouldn’t do that.

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Sheepscot River tasty water                           photo by SWLA.org

I tried to convince John to take the unknown-destination path which looked much more an appealing walk than the mountain he wanted me to climb, but with darkness upon us, the last thing we wanted to do was be lost in the woods. So we hiked back up the mountain, the tall freaking steep mountain. As we began the hike up the mountain, I began peeling off my jacket and hat. I was so hot I could barely stand it. My feet hurt from sliding inside my big boots.  My knees really hurt. I was thirsty still. I was sweating. I ended up eating snow as I climbed the mountain. It was absolutely the suckiest moment of hunting I’ve ever experienced. I kept saying over and over in in my mind: Don’t give up! when all I wanted to do was sit down. Luckily my asthma didn’t make the climb worse, but none the less, I was bummed that I hadn’t better prepared for all the walking I had to do and for the physically intensive challenge I had faced.

We finally made it out of the woods by nightfall about half a mile from our truck. I declared I couldn’t take another step. As I sat on a stump feeling defeated and waiting for John to come pick me up with the truck, I found out where we were thanks to a sign and a nifty brochure. We were at the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance (SWLA.org) now called the Midcoast Conservancy, and we had climbed Whitten Mountain. It turns out all those trails do lead to somewhere, and I was going to do some research for the next weekend of hunting. I was going to be more prepared. AND I was never going into the woods without water again.

Next week: I Get My Moose!

 

 

Florida Adventures for a Maine Girl – Part III

Alligators In My Backyard!

Everyone knows Florida has alligators. The last two times we went to Florida, we visited Gatorland in Orlando to see alligators up close. Gatorland is located in the bird corridor which means when it’s spring, the migrating birds lay nests of eggs throughout the property. Gators linger beneath the nests hoping for a quick meal from a fledgling misstep.

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While the alligators were still interesting, the swamp walk was even better. The one thing I can say is that in Maine, you can just go out into the woods with no worries. It’s a lot harder to encourage that in Florida because everywhere around you there is something that wants to eat you, bite you or chase you.

The swamp walk at Gatorland has been the highlight of our trips not because of the swamp, but because of what’s in the swamp. There are species of plants and animals not found in Maine. Geckos galore. The green ones are native and the brown ones invasive; and 90% of the geckos seen are brown.IMG_20160422_134821371_TOP

One animal in particular that makes our adventure an adventure ….is the snake. Lots of snakes…And this Maine girl does not like snakes at all! However, seeing snakes with caution is entirely different than looking at them through a glass partition. I get to challenge my fear while still feeling safe…somewhat. The board walk is roughly four to five feet wide with minimal railings, but the message is clear: Stay on the boardwalk and watch out for snakes and what ever you do. Don’t touch them or try to catch them. They can be nasty and most are poisonous. Duly noted!

I wasn’t that close…thanks to the zoom on my cell phone, they look a lot closer than I really was. 

The first time we did the walk in 2011 we found about five snakes. Only one was what I would consider big. It was a copperhead and I still shudder when I remember seeing it because when I finally spotted what everyone was looking at, I was WAY closer than I should have been…and Mr. Snake was looking at me at only about five feet away.

So this time, I used a bit more caution. I would spot a snake, but I was content seeing it NOT move. I made mention that one of them looked dead because there was no movement. Wrong thing to say. The son found great pleasure in watching snakes jolt and scurry from a good blast of air on its back  (he’d literally blow a gust of air on them to make them move) and me making my noises short of a scream of “please don’t let it come my way.”

Luckily the snakes were only seen in the swamp walk. Alligators on the other hand were where I least expected them. In the little pond by our hotel where the guests walk their pooches. I laughed when I first saw the sign, but then another guest informed us that not only are there bass, turtles and birds in the water there are gators.

Sure enough, we finally got to see him…uhmmm them….yup two gators showed up daily. I still can’t believe there was an apartment complex on the other side of the pond and it’s obvious kids live there from seeing the power wheels vehicle parked outside. Yet, not one single resident ever showed themselves outside their apartments. So much for spending $79 to see gators at Gatorland. They were free for the looking in our backyard though probably not as entertaining. I’m glad I can say there are no such animals in my backyard in Maine. For more pics of the gators and snakes we’ve seen, go to MyMainelyGirlAdventures Facebook page.

 

Florida Adventures for a Maine Girl – Part II

Air Boat Ride in the Swamp!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week: Part III – Alligators in my backyard!

Memories of A Youth Day Turkey Hunt

“If I Could Turn Back Time” still sings through my head when I think of this hunt.

One of the most full-filling times of turkey hunting is when you see your children get the chance to experience what you get to do. Describing a turkey hunting story can give the listener a play by play, but in reality there is nothing like being there hearing a gobble, smelling the spring air, and the feeling the excitement of the turkey approaching your decoy.

MomZackturkeyhuntcroppedMy son Zack and I hunted turkey together, but he was already a teenager and back then they didn’t have a youth day. We had a few successful hunts that went pretty much according to “the plan” we made. I’m sure many of you have seen this photo on my Facebook page. It’s one of my favorites and one of those hunts I’ll never forget, not because of the birds we got, but the whole experience brings a smile to my face whenever we talk about it.

By the time my youngest son was old enough to hunt, there was a spring turkey youth day established, and there was nothing more exciting than planning a day of turkey hunting. I think I was actually more excited than he or John was. John and I bought Tyler all the camouflage and equipment necessary. We scouted. We practiced. We coached. If all went according to “the plan”, then he would be successful. In my mind, we would be successful as parents~Tyler would be hooked on hunting after this hunt. 

“If I Could Turn Back Time” still sings through my head when I think of this hunt.

Tyler is not particularly a morning person, i.e. he doesn’t like to get up in the morning, especially early, early mornings to hunt or fish. By the time we headed out to the spot in Norridgewock, we were running late, to which I duly noted several times on our way to the spot. The sun was already rising, so we’d have to hurry. On our hike into the field, we had to cross an old stream that was frankly raging from the spring rains. Not only was it about shin deep, it was moving fast from right to left. I was carrying my little flip cell phone in my left hunting pants pocket along with a real camera. Unlike today’s phone, in those days, my camera had more megapixels than my phone camera so my pockets were full. I also was carrying my shotgun on my left shoulder as I usually do.

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Tyler and John heading out. The only picture I got that day…

As we made our way down the road, we approached the stream. It was a lot harder crossing at barely daylight than in the middle of a sunny day. I was doing well trying to cross. The water was rushing fast and just about the time I reached the other side and reached for John’s hand, I stepped on a slippery rock and down I went. Oh yes, I forgot to mention the rocks were slick. In a second, I was underwater. My right hand caught my fall; however the entire right side of my body was soaking cold and dripping wet. I said a few curse words about the time John pulled me out of the water. Mood ruined and I was fully aware how cold spring water can be. John was irritated. Tyler was upset, and I was mad at myself for falling, but in no way was I about to let this ruin our time. So off we went to find us some turkeys.

We crossed into two fields, got set up and began calling. John was a short distance away and I took up position right behind Tyler. I wanted to coach him as the turkeys came over over the knoll…as it turns out so did his dad. John was calling. Turkeys were gobbling. Soon two jakes came up over the knoll and headed right for Tyler’s decoy. Tyler was using his Rossi 20 guage convertible gun. I didn’t think it had that much shooting distance so I was telling him to “Wait”, “Wait”, “Wait”…until they were closer. Meanwhile, John was whispering, “Shoot”, “Shoot”, “Shoot it!”….Well, the turkeys heard us too, and Tyler was so confused by everything, that when he finally shot, he shot right over their heads. Birds flew. Feathers flew, but no  birds were down. Tyler had missed them entirely. Now who’s to say whether or not he would have missed even if we weren’t both instructing him, but it didn’t matter right then.

Now you can only imagine his disappointment. He was pretty upset with both of us. We learned our lesson that day. We should have just let him do it, and have only one person be the guide. We had put too much pressure on this kid without even realizing it. We should have spent more time enjoying the experience instead of concentrating on a successful outcome. Tyler’s not really interested in hunting turkeys, or at least not like I had hoped. I will always wonder if this type of hunting experience hadn’t happened if things would be different. Perhaps he’d want to hunt more with us…perhaps not. I’ll never know.

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So when you head out to take a kid hunting, don’t do what we did. Don’t put so much pressure on his or her being successful so that if things don’t go according to “the plan”, the world won’t stop. Take the time to enjoy the experience and the time you get to spend together. Regardless of the outcome, your son or daughter will remember these special times more than the one time they got a turkey.

P.S. As luck would have it, my cell phone, camera and gun escaped the water that day and several ticks were removed from our clothes, and Tyler has since forgiven us.

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. ❤

 

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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Skunked by the Deer

Well, first of all I have to apologize for being so delinquent in my posts. The rest of deer hunting season followed by muzzle loader season and then the renovations among holiday preparations have taken their toll. I am behind, and in more than my blog, and Christmas is only three days away. I haven’t wrapped a gift or baked a cookie. However, my new fireplace and living room look and feel fantastic! I’m extremely proud of our work and can’t believe we got so much accomplished with our crazy schedules.

However, I’ve learned to adapt and life moves on whether we’re ready or not so why not just go with it and not fret over it. I can’t change it, and in fact, I wouldn’t change any of my life for the last year. I fully love my life and the chaos that comes with it. With each change and event, we grow as people… as hunters, parents, and human beings.

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So, despite the fact that my six point buck returned at night only just before the season ended, I was happy to know he’s still around. I hunted him hard, but he outsmarted me. I jumped him numerous times in different spots but never got a shot because it was always too dark. The last time I jumped him was the last night of rifle season by my Buddy stand. I heard that familiar deer running sound, but couldn’t spot him. I pulled up my gun and looked through my scope hard. Nothing. I thought he had run off, but three more steps and I heard him again…heading towards my other stand. He never blew and just pounced away. I did see his his tail, the beautiful white tail flipping the bird and laughing as he pranced away. I could have taken a shot, but in reality…I say ‘he’, but I didn’t see antlers so it may very well have been another doe, and I couldn’t take that chance.

IMG_20151121_082238038_HDR.jpgMuzzle loader season only produced more does, and without a doe tag the best I could do was take a picture. Although I hunted every day except for one, I came up empty handed. I’m pretty hardcore, and can tolerate a lot, but when rain poured down on me as soon as I headed into the woods, I turned around and came right back in. Rain and black powder guns don’t mix well even when they’re modern, and I wasn’t prepared to sit in the rain only to get wet.

IMG_20151123_080428846John got a nice buck so we’re not meatless this winter, and we won’t totally break the piggy bank buying meat. I’m counting on rabbit hunting to bring in some more. We’re totally in love with our rabbit pot pies and I have a freezer full of them for winter.

We’ll be ice fishing soon, but other than our trip to Moosehead Lake in February, I’m not much of a participant. It’s hard to believe that as much as I love fly fishing and fishing in general, that I would be so apathetic about ice fishing. It may have something to do with the bone chilling cold, freezing cold wind and water on my hands, and not liking thin ice that has me thinking there’s got to be something more fun to do in the winter.  I used to ski until my knees wouldn’t let me any longer. I like to ice skate, but I suck at ice skating–and rollerskating for that matter. I broke my wrist roller skating so I’ve been banned from any skating all together. I have snowshoes, so when the snow finally falls, I’ll probably try snowshoeing where I hunt so I can get some  exercise.

Winter is the toughest time for this outdoor girl since I don’t like being cold and my asthma is at its worst. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not ready to give up. I’m not going to dwell on 2015 and beat myself up for not accomplishing what I set out to do….it’s not like I didn’t try….The bear and deer may have skunked me for 2015, but 2016 will be different in many ways…and I’m only beginning.

I’m not one to make resolutions so I won’t even go there. I started a healthy lose weight program before I saw my Miss Maine Sportsman calendar photos which would have pushed me over the edge much sooner…and I’ve lost 16 pounds…but I have much more to lose before next spring when I cast my fly again and my WISH is to be considerably smaller by spring.  My other wishes: to take a trapping course so I can trap with John next fall, shoot my first bear, snag another moose permit, and shoot my first deer with my bow.

I sure do miss fly fishing…and now my wishes are answered…. I just read that since there is no ice and it’s been so warm, that open water season has been extended but few fisherman are taking advantage…Well, damn it. No one told me! Perhaps I can convince John to take me to the river. The water may be cold, but my waders will keep me dry and warm. Perhaps I should be wearing my waders ice fishing?

Whatever your 2016 holds, I hope you’ll get out into the outdoors. Try new things, face new challenges…and never, ever, give up, especially when it comes to mice….I’m up to 15 and I have resorted to using pink mint marshmallows as bait.

 

Girl Time!

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Erin fishing on the stream. (c) S. Warren

The Bear Referendum brought me new friends. One friend is Erin; she is also a hunter and fellow Woman of the Maine outdoors. I’ve never had a lot of time fishing or hunting with anyone other than John or the kids, so when I got the chance to go fishing with a new friend and hopefully show her how to fly fish in my favorite place to fish, I jumped on it.

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No fishing on the Dead River today. (c) S. Warren

I couldn’t wait to go fishing. We planned it all out a couple weeks in advance. The river is usually down during the week so I was pretty excited that we’d be able to fish and not be competing with so many other fisherman that are there on the weekends. The Dead River is a rafting river so on weekends when they raft, the river rises and stays high until about one o’clock. Then it drops, we fish, and Sunday it repeats itself. The rest of the time, the river levels are determined by Brookfield, the owner of the dam, so fisherman are at their mercy. Three days out from our big day, we got rain, and a lot of it, but the river levels remained steady. The river was still running low the morning we headed out.

 

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Fishing the Carrabassett by the Wire Bridge. (c) Erin M.

The trip takes an hour and half from my house, and once we leave Anson, cell phone coverage is spotty at best. This meant I couldn’t receive any more river level notifications and we’d have to hope it was still low. We weren’t so lucky. According to another fisherman, about a half hour before we arrived, the river was released and was raging way above any fishable level. I was pretty disappointed since John and I had just come off a stellar weekend of fishing and I didn’t want to let my friend down. In an attempt to salvage the day, we headed to the Carrabassett River. John and I had fished the river and caught some nice brook trout below the wire bridge the week before, and I knew it was accessible and safe to navigate. The scenery was awesome and the river was also high, but still fishable.

We didn’t catch anything, but had a great time checking out all the wildlife and sharing tips on fishing. The one thing we did before the day ended, was to plan another day…after all, we couldn’t possibly strike out twice on getting to fish the Dead.

I watched the river levels every day. I also noticed a systematic behavior of the dam operators. Thursday mornings before the weekend with a rafting release scheduled, they cut the water back to 375-385cf/s…perfect for fishing. What I didn’t realize was that for two straight weeks there would be no rafting release…and you guessed it..the water rose, and it stayed there. I was Dead wrong…the water levels at 1120 cf/second were so high that once again we couldn’t fish it.

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Fishing the Kennebec by the dam. (c) Erin M.

This time, I had a plan B in place. I had done my research and decided we’d take on the Kennebec River which also meant facing my long held fears. We parked and hiked down in by the eddy. The water was moving fast but it didn’t look unconquerable. I can say I was nervous because I wasn’t familiar with the river, the drop offs and all the childhood baggage of fearing the Kennebec. I managed to get myself out on this rock that was almost impossible to stand on. I don’t know if it was actually my fear, or my feet screaming to stay on the rock, but I didn’t’ stay long before I gave up and joined my friend on the shore. With no hits we decided to try the other end closer to the dam.

It was a hot muggy day, but the sunshine was still welcome. Dressed in waders and boots, we hiked down to the dam and made our way down to the water. First cast out with my big drake fly, I get a hit when I least expect it…yes, I was talking….and I lose the fish! I get so excited I’m screaming, “Oh my gosh, that was a big fish!” not realizing that if you’ve never caught a fish on a fly rod, you don’t know that feeling of what it’s like to get a big one on the hook. My excitement was contagious to my friend Erin, and it warded off the thirst that was slowing draining my energy for a while. Getting no more hits and roasting in our gear, we decided to head back to the car and get something to drink and eat. By the time we make it back to the car, we are both drenched in sweat…but we didn’t care! Hats on and sweaty pits, we laughed it off as being Women of the Maine Outdoors. We headed back to a store, bought our sandwiches, crawlers to fish with, and drinks, many of them, and we headed out to a different spot much different from what we had been trying to fish. After all, I wanted my friend to catch a fish!

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Owls keeping watch as we fish. (c) Erin M.
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Nice native brook trout! Tasted yummy too! (c) Erin M.

I was pretty proud of myself for finding the spot since I hadn’t been there for a few years, although we did go the wrong way at first. Once we found it, I informed Erin of the poison ivy that grows there…lots of it. So much so, we decided to wear the fishing gear to keep the poison ivy and bugs off us. It wasn’t nearly as hot since we were in the shade. As we made our way in, we came across two piles of bear poop, lots of turkey tracks and even saw two fledgling owls. Fishing was slow at first. As with any small area to fish, the hardest part is getting the darned worm cast out far enough from shore to actually lure in a fish. We had some good laughs and I climbed out on a tree to rescue a worm caught up in some branches. Fish taunted us as they jumped for flies and bugs while we kept patient and fished with worms. After  Erin tried a few attempts to catch one of the fish, I gave it a try. I got lucky and it finally took the bait. I caught a nice 10 inch native brook trout. So this time we didn’t go home empty handed, but there’s already a third trip in the works…and next time Erin will catch a fish! Hopefully the Dead River cooperates and lets us finally have a chance to fish. I know those fish will be ready for some of my tasty looking flies on top of the water!

 

A big thank you goes out to my friend Erin for a day of fishing and friendship with talk that didn’t encompass my nails, shopping, working out guilt, dieting or any self-deprecating conversations.

And that’s just another reason more women should get in the outdoors.

My Love-Hate Relationship With Water

Kayaking on Little Jim Pond 7/2015
Kayaking on Little Jim Pond 7/2015

I love summer. I love swimming when it’s hot. I love the smell and feel of the water. I love to see calm glass-like water with native brookies rising. I prefer the warmer fresh water over ocean water. Life is, and should be, good. Yet, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had this love-hate relationship with water, in particular, when it comes to recreating in it. I have a long history of training to dislike water, and especially rivers. As a child it seems that when there was a tragedy, it involved rivers. I heard story after story about the Kennebec River, which legend says to claim at least one person each year. A family of three moved to our neighborhood after she and her husband lost two of three boys, who fell through the thin ice on the Kennebec. My other neighbor’s grandfather was a victim of the Kennebec after he was swept off the dam while working in Skowhegan. A father and son drowned in the Kennebec river one spring, and teens are said to have drowned while swimming “the ledges”, a strictly forbidden spot on the Sandy River, and rafters have died on the Dead River. Perhaps these tragic stories were told by my parents as an attempt to teach us a healthy respect for the rivers, or to voice their own fears because neither of my parents were swimmers; however whatever the reason, it’s had a lasting and negative effect on me as an adult.

Fishing on the pond. (c) S. Warren
Fishing on the pond with life jacket on. (c) S. Warren

So without question, the Kennebec River was totally off limits to recreating, and since we didn’t have a pool, if we wanted any type of relief from the heat, we ventured to the local swimming hole on the Sandy River. The waters were controlled by a dam; sometimes the river was high, and sometimes not. Each year, the river changed due to the spring floods, so we never knew what we’d encounter for depth and current. I struggled crossing the river to our swimming hole, but once there, I loved it. Once I was in my safe spot, I swam, but I never swam where the older kids did because I was afraid of being carried away by the current. It didn’t help that despite my belief I was a good swimmer, I have never been a strong swimmer. Taking free swimming lessons in Smithfield offered through the Red Cross meant two weeks a year to learn how to swim. It also meant facing my inherent fear of deep water when we were forced to dive off the float. I finally passed Beginner’s level just before junior high…and I never went back. My parents eventually put in a giant in-ground pool which meant no more trips to the river. Having a pool provided me an escape from my fear of the river, but it never erased it.

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My oldest son Zack whitewater kayaking (c) S. Warren

My fear transformed into the mother who was always making sure there were life jackets involved in anything water related. Even though the legal age requirement for kids to wear a life jacket is 12 years old, I always told my kids 16 years old. Hey, it worked for me.  I worried seeing my oldest son swim too far from the boat despite the fact that he was on the water every day working for a marina, had his captain’s license, and loves whitewater kayaking. While my husband and older son choose not to wear one, I refuse to swim outside of the boat without a life jacket, and I always wear my life jacket in the canoe. I’m there to have a good time, and I’m not about to let a little water hold me back!

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All smiles in the beginning (c) S. Warren

As my love for hunting and fishing grew, it spurred this desire to try all kinds of adventures. I had never been whitewater rafting but had always wanted to try it, but at the same time I was scared out of my mind. When we finally were given the opportunity to whitewater raft the Kennebec, I was pretty excited and I can even say I had a good time during the actual rafting of the rapids.

At the end of the ride, the river flows softer, and many rafters got out and floated alongside the rafts. Oh joy! The photos don’t tell the story of my being convinced to get out of the raft and swim along side of it.  My helmet was too big and kept falling over my eyes. The current was stronger than I thought.  I could barely move in the water, which was paralyzingly cold even though I had a wetsuit on. When I got my bearings, my son was floating away and I panicked to grab him. Although I thought he was struggling, he swears he wasn’t. This story has only added fuel to the hazing I take from my oldest son regarding my fear of water. Once he was safely back in the raft, and I was hauled aboard, I somehow felt like a failure right then. Looking back, I now know that I had taken a big step towards my fear of river water. I still hope to go back again for a “do over” with a more positive outcome.

Whitewater rafting the Kennebec. (c) S. Warren
Whitewater rafting the Kennebec. (c) S. Warren

Even though I didn’t have the best experience, I did challenge myself and that’s a motto that I’ve been trying to live by every time I do something new. I enjoy pushing myself out of my comfort zone.  I take each time I do something and make it a challenge.  I actually get in the water on the Dead River, Sandy River and Carrabassett while I fly fish. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be able to catch all the wonderful fish I’ve caught. I don’t wear a life jacket because where I go,  the water is only about waist deep and I know my limits. Unlike the boys, I have no intentions of taking an unplanned swim. With proper waders, boots and my hiking stick, I have been able to navigate the river and fish, and that’s what I love most. I still face my fear of river water every time I step in the river, but it’s a healthy one. I still plan to fly fish the Kennebec River this summer, and I’ll let you know how that goes. In the meantime, get out there. Be safe, be smart, and challenge yourself!

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Dead River- my favorite fishing hole. (c) S. Warren
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Taking a break from paddling and checking out the lean-to on the Appalachian Trail. (c) S. Warren
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Tubing: Mandatory life jackets for everyone. Tyler and sister Becky tubing on Long Pond. (c) S. Warren