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This Month in Maine, May 2013

THIS MONTH – May 2013

This Month Spring Busts Out
All Over Maine

May 2013

Springs busts out all over in a Maine May, and everything is happening all at once. Trollers hit salmon and trout lakes and ponds hard, fly fishers cover hatches that dot river surfaces in afternoon, bassers await black bass moving onto spawning grounds, turkey hunters call in the early morning dusk, bicyclists and runners love those cool spring days for exercising and on and on it all goes.

For six weeks after ice-out, salmon and trout trolling offers high excitement from the surface to 10 to 15 feet down, but fly rodders prefer anchoring around spring holes or tributary mouths and casting. Fly fishers sometimes work 20-foot depths but prefer surface excitement. White perch draw folks in the know to spawning beds two weeks after ice-out, because perch spawn then.

Stripers arrive at the mouth of the Saco River and in the Kennebec River in downtown Augusta, and folks who catch the runs right have blistering action – often in solitude. Folks don’t expect stripers until June.

Turkey hunters live for mornings in the May woods, calling turkeys and living for these birds to call back. …Talk about a blood rush. Hunters also chase woodchucks now, more of a shooting sport than a hunt, but bowhunters do stalk these distant brown dots.

Shotgunners shoot clay targets, rifle shooters perfect trigger squeeze at the shooting range and archers work on a steady bow arm, consistent anchor point and crisp release.

Bicyclists love to get out now in the warm sun that bounces off the pavement. They feel the cool, moving air while pedaling bikes at average speeds of 12 to 30 miles per hour, and faster, but they feel the warmth from the pavement. What a time for bikers and runners who have been cooped up all winter, because now the roads lay out before them as well as trails through woods.

Folks live for running white-water while canoe-tripping with light camping gear – a wonderful time to enjoy the woods before the hordes arrive to the Vacationland State. Bugs can be bad now, but fly dope takes care of mosquitos, black flies, midges and yes, ticks. Vehicle camping and backpacking excite plenty of people, another sport like canoeing that leaves crowds behind.

Hiking in state parks and similar facilities excites plenty of people now, a sport for all ages and physical conditions. Walking woodland trails has everything to recommend it.

Wild-foods pop now, and folks pick potherbs and ostrich ferns and dig young, tender roots, and next month, strawberries ripen. Folks in the know can collect the side dishes for a feast that may include fresh broiled or poached salmon and trout or a braised woodchuck venison roast, the latter from the freezer. Oh, my, life is good in the merry month of May, and we have some of the longest days of the year to do it all.


Strike Indicator Helps with Dead-Drifting Nymphs

Tip of the Month

Folks with a propensity for arguing bait fly rodders by calling a strike indicator “nothing but a bobber.” This writer always ignores the comment and says, “Yes, it’s a bobber. So what?”

A strike indicator comes in handy when dead-drifting nymphs, because a good fly rodder uses the strike indicator exactly as if it were a dry fly. As the nymph starts drifting downstream after the cast, the fly fisher watches the indicator to make certain that it is drifting at exactly the same speed as the current.

A dragging strike indicator that makes a V-shaped wake on the surface surely has the fly below being pulled along unnaturally, too. However, drag can be subtle, so a good fly rodder keeps an eye on a fleck of foam, leaf or something beside the indicator and asks, “Are they traveling at exactly the same speed?”

If not, no matter how slight the difference, that unnatural drift of the nymph below the indicator turns fish off, so the caster must change positions to get a different angle or maybe mend the line – anything to get the indicator and nymph to float at the exact same speed as the current.

Taking Superb Photos of Children along the River

Near the end of May when foliage reaches a rich lushness and woodland shadows lie heavily beneath the canopy, a trick results in superb photos of children (or anyone) fishing on a river.

First, the photographer stands the child in sunlight, quartering into the face, and makes sure a dark shadow lies in the background. Then, a good photographer spot-meters off the skin to get a perfect exposure on the face. The photographer wants to get the face right more than anything else, and the spot-meter reading assures that.

Next, the human eye can see details in the shadowed background such as most of the trunks, leaves and so forth, but the camera picks them up as a blackness. So, the finished photo has the background as black as a sheet of obsidian and the child perfectly exposed and really standing out in the foreground.

When planning the shot, make sure the child isn’t wearing a white hat or shirt or black clothing. Also, don’t place the child standing and looking at the camera, but rather, doing something such as casting, waiting for strike or anything but staring toward the lens. If the photographer composes it well, it will be an award winning photo. Yup, move over, Ansel: Here we come.

Treat Paddle with Care

Canoeists take pride in paddles and often buy expensive ones made with maple, ash or spruce. These folks avoid pushing the blade into bottom to pole in riffle water, but rather, they tip the paddle upside down and gently shove the handle end into the bottom. It does not take much force to split a blade.


Age-Old Maine Brookie Pond Still Producing Fun Times

Pleasant River

Quimby Pond, a shallow, stocked, fly-fishing-only (FFO) brookie water with a prohibition on boat motors, has long given Maine fly rodders a fun time in May and June, and when we say “shallow,” half the pond’s depth can be described with a single digit number. The deepest spot is 12 feet!

Bottom-dredgers with smelt imitations like a Black Ghost or big nymph or crustacean choices like a Muddle Minnow or Wooly Bugger do very well now. On those gray, cold days in May, folks who hit this pond just right slay the trout – some up to 17 inches long.

In June, fly rodders can expect mayfly and caddis hatches, including a giant-sized caddis hatch. This shallow pond symbolizes what makes a great Maine brook-trout ponds. The boat launch lies on the back of the pond.

Check DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 28, E-4, just north of Routes 4 and 16 in Rangeley, for Quimby Pond.

Pleasant River (Windham) Magic

In May, the Pleasant River produces superb fly fishing for pan-sized browns and brookies between North Windham (MAG, Map 5, D-2) and the Presumpscot River (Map 5, D-2), but anglers in this artificial-lures-only, catch-and-release stream must release all salmonids.

This classic river looks like a scene out of a Schwiebert story, a tiny river with ledge-bottomed pools, rubble-bottomed runs and occasional deep pools with gravel, even silt and occasional large rocks. The shoreline has lots and lots of hardwoods like ash, maple, beech and even basswood, but a few giant eastern hemlocks represent the conifers.

The Pleasant has many typical hatches such as red quills and blue-winged olives, but pools with ledge bottoms have mayflies and caddises that many fly rodders unacquainted with ledge pools have never encountered.

A Pheasant Tail nymph works well to imitate swimming species often found in ledge pools, but Hare’s Ears, Zug Bugs and the like work well in gravel and silt pools all right. Most flies that work elsewhere in Maine do well here, including Red Quills.

A good time to hit the Pleasant is in late April and early May, when northern Maine destinations might still be slow.

This is a fun river to fish, and one thing about it intrigues this writer. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, it took 30 minutes to drive to the Pleasant River from Congress Street in downtown Portland. These days, the increase in street lights makes the trip much longer, but still short compared to a 4-hour trip into the Allagash.

Here’s another point: This writer must cross the Pleasant to get to the Presumpscot, and the former calls me so strongly that I seldom make it to the heavily stocked, somewhat huge Presumpscot.


U.S. Military’s Assault Rifle Too Small for Deer?


Let’s turn the calendar back to 1992 and a deer-hunting trip to Nova Scotia. Back then, it was illegal for big-game hunters in that province to hunt with any rifle with a bore size below a .23-caliber, which eliminated such cartridges as a .223 Remington (5.56mm), a .22-caliber used in the U.S. Military’s number-one assault rifle.

This Canadian province considered the cartridge too small for deer-sized game; yet, the U.S. military thinks it’s fine for human targets. These days, calibers this size are still illegal for deer hunting or other big game in such places as Nova Scotia, Virginia, Colorado and the list goes on – a great topic for late-night cracker-barrel sessions.

Media Mistake about Firearms

During the last few months, talking heads on television have commented several times that deer hunters don’t need 10 to 30 rounds to shoot a deer – really a silly comment.

I’ve never traveled to hunt in a state or province that allowed as many as 10 rounds in a rifle, and waterfowl hunters by federal law cannot have a magazine and chamber that holds more than three shotshells. Maine does not allow deer hunters with semi-autos to have more than six cartridges – five in the magazine and one in the chamber.

Maine’s 2012 Deer Harvest Up 13 Percent

Augusta, Maine –The 2012 deer season ended with a total harvest of 21,365 deer, representing an increase of 13% over the 2011 harvest of 18,839. Increases in the harvest were seen in all wildlife management districts. The highlight of the 2012 season, and testament to the recovering deer numbers, was the jump in the overall harvest of bucks between 2011 and 2012. A total of 15,271 adult bucks were harvested in Maine this past season, representing an increase of 2,473 deer over the 2011 season (i.e., 19% increase). Indeed, the overall buck harvest increased within all 29 Wildlife Management Districts (WMDs), including WMD 3, which experienced an overall buck harvest of 203 animals, the highest level of harvest seen in that District since 1963.

Poor Man’s Meal

Poor Man's Meal

During yesteryear, New England baked beans, venison steak, coleslaw and homemade bread ranked as a “poor man’s meal” in Maine. And, many a child eating this meal on a Saturday night would hear the comment “poor man’s” and think, “If this is a poor man’s meal, it’s good to be poor!”

The homemade bread in the decades between the Civil War and World War II would probably be hot biscuits, but in the 1700s in coastal New England, it just as well could have been rye bread, because colonials, particularly in Massachusetts on the floodplains along the Taunton River, grew massive fields of rye that ended up as bread flour and the grain for whiskey. In fact, an old-fashioned term for whiskey made from rye is “rye whiskey.” This grain went up and down the coast in sailing transport vessels.

Odd Hunting-Law Distinction

The Maine Hunting and Trapping law booklet tells hunters that they cannot discharge a firearm, muzzleloader or crossbow within 300 feet of a dwelling, and the wording does not include bow and arrows. A shot arrow at 300 feet is more lethal than number 8 shotgun pellets.

The law also prohibits the possession of “firearms and crossbows” within 500 feet of a school, but again, the wording does not include bow and arrows.

Is This Anti-hunting?

On page 14 of the Maine Hunting and Trapping law booklet, state officials wrote, “It is unlawful for any person, while on a hunting trip, to negligently, carelessly or willfully shoot and wound or kill any domestic animal or domestic bird.”

The words should not say “while on a hunting trip….” What if the person is trapping? Fishing? Bicycling? Hiking? Running? What if a dog is attacking someone? What if folks are hunting on their own land and a dog is killing chickens? On and on it goes.

“While on a hunting trip…” doesn’t belong in the passage because it raises more questions than it answers and in the process, implies hunters are a danger to domestic critters. Clearly, whether we are hunting or not, we cannot kill a domestic animal unless we’re protecting ourselves from injury.

Lastly, and far less importantly, “…To negligently, carelessly or willfully shoot and wound or kill…” contains one of the most wordy split infinitives in the English language.

Winter Beech Have Two Purposes!

Beech Leaves

Beech saplings keep their leaves through winter, and in fact, until World War II, old timers called beech saplings “winter beech,” because they held leaves through the white season. It was as if these young beech were a different species than American beech.

This hardwood tree in the sapling stage, according to botanists, holds its leaves all winter for two reasons:

• Leaves discourage browsing by deer and moose.

• Beech leaves fall off in spring, mulch to spurt spring growth.

It’s a wonderful example of the intricate scheme of Mother Nature.

Fox News Watchers Uninformed?

Recently, Farleigh Dickinson University (FDU) in New Jersey conducted an objective survey that showed Fox News viewers were the less informed than viewers of other networks. Pollsters asked 600 New Jersey residents about their news habits and current events. Results showed that viewers of Sunday morning news shows were the most informed about current events. In fact, FDU poll results showed that participants who don’t watch any news at all were even more informed than those who watched Fox news.


Waxwing Identification Easy

Do you know the four physical features that help birdwatchers tell a cedar waxwing from a bohemian waxwing?



Eastern Bluebirds Make Short May Visits in My Yard

Each spring, usually in late April or early May, eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) visit my home briefly during migration as they head to places north of here. They sit in front of my home on utility wires or in a Japanese maple and make a musical chur-wi or tru-ly call.

Sure, I could do something to keep them here from spring through fall – perhaps put up two bluebird boxes. …Maybe this year. These bluebirds compete with house sparrows and European starlings for habitat, so many people put up two boxes – one for bluebirds and one for the other species.

Bluebirds brood two to three times a year – four to six pale-blue eggs at a time. They could establish a stable population on my property from spring to fall if all went well, but the species hasn’t bounced back to World War II numbers – a mystery that generates discussions among those in the know.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the bluebird population on the continent declined to 17 percent of its previous numbers, and in my family, adults noticed such things and passed it on to the children. The bluebird decline caused plenty of hand-wringing.

The population began bouncing back by the 1980s, and many birdwatchers credit the rise to a serious attempt by birdwatchers to erect bluebird houses, but bluebird populations haven’t reached their former figures.

The following is pure speculation on my part, but bird species such as bluebirds and wood ducks that nest in hollow trees have suffered major population declines. Woodcutters leveled trees before the trees had an opportunity to mature, rot and make cavities. Waterfowl lovers pretty much turned this problem around with wood ducks, because they put out so many nesting boxes for this waterfowl species that this waterfowl species turned around. Maybe that will eventually happen with bluebirds.

Ornithologists suggest putting up bluebird boxes in the fall, in a location where a tree or shrub stands 100 feet from the entrance hole of the bird dwelling. Bluebirds like to fly from a perching spot to the nesting box and then back to the tree or shrub to sit and scan the surroundings for their favorite spring and summer forage – beetles, spiders, caterpillars, grasshoppers, etc. They eat berries and odd fruit in autumn.

When young bluebirds first try their mastery of the skies, they like a visible place such as a single tree to which to fly. In my yards, a south-facing box would offer such amenities.

The male has a beautiful blue back, head, wings and tail and a rusty- red breast similar to its cousin – the robin. Females look much drabber with a dun head, back and wings, the latter edged a little by blue. The tail is blue. At maturity, this species measures seven inches long, sports a 13-inch wingspan and weighs 1.1-ounce, a rather stocky bird and easy to identify.

The juveniles have a speckled breast, lots of light dun nearly everywhere and no brick-red breast. Despite all the gray, though, a sharp-eyed birdwatcher notices the blue in the wings and tail. (Ken Allen)


Hatchery Trout Not ‘Stink Fish’

Brook Trout

Many Maine ponds with excellent water quality for brook trout have black-bass populations, which raise havoc with juvenile brookies. However, if the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIF&W) annually stocks a quality water with 10- to 12-inch brookies, trout this size can successfully compete against black bass.

For example, Little Pond in Damariscotta (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 7, A-4) has supported a strong bass population and for decades an abundant brookie fishery. Also, a few years ago, DIF&W fisheries biologists trap-netted 7-year-old hatchery brookies there! Imagine…hatchery trout living that long.

Granted, hatchery fish in concrete rearing pools in Maine sometimes have worn fins and look abysmal compared to wild trout, but much of the time, fins on this state’s hatchery trout have little to no wear, even the pectoral, ventral and bottom of the caudal fin.

The real crucial part of the discussion is this, though:

Many Maine ponds and lakes have superb water quality for sustaining salmonids but zero to limited spawning areas. Without stocked salmonids, the ponds would have no trout or just a handful of wild ones because of severely limited spawning habitat.

Lots of well-meaning activists like to question spawning statistics from waters because they have seen a few fish spawning in tiny tributaries or outlets, but the truth is inescapable. Counting the square yards of spawning habitat on each lake, pond or flowing water is not rocket-science. Fisheries biologists have no problems getting extremely accurate measurements to translate into the number of fish each spawning area can produce.

This topic reminds me of a quick anecdote. In the early 1990s, I said to Peter Bourque, a head biologist at DIF&W, that an activist just had told me that his department stocked over wild fish.

“Why would we do that?” Bourque asked quickly. “That would be a waste of money.”

Then he explained that the department didn’t need to stock where wild trout created a sustainable fishery. Nature did it for DIF&W. (Ken Allen)

NEXT MONTH – May 2013

Maine June Ranks as Lush as Ireland

As landscapes go, a Maine June offers lushness as green as Ireland, with ultra-verdant foliage and green fields everywhere – the latter without a hint of gold until early July when warm sun begins drying standing hay.

June reigns as the state’s third warmest month, but nights and dawns bring frigid temperatures at times, so cold that it reminds me of an anecdote that occurred at the end of the month. Thirty years ago in the Allagash, at noontime on a clear, windy day, a guide wearing a parka with a hood  huddled next to a blazing campfire as if it were January.

Salmonid fishing in the bottom third of Maine rocks in early June, but it might taper off big time in the last week. In recent years, though, heavy rain all month has kept the good times rolling for the trout-and-salmon crowd.

However, steady downpours kill grouse chicks and keep upland bird hunters looking as if their best friends just died. Bad weather now translates into slow hunting in October, because we have fewer yearling grouse.

Grouse Eggs

Rain also raises brooks and small streams, which keeps brookies active for folks who like these small woodland waters. Overflowing rivers slow fishing in these big waters, though. However, when rivers and large streams start dropping, get ready: the fishing can be the fastest of the year.

Salmon and trout in lakes and ponds begin June in 10- to 20-foot depths, an easy reach for trollers and even fly rodders with fast-sinking lines. As this month progresses, salmonids move to depths that require lead-core lines or downriggers to reach.

Car camping, canoe tripping and backpacking pick up at the end of the month and hit full throttle next month, as does hiking, kayaking, bicycling, running and walking.

Strawberries and then blueberries get folks out who seldom pick any wild foods other than common berries. These seasonal fruits wind up in myriad recipes, and often, folks eat seasonal foods so frequently they get sick of them.

Speaking of food, outdoor chefs cook lots of broiled meats and veggies in summer as people chow down on burgers, hot dogs, steaks, ribs and the rest of the typical foods that wind up on outdoor grills, including corn, zucchini, onions and of course potatoes.

Maine in June is truly heaven!


Waxwings have Four Features, and Three are Distinctive

Bohemian Waxwing

Maine birdwatchers often encounter cedar waxwings, and they spot bohemian waxwings less frequently, but the latter is common enough. An inexperienced observer of birds may think both species look alike, because they easily note three key features on both species – black Zorro mask, crest and yellow waxy tip on the tail feathers, but four differences quickly set the record straight.

• …Beginning with markings on the wings. Bohemian waxwings have strong white or white and yellow markings on the wings along with a small band of red below the white. Cedar waxwings have no yellow on the wing, but the bohemian has easily observable yellow. The cedars also have a distinct, waxy red marking on secondary wing feathers with no white parallel to the red immediately below it.

• Cedar waxwings have a yellow tinge on the grayish belly, but the bohemian is a straight gray.

• Bohemian waxwings sport deep, rusty, undertail coverts, but cedars do not have this marking.

• Bohemian waxwings measure 8 1/4-inches in length, have a 14 1/4-inch wingspan and weigh two ounces, where cedar waxwings have bodies an inch shorter, a wingspan 2 1/2-inches less and a weight nearly half that of a bohemian – 1.1 ounces.

Size offers little help at times, though, unless two such similar sized birds are beside one another.

A juvenile waxwing of either species look alike and have the body silhouette of a waxwing, complete with the long, somewhat thin black bill, crest and waxy, yellow-tipped tail. The grayish body has darker stripes running from the neck down – typical marking on so many juvenile species.

Cedar Waxwing

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