THIS MONTH – June 2013
Viridescent Explosion Hits Full Swing
June in Maine spells h-e-a-v-e-n, as verdant fields ripple and sway in late morning breezes and foliage reaches the height of lushness. As summer heat takes over in late June and early July, fields turn a rich golden and foliage begins looking worn. We’ve said it before, but it deserves repeating: In the sixth month, Ireland has nothing on Maine’s emerald beauty.
In recent years, rain has dominated June, and grouse chicks take a bad hit from exposure deaths. Bird hunters, campers, canoe trippers, backpackers, bicyclists, runners and similar sports folks can only hope that things will be different in 2013. Here’s hoping for less rain and milder weather!
However, salmonid anglers love rain that keeps water levels optimal, but often, “optimal” means high currents before the lower, fishable water returns after a deluge. Also, rain and cool temperatures keep water in the low 60s and even high 50s all month, good for salmonid action.
Hunting slows considerably now, but folks do fool around with woodchucks, and shooters with bow and arrows, smoothbores and rifles practice hard on cool summer mornings. Practice now spells success later. A consistent anchor point, crisp release and steady bow arm lead to consistent bull’s eyes on a bow range, a proper mount and swing mean lots of broken clays and a flawless trigger squeeze ends results in accurate shot placement.
Year-round scouting for big game also helps tip odds in the hunter’s favor, and early mornings are perfect for woodland walks that help locate the big boys with large racks or huge paws. Scouting really helps hunters become legends.
Canoe tripping relies on higher water, so this sport attracts users in May and June, but vehicle camping and backpacking picks up later in the sixth month as black flies and mosquitoes hopefully subside and, more importantly, school vacation starts, giving families free time together.
Strawberries ripen now, a favorite wild food behind fiddleheads, raspberries and blueberries. Strawberries create wonderful muffins, shortcakes and topping for cereal. Picking strawberries can also inspire a lifetime of wild-food gathering that strays into potherbs, roots, nuts and the like.
Photographers love June for landscapes filled with wild flowers, and also, cute sells, and June means lots of offspring running around for wildlife photographers. Action fishing photos also attract plenty of folks with cameras now.
Cooking outside booms now as folks grill venison and bear from the freezer and saltwater species such as mackerel, bluefish and stripers. Perch, crappies, pike, pickerel and more also make a good fish meal, cooked outdoors over a grill. Be careful not to overcook fish. It takes but scant minutes for thin filets.
And speaking of fish: In Junes of my youth, we ate smoked alewives for two or three suppers, often heated in a brown paper bag in the oven. As a kid, I loved smoked alewives, and why not? All kids love salty flavors, and smoked alewives surely were not slippery like fresh fish slightly undercooked. And smoked alewives were for sale at all the convenience stores in my area. Hiking creates memories for families, often outings soon after summer vacation from school begins. Places like the Camden Hills State Park, Mount Blue and so forth attract legions now.
Tips of the Month
A Great Bass Fly Will Surprise Even Veteran Anglers
A weighted chartreuse Wooly Bugger brings smallmouths and largemouths rushing in for the strike in Maine ponds, lakes and rivers. And for the record, the version we’re talking about has a marabou chartreuse tail, the brighter the better, and it equals the length of the hook shank. A longer tail is fine, too, but we like it shorter to eliminate short strikes. Bright chartreuse wool for the body and bright chartreuse, soft-hackle feathers for palmering take care of the body, and a hackle collar adds more movement to the fly, too. Choose your own poison for the thread head – or get wild and put a weighted head or dumbbell eyes on it. We use a tungsten cone. Cast this bright creation around boulders, trunks and tops fallen into the water or around any structure, including a dock. Strip it back fast or slow, and change speeds and depths until something works – then hang on.
Caddis Draw Energetic Strikes
When fly rodders see trout and salmon making energetic, splashy strikes, it’s a good indication that these fish are chasing emerging caddises to the surface and trying to catch them before they fly off. The fast speed of many caddis species causes salmonids to break the surface film as their momentum carries them upwards after the capture.
When fly fishers notice this feeding pattern, they should try to see what caddis is causing the commotion and match at least the body color to the imitation. Then, they should cast the fly out and strip it beneath the surface, which often draws strikes. And, naturally, a weighted caddis imitation sunk to the bottom and stripped back fast enough to rise toward the top a la natural emerging caddises really works.
Where the Action Is
Generic Where-To for Brook Trout
The bottom third of Maine contains many rivers and large streams that have warm-water fish species in them, including black bass, white perch, pickerel, crappie, pike or you name it. The Sebasticook and lower reaches of Sandy, Carrabassett, Sheepscot and Medomak rivers and certainly dozens more have plenty of warm-water species in the main stems.
However, these big waters have brooks running into them, and often, these smaller waters are spring-fed and hold brookies and maybe browns and rainbows. Often, the trout run from 4- to 9-inch lengths but occasionally may reach 12 and even 14 inches because they grow large in the rivers by hanging in small springs. Then, in summer, trout head up the little brooks.
Many brooks can become a personal honey hole for anyone who takes the time to explore, and here’s an example. Once in the New Portland area while bird-hunting along a brook that flows into Lemon Stream, I stepped across the stream and had so many brookies splash around my feet that it startled me. This spot has become a go-to place for catching brookies in the heat of summer.
Fisheries biologists for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife can offer anglers names of good brooks to find action because often, these professionals electro-fish waters each year to keep up with populations.
Penobscot’s West Branch Below Ripogenus
The Penobscot’s West Branch between Ripogenus Dam and downstream to Big Ambejackmockamus Falls (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer [MAG], Map 50, D-2 and D-4) holds promise this month, because perfect water temperatures for landlocked salmon – thanks to the dam – spread them up and down the river.
Of course, all the hot spots such as Little Eddy, Trout Pool, Big Eddy, Steep Bank Pool and Little Ambejackmockamus Falls attract plenty of fly rodders, and for good reason, but all the lesser-known spots between storied pools also draw fish now. Best of all, one person can have a no-name stretch of river without competition.
In June, matching the hatch works like magic, but so do smelt imitations and nymphs resembling prevalent insects. A size 14 Flick March Brown and Hornberg variation with a sandy-yellow body, wood-duck-flank wings and red-game-cock and grizzly hackle can produce great sport during a caddis hatch that has a similar color scheme to the imitation. What times this fly has given this writer through the years!
News and Tidbits
Major Gregory W. Sanborn 1965-2013
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Warden Service lost one of its most respected officers when Major Gregory W. Sanborn passed away this past winter.
Sanborn was born in Bridgton on Nov. 11, 1965, graduated from Fryeburg Academy in 1984 and the University of Southern Maine in 1988. He worked as a school teacher until joining the Warden Service in 1990, where he worked up through the ranks to major.
Striped-Bass Study Impressive
Since 1986, the Cooperative Tagging Program along the Atlantic Coast has resulted in 500,000 striped bass being tagged, and anglers have captured and reported 91,000 of them, a huge figure to ascertain the migratory routes, habits and mortality rates of the species, crucial in the future for properly managing a fish that is undergoing intense problems.
Stripers Forever Requests 50 Percent Reduction
Stripers Forever has requested a 50-percent reduction “in both the recreational and commercial harvest of wild striped bass [in Massachusetts]” starting with the 2013 season.
This organization submitted a petition with 1,000 signatures to achieve this goal and added, “The recreational catch of striped bass in Massachusetts has declined by nearly 90 percent since 2006, yet the harvest [limit] has remained undiminished [by fisheries managers].”
Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut manage stripers as a game fish, but Massachusetts doesn’t, according to Stripers Forever.
Speaking of Poor Fisheries
In Maine, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife continues to allow freshwater anglers to kill 13 salmonids per day (five brook trout, two landlocked salmon, two brown trout, two rainbow trout and two lake trout), which is almost three times the number of salmonids that were legal before the change – five salmonids daily.
One argument in favor of the increase is that anglers lack the skill to catch 13 in a day, but even if that logic is wrong, people can and do exceed the old 5-fish limit – really easy in a water with brookies, landlocks and a third species – say browns or rainbows.
Finnan Haddie Once Graced Maine Tables
In this writer’s youth, a common dish on the dinner menu in my home was finnan haddie – smoked haddock with an egg sauce. In a 5-year-old’s opinion, no food tasted worse, but my parents loved it, as did many people until the baby-boomer generation got old enough for an opinion. For me, when it came to the topic of finnan haddie, I had a definite opinion by the age of 5.
Salted cod phased out with baby boomers, too, but salted cod in fish cakes or just plain with crisp, bubbly tastes of soda (or beer for elders) hit the spot. Once, salted cod came in wooden boxes and proved inexpensive, a poor man’s meal, but these days, salted cod comes with a princely price tag.
Red Flannel Hash, Anyone?
A 17th-century meal, red-flannel hash, began with a New England boiled dinner, including a 5-pound or so piece of corned beef or corned venison, four peppercorns, six small, unpeeled beets, six unpeeled carrots, one small, quartered cabbage, eight peeled potatoes and four medium-sized, peeled turnips, the ingredients according to a 17th century recipe.
The meat and peppercorns simmered slowly in water for three to four hours to tenderize, and during the last hour, the turnips and carrots went into the pot. In the last 45 minutes, in went the rest except for the beets, which cooked separately so as not to turn everything “beet” red. The home chef peeled the beets before serving.
Families always had leftover boiled dinner, so the next day, it all went into a cast-iron fry pan with enough rendered salt-pork fat to cover the bottom. Then, the hash cooked in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes until well browned before serving.
Authentic red-flannel hash…a common meal from yesteryear that we occasionally see in fancy restaurants offering “comfort food” today.
Belgrade Lakes Ice-Out Then and Now
Maine Outdoorsman’s Guide and Almanac 1972 gave the approximate ice-outs of common fishing ponds and lakes in Maine, and it claimed the Belgrade Lakes chain went out during the last week in April. These days, ice-out has gotten much earlier. In the 1980s, mid-April was a common ice-out date, and now, it’s even earlier – some years much earlier…nearly a month earlier than 40 years ago.
Maine Dragonfly Study Reveals Mercury
Maine supports 158 dragonfly and damselfly species out of the world’s 5,600 species that fall under the order Odonata, which describes dragonfly larvae that project their jaw forward rapidly to catch prey. The nymphs spend five years in the aquatic stage before becoming flying adults for a few weeks, setting the stage for a large study.
Biogeochemist Sarah Nelson studies these insects as bio-sentinels of mercury contamination in freshwater ecosystems. Mercury is seemingly everywhere in Maine, too, even in brook trout in the allegedly pristine Allagash ponds, lakes and flowing waters. The study will also include samples from national parks across the country.
Jug-o-Rum Chorus Starts Before June Ends
American bullfrogs start their chorus that includes “jug-o-rum” before June ends – a deep-throated call that echoes across the first gray light of an evening changing to dark. At the same time, green frogs start their calling, which sounds like a single, plucked banjo string.
Grouse Precocious Species for Sure
This month, 12 to 13 ruffed grouse chicks in each clutch can leave the nest within hours after hatching and can fly at 10- to 12-days-old – a precocious species. Wet weather in June is the bane of the species, though, because the resulting chill kills off large numbers of young.
Bird of the Month
Belted Kingfisher Offers Fishing Soundtrack
A Loud, Dry, Clattering Rattle
Maine fly rodders know the loud, dry, clattering rattle of a belted kingfisher echoing along a river – a fishing soundtrack for the slender-wand crowd that is as common as any bird call on the water. For fly fishers, the sight and sound of belted kingfishers add an integral part to a day on the water.
Belted kingfishers look cranky with the disheveled, bushy, blue-gray crest, as if this bird has just awoken from a deep sleep before it was ready. When they perch, they hunch over a little, making them look chunky and shorter, but they measure 13 inches in length – the same as an Atlantic puffin! This kingfisher has a 20-inch wingspan and weighs five ounces.
The male belted-kingfisher has blue-gray plumage above and a blue-gray breast band and more blue-gray on the back of the neck. The female has an additional rusty breast band. They also have a white wing patch at the base of the primaries.
Like terns, belted kingfishers can hover over the surface with rapidly beating wings before plunging into the water to catch baitfish or small game fish. This bird makes uneven wing beats when flying, an easily distinguished trait that helps people identify them from great distances, thanks to that flapping motion and bird’s silhouette.
Belted kingfishers can be found around rivers, lakes and estuaries, and during nesting season, they lay five to eight white eggs at the unlined end of a tunnel dug into sand or gravel banks.
When looking for fish to catch, they often use the same exposed perches, which should surprise no one. Just how many suitable perching spots can they find along water? (Ken Allen)
Did you know?
Before World War II and going back to colonial days, country folks who loved the outdoors commonly ate hasty pudding. Do you know exactly what hasty pudding is?
The Complete Book of Rod Building and Tackle Making, by C. Boyd Pfeiffer; Lyons Press, 661 pages ($29.95 paperback).
If the reader has the urge to make a fishing lure, be it a rubber worm, spinner bait, plastic or wooden plug, build a casting rod or construct a landing net, this encyclopedic volume will tell how to do it, in step-by-step instructions and more than eight hundred photo illustrations. The appendix includes a list of distributors, manufacturers and sellers of tackle-making supplies. (Jon Lund)
Lead vs. Nontoxic Metal
In the early 1990s, research results showing lead sinkers were killing loons gained traction in the media, and whether these study findings were right or wrong, this writer assumed lead would be illegal for fishing before 2000.
With this suspicion in mind, it made sense for me to start constructing weighted nymphs with lead substitutes that companies such as L.L.Bean and Orvis were selling way back then. I’ve independently field-tested the weights for two decades.
These companies carried nontoxic split shots and wires in various sizes, and sold the products in convenient “dial” containers with compartments for each split-shot weight and cards that offered small, medium or large diameter wire. What could be more convenient?
My prediction about a future law change before 2000 proved premature, and in 2013, lead weight for fishing is still legal. Granted, in Maine, it’s illegal to buy lead sinkers that weigh one-half ounce or less for fishing, but we can still fish with lead of any size from our home inventories – if we so choose. (The current ban on lead sales exempts artificial lures, weighted line or jig heads.)
In the last 20 years, an obvious point has made a huge impression on me. Nontoxic-metal substitutes sink well enough, so I didn’t miss lead at all – a non-issue for me. When posts on bulletin boards complained that nontoxic metals did not descend to bottom fast enough, I thought, “Say what?”
My days afield with weighted nymphs or split shot on the leader passed with me catching as many fish as ever. Watching the conflict develop left me wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
Eventually, lead will be illegal for fishing, so tying flies without lead still makes sense to me. Who wants to throw away 20 years’ worth of hand-tied flies because they contain lead? (Ken Allen)
July Is Year’s Hottest Month
After World War II and well into the 1960s, salmonid fishing in Maine unofficially ended on July 4th weekend, and the sport stayed quiet until a handful of die-hard anglers picked up the sport again in mid- to late-September.
Those days have long gone, and today, fly rodders know about Hexes in July and blue-winged-olive hatches in July and August, saltwater fly fishing has picked up big time for stripers and blues, bassers work the depths hard all summer and on and on it goes – as folks pick their passions.
It just never ends in Maine, and as an anti-hunter once told me, “You guys got something to kill every week up here!”
“Or release,” I answered gently, correcting the sissy.
Year after year, July ranks as Maine’s hottest month, but it’s just a tad hotter than July and August, so life passes pretty much the same in those three summer months, although humidity often peaks in the eighth month and makes it feel hotter.
So in short, we fish, target practice, scout and the like, but it can be a leisurely life until bear season or fall fishing picks up in September, meaning outdoor cooking booms for the three summer months anyway as dads cook the main dish on the back deck while moms work on side dishes in the kitchen – or vice-versa. Kids often get into the cooking, too.
Apple and berry picking booms in late August, September and early October, and pies, muffins and cakes begin filling pantry counters and fruit and dumplings bubble in stew pots on stoves.
As a kid, I distinctly remember of getting sick of blueberries. You know: blueberry pies, blueberry turnovers, blueberry muffins, blueberry cake, blueberry and dumplings, blueberry pan dowdy, blueberry ice-cream, blueberries on cereal and on and on it went. Raspberries won a close second as a berry of commonness in the Allen household.
By July, mackerel were running like crazy, and we ate grilled or sautéed mackerel (I don’t remember ever growing tired of mackerel), together with fresh stringed beans or garden peas and boiled potatoes a la Thomas Jefferson. (After the potatoes cooked, Jefferson advocated dumping out the water, putting the dry pot of potatoes back on the stove and drying the root-veggies before serving.)
Camping on nights with a crackling campfire, silver-yellow moonlight and surrounding conifers silhouetted against a bluish-black sky ranks as some of life’s favorite memories. If softly lapping waves or gurgling currents add to the scene, so much the better.
July mornings are perfect for long woodland walks, serious hiking, running, bicycling, scouting and any endeavors that calls for cooler temperatures to enjoy it more. Later in the day, sunbathing, swimming or saltwater angling might reign as a better pastime.
But it’s summer and we’re having fun, waiting for fall hunting and fishing, and during this warmer time, we still enjoy great mornings and evenings on the water.
Answers to “Do You Know?”
Hasty Pudding Is What?!
According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac Colonial Cookbook, hasty pudding is simply cornmeal mush made with 1/2-cup of yellow cornmeal, three cups of water and 1/2-teaspoon salt. Mix the cornmeal with one cup of cold water and let stand while the other two cups of water and 1/2-teaspoon of salt come to a boil. Add the cornmeal mixture to the boiling corn meal in the pot and lower the heat to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Serve with cream, molasses, brown sugar, honey or maple sugar – a hastily-made pudding!