Down Outdoor Month …
Or Is It?
August seems like a down month for anglers. Salmonid action has slowed considerably unless weather and angling skills offer grand sport; stripers and blues move away from shore into the deeper ocean; black-bass excitement continues for folks good at fishing jigs deep; and while panfishing for perch and crappie continues, hot, humid air removes some of the fun from this last endeavor.
Partyboats along the Maine coast do brisk businesses in August, transporting anglers out to derrick cod and maybe haddock from the depths. These become fillets for the freezer and good victuals later.
Blue shark fishing also picks up now, and guides take two to four anglers out and chum these long, somewhat thin sharks to the transom. Folks cast flies to them – sight fishing from close distances – short casts.
August does little to excite hunters, too, so the diehard ones get out in the cool dawn to work waterfowl and upland-bird dogs and rabbit hounds, and bear baiters also like “early” for their hard job. Scouting bear, deer, upland birds and waterfowl ensure success.
Rifle shooters practice trigger squeeze, clay-sports enthusiasts polish mount and swing and archery aficionados work on consistent anchor point, crisp release and steady bow arm. And yes, morning makes the practicing more fun.
Blood sports seem less pressing now, so hiking, running, bicycling, vehicle camping, backpacking, canoe tripping, kayaking, deer scouting, bear baiting, birding, outdoor cooking and snorkeling pick up. Places like the Camden Hills State Park attract crowds.
Yes, August seems like a down time, but energetic folks keep the good times rolling. And even lethargic types see autumn approaching on chilled dawns, particularly when red-maple foliage turn red in lowlands. It adds an urgency to days, as folks realize they must finish chores before fall outdoor sports begin. They may need to pile wood, get a new scope on the deer rifle, or train a new bird-dog pup.
August also offers time to plan outings with children now that they are away from school sports, maybe from summer sports and more. Those activities with young kids build lifelong memories.
…Just a quick example:
When my two daughters were between 4 and 10 years old, I often made up a picnic lunch and threw my 20-foot canoe into Devils Elbow on the Sandy River above Farmington. The two girls sat in the canoe as I poled upstream to inviting spots to swim. Over the side they’d both go, until they tired of the pool, and then off we’d go upstream again. They often talk of these adventures from their youth – just a simple canoe pole and picnic.
Tips of the Month
Apologies to Carrie Stevens
With apologies to Carrie Stevens – who invented the Gray Ghost streamer in 1924 – the Red Gray Ghost, an alternative dressing to the old favorite, creates a better rainbow-smelt imitation for spring when this baitfish species is in its “rainbow” spawning colors. Even in summer while trolling deep, though, the Red Gray Ghost works better.
The duller colors of the original Gray Ghost match a dead rainbow smelt found in game-fish stomachs or on the surface, the latter lying spent after the rigors of procreation.
This writer’s favorite Red Gray Ghost dressing begins with black thread, red-silk body, flat silver Mylar ribbing, four or five peacock-herl strands as long as the wing and below that sparse white, deer-tail hair the length of the hook shank for a throat, golden-pheasant crescent and then grayish-olive hackle (two or four of them, depending on hook size) for the wing, silver-pheasant cheeks one-third the length of the hook shank and cheeks of jungle cock to simulate eyes.
Often, Red Gray Ghost display red bucktail instead of white, but this puts too much red into the dressing. Also, three or four strands of pearl Flashabou in the wing is an option.
Where the Action Is
Swan Island Safari
Central Maine’s Swan Island, better known as the Steve Powell Management Area, is in the Kennebec River in sight of Richmond village on the west shore. A really decent public boat launch offers access for folks who want to hike, picnic or ride in the back of a DIF&W-owned truck and watch wildlife. (DeLorme Atlas, Map 5, A-5 and Map 12, E-5 give folks a perspective of this 1,775-acre island.)
This game sanctuary encompasses huge, rolling fields and primary forests that hold deer, turkey and more, easy to spot because no one can hunt here. That makes the animals less wary.
Here’s the best part: Abandoned houses rich in history poke up on the northern end of Swan, including one that housed Benedict Arnold on his trek to Quebec City, where the English lost a battle accurately depicted in Kenneth Roberts’ novel, Arundel. In fact, a well known, huge white cedar by a saltbox on the island was the place of a meeting that Arnold attended while planning the Quebec expedition.
For more information about this wonderful resource, contact the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 284 State Street, 41 SHS, Augusta, ME 04333-0041; Telephone: (207) 287-8000.
Rainy Augusts Improves Northern Rivers
Rainy periods may occur in August, which raises northern Maine rivers and attracts landlocked salmon and brook trout upstream.
One great spot for anglers after line storms or nor’easters lies on three rivers flowing into Moosehead Lake – the Roach (DeLorme Atlas, Map 41, A-3 and A-5), East Outlet of the Kennebec (Map 41, C-1) and Moose (Map 42, B-5). These photogenic rivers slice through forests and produce runs, pools, falls and more that hold salmon and brookies when cool water prevails.
Smelt imitations, mayflies, caddis, nymphs of all sizes and shapes and terrestrials keep the good times booming. The Roach is a caddis river is a caddis river is a caddis river. Mayflies pop through long summer evenings when caddis don’t cooperate on the other two rivers.
These rivers offer paradise to fly rodders, and Moosehead rivers have captured the heart of visitors for a century. If folks have never been there, give it a try this month and again in September as waters cool.
News and Tidbits
When Old World settlers arrived on the North America continent in the early 1600s and finally stayed for good, the heart of emerald-shiner (Notropis atherinoides) range extended from the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, over to the St. Lawrence and upward toward Hudson Bay. Populations extended out from there but not to New England.
This baitfish eventually made it to Maine and now inhabits many of our freshwater habitats. Because anglers can legally use this baitfish, it will spread to more waters. This is not a condemnation nor an endorsement – just an objective comment that emerald shiners are not indigenous to our state; yet we allow anglers to use them as bait.
Brook Trout Survey Now in 4th Year
This summer marks the 4th year of the brook trout survey organized by Maine Audubon, Trout Unlimited and the DIF&W. Contact Michelle Smith at Maine Audubon in Falmouth to volunteer. All you do is look at a list of un-surveyed ponds in Maine – it’s a long list! – and choose one or more. Then you walk through the woods, find the pond, fish it, and fill out a short form reporting on what you saw – fish, no fish, boats pulled up along the shore or other indications that fishermen have been there, etc. Maine Sportsman staffers are among the 197 volunteers who have surveyed 258 remote ponds so far. This year, the project is expanding to include coastal streams and sea-run brook trout. It’s a worthwhile effort, and one of the few times you can “work” by going fishing!
Great Whites off Cape Cod
In May, a science special on MPBN television intrigued viewers by highlighting great white sharks spending recent summers off Cape Cod beaches, a migration that began about 10 years ago and coincided with the rapid increase of harbor and particularly gray seals, a favorite food of this big shark. Male grays average about eight feet in length and can weigh in excess of 700 pounds, and females run about 25 percent smaller. Harbor seals average about five feet, both species, a mouthful for a great white.
Will the increasing gray and harbor seal populations attract more great whites to Maine beaches in the near future as these mammals have done around Cape Cod? Time will tell.
‘Outdoor’ or ‘Outdoors’?
Many folks do not know the difference between “outdoor” and “outdoors,” and may stumble over the usage. Others may not care.
For those who do, “outdoor” is an adjective, and “outdoors” an adverb, a comment that may make folks’ eyeballs spin around as they remember high-school English classes. It’s not as confusing as it may sound, though.
Adjectives modify nouns or pronouns and tell what kind, which one or how many about the word following the adjective. For instance, it would be “outdoor sport” because the adjective tells what kind of sport.
Adverbs modify verbs, adverbs and adjectives and answer questions such as when, where, why and to what extent. For example, we went “outdoors” – a word answering where we went.
August Turtle Sightings
Wood turtles forage far from streams now and prefer eating slugs, mushrooms and berries. Speaking of turtles, snapping-turtle eggs begin hatching now, and the little ones are about the size of a silver dollar. They look ever-so-much like a miniature adult.
Earwigs Hatching Now
Female earwigs lay about 30 eggs and remain with the young for a few days after the eggs hatch to increase survival rates. Earwigs eat mites and insects – and our garden flowers! Their pincers for defense look scary, but the beneficial side for this species is reducing the populations of mites and insects.
Nitrogen in Deeryards
A study makes folks ask, “What next to cause us worry?”
In north country states where deer move into winter deeryards beneath conifer stands that shield them from winds and deeper snow, the nitrogen-rich deer droppings are adding so much nitrogen to the soil that it makes the habitat less conducive to grow trees such as eastern hemlock. This hastens hardwood species to push out the evergreens stands, removing sheltering canopies that deer need for white-season protection, according to researchers from the Michigan Technological University.
A Strange Maine Tree
About 15 years ago or more, a German woman with a heavy accent that made me listen carefully to understand her asked, “Ken, do you have larch trees in Maine? I haven’t seen any but have only been here a few days.”
Indeed, we have a species – eastern larch (Larix laricina) – and it is common around lowlands. We call it tamarack or hackmatack, and it grows 50 to 60 feet tall, often has a butt diameter of two feet, sheds its needles in fall from its pyramidal-shaped top with stiff horizontal branches.
Native Americans used the curved roots for snowshoes. The wood is resistant to rot and boat builders use them for stems on ships and for stanchions. Woodworkers cut the odd-shaped roots from the ground – hard work.
The needles turn a golden gamboge before dropping in the fall, and in moonlight, the color turns quite vibrant as if miniature lights are illuminating it – ghostly in the early morning dark as deer hunters head to a stand.
Cartridge Limit for Auto-loading Hunting Rifle
DIF&W defines auto-loading as a firearm that reloads itself after each shot and requires a separate trigger pull for each shot. Hunters cannot use a center-fire, auto-loading rifle that can hold more than five shots in the magazine and a sixth round in the rifle chamber. (Hunting laws prohibit shotguns that hold over three rounds for migratory birds but does allow .22 caliber rimfire rifles holding more than six shots.)
After some of the more gruesome mass killings in the last few years, talking news heads and comedians with limited knowledge of firearms often make a comment like this: “Hunters do not need 10 or 20 rounds in an ‘assault rifle’ to kill a deer.” Not only do hunters not need 10 and 20 rounds but are prohibited by law already from having so many rounds in one rifle.
Maine’s Boreal Forests
Page 30 in National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England shows a boreal-forest map of New England, illustrating that only about 10 percent of the state is growing boreal forests.
Hundreds of plants growing on the North American continent came here from Europe and Asia, often escaped species from gardens or from hay brought from Europe by settlers. Plants such as oxeye daisy, dandelions, hawkweed, mullein, Queen Anne’s lace and yarrow are common examples. Often, dictionaries tell us if the plant is indigenous or not to the continent.
Northern New England Moose Numbers
In 2013, Maine had 65,000 moose as opposed to 29,000 in 1999. New Hampshire had 4,400 moose last year compared to 7,600 in 1999; and Vermont had 2,500 moose in 2013, half of the herd that roamed the woods in 2005.
Colorful Deciduous Forests
New England foliage in August often begins looking worn and faded, as summer’s hot sun and occasional high wind take a toll, but no one despairs because we know that in late September or early October, depending on latitude and elevation, our forests will be an explosion of colors.
Tamarack (eastern larch), green ash, black ash (we call it brown in Maine), basswood, beech, birch, butternut, elm, boxelder, mountain ash, silver maple, striped maple, sugar maple, mountain maple, poplar, willow and witch-hazel turn yellow, although occasional exceptions occur – such as sugar maple usually taking on a bright-orange.
Hornbeam, red maple, mountain ash, sugar maple, black oak, red oak, scarlet oak, white oak, sumac and tupelo become red with different shades from bright red, yellow and pink on trees like red maple.
Black oak and beech take on a brown color, and white ash becomes bright purple.
Yes, colors vary, and two huge maples side by side on the Shamut stretch of the Kennebec that grow in the exact same soil have always baffled me. One always gets bright red and the other equally as bright yellow.
Maine Forests in 1908 vs. 2008
In 1908, forests covered 75 percent of Maine, and poplar ranked number one as the most harvested hardwood. Yes, this last one shocks the average reader. In 2008, forest covered around 90 percent of Maine, and the most harvested wood was red maple, another shocker in popularity. In 1908, most birch harvested became spools, but in 2008, harvested birch became pulp.
Hiking, Biking Trek
Loon Echo Land Trust in Bridgton, a small nonprofit organization that’s mission is to preserve land in western Maine for all to enjoy, is sponsoring a trek on September 20 at Shawnee Peak – the annual Loon Echo Trek in order to raise awareness and to get hikers and bikers out to enjoy a hike or ride and raise money for supporting the cause.
For the bike rides, there are 25-, 50-, 75-, and 100-mile options. The 75-mile ride is new this year. For the hikes, there is a 4 1/2- and 6-mile hike. Also new is a hike-and-bike option.
Please check out the Web page at www.LoonEchoLandTrust.org and the Trek page at www.LoonEchoTrek.org
Bird of the Month
Most of us have sat in a canoe, kayak or boat on a trout pond at dusk, when a bird from the conifer-lined or mixed-growth shoreline calls “Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.” The Audubon guides say “poor” in this common ornithology translation, and I’ve heard “poor” all my life from Maine birders. However, Sibley translates it as “old” instead of “poor,” and he is a master birder.
This sparrow makes a sharp, metallic chink call and a seeeet flight call in addition to the Sam Peabody refrain.
The white-throated sparrow stands 6 3/4-inch length, sports a 9-inch wingspan and weighs 9/10-ounce. This bird has a bright-white patch on its throat; hence, ornithologists dubbed the sparrow “white-throated.”
When these sparrows trickle through my yard, one feature on this species catches my eye each spring – the yellow supraloral on both sides of the head. The supraloral are on the beak-end of the bright, white eyebrow stripe (or tan stripe on some specimens) and are small (just a spot), but the supralorals really show up as yellow tends to do.
White-throated sparrows are polymorphic and have gray chests beneath a brownish-red back and wings. The beak is dark.
White-throated sparrows nest in forest undergrowth and make a nesting cup from rootlets, grasses and mosses, where the female lays four or five eggs with green shells, spotted with brown. Green shells are common enough, but not really common. Four to five eggs suggests average survival rates of broods. (Ken Allen)
Did You Know?
Smelt vs. Emerald Shiner
To a casual observer, an emerald shiner resembles a rainbow smelt, the latter a prized, schooling baitfish in Maine, a baitfish that this state’s landlocked salmon rely on for their very survival. Do you know how to tell the difference between an emerald shiner and rainbow smelt?
The Bone Orchard by Paul Doiron
Paul Doiron writes popular Maine mystery novels that have earned him an Edgar finalist award, and the books highlight the adventures of Mike Bowditch, a state game warden for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Bowditch wanders a landscape that most Mainers and many visitors know well, often intimately from fishing or hunting, making for a fun read.
Currently, Doiron and another novelist, C.J. Box, have game-warden protagonists, but Box’s stories take place in Wyoming. Box writes fine stories, but Doiron entertains and teaches me far more because his subject encompasses my home state.
However, a statistic in a recent Box novel caught my eye and started me researching Maine versus Wyoming wardens: Box wrote that his western state has a warden force of 51, but Internet sources claim 62. In Maine, we have around 130 game wardens – an interesting contrast of figures to start a late-evening free-for-all.
You know. Wyoming covers 97,819 square miles and contains a population of 582,913. Maine covers one-third of that area – 33,741 square miles, but we have over twice the population – 1,372,593 people. We also have more woods that are much thicker, more roads per square mile, more of this and that, etc. You can see how this debate will go! …Fun.
Both novelists tell wonderful stories with solid, well-woven plots, wonderful characterization and crisp, effective imagery, and readers get to see the day-to-day job duties of game wardens in both states – much of it when they’re chasing murderers! Both heroes get plenty of that scene.
Doiron’s The Bone Orchard covers a time in Bowditch’s life after he has lost his warden job, because among other problems, he has a temper, doesn’t take orders well and somehow, according to his supervisors, gets into murder mysteries rather than concentrating on poachers and on reckless drivers on ATVs, boats and snowmobiles. You know. Doing warden stuff – not detective work for the State Police.
Whether intentional or unintentional, Doiron, a Colby graduate and Maine native, is highlighting a problem that bothers many Maine outdoors folks, who commonly see wardens lurking in the near background every time local television news shoots footage of the latest murder investigation.
What particularly annoys outdoors types is this: Warden salaries come primarily from fishing and hunting licenses, and little money comes from the state’s general fund. In fact, many people get angry when watching local television news, because wardens are usually there at murders, taking these law-enforcement officers away from fish-and-game protection.
If you don’t believe that claim, start watching the local news. And while doing the murder investigation thing, they often complain the state should hire more wardens to do the job. Maybe they need more focus on fish-and-game protection.
The Bone Orchard is the fifth book in the life of Mike Bowditch, so this reviewer is going to offer some advice. Read Doiron’s first four books: The Poacher’s Son, Trespassers, Bad Little Falls and Massacre Pond, in that order, and then read The Bone Orchard. Doiron continues his characters through the stories, so it makes sense to read them in order.
The Bone Orchard covers Bowditch’s time as a Maine guide and then a free-lance private detective of sorts – without pay. His mentor, Warden Kathy Frost, kills a troubled war veteran shortly after the novel opens – and the story’s problems escalate.
All five of Doiron books kept me glued in my reading chair until they were done, and a few times, I found myself reading until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. There are no shortages of believable cliffhangers in these stories.
If readers hunt and fish in Maine, they’ll love Doiron’s settings and stories that are every bit as good and better than Edmund Ware Smith stories of the 1950s – once wildly famous for Maine readers. Doiron’s imagery will put readers right there beside Bowditch. That’s a promise, and the plot turns keep us reading late into the night. (Ken Allen)
Memory of Trees
Compared to humans, trees have longevity, and ones such as Maine’s eastern hemlock may live 600 years. In short, a hemlock with a huge trunk four feet across indicates an old age tree that may have germinated in 1414, when Henry V of Agincourt fame ruled England.
Furthermore, a stand of hemlock may not have changed in a senior citizen’s lifetime – say in 65 years. If someone that age toddled through the hemlocks in 1954 with a parent, those trees will not have changed much at all since then. A great-grandfather who strolled through them in 1889 will recognize the setting, too. Hemlock groves span generations.
Folks who think such thoughts can feel closer to another era, when ancestors walked the same forests – a touch of humility. When this writer pokes through a hemlock forest each deer season, I picture a grandfather – a professional trapper as well as a serious hunter and angler – stepping through the same setting in the 1920s, before he died young of pneumonia.
Reflecting about our past is a byproduct of outdoor sports. It gives us firsthand knowledge of tradition in our own lives – not something we read in a book or hear a teacher or politician say. We live and feel it. (Ken Allen)
Fall Fishing Begins – Eventually
For a few diehard fly rodders, fall fishing for Maine salmonids has gone from mildly popular in the 1950s and ’60s to increasingly, insanely popular these days, as folks flock to waters in the ninth month to cash in on the faster fishing. Rivers, ponds and lakes drop into the low 60-degree range, causing trout and salmon to start feeding feverishly.
On this writer’s home waters by my central Maine home, fast salmonid fishing doesn’t begin the day August 31 turns to Sept. 1. There’s a lag to when summer weather turns “fallish” and lowers temperatures, and that’s when the good times start rolling. In an average year in my neighborhood, that golden time comes around Sept. 12.
In my late teens and early 20s, some of us flocked to northern rivers and cast to landlocks and brookies running up from still water into flowing currents at water temperatures dropped into the mid to low 60s. Kennebago, Cupsuptic, East Outlet of the Kennebec, Moose, Roach and West Branch of the Penobscot pop to mind.
Folks also did well in trout ponds and many lakes during September. The sport really began attracting new converts, and there we have it – a fun time of year to fish.
Black-bass casters do well now – those who know how to work cooling waters of fall. Like saltwater beaches, September’s bass ponds and lakes have much less boat traffic, a huge plus.
September also offers up superb saltwater fishing for stripers, blues and maybe mackerel, after summer crowds have gone home and beaches produce more solitude for casters. As waters cool, these game fish move closer to shore from the deeper ocean.
Hunters go after bear, beginning every year the last Monday of August, and over 80 percent of the harvest falls over baits – a season that lasts for the first four weeks after the season begins. On September 9, hunters can use bear dogs as well as man-placed bait with the dogs, which creates a hectic, exciting sport.
The expanded archery season starts in September in limited areas with a permit requirement and continues into November. Archers can kill more than one deer in this hunt.
Deer hunters interested in the statewide archery season (mostly in October) scout hard in September as do the regular firearm hunters, who have much of November for their season. Check the hunting-law booklet for details.
Upland-bird and waterfowl dogs need work before the October seasons kick off, and sporting clays really strikes the smoothbore crowd as the thing to do to practice smooth mount and swing. These sports are really a 12-month hobby when thinking of dog training, shotgun shooting and scouting.
Camping by motor vehicle, backpacking or canoe tripping is delightful in September temperatures with fewer biting bugs. Campfires feel so cozy on a chilled night, a big part of the camping experience. And a warm sleeping bag designed for cooler weather also pleases the soul.
Hiking, running, bicycling, kayaking and canoeing attract plenty of folks this month, because in the dropping temperatures, exercising seems like the thing to do. Runners and pedalers really show up on roads now.
Longer, cooler evenings are perfect for preparing leisurely meals from the spoils of woods, water, home gardens and wild plants – the food-gatherers time of year.
Answers to “Do You Know?”
No Adipose Fin
Emerald Shiners Are Missing the Fin
A rainbow smelt is long, slender and silvery with a tapered nose, but observers must note another feature – the little adipose fin directly behind the dorsal fin.
Emerald shiners have no adipose fin, an important distinction because this species also has a similar long, slender body and in some waters a similar body color to smelts.
The shiner’s nose is blunt, but casual observers may need a smelt and emerald shiner in their hand to see the difference. Other fins help in identifying this shiner, too. The front of the dorsal fin sticks out completely behind the middle of the base of the pelvic fins.