|No sense in ignoring the obvious, it’s September now. Cling to summer if you must, but all signs point to cooler weather, beautiful clear skies and a hint of wood smoke in the air. The next several weeks will be among the most enjoyable of the year, especially for those who seek their solace outdoors. There isn’t a moment to waste now, and fortunate sportsmen can find something interesting to do every day from now till mid-December.
Bear season is already underway throughout the state, but anglers can fish for their favorite species in rivers, lakes and ponds till their fingers go numb with the cold in November. It’s artificial-lures, catch-and-release fishing from now on for bass, trout and salmon, but those who dare to don their waders from now on aren’t much interested in killing or keeping their catch. The ambience of fall in Maine is reward enough for those with a piscatorial penchant in these waning days of the open season. One of the true joys of autumn angling is to catch a nice, colorful fall fish and photograph it lying in a bed of red, orange and yellow leaves.
I don’t know why it is (light refraction, maybe?), but for some reason the sky, the water and the world in general seems to be brighter, clearer and more vibrant in fall. Sometimes I’ll stop what I’m doing (fishing, bear hunting or just rambling) and take a seat by a woodland brook just to admire the crystal waters, the bright green mosses and the colorful leaves that fall almost constantly for as long as they last. I think the most brilliant leaves are those that sink to the bottom at the stream’s edge. They seem somehow magnified by the clarity of the water, their bright hues almost shocking against the darkness of the moss, rocks and logs. These amazing colors persist through October, but somewhere along the beginning of the November deer season all turns to brown and black, a somber and sobering end to the season and the year.
Before then, however, there’s much to do and it can’t all be done in the course of one day. Even when I rise before dawn to check the bear baits and do a little fishing, I find myself hurrying to finish before lunch time. Later, my choice is to do some scouting for the upcoming archery deer season or sit beside a secluded bait pile and hope that a big, hungry bruin will make an appearance before dark.
There’s only a few weeks to go before more seasons kick in, and then I’ll be rushed even more because I also dearly love to hunt waterfowl, grouse, woodcock, squirrels and rabbits, and all of these are legal game come October. This year I will also spend some time trapping raccoons, mink, otters and muskrats, perhaps a fox or coyote as well, and any trapper knows how much preparation and effort it takes to run a successful trap line. In the past I checked traps, hunted birds and checked bear baits in the mornings, then fished or jump-shot a few ducks in a secret beaver flowage and then bowhunted for deer in a nearby orchard.
Doing all that’s available to Maine’s fall sportsmen can take up a remarkable amount of fast-moving time, but on the most successful days the “freezer factor” kicks in as well. I eat all the game I kill, which means a lot of skinning, plucking, cutting, wrapping and labeling goes on. I try to take care of my morning game while pausing for a quick lunch, and I’m often in the shed till late at night working on hides, baits or whatever else needs to be done before the next day’s wanderings begin.
I try to get involved in every sporting season that’s open during Maine’s fleeting fall, but if I had to admit to a favorite aspect, it would have to be ending each day sitting close to a hardwood fire at sunset. Before the season opens, I carefully cut and split a stack of maple, birch and oak down to kindling size. I’ll make a pile of sticks a foot high or so and get the fire going while I wrap a grouse or pheasant breast in aluminum foil accompanied by a quarter-stick of butter and a tablespoon of Italian dressing. When the wood burns down to red-hot coals (just about the time I’m ready to sit beside the fire with a cup of hot tea), I place the birds on a grill just above the coals, turning them once about 20 minutes later.
I have eaten fowl and poultry at some of the finest restaurants in the world, but I’ll tell you right now that a Maine grouse or pheasant broiled in butter over open hardwood coals beats them all, every time! Properly wrapped and cooked, the meat is sweet, juicy and tender. No other cooking method comes close. Complemented by a baked potato, a sweet onion baked with a sprinkling of brown sugar and a serving of asparagus, gourmands the world over would gladly pay top dollar for the privilege. For us, such a meal is free for the taking any fall day we choose. For those who know, this is what true wealth is all about!
I have been performing this little fall ritual, with the appropriate variations, for some 40 years. The main entrée may be trout, salmon, grouse, pheasant, duck, goose, bear, moose or deer, but the hardwood pile stands ready each evening and something good will be sizzling on the coals as another astonishingly gorgeous sunset glows overhead. There’s no better time to appreciate the simple things in life, the pleasure of being in Maine on a crisp, fall day and knowing that, if Fortune allows, we can do it all again tomorrow.
However you choose to celebrate these grandest of days, don’t let them go by unnoticed. Reward yourself with time spent outdoors and remember how lucky you are to be here to enjoy it. Some people never do, and I truly don’t know how they survive!