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And just like that it’s April 1 again. Winter’s over, spring has sprung and the entire wild world is busily taking advantage of the new season. There’s so much to do: mating, nesting, brood rearing, fawning, birthing and weaning. Many of our wild neighbors must accomplish their procreational goals in mere weeks. Some, like turkeys, squirrels and chipmunks, get second chances to re-nest or produce additional litters.
Of course, humans are just as busy in spring – mostly focused on spring cleaning, picking up branches, raking, mowing, planting and otherwise sprucing up after a long winter. All that sounds great, but I tend to get that stuff out of the way as quickly as I can so I can focus on more enjoyable spring pursuits. Turkey hunting and trout fishing come to mind, and it’s almost seems pre-ordained that the turkey season falls in late April and May, ending almost the day the best trout fishing begins. To me these two seasons couldn’t be better planned. Turkey season opens April 29 which happens to be on the tag end of this big bird’s breeding season. In mid-March I had long-bearded toms strutting and gobbling in my back yard, and even before the snow was gone they were busily chasing hens all over the field. By the time the bearded turkeys become legal game most of the serious nesting will be over with, although the toms will still be enticed by the sound of a hunter’s seductive clucks and yelps. It’s tough to fool a wise, old hen at any time of year, but a randy spring tom turkey has his mind on other things and invariably falls for the faux version.
The great thing about spring turkey hunting is that it provides an opportunity to scout for great trout-fishing destinations. On a normal spring morning the average hunter may walk a mile or two in pursuit of a receptive tom. Because much of Maine is riddled with small streams and brooks there’s no end to the number of places he may find that hold the promise of great early-season fishing. I make note of these places in a small pad of paper I carry in my turkey vest, but of course today’s tekkie hunters can simply plot the coordinates of the location on their GPS. The trout don’t really care how you get there, they just want to be sure you bring enough bait!
Toward the end of the turkey season I actually pack a small take-down rod and reel in my vest. When I happen upon a nice stretch of trout water I’ll scratch up a few worms or grubs from under a nearby log and switch gears from turkey talker to trout stalker. More than once I’ve come home with a limit of trout on a birch twig but no turkey!
For me the beauty of April is that you can hunt or fish in relatively open woods with few bugs to contend with. It’s that short snippet of time between the chill of winter and the onset of summer where the air is clean and crisp, the forest is serene and the temperatures are just right for midday naps, unfettered by the hum and buzz of blood-thirsty insects that will soon enough drive us all into the gazebo for the summer.
On the best of days I enter the woods before sunrise hoping to catch a sleepy gobbler just off the roost, and failing that I just walk along woods roads clucking and yelping, hoping to get a response from a tom that’s roaming his territory in search of nesting hens. In Maine all turkey hunting must end at noon, and by then I’ve reached a secluded trout stream or beaver flowage where I can spend an hour or two probing the depths for a few pan-sized native brookies. These wild trout are rarely more than 7 inches long, but colorful as a Van Gogh; pink-fleshed and firm, just the right size for my little packable skillet.
Lately I’ve taken to packing a handful of instant-light charcoals, enough to fill a sandwich bag. While the coals are burning I clean the fish and open a small can of potatoes. Using a strip of bacon to lubricate the pan I wait till the grease is sizzling, and then toss in the fish and spuds.
By the time they are done the water is boiling in my tin cup and, just like that, lunch is served. It’s my mini version of the legendary shore lunch except there’s no “shore,” just a mossy log on the bank of an obscure trout stream. I’ve enjoyed many excellent gourmet meals in some of the world’s finest restaurants but few can compare to my streamside repast of trout, spuds and tea. If the coals are still glowing I’ll linger over a second cup of tea, as much to continue the ambience as putting off the inevitable chores that await me at home.
I often invite a close friend or two to join me in my springtime jaunts but few seem able to tear themselves away from “real” responsibility. I’ve spent many a gorgeous spring day on the road, behind a desk or poking through the attic looking for things to throw away, and I know it all needs to be done, but I’ll take a spring turkey hunt any day.
Some of those friends have begged off for 20, even 30 years, always too busy to “waste time” in the woods. I suppose that’s their prerogative but, having spent some time in a nursing home, I know that the old-timers who got out and enjoyed the April woods had the best rocking-chair stories. The busy ones, the productive and successful ones . . . not so much!
Time spent in the April woods is pure perfection, even if all you do is sit and watch. Certainly nothing you do with a rake, shovel or computer mouse in your hand can compete!
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