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Though my neighbors often joke about the long hours I spend in the woods “researching” for my wildlife writings they always seem curious about the results of my studies. I don’t have to consult a calendar to know when the next hunting or fishing season is approaching because suddenly I’m bombarded with questions about where someone might find a good place to find some trout, a turkey or deer. I don’t mind telling people exactly where to go (in the most innocent sense of the term) because I know there is much more to success afield than merely being there.
There have been times when I told people literally which tree to sit beside and they managed to kill their bird or buck at exactly that place, but not because I’m any sort of wizard on the topic. Pure luck certainly comes into play, likely more often than we are wont to admit, but occasionally my wild guesses pan out and the next thing I know I have another eager fan pounding on my door hoping I can direct him to his next great outdoor adventure.
One hunter I know calls me every time he heads out for a trip because he’s convinced that I bring him good luck. Another sends me a topographic map of the area he wants to hunt and asks me to circle the places where he should place his tree stands. This guy often hunts in states and places I’ve never seen, but I look at the map, make a few circles and next thing I know he’s raving about the huge buck he shot (or missed) while sitting in the exact place I showed him. One year he called me from his stand and ranted about the monster buck he’d just seen – but it was too far behind him. I told him to stay put and maybe the deer would return. Sure enough, an hour later he called again to say that the buck had come back and offered an easy shot at 10 yards. Weird!
Another time I told a novice hunter precisely where to hunt: “Go to the first gate you come to. Drive 2.5 miles on the gravel road till you come to the crest of the mountain. Walk down the mountain from there till you reach the first plateau. Look to the right and you’ll see a fallen log on the edge of a steep ravine. Sit there and watch the other side of the ravine. The deer usually come by about 8 a.m. after feeding in the farm fields down below.”
The guy went right to the spot, sat down, got ready to hunt and, according to him, at 8:05 a.m. three deer came walking up the other side of the ravine. This was a two-deer state and he was able to shoot the buck and the biggest doe that was with him. He called me at 8:15 raving about my fabulous skills as a deer hunter. I didn’t mention that I’d hunted that spot for squirrels for years but had NEVER seen a deer there!
I have the same knack for helping fishermen, though I have no clue how or why it works. Back in the early 1970s when no-one in Maine was interested in bass fishing I introduced many anglers “from away” to the sport, some who already knew the thrill of catching a big smallmouth on light tackle but just didn’t know where to go.
One of these fishermen was a stickler for detail, right down to water temperature, current flow and the Solunar Tables, which some anglers believe in devoutly. Personally, I go fishing when I can and am rarely skunked, but I admit that I’m not tuned into the cosmos.
Anyway, this fellow insisted that I tell him exactly where to go, right down to which rock he should stand on. I put him at the confluence of the Sebec and Piscataquis rivers in Milo where, in those days, I would catch 100 bass a day from that very same rock. Not only did he catch more smallmouths than he’d ever seen before, he also landed a few nice brook trout and one great, big Atlantic salmon that had run the gauntlet all the way up from the coast.
My favorite kind of fishing is probing little trout streams, the kind that are so small I can hop across them in one short leap. Over many years of fishing these little brooks I developed a knack for finding the undercut banks and deep holes where fat brookies might be found at any time of year, even in summer when many anglers give up on stream trout. If you can find water that is near 55 degrees with a good flow and plenty of aquatic life you’ll find brook trout. These places are often in the alder swamps where getting to and from them is a challenge to say the least, but if you want trout, that’s where they will be.
I truly enjoy sending and wader- and vest-clad purist into these hell-holes just because I was once one of them and know that such things as long rods and landing nets quickly become liabilities. Many an expensive rod tip has been snapped while bulling through the alders and nothing wakes an angler up quicker than taking the butt end of a landing net squarely in the back of the head while ducking and diving through the streamside brush. This is short-rod worming at its best – but those colorful little brook trout make it all worthwhile, on the hook and in the pan.
I particularly enjoy having visiting anglers come back to report on their adventures in the alders. Most of the time they return covered in mud, cut and bruised, hot and sweaty but with a big smile on their faces. One earns every small stream brook trout he catches; there is no doubt about that. One also has to love fish (and fishing) to willingly go back and do it again.
Come to think of it, I rarely have the same fisherman come back a second time to ask me where he should go for some good trout fishing this spring. I can’t imagine why!
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