In last week’s column I suggested that folks might notice a sudden increase in woods activity with the opening of the 2016 turkey-hunting season. I did not expect that so much of that activity would have occurred on the Saturday before the official season opener. Granted, some of those sports were participating in the special Youth Day hunt, but I was amazed to see how many camo-clad “other” hunters were out scouting for turkeys two days prior to the season.
While running my usual errands I saw vehicles parked in every lane and at every corner. Most of the occupants had been in the woods since 5 a.m., none carrying shotguns or actually hunting turkeys, just eager hunters hoping to get a line on an equally eager gobbler.
I had never seen this much active interest in a season that was not going to open for two days – it was like seeing fishermen standing around a lake without fishing poles. Pre-season scouting is a good thing and I was glad to see so many hunters doing what amounts to homework well in advance of opening day.
When I got home from making my rounds I found two hunters in my yard that had walked the logging trails from the other side of the hill (a distance of about two miles). They had heard a few gobbles in the distance at dawn and a cluck or two during their three-hour trek but, alas, they did not see the first live bird.
Because it was cold and windy that morning I invited them in for coffee. We had a fine time chatting about turkeys, hunting and what luck they might have when the season opened. About halfway through the pot we moved onto the porch to enjoy a quick burst of sunshine and, what do you know, a flock of turkeys came in and began pecking around the bird feeders. Most of the birds were hens and there were several jakes (immature males) in the bunch, but the “boss” was nowhere to be seen. My guests thought it quite amusing that they had just walked three miles through the woods and hadn’t seen the first bird, but while having coffee on the deck they were surrounded by turkeys! So it goes...
Before the recent spate of cold, rainy days we had a spell of warmth that also brought out the local contingent of trout fishermen. Apparently they all had the same idea because one of the local mill ponds, barely 50 yards across, was filled with avid anglers in canoes and kayaks, to the point that there was hardly any open water showing! The pond is part of a cold-running stream and once provided power to a sawmill that burned long ago, but it is stocked with trout each spring, and some of the lucky fishermen had even caught a few.
I am not a great fan of mob fishing so I left them to their sport, but seeing that they were actually catching a few fish reminded me that I had stashed my kayak along the edge of a remote beaver flowage a couple of miles back in the woods and thought that maybe (finally!) now was the time to give it a try.
“Going fishing” in this case means walking on overgrown woods trails and a portion of the local snowmobile trail just to reach the cutoff point where I’d have to bushwhack for about 200 yards toward the deadwater.
This particular flowage runs for over three miles and is all but forgotten by local anglers. There is plenty of old evidence of tree stands, camp sites and foot trails nearby but none of it looks new, nor even recent. All of the old stands and tent platforms are wooden and dilapidated, rotted and unsafe to use. I’m sure the hunters and fishermen who built them were old-school and are long gone. A few rusted tin cans and shreds of canvas tents are all that remain.
I was more than surprised to find that my kayak, PFD and paddle were still in place, untouched and none the worse for wear. I imagined that someone might have stolen the lot (which happens far too often these days), or that someone may have vandalized the stuff (I’d heard gunshots in that direction some time ago), or that a porcupine or (worse) a swarm of hornets might have taken up residence in the overturned craft.
Fortunately, and as is often the case, all that worry was for naught. I paddled into the flowage and made my way upstream to a place where some huge rock ledges created a pinch-point in the flow. Just above is an old, submerged beaver dam creating a wide, deep pool that just screams, “Trout!” I’d found ducks and geese there last fall and was struck by the thought that this would also be an ideal place to find trout next spring. I was anxious to find out if my assessment was anywhere near accurate.
Casting a worm-and-spinner rig up close to the rock ledges, where I thought the water temperature may be closer to the brook trout’s preferred 55 degrees, I had action right from the first cast. Unfortunately, my first fish of the year were chubs, a nuisance species every trout angler must contend with, but at least there were fish in the water, which I considered to be a good sign. Another good sign was that fish, although not the desired targets, were also biting with enthusiasm. All I needed to do was narrow the focus to trout.
As I drifted closer to the old beaver dam my fortunes changed considerably. At a point where the ledges and the dam were equidistant from my kayak I started to catch trout; nice, fat, aggressive native brook trout. They were not near the dam nor near the ledges where I expected them to be but in a deep, dark hole between them.
I caught several and kept a panful of four for a nice shore lunch and then went home to wait for the predicted rains to subside. While my catch sizzled in the pan I had to wonder how the turkey hunters were doing because I hadn’t heard a shot all morning!