This week marks the “end of times” of a sort, at least for Maine outdoorsmen. Ice-fishing season comes to a close this month as well as the rabbit hunting season, which has continued non-stop since Oct. 1, one of the longest-running hunting seasons in the country. There is still plenty of snow in the North Country for snowmobilers, ATV riders, skiers and snowshoeing fans, but the drift is the same no matter how you spend your spare time in Maine’s cold season: Winter is on the way out.
I am among those who wouldn’t mind if winter lingered on into April and May. I’ve never been a fan of biting bugs, humidity and high temperatures and now, entering my dotage, I find myself planning my daytime activities around early morning and late afternoon, when things are at their calmest, coolest and most serene.
I know there are plenty of people who love the hottest middle part of the day and they are certainly welcome to my share of such conditions.
I was, therefore, quite happy to experience the recent spate of frosty weather. With plenty of wood for the stove, tea and coffee well stocked and nothing pressing to do I was able to spend more time doing what I do best these days. I don’t know if “gazing” is a recognized sport but I think I am an Olympic qualifier in that regard. Whether I’m in my office chair, on the porch or miles back in the woods I have no trouble switching my mind to “Off” mode and just soaking up the ambience of what’s going on around me. My yard is busy, of course, with all sorts of birds and animals cashing in on the free food I provide, but things are picking up well beyond the wood line, too, as hints of spring stir the wild things into action. In recent days I’ve seen the number of hawks sailing overhead go from one or two per day to a dozen, plus I’ve seen two bald eagles and a couple of buzzards drifting on the cool March breeze.
There is a group of small ponds and lakes nearby that seem to have come to life just in the last few days, with flocks of geese, ducks and blackbirds shuttling back and forth over the treetops. For the record, I saw my first blue heron March 20. He was tip-toeing through some frigid open water along the sunny edge of a local pond. I stopped to observe the tall, skinny bird for some time but never saw him move. He was standing tall on one leg and appeared to be in “hunting” mode, but apparently the fishing was not good because he never moved.
Overall it seems that the spring critters are gathering but they’re not doing much while they wait for balmier temperatures. While recently working on kindling in the wood shed I paused for a break and noticed five bluebirds sitting quietly in the blueberry bushes just outside the door. I watched them and they watched me for quite some time. Eventually they moved to another bush where they sat and resumed watching, but if there was mating or nesting activity going on I haven’t seen it – yet.
Maine’s open water fishing season opens April 1, which is just around the corner. I went out on snowshoes to check the condition of some local trout brooks but I found what I expected to find – not much. The snow is still deep and hard packed right up to the water and in fact most of the brooks in my area are still crusted with ice and snow that I could not break with my walking stick. It will be legal to fish in open water starting the first of the month but, as usual, the odds of success are slim. Old-timers still wait for the leaves on the poplar to be “big as a mouse’s ear,” at which point (apparently) all the brook trout in Maine begin feeding in earnest. Oddly enough, the old saying tends to ring true most years. I have caught a few (very few) trout on Opening Day but I have had much better luck in late April or early May. I go out on April 1 because it is, after all, opening day, but fishing is one thing, catching is another. It’s good to have gone, to have participated and made the effort, but the odds of having a feed of trout on April 1 are slim to none at best. There have been years following mild winters with little snow and unusually warm temperatures when fishing was surprisingly productive on opening day but, alas, those episodes are few and far between. I don’t think this year is going to be one of them, at least not in central and northern Maine.
I mentioned that the ice-fishing and rabbit hunting seasons will end in a few days which means it’s still legal to get out and enjoy these pursuits. I don’t expect to hear about many rabbit hunting accidents because the only thing one gets when falling through crusty snow is wet. However, I would recommend that last-minute anglers carefully check current ice conditions. Always err on the side of caution. Lakes and ponds do not form ice uniformly in fall and, come spring, the breakup can be extremely iffy as well. Cracks, weak spots, spring holes and a wide variety of defects will begin to show themselves in the next few days and weeks. There may be “islands” of thick ice surrounded by crusty, frozen slush and fractures that can turn a fun day on the ice into a disaster.
It’s all but assured that someone will lose a shack, ATV, snowmobile or other vehicle through the ice in the next few days. We certainly don’t want it to happen to any of our faithful readers!