Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sweet Apples and White Oaks for Good Deer Areas

This may be a little late for the 2015 hunting season, but make note of it for future years. An old "hot shot" deer hunter once told me to look for two items in the woods for almost guaranteed deer magnet spots to hunt. The first was white oak acorns which are sweater than the prolific red oaks of Maine. If you find one mark it well and remember to hunt it often. The other magnet area is one with "sweet" wild apples. The only way to test for the flavor is to take a bite. If you feel like eating the entire apple, it is likely sweet enough to attract deer better than the more bitter ones. This year, southern and coastal Maine had bumper crops of wild apples and the one pictured tasted mighty good. We will see if the area produces for me. To date I haven't hunted this spot, but will soon.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Casting Cage Adds to Striper and False Albacore Fishing Safety

                There are times when, for numerous reasons, when some form of stability is worthy of use while fishing from the bow of small boats.
                My casting cage design has been used on boats of the northeast for at least 15 years. They are strange looking and appear to be nothing but another piece of equipment to get in the way.
                How this useful item became a reality was the need for quick, safe movement of a boat into position to cast with a fly to breaking and moving false albacore on Cape Cod in the fall.
                Prior to using the casting cage, I would need to wait for my sport to secure his or her line, move off the bow of the boat and hold on so I  could move the boat quickly to busting fish a hundred or so yards away. The delay usually meant we wouldn’t get to the fish before they stopped busting and we would lose the golden opportunity of making an approach fast enough to get a good cast into the mealy. For safety reasons, I couldn’t risk having a sport standing on the bow while I bounced along quickly to approach the fish. With the cage, my sport could stay in place, saving precious seconds in getting to the false albacore.
                The design is the genius of one Russell Smith of Phippsburg, Maine. His first design has never been change which is a testament of his thoughtful approach to having a new and safe way to fish from the bow of a small boat. The cage has a square base receiver which allows easily moving it in four different positions allowing using it as a simple leaning post or positioning it for casting to one side of the boat or another. The large tubing doesn’t irritate your body when you lean into it like other designs which usually will be seen with some form of padding to account for the discomfort of smaller diameter tubing.

                Blue Water Fabricators of Warren, Maine owner Alex Martins built the original casting cages I use and continues to make a few each year. The Made In Maine brand certainly proves its worth as Alex’s work has with stood 15 years of heavy use in the salt environment, showing almost no wear.
                My first use of the safety devise proved its worth as angler after angler praised the tool while chasing the famed false albacore speedsters on Cape Cod in the fall.
                As older and less stable fishermen began trying the cage, it became evident that using it for a day of fishing certainly decreased to fatigue factor usually accompanying a full day of fly fishing on the bow a boat.
                Originally, I had one receiver in the front of the boat. I soon had Alex make me another receiver to install in the stern as a place to store the devise when someone didn’t want to use it.
                Fly fishers prefer to be on the bow of a water craft to gain the best advantage possible. Jokingly, many pairs of sports will ask about who will get the bow first. So, one year, a man and woman couple who always have a fun time had a routine of deciding who was going to fish from the bow and for how long. On a calm day, Gary asked to have the bow cage moved to the stern as he believed he could fish better without it. His wife Barb, got to use the cage in the stern. Gary being kindly, eventually asked his wife if she would like the bow. She said no as she was happy in the stern.
                As time passed, Barb elected to stay in the stern, which Gary couldn’t quite understand. As the breeze picked up and boat movement gained, Barb asked if she could now move to the bow and Gary obliged. But, Barb smiled and asked me to move the cage to the bow. Gary almost immediately noticed how unstable he was fishing in the stern without the cage, but didn’t complain too much. Just a few comments about of how lucky Barb was to be using the cage all day. 

                After their three day fishing trip we settled up and said our good byes. Barb allowed how they had a wonderful time and would consider returning next year only if I had two casting cages. They were joking of course. However, I gave that some thought during that winter and order another cage from Alex. I didn’t say a word to Gary and Barb. They booked another trip the following year and were delighted to see two casting cages on the boat.

Friday, July 10, 2015


How is it possible to catch big striped bass on a fly other than just being lucky?
                I’m asked that question a lot. People who fly fish for striped bass are generally happy catching school sized, those 20 to 26 inches or smaller along with some mid sized fish from 28 inches up. It’s those fish on the up size one would call somewhat big. Stripers that really get noticed are over 30 inches and when they get to be over 40 inches they are considered by most to be truly big stripers.
                I will be discussing how to target big striped bass, not just getting luck.
                A big striped bass will test every aspect of your game. It goes without saying; equipment should be in top condition. Fly rods in the ten to 12 weight rating with plenty of backbone to fight the fish are recommended. I use a Temple Fork Outfitters Mangrove series rod. It has plenty of casting ability and fighting qualities. When that take and fish of a life time presents itself, you don’t want to be using a fly rod that isn’t up to the challenge.
                You don’t need to spend a thousand dollars on a fly reel that will handle a 40 pound striped bass. That reel does need to have a strong and reliable drag. There are many fly reels on today’s market with sealed drags systems and plenty of line capacity costing $300 or less which will get the job done. I am using Temple Fork Outfitters IV, BVK reels for the job. The drag is strong. It is loaded with 200 yards of 40 pound Cortland Master Braid for backing and has a large frame which allows more cranking power. Leaders should be 20 to 40 pound test. I don’t go crazy about knots. Barrel knots are used for line to backing and to leaders. Hook attachments are done using a Duncan loop with two wraps around the hook eye.
                When targeting large stripers I like to use a 425 to 625 grain Cortland Deep Salt fly line, even in shallow water. I is amazing how little you fill get fouled on the bottom. I think current has a lot to do with that. Big fish like to stay deep. There are times on sand and mud flats in low light situations when larger fish can be taken using an intermediate density fly line. If you like that situation, don’t be bashful about using such lines.
 (Page Rogers Big Eye Bunker fly patterns)
                Flies are a lengthy discussion. In general, big stripers like big flies. That said, I have taken them with some pretty small flies at times. On average, I like to use big and bigger flies. Small hook sizes for me are 3/0 and 4/0 and usually I am using 6/0 to 7/0 while targeting larger fish. A good pattern available commercially is Page Rogers Big Eye Bunker in chartreuse color or black at first and last light. Just before the first rays of sun reach the water, keep the chartreuse color on. When the first rays of sun reach the water, keep the chartreuse color on. My favorite pattern is a 6/0 R2-T2 in chartreuse. Oh, did I mention that chartreuse is a good color?


                Mid summer in Maine is my favorite time to seek out a big striped bass on the fly. For me, being on the water, on station to fish, ready to fish is 30 minutes prior to first light during the last two hours of the out going tide.  By experience, I already know of two holding waters close to each other that provide good opportunities. First, I will drift the spot prior to casting to determine how the tide a breeze will affect my approach to the feeding lane. The productive feeding lane might be a small as a kitchen table. Just like trout, these fish will set on a feeding station almost every day. The difference is, the condition of that station changes with the tide. You need to fish these spots for many seasons to determine at what stage of tide feeding fish are likely there.
                I will fish a spot for three to four drifts, making wide return up current on each approach. With no action, I will go to location two and do the same thing. And then back to location one to try again and repeat the process until the first rays of sun reach the water.

                Continue this process all summer and you will catch a fish of a life time. Good luck.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Phippsburg, Maine Bow Hunters Made Me Proud To Be A Hunter

                I found it difficult to read the notice of a Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife public hearing scheduled for April 22, 2015 which was suggesting removing the entire town of Phippsburg, Maine from the popular Expanded Archery Season Zone.
                Seems like a couple of Phippsburg residents decided to petition the department for the change, automatically triggering the notice and scheduled a meeting. The petition read as follows:  “The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has been petitioned to amend the Expanded Archery Deer Hunting  Season from the areas by updating road names and routes within a portion of Wildlife Management District 24 to remove the Town of Phippsburg from the expanded archery hunting area.”
 I called the department to ask what was happening and they said I might find the hearing very interesting.
                So, off I went the to evening meeting arriving at the Phippsburg Elementary School Gym to see several vehicles already there, thirty minutes prior to the scheduled meeting time. Upon entering the building, I noticed about 20 people lingering about, Commissioner Chandler Woodcock, a wildlife biologist, two department staffers and two department game wardens. That’s quite a department presence for such a meeting.
                People began filtering in, young, middle aged and seniors; men and women alike. I sat beside a young man and began chatting with him, not noticing the continued flow of people entering. I looked up in shock to see, maybe 50 people. I said to the young man, “looks like a good turn out” His reply, “the more the better”. Prior to the meeting beginning I estimated at least 100 people had shown up. That’s a crowd in Phippsburg. This issue had roused out folks.
                The petitioner presented his case. Basically his reason for the change was stated because the town’s deer herd couldn’t stand much more pressure from the expanded archery season.
                Supporters of the change stepped up. They were few. Opponents to the change began their testimony. With thoughtful messages, they obviously were passionate about their bow hunting and the expanded archery season in particular. The opponents just kept coming. It was obvious that the majority at the meeting didn’t want the town removed from the special archery season. Opponents mostly believed the deer herd in Phippsburg is in excellent condition.
                To a person, both sides went out of their way to make certain there were no hard feelings between the two positions. It was the most civil public hearing I ever attended and it’s been many over the years.
                So, what’s the big deal here? Why am I writing about this issue? After the meeting I said to myself, “this potentially contentious meeting made me proud to be a Maine sportsman. Two differences of opinion were civilly discussed at a calm meeting.” Good work Phippsburg.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Black Sea Bass New To Maine Coastal Anglers

What’s new for 2015 on Maine’s coastal fishing waters for recreational anglers? Black sea bass fishing is a new game in Maine.
                During the past couple of years, more and more black sea bass have been caught from Maine coastal waters. Most Mainers don’t even know what they look like. Here’s a photo of them. They are one of the tastiest, bottoms feeding fish in the Atlantic Ocean.

                Looks a little like a perch in profile doesn’t it? Well, they school like perch and feed as aggressive and like heavy structure.
                Maine’s Department of Marine Resources just last August established new and the first regulations in Maine waters on black sea bass. The new regulation put in place a daily bag limit for recreational harvesters of 10 fish and a minimum size for both commercial and recreational fish of 13 inches. The season for recreational harvesting is May 18 through September19.
Black sea bass have become more prevalent in Maine waters in recent years so the department determined that it was important to develop regulations that would provide opportunity for both recreational and commercial fishermen while ensuring that this new commercially viable species can be sustained” said Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher. 
Commercial harvesters fishing in Maine waters will have a daily limit of 50 pounds. In order to fish commercially for black sea bass, harvesters must obtain a DMR Commercial Pelagic and Anadromous Fishing license. Wholesalers who wish to sell black sea bass must also obtain a black sea bass endorsement and must report all transactions weekly to the DMR landings programs.
The method of fishing for both commercial and recreational fishing is hook and line only. 
Black sea bass are a perch-like fish that lives from the Gulf of Maine to Florida. They are mottled smoky gray to dusky brown or blue-black in color, with one long continuous dorsal fin. They live on the bottom, on offshore ledges and banks. According to the Maine Sea Grant’s Maine Seafood Guide, black seas bass is versatile and popular seafood, sold whole and as steaks or fillets, is low in calories and fat, and considered a good source of selenium and omega-3 fatty acids.
How to find black sea bass in Maine waters is a hunt as they aren’t a historic fish that anglers know much about. The best way to start is by looking at nautical charts to locate rocky humps or rocky ridges. They really like rock structure. Use heavy egg or bank sinkers attached to two hooks with a foot or so leaders, about two feet apart. Make certain to use sinkers heavy enough to hold bottom. Carolina style rigs work just fine. Fishing at anchor or by drifting over structure are both productive techniques.  For terminal tackle, I use Temple Fork Outfitters Mangrove Series Rods in nine foot and eight to 12 test line rating with an LL Bean 3000 spin reel filled with 12 or 14 pound, Cortland green Master Braid Premium with a 4 foot,  fluorocarbon leader with a swivel at the end to attach the Carolina rig to.
Being bottom feeders, black sea bass are known to eat crustaceans and mollusks as well as several kinds of small fish. Good baits include marine worms, shrimp, crabs, clams and cut fish. Mackerel jigs are also effective.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Time to Prep Gear For The Season

It’s time to gear up and plan for Maine’s 2015 striped bass fishing season.
                Rods, reels, lines, flies, hooks, terminal tackle, clothing, boats and other personal items need to be attended to now, not a few days prior to your first trip to the salt. All those items need to be inspected, repaired, cleaned or replaced to be ready for battles come spring.
                All the pictured fly reels and bags full of fly reels and new fly lines need to be cleaned and have new lines strung. Not torture, but it has to get done prior to the season as there is precious little time available then. Anything you can do to simplify the process is most welcome.

                Several years ago, Jim Young who manages Eastman’s Tackle in Falmouth, MA. showed me his new reel cleaning devise. It consists of a big tub full of a special liquid chemical. He dug out a salt encrusted reel he needed to repair. Watch this he said. As he dunked the reel in a rack into the tub, he explained this was a similar operation that women use to clean jewelry. After a couple of minutes, he retrieved the reel, rinsed it off with cool water and handed to me. That was a “wow” moment. The ugly looking reel that got dunked came out looking almost new. Jim would then proceed to dismantle the reel, clean and lubricate inner parts and replace any worn parts. Reel was quickly refreshed for another year of duty.
                So, I went shopping to find a jewelry cleaning machine and found one easily at a jewelry counter in a local store. Now this machine isn’t the commercial item Jim uses, but it does work on smaller parts of reels as you clean one. Some of the larger parts can be cleaned by holding them in the tub one little section at a time. This is not a fast as Jim’s machine, but it does an admirable job. The chemicals required are readily available at most larger retail outlets. This is much better than I can do by hand.   
                One item I see sports neglect every year is their leader, be it a butt leader or full tapered leader. Every season I have numerous sports show up with their own equipment and I always ask the pound test of their tippet. The usual answer is, “I don’t have clue, it’s the same one I used last year”. I don’t even bother to inspect leaders. All are replaced with appropriate tippets for the intended game. One note on leaders. I always use a knotless, tapered leader for all popper fishing. This will eliminate knots which always catch little and big pieces of debris floating on the surface all season long. It is very annoying to have your leader fouled with debris just when a fish starts to following a fly. The debris is just enough to turn the hot fish away from striking. Another note, if you use tea colored leaders for Atlantic salmon fishing, take it off as I found them not as effective as fluorocarbon leaders in the salt. I think the tea colored leaders show up too much in salt water, potentially spooking fish.
                It’s a pain to strip all your fly line off the reel to inspect the knot between backing and fly line. I have seen dozens of fly lines lost to aggressive fish. Not only do you lose a fish, you lose a $40 to $90 fly line which is connected to a fish. That fish might not drop the line and die from being snagged to kelp or other underwater items. Just retie the connection to eliminate a potential weak spot in your setup.

                Fly rods need a little attention. If you didn’t do it in the fall, take a fly rod a day to the shower with you to clean them carefully using an old tooth brush. Make certain to clean each guide inside out and backwards as this is an area that gets neglected too often. When the rod is dripped dried for a day, inspect every inch for issues. Run a small piece of nylon stocking back and forth through each guide on all 360 degree inside surfaces. If there is a problematic nick in the guide, the stocking will catch up on it. Either carefully file the nick down with fine emery cloth or replace the guide.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Maybe Next Year!!!

                During Maine’s 2014 muzzle loading deer season, I’m sitting on a stand freezing at four degrees Fahrenheit. It had snowed two days prior and I had not seen a deer track since then. Which is typical I have found over the years. I can’t remember a time when I’ve seen deer tracks in deep snow the first two days following snow unless the deer were driven out of thick cover for some reason.
                On the third day following such a storm, I went to one of my stands about five miles from my house. An easy hunt. The area is rich in what deer need to live and survive, making it a regular producer almost every year. A good deer honey hole one could say.  
About 20 minutes prior to afternoon shooting time, I decided the cold was too much and began packing up to close the day’s hunt. It was cloudy, so it was getting dark quickly. I removed my 209 primer, put it away and reached for my scope covers hanging from the nearby branch. Something caught my eye and I looked up. You guessed, a deer was approaching at a slow, deliberate walk. It was a good one. Actually the second largest buck I have seen in many years.
(photo ID – Likely this is the same deer, in the same spot during the fall of 2013)

                What to do? The buck was on track to almost walk under my tree, 25 yards along my shooting lane. Several thoughts passed. One, if I tried to reload the primer, it was likely I could make enough sound to spook the big buck. Second thought was, so what, you can’t shoot an empty weapon. Third, if I spooked the deer I apt to poison the spot and never see him again. I had all this time to think as the deer just stopped, not even alert and then would take a few steps and continue on his way closer to me.  I decided not to attempt a quiet reload and simply enjoy the show and hope the big deer would repeat the walk in the next couple of days.
                The big bodied deer stopped, only 25 yards from me right in the middle of my shooting lane, sniffing some high branches and picking up an occasional acorn, with a crunch, crunch eating sound. It had a nice, evenly spread six point rack. Not a massive, thick rack; just a pretty one. The body was huge, likely one of the largest I’ve ever seen live in the woods. I literally had at least a four minutes or more look at this deer. What a beautiful creature! He lingered about for some time, stepping a few paces to a nearby stream for a drink and then continuing along his feeding way around my stand and behind me, never more that 40 or 50 feet away. He had no idea I was there, never raising his head for suspicious smell detection. Never in all my years hunting has a big, male deer presented such an easy shot and been so relaxed.
                I spent the next three huntable days at this stand as the area wasn’t getting much pressure. Never saw him again. Maybe next year.
                The largest buck of my life came, again after a good snow storm in mid November. For two days I had not found a deer track. I thought, maybe they went into the big cedar swamp. On the third day following the storm I headed deep into the cedar swamp. You now what I mean when I say it is a spooky place; quiet, dark and lonely. Not a track to be found, so I headed out, following my own tracks uphill in the snow. About half way out, I crossed deer tracks, crossing my tracks. Now, I had to go to work and was standing there debating on following the tracks or going to work when I looked up to see a very nice buck following the tracks, nose to ground in hot pursuit, coming straight at me with the breeze blowing straight to the deer’s nose.

                I shouldered my model 94 Winchester, drew a bead and waited. This deer was getting too close, so I pulled the trigger and he dropped. Being alone, dragging a large buck uphill wasn’t fun, but I was younger then and got the job done. The scaled weight, dressed, was 201 pounds on the eight pointer. Still remains as my largest whitetail deer.