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NH HUNTING

Well here it is, October, in my opinion the most magical and long awaited for month of the year. At the time of this writing, September 22, I have just gotten home from a couple days of sitting in my tree stand in the southeast part of NH and wanted to report what I saw. The weather was beautiful, warm but with a cool feel of fall on the wind and no bugs. I guess that cold snap last week took care of them, thank you Mother Nature! Plenty of deer moving around, the usual gaggles of family groups for this time of year. I sat in three different places Friday afternoon, Saturday morning and night and counted 8 deer, 4 does and 4 fawns but nothing to try out my new Hoyt Spyder on,(read that as NH state record) . Lots of fawns this fall, a good sign for the next few seasons if they survive that long. There seems to be plenty of feed this year, white oak acorns, apples and browse. I think we will see an outstanding month here in October.
There are many new folk getting into the shooting and hunting sports and with newcomers come questions on the tools of the trade. I thought maybe I could be of some help if I shared information on some of the guns and gadgets I have used over the years.
At this stage of the game, (approaching the golden years) my kids have most of my firearms and I have only retained one pump shotgun and a muzzle loader. Many of the places I hunt deer are restricted to shotgun only and I really have no desire to collect a ton of rifles I won’t use; besides I can always borrow them back. Over the years I have had many fine weapons in various calibers that have served me well hunting in New England. Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire all share pretty much the same landscape and there are plenty of choices in firearms that will serve well in the pursuit of white tail deer. I have owned lever, bolt, and semi auto actions and found all of them just fine for this region. It all boils down to a matter of personal preference, whatever makes you happy. Out of all of them I enjoyed my lever guns the most, again a matter of personal preference. As far as calibers go the choices are numerous. It seems like every year there are newer and faster offerings from the ammunition and gun maker companies. I found that I never needed any of the super magnums or long range loads, most bullet diameters from .25 to .30 are perfect for the relatively short range,(50-150 yard) shots most common here in the northeast. The calibers I have used over the years have been the 30-30 Winchester, .243 Winchester, .270 Winchester, 30-06 Winchester, .257 Roberts, .300 savage and .307 Winchester. They all did their job when called on and is a well-rounded group for the purpose of killing a deer. Although I have never owned one the .308 Winchester is another fine all around caliber suited for the woods of the Northeast. Once again it’s a matter of personal tastes, if lugging around a Lazzaroni custom rifle chambered for the 7.82 Warbird makes you happy then go for it, it certainly will do the job but it’s a tad bit overpowered for this region. Shotguns are a great all-around choice in that with interchangeable barrels your weapon can double as a bird gun and then accompany you in a deer blind latter in the fall. New and advanced technology have made the shotgun slugs scary accurate in recent years. Muzzleloaders too have come light years and sometimes the only difference between them and a modern rifle is the fact that you still need to load them one shot at a time from the front. I first bought a black powder gun almost 20 years ago and still have it today. It was one of the first removable breech plug inline models Thompson offered, a System One, and to this day it still puts them in the ten ring every time. The big drawback to primitive firearms however is you really have to keep them clean, no matter how easy it is to run a patch through the bore they require a lot of TLC at the end of hunting season before going back into the storage safe or gun locker.
Archery is a tough one to talk about to the beginner from my standpoint. I only got into bows a couple decades ago because at a young age I tried it with very bad equipment with very bad results. As I was heavy into firearms I never considered tossing arrows until someone gave me an old compound bow and I discovered I could actually hit what I was aiming at. That was a turning point for me, archery became my passion with each new year, new bow, and getting involved in 3-D completion. Just because it makes me happy I trade in my bows every 3 years for the newest top of the line offered,(one of my few indulgences) but if one is happy with a particular make and model it should serve you well for many years. I would say to a beginner go to a good pro shop and ask about trying some equipment before purchasing a set-up from a big box store. A good shop will work with you and will have you shooting in a shorter time you could imagine. Hunting in archery is truly an art form that requires much time to develop self-discipline, patience, and practice, but there is nothing like harvesting a white tail deer with a bow.
To the beginner going afield there are many gadgets offered on the market to make the hunt more easy and successful. Camo and sent free clothing seems to be the biggie these days. While I’m sure the manufactures claims are in the ball park you really don’t have to spend a bundle on attire to go hunting, or fishing for that matter. Back in the day we got by just fine hunting in the fall wearing plaid woolen jackets and pants, and to this day I enjoy trout fishing in a pair of shorts and sneakers. The only thing I would stress about hunting clothes is keep them clean and stored in a container with hemlock branches or whatever natural vegetation is indigenous to where you live. One thing not to skimp on is warm clothes. Good heat retaining light boots, gloves, hats and jackets will make your days outdoors more enjoyable.
When going afield travel light. A small survival kit, field glasses, knife, flash light, tow rope, jug of water and cell phone is pretty much what I carry, (well, maybe a sandwich) no need for any extra weight. Most everything else I leave back in the truck if I need it. Getting out hunting, fishing, or just hiking should be safe and enjoyable, but not a job.
Tight lines,
Capt Don

Vermont Sunday Dinner

The Trilogy, fresh wild blackberries, (picked this morning) fresh trout, (caught this afternoon) and venison chili. How anybody can be hungary in this state is beyond me. Oh, and the shot of the Pabst Blue Ribbon is for my friend Linda.

IT WON’T BE LONG NOW

FALL DEEP SEA FISHING IN THE GULF OF MAINE

September Deep Sea Fishing 2013

This month, September, is my most confusing month. Already there are hints of Fall in the air, cool mornings and nights, color starting to show in the soft maples, and the waterfowl are starting to congregate around food before the annual trip South. As usual I find myself drawn in a number of different directions, hunting, trout fishing, or headed out to the briny deep to stock up for winter.

Early September is a great time to fish the ocean here in the Gulf of Maine. All the species are here feeding and in some cases spawning before the water temperature starts to drop with the upcoming late Fall and winter weather when they either seek deeper water or head south.  It reminds me of tourist season, they’re here all summer eating before they waddle South ahead of the cold weather. By the reports from the party boats this year has been a good one so far, plenty of ground fish and not too many problems of dogfish (those small pesky sharks.)  This time of year is perfect for those of you, myself now included, to make a trip to the coast and jump on a boat to stock some fresh fish in the freezer. Finding an outfit to fish with is easy, just turn to the party boat/ charter boat classified section here in Hawkeye. I’ll try for a week-day to avoid the week-end crowd, but with kids back in school and vacation time starting to concentrate on foliage up North the rail space usually isn’t too much problem.

As I’ve said a million times, take good care of your fish. A cooler is a must, ice in the cooler is a plus, and be sure to bleed your fish before tossing them in said cooler. Come filleting time on the voyage back to port it makes a huge difference. If you have little filleting experience have the mates do them for you. They do it for a living and will be sure to get nice boneless fillets to pack away for those cold winter nights when a fish fry is just what the doctor ordered to break up the cold weather blues. Speaking of tasty morsels, if you happen to get into some nice size cod have the person welding the knife cut out the cheeks and head steaks. Cod are a meaty fish and if large enough will render some of the best tidbits from these parts.  Fried cheeks have been a tradition for many years in Gloucester restaurants. Another species that has good cheek meat is halibut.  Although catching one is not as frequent as it used to be the sometimes huge flatfish has been making a comeback in recent years so if you get lucky and hook into something that literally doubles your rod with thumping runs back to the bottom you could be in for some tasty Atlantic Halibut steaks on the grill.  Pollock are a predominate species this time of year because they are in spawning mode. Look for them on the hard bottom peaks in places like Pigeon Hill or the Ridge out on Jefferies ledge. Pollock grow up to around 40 pounds and are a great fighter when hooked. Jigs and worm teasers work well and feather hooks baited with strips of fresh herring or mackerel will also do the trick. When making up jig rigs for Pollock I always use at least 80 pound leaders to attach my jig and teaser to because double hook-ups are common in this fishery and if two 20+ lb. fish decide to go opposite ways after being hooked the net result is ending up with one fish on the teaser and goodbye expensive jig. When rigging your leaders do not use an overhand knot for the teaser loop, it will pull out every time if enough pressure is put on it. Use a barrel loop which is easy to shape, simply cross the leader material over itself forming a loop about 2 inches big and give it a good 4 or 5 twists before bringing the loop up through the middle twist and pulling  it tight by pulling the ends of the leader in opposite directions. Once you get this knot down it’s very easy. Another reason for this rig is this rig is because knots weaken line strength (thus the reason for 80 ld. Test leader) and this barrel shape has the least amount of sharp corners to break. A 3 way swivel may also be used but why spend more money if you can do it yourself for free.

 Pollock flesh is a moist semi-dark meat that works well in many ways when it arrives to the kitchen. Broiled with lemon and garlic butter, in soups and chowder, pan fried, baked or on the grill Pollock is delicious and the preferred species of most commercial fishermen that know fish. Substitute steamed or baked Pollock for canned tuna in salad and you’ll never want to buy tuna again.

Tight lines and keep you powder dry,

Capt. DonImage

SHADOWLAND

SHADOW TARGETS AND SHADOWY DEPTHS

  • If you haven’t touched your bow all summer August is the month to really, really get to shooting. Here in New Hampshire opening day archery is September 15 which translates to YIKES, there’s only a month and a half to get ready! 46 days is better than waiting for 7, or the day before as in some cases. This also is the time to assess the shape your bow is in, does it need a new string, a tune up, has the rest gummed up over the months of non-use. The people at the pro shops really, really, really would like to see the influx of repair and tune up work a couple months and not a couple weeks before season opener.
  • Shooting in the back yard at your target is a good way to start but after you get your equipment squared away it’s time to get a little creative. Rarely when in your tree stand or blind does the targeted species (read that as state record whitetail) walk out and present itself broadside at 20 yards. Read the last statement as VERY RARELY. They come at times of low light, early mornings and late afternoons, hanging in or close to cover. In these conditions it takes a lot of patience to ascertain the animal, its angle and movement, and most of all the distance. Shadows and low light distort depth perception. What may seem 40 yards at 30 minutes before sunrise on a cloudy morning will magically become 30 after the sky has cleared and the sun shines down on your shooting field. Ranging landmarks after you hang your stand will help to some degree but if Mr. Hat Rack appears someplace other than your range points it’s back to having a good sense of estimating distance. For these reasons it’s good to practice prior to the season by moving your target around, shooting at different angles and odd distances under different light conditions. It could mean the difference between a successful bow hunt or a lost $15 dollar arrow.

So much for the upcoming Fall. At the time of this writing, July7, I am far from the hustle and bustle of the coast and in pursuit of different species of fresh water fish in the many streams and lakes of Southwestern Vermont. Week one wasn’t all too exciting due to 5 straight days and nights of rain and thunder storms, but the past 4 days have more than made up for the bad weather. Catching fish here is not a problem. Every brook, stream, river, every pond, reservoir and lake are kept well stocked with trout by Vermont Fish and Game and many, actually most lakes and ponds have a healthy population of bass and other warm water species. This is good as it leaves the option for other adventures if one wants to take a break from the rainbow scene. This has yet to happen to me so far even though I have landed a good number of wild and acrobatic small mouth on my trout baits. July 4 was especially memorable. After much debate as to either take it easy for the day and lounge around the cabin or go fishing (it was a rhetorical mental debate) I loaded up the gear and headed up the 9 miles of gravel road to Somerset reservoir. Much to my chagrin I found the place mobbed with holiday picnickers and swimmers. I did a 180 in the parking lot and headed back down the road back to the Molly Stark trail to a spot I had been thinking about for a couple years but had yet to explore. Just south of where the Somerset road connects with RT.9 is a series of 3 bridges. From the middle bridge I had noticed a very dark and deep looking pool during my travels from New Hampshire to Bennington and had always wanted to test those waters. I was not disappointed. I found a turnoff to park and only had a short hike to where I could jump over the bank and make the short walk through the woods to the pool. Even though it was late morning trout were still swirling the surface scarfing up the thousands of insects that hovered there. I longed for my fly rod but all I had was my ultra-lite loaded with 2 pound test monofilament. I cast a few different small spoons and although nice fat rainbows would follow them in every time there were no takers. It was time to break out the secret weapon, “garden hackle”, earth worms in case you’ve never heard the name before. I sniped off the swivel snap and tied a tiny number 10 bronze bait holder hook. Baiting is the key to this type of fishing. I use only a small portion of the crawler and weave the hook in once at the worms end and then back in just below the first entry point. This leaves the rest of the worm to dangle and insures that when you see or feel the bite it hooks the fish neatly in the outer jaw. I do keep trout for the table from time to time but like to release most of them. Fishing this rig is much like working an artificial with a fly rod. I use no weight at all, just the tiny hook concealed in the bait and cast it upstream and let it drift naturally with the currents while watching the floating portion of line for any indications of a bite. This type of presentation works quite well and I was soon fighting hefty mountain stream rainbows. Yes, these fish are from one of the many hatcheries here in Vermont, however it had been weeks since they had been put in and by this time had become very adapted to the cold running stream environment. Upon setting the hook every trout would explode into fight mode ripping line out against the drag, wild runs up and down the rapids and pools, breath taking leaps into the air. This makes for a fisherman’s dream on ultra-lite tackle! The rest of July and August loom and I will definitely be on Google Earth looking for some remote beaver ponds and mountain streams to sample the wild trout population before it’s time to start scouting around for a nice place to hang my stand.

Tight Lines!

Capt. DonImage

Giant Bluefin Tuna in New Hampshire

Tuna Tails

Here on the northeast coast July kicks off the pursuit of the giant Bluefin tuna or “tuna wishing” as the fishery is often referred to. The fish usually first arrive around early June and a few will have been taken by trolling or harpoon, but the chum fleet doesn’t shift into high gear until after the fish have settled in to feed heavily on the newly arrived schools of whiting, squid, herring, mackerel and whatever else they can find. If it swims anywhere in the Gulf of Maine and Bluefin can catch it and fit it in their mouth it becomes dinner for “Thunnus thynnus”, the Latin name for Atlantic Bluefin. If you have the good fortune to catch a fish it’s always a good idea to inspect the stomach contents to see what was on the menu that day so as to try and duplicate it the next time out in that area, sort of matching the hatch only deep sea style. In truth successfully fishing for tuna involves a lot of experience and knowledge from past ventures as well as a little luck. There are thousands of “hot spots” in the GOM, but you got to know when to fish them and with what. Generally in early season most fish will start showing up along the northern east edge of Jefferies ledge and start working their way down chasing herring. Around mid-July you will find small or sometimes large fleets of boats at anchor from the “Fingers”, “the Cove”, “Scantum”, all the way down to Massachusetts Bay and the “Northwest corner”. If these names don’t sound familiar to you then I suggest doing a little research before spending a ton of cash on tuna gear.  In a normal year august will start producing fish inshore at spots like “the Inside and Outside Flag, Southwest Hump, Whaleback, and Halfway Rock” just to mention a few in the Ipswich Bay area.  Tuna’s will spend a good amount of time here as well as Jefferies and Stellwagon   eating the silver hake that come inshore to spawn. August and September are definitely prime time to catch Bluefin in the Northeast.

                                             To Fish, or not To Fish

Having knowledge of fishing spots and times to fish them is only a part of the complex formula to successfully catch tuna. Ever notice that in the crowds of anglers and hunters there are always a few that stand out because they consistently catch fish or bag deer? Most all will watch them and say they have some secret bait or gimmick that allows them to achieve success, “he has a secret, or a secret lure, inside information”, all these conclusions and others come to mind. The truth is any hunter or fisherman, no matter how successfully they have been in the past sets out each season as clueless as to what’s going on as the next person. Usually what sets them apart from the “general population” is over the years they have retained good basic skills to their crafts and apply them while they first start going out to get a feel of what this seasons conditions will hold whether it be on the ocean or in the woods and streams. To sum it up, or put it in a nutshell, just because last year you caught a couple tunas on the Outside Flag on chum chains in Late July, or killed the rainbow trout in the Exeter River using a large Woolley Bugger, and maybe took a nice buck on a high oak ridge in Strafford, it doesn’t mean the places or combinations from the past will always lead to success.  The oceans and all the creatures that live there are in continual motion, and the tuna fisherman must be as well using basic skills to experiment with baits and depths in different places until he finds the right combinations for a short period of time until once again everything shifts and it’s time to start all over. If he’s lucky he’ll get a week or two out of a spot with a certain bait, and sometimes as little as a couple days. Hunting white tails can be the same, if you found good sign in pre-season, hung your stand in a great tree and for the first week observed deer moving about but then started seeing fewer or no movement at all, something has changed, and it’s time to either scout around some more and move your stand or sit there the rest of the season and most likely watch the Red squirrels laughing at you. The same goes for fishing in the ocean, going back to the same honey hole in hopes the fish will show up again soon more times than not will be very frustrating.

Another common occurrence these days is what I call “buddy fishing”, or herd mentality, the habit of going out and looking for the fleet of boats that surely must be the “hot spot”. Back in the day a fisherman used his bottom machine and loran to find fish, these days most use their VHF radio and radar and while I’ll refrain from saying what I personally think of this practice, I’ll just add that fish can’t talk and you surely won’t see them on radar. I can guarantee that just because there are 150 boats sitting on top of each other on the Southwest Hump there are tuna in other un-crowded or vacant places as well.  A good example of this goes back to the late 80’s when I was running a small boat out of Gloucester. I had ventured up from Stellwagon to look around Ipswich Bay and observed quite a crowd on the outside flag. I really didn’t want to even consider looking for a place to park in that mess and was going to continue on when something on my chart caught my eye. It was a small deep water ridge, 240 feet, about half a mile west of the flag. I thought why not try it due to the fact no one was there. We threw out the hook and started chumming and wouldn’t you know it the bottom machine showed several fish come into the chum. Unfortunately there were no takers but I knew there were tunas there to be had so the next day we returned and started trying different baits set at different depths. It took a couple days to figure it out but we sat there every day for a solid week all by ourselves and caught 3 fish. The second week the fleet that had been observing us fighting fish through their glasses started to move over but the joke was on them, we had not only discovered this pocket of fish but had lucked upon the right combination of bait and depth and caught 3 more while the new neighbors watched. After the fishing petered out we bid our new summer friends farewell and once again went out looking for the next honey hole.   

In summary of what I have tried to explain all I can say is keep experimenting with different things, keep an eye on conditions both on top of the water and under it, keep your ears open, and if you find a little piece of Heaven for a period of time, get what you can out of it then move on.

Before closing I want to take time to refer back to another article in the June Hawkeye titled “Scout For Trout” by Doug Gralenski. I read the story several times and want to say thanks to him for a well written and informative piece. I can relate to much of what he was talking about on the subject of trout fishing here in the “Granite State”. It is very frustrating freshwater fishing here in the Southwest region having to rely on the stocking truck, sort like being dependent on welfare. For this reason I have always hoped New Hampshire would incorporate a closed season in its inland waters so that when they stock in April the fish might spread out a little better before the hordes of anglers descend upon them. Back when I had time and money (and a lot younger) I spent much time up north in pursuit of wild trout and miss those days dearly.

Tight Lines,

Capt. Don Image

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