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

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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