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The month of May is not unlike the month of October for avid sportsmen. It's the old “too much to do and so little time” syndrome again. May is prime time for all species of Maine fish, and to spice things up we have the annual spring turkey season, which, this year, is open to anyone with the cash to purchase a permit over the counter.
The best fishing, like the best hunting, takes place in the early hours of the day, and therein lays the conundrum. You can go sit in the woods at dawn and spend your morning trying to call in a big tom turkey, all the while knowing the trout are biting in the stream or lake below; or, you can head for the water for the early bite and grind your teeth while you listen to the relentless gobbling of lonely longbeards echoing over hill and dale around you!
The only logical solution to this problem, of course, is to do both! No law says you can't hunt and fish at the same time, and if you have access to a small boat or canoe, you have the ingredients for a very productive, satisfying day afield with little or no competition.
The game is simple and pleasant enough. With your turkey gear (a vest filled with calls, decoys, shells and binoculars; shotgun and camo face mask and gloves) safely stowed in the front the craft, just paddle along a lake shore or stream and fish for trout, bass or salmon as you normally would at any other time of year.
But, every so often, dig your crow call out of your vest, offer a few loud, commanding “caws,” and see if a turkey responds. If you like, try a few hen yelps on a slate or box call, just to see if you can coax a gobble out of a bird that's been lurking along the shoreline in hopes of encountering a mate.
The procedure is not very complicated. When you hear a turkey in the distance, mark the spot well, paddle to shore, anchor the canoe or boat securely and head into the woods. If possible, get above the bird and as close to his position as possible, and then sit down, put your face mask and gloves on, cut a few plaintive yelps and clucks on your slate or box call and see what happens.
Ideally, of course, the bird comes running in, posing haughtily at 25 yards, and you make the easy standing shot with no trouble. Naturally, this the hunters's dream, not that of the turkey, so the odds are the something will go wrong the first few times. You'll pick the wrong hill, the bird will have come in too quickly, he is drawn away by real hens or . . . well, the list is endless! “Textbook” turkey hunts are few and far between, but if you keep trying you'll get your chance.
No matter how your hunt unfolds, carry your bird (or your ego) back to the canoe and float downstream as you cast to likely pools and logjams in search of fish. Another turkey will be around the bend, downriver somewhere or high up on the next ridge. Be patient, call frequently and fish during the doldrums as you go.
The advantages of a drift hunt are many, the best being that you will likely meet few other sportsmen and, equally important, you'll encounter many birds that have never been challenged by artificial calls, decoys and camo-clad hunters. These are the places where you'll find birds that literally run into your set-up, big, boss toms that will be extremely surprised to find a FeatherFlex hen and a charge of HeaviShot waiting for them. These birds will often show up in full strut, gobbling lustily and showing off their best wing-tip drag to a hen that, they discover too late, does not exist.
With Maine's turkey population growing exponentially each year, it's possible to run into three or four huntable birds per mile of lakeshore or river, which gives you plenty of opportunities to take a bird and lots of time for fishing, too.
Of course, it's imperative that you be aware of shoreline development, houses and camps that seem to pop up overnight along lakes and rivers hereabouts. It is legal to hunt on property that is not posted, but by the same token it is illegal to shoot within 100 yards of a barn or dwelling. If your turkey is extremely enthusiastic and comes running right down to the shoreline (or you happen to surprise a flock of birds at the water's edge) it is legal to shoot from a boat that is not under motorized power.
Be safety conscious first and always, of course. What normally happens is you'll paddle into a swirling eddy, hook a big trout at about the time a huge gobblers shows up on the shoreline and you end up spinning backwards down through the rapids with your paddle floating just out of reach beside you! When this happens (and it will!), unload your shotgun, stow your gear and regain control of the craft. You may lose the fish and the bird but there will always be another opportunity. Neither trophy is worth the risk of stranding or drowning!
Keep in mind that to participate in this kind of “double trouble” you'll need a valid Maine hunting license, a turkey permit and a fishing license. Orange clothing is not required for spring turkey hunting (or fishing, for that matter), and you will need to carry an approved Personal Flotation Device for each passenger in the boat or canoe.
If you can't decide whether you want to hunt turkeys this month or go fishing, make it easy on yourself and do both! You won't always come home with your limit of fish or fowl, but you'll certainly have some interesting stories to tell at the kitchen table next evening.
Spring has sprung, as the saying goes, and this month seems to pass too quickly. Put some of your springtime chores aside and enjoy the new season as it unfolds around you. It's rare to have the opportunity to hunt and fish on the same day in Maine, but the time to go is now. Get out there and make the most of this unique sporting opportunity!
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