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A lot of folks are likely sick of snow and are looking forward to balmier days ahead, but Maine sportsmen welcome each new storm for the simple reason that the tracks and trails of yesterday will be obliterated. With each new covering of whiter comes new optimism, and even if you hunt or fish the same places all winter, there’s something about being the first one there after a fresh snowfall that makes it seem as if no one else has ever been there.
I especially enjoy getting onto a frozen lake the morning after a storm has passed and all the old footprints; holes and snowmobile trails are gone. I feel like Lewis or Clark may have felt as they trod uncharted ground. If I’m early enough I have the lake to myself for several hours, and I can pick and choose my hotspots based on my own instincts and experience, not on someone else’s leftover trails or holes. The lake is mine for now; I own it and I can cut my holes anywhere I see fit. It’s a great feeling, and all it takes is enough snow to smooth over yesterday’s ruts and hollows to turn even a familiar lake or pond into an interesting and mysterious new conquest.
It’s not often that you get to see a frozen, snow-covered lake in pristine condition, and the sunrise view is often worthy of a calendar photo. Mt. Katahdin is usually visible in the distance, and its rosy dawn countenance is quite a sight to see on a cold winter morning. I have climbed the mountain a time or two and know what the view is like from there as well, which makes for some interesting reminiscences as I cut my holes and wait for the big one to trip a flag.
In addition to great views and solitude, any lake after a storm has a tendency to creak and groan under the added weight of additional snow. It’s something to be far out on a frozen lake, alone and on foot, and hear the snap, crack and thunder of the ice as it shifts in the cold dawn air. Twice in the past I have been present for the start of a new pressure ridge, or rift in the ice. Talk about exciting! This occurs when expanding ice forces openings in weaker areas, often resulting in huge cracks with open water nearby. Or, the ice may split and ride up on itself, creating a serious hazard for speeding snowmobiles or ATVs. Hit a foot-high rift in the ice going full speed and you’ll see what I mean!
There are few real hazards for ice-fishermen other than perhaps falling into a hole cut by another angler just before the storm. I have had to pull two buddies out of the water when they inadvertently stepped onto the thin layer off ice covering such old holes, but other than being a little wet (and embarrassed), there were none the worse for wear.
I can’t say for certain that the fishing is any better the day before, after or during a storm, but I definitely like to be out there on the first sunny morning after a recent snowfall. The fresh, clean look and feel of a snow-covered lake is worth whatever effort it takes to get there. If you haven’t done it yet this winter, plan on it when the next storm blows through (which can be any day now!).
The same goes for a ramble in the woods. Knowing that the snow stopped falling only hours ago means that any track or trail you find is smoking fresh. When this happens, I’ll strap on my snowshoes and head into the cedars. I like to find deer, moose or coyote tracks, which I’ll follow in hopes of spotting and observing the animals at a respectful distance. A fresh moose track is quite a sight at this time of year – when the snow is deep enough you’ll see not only the tracks but perhaps even where the animal’s belly dragged on top of the snow, maybe even the places where the animal stopped to nip at a bit of greenery poking up through the snow. If the snow is wet and heavy, you can often find places where deer, especially, have driven their faces into the snow to find food, and the imprint of their eyes, nose and jaws are often perfectly sculpted into the snow.
The one thing I like about being in the woods early after a fresh snowfall is that it is so quiet in there! Between the fresh snow on the ground and the fluffy white stuff covering the trees, little sound can get in. The plaintive peeping of distant chickadees can be heard for several hundred yards, and if the wind is calm the silence can be deafening! Once in a while a raven will fly over with a loud croak that sounds as if he’s in your back pocket!
Our Maine woods and water are never so beautiful and serene as they are in winter. You’ll see patterns and contrasts that only exist in the snowy wilds, some so intricate and delicate that no artist could ever capture. I’d recommend that you get out there at least once this week and see what’s going on in the wild world outside your doorstep. Let the silence and solitude soothe your everyday problems, and soak up some of the peace and quiet that only a snowy day in winter can provide. I guarantee that you’ll come home feeling at ease, relaxed and content – and that’s not going to happen if you stay inside and pay bills all morning!
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