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I wrote last week about sneaking around in the woods for small stream trout, and of course the primary objective was to fill my frying pan with brookies, fiddleheads and pan-fried potatoes. Most sportsmen have similar primary goals whenever they hit the woods or water, but then there are secondary goals, minor objectives and unexpected diversions that are salted away in the memory banks for next week, next month or even next year.
For example, while probing the depths of a bathtub-sized deep hole on a stream a one-legged man could jump across, I kept finding fresh bear tracks in the mud. Not only did I find bear tracks, but I found lots of bear tracks – big ones, small ones, old ones and new ones. Had I found a bear crossing, a place bears frequently use to get from place to place? I was more than happy to think so, and so I marked the spots on my laminated topographic map (which I always carry) and marked them on my GPS unit as well.
By the end of the fishing trip I had no less than a dozen such spots on the list. This bodes well for the coming hunting season, which, by the way, opens Aug. 31 this year. With my spots duly marked, I can return to those places in a few weeks to begin my advance baiting. By the time the season opens I’ll know which baits have been hit most often, and after checking the tracks and trail cameras, I can decide which sites are most likely to produce a big bruin for me this year.
Bears are not the only game animal that comes to mind when I’m sneaking from pool to pool trying to fool a limit of fat trout. Because my focus is on fish, I have a habit on stumbling over two of my other favorite species – grouse and woodcock, which just happen to be denizens of the same alders and saplings that line the banks of our best mid-summer trout waters. Because these game birds are pretty much homebodies through October, when climate and habitat changes force them to seek other cover, I make a point of returning to these spots with dog and shotgun in tow, hoping to find some good scattergunning before it’s time to gear up for November deer hunting.
Did someone say deer hunting? Well, it turns out that whitetails tend to use the same crossings as bears and other game (including rabbits, foxes and coyotes) and so those locations go on the list of places to visit when the appropriate seasons open. Once again, the lowland brushy cover around small streams creates a natural passageway for meandering wildlife, and every mud hole will reveal evidence of their passing.
Believe it or not, the presence of turkey tracks in the mud can be stored for next spring when that season opens. Turkeys are creatures of habit, and will leave their roost at dawn and wander the same general path in search of food (and water) until habitat changes force them to seek other routes. So, if you find a number of turkey tracks at a stream crossing you can bet that a), they will be back in the next few days and b), they’ll be there in daylight, because turkeys are night roosters and don’t dare set foot on the ground till the sun is up.
Though the odds are against you, there’s another critter than can be easily tracked in mid-summer. I don’t think there’s anything more obvious (or interesting) than a fresh set of moose tracks in the mud, and if you’re lucky enough to be selected for a permit in the appropriate area, finding a moose can be a significant coup. These days, moose hunting has become just a tad more competitive than it was 100 years ago. There are conflicts over whose road it is, whose clear-cut it is and, sometimes even whose moose it is, but if you have found your own little moose niche while trout fishing in August, you can get the jump on the season and have the entire area to yourself. Getting the moose out, of course, doesn’t depend on finding tracks in the mud, but once your trophy is on the ground it’s not about fishing (or tracking) anymore!
When I fish for summer trout, I like to stop at a wide spot in the stream and cook my catch while having a cup of tea. I just sit back on a mossy log and watch the trout and chubs sip insects off the surface of the water. One thing that wildlife enthusiasts know is that the more time you spend sitting still in the woods the more wildlife you will see, and such is the case when taking a lunch break far from the maddening crowd.
The wild traffic is heaviest at dawn and dusk, but even at midday there’s activity out there. What I especially like to see (aside from tracks and other sign) are raccoons, fishers, mink, muskrats or foxes, even otters and martens. Come trapping season, I’ll have a place to start stringing steel, as the saying goes, and the odds are good that I’ll have the place to myself. The same crossings used by deer, bears and other game are also used by a wide variety of smaller species, and most of them may be hunted or trapped when the time comes. I know of one crossing on Dead Stream in LaGrange where, over the years, I’ve taken deer, bear, rabbits, grouse, woodcock, turkeys, ducks and all the usual furbearers (even an ermine), yet I’ve never seen another person anywhere near the place. It is just a short walk off a well-traveled logging road, but only a devout summer trout fisherman would have bothered with it.
I found the spot during a November deer hunt and, while taking my usual midday tea break, saw a trout swim out and settle into a sunny spot in the widest part of the brook. I marked the crossing down as a trout hotspot for the next season, and have now visited that same spot annually (in summer and fall) for nearly 50 years.
Not every summer brook fishing escapade reveals such a productive crossing, but who knows - maybe this year you’ll find one just like it!
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