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May has now become as busy as October for Maine outdoorsmen. Not only can we rise at 3:30 a.m. and spend the forenoon chasing wild turkeys through the woods, but when the clock strikes noon and we’ve had no luck with gobblers, we can put the shotgun, decoys and calls away, pick up a fishing rod and see if the trout are willing to cooperate.
Though 3:30 sounds early, by the time I’ve had my second cup of tea I can hear the chickadees, sparrows and owls announcing the start of another day. By 4:30 a.m. I need to be in the woods close to where I think the turkeys are roosted because the males will begin to gobble well before daylight. A successful hunt is made or broken depending on where the hunter is when the birds start talking it up in the morning. If you’re not there to intercept them on their way out to feed for the day, you are going to be playing catch-up the entire time.
I have a unique situation in that I know the local flock too well – and they’re all jakes (young males with spindly beards) or toms without beards! So, despite all the gobbling going on at dawn, I know that “my” birds are not worth shooting this year. This means I have to head for the hills early and stay out till noon because birds can be anywhere and may show up any time.
So far I’ve had great luck setting up with a decoy and calls on a high point far from the roads where other hunters may stop and call or listen for gobbling birds they can hunt. I get to a point that’s on the other side of the turkeys and start calling when they start moving.
This year, for some reason, nearly all of the gobblers I’ve seen have been jakes with very small beards; the turkey equivalent of a spike buck during deer season. Most experienced hunters leave the jakes for first-timers or for seed for next season. Some jakes are so addled that they will walk right up to an exposed hunter and gobble and cluck like the village idiot – not a good thing to do in range of a person holding a valid hunting license and a loaded shotgun! The show is fun to watch and it’s interesting to see and hear what turkeys do in the wild, but they are not the preferred target and somewhere in the distance a bigger, lustier gobbler will sound off, ending the show and creating a new, more interesting game.
A week into the season and I have not seen a mature tom (a bird with a beard over 8 inches long), but that’s fine with me. I have the opportunity to hunt every day all season and I’m sure that somewhere between now and June 4 I’ll get my chance at a big tom turkey. If not, well, I sure had fun doing it!
One thing turkey hunters share aside from a desire to put a big spring tom on the table is a love for trout fishing, and in our woodland rambles we cross stream after stream that we are sure should have some trout in them at this time of year.
For this reason, I pack a small, four-piece spinning rod, a few hooks and a small Altoids tin along with my turkey-hunting stuff. The entire package is about the size of a cigar box and fits very nicely in the back pocket of my turkey vest.
Come noontime and the end of turkey hunting, I fire up a cup of tea, have a sandwich and switch gears from hunter to angler. Rolling over rocks and logs, it takes about five minutes to find enough garden worms to fill my tin. I try to do this well away from the brook because trout can feel the vibrations made by my efforts and will disappear for an hour or more till things settle down.
Armed with my 5-foot pack rod, a few yards of 2-pound-test line and a worm on No. 8 snelled hook, I work my way back home while testing every deep pool, dark hole and tailwater in hopes that a trout or two might be there. Some of the best places to fish are under the many snowmobile bridges you’ll find in the woods these days. Most are well built and sturdy, offering just enough cover for a stealthy angler to creep up, lie down and fish under the bridge without being seen.
This year I’m finding a lot of new beaver dams in the woods, small structures creating tiny ponds that are full of fat little brook trout. A cast to the center of the pond usually results in a hook-up with a sparkling brookie, and some of the larger pools have enough fish in them to feed two or three hungry fishermen.
Because there are few leaves on the trees to cover my approach, I often have to creep or crawl up to the water’s edge in order to make a clean presentation. When I get it right a trout is usually there to accept my offering. Most of these small-stream brookies will be less than 8 inches long, but they are the perfect size to share a frying pan with potatoes, fiddleheads or bacon.
On the best of days I’ll have hunted till noon, fished till 1 p.m. and dined on two or three sweet brook trout and hot tea before heading home to the “real world.” It hardly gets any better than that.
What’s best of all is that if you plan your turkey-trout forays for the best of days, you can hunt turkeys all morning, have your trout feed around noon and be back to work at the cost of only half a day. Do this every day for a week and you’ll have lost only 2 1/2 days of vacation time. Pick the right week and you can tag your two spring gobblers plus catch enough trout for a satisfying woodsman’s shore lunch every time you go!
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