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With the recent changes in Maine's turkey-hunting regulations (essentially, anyone who applied for a permit this year may participate and, next year, anyone who wants to hunt wild turkeys may simply purchase a license and have at it without all the permit-application rigmarole), the dilemma has already come up regarding how best to spend these precious days of May: Should I go turkey hunting, which is prime right now, or go fishing, which is also prime right now?
Maine hunters already spend have the fall months trying to juggle a dozen different appealing outdoor options, and, in truth, there's no way you can do it all and truly enjoy any of it. I've hit the ground running in October and November checking traps before dawn, hunting woodcock and ducks at sunrise, chasing partridges all day and trying to be in a tree stand at dusk for archery deer . . . and then there's skinning the day's catch and dealing with whatever game was taken. Makes for a long day!
There's too much going on and most of the best of it takes place at dawn and dusk, so traditional hunters are often stuck making some tough choices.
But, having a spring turkey-hunting season in May is not going to disrupt any angler's plans. In fact, you couldn't have come up with a better scenario from a time management point of view.
In the first place, you won't kill a turkey every time you go out, but when you do get a shot, odds are the action (finding a roosted bird, calling him in and taking the shot) will take place well before 8 a. m. In fact, I have shot many a lust-crazed gobbler before 7 a.m., and I know a number of hunters who were already heading home to pluck their bird before “one-half hour before sunrise” was over!
I'll be the last one to suggest that you can go out and shoot a turkey and be to work on time every morning, but it does occur from time to time. Anything can happen (and usually does) when it comes to turkey hunting, and the odds are that you'll spend more than a few hours playing this game before you start to believe you know what you're doing (and that's when they teach you a whole new set of tricks).
There are no guarantees, as you'll soon find out, but, (and I'm sure you've seen the implication here already), on a good day you may well have your bird in hand before the sun is over the tree tops, which also happens to be the perfect time to be on the water for trout and salmon! How convenient is that?
A normal turkey hunt ends around 10 a.m., when the birds mysteriously “shut off,” quit gobbling and don't respond to your calls. You may encounter a turkey at any time, of course, so this is not a law, only a general observation, and in general the most exciting action takes place early in the morning. You may have a shot at dawn or at noon - the birds are in charge of their own destinies. But, when things go as planned (and we know how often that can be!), you'll be heaving a big boss tom over your shoulder just as the water temperature hits that magical 55 degree mark (when trout and salmon start to feed with vigor).
By the way, according to Ken Warner, a long-time Maine fisheries biologist, the optimum water temperature for landlocked salmon is a surprisingly high 70 degrees! In early May, it's tough to find water temperatures that high at any time of the day, but the late-morning, early-afternoon periods are when you'll find the water temperatures more to a salmonid's liking.
This just bolsters the theory that an early morning turkey hunt is the perfect diversion for anglers waiting to get some time in with the long rod, because it takes time (and sunshine) get stream water temperatures up enough to trigger a feeding response from trout or salmon.
For example, I remember one trip I made to the Sebec River in Sebec Village. I went mid-week to avoid the crowds, got to the river early and fished hard while a cold fog hung over the water and not one ray of sunlight made it through the trees to the water. I was quite disappointed to have spent more than two hours patiently probing each pool and run without a bite. I was sitting on a rock near the first bend, staring into the crystal-clear river bemoaning my bad luck (and lost time from work), when I noticed that the sun had finally hit the water and the fog was beginning to lift. As the last of the mist dissipated I heard a splash, then another and another, and suddenly the pool before me was practically churning with the slurps and gulps of voraciously feeding fish!
What amazed me was that I had just fished that pool with all the lures and flies I had with me and never had as much as a bump. Now, with the sun well up and my initial eagerness quelled, I was able to wade back in, fish with focus, and proceeded to have one of the best days ever on that particular stretch.
This event took place many years ago, long before the first turkeys were stocked in Maine, but that would have been the day to spend the early morning hours chasing longbeards on the ridge tops. I would certainly have had more luck with the turkeys and then even better luck with the trout!
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