Its ice fishing time, but be careful

 

 

What’s going on here?  For the second year in a row the Stockbridge Sportsmen’s Club has had to cancel its scheduled ice fishing derby due to possible thin ice conditions.  It had been scheduled for Stockbridge Bowl on January 29.  Sure, one could probably get onto the ice here and there, but a public ice fishing event with kids running around is no place to take chances.  It is too bad, too, for a lot of work and planning goes into these derbies.  But, as club organizer Mike Buffoni explained, ”Ice on  the Bowl is breaking up and there is no ice-making weather in the near future to make it safe for the 29th”.

 

We grumpy old ice fishermen are getting perplexed over not being able to get out and freezing as we ice fish.  We have deer meat and other wild game building up in our freezers just waiting to be taken out and cooked up out there.  It never tastes so good as when grilled and eaten on the ice out there, especially when blowing snow and sleet is pelting your face. Darn this global warming!

 

Some organizations are hoping that it will get cold again and they can still have their ice fishing derbies.  For example, the Lenox Sportsmen’s Club ice fishing derby is scheduled for Sunday, February 5 at Stockbridge Bowl.  Sorry, I have no specifics on cost, times, etc. for this derby.

 

The Cheshire Fire Dept is scheduled to have its 1st annual ice fishing derby on Sunday, February 12, with registration at 7am at the first lake near the boat ramp.  Costs: adults $15, youths 12 and under free with the purchase of an adult ticket.

 

The 31st. Annual Berkshire County Jimmy Fund Ice Fishing Derby is also scheduled for

February 12 at 6am at the Onota Lake Pavilion. Contact Derby Chairman Leo Kruczkowski.

 

The Onota Fishing Club’s derby is scheduled for February 19 from 6 am to 2 pm, at the Onota Lake Controy Pavilion.  Adults $15, kids under age of licenses $5.  Dinner after derby costs $12.

 

The Lee Sportsmen’s Association ice fishing derby is scheduled for February 19 from 6am to 2pm on Goose Pond.  Following that there will be a spaghetti and meatball dinner at the club.  The cost is $10 for adults and $6 for kids.  For more information, call John Polastri at (413)822-8278.

 

The Cheshire Rod & Gun Club’s annual derby is scheduled for February 19 on the, 1st and 2nd Hoosac Lakes in Cheshire.  It runs from sunrise to 4pm. With weigh-in at the Farnams Causeway.  I believe the cost is $10 for adults and kids 14 and under free.

 

Before attending these derbies, be sure to check to make sure that they have not been cancelled.

 

Other upcoming events

There will be a National Wild Turkey Federation fundraising banquet on February 4 at the Stockbridge Sportsmen’s Club.   Doors open at 5pm and dinner is at 6:30pm.    Tickets cost $65, which includes dinner, a year’s membership in the NWTF and a year subscription to Turkey Call magazine.  Contact Chris Puntin  at 413-464-4036 or email at  Cpuntin1218@gmail.com for more information.

 

The Lee Sportsmen’s Association is having a Turkey Shoot on Sunday, January 29 from noon to 3:00 pm, and a dinner from 4:30 to 6:30pm.  The menu is venison stew and polenta and spaghetti and meatballs.  The cost is $15.00 for adults and $7.00 children 12 and under.  The dinner proceeds benefit its pheasant raising program.

 

Fly tying events

Chris Samson informs us that they are having fly tying events at Berkshire Outfitters, Rte 8 in Adams every Tuesday evening at 6:30. Free and open to the public, the events cover fly tying from beginner to expert with lessons if someone would like to learn to tie a fly.  There will be extra tools and vices on site.  Chris says that he has been wanting to get some local people together who are into fly fishing.  He is trying to build a community of anglers to share lies and information and just have a good time.

 

Canid and cougar presentations

Sue Morse, the founder of Keeping Track®, is highly regarded as an expert in natural history and one of the top wildlife trackers in North America. Since 1977, she has been monitoring wildlife, with an emphasis on documenting the presence and habitat requirements of bobcat, black bear, Canada lynx and cougar.

 

On Friday, February 3, from 6:00 to 7:30 pm, Sue will conduct a canid presentation entitled, “Wild Cousins of Our Best Friends: Wolves, Coyotes and Foxes”.   It will be held at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield and is free and open to the public. “Intelligent, loving and loyal, wild canids have much to teach us – not only about our beloved pets but about healthy ecosystems too”. Sue will share her amazing photos and personal adventures studying these animals..

 

Then on Saturday, February 4 from 6:00 to 7:30 pm, Sue will conduct a mountain lion presentation entitled, “The Cougar Comes East”.  It will be held at Mt Everett High School in Sheffield and is also free and open to the public.  “Cougars are not only being seen in eastern North America, some are attempting to re-colonize their former habitats.  Where once it was flatly dismissed as an impossibility in the so-called “developed” east, scientists have now documented cougar dispersals and even occupancy in a growing list of eastern states and provinces”.  There will be an illustrated introduction to cougar biology and ecology in the broad diversity of habitats.   You will get the low-down regarding the latest confirmations of cougars in the east, including wild habitats from Manitoba to Louisiana and Maine to Georgia.

 

For more information contact Elia Del Molino at (413)429-6416 or elia@thebeatnews.org.

2016 Black Bear harvest was a record

 

MassWildlife Furbearer and Black Bear Project Leader Dave Wattles recently reported that a new record of 283 bears were harvested over the three 2016 seasons. The previous record harvest of 240 bears occurred in 2014.

During the first (September) season, 190 bears were taken, 46 were taken in the second (November) season, and 47 were harvested during the shotgun deer hunting season. According to Western District Supervisor Andrew Madden, 205 bears were taken in the Western District with 94 in Berkshire County.  Some of the higher Western District  harvests occurred in the following towns: Blandford accounted for 17 of them, Granville 13 and Cummington 10.

Madden also reported that 93 wild turkeys were harvested statewide during the fall turkey hunting season.  Some 15 of them were harvested in the Western District.  Earlier this year, MassWildlife’s Wild Turkey Project Leader David Scarpitti reported that the statewide spring preliminary harvest figures indicated that 3,054 wild turkeys were taken   So it looks like about 3,147 wild turkeys were harvested this year.

 

No 2016 deer harvest figures have been released yet.

 

Remembering Peter Mirick

It was reported in a recent MassWildlife newsletter that Peter Mirick, retired editor of Massachusetts Wildlife magazine, avid sportsman and herpetologist, passed away in December from cancer. He began his career with MassWildlife in 1977 as a staff writer for the magazine and served as an assistant biologist before becoming the magazine editor in 1981.

 

During his time with the Division, he earned a Master’s Degree in Biology from Worcester State College. Pete was an avid herpetologist, conducting research on the endangered Black Rat Snake and assisting with projects related to other reptiles and amphibians. During his career, he was active with professional organizations including The Wildlife Society, New England Outdoor Writers Association, and the Association of Conservation Information. He received a number of awards for his writing and editing and was the lead editor of the “Trapping and Furbearer Management in North American Wildlife Conservation” publication, which is used by state conservation agencies across the country.

 

He also authored the recently published “Massachusetts Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles.  (An excellent book currently on sale at the DFW Western District Headquarters in Dalton, MA).

 

Pete was a strong believer in educating people, particularly youth, about wildlife conservation and was a passionate advocate for hunters, anglers, and trappers. He will be greatly missed by many, including the folks at MassWildlife, natural resource professionals, naturalists, and sportsmen and women.

 

Water Flowing at McLaughlin Fish Hatchery

In the same MassWildlife newsletter it was announced that last month officials turned on the water pipeline at the McLaughlin Fish Hatchery in Belchertown. Construction began in June 2016 on the nearly mile-long water pipeline and hydropower turbine that will supply six million gallons of water daily to the hatchery, produce renewable energy, and reduce the hatchery’s electric demand.

McLaughlin Hatchery, built in 1969, is located in Belchertown near the Swift River and is the largest of MassWildlife’s five trout hatcheries. This hatchery is responsible for half of the state’s entire annual trout production, approximately 225,000 pounds, with a “retail value” exceeding $2 million dollars. Fish raised at McLaughlin Hatchery are stocked in nearly 500 rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds throughout Massachusetts.

The water pipeline project taps water from the Chicopee Valley Aqueduct and provides the McLaughlin Trout Hatchery with a reliable, gravity-fed source of cold water, eliminating the environmental and biological risks associated with the water withdrawal from the Swift River. The result will be an energy cost savings of $60,000 per year. The project also includes installation of a hydropower turbine on the pipeline. The construction of the building for the hydropower generator is well underway and the hydropower generator has been delivered to the site. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) has received a grant to fully cover the cost of the hydropower unit which will generate almost $53,000 in annual revenue for the MWRA. As MassWildlife put it, “This project is a win – win scenario for the MWRA, the hatchery, and the Commonwealth”.

 Fly Fishing Show

The annual Fly Fishing Show will take place from January 20 through 222 at the Royal Plaza Trade Center in Marlborough, MA. There will be over 50 talks and demonstrations each day.  While there, you might shop for the newest tackle, book your next dream trip, watch tying and casting demos and learn from the experts.  I always pick up one or two autographed books and fly tying stuff while there

 

All the new rods, reels, fly tying materials, books, DVDs and latest equipment will be on display to test and purchase. There is a casting pond for casting demos and it is available to test your new rod.  Some of the celebrity authors this year include Gary Borger, Bob Clouser,  Ed Engle, Bob Popovics and many other flyfishing stars and they will be happy to autograph your books. There will be more than $60,000 in door prizes.

 

Show Hours are:  Friday:  10AM – 6PM, Saturday:  9AM – 5:30PM and Sunday:   9AM – 4:30PM.  Ticket costs:  One day $15, Two-day pass $25, Three-day pass $35, Children under 5 free, under 12: $2, Scouts under 16 in uniform: free and Active Military with ID: $10.   Click onto  flyfishingshow.com/Marlborough__MA.html for more details.

 

Every year I write this,  but it is true – for flyfishers/flytyers this is a must-attend event.

 

Truckload of goodies raffle

The Cheshire Rod & Gun Club Truckload of Goods raffle winners were:   Truckload – Cara Aherne of Pittsfield, 2nd – Derek Wells of Adams, 3rd – Joe Fuller of Lee 4th – Dave Harmon of Pittsfield, and 5th – C. Barrie of Pittsfield.  Now that’s a good way to start off the new year

Over 60,000 trout to be stocked statewide this fall

In his most recent report to the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen, DFW Western District Manager Andrew Madden reported that fall trout stocking season should be beginning this week and be completed by the second week of October depending on water conditions.  This fall more than 60,000 rainbow trout that are 12 inches or longer will be stocked in Massachusetts water bodies.  

According to MassWildlife’s Chief of Hatcheries, Ken Simmons, the ongoing drought should not have a major impact on fall stocking even if it persists through the fall season. “Drought conditions will likely result in the curtailment of some river and stream stocking due to low flows but we do not anticipate there will be much of an impact on lake and pond stocking,” Simmons said.  There are more than 90 lakes and ponds on the fall stocking list and only 14 rivers and streams.  MassWildlife fisheries biologists will assess the condition of each waterbody before making a final decision about stocking.

The two rivers in our area that are usually stocked in the fall are the Deerfield River and the East Branch of the Westfield River.  According to Madden, stocking in the Westfield River could be iffy unless water conditions greatly improve.

Simmons noted that the drought has made operations at MassWildlife’s five hatcheries more challenging but has not affected the number of fish available for this fall’s stocking.   In fact the 60,000 rainbow trout that will be stocked is 10,000 more fish than the original fall goal.

As was the case with the 2016 spring season, anglers will be able to view daily stocking reports this fall by visiting Mass.gov/Trout. They can search for a specific waterbody or town using the sortable list, or explore new fishing spots by using the map feature.

Airboat crew banding waterfowl

During dark nights of late summer and early fall, MassWildlife biologists take to the marshes and rivers in an airboat to capture ducks for banding. This technique, called night-lighting, allows biologist to sample ducks all over the state.  Unlike traditional bait trapping, which limits sampling to a few sites, night-lighting with the airboat allows biologists to capture ducks in the Berkshires one night, on the Cape the next night, and in Worcester County the night after that.

Ducks are placed into crates according to their size, then banded and released. Banding records are submitted to the Bird Banding Lab of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The data then become available to state and federal biologists who assess the status of waterfowl populations. It can also be used to monitor movements, wintering areas, and longevity of various species.

The airboat is used to navigate shallow marshes where ducks roost among vegetation at night. The loud noise generated by the 350 horsepower engine and the spotlights onboard confuse the ducks and allows biologist to get close enough to net them. Because of the noise, most sites are visited only once per season and boating rarely goes beyond 11 pm.  Successful night-lighting requires a dark sky, so trips are shorter early in the season due to the late sunset. Moonlight is also a factor; airboat trips must be planned to avoid the brightest phases of the moon.

This year, some sampling sites may not be available due to the ongoing drought. While the airboat doesn’t need much water to get around, it needs some. Night-lighting concludes at the end of September but in the meantime, if you hear what sounds like an airplane stuck in a swamp, it just might be the MassWildlife airboat.

Boat safely

Paddlers in kayaks and canoes must wear life jackets from September 15 to May 15 every year. According to the Massachusetts Environmental Police, most boating fatalities in the Commonwealth result when boaters fail to wear life jackets while in small craft in cold water or cold weather. Waterfowl hunters using canoes or kayaks are reminded that this law also applies to them.

Youth Deer Hunt is October 1

It is not too late to get your child enrolled into the Youth Deer Hunt program. The Youth Deer Hunt Day provides young adults aged 12–17 with an opportunity to hunt deer with their own deer tags during a special single-day season that precedes the Commonwealth’s annual archery, shotgun, and muzzleloader seasons. Hunters are reminded that all shotgun deer season regulations apply on the Youth Deer Hunt day.  Youth Deer Hunt Permits are free, but must be obtained at a license vendor or MassWildlife office.  The permits and tags are only valid for the Youth Deer Hunt day and cannot be used in later seasons. All youth hunters and any accompanying adults must wear a minimum of 500 square inches of blaze orange on their chest, back, and head.

Whitetails Unlimited Banquet

 The Berkshire County Chapter of Whitetails Unlimited will be holding a banquet on Saturday, October 1 at the Stockbridge Sportsmen’s Club, Route 102, in Stockbridge.  Social hour begins at 5pm and buffet dinner at 6:30 pm.  There will be games and raffles.  For tickets or information, contact Keith O Neil at (413)717-1945 or buy online at www.whitetailsunlimited.com.

Free fly tying classes

 The Berkshire Hatchery Foundation is exploring the possibility of conducting free fly tying classes at the Berkshire Hatchery in Hartsville/New Marlborough, MA.   Depending on interest, it will be conducted on Wednesday evenings beginning October 12 at 6 pm.  Initially, the class size will be limited to six.  Tools and materials will be provided.  If interested in enrolling or if you have questions contact Will Regan at willregan3@gmail.com or me at the below address.  I will report in a future column if there is enough interest to hold the classes.

Despondency in Paradise

 

Last week I wrote about our flyfishing trip to Labrador.  This is a continuation.

We flyfished primarily the inlets and outlets of Anne Marie Lake, Big Minipi and Little Minipi and the rivers in between for several days, trolling for pike occasionally, casting from rowboats and square backed canoes and wading the rivers.  Float plane fly outs to other nearby lakes in the Minipi River system were usually available, but due to repairs, we were unable to take advantage of them until day 6.

I was a little uncomfortable flyfishing out of the canoes where two fishermen in waders stand up casting while the guide controls the canoe.  Did I mention that I can’t swim?

For the first 5 days, neither Mike Lange nor I had caught a trout, in spite of 40 or 50 of them having been caught by others.  Gary Hebert and Ron Amidon actually had “doubles” fishing out of their boat, (two fish caught simultaneously).  Mike took it with grace, simply pouring himself a glass or two of wine each night and smoking a cigar out on the deck.

I didn’t handle it well at all.  Beginning  to doubt my fishing abilities, I asked the guides what I was doing wrong.  Nothing, they said, just think positively. That lodge rafter started to look pretty good as a solution to my fishing problems.   After 5 fishless days, I texted my wife Jan, saying, “Another lousy day in Paradise.”  (That’s the title of a book by flyfishing author John Gierach).  Jan thought I was referring to the weather.

I considered praying for help, but I didn’t want to waste God’s time on a lousy trout.  I would rather ask for his Divine Intervention to ensure that our 1952 vintage de Havilland Beaver float plane kept us airborne.

Everyone was sympathetic and the guides had been taking note of our plight and were doing their utmost to see that we caught a trout.  Even the camp cook, Nancy, quietly approached me one day before dinner and discreetly placed a pink button into my hand, claiming it would bring good luck fishing the next day.  Hocus pocus, yes, but I would try anything about then.  The next morning, when she asked if I was taking the button, I realized that I had lost it.   She immediately got me another one, this one attached to a piece of string, and I pinned it to my vest.

On the way out to go fishing on the 6th day, the camp cleaning lady, Dru, all of 4’6” tall, massaged my ear lobes for good luck.  I don’t know ….  must be an Innu or Inuit thing.  The bush pilot who was flying us out to the Little Minipi River absolutely guaranteed us success that day, too.

So there I was, after having spent thousands of dollars, casting away on the Little Minipi, placing my trust in a button, shiny ear lobes and an unwritten bush pilot’s guarantee.  It seemed to have worked for I hooked a fish (3lbs?) and brought it to the guide’s net.  He missed it and it got away!  Shortly thereafter, I hooked a larger fish and it also got off.  More despondency!  Meanwhile I was watching Mike Shepard catch 7 trout just several yards downstream from me.  He conceded the spot and I finally caught my first fish, a 6 ¾ pound beauty.

After releasing that fish, my thoughts turned to Mike Lange across the river, hoping he would catch one, too.  Later that day, when we got to our float plane to return to camp, he told me that he caught two nice fish.  Good for him, for he and Bob Wilson had to fly out that evening.

On our last day, Mike Shepard and I had the camp boss Ray Best as our guide.  He was very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the area.  As we trudged through the woods, he crushed leaves from a shrub along the trail and had us smell it.  It was called Indian tea and had a pleasant aromatic smell.  Later, he picked some small white berries and had us taste them.  They were tasty, with a minty flavor.  When asked their name, he said, “We call them little white berries”.

We were fishless until about 2 pm.   Mike was standing in a fairly shallow part in the middle of the river while I fished with Ray from the boat.  Mike hooked a good fish but before we could get over to him, it got off.  Then he hooked another and this time we were there to net it for him. While there, Mike suggested I fish the area.

“The plane leaves in an hour”, I heard crackling through Ray’s Walkie Talkie.  We still had to cross the river, stow the boat, hike a trail to the outlet of Anne Marie Lake get into another boat, cross that lake to the lodge and finish packing.   I reeled in the line and readied to go, when Ray said that we still had 10 minutes of fishing time. I made a short case and watched a big trout come up from the bottom and take the fly.  The 7 ¼ lb trout was netted, photo’d and released.  Another cast and bang, another, this one was 7 ½ lbs.  It was time to leave.   Go figure.

During this trip, the 10 of us had caught 90 brook trout over 3 lbs, 16 of them over 7 lbs and an 8 pounder.  All were gently netted, weighed, photographed and released.

Incidentally, when I got home and finally read Gierach’s above referenced book, Another Lousy Day in Paradise, I was surprised to learn that it was about fishing where we were on Anne Marie Lake on the Minipi.  The title is facetious, for he caught lots of big fish there, but for me for a while, it was real.

Unbelievable brook trout fishing in Labrador

On August 18, Attorney Michael Shepard of Dalton and I joined eight other flyfishermen and departed for Labrador to fish for brook trout.  Our destination was Coopers Lodge which sits on a peninsula on Anne Marie Lake in the Minipi River system which flows north to the Churchill River and ultimately to the Atlantic Ocean..  Anne Marie Lake is approximately 5 miles long.  The Minipi has been written up frequently in national outdoor sports magazines and is touted as having the largest brook trout in the world with catches averaging 5 lbs apiece.

The brook trout there are a unique strain and have been the subject of various genetic studies over the years. The late Lee Wulff first brought it to our attention when he brought Curt Gowdy and the ABC American Sportsman’s Show crew to film them fishing there in the 1960’s.   Wulff’s 1939 admonition that “a sport fish is too valuable to be caught only once”   was really evident there.

Wulff felt that the size of these fish was based on the food source.  The water is organically and chemically suited to support rich quantities of insect life.  The lakes are shallow enough to let sunlight reach their beds and warm things to great productivity, in spite of the short 4 month growing season.  Biologists believe the fish, which have evolved over thousands of years of natural selection, gain 1 lb a year feeding on the 26 varieties of mayflies and many caddisflies in the Minipi water system.  Every now and then the guides tag some trout and one of them traveled 70 miles to the Kenamu River in Labrador/Newfoundland.   Another trout that was tagged in the Minipi river system had traveled 15 miles in one week.

We wanted to catch some.   The trip was arranged by fly fishing guide Marla Blair of Ludlow, MA, and was coordinated by Michael Miller of Athol.  Also joining us was Gary Hebert of Richmond NH.  (The four of us had previously fished Lake Tierny together in Quebec two years ago).  Accompanying Mike Miller was his son Darren Miller of Bedford, his grandson Brandon Jones also of Athol, William Waight of Westminster, MA and Ron Amidon of Templeton, MA. Dr. Robert (Bob) Wilson of Naples, FL and Michael Lange of Newton, PA, joined us a day later.

Lorraine and Jack Cooper have been operating camps on the Minipi river system for nearly 40 years following Wulff’s philosophy of Catch & Release.  They monitor anglers’ catches in notebooks, listing the weight, location, fly and angler’s name. The Coopers have two lodges, one on Minipi Lake and the other on Anne Marie Lake.  We stayed at Anne Marie, the newest one, built in 2011.   It was absolutely gorgeous.

We took off from Boston and spent the first evening in Goose Bay, Labrador.   The following morning we flew by Twin Otter float plane to our destination camp on Anne Marie Lake, some 25 minutes south of Goose Bay.  Upon arrival, we met our guides (one guide per two anglers, rotated daily).  The camp boss was Ray Best and he had a team of excellent guides:  Todd, Ralph, Herb, Junior, Hebert and Wadsworth.   All resided in the Goose Bay area.  We met the cook, Nancy from Quebec and cleaning lady, Dru (Wadsworth’s wife).  We immediately unpacked, ate a light lunch, suited up and were out fishing that afternoon.

Fortunately, I can report that no bear attacks, calamities or other fearful events took place on this trip.  The only injury sustained was by Bill Waight and that was a hand injury.  He hurt it banging on the wall one night, trying to quell the loud snoring of a guy in the next room.  The next morning he was seen checking out the lodge rafters to see which was strong enough to hang the snorer.

Incidentally, the largest brookie of the trip was caught by Bill, a new comer to the sport having flyfished for only a year or so.  One afternoon while fishing the Little Minipi River, he sat down on a flat rock along the edge of the river to take a rest.  He drifted a mouse patterned fly downstream and, don’t you know, a big fish hit it and he caught  an 8 pounder!  That’s ironic in itself but the real interesting part is that his guide had forgotten to bring his big net.  The only thing available was a 5 gallon pail and after some effort, they caught it using the pail.

That night the more experienced flyfishermen were checking out that same rafter to string Bill up.

I developed a case of the shakes early on.  For a while I thought it was the DT’s from perhaps drinking too much wine at dinner but it turned out to be caused by something else.  Gary, Ron and I were the early morning risers and Gary usually made the coffee.  That coffee was so strong it could get up and pour itself.  The shakes disappeared when I eased up on Gary’s coffee.

We saw some interesting sights.  One morning a moose passed within 25 feet of our lodge, munched a while and then he swam away to another area.  On another morning there was a spectacular rainbow.   One evening, we all piled out onto the lodge deck to witness the aurora borealis (northern lights) while being entertained by the melodic call of a loon in the distance.   In Labrador, you get up close and personal with the northern lights and loons.  Daily we were entertained by shore scoters, eagles and ospreys.

It didn’t take long for some of us to connect with the large brookies and there were 6 or 8 big ones in the 5 – 7 lb category caught that first afternoon by Mike Miller, Ron and Gary.  Fish under 3 pounds weren’t even counted.

The weather couldn’t have been better with sunny skies and temperatures into the 70’s.  The only time that we got wet was when we were returning to the base camp crossing the lake.  Often the waves were good size and would splash over the bows of our boats drenching us.

I cannot speak more highly about the Cooper Camp on Anne Marie Lake.  The 6,000 square foot lodge accommodations are truly outstanding, the food was great, the staff and guides were wonderful and the brookies really do average 5 lbs.  If you are thinking about going, check out its website for prices, etc.  (http://www.minipi.com).  Allow yourself some time for there is a waiting time of 12 to 18 months.

So did everyone catch lots of fish?  I’ll tell you about one who didn’t next week.

Veterans helped by Healing Waters

 

 

Last May my wife Jan and I were camping at the Indian Hollow Campground along the East Branch of the Westfield River in Chesterfield, MA.  The Massachusetts/Rhode Island Council of Trout Unlimited (TU) rented the camping area for the weekend and delegates from both state’s TU chapters were there to conduct business and do a little fly fishing.

 

Next to our campsite was a sizeable group of men.   I commented to Jan that we wouldn’t get much sleep that night with that many guys there probably partying all night.  I knew the group leader, Bill Manser, from Royalston MA, a TU member, and inquired about the group. He explained the group was made up of veterans and mentors participating in a therapeutic fishing trip as part Project Healing Waters.

 

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc.™  (not to be confused with Wounded Warriors) is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings.

The Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center (MVOC) in Gardner, MA joined the program and runs its group at its Stallings campus in Winchendon where they meet bi-weekly.  The idea behind Healing Waters is simple – to provide a therapeutic and fun outlet for physically or mentally disabled vets by teaching them the basics of fly fishing, casting, tying, and rod building, and then going out on fishing trips to ideal spots such as the Indian Hollow campground.

Nationwide, Healing Waters raises its own money with a budget of close to $3 million and administrative costs are kept low, in the 15 % range, reserving as much as possible to fund trips and provide gear for the vets who take part.  The entire program is completely free to the Veterans.   In addition to funding from Healing Waters, the MVOC group is sponsored by the non-profits TU and the New England Fly Tyers.

The group is open to any veteran who has a disability, whether physical or mental.  “ 95% of what we have here is post-traumatic stress,” said Manser. With that in mind, MVOC counselor Michael Young is the therapeutic support for the group, joining Manser and the volunteer mentors who bring a variety of outdoor skills to the group, some of them being vets themselves.

Later that day, I saw them out fly fishing in the river, each with his mentor, and each doing a good job of fly casting.

Jan and I had no problem with the vets that night.  There were no drugs or alcohol at their campsite.   During the middle of the night I saw a small campfire still ablaze, but there was no noise.  Some guys were standing around it talking low with their mentors or with one another.

Although they brought their own food, the TU Council invited them to its own picnic so that they could co-mingle.  It was at that time that I had a chance to talk to a few of them.  There were veterans from Viet Nam, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.  One veteran, Mike Bousquet, really got involved with the group and recently received its Participant of the Year award for New England from Deputy Regional Coordinator Richard Diamond.  Nominated for the award by Manser, Bousquet heard about the program while living at Hero Homestead in Leominster, a transitional housing facility for veterans run by the nonprofit Veteran Homestead.  He had been an avid angler throughout his life and recalled that after his first meeting spent tying a fly, he went out with the group that weekend and was successful in catching fish.

“Fishing is a pastime to me, something that I can stay calm with even when I’m not with the group.  I enjoy many, many things about it – the serenity about the environment and where you are.   It’s been a blessing.”

“He started as a participant and has now worked up to be a mentor, so it’s an accomplishment,” said Manser

John Sherwin, an Iraq vet said that Manser has saved his life.  “He helped restore some hope.  Sometimes the right person being there makes all of the difference…….someone who is interested.”    The mentors are dedicated, skilled and passionate in what they do.   According to Manser, some mentors travel great distances to attend the meetings.  Also, there would be no work or volunteers were it not for the generous donations of gear and outfits.

I couldn’t help but feel for the Viet Nam veterans who are still struggling after nearly fifty years.   I believe no one who returns from serving their country in war, comes back the same.  Some come back with physical scars, others with invisible ones.  Some come back in coffins.  Some turn to drugs or alcohol, get into trouble, end up homeless or in prison or take their own lives.  They need help, understanding and compassion to get over the hurdles.

With funding available and the group thriving with the help of volunteer staff, Manser encourages more veterans to join so they can be helped.  Veterans or volunteers interested in participating can reach Manser at (978)895-5261 or bmanser@msn.com.   Its home website is projecthealingwaters.org, and facebook page is project healing waters – Winchendon.  Donations are always happily and gratefully accepted.

So how does fly fishing help?    Perhaps it is as fly fishing author Tom Meade wrote in his 1994 book entitled Essential Fly Fishing, “The rhythm of the rod carries your body, mind and spirit to the water.  Whether you catch a fish or not, the water will always give you a little of its strength, some of its energy and much of its peace.”

 

Anglers learn to fly fish through OLLI course

Ten enthusiastic anglers tried out their newly acquired fly fishing skills at the Wild Acres Pond in Pittsfield on May 10.  They had taken a 6 week course entitled Getting Hooked on Fly Fishing which was taught by Taconic Chapter of Trout Unlimited board members through the OLLI – Berkshire Community College program.  Teachers included William Travis, Henry Sweren, John Burns, BenWoods and Marc Hoechstetter, some of the best flyfishers in the Berkshires.

 

The course included a video about the joys of fly-fishing.  Other segments included an introduction to the gear and equipment, macro-invertebrates, fly casting, knots, fly selection and two segments fly fishing on water.   The flies were tied by the instructors. LL Bean donated 3 rods, reels and lines and Orvis donated a rod, leaders and tippets.

 

Bob Bott and his wife Nancy were at Wild Acres.  They said that they had always wanted to learn how to fly fish and this was a good way to begin.  You can feel the grace and the movement of the rod, said Nancy.  Leigh Merlini said that she was not a sportswoman but was taking the course because she always wanted to learn how to do it.  She commented on how wonderful the instructors were.  Chris Kersten recently retired and he took the course because he never had the time to learn to fly fish before.  OLLI seemed to be a perfect way to get started.

Bob Derosiers got interested in taking a course when Henry Sweren mentioned that TU folks were teaching flyfishing to youngsters.  Bob wondered if TU would teach it through OLLI.   There was so much interest that they immediately filled the class.    Incidentally, he attended the recent flyfishing film festival at the Wahconah Country Club and won the door prize, a fly rod that Taconic TU President Alan Gray had built.     Bob caught a smallmouth bass with it on this day, the first fish on a flyrod for him in 50 years.

 

Michelle Fitzgerald took the course because her late husband was a fly fisherman and left a lot of equipment.  She had to decide whether to take up fly fishing or sell the equipment.    She had a great time and caught her first fish on a fly rod, a smallmouth bass.  Her husband would have been so proud of her.

 

Mary Ann Hayden signed up for the course because it was something that her sons, who are now grown men, took up and loved.   “I feel like a kid” she said “Its so fun.”   I always loved nature and this is just another way to tune in to it.  “(I love) just watching the water and beautiful surroundings.”   She also loves fishing with a barbless hook and can release the fish unharmed.

 

Mark Gross also had a great time.   He felt that it was better late than never to take up this sport.    He used to fish the Retallic Pond in Richmond with barbless hooks back in the 1970’s but it has since silted in.

 

Lee Abraham had never flyfished before but rather fished with a spinning rod.  He saw the course advertised and felt that this was an opportunity that he shouldn’t let go by.

 

Barbara McShane said that flyfishing was something she always wanted to do.   She considers herself a “miserable fisherman, not good at all” but is enjoying the sport. She is determined to become a proficient flyfisher.

 

All of the participants had nothing but praise for the instructors.  There were no grumpy old men there that sunny day but enthusiastic fellows who were all smiles.  The beaming ladies with their fly rods, vests, sun glasses, and stylish fishing hats looked pretty spiffy.

 

Onota Fishing Club Derby winners

In spite of strong winds and choppy waters at Onota Lake last Sunday, 75 kids and adults signed up for the derby.  That’s according to President Ed Blake.  Board members Paul Carr and Fred Ostrander ran the event assisted by fellow members Chuck Leonard, Wobbey Barnes, Chris Cimini, Ray Wesselman, Andy Zurrin, Fred Valentine, Rick Pierce, Paul White and probably others.

 

Derby winners in the youth category were 5-year old Hunter Proper who caught a 2 lb 4 oz, 17 inch rainbow trout.  It was the largest trout of the day in either the youth or adult category.  Second place went to his cousin 6-year old Anthony Corkins who caught a 2 lb 4 oz, 16 ½ inch rainbow.  Third place went to 12 year old Emma Kostyun with a 1 lb 7 oz, 14 ¾ inch rainbow.

 

Winners in the adult category were Nick Mancivalano with a 2 lb, 16 inch rainbow.  Second place went to Ed Kucka with a 1 lb 12 oz, 15 ½ inch rainbow and Mark Farrell took 3rd with a 1 lb 10 oz 15 ¼ inch rainbow.

 

There was plenty of food there and it was excellent, especially Rose’s chowder.  You never know who you will meet at these fishing derbies.  Matt White, former Boston Red Sox southpaw pitcher was there.  You may remember him on the Red Sox team of 2003.

 

Trout Stockings

The following waters were stocked with trout last week: Westfield River in Chester, Chesterfield, Huntington, Middlefield, and Worthington; Deerfield River in Buckland, Clarksburg and Florida; Green River in Williamstown, Housatonic River in Pittsfield (SW Branch), Greenwater Pond, North Pond, Upper Highland Lake, Littleville Reservoir, Pontoosuc Lake, Goose Pond, Laurel Lake, Lake Buel, Big Pond, Otis Reservoir, Onota Lake, Richmond Pond, Stockbridge Bowl and Windsor

Local angler gets world-wide exposure

 

 

We have a celebrity in our midst, Chris Samson of Adams.  There was a full page picture of him in the March issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.  The 6 page article also showed some of his fly fishing/fly tying friends from Vermont.

 

Wait a minute, you say.   Popular Mechanics?  Is that magazine still around?   They did an article about fly fishermen and fly fishing?   What gives?

 

First of all, yes, Popular Mechanics is still around and has been since January, 1902.  Owned by the Hearst Corporation, it puts out 10 issues a year and has over 1,200,000 subscribers world-wide.  According to Samson, “They are trying to re-gear the magazine so that it is not just about cars, trains, etc., but they are trying reach out to new things going on.  And right now, fly fishing has become a big thing.  Fly fishing is no longer just for pipe smoking old guys fishing bamboo rods, toting willow creels, wearing fedora hats and fishing only dry flies.  There is a younger community of people who are taking up the sport.   Fly tying events are fueled by these people getting together to have a good time.  All types of mini fly fishing tournaments are going on throughout New England and the country right now.  It has become a popular sport.”

 

Fly fishing companies donated nice gear such as waders, packs, nets, etc., to Popular Mechanics and it wanted to feature something just on fly fishing for the magazine.  Popular Mechanics outdoor photographer Matt Kiedaisch contacted his friend Brian Price from St Albans, VT and said that they would like to have his guys demo some of the stuff while fishing.  Along with other Vermont anglers, Brian asked his friend Chris Samson if he would like to be involved.    As Chris put it, “When am I ever going to get a chance to be in a national magazine again, especially in one of the oldest magazines in the country?”  Obviously, he jumped at the opportunity.

 

They traveled to the Tailwater Lodge in Pulaski, NY to do some steelhead fishing.   The article, written by Matt Goulet, doesn’t really say a lot about where they were but it did feature the camaraderie among groups of friends on the river and showcased fly-fishing and the new gear.  It mentioned that the fishermen had participated in the Iron Fly event (see below) the night before.

 

The article, featuring a full page picture of Chris, was read all over the world.   Pick up a copy and check it out. Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain a copy of his magazine picture for this article, but I have included a picture of him with a gorgeous brown trout that he caught out of the Hoosic River.  The weight is unknown as he immediately released it unharmed back into the river.

 

Chris is friends with a group of fly fishermen from the St Albans/Swanton area of northern Vermont called the Vermont Fly Guys as well as another group that live a little further south near Burlington, VT.  They are involved in a tournament called Iron Fly.  Basically that is a group of anglers from around the country which puts on mini fly tying competitions.

 

These competitions consist of fly tying including the Iron Chef competition.   In this event, everybody gets the same amount of materials and must tie a fly.    One person starts a fly and his partner must finish it, whether or not he has ever tied it before.  Or perhaps one must tie a San Juan worm blindfolded.   In the final round, the Iron Fly round, everybody gets the same materials and can tie anything they want but it has to be a mystery material.  The last time they used materials from a mop and whatever they had in their pockets,  lint, cigarette butts, $10 bills, whatever.  According to Chris, these events get folks together to talk about fishing and to tie some flies.  They get donations from various companies and everybody wins something.    They also do a thing called” Get Trashed” where everyone gets together to pick up trash along the rivers.

 

While covering this article, I discovered that Chris works at Berkshire Outfitters in Adams, MA.  The shop, located on Rte 8, is owned by Steve Blazejewski of Adams.  When I arrived there, they were in  process of switching out their ski and winter sports items and displaying their summer and water sports inventory.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that they now sell fly fishing rods, reels, waders, etc.   As local fly fishers know, there is hardly any place in the Berkshires any more to buy quality fly fishing stuff.  Chris claims that adding the fly fishing items brought a whole new group of people into the shop.  Among other name brands, it deals primarily with Reddington equipment which is affordable and indestructible.

 

Fly fishing and fly tying is Chris’s passion.  He and a few friends get together every week or so to do some tying.  The big thing now, he says, is tying large streamers to fish for pike.   He and his buddies plan to float the Housatonic River fishing for pike this year.  He will let me know of any fly tying events that he is planning through Berkshire Outfitters or on his own and I will pass them onto you. He really wants to get kids in North County involved in fly fishing and tying.

 

Remembering Ernest LeClaire during HooRWA’s 30th anniversary

This year the Hoosic River Watershed Association is celebrating its 30th year of caring for the Hoosic River and its basin.  Lauren R. Steven had an excellent commentary in the Berkshire Eagle on January 11, 2016 entitled, A busy 30th is coming for Hoosic River group”.  In it he discussed HooRWA’s many ongoing projects from its confluence with the Hudson River in New York to North Adams.  Hoorah, for HooRWA!

 

Last fall I attended a HooRWA meeting wherein they discussed the status of PCB’s in the river’s crayfish and trout population.  I covered it in my November 8, 2015 column.  At that meeting they also honored the late Ernest LeClaire of Williamstown.   He was a founding member of HooRWA as well as the Hoosuck Chapter of Trout Unlimited and, to quote HooRWA Board Member Stevens, he was a “great friend of the environment and many people.”

 

One of Ernie’s hobbies was wood-working, and at that meeting was displayed his gorgeous wood carving of the HooRWA logo.   It shows a flying blue heron, a kayak paddler and a fly fisherman.

 

During that meeting, Stevens mentioned that HooRWA would like to have a bench in Ernie’s honor placed somewhere along the banks of the Hoosic River, preferably in his home town.  The land, formerly occupied by the Spruces Trailer Park was mentioned.   Donations for such a bench can be made through its website (http://hoorwa.org) or by mail to HooRWA, P.O. Box 667, Williamstown, MA 01267.

 

Ernie was an esteemed member of Trout Unlimited who was awarded the TU Silver Trout Award, TU’s highest national award at the time, for his dedication to conserving cold, clean waters and the critters that live in them.  For years, he was a volunteer in the UMASS Acid Rain Monitoring (ARM) Program. (I have a picture of Ernie, Ed Driscoll of Adams and myself presenting the late Senator Ted Kennedy an ARM tee-shirt up on Mount Greylock).

 

Ernie was a close friend of the late Al Les, of North Adams, who was named the Father of Catch and Release Fishing in Massachusetts.  Les received the first Berkshire County League of Sportsmen (BCLS) Silvio O. Conte Sportsman of the Year Award in 1984.   In addition to being Al’s closest fishing partner, Ernie accompanied him state-wide selling the concept of catch and release, even testifying at the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston and the DFW Headquarters in Westborough.

 

Ernie passed beyond the river bend in 2014.  He was a close friend who I’ll always remember flyfishing our local rivers, wearing his cowboy hat and red bandana.   He should have been recognized by the BCLS but his name was never submitted, possibly because he shied away from such notoriety.   Having a bench named in his honor along the river that he loved so much would be a fitting tribute.  Better yet, as some have suggested, name the park after him.  *****

 

Tom Decker, owner of Pete’s Gun Shop in Adams recently announced that they are offering one day monthly Basic Firearms Safety classes for the Massachusetts LTC or FID.  These classes are both NRA and Massachusetts State Police certified.   Their next class is April 10 starting at 8:30 am at the Cheshire Rod & Gun Club.  It will be a live fire class, as required by the NRA.    Free lunch will be provided.  Call Pete’s Gun Shop at 413-743-0780 to register. *****

 

First-time hunters who wish to purchase a Massachusetts hunting or sporting license must first complete a Basic Hunter Education Course.   Such a course is scheduled at the East Mountain Sportsmen’s Club at 312 Henderson Road, Williamstown.   The dates are April 4, 8, 11, 15, 18 & 22, from 6:00 to 9:00pm.   For more information, call 508-389-7830.

 

These classes fill up quickly.  Instructor Wayne McLain of Williamstown recently reported to the BCLS that 53 participants had signed up for his Cheshire Rod & Gun course which began last Monday. *****

 

A few announcements from DFW Western District (WD) Manager Andrew Madden: Last year, the Fisheries and Wildlife Board approved the hiring of Stewardship Biologists in each of the Wildlife Districts to address some of the responsibilities that come with DFW’s extensive land holdings.  In the WD, Jacob Morris-Siege was promoted to that position from the position of Wildlife Technician.  A graduate of UMASS, he has worked for the Division for 8 years. Last year, many miles of boundaries had been marked, 14 encroachments were addressed and the monitoring of Conservation Easements was greatly increased.

Also, the WD has hired 2 new Wildlife Technicians, Derek McDermott and Ray Bressette.   McDermott, from Auburn, MA, has worked for the Division as a seasonal employee with the Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program for 7 years, conducting fish surveys, monitoring fish lifts and stocking salmon fry.  He is in the process of finishing his degree in Environmental Science from Southern New Hampshire University.

 

Bressette, from Middlefield, is a recent graduate of Westfield State College with a degree in Environmental Science.  He has previously worked as a volunteer with the Division, stocking pheasants, marking boundaries, and conducting stream surveys.

 

Both Derek and Ray will be spending a lot of time stocking fish this spring so look for them on the trucks.

 

The WD has some habitat projects in the works, re-leasing and pruning apple trees in a number of locations this winter. A habitat forest cut on the Farmington River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is ongoing. They are also working towards implementing prescribed fires on some WMA’s. DFW has been successfully using fire at a number of sites throughout the State creating excellent grass and young forest habitat which benefit many species. WD staff has been training on prescribed fires and hopes to expand this program in our region.  

Timber Rattlesnakes to be reestablished in Massachusetts

 

The Timber Rattlesnake, a Massachusetts State Endangered Species, has experienced the greatest modern decline of any native reptile, and humans are considered the greatest threat to them. While killing or disturbing this snake is a serious criminal offense, these acts, combined with road mortality, continue to be major factors that contribute to the rattlesnake’s imperiled status.

Additionally, since 2006, scientists have found Timber Rattlesnakes with a sometimes fatal fungal skin disease. This emerging disease has now been documented in over a dozen species of snakes and is a new threat to them across their range. There is growing reason to fear that this fungal skin disease is a newly emerging threat to the imperiled populations.

Rattlesnakes are a high conservation priority species for the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, and in 2013, was successful in obtaining a $500,000 grant for the endangered species that will continue through 2016. The award will fund studies of this new disease as well as conservation management actions designed to enhance snake survival and increase the viability of imperiled snake populations.

The Division is proposing to establish a small number of them on Mount Zion, a large island closed to the public at the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts. While rattlesnakes are perfectly good swimmers, this island is large enough that they would have little motivation to swim away.   “This proposal has evolved out of the need to have at least one location in Massachusetts where this native endangered species will avoid people.” said Tom French, MassWildlife’s Assistant Director of Natural Heritage and Endangered Species (NHES).

“As the agency with the legal mandate, responsibility and expertise to conserve both rare and common wildlife, the Division is striving to ensure this imperiled and fascinating snake does not finally disappear almost 400 years after European settlement.”

Snakes used for this project will be offspring of Massachusetts snakes. They will be headstarted in captivity for two winters allowing them to grow large enough so that they will have the best chance of surviving to adulthood.

French says that most modern bites occur as the result of irresponsible (and illegal) activities that involve handling or harassing the animals. The latest antivenin treatments have greatly reduced the danger even if a person is bitten.

Fish & Wildlife officials have stated that funding for the project will come from the above grant and NHES funds, and not from hunting and fishing license fees.*****

The Berkshire Environmental Action Committee (BEAT) has formed a new monthly Wildlife Tracking Club in Berkshire County.  This group will meet twice monthly,  the 1st Wednesday and the 3rd Saturday from 9:00 am to 12:00 noon.   Hikes will be led by local wildlife trackers, birders, and naturalists, of which there is an impressive group in Berkshire County.  The club is open to the public and tracking events will occur in Berkshire County.  There will be an annual membership fee of $15.00.  One-time participants can attend an individual event for $5.00.

It is claimed that Western Massachusetts is part of a larger fabric of forests that constitute the healthiest and most intact broadleaf deciduous biome in the world.  It is a globally impressive system unrivaled in size or importance. The focus of the events will be the iconic wildlife of New England that call our region home, including Black Bear, Moose, Bobcat, Beaver.and other critters.  Contact Elia Del Molino if you are interested in joining the club: elia@thebeatnews.org.

Incidentally, BEAT seeks to work with the public to protect the environment in the Berkshires and beyond.  BEAT educates citizens about the environment and their role in protecting it, keeps the public informed of current local issues that could have an impact on the environment, and helps people work together to take action to protect the environment. *****

 

On Friday evening, March 11, the Taconic Chapter of Trout Unlimited will be hosting an International Fly Fishing Film Festival at the Wahconah Country Club, 20 Orchard Road, Dalton.   Featured will be the best fly-fishing film shorts selected for 2016.  With backdrops ranging from Bolivia to Saskatchewan, Montana to Virginia, Patagonia to the Seychelles, these films feature fresh, dynamic stories amongst some of the best fishing footage that has ever been shot.

 

From the hunt for the world’s largest brook trout to the pursuit of billfish on the fly, gargantuan pike, acrobatic golden dorado and herculean British Columbian steelhead, these films showcase remarkable places, larger than life characters and fish that will haunt your dreams.

Doors open at 6pm and the film will be shown at 6:30pm.  The cost is $16.82 per ticket on- line or $19 at the door. All attendees will receive a free copy of Stonefly Magazine. There will be a 50/50 raffle and a handmade 9’, 4wt fly rod will be given out as a door prize. Orvis rods and reels will be auctioned.    Tickets can be obtained by calling Bill Travis 413-447-9720 or by contacting any Taconic TU Chapter Board member.  On- line tickets can be obtained by going to https://www.eventbright.com/20280747261. *****

 

Avid Sports will be holding a Firearms Safety Course on Wednesday March 16 at 5pm at Avid Sports on West Housatonic Street, Pittsfield. This course allows you to apply for a pistol permit or F.I.D. card.  Call 413-997-3600 for details.

The Lenox Sportsmen’s Club Ham Shoots begin today and run for the next four Sundays.  Tickets go on sale at 12:30pm and shooting begins at 1:00pm.  $3.00 per shot, 22 cal Shoots and Pie Shoots.

 

The Lee Sportsmen’s Association Turkey Shoots take place on March 6, 13 and 20, all running from 12:30 – 3pm.  $2 per round and winners take a choice of turkey, steak, spiral ham or pork loin.  Also, there will be a Money Shoot for $3 a round.