Labrador trip came close to a washout

Last week I wrote about the Alberta, Canada flyfishing trip that Allen Gray, Paul Knauth and I took a few weeks ago. If you recall from my September 24, 2017 column, good flyfishing buddy Attorney Michael Shepard of Dalton returned to flyfish in Labrador with 8 other anglers most of whom he had fished with in Quebec and Labrador before. Last year, you may recall, they fished the Minipi River system. This time the anglers fished out of Igloo Lake Lodge on Igloo Lake, a different river system. Like last year, Mike Miller of Athol, MA arranged the trip.
While we arrived in our cottage in Blairmore, Alberta the same day we left home, Mike’s trip was a bit more entailed. They first had to drive to the airport in Montreal, Canada on Wednesday, August 16 and spend the night there. They flew out the next morning with a stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia before landing in Goose Bay, Labrador. They spent that night in Goose Bay and then flew out (by float plane) to Igloo Lake arriving on Friday. When they returned, they did the same, with one exception which I will get into later.
Mike’s fishing partner on this trip was William Waite (Bill) from Westminster, MA (You may recall him from my article last year. He was the least experienced flyfisherman who caught the largest brook trout (8 lbs). Remember? His guide had forgotten the net and had to net it with a 5-gallon pail.)
Igloo Lake is located about 70 miles southeast of Goose Bay. Jim Burton is the owner of two lodges on that lake. According to Mike S., the facilities were beautiful, the boats were topnotch, his guide was the best he ever fished with and the food was restaurant quality. The lodges are located in one beautiful part of Labrador. Burton also owns a float plane which allows him to fly anglers out to other water bodies. There is a one mile stretch of river near the camp which flows into the lake, but the waters were low because of a drought there this past summer. The first day, Mike and Bill fished that stretch catching smaller trout.
The following day, Mike Miller and 3 others flew out to Char Lake, some 200 miles north of Igloo Lake to fish for Arctic Char. They congregate there during their spawning run. Because the float plane could only take 4 anglers at a time, Mike Shepard was scheduled to fly in on the second day. The anglers had phenomenal luck, catching some 80 char and sea run brook trout, many of them caught on char flies that Mike Shepard had tied for them. Well don’t you know, when it was Mike S.’s time to fly out the next day, there were 50 mph winds and the trip was postponed. Then came the rains and fog and a low ceiling. The nasty weather lasted for 3 days and Mike S. and Bill were never able to fly into Char Lake.) It was a big disappointment because Mike really wanted to catch an Arctic char on this trip.
While the other guys were fishing Char Lake, Mike S. and Bill fished the pond at the bottom of the nearby river and caught 6 or 7 pike averaging around 30 inches. Mike caught a 7 ½ lbs. brook trout.
The next day, they fished Burton Pond. To get there, they had a 30-minute boat ride across Igloo Lake and then trek 1 ½ miles across a peat bog. Burton Pond is a big lake, not connected to Igloo Lake, which runs into the Eagle River and ultimately to the North Atlantic. Mike S. and Bill trolled Zoo Cougers and green leech flies. They got into some 5-6 lbs. brook trout which were podding up and boated a dozen or so of those bruisers. Bill and Mike caught 17-18 northern pike in the 30-inch range in Igloo Lake using big green and purple bunny leeches.
On the last day at Burton Pond, Bill and Mike S. caught 22 brook trout all over 5 lbs. Bill caught 14 trolling and Mike caught 8. In the last hour of fishing, Mike proceeded to catch three 5-pound brookies, as well as a 6 and 7 pounder all on size 8 and 6 green drake dry flies.
Incidentally, all fish were released unharmed. They all had a very successful trip, wouldn’t you say?
On the August 25 return trip, they hit a snag. Their luggage was left behind in the Goose Bay airport. They had planned on spending the night in Montreal and enjoying a good meal; however, without their luggage, they didn’t even have a change of clothes. So, they drove home that evening. (Incidentally, Mike Shepard never got his luggage until September 25.)
There’s always potential drawbacks when you book a fishing trip to these hard to reach Canadian destinations. In order to reserve a spot, you have to book early, sometimes a year in advance, and you never know what conditions you will encounter when you get there. In Mike’s case, it was 3 solid days of wind and rain. If you recall, in our trip to Alberta, it was the fires that closed down our rivers. As they say, “You pays your money and you takes your chances”. (An old idiom with intentional grammatical errors).
At the time of this writing, there is another local angler on his way home from a Canadian fishing trip. Rex Channel of Pittsfield, who is a local fishing guide and owner of Allure-Outfitters. He actually fished Igloo Lake a couple of weeks before Mike and then headed west fishing all across Canada and parts of western US. Hopefully, I can write about his trip when he returns home.
Berkshire Natural History Conference
On Saturday, October 14, the 3rd Annual Berkshire Natural History Conference will feature presentations by local and regional naturalists, as well as acclaimed authors at the Berkshire Community College from 9 a.m.to 4 p.m. MassWildlife will have a table set up at the event, and retired MassWildlife Biologist Jim Cardoza will make a presentation on wild turkey conservation.
Watch out for moose
MassWildlife urges drivers to use caution because it’s mating season for moose. During September and October, moose become more active and cross roads more frequently. Also in May and June during yearling dispersals, when yearling moose are driven away by their mothers. Moose eyes rarely shine because their eyes are above headlight level and their dark color makes them very difficult to spot at night.
I’m sure readers are tired of reading this advisory year after year. However; as you know, each year we have an influx of new young, inexperienced drivers on our roads who may not have gotten the word. It’s a good time to talk about this with your new drivers.
Questions/comments: Berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com. Phone: (413)637-1818

Attached is a picture of Attorney Michael Shepard with one of his large brook trout

Making the best of a fishing trip

Allen Gray of Pittsfield, Paul Knauth of Hinsdale and I recently spent 9 days flyfishing in south western Alberta, Canada. We were concerned even before we left that there would be fires all over the place out there. While flying into the Calgary, Alberta airport, the pilot commented that there was fair weather and there should be a smooth landing and that the only problem that we may encounter would be the smoke. We had also heard rumors that parts of Crowsnest Pass and Hillcrest, Alberta were being evacuated. (Upon arrival, we found that not to be true. Fake news!)
Driving the 2 ½ hours southwest to our cottage in Blairmore, Alberta, we could smell and see the smoke. We had intended to fish the Livingstone, Carbondale and Oldman Rivers, located in or near the Rocky Mountain Provincial Forest. But upon arrival, we quickly learned that these rives were closed to fishing in order to prevent the possibility of starting more fires. Not only were they closed, but also the roads which led to them. One person who owned land along a closed road told us that they had to have a permit just to get to their homes. They weren’t even allowed to ride their horses on their own property (presumably a ranch).
Our first morning, we went to the local fly shop to purchase some flies and fishing licenses. There we met other fishermen and guides and we all were facing the same problem….where to fish? Anglers were disappointed to learn that after traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to fish a particular river, it was closed. Prior to leaving home we knew that there were forest fires in Alberta, British Columbia and Montana, but we had already purchased airline tickets, rented a cottage, arranged for a car rental, etc., well in advance and we would lose the down payments. So,we took our chances and went anyway.
Susan Douglas-Murray, co-owner of the Crowsnest Café and Fly Shop said that basically there were only 2 nearby rivers which we could fish that were still open, the Crowsnest River and the Castle River. We had known about these rivers from past trips, but we usually bypassed them in favor of the more popular Livingstone and Oldman Rivers, where we could catch West Slope Cutthroat Trout. Because all of the visiting anglers were referred to these same two rivers we expected to see shoulder to shoulder fishermen on them.
We needn’t have worried for these rivers are large and cover great distances with plenty of room for everyone. If we wanted to, we could have fished over 25 miles of the Crowsnest River, a beautiful river which flows through farms, grasslands and several towns.
On our first two days, we fished the Castle River, another gorgeous river. Paul and Allen had decent luck but I lost two giant rainbow trout that broke my leaders. We were fishing in 88 degree weather those days with no shade to speak of. It was definitely hat dunking weather.
For most of the remaining days, we fished the Crowsnest River, a river that is virtually loaded with rainbow trout, some of them really large. They were very frisky trout, nothing like the hatchery- reared rainbows around here. Paul phrased it accurately, “You hook into one of those large rainbows and after jumping a few times, they settle onto the river bottom and say, c’mon angler, let’s have at it”. One behemoth broke three of his tandem fly rigs before he finally landed it. Same thing happened to me. I lost 5 of those big rainbows, the likes of which the world has never….. before I could land one. Allen lost a couple of the big ones, too, before landing some. Although they would leap 3 or 4 times, we were able to handle the smaller rainbows, but the big ones gave us serious trouble.
During our entire stay, we could smell and see the smoke from distant fires and hear the sounds of helicopters ferrying firefighters and equipment somewhere. There was one day we were fishing in what appeared to be a snowstorm, but it was actually falling ashes. We never saw the normal color of the sun, for it was always orange or red caused by the smoke. At times it looked like a big balloon in the air. Fortunately, it wasn’t a choking type of smoke and the days were usually gorgeous.
There were a couple of days when the wind was horrific, making it difficult to place your fly where you wanted it. Once while crossing a river, a sustained strong wind came up which almost blew me over. I grabbed my hat and stuffed it into my shirt, while bracing against the wading staff. The wind was so strong that it bent my flyrod like I had a fighting fish on. Trying to handle the river current, strong wind, hat, fly rod and cigar was a chore. Something had to go and it was the cigar. I watched that expensive cigar float down the river. It cost darn near a buck.
In the evenings before dinner, we would sit out on the deck, have a drink and look at the Canadian Rockies, or at least what we could see of them through the smoke. Then we would enjoy a delicious meal expertly prepared by Allen.
In the mornings we made our sandwiches and headed for the fly shop. One morning as we entered the shop, one of the fishermen there pointed to Paul and said to the others, “That’s him!” The day before he happened to see Paul land a large trout and agreed to take a picture of him holding it. Paul became an instant celebrity whose advice was sought. Even the resident professional fishing guide who was in the shop that morning wanted to know what flies he used. They were quietly huddled over the fly selection as Paul advised the guide which ones to use.
It started to get chilly the last couple of days with rain and hail and temperatures in the low 30’s, but that didn’t deter us from fishing to the end. I doubt any of us were overly upset at not fishing our intended rivers because we discovered great new fishing areas.
The memorable 10-day fishing trip cost less than $2,500 per person and that included our food which probably shouldn’t be included in the cost as one has to eat somewhere anyways. If you decide to go there someday, be sure to stop at the Crowsnest Café and Fly Shop and Susan will steer you to some fantastic fishing waters.

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.