User conflicts are unnecessary and avoidable

Flyrodders work their craft on a remote section of the Raquette River, where the tumbling waters provide plenty of oxygen, and plenty of fish. (Photo — Joe Hackett)

In recent days, I’ve fished my way through a variety of ponds, lakes and streams in search of species of all sorts. On Upper St. Regis Lake, we landed both largemouth and smallmouth bass, a few northern pike and a very healthy land-locked Atlantic salmon that danced across the still surface of the lake in a combination of acrobatic leaps and hard-charging runs. It was the first fish ever caught by the young fellow handling the rod, and he was almost as surprised as I was, with the fantastic display.

Once it was safely in the boat, I explained that landing a salmon is often considered the pinnacle of an angler’s career. But he assured me it was going to be the launch of his career. Oddly enough, the big salmon was taken while we were trolling surface plugs for pike.

On the ponds, brook trout are already moving into the shore to set up for the pending spawning period. Similarly, lake trout are readying to move into the shallow waters on the lakes.

The brookies haven’t set up their spawn nests yet, but I expect they will be feeding heavily over the next few weeks, before the trout season concludes on Oct. 15.

Despite a recent warm spell that pushed mercury in local thermometers into the 75-degree range, autumn officially arrived with the equinox on Sept. 22.

The early bear season opened Sept. 20, and will continue through the regular big game season which ends Dec. 15.

With an abundance of apples, ferns, ripening corn, berry bushes and mast crops across the region, deer have a healthy diet to help them put on the stores of fat that are necessary to survive the coming winter.

During the early season, bow hunters and and muzzleloaders will find a variety of game — ranging from deer and bear to turkey and grouse — hanging around areas that offer easy access to food.

By the time the regular rifle season kicks off on Oct. 14, the whitetails will already be wary of traffic in the woods, undoubtedly due to the heavy influx of hikers who have continued to storm the local trails since Labor Day weekend.

With the ever-increasing traffic on the trails, it is crucial for hunters to know their way around, both on and off the trail. It is equally as important for hikers to stay on the marked trails. In most cases, both user groups have learned to coexist with very little friction. Respect and common courtesy go a long way in this regard.

Quite possibly the easiest method of avoiding user group issues is for hunters to stay off the trails and for hikers to stay on them. Short, safe and simple.

Hikers should be able to determine if the area they are traveling is popular with hunters. If there are a number of beat up old pickups with empty rifle racks in the back window, it might be a sign. It might also be a good time to wear brightly colored outerwear and avoid tan or white scarfs.

A little common sense, consideration and common courtesy is all it takes. User conflicts are unnecessary and avoidable; there is more than enough terrain to entertain both hunters and hikers without interfering with anyone.

Brookies chase

I’ve spent a few days chasing brookies in the ponds, which has been sporadic, primarily due to the bright sun and warm weather. When the sun is so strong, fish are nervous because it is easy for predators such as osprey, eagles, heron and loons to spot them.

Bright days make for easy picking, as we observed recently while fishing a whitewater section of the Raquette River near Piercefield. The section above the junction with Dead Creek Flow remains a haven for bald eagles, and the shallow, clear waters are full of life.

In addition to providing a remarkable smallmouth bass fishery, there are also walleye, river shad and the occasional northern pike. It also happens to be a prime feeding ground for bald eagles. I will often leave a few shad for the eagles on the rocks in the middle of the flow. It’s very easy pickings! Often, the big birds will swoop down to pick up the offer  before I’ve even departed. They certainly are entertaining.

Deer are ready for autumn.

Are you?

Shiny racks and diminishing daylight hours, combined with hormonal responses and testosterone, make whitetail bucks a bit crazy at this time of year. Cooler temperatures also require whitetails to fatten up and put on their grey winter coats to maintain their body temperature. 

If you haven’t been out in the woods lately, now is the time to get out and inventory the available food resources in your hunting area, in order to determine what food sources will be available in the upcoming months. Ferns, beechnuts, berry bushes, acorns and old abandoned apple trees are always a welcome commodity in any hunting area.

It is always easy to find tracks, but seeing the deer may be more difficult. Scout for travel corridors that lead to and from the feeding areas.

Deer may not travel very far to find food. If you haven’t had time to scout out a prospective hunting area, now is the time. Get off to the woods and look for sign, food, travel corridors, beds and tracks. These are the chores that cannot be achieved on opening day.

It isn’t fair to the hunters who have already invested the time to scout the area, to discover a newby waltzing around the woods looking for a place to set up on watch. With more than 6 million acres of wild forested state lands available throughout the area, there is no reason to have hunter vs. hunter or hikers vs. hunters conflicts. There’s more than enough of land to go around.

Here are some wild foods to look for while scouting:

-Apples — Deer love apples, and often scrapes can be found under low branches, making apple trees great locations to set up trail cameras. If you find an old foundation in the woods, scout around it for apple trees. Trimming the top limbs of the trees in the early spring, will bring them back to life.

-Acorns — Where available, acorns are the preferred food of choice. They are a tremendous source of fat and carbohydrates and they usually drop early in the season. Beech nuts are high in fat, however good crop years are sporadic.

-Young forests — Recently logged areas are usually rich in stump sprouts, forbs and berry bushes. These areas also serve as bedding cover, making them some of the most productive areas to hunt. Scrapes on overgrown logging roads are great places to set up a watch, especially during the early season.

The next few weeks will usher in the High Holy Days of the sporting year with fish, birds and whitetails all awaiting our attention before the snow flies. 


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