New outdoor sporting plans for a new year

Bill Graves, Special to The County
3 years ago

The new year has begun, and isn’t it odd how the older we get the quicker each year seems to pass; I remember my Dad, after passing age 75, saying, “The days are long but the years are short.”

We can’t change that, certainly can’t slow time, and fretting about it only wastes precious hours. After such a miserable 2020, dealing with 2021 by taking full advantage of every minute is a great option, especially for sportsmen.

I’ve found that New Year’s resolutions are often based around less eating, more work, making more money, spending less money and altering lifestyles. Few resolutions survive the long, cold, tedious winter, so why not set personal goals that promote outdoor adventure, involve new pastimes and places, and promise self satisfaction. If you could eavesdrop on conversations at the Pearly Gates it’s unlikely those passing over would be saying, “Gee, I sure wish I had spent more time at the office.” More likely a few more trips to a favorite trout stream, traipsing a choice partridge cover, still hunting a hardwood ridge for whitetail or sharing a duck or goose blind with a beloved dog would take precedence.

A bass fishing buddy and I took the son of a friend,  his best friend, his sister and mother on their very first smallmouth bass fishing trip this past summer. We taught casting, tied on plugs and rigged plastic worms, unhooked and released fish, untangled line and spent a good deal of time ducking and darting to avoid being snagged with a back cast. In short, we never fished less, laughed more or more thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Take a young family member or friend fishing this summer, visit a small, winding woods-lined trout stream with a worm and bobber or troll a local lake. It may be the first step in creating a lifelong angler.

Conner Cushman is the youngest in a full family of sportsmen, here he proudly poses with his very first Canada Goose. Start kids young to maintain Maine’s outdoor heritage. (Courtesy of Bill Graves)

Share a special skill or knowledge. Over the last few years I’ve made a special effort to teach someone a personal craft or ability I learned in my younger years. Perhaps it’s as simple as tutoring a novice waterfowler how to blow a few basic duck calls. Possibly you can instruct someone in tying flies, building a fishing rod, loading shells, carving a decoy, reading sign and setting traps or how to paddle a canoe. Just being outdoors with an enthusiastic learner is rewarding, but the satisfaction of a novice learning to love a sporting activity gives a warm, fulfilling feeling.

Fishermen need to practice limiting their catch, rather than catching their limit. Enjoy the fight, then quickly and carefully release the fish to fight another day. Of the hundreds of bass I caught last year, all were released, and for every dozen brook trout that took my fly only one came home for breakfast.

Another great plan is to expand you outdoor horizons. Apply for a turkey permit. They are really starting to propagate and expand their territory throughout Aroostook, and you can always travel downstate for a different variety of hunting habitat. Wild turkey are an amazing quarry and a true challenge to pursue. Every sportsman should try turkey hunting at least once.

Try a new waterway this year, even if it’s only in the next county. Make a special trip to the coast or one of the southern rivers and fish for striped bass. The action is top rate and stripers fight as if they are twice their actual size. If you go on a family vacation, plan to spend at least half a day hunting or fishing in an all new region. The best largemouth bass fishing I ever experienced was during a morning outing on a lake within 20 minutes of Disney World where I was visiting.

Take more photos. Make a camera part of your essential gear for each and every hunting, fishing, or boating trip. New digital cameras are easy to use, give wonderful results and never need film, some of the new high tech cell phones yield pictures as clear and colorful as any camera and are compact to carry. Best of all, you can view the photos on a computer just as soon as you get home. Keep the best and delete the rest. Pictures of family, friends and trophy game are a great way to augment memories for the future.

As diverse as fishing experiences are in Maine, we no longer have a season for Atlantic salmon. Every serious fly caster deserves to hook the King of fresh water game fish at least once in their lifetime. If we get COVID-19 under control and the Canadian border reopens this year, the Miramichi, Renous, Matapedia, Patapedia, Restigouche and at least six more premier salmon rivers are within a three-hour drive of  Aroostook.  Surely you can find a friend to share a two-day trip to experience spring or summer Atlantic salmon fishing on Canadian waterways. It’s a life-changing experience.

Perhaps it’s time for an added challenge to your hunting technique. Try bow hunting or maybe a crossbow. I’ve personally become a big fan of big game hunting with a handgun. Rather than a semi-auto or pump shotgun, I’ve switched to older models of side by sides or over and under scatterguns for waterfowling and upland birds. Use a 16- or 20-gauge rather than a 12 to further boost the thrill.

Dozens and dozens more outdoor options come to mind, some near, some far, many simple, a few more complex but all worth enjoying. Make a resolution not to pass up any sporting opportunities that you truly wish to experience. Possibilities are endless, time isn’t.

I wish each of you tight lines, easy shots and safe outings. Most of all I wish you a healthy year, because your new outdoor activities all depend on that gift.