The Greatest Weekend Every Winter “Who invited the girl?”

Just as I’m about to lose my mind shoveling, filling the wood box, and paying the propane guy for his seemingly weekly visit to fill my tank it happens, Schoodic Derby Weekend. I’ve fished dozens of derbies in Maine. Schoodic is by far and away the best. The scenery is amazing with blue skies and Katahdin looming to the north, the fishing is usually good, and the company is top notch. It’s my unofficial notice that spring is just around the corner. Schoodic is my ground hog.

Katahdin is always there.

An icefishing derby is a fishing tournament. The Schoodic Derby is a fishing adventure. Every year a few weeks in advance we start planning. How many sleds do we need? How much bait? Who’s bringing food? Is the lake safe? Then it happens, and all that planning goes out the window. Someone’s sled breaks, someone else forgets the propane, one guy forgets his boots, you name it and it’s been forgotten, except beer, we never forget beer.  We always scramble to get enough crap together to enjoy our two days on the ice. Then there’s actually getting to the lake. See Schoodic isn’t surrounded by hotels. You have to know somebody who knows somebody who has a camp to stay in or you’re staying on the ice. Over the last three years we’ve had the pleasure at staying at a very nice camp because of a friend of a friend.  That’s one of the special things about my Maine. If you associate with good people, it’s assumed that you to are a good person, there is a trust there built solely on your reputation through others. This year the cast of characters staying in camp were our friend Tony, his son Colby, my brother Billy, his son Owen, and our friend Luke. At a quick glance you notice we all pee standing up that will be important later in the story.

All’s good in a nice warm camp.

We take our ice fishing pretty serious. We use several online apps to see the contours of the bottom. We use fishfinders to mark fish. We tend our traps with the delicacy you’d give fine china. We’re there to catch fish. We usually do well. For the last two years my nephew Owen has been in the lead for the youth division right up until the last minute.

Owen’s 4lb Lake Trout

This year fishing was a little slower. We caught a few short salmon but never could catch the 23-inch monster we were looking for. We marked fish while jigging but they barely paid attention to any of our offerings. We did catch a fish here and there but nothing like the normal fast action we experienced in the past.

Even our very own “fish whisperer,” Luke was having a hard time. It’s been said that Luke can catch fish in a bath tub. In the particular place we fished this year he usually smashes the lake trout. We think it’s because he dropped his cell phone down the hole into 100 feet of water in this spot two years ago.

Luke had to work for them this year.

All Saturday morning, we struggled to get on the bite. Frustration mounted. Then it happened. The girl showed up. Our good friend Tony is married to our good friend Sally. Sally is, and always will be a country girl. She can back up a boat trailer, shoot a bow, track a buck, and do all the country things that make a girl country. She’s a lovely woman, and a great friend. Sally could only fish for the day because of other commitments. She only needed 15 minutes. She set her traps, started chatting with the crew of intrepid ice walkers and wouldn’t you know it, she got a flag. After a 5-minute tug of war she iced the biggest fish if the weekend, a 4.5 pound Togue. We all congratulated her, but after a 3AM wake up, a freezing morning, and little fish my only thought was, “who invited the girl.” To be honest I think I yelled it.

Who invited the girl?

The day went on. Sally didn’t gloat much, there were a few more fish caught. (none by me) we got a nice visit from the world famous owner of Boot Life Magazine and her husband. A very friendly biologist came and explained to the two boys the importance of what he was doing for fish research. Family and friends stopped by on their snowmobiles with hamburgers and hot dogs and we enjoyed a beverage or two. All in all, despite the tight lipped fish, it was a hell of a derby.

At the end of the day we retired to the warm camp, had a few more beverages, and gorged on deer chili and other gastrointestinal challenges. Sunday brought little excitement and only one fish. We packed up, left the camp nicer than we found it, and headed our separate ways home only to be brought together again by a call from the southern Maine bound contingent, they lost a tire on the trailer. Luckily I had a new spare. The slick they had for a spare was not going to make the four-hour trip to Newfield. Tony the professional tire changer made short work of the tire exchange and we were all homeward bound. We’ll talk about the things that happened Schoodic weekend all year long. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Trailer tires are always fun.

Just Friggin Relax

I was recently informed about something that made me laugh snot bubbles. The Readers Digest version of some keyboard warriors problem with my writing is that I talk about the consumption of alcohol while conducting dangerous activities.

Well yes “Saint Perfect,” I have mentioned the subject of drinking wobble pops. If you care to refresh yourself on some of my writings you’ll see that I was telling stories of days of yore, when men were men, and really didn’t give a flying rip what others thought. There are still some of us today.

Nowhere in the story telling did I say I condone the activity, it happened, I wrote about it, MOST people get that it’s story telling and move on. There’s always the option of not reading my work, shutting your mouth, and continuing on with your day, the preferred course of action in most cases.

If you decide that running a chainsaw while stoned, driving a snowmobile while blitzed, hunting while hung down with the brown bottle flu is a good idea, you sir or madam are an idiot, don’t do it. You’re a danger to others. If you decide to complain about me telling stories of my life, that I witnessed/lived, piss off, I don’t have time for you.

It’s Not the Place, It’s the People


Uncle Rodger, Dad, Jason, Me, Greg, Billy, and Eric. Good people make good times.

After almost a year of mental debate I recently decided to sell my camp in the Maine north woods. When I bought the place I thought I would have it forever. It was all I had dreamed of. My wife and I put a serious dent in our meager savings to buy it, and after my first deer season there, where I tracked and killed a wide nine-point buck, I knew I had found my piece of heaven.


My first deer track kill at camp

Things change. I became a guide. The camp is on a lease and the lease holder does not allow commercial operations on their land. Their land, their rules. I tried to keep the camp for family, and look for another place to guide from.  Unfortunately, money has yet to grow on trees. I was at a crossroads. I wanted to grow and expand my guide service, but the times I spend at my camp are the greatest times of my life.

The third week of November every year is “camp week.” It brings my father, my uncle, my brothers, and some great friends under one roof. For a week we chase whitetails, play cards, eat like kings, and even drink a beer, or 200. They’re all special people to me, people who have stuck with me through thick and thin. I saw the camp as my gift to them. The all have keys. It was as much theirs as mine. 


The nightly poker game is a staple at camp week

The weekend following Father’s Day is always the weekend we all gather to climb Katahdin.  Eager anticipation on Friday night turns into a day long climb on Saturday. People struggle, swear they are going to get in shape before next year, and encourage each other. Saturday night after the climb if you’re not the first one to sleep the sound of exhausted, successful mountaineers will keep you awake, the snoring almost sounds choreographed.

Good climb, great people.

Thanksgiving is for family. We all gather there and play cribbage, rummy, and lately this ridiculous game where you put a dental torture tool in your mouth and try to get your partner to understand the clue you are reading from a card. The laughter and the amount of drool is epic. If you were to stand outside the door and listen you’d think we’d all gone mad.


My nephew Eli playing a ridiculous game called “Watch your Mouth”

Summer brings lazy days floating on the river, lounging at the sand bar at the bottom of Abol Rapids, and fires on the deck as the sun sets in the west and the moon illuminates Katahdin. We walk to our favorite fishing spots, catch trout and salmon, and enjoy each other without the distractions of the modern world.

Brookies on the fly rod.

Winter brings the challenge of getting in by snowmobile, warming the place and then mid-night snowmobile rides through a remote forest that few people ever get to see. We may icefish a remote lake, and then go to our camp neighbors place to feed the deer we just chased a few months before from our hands as they try to make it through the harsh winter.

My daughter Sophie feeding a friendly doe at a neighbors camp

This deer season I was coming back from a day of tracking, it was already dark. I was thinking about selling the place for a long time. As I walked up the steep driveway the camp was illuminated beautifully. Inside I could see my wife, my brother, his wife, my nephews and daughter. It was a perfect picture. It was then I realized that it’s not the camp it’s the people.


A great place to come back to because of the people who are inside.

So the camp is under contract. I will buy another place and we will make more memories because a camp is a wooden structure with stuff in it. It’s the people that matter, and I am surrounded by some great ones.

Making Bacon

I’ve been known to do some spontaneous things that make people ask if I’m crazy. This is one of them. It was a sunny day in May.  I was driving a back country road. I saw a sign that said piglets, $100.00. I happened to have $100.00, I love bacon, I think I’ll buy a pig. After a brief conversation in which I lied about having owned pigs, I had my very own bacon seed. How hard could this be?

Bringing home the bacon

We already had goats. They had a big 100 foot by 100 foot pen. I’ll just throw the pig in there. They could “coexist” like on those bumperstickers I see on all the subaru’s. Well come to find out they can’t. The piglet wanted to suckle what she saw hanging from the goats. The goats wanted no part in that, especially the male goat. My much more pragmatic and detail oriented wife did some research. Turns out the pig will eventually kill the goats. Who knew bacon could be so angry?

Off to Tractor Supply I went. Some midnight post hole digging and cow panels and old Mango had a pig jail. Yes we named her, Mango. I know you don’t name them. People were placing bets that we would have a pet pig forever. They had good reason, my wife is a vegetarian. Opposites attracting is real. Mango continued to grow. We fed her all of our table scraps, and things from our garden. We rehomed our goats because we just didn’t have the time to dedicate to them. Mango moved out of jail to the big house in the barnyard. She promptly ate the floor.


Mango in pig jail after being inappropriate with our male goat


I often found myself in her pen scratching her ears, and rubbing her sides. My daughters would play with her, and chase her around. My neighbors would come over and give her their table scraps too. Everybody loved Mango. She was very happy with her situation. She rooted up the ground, wallowed in the mud and had a general grand old time. Then one day I noticed that fall was coming, and Mango was big.


Mango put on some pounds over the summer

I begrudgingly made an appointment with the butcher I use for my wild game. I made sure that Mango was comfortable and enjoyed her time. I coaxed her into the trailer for the ride through town and out to the butcher. I delivered her to her fate. I didn’t like it, but I knew this truth. The outcome to Mango’s life was predetermined the moment she was born.  I take great pride in the fact that her time was pleasant, fun, and caring. She was essentially free to live her life out enjoying her piece of earth, and a good ear scratch.


Mango on travel day.

The following morning after I dropped her off. I got up early like I often do, went to the garage, filled the bucket with pig food, and remembered that there was no pig to feed. A few days later I got the call from the butcher and went and picked up the pork. All through this winter we will enjoy the food that our pig provided us. We will be grateful for her as I’m sure she was grateful for us. Next year I’ll raise a few more pigs. There’s something satisfying in knowing that you know exactly how your food was raised, how it was cared for, and the effort you put into it. I am certainly thankful that sometimes I make spontaneous decisions. Without them I would have never known Mango.  


A healthy supply of winter meat.


Just Like That

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Setting Traps on a perfect winter day. Photo by Tyler Neville

Yup that’s right, if you’re reading this hot off the press December is here. If you haven’t filled your buck tag in Maine yet don’t fret. You still have up to two weeks of black powder. Hopefully the snow gods have shined on you and you can track one down and get that meat for the iceshack.  

I said ice shack. For the people from away, one of our great traditions in Maine is venturing out on a frozen pond, drilling some holes with some sort of tool, catching fish, or not catching fish, and most importantly not freezing. Increasingly I see less and less people taking part in the joys of avoiding hypothermia and death. For the life of me I can’t figure out why. What could be more fun than getting up early on a booger freezing morning, driving with your buddy and a trailer full of gear, trying to get some two stroke engine to turn over, and freezing your appendages until purple. Then waiting eight hours for a fish only to learn fish don’t like the cold.  Then you repeat that process in reverse to pick up all your gear and drive home.

Sounds like a real blast right? Trust me it is. I’ll tell you how to make it enjoyable for even the most ardent hater of cold.  

Don’t go on miserable days. Some people are die hard and go no matter what the weather. Don’t be that guy. If the winds blowing a gale and it’s snowing so hard that you can’t see 10 feet stay home, have a hot toddy and wait for a better day. There’s no need to practice being miserable, when the time comes misery comes naturally.

Plan to go on a good day. “Good day” is a relative term during a Maine winter. Pick a day with no or light snow, light wind, and maybe even a little sunshine. We can get our weather two weeks in advance online. The internet is actually a pretty powerful tool in trip planning… who knew? I thought it was for political rants and looking up your old high school girlfriend.

Make sure the ice is safe. This goes without saying…  on second thought no it doesn’t. Every year I see some absolute crazy stuff on the ice. Guys venturing out with their entire family on 3 inches of new ice. Folks drinking Budweiser breakfasts and driving half ton fishing lures disguised as pick-up trucks near inlets and outlets.  Don’t be a dub, know the conditions and your capabilities. If you don’t know how to read the conditions, and that’s the only thing holding you back, hire a guide for the day. You’ll learn enough to get out on your own.

Have the right gear. It doesn’t take much, some traps, some bait, an implement to get a hole in the ice, a way to get warm, and some food and entertainment. You can get traps real cheap at yard sales. The local big box stores have some that are pretty inexpensive. For bait, go to your local bait and tackle with a five-gallon bucket. Get a few dozen shiners and you are ready to go. As far as getting a hole in the ice. In the early season a chisel works fine, an axe does the job, and in a pinch I have been known to use a chainsaw to cut me a square hole in the ice. If you really want to you can spend the money to get a power auger that runs on gas, propane, or even electric battery. I don’t recommend that until you’re sure that ice fishing is your thing. Here’s a little tip. When I was younger and didn’t have a lot of money to throw around I would just ask someone out fishing if I could trade them a few beers for them to come over to drill me a few holes. Amazingly people icefishing like beer. Imagine my surprise.

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Have the right gear for the job. You don’t have to be miserable.Enter a caption

 

Now the most important part, food warmth, and entertainment. One of my favorite ways to keep warm is to have a fire. I bring a little half barrel and collect up a bunch of dead wood and touch her off. Don’t worry the ice won’t melt that much. I bring some skates for the kids, hockey sticks, and hotdogs to cook on a stick and that’s living. Just make sure you clean up your mess.

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Nobody will bother you for a little warming fire. Clean up your mess.

 

 

You can get elaborate and build yourself an iceshack, or buy a portable one. I’ve moved away from the permanent stick built shacks and have gotten myself a portable. I’m nothing short of comfortable when I take trips. I’ll take the time to breakout exactly how I set up my shack. I’m doing this because I’ve yet to see a better portable set up.

My shack is 8 foot by 8 foot and quilted for good insulation. It all fits in a bag I can carry on my shoulder. I first shovel all the snow out to the bare ice. And then lay a tarp down. If there is too much snow I pack the snow down with either my snow shoes or my snowmobile. Insider tip; when there’s a lot of snow on the ice that’s a lot of weight. When you pop a hole in the ice that down pressure from the weight pushes water up through the ice. If you shovel clear spot for your shack on 18 inches of snow you’ll get about 6 inches of water in that spot when you pop your hole nearby, isn’t science fun? Back on topic. I lay a tarp down and then I piece together my floor. I use snap together foam flooring from Lowes it serves as excellent insulation. I then set my shack on top. I anchor all my corners and my tie outs. The last thing you want is a big blow coming down the lake and your shack is blown away and you’re chasing it down the lake like a dog chasing a car. The ice anchors can be hard. I bring a small cordless drill to start my holes, makes life a lot easier. I can have this thing set up in about 10 minutes. For heat I bring a full 20-gallon propane tank and a propane heater with a low CO2 safety shut off. I make sure that the heater is elevated off the ground that keeps the ice from melting. I also bring a two burner propane stove for cooking. In a Rubbermaid tote I carry a cribbage board, books, and other games, the tote doubles as a table. I use those bag chairs that everyone has laying around. I keep the temperature at about 70 degrees inside. A few times a year when I make long trips I spend the night on a cot in the shack, it can sleep two comfortably and three if needed. It’s an eerie feeling the ice settle around you.

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My set up. I spend several nights a winter on the ice with my thoughts.

Finally, the food. Deer steak is the choice of food so get out there and fill your tag. In the event that you don’t get your deer there are other options. I make sausage, eggs, and homefries for breakfast. I usually do red hotdogs and chips for lunch, and in the event that I’m staying the night I do some sort of chili, or stew for dinner. They sky is the limit. The key is to prep everything before you leave so all you have to do it mix and cook.

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A full breakfast of eggs, muffins, bacon, and hashbrowns washed down with some antifreeze

There is really no need to sit inside to be miserable during the winter. Icefishing is an excellent way to experience a Maine winter and all it has to offer. It comes with excitement and anticipation of what is on the other end of the line. Plus, you really get to learn a lot about the people you’re with when you’re trapped on a frozen lake in zero degrees in an 8’x8’ tent. If all that is holding you back is the unknown, hire a guide, they are there to ease your concern, make your trip safe, and make it memorable.

Now go fill that tag, the freezer is getting empty.  

 

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My nephew Owen and I after a good day on the ice

 

 

Turn the Map Around

 

 

map

Here is a little tip for the wannabe big woods hunters.

 

When I received my commission in the Marine Corps I went to The Basic School in Quantico, VA. It’s a six-month school that all new Marine Corps officers attend. Regarding the development of my intellect, it was the single greatest experience in my life. That’s a big statement considering that I had just graduated from college a few weeks before attending.  Throughout the course there was a phrase, “turn the map around.” What it means is stop looking at a map from your perspective, look at it from the enemy’s, in this case replace the enemy with the deer. First thing is, deer just like humans, will always take the easy route when there is little or no hunting pressure. It’s probably best to take this one step by step.

 

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Dissecting the map north of Fallujah 2005 with some of the best Marines I know. Mike Woods and Tim O’Brien

 

Step 1. Get a good topographic map of your area. Make sure that it shows elevation changes with contour lines, and water features including intermittent streams. I like to use Delormes Maine Gazetteer. You can also order topo maps of areas from Delormes if you like to spend money.

 

Step 2. Identify the dominant terrain feature, or features in the area you want to hunt. Make sure that terrain feature is away from human interaction. A rule I like to use is a half mile from the nearest vehicle access. Those features are anything that will alter a deer’s straight line movement. It could be a deep bog, a river, or a pond/lake. My favorite is a high ridge or mountain top. The more you can identify in an area the better because you can still hunt from one to another throughout the day.

 

Step 3. Identify your ingress and egress points. The ingress is where you’re going to get into the woods. Egress is how you’re going to get out. Rarely should they be the same. Find a spot that gets you as close as you can to your target area without crossing the route you think a deer will travel. Don’t worry about the truck. We always have a plan to start driving the roads where we’re hunting after dark until everyone is picked up.

 

Step 4. Identify your linear catching features. Anywhere you go in the big woods there are linear features that stop you from wandering off. Identify them so when you get turned around you know that if you follow a certain compass heading you will eventually hit that feature and you can use it as a hand rail to get you home. In the area I’m hunting now I know that if I go north I’ll hit the Golden Road. It might take me 5-6 miles but I know that I’ll find it. If I go east I’ll hit my river. Never go to the woods without a compass and at least two lineal catching features.

 

Step 5. Walk the ground. Now that you have dominant areas on the map the chances are they’ll be dominant on the ground, go find them. It’s not like you’re looking for a needle in a hay stack, you’re looking for a mountain top or lake. If you can’t find those stick to heater hunting.

 

Step 6. Identify the micro-terrain. Once you find them find the small terrain changes you can’t see on the map. Look for the game trails. Bucks love to follow streams up mountain sides to small passes that allow them to get from one side to the other. A very successful piece of micro-terrain is what we call a funnel. This is a place that’s steep on both sides but in the middle is passable. This will funnel the traveling deer right in front of you. Once you find these places look for sign. Usually there will be some rubs from years past that you’ll notice.

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Another mountain funnel bruiser

Eric Chadbourne with a mountain funnel bruiser

 

 

There’s one spot I discovered after tagging out that has what looks like a cow path leading through it. You better believe I will be planted there opening day once the camera I have up there confirms mature bucks are in the area. It’s about 2 miles from the nearest vehicle access point at about 2000 feet elevation.

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Finding these trails makes me taste deer steak

 

 Step 7. Memorize your map. You have to have the map burned in your mind. The worst thing you can do is keep going in and walking around to, “learn the ground.” Go in maybe once a month to check your camera but don’t disturb the area too much. I like to go right before or even during a rain to wash away any scent I leave. Remember you’re a long way from the nearest human and might be the only human these deer encounter. Try to make that encounter a onetime thing with the deer of your dreams lined up in your sights. Also, taking the map with you is just another distraction between you and that bedded buck leave it at home plus the Delorme won’t fit in your backpack.

There are two measurable things that keep people from seeing big deer. Inability to traverse large areas of land because of a lack of understanding of navigation, and the physical fitness required to do it day after day for a month. There are a bunch of intangibles the main one being a lack of a will to win. If you don’t have the will to go way back you are limiting your chances.

You’ll Never Be Wealthy, But You’ll be Rich

 

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My wife with one of her first fish through the ice.

Most of us spend a majority of our time chasing the almighty dollar. I won’t sit here and say I don’t. I work about 50 hours a week in a “normal” job, sometimes more, sometimes less, so my family can enjoy a good comfortable life. I do it so I can put some money away for the inevitable moment that I have a heart attack chasing some gnarly antlered whitetail up some remote ridge. I want to make sure that my wife can enjoy life with her second husband… I bet he won’t hunt.

If it was up to me I would guide full time because that’s when I’m rich with empty pockets. The pleasure of getting up before dawn to load up the square stern six horse Johnson for a run up the lake to tend to bear baits. Creasing the calm water early in the morning, seeing the newly arrived Blue Wing Teal take flight, killing the engine to listen to the geese leave their roosts to head to the cut fields, that’s living.  

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A smoldering lake sunrise is tough to beat

I feel pretty rich when I put all the work together and a grateful sport comes in and trusts that I’ve put him on the right spot. When I get a text saying “big buck down,” and when I arrive at the site 30 minutes later the sport is still shaking with a smile that is ear to ear. The moment they walk up to the animal that they have taken and can’t thank you enough, well that’s the cat’s ass and like having a bucket full of 100’s.

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Haden listened to some simple advice and it paid off.

When I introduce someone to Katahdin, our mountain, well that’s like having a truck full of gold. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve taken up that mountain for the first time. Every time is different. I took my wife up for the first time a few years ago. It rained, the wind was blowing a gale, it was cold, and rocks were falling down from other hikers. The complaints were monumental. The fog was so thick all I keep thinking about was Donn Fendler. If you don’t know who he is, punch yourself, and then google box him.

We were about 500 yards from the summit, my fun meter was pegged. People from my party were having melt downs. I was so disappointed in myself for deciding to climb in that weather. I went full Marine and started swearing and hollering. “Screw it, we’re headed back down,” were my final words. Then without a sound, my wife stood up faced the summit and walked, everyone followed. Well let me tell you what Mistah Man. I doubt I’d ever been richer in my outdoor life. If it’s physically possible to be ashamed and proud at once I was it.  We summited, the skies parted, and we had our first family picture on the peak.

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My wife and kids at the peak

 

I guess if I could sum it up I would say this. When I go to bed after a day of guiding, after listening to my sports recount their tales of adventure as if they had happened long ago even though they just happened. When I lay my head on my pillow with sore muscles, a full belly, and the smell of wood smoke from the fire lingering in my senses. That’s when I am rich beyond belief and I wish to wake up to do it all over again for the rest of my life.

Hire a Guide and get Outside.