The new year is almost always a welcome event, even if we are all a year older. The slate is clean. As we look ahead it’s a lot like a field of virgin snow. As we move on, the tracks we leave will take us to unseen ground. This is especially sweet for outdoor people who have an affinity for exploration, for finding what is just beyond the hill or on the other side of the cedar swamp.
Move on, yes. But don’t forget to check your backtrack! Animals do it for survival. For the rest of us contemplative bipods, who struggle for understanding and perspective, a check of what already took place can often divulge clues or insights into what lies ahead. Let’s check that backtrack for the Maine outdoors, circa 2018.
For ice fishermen, the winter of 2018 could not have been more action-filled with some bragging size fish put on the ice. Tunk Lake gave up a 40-inch, 25-pound Togue (lake trout) to Ryan Bridges. Although that fish doesn’t eclipse the longstanding state record lake trout that topped 30 pounds from Beech Hill Pond, it was a jaw-dropping catch by today’s standards. Equally impressive was a 12-pound landlocked salmon. The lucky angler isn’t telling where he caught it. Shucks. Not to be out done, another angler iced a 23-pound Muskie at Wilson Pond in Monmouth.
The safety record for snowsledders was not good. More than a dozen snowmobilers died on the trails.
There was good news for spring anglers. The Fish and Wildlife Department, concerned that not enough fish were being caught on waters in the Allagash Waterway, liberalized bag and size limits on trout in the waterway. The bag limit went from two trout to five and, surprisingly, the legal length limit on brookies was reduced from 12 inches to 6!
The fall hunt was memorable with good harvests of moose and bear, not to mention a good tracking snow for the November deer hunt. The deer harvest was in excess of 32,000, which was notably above projections and the best figure in 16 years. And, for the first time in Maine, deer hunters 65 and older were allowed to hunt any season with a crossbow.
There were some other notable blips on the outdoor news radar screen: 1) In Quebec, a captive whitetail deer was found to be infected with chronic wasting disease. CWD is an issue in the West and will be watched closely by state game managers. 2) Well-known Downeast guide Lance Wheaton was named Legendary Maine Guide of the Year. 3) The Veazie Salmon Club was brought back from the brink of extinction, and 4) The Maine Coastal Forest Partnership announced the purchase and preservation of a number of Downeast coastal wildlands parcels totaling more than 17,000 acres.
Finally, during 2018, the Maine outdoor community lost a number of dedicated and talented outdoor acquaintances. We will all miss Tom Hennessey, a nationally recognized sporting artist and writer from Hampden who died in late December after a battle with a blood disease. We’ll also miss Grand Lake Stream bush flyer and longtime outdoor columnist Steve Takach and popular author, game warden and humorist John Ford. Both men wrote monthly columns for the Northwoods Sporting Journal for many years.
We also lost a renowned fly fishing legend, and the author of 24 fishing and casting books, Lefty Kreh. He was known by friends as Will Rogers in waders. For sure, in the fly fishing community and wherever anglers gather to improve their casting techniques, he will not soon be forgotten. Lefty was 93.
All in all, and despite the loss of friends, 2018 was a good year to be an outdoors person in the state of Maine. Now let’s see what the new year brings.