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Hooks and Antlers
By Mike Seymour
Johnson Newspapers
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Hooks and Antlers

Hooks and Antlers: Ice Takes Center Stage On Outdoor Pursuits

First published: December 14, 2014 at 1:52 am
Last modified: December 14, 2014 at 1:52 am

Now that the Northern Zone deer seasons have come to a close, ice fishing will become the activity of choice for sportsmen and women during the coming months.

To ensure the season gets off to a smooth start, here is a six-item checklist that merits angler attention.

Augers

An auger is the angler’s tool for accessing fish-holding water, and sharp blades translate to quicker and safer hole-making. Any dull blades should be professionally sharpened or even replaced.

Gas-powered augers are the hole-maker of choice for most anglers although electric augers are fast gaining in popularity, and some pan-fishermen prefer the quietness of the hand auger.

For gas-powered augers, the new season calls for a can of fresh gas with the proper mixture of oil and fuel stabilizer.

If anglers follow only one guideline for gas augers, that guideline is to ensure the engine is running properly PRIOR to heading to the ice.

Jigging Rods

The modern ice angler has a wide selection of jigging rods from which to choose, and it is wise to select an outfit to match the targeted species. For example, setting the hook on a paper-mouthed crappie calls for a different rod than when setting the hook on a hard-mouthed walleye.

Reels on jigging rods typically have smaller-diameter spools that create significant line memory so it’s wise to replace last year’s line at season’s onset. Because on-ice malfunctions do occur, anglers are advised to always have an extra, ready-to-go, jigging rod.

Tip-ups

Prior to an outing, especially the first one of the season, anglers should carefully inspect their tip-ups. Tip-ups hold up well from season to season, but anglers are advised to check the flags and tripping mechanisms to ensure they are working properly.

Too, the sturdy line on tip-ups usually holds up well from one winter to the next. Still, the line should be inspected, and all leaders and other terminal tackle should be re-tied or, better yet, replaced.

Just as an angler should have an extra jigging rod in case of malfunction, he should also have an extra, ready-to-go tip-up.

Electronics

I’m not one to be giving tips on electronic devices because I still use a lead sounder to determine water depths, weed edges, drop-offs, etc.

I have, however, observed other anglers utilize their electronics for successful fishing, and modern electronic units are the way to go for those who so choose.

Such devices can give the angler an under-ice view of the habitat, fish presence, fish activity level, and fish reaction to presented baits or lures. Angler familiarity with his electronic device is a real key to putting more fish on the ice.

Miscellaneous Gear

Ice fishers are somewhat limited in the amount of gear they can tote, but eight handy items are needle-nosed pliers for removing hooks, sharpening stone for touching up hooks and fillet knives, tape measure to verify legal fish length, mouth spreaders for easier unhooking of northern pike and pickerel, dip net for removing minnows from the bait bucket, set of ice creepers for safer movement on bare ice, sunscreen for skin protection, quality sunglasses for protection from the sun’s glare, and a compartmentalized box with extra hooks, weights, jigs, etc.

Since many waters have specific regulations for ice fishing, a current copy of the Regulations Guide is another miscellaneous item to have on hand. For organizational purposes, I like to keep these items in large, zip-lock bags.

Bait Shop Contact

Important on any ice fisherman’s list is some means of communication with a local bait shop whether that communication is in the form of a phone call, actual on-site visit, electronic e-mail, or website visit.

Such shops can provide up-to-date information on ice conditions, fishing quality, bait availability, and fish-catching tactics.

Ice-safety information is especially important in early and late season. In addition, these shops carry ice-fishing gear, and they will have a supply of lures and baits that work in area waters.

Outdoors Calendar

Today: Late Muzzleloader Season in WMUs 5A, 5G, 5J, 6A, 6C, 6G, and 6H.

Today: Waterfowl Season closes in Northeast Waterfowl Hunting Zone.

Today: Goose Season closes in the Northeast Goose Hunting Area.

Monday: Muskellunge Season closes on the St. Lawrence River.

Tuesday: Muzzleloader Season in most Southern Zone WMUs.

January 23-25: New York Sportsman’s Expo at State Fairgrounds, Syracuse.

January 24: Black Lake F&G Association’s Annual Ice Fishing Derby.

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Hooks and Antlers: Area offers plenty of opportunities after end of deer season

First published: December 07, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: December 07, 2014 at 12:25 am

Although the close of the Regular Deer Season means the hunting season is over for the majority of area hunters, quality opportunities remain through December. Among the pursuable quarry are deer, geese, ducks, pheasants, grouse, squirrels, rabbits, hares, fox, and coyotes.

WHITE-TAILED DEER

Northern Zone hunters have another week to pursue white-tails and fill an end-of-the-season tag as the Late Muzzleloader Season runs through Dec. 14. Wildlife Management Units 5A, 5G, 5J, 6A, 6C, 6G, and 6H are open for the late season, and muzzleloader hunting privileges are required. Deer options for Southern Zone hunters include the Late Bow-Hunting and the Muzzleloader seasons that run through Dec. 16.

While the early season found plenty of hunters in the woods, late season sees only a fraction of those hunters still afield, and this eased-up hunting pressure translates to once-nocturnal deer moving more freely during daylight hours. Too, the rut is pretty much over so deer are now focused on feeding, and hunters should also focus their efforts on the prime food sources in their hunting areas. Even though does, fawns, and yearling bucks enter feeding areas prior to sunset, mature bucks remain reluctant to do so until after dark.

WATERFOWL

With the recent cold temperatures, many of the area’s small waters have frozen over so waterfowl are now utilizing the open water of rivers and large lakes.

The long-range forecast calls for continued below-freezing temperatures, and that cold weather should continue to bring diver ducks from the North. In essence, cold weather translates to good hunting for the area’s big-water duck hunters who work the islands and points along the St. Lawrence River and the shoreline areas of Lake Ontario. The second portion of Waterfowl Season is open until Dec. 14 in the Northeast Zone, and the daily limit is six ducks.

Resident Canada geese as well as migratory birds continue to be abundant on area waters and in area fields. The challenge for hunters, though, is that the birds are pretty well-educated and extremely wary at this point in the season.

On a positive note, though, geese are often easier to decoy once snow appears on the ground. The Goose Season in the Northeast Goose Hunting Area runs through Dec. 14, and the daily bag limit is three birds.

SMALL GAME

Small-game options include pheasants, ruffed grouse, gray squirrels, cottontail rabbits, and snowshoe hares. Such hunts can make for a fun day in the woods, particularly when young hunters are part of the group.

The best bets for pheasants are those locations stocked by DEC this past fall. Jefferson County stockings occurred at Perch River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Brownville, Ashland WMA in Cape Vincent, and French Creek WMA in Clayton. The lone stocking site in Lewis County was off the East Martinsburg Road in Martinsburg, while Upper and Lower Lakes WMA in Canton, Wilson Hill WMA in Louisville, and Fish Creek WMA in Macomb comprise the stocking locations in St. Lawrence County.

Even though WMA pheasant populations are fairly well depleted at this time of the year, some birds always manage to survive into winter.

The Northern Zone pheasant season runs through Feb. 28, and regulations allow for a daily limit of two birds of either sex.

Ruffed grouse and gray squirrel seasons also extend through Feb. 28 in the Northern Zone. The daily limit for grouse is four birds, but bagging a single bird is a successful day for most hunters. Grouse hunting is the equivalent of dry fly fishing for trout where the challenge of the pursuit is a reward in itself. Based on the number of squirrels I encountered during deer season, the population seems to be thriving. The daily bag limit is six grays.

December might be the best winter month for rabbit hunting as cottontail rabbit and snowshoe hare populations are higher now than they will be in the coming months. Too, hunters typically don’t have to deal with the deep snows of midwinter. The season for both species extends through March 15, and the daily limit is six for both rabbits and hares.

PREDATORS

Among the more challenging species to hunt are red fox and coyotes. Many hunters contend that coyotes significantly impact the deer herd in the big woods by preying on winter-weakened white-tails and spring-born fawns. Thus, while fox and coyotes are hunted primarily for their fur, reducing the coyote population is an additional motive for some hunters. The statewide fox season runs through Feb. 15 while coyote season extends to March 29.

Regulations allow hunters to pursue fox and coyotes during the day and at night, and there is no bag limit on either species, although taking a single fox or coyote is a challenge.

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Proposed fishing rules take effect in April 2015

First published: November 16, 2014 at 1:39 am
Last modified: November 16, 2014 at 1:39 am

Changes in the state’s freshwater fishing regulations typically occur every two years at which time DEC issues a new regulations guide. Currently, DEC is recommending dozens of rule changes, and public comment on those proposals will be accepted through December 1.

The new regulations are slated to take effect on April 1, 2015, so the regulations in the 2013-14 Freshwater Fishing Regulations Guide will be in effect until the new regulations are enacted. Once those rules are enacted, new regulations guides will be made available to the public.

Today’s column takes a look at some of the proposed regulation changes, but a full text of the proposals is available at DEC’s website at www.dec.ny.gov. Comments on the proposals can be sent via email to regulations.fish@dec.ny.gov or via standard mail to Shaun Keeler, NYSDEC, Bureau of Fisheries, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4753.

Muskellunge

The current statewide regulations for muskellunge call for a 30-inch minimum length requirement although that requirement is 40 inches for Chautauqua Lake and the rivers and streams in St. Lawrence County. The proposed regulation would set the statewide minimum length requirement for muskellunge at 40 inches.

The current minimum length requirement for muskellunge in the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River is 48 inches, but the new regulations call for a 54-inch minimum-length requirement on those waters. That 54-inch requirement is presently in effect for Lake Erie and its tributaries.

The traditional muskellunge season has opened on the third Saturday in June, but the proposed regulation calls for opening the season three weeks earlier on the last Saturday in May.

Trout

More special regulations are in effect for trout than any other species, and this is understandable due to the variety of trout species, trout waters, and angler interests. Thus, many of the proposed regulations deal with minimum size, daily creel limits, season length, and methods of angling for trout.

One proposed regulation calls for initiating a catch-and-release season for trout for sections of the Salmon River in Franklin County while other regulations will eliminate the current special regulations that allow for catch-and-release-only fishing on Cold Brook and the West Branch of the St. Regis River in St. Lawrence County.

Current statewide regulations allow for a daily limit of five trout (brook, brown, rainbow, and splake) of any size while the new proposal will establish a special regulation of a daily creel limit of five fish with no more than two fish longer than 12 inches in Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, and St. Lawrence counties.

For Star Lake and Trout Lake in St. Lawrence County, trout regulations will be modified to increase the minimum size limit to 12 inches and to reduce the daily creel limit to three. Also, year-round angling will be allowed for landlocked salmon on Star Lake, and ice fishing will be permitted.

New regulations will establish an open year-round trout season for St. Lawrence County’s Sylvia Lake, with a 12-inch minimum size limit and three-fish daily creel limit, and with ice fishing permitted.

Gear and Use of Gear

Current regulations (except for some special regulations) permit the use of no more than three hand lines and five tip-ups wherever ice fishing is allowed. To streamline what devices may be used for ice fishing, the proposed change modifies the statewide regulation to allow for a total of seven ice fishing devices/lines.

Many gear-related proposals relate to Lake Ontario tributaries. One proposal permits the use of floating lures with multiple hooks with multiple hook points on all Lake Ontario tributaries with the exception of the Salmon River. A floating lure is defined as a lure that floats while at rest in water with or without any weight attached to the line, leader, or lure.

Another proposal clarifies that the regulation for the Great Lakes tributaries restricting the use of hook with added weight was not intended to ban the use of small jigs, while a third clarifies that the use of flies with up to two hook points is legal on all Great Lake tributaries.

Also, a proposal calls for replacing the Lake Ontario tributary regulations for St. Lawrence River tributaries in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties with the statewide terminal tackle restrictions.

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Reading movement patterns key to tagging deer

First published: November 09, 2014 at 1:42 am
Last modified: November 09, 2014 at 1:42 am

The opportunity to observe deer in the intimacy of their natural world is one of the joys of deer hunting.

As a hunter spends more time in the same area, he or she begins to become familiar with the movement patterns of deer there. And certainly, a hunter who understands those patterns in a given area significantly increases his or her chances of tagging a deer.

Numerous factors influence deer movements at all times of the year, but those factors become even more complex during the fall when available food sources come and go, dramatic weather changes occur, the breeding cycle comes and goes, and the seasonal influx of hunters appears in the whitetail’s woods.

Acknowledging this complexity of influences on deer movement and that deer are creatures who behave as individuals, today’s column takes a look at likely deer movement during the remaining weeks of the season.

Crepuscular Creatures

By their nature, white-tailed deer are crepuscular creatures. This term means that deer are most active at dawn and dusk. Deer hunters are certainly aware of this crepuscular characteristic as traditional hunting tactics call for hunters to take morning and evening watches when deer are most active.

Several studies conclude that deer actually have a five-activity cycle during a 24-hour period. Of course, dawn and dusk are the prime times of movement, but three lesser movements typically occur, one during the day and two under the cover of darkness.

Movement Enhancers

Too, studies have indicated that deer are more active during periods of changing barometric pressure than during times of a steady barometer reading and that an increasing pressure sees more activity than a dropping one. Also from a weather perspective, seasonal temperatures result in good activity levels particularly when temperatures are cooler than the norm.

As autumn progresses, bucks experience an incredible increase in testosterone levels. In well-balanced herds, this hormonal surge increases activity levels as bucks move in search of receptive females. As a doe comes into heat, buck activity increases in the vicinity of that particular deer.

Likewise, when there is a prime food source such as a mast crop or food plot, deer-activity levels will be high in the vicinity of that particular source.

Limited food sources, a condition typical of the big woods, will also increase deer movements as the deer must move more in order to find adequate feed. Likewise, crop cuttings, killing frosts, and field treatments may eliminate concentrated food sources so deer have to move more to find food.

Lack of hunting pressure, too, enhances deer movement during the fall. In non-hunted areas, deer can be seen feeding in open fields hours before sunset or hours after sunrise, a scene uncharacteristic of hunted areas.

Of course, those days leading up to the rut see an increase in buck movement as males move in search of receptive females

Movement Suppressors

Undoubtedly, the number-one factor affecting deer movement at this time of the year is hunting pressure. When deer experience this annual pressure, they suppress their daylight movements and become more nocturnal, or they spend more time in non-pressured areas. This is especially true of mature bucks.

From a weather perspective, white-tailed deer restrict movements when temperatures soar unseasonably, when winds gust strongly, and when rains pour down. Just as a prime food source may enhance deer activity in a given location so, too, can it suppress daylight activity as deer may only move to the area after dark when hunters have abandoned the woods. Nocturnal deer often remain at a prime food source where they alternately feed and bed through much the night.

A high doe population typically suppresses buck movement, too. When there is a significant imbalance in the doe-to-buck ratio, bucks do not have to compete with other bucks for receptive does. Such conditions result in minimal scraping, rubbing, sparring, and moving on the part of bucks.

During the pre-rut, testosterone-fueled yearlings may suppress doe activity at prime feeding sites as does feed elsewhere to avoid this young-buck badgering. Peak rut also suppresses buck activity as once a buck selects a doe, he may remain with her for up to the 72 hours surrounding the peak of her estrous cycle.

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Deer hunters know buck fever is real phenomenon

First published: November 02, 2014 at 2:18 am
Last modified: November 02, 2014 at 2:18 am

Buck fever is a real phenomenon in the deer-hunting woods. To illustrate this phenomenon, here’s a somewhat stereotypical example of the affliction.

The rhythmic crunch-crunch of dried leaves alerts the hunter or huntress of an approaching deer. Turning in the direction of the sound, the hunter sees a massive set of antlers bobbing through the young aspen. At this point, the hunter feels and hears his heart beating in his chest. His breathing rate speeds up, his muscles tense, and he begins to tremble. Meanwhile, the buck, presenting a broadside shot, stops to sniff the air.

The hunter hurriedly fires a shot, and the deer bolts away in the direction from which it came.

In the aftermath, the distraught hunter is unable to find any sign of a hit. He can’t believe he missed such an easy shot at such a beautiful buck. When relating the incident to fellow hunters, he is unable to vividly recall details of the shot. The hunter is extremely disheartened.

Scientific Perspective

What is “buck fever?” From the folks at “Deer & Deer Hunting” magazine, here’s a brief look at a somewhat scientific explanation of the affliction.

“Buck fever” is a form of anxiety. It is a physiological response to a threatening situation, which serves the purpose of protection and survival in human nature. For deer hunters, the physiological response is strongest when the hunter is engaged in a shooting situation. For example, if a hunter were to see a large buck in a non-hunting situation, his physiological response would be significantly milder.

Scientists call this physiological response the “fight or flight” response that involves an elevated heart rate and increase in the production of epinephrine, better known as adrenalin. In everyday situations, the production of excessive epinephrine can contribute to panic disorders. When this phenomenon occurs in deer hunting situations, it’s called “buck fever.” The increase in epinephrine, however, doesn’t have to result in a panic or flight response. When an individual keeps his cool during epinephrine production, incredible possibilities such as lifting a car off a person or making the perfect shot at a once-in-a-lifetime buck may occur.

Deer Fever

Deer-hunting authorities believe no hunter is totally immune from “buck fever” and that the phenomenon affects all of us to some degree. This writer can certainly attest to that.

When involved in deer-shooting situations, some hunters experience not only a degree of “buck fever” but also a degree of “deer fever.” Many hunters can relate to the adrenalin surge whether taking aim at a buck or doe. For such hunters, “deer fever” has been reflected in hurried shots, a jerking-trigger pull instead of a smooth one, or an aiming at the whole deer instead of at a precise spot.

In such cases, the result is usually an unscathed white-tailed deer bounding away into the distance.

Dealing with Buck Fever

While no over-the-counter medication or doctor’s prescription will prevent a serious case of “buck fever,” hunters can take a number of steps to deal with this malady.

Prior to actually hunting, they can work on their physical fitness level and do some practice shooting to instill confidence. Also, a good night’s rest prior to any outing can enhance performance at crunch time.

When that adrenalin surge actually occurs during a hunting situation, hunters can make a conscious effort to slow their breathing and relax their muscles.

Hunters can calm themselves by repeating something like “Take your time, take your time.” or “Pick a spot, pick a spot.”

Once a shooter buck has come into view, hunters are advised to concentrate on the area of a buck’s vitals rather than its antlers as focusing on the antlers is a primary contributor to “buck fever.” Then, if possible, get a solid rest, pick that precise spot, exhale slowly, and gently squeeze the trigger.

Outdoors Calendar

Today-November 14: Crossbows may be used in Southern Zone.

November 15: Regular Deer Season opens in Southern Zone.

November 17: One-day closure of Canada Goose Season in Northeast Goose Hunting Area.

November 18: Goose Season reopens in Northeast Goose Hunting Area.

November 25: Regular meeting of SLC Fisheries Advisory Board at Canton Boces at 7 p.m.

November 30: Traditional Bass Season closes in New York State.

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Hooks and Antlers: safety first priority in deer hunting

First published: October 26, 2014 at 2:13 am
Last modified: October 26, 2014 at 2:13 am

Safety is the primary theme in DEC’s hunter education classes, and in light of that theme and Saturday’s opening of the Regular Deer Season in the Northern Zone, this week’s column focuses on the outdoors motto of “Safety First.”

Basic Safety

The first commandment of outdoors safety is to tell someone where you are going, what you plan on doing, and when you expect to return. If someone is home when I head out hunting, I give that information orally. If no one is home, I opt for leaving a note that might read, “It is 3:15 p.m., and I’m headed over to Jack’s property in Russell. I plan on sitting in the tree stand behind the big field, and I expect to be home a half-hour or so after dark.” Hunters also have the option of texting their hunting plans to others.

Basic safety also calls for carrying a map and compass as well as a signaling device even if it is as simple as a whistle. Where service is available, the cell phone has become today’s standard signaling device. When possible, hunt with a companion. Also be sure to check the weather forecast before heading afield, and dress appropriately for forecasted conditions. When hunting the “big woods,” a daypack with items such as a fire starter, survival blanket, water bottle, and snack is a wise option.

Firearm Safety

The first rule of firearm safety is to keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times. A second rule calls for treating every gun as if it is loaded. Also, keep the safety on and your finger outside the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot. When doing such actions as climbing a tree, crossing a fence, or jumping a ditch, make sure to first unload the firearm.

When making a decision to shoot, positively identify your target and be conscious of what is in front of that target and what is beyond it. Finally, when a firearm is not in use, be certain it is unloaded and the action is open.

Blaze Orange

Wearing blaze orange is not required by DEC regulations, but statistics indicate that hunters wearing blaze orange are seven times safer than those who are not so clad. In those rare instances of a shot hunter, the individual typically wore no blaze orange. Even though blaze orange is not required, surveys show that 80 percent of hunters statewide opt to wear some orange.

Researchers have discovered that whitetail deer have no red-sensitive cone cells in their eyes so deer are unable to distinguish red or orange from green or brown. In essence, a hunter’s scent or movement will alert a deer while blaze orange clothing will not.

Tree Stand Safety

Tree-stand hunting ranks as the most popular and most successful strategy employed by area hunters; yet, hunting from a tree stand has its risks. In fact, a comprehensive study conducted by “Deer and Deer Hunting” magazine reveal that one-third of tree-stand hunters reported having fallen at least once. Too, some states actually report higher fatality rates from tree-stand falls than from firearm incidents, and a Marshall University study revealed that two-thirds of falls resulted from hunters who used homemade stands.

The first rule of tree-stand safety is to wear a safety belt or harness at all times. A variety of easy-to-use, full-body harnesses are available commercially, and purchasing and wearing a quality harness is perhaps the most important safety aspect of tree-stand hunting. A second safety rule is the three-point one which calls for always having three points of contact to the steps or ladder before moving up or down. The three points of contact could be two arms and one leg or two legs and one arm. A third safety rule calls for taking a friend along when installing or removing stands.

When purchasing a commercial tree stand, make certain the stand has the approval seal of the Treestand Manufacturers Association. Also, carefully read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and familiarize yourself with the stand prior to taking to the woods. A recommended procedure for commercial stands is to practice installing and removing the stand near ground level. No matter what style of tree stand being used, be sure to carefully inspect all aspects of the stand prior to use, especially at the beginning of the season.

Outdoor Calendar

Saturday: Regular Deer Season opens in Northern Zone.

Saturday: Regular Canada Goose Season opens in Northeast Goose Hunting Area.

Saturday: Trapping Season opens for a variety of species.

November 1: PFDs must be worn when underway in vessels less than 21 feet.

November 1: Second Portion of Waterfowl Season opens in Northeast Zone.

November 1: Trapping Season opens for beaver and river otter.

November 1-14: Crossbows may be used in Southern Zone.

November 15: Regular Deer Season opens in Southern Zone.

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Hooks and Antlers: Consider using guide to help land the big musky

First published: October 19, 2014 at 1:40 am
Last modified: October 19, 2014 at 1:40 am
PHOTO PROVIDED
Andrew Stahl of Canton caught this mighty musky while fishing on the St. Lawrence River.

The St. Lawrence River ranks among the world’s top musky flows, and evidence of that fact lies in the river’s long history of producing both numbers of muskies as well as monster muskies.

In recent years, though, the St. Lawrence has not produced the numbers of muskies it once did. Likely causes of this decline are shoreline development in spawning areas, loss of quality nursery areas as a result of habitat changes caused by invasive species, VHS, and angling pressure.

Despite the drop in musky numbers, the river maintains its world-class status and continues to produce huge muskies year after year, as evidenced by this sampling of catches in recent years: 54 inches by Matt Forjohn, 55 inches by Dave Lawrence, 56 inches by Matt Carlson, 57 inches by Julie Cashaback, and a 60-inch monster caught and released by Dan Polniak.

Polniak hooked his giant musky while fishing with Captain Rich Clarke of Sign Man Charters out of Clayton. Going with an experienced guide will likely increase your odds of catching a musky by tenfold or more. St. Lawrence River guides have the know-how for catching muskies, and the guides will utilize time-proven techniques in time-proven locations to help you catch a musky.

Still, going with a guide is no guarantee that you’ll hook into a musky because fishless outings are a reality for all who pursue the king of freshwater fish.

Guided trips, though, do guarantee that you’ll learn a lot about musky-fishing techniques and this knowledge will benefit you on future outings.

For example, when I first developed an interest in muskies, two friends and I spent two days fishing with a guide on Ontario’s Rideau River. That experience provided me with the knowledge and confidence to return to my home water, the St. Lawrence River, where I began hooking up with muskies.

Another benefit of using a guide is learning how to handle these big fish once they get to boat-side. A strong catch-and-release ethic dominates modern musky circles along the St. Lawrence, and there is no better way to learn how to successfully handle and release a musky than witnessing an experienced guide do just that.

In addition to increasing your odds of catching a musky, learning how-to musky techniques, and learning how to properly handle muskies, going with a guide means the opportunity to catch a BIG fish.

If you look at the various media for big-musky photos each year, you will likely see a smiling angler alongside a veteran river guide.

FISH KNOWN HOTSPOT

While muskies may swim anywhere along the St. Lawrence River’s length, the majority of catches occur in certain locations.

Thus, another key to catching muskies is to fish an area that has a reputation as good musky water, a lesson I learned from Al Russell, legendary St. Lawrence River musky guide out of Ogdensburg.

In my early days of dealing with “musky fever,” my efforts were producing more northern pike than muskies. When I went to Russell, he said, “Don’t waste your time going all over the river. Instead, spend your time in the traditional musky areas — Sandbar at the mouth of the Oswegatchie River at Ogdensburg and the shoals near the International Bridge.”

Upon heeding Russell’s advice, my musky catches increased dramatically, and your catches will improve too if you concentrate your efforts in well-known musky areas.

Among the traditional trolling areas along the St. Lawrence River are Hinckley Flats Shoal, Featherbed Shoal, and Carleton Island out of Cape Vincent; Round Island to Reed Point, Black Ant Shoals, and Forty Acre Shoals out of Clayton; American Island out of Morristown; Sandbar at the mouth of the Oswegatchie River and International Bridge Shoals out of Ogdensburg; and Hawkins Point and Robinson Bay out of Massena.

Since good musky spots are not well-kept secrets along the St. Lawrence River, a visit or phone call to any bait shop should steer you in the right direction about where to fish.

Too, since some musky haunts span the international border, anglers are reminded that an Ontario license is required when fishing Canadian portions of the St. Lawrence.

BE PERSISTENT

In addition to advising me to troll in known musky areas, Al Russell said, “You have to be patient and persistent to catch muskies.”

Veteran musky anglers know the wisdom in this advice as there are no guarantees of a hookup on any musky outing or even a string of outings. Still, an angler who fishes a traditional location along the St. Lawrence River and who is persistent in his or her efforts will catch muskellunge, especially if that angler fishes with an experienced musky guide.

Outdoors Calendar

Saturday: Regular Deer Season opens in Northern Zone.

Saturday: Regular Canada Goose Season opens in Northeast Goose Hunting Area.

Saturday: Trapping Season opens for a variety of species.

Nov. 1: PFDs must be worn when underway in vessels less than 21 feet.

Nov. 1: Second Portion of Waterfowl Season opens in Northeast Zone.

Nov. 1: Trapping Season opens for beaver and river otter.

Nov. 1-14: Crossbows may be used in Southern Zone.

Nov. 15: Regular Deer Season opens in Southern Zone.

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Hooks and Antlers: Food sources key in early hunting season

First published: October 12, 2014 at 1:22 am
Last modified: October 12, 2014 at 1:22 am

With the arrival autumn’s chilly weather, whitetails instinctively begin to feed heavily in order to build up fat reserves for the approaching winter.

A mature whitetail deer eats 10 pounds of food daily at this time of the year. As a result, early season success demands that the hunter, too, focus on food. Among the prime food sources in the North Country are food plots, farm crops, fruits, mast crops, and native browse.

PRIME FOOD SOURCES

Food plots are fast-growing in popularity with area hunters and landowners. In essence, these are plots of food planted specifically to attract and nourish whitetail deer. Popular plantings include clover, alfalfa, soybeans, corn, buckwheat, ryegrass, chicory, winter rye, and brassica. Wildlife other than deer benefit from food plots, and some plots such as winter wheat and brassica continue to serve as a food source once hunting season concludes.

Area farmers suffer significant crop loss annually due to damage done by feeding deer, and those who hunt farmland know that crop fields are deer magnets in the early season. Clover and alfalfa are especially attractive fields as are corn and soybean ones.

Farmland crops like those in food plots appeal strongly to deer because these foods can contain up to 20 percent protein whereas most native foods contain less than 10 percent protein.

Fruits, mast crops, and native browse are important early-season foods on both farmlands and woodlands. Attractive fruits include apples, pears, grapes, cherries, and berries. Important mast crops are acorns, hickory nuts, and beechnuts. While deer eat both red and white acorns, the white are strongly preferred as they are less bitter.

Biologists have documented that deer feed on over 600 plants so natural browse is a more difficult food source for hunters to specifically locate.

Still, abandoned fields and other areas of low-growth vegetation in both farmland and woodlands have an abundance of native browse.

Logging areas also attract early season deer. Active logging means there is fresh browse on the ground, and hunters shouldn’t overlook areas that were logged in recent years because such areas, too, offer plenty of new growth within a whitetail’s reach.

TIMES OF CHANGE

Since autumn is a time of change, various factors can turn a hot feeding area into a cold one and vice versa. For example, the spreading of liquid manure, the application of round-up, or a fall plowing will make an alfalfa or clover field undesirable. Also, fruit and mast crops can be depleted in a short period of time, and hard frosts can kill various foods.

On a positive note, a freshly cut cornfield, despite the loss of cover, can attract deer to fallen cobs and kernels. Also, strong winds or rains can cause fruit and mast crops to fall to the ground.

Too, strong winds can topple trees that provide easy-to-reach browse just as active logging does.

HUNTING PRESSURE

The one factor that affects early-season food sources more than any other thing, though, is hunting pressure. After a couple of incidents of detecting hunters at feeding sites, mature deer will periodically abandon that location, or they will visit it only under the cover of darkness.

The challenge for a hunter, then, is how to select a set up that allows the hunter to hunt the food source but at the same time does not alert deer.

No easy answer exists, but hunters should take stands only when wind conditions are favorable.

Setting up at the actual feeding site poses difficulties on evening hunts because deer are in the vicinity at the conclusion of legal hunting hours, and the hunter must leave the area undetected.

While the wind might be favorable, deer will still pick up on the slightest movements and noises made by hunters as they exit stands. Prior to exiting a stand, a hunter held the advantage, but when the hunter leaves a stand, the odds turn in the deer’s favor.

To avoid this dilemma, some hunters choose to intercept deer in travel corridors between bedding and feeding areas rather than at the actual feeding site.

Hunters will likely see fewer deer in such stands, but leaving the hunting area undetected should be easier. Also, mature bucks tend to arrive at feeding locations after legal hunting hours so the chance of encountering such a buck might increase in a travel corridor.

Outdoors Calendar

Oct. 15: Crossbows may be used during last 10 days of Early Bowhunting Season in Northern Zone.

Oct. 15: Trout Season closes in New York State.

Oct. 17: Fall Turkey Season closes in Northern Zone.

Oct. 18: Early Muzzleloader Season opens in Northern Zone.

Oct. 19: First Portion of Waterfowl Season closes in Northeast Zone.

Oct. 25: Regular Deer Season opens in Northern Zone.

Oct. 25: Regular Canada Goose Season opens in Northeast Goose Hunting Area.

Oct. 25: Trapping Season opens for variety of species.

Nov. 1: PFDs must be worn when underway in vessels less than 21 feet.

Nov. 1: Second Portion of Waterfowl Season opens in Northeast Zone.

Nov. 1: Trapping Season opens for beaver and river otter.

Nov. 1-14: Crossbows may be used in Southern Zone.

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Hooks and Antlers: Pheasant, waterfowl, wild turkey seasons open this week

First published: September 28, 2014 at 1:31 am
Last modified: September 28, 2014 at 1:31 am

I will continue to have a fishing rod in my hands in the coming days, but for sportsmen and women who opt to tote a gun, October brings an array of hunting opportunities, and among the month’s onset of hunting options are the pursuit of pheasants, waterfowl, and wild turkeys.

PHEASANTS

DEC is releasing 30,000 adult pheasants on lands open to public hunting across the state, and among those stocking sites are St. Lawrence County’s Upper and Lower Lakes Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Canton, Wilson Hill WMA in Louisville, and Fish Creek WMA in Macomb; Jefferson County’s Perch River WMA in Brownville, Ashland WMA in Cape Vincent, and French Creek WMA in Clayton; and Lewis County’s East Martinsburg Road in Martinsburg.

Even though the majority of pheasants will be released prior to the opening day on Wednesday; some sites will see an additional release during the course of the season.

Pheasants will be released at various locations at Upper and Lower Lakes WMA depending on the number of birds received and habitat conditions. At Wilson Hill WMA, pheasants will be released at the upland areas surrounding the marsh pools.

Special regulations are in effect for this WMA so hunters should check the posted rules at the kiosk in front of the Check Station Building.

Stocking locations at Fish Creek WMA include the fields off State Highway 58 and the West Lake Road.

At Perch River WMA, pheasants will be released at Dog Hill and both sides of the Vaadi Road. Hunting regulations are posted at the Vaadi Road Check Station. Ashland WMA will see releases of birds along Ashland Road while French Creek release sites include Bevins Road and Grant Road.

For the 6490 East Martinsburg Road release location, look for the pheasant signs at the intersection of State Route 12 and the East Martinsburg Road. Hunters should note that this is private property, and sign-in is required at the red tool barn behind the house.

Pheasant season extends through Feb. 28 in the Northern Zone, and the daily limit is two birds of either sex. For more information on DEC pheasant programs, visit www.dec.ny.gov.

WATERFOWL SEASON

The first portion of waterfowl season in the Northeast Waterfowl Hunting Zone runs from Saturday, Oct. 4 through Sunday, Oct. 19. The daily limit of six ducks includes all species of mergansers, and may include no harlequin ducks and no more than four mallards (no more than two of which may be hens), one black duck, three wood ducks, two pintail, two redheads, two scaup, one canvasback, four soters, or two hooded mergansers.

Waterfowl hunters must register in New York’s Harvest Information Program (www.NY-HIP.com), and hunters 16 years and older must have a federal migratory game bird hunting stamp. “Duck stamps” are available at most post offices. Shooting hours extend from one half-hour before sunrise to sunset, and non-toxic shoot is required.

WILD TURKEYS

Fall Turkey Season in the Northern Zone gets underway on Wednesday and runs through Friday, Oct. 17, the day prior to the opening of Early Muzzleloading Season. Regulations for fall hunting differ from the rules for hunting turkeys in the spring. For example, fall hunters my take a bird of either sex. Too, hunting hours extend from sunrise to sunset instead of from one half-hour before sunrise until noon.

In Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) 6 A, 6C, 6G, and 6H the season bag limit is one turkey while the other WMUs in the Northern Zone have a season bag limit of two turkeys, and unlike the spring season, both birds may be taken on the same day.

Upon harvesting a turkey, hunters are required to immediately fill out the carcass tag and attach it to the bird. Regulations also require that the harvest be reported within seven days via phone (1-866-GAMERPT) or internet (www.dec.ny.gov). Too, hunters are asked to save one leg from each turkey taken, and they will receive instructions about what to do with the leg when the kill is reported. DEC wildlife personnel use the legs for age and sex information.

Outdoors Calendar

Oct. 1: Application deadline for Deer Management Permits.

Oct. 1: Fall Turkey Season opens in Northern Zone.

Oct. 1: Cottontail Rabbit and Varying Hare Seasons open in Northern Zone.

Oct. 1: Pheasant Season opens in Northern Zone.

Oct. 1: Coyote Season opens in New York State.

Oct. 1: Early Bowhunting Season opens in Southern Zone.

Oct. 4: Waterfowl Season opens in Northeast Waterfowl Hunting Zone.

Oct. 15: Crossbows may be used during last 10 days of Early Bowhunting Season in Northern Zone.

Oct. 18: Early Muzzleloader Season opens in Northern Zone.

Oct. 25: Regular Deer Season opens in Northern Zone.

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Hooks and Antlers: NHF Day notes importance of hunters, anglers

First published: September 21, 2014 at 2:15 am
Last modified: September 21, 2014 at 2:15 am

Congress established National Hunting and Fishing Day in 1971 to acknowledge the conservation and economic importance of sportsmen and women across the country, and this coming Saturday, Sept. 27, marks the 43rd annual celebration of National Hunting and Fishing Day (NHF Day). Since its inception, NHF Day has been formally proclaimed by every U.S. President.

Most Americans, including many hunters and anglers, aren’t aware of the tremendous benefits that these traditional activities provide for all who appreciate wildlife and wild places.

Nationwide, America’s 34 million sportsmen and women, through licenses, permits, and special taxes, generate $4.7 million daily for fish, wildlife, and habitat programs.

No other group contributes more for conservation.

Country music star, award-winning TV host, and former soldier Craig Morgan is the honorary chairman for the 2014 NHF Day.

Morgan is well known as an avid outdoorsman and also takes pride in serving others. He has made 10 overseas tours to entertain our troops and received the 2006 USO Merit Award for his genuine support of our U.S. soldiers and their families.

“I couldn’t be happier to serve as honorary chair for National Hunting and Fishing Day,” Morgan said in a statement. “As a parent, I’ve shared my love of the outdoors with my kids, and I know that conservation is key to creating a better future for upcoming generations in the outdoor sports.”

For information on NHF Day and scheduled activities across the country, visit www.nhfday.org.

NHF DAY AT SALMON HATCHERY

In recognition of NHF Day, the DEC Salmon Fish Hatchery is hosting its 19th annual open house from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, rain or shine. There is no admission charge.

The day’s events include fishing and hunting demonstrations, environmental education programs and displays, stream ecology for kids, and a fish petting zoo.

Too, guests can visit the nearby Salmon River Falls, a DEC unique area located four miles from the hatchery on Route 22. The area has a 110-foot waterfall, trails, and viewing areas in a scenic setting.

For more information, call the hatchery at 298-7605.

EARLY BOWHUNTING SEASON

The Early Bowhunting Season in the Northern Zone opens on Saturday.

Participation requires that hunters are licensed with bowhunting privileges, and because of the change in the license year from Oct. 1 to Sept. 1, hunters may use either last year’s license or this year’s license for the September portion of the Early Bowhunting Season in the Northern Zone.

Outdoors Calendar

Sept. 24: Trap Shoot at Black Lake F&G Association at 7 p.m.

Sept. 24-26: B.A.S.S. Eastern Divisional Tournament at Waddington.

Sept. 25: September Canada Goose Season closes in Northeast Goose Hunting Area.

Sept. 27: National Hunting and Fishing Day.

Sept. 27: Early Bowhunting Season opens in Northern Zone.

Sept. 27-28: Youth Pheasant Hunt in Northern Zone.

Oct. 1: Application deadline for Deer Management Permits.

Oct. 1: Fall Turkey Season opens in Northern Zone.

Oct. 1: Cottontail Rabbit and Varying Hare Seasons open in Northern Zone.

Oct. 1: Pheasant Season opens in Northern Zone.

Oct. 1: Early Bowhunting Season opens in Southern Zone.

Oct. 4: Waterfowl Season opens in Northeast Waterfowl Hunting Zone.

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