Aroostook County Ramblins' from a Sporting Journal Columnist

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Tracked, Tacked, and Tagged.

The hype leading up to the November 2014 Whitetail Deer hunt far exceeded anything that I can remember in the previous ten years. People were simply seeing more deer, and large ones at that. So it’s no surprise, as I sit here on a Sunday in the second week of November, that our deer harvest appears to be way up across Aroostook County. The first two weeks of the season alone have yielded more bucks over two hundred pounds than I’ve seen in the last decade, and the head gear has been equally as impressive.

Josh Caron is a forester for Irving Woodlands, and his mind is a virtual GPS of northern Maine’s woods roads, branches, and cuttings.  A true sportsman in any right, Josh has seen his fair share of northern Maine whitetails throughout the years. But his depth of knowledge extends outside the bounds of maps and compasses.  Josh is a self-taught deer hunter, not for the glory of the kill, but for the love of the chase.  He doesn’t waste his time with flashy camouflage, gimmicky scents and attractants, or pricey calls.  His plan is to not make plans. You typically wont find him back at camp for lunch, or back in town before darkness falls. Josh is a classic Maine deer hunter, and he knows that success depends largely on the time you put in, and the willingness to keep going when all signs point to giving up.

Josh and Dustin on the Drag

Josh Caron and Dustin Marquis on the drag!

I had the pleasure of hunting with Josh on his 33rd birthday, November 8th of 2014. The anticipation leading up to the hunt was almost as exciting as the hunt itself, and all hands were on deck when we reached hunting camp on Friday afternoon. Northern Maine was cooling down rapidly, and a birthday gift in the form of fresh snow was slated to fall across the vast reaches of northern timber that Josh calls home during the better part of November.  Being a newbie deer hunter in every respect of the word, I was excited to be in the mix with Josh during what was sure to be an exciting day.  Fresh snow meant fresh tracks, and any seasoned hunter knows that your chances of locating a shooter buck increase dramatically with a fresh blanket of white.

Our day started with an hour and a half drive along the logging superhighways of the North Maine Woods, and the plan was to hunt an area dotted with old growth hardwood stands that had seen cutting in recent years. As legal shooting time approached, we set up on the end of a lengthy branch road and scoured the freshly fallen snow for any sign of wandering deer.  It wasn’t long before we located a set of fresh tracks, and before long I was hot on the tail of what looked like a decent deer.  He snaked back and forth through the hardwood stand, taking me on a walk that crisscrossed the road twice before I finally lost his track in the thickets.  I returned to the road defeated and snow covered to meet Josh examining the tracks I had been following.

“You pushed that deer back across the road, these tracks weren’t here earlier.” he explained to me with a level of calm excitement that told me I was closer to that deer than I had initially thought.

We discussed the plan for several minutes before something caught Josh’s eye at the end of the branch.  Looking through our scopes at nearly 500 yards, it wasn’t long before we noticed a second respectable buck making his way up the embankment and into the road.  Without shooting sticks, any shot would be a prayer, but with the wind swirling at this point, prayers would have to do.  After ruling out the possibility of a stealthy approach and on this seeming aware deer, several free standing shots were taken to no avail, and eventually our newly acquired target disappeared back into the woods no worst for wear.  Upon reaching his location and examining his tracks, Josh decided he would take to the forest to try his luck at tracking the buck down.  My plan was to stay local, keeping a watchful eye on the road in the event that my morning buck would return to his bedding area later in the day and present me with a shot upon crossing my path.

What followed for Josh was a three hour trek hot on the tail of a rutting deer.  He would return to the truck later and explained to me that he got close enough to smell and hear the buck, but was unable to get eyes on him. The deer had crossed another road several miles away, and knowing that he would likely bed after being on the run for the last few hours, Josh backtracked with a plan to relocate later in the morning on the back side of a vast hardwood stand that he believed that deer might hold up in to rest.

Nearly an hour later, we arrived at our new location and Josh pointed out the tracks leading into a thicket that he believed the deer to be holding in. His plan was to enter the back side of the area to try and catch his unsuspecting buck bedded down. I dropped him off and drove out to the end of the road, watching the stretch that the deer had crossed earlier in the day to wait for him. It took all of ten minutes before I heard a gun shot, but the wind made it hard to distinguish where it had come from. It wasn’t until another ten minutes passed when I watched Josh return to the road that I realized he had dealt that deer a fatal blow. The buck had bedded down, just as he had anticipated, about 300 feet off the road. He was watching his track when Josh crept in from behind him and jumped him out of his bed. His knowledge of the area and persistence paid off, and his birthday present was a 181 pound six point that he had earned in true sporting fashion.

Josh Caron sits beside his 181lb 6point Buck on his birthday.

Josh Caron sits beside his 181lb 6point Buck on his birthday.

I learned a lot that day about tracking and whitetail behavior, but an equally important lesson was learned in the way of humility and respect.  Josh loves whitetail deer, and that love and passion for the chase have afforded him a respectable amount of success throughout the years. His previous season had left him empty handed, having passed on several smaller deer over the course of many miles and countless hours spent walking across the northernmost reaches of some of the most brutal landscapes our state has to offer.  This deer would not be the largest of his kills by any stretch, but the fashion in which he harvested it made him all the more deserving.  He had hunted with a mission, put in the time, and exhausted himself thoroughly in the process, but he knew where he had to be to gain the upper hand.

I want to thank Josh for letting me be a part of his big day, it was an eye opening experience I won’t soon forget.  With several weeks of prime hunting ahead as I write this column, my only hope is that I can learn from his success and produce a story that is equally as exciting and impressive.  Until then, I take great pride in surrounding myself with people like Josh, who are willing to spread their knowledge of the hunt to those of us still looking to cash in on a true Maine trophy.

NO on 1

It’s an important day for us at the polls! Quigley’s Outdoors, Up’North Maine Fly Castings, and our numerous guides, patrons, and readers URGE you to get out to the polls today in support of a NO on 1 vote. Guard our traditions, preserve our values, protect our bears.

QUIGLEYS-No On 1

 

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Monday Photo Fix

Howdy Folks,

Hope your Monday is rolling along splendidly. As promised, below are a few of the many images I took away from my journey yesterday. I truly hope you enjoy them. In fact, I demand that you enjoy them. See how simple and straight forward forming an opinion is when someone else does it for you? Didn’t you feel me yank that weight right off your shoulders? I thought so.

Moving on.

I would never fancy myself a photographer, but I do take a lot of pride in my work. My goal in the field is almost always to photograph something from an angle that other photographers (theres that word again) might overlook or ignore. I like close up or macro shots with deep backgrounds, vivid colors popping against neutral surroundings, and crooked orientations where others might prefer a straight forward landscape. In combing through the countless photos I snap on any given outing, very few make the final cut. Those that do get a few finishing touches as needed, then arrive on a silver platter for the world to (hopefully) enjoy. My hope is that I’ve approached each shot with originality, or at the very least some sort of uniquely refreshing flare. Enjoy!

-Ben

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Radial focus is a fancy little effect that I’ve come to enjoy during these last few months. Essentially it allows the photographer to direct the viewers focus on a  particular subject within an image. The surrounding area is blurred slightly, and the desired results form something like what can be seen above. Generally, i’ve found the tighter the radial focus, the more depth my images seem to attain. Regardless, it’s a simple little trick that can turn ordinary photos into something fine and dandy.

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Old wooden fences are something of a hobby for me to shoot. This particular fence is no stranger to my camera, posing for countless photos over the years. I love the weathered look and the “days gone” appeal that in adds to photos.

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Old Cedar shingles get better with age, that much is a fact. Every weathered line tells a story, every crack and curve brims with character. These shingles cling for dear life on the outside of an aging Fish River camp. With every passing year they grow tired, but more refined.

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I love the contrasting shades in this shot – so full of color on one end, but lacking almost completely on the other. Late Fall’s overcast skies provide some of my favorite conditions to shoot, and this image is a testament to why.

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A glimmer of snow in late Fall serves as a reminder that winter is knocking on the door.

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The road less traveled. This pass is another one of those spots that begs to be photographed. This time shot from the ground up to offer a different perspective, you can really appreciate how much these trees just seem to tower in a straight line along the edge of the pasture. The colors of a fading Fall are scattered throughout.

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Northern Maine has some of the most picturesque pastures and farm land in the country, of that I have no doubt. This route serves as a snowmobile trail during the winter, as well as an access road for farmers. Side mirror shots might be a little cliche, but I’ve managed to capture a few worthy ones in my travels.

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This shot just screams history. I love photographing train tracks, typically up close and personal as is the case with this shot. I threw in an angle to give this photo a feeling of motion, which I think works from this perspective. The rails still see weekly use, but the booming railroads from yesteryear have all but faded away. In addition to provide transport to nearly all of northern Maine’s lumber at one point, the potato house on the rails represents a time where proximity to the tracks was of great importance.

Round Two.

Rub your eyes, focus, and for christ sake quit holding your breath. This is hardly an elusion, and as much as it might feel like a dream, I assure you, this is in fact real life. For over a year now, maineflycastings.com has been in a deep, deep sleep. People from near and far have sent me hate mail, taken swings at me in the liquor grocery store, and removed me from their wills. I’ve lost loved ones (and hair), struggled with addiction (not really), and through it all, the question constantly begging an answer was unanimously – “When is that website of yours making a comeback?” Well folks, that day has finally arrived.

It started on a colorless November Sunday.

There was nothing special about this particular morning. In fact, it was rather dreary and dark. Falling back with daylight savings time is always a struggle, but this time around I woke up refreshed and looking for something different.  I decided driving aimlessly would do the trick, and ignoring the negative stigma that piggybacks on my new found “Sunday driver” status, I pointed the chevy and began driving with no particular destination in mind. Those of you who are lucky enough to know me personally will likely agree that spontaneity is not my strongest suit. Generally I lean on orderly plans, lists, and comfortable routines to get me through each day. Oh, and coffee. Regardless, I realized recently that adulthood has this rather unpleasant side affect called monotony, and driving on this particularly plain November day struck me as the best feasible way to break free.

And I took pictures.

Photography has a way of extracting beauty and life from even the most inanimate subjects or scenes , and I’ve always enjoyed looking at life through a different lens. Every picture is a story, every story paints a scene, every scene evokes a feeling, and no two people float through this process and come out feeling exactly the same. Photography speaks to people, and I’ve been fortunate enough through life to live in an area overflowing with photogenic landscapes that just won’t shut up.

And I drew inspiration.

Along the way, I sat on the edge of a pond that serves as my second home from April to September, rested against the rickety fence lines of my not so distant past, and gazed out over some of the most mesmerizingly beautiful landscapes Aroostook County has to offer. Every place I visited pushed me toward a new location, and before the day was over, I took in nearly half a dozen locations for no particular reason other than I had been to each of them before. They were all part of my past, and they all spoke to me on one level or another. They were all different, but very much the same in that they were the places that provided me with inspiration when I started this website nearly six years ago. These places shaped me, not just through hunting and fishing, but in life. They gave me a love for photography, spawned something of a writing career, and provided me with a pathway that I’ve sadly strayed from recently. I’m not sure why I chose today to take that drive, but I realize now that it was long overdue.

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For a drive with no particular destination, I was fortunate enough to end up right where I belong. MaineFlyCastings.com can’t die, because it reads like my life story. Nearly every opportunity that I’ve enjoyed since I started Up’North in 2009 is at least partially due to it’s success. I enjoy business and personal relationships from within the industry with people from all walks of life. Some hunt, some fish, some simply enjoy what I have to say and feel compelled to continue the conversation. Up’North got me published, not just once, but monthly in one of the most respected sporting journals on the east coast. It gave me an opportunity to build something from the ground up, design something unique, and nurture my writing in a way that was satisfying and original. Today I work in the outdoor industry in online retail, and I truly believe that this would not be the case if Up’North didn’t exist. To most, it’s nothing more than an outdoor blog. For me, it’s a project thats allowed me to make my passion my work.

So where do we go from here?

Breathing new life into this passion of mine will be a process, but one that I can now support completely and without reservation. I’ve learned in life that a half ass effort yields half hearted results, so in taking nearly a year off, I now feel ready to whole-ass this revival. Things will look downright simple to start off with, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. My plan is for more large scale photography, weekly posts that will turn into daily doses once the engines are running on all cylinders, and a plethora of fresh, original content that you won’t find elsewhere. Gone are the days of half-hearted product reviews, recycled industry news, and ramblings that stray far from the heart of what Up’North is all about. You’ll meet some new people, take in some fresh ideas, and gain a better understanding of why I spend long Fall weekends deep in the woods, and nearly every Spring and Summer night chasing fish. Guest and co-authors will contribute regularly – some guides, some weekend warriors, and some just personal friends with something to say. The mood will be chipper, the banter will be on point, and the experience will be nothing if not refreshing.

So in closing, thank you all for waiting around while I straightened the arrow and adjusted my aim. Special thanks goes out to my bearded brother Chris Bard for pushing me kicking and screaming back into the fly game, and for constantly nagging me to get this comeback off the ground floor. Equally so, many thanks to Mr. Ryan Kelly for introducing me to the wonderful world of waterfowl hunting. Together, you two have done more damage to my wallet in the name of outdoor adventures than twenty girlfriends ever could, but without you, this revival may have never happened. Thank you both wholeheartedly for the inspiration, you know not what you’ve done.  To everyone else, thanks again for the hate mail, for the countless suggestions and undying encouragement, and for showing me that this little project of mine was much bigger than I could have ever imagined. It’s time to do this right, and I know this next step forward will prove to be more of a leap before too long.

Thats it, thats all. Thank you for reading, and welcome to the show.

Tight Lines, straight shots, and many memories to come!

-Ben

Guess Who’s Back

Well that was fun!

For those of you wondering just where the hell we’ve been during the month of September, the answer is far from simple. It seems the traffic Maine Fly Castings experienced during the 10th Annual International Muskie Derby, combined with an excessive amount of photos, plugins, and other nonsense actually caused us to exceed our .php memory limitations. Lost? So was I. Apparently this is a fairly common issue, though not common enough for my wonderful hosts to offer a solution until the second time I called. The representative I spoke with this time around was extremely helpful and understood my ignorance of this issue, so I guess I owe him something of a “thank you” for putting me back ontrack and getting maineflycastings.com back online. Props good Sir!

So how about that fabulous month of September? The final month of fishing was by far my most productive of the season, and also offered up some of the most enjoyable time spent on the water in recent memory. I made it my mission to cover new water this time around, and was rewarded greatly for my efforts. Brook trout in late September brandish colors that rival even the bright foliage of the season, making these final weeks some the most photogenic by far. While I didn’t catch the monster trout of my dreams, I feel blessed that so many of his smaller relatives found themselves at the end of my fly. A few of my favorite fishy shots from this past month can be found below.

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In other news, September also afforded me the luxury of a legitimate writing gig in the form of a monthly column for the Northwoods Sporting Journal. In early 2013 while people were busy making New Years resolutions regarding weight loss, or tossing their favorite tobacco treats, I made a promise to myself that I would work diligently to get my writing published. Considering the NWSJ actually flat-out turned me down in the Spring of 2009, it was a great honor to hear that their editor enjoyed my work enough to offer the matured version of me a chance to prove I have what it takes. I have been an avid reader of the NWSJ for some years now, so opening it’s pages come November and seeing my very first published work will no doubt be a memorable highlight of my adult life. I already have a frame picked out to preserve that very first column-no joke. So this is the part of my post (which you are reading for free, mind you) where I convince you to subscribe to the North Woods Sporting Journal in time for my big premiere in November. You can get a full year of the journal for only $27.95, which is the equivalent of two cases of beer, or a cheap night out on the town with your wife/girlfriend. Not that I’m trying to influence your decision, but staying home for a single weekend all year in order to benefit from some truly brilliant literary work seems like an easy decision. Or you could give up the beer, your choice. You can click HERE to subscribe, or here, or finally, here. No need to thank me, I know you all would have likely subscribed without my help anyway.

In closing, here are a few things to look forward to as Up’North hits overdrive in an effort to catch you up on what you’ve missed in our absence.

  • As promised (huge apologies to the great people a RIO fly lines) a review of the RIO “Streamertip” fly line that absolutely blew my mind on the water during the closing months of fishing.
  • More moose photos than any one person could possibly tolerate, and a full recap of Maine’s September Moose Hunt as seen from the tagging station at Quigley’s Outdoors in Fort Kent.
  • A photo journal highlighting September, so you don’t feel like you’ve missed any excessively exciting moments in my life.
  • Perhaps a list, because lists are neat. Likely of the Hunting/Fall variety.
  • Maybe a poem – because life has me writing all sorts of “nonsensical” things these days.

So welcome back folks, I am truly sorry that it took so long for me to right the ship. Smooth sailing from here on out, you have my word. Tell your friends, your momma, and that girl you like but haven’t had the gaul to approach – Up’North is back in a big, big way.

– Ben