New Toys

I recently recieved a couple new toys, a Ruger 10/22 and a GoPro. I couldn’t think of a better way to debut both!

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870 Wingmaster in Miramichi: A Thanksgiving Grouse Hunt

On Thanksgiving Sunday this year my girlfriend Maggie and I were preparing for a trip up into the Miramichi woodlands. For the second year in a row our plan was supper Sunday, hunt Monday – a pretty good tradition we’re starting. It made me reminisce about Thanksgiving last year.

At the outset of Thanksgiving Monday 2013, I had lofty expectations for my first hunting experience in the woodlands surrounding New Brunswick’s fabled Miramichi River. Stories of the game-filled woods of the north abound throughout the province, but I learned very quickly that hunting in the Miramichi isn’t that easy. The people in this region are a persistent group; most do a variety of things to survive. Strong survival instincts have shaped some of the finest outdoorsmen that this province has ever known. The knowledge passed between generations has cultivated a woodland proficiency that is rivaled in few other places in Canada.

I was reflecting on this when I noticed a grouse sneak off the trail and into some tall grass on the edge of a balsam fir stand. Maggie and I were somewhere north of the fabled Northwest Miramichi River, bumping along the Mullin Stream Rd. in my truck — deep in the woods. I stopped the truck, grabbed my 870 Wingmaster, and started quietly stalking up the road. When I was within 30 yards, I stopped and listened intently — not a sound. Just as I started to inch forward the bird exploded into flight, right in my direction. I shouldered my gun, aimed ahead of the bird, and pulled the trigger. “Not even close” I muttered to myself, as I watched the bird continue its flight unabated.

I watched as the bird landed in the top of a tall aspen tree 100 or so yards away, finally a break. The tree had shed all of its foliage already, providing a clear view through the canopy. The setting sun was only illuminating the treetops; the low-angled light gave the yellow and red October foliage a glowing golden tone. Again, I quietly stalked toward the bird. When I was within 20 yards I took aim. The grouse instinctively knew it was being watched, it crouched and launched itself off its perch just as I fired through the branches — another miss. I watched as the bird disappeared into the fading sunlight. We were returning empty handed.

I sullenly made my way back to the truck. I told myself that I clearly just had a run-in with New Brunswick’s smartest grouse, or perhaps it was just a hallucination after a day of failure? I put my gun away, jumped in the truck cab, and looked at Maggie and said, “don’t tell your Dad about this.

Flash-forward to 2014, spending a little time in the area over the course of the summer had given me a positive feeling heading into this year’s hunt. I told myself as the truck rattled up Highway 420, this year was going to be different.

The sun was shining and the air was crisp on Monday morning – a beautiful day for a hunt. Unfortunately, Maggie had a little too much turkey the previous evening and was not feeling up for it, so it was going to be a solo effort.

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A crater lake on a beautiful fall day off of the Mullin Stream Rd.

I hit the Mullin Stream Rd. around 9:30 a.m. The plan was to walk trails or bushwack through good-looking habitat. Successful habitat identification isn’t difficult. Over-grown trails lined with alders, tall grass, or immature balsam fir generally in upland stands with lots of cover in the understory are a good place to start.

Things were quiet early on; the woods were a crowded place on this holiday. Dozens of like-minded groups were out participating in a traditional Thanksgiving Monday birdhunt. Fortunately for me, most of these groups didn’t appear to venture off of the road. They merely crept along in their pick-ups looking for birds on the roadside.

While you don’t cover as much ground on foot, you get a better feel for the land, and for me personally, the hunt is more rewarding. This method also tests your patience, senses, and stalking ability — skills that are transferrable to other hunts.

The clear blue sky and vibrant Fall foliage made up for the fact that it was a slow day. I was walking down a grassy road between two cut blocks. The edges of the cuts were lined with rows of tall large-toothed aspens. Gusts of wind caused green and gold leaves to rain down from the canopies — a photo-worthy moment. I grabbed my camera-phone out of my pocket and noticed that I had reception. I wasn’t quite ready to head home yet so I thought I’d send home an update. I tossed my gun over my shoulder, and kept walking as I texted – you can probably guess what happens next.

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Don’t look at your phone while grouse hunting!

With my head down and mind back in civilization, I entered an immature birch-fir stand, and sure enough, a grouse exploded into flight 10 yards from me. I muttered an expletive and watched as the bird disappeared into the distance. I put my phone away and paused for a moment. Often, I get so caught up in the grouse in flight that I forget that they are frequently found in groups. As if on cue, I heard shuffling leaves in the opposite direction.

I quietly slipped amongst the trees and I set myself up behind a fir tree, watching for movement. I could see an outline carefully walking through a thicket of 2-3inch birch stems. I resolved to wait and get closer. My heart was pounding. I tried to outpace the bird to get a clear shot. As I closed in the bird jumped up onto a log — it was a beautiful ruffed grouse. I was within 20-yards, so I aimed and fired. The bird disappeared off the log, which I assumed indicated a successful hit. However when I approached it was nowhere to be found – man these Miramichi grouse are tough.

I quick stepped in the same direction and eventually caught up with the grouse as it shuffled through some fir seedlings. When it emerged, I stepped out and fired. The sound of wings flapping against the forest floor indicated a hit – my first Miramichi grouse!

I put the bird in the game-pouch of my vest and quickly hiked back out to the trail. I didn’t want pass up the opportunity to pursue the bird that flew in the other direction. I stepped across the trail and bushwhacked through dense birch forest at a steady pace for about 200yards. As I was sliding between two stems with my head down, I heard a familiar shuffle to my right. I glanced up and another grouse was skimming across the fall-yellow forest floor. I raised my 870 Wingmaster and fired. A good clean shot gave me my second ruffed grouse of the day!

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Two beautiful ruffed grouse taken from the Miramichi watershed

I put the second grouse in the game pouch and started the trek out to the truck. Two birds was enough for me for the day, it was time to head home. Another great day in the woods of New Brunswick, a place where hunting traditions are alive and well.

Mid Summer Brook Trout: An Upper Cains River Canoe Trip

As June turned to July the water levels of New Brunswick’s rivers continued to drop – providing limited canoeing options. So, when my friend Randy and I were searching for places to head out on a two-day canoe trip, I suggested the majestic Cains River. Earlier in the month I had paddled the lower Cains, so to make things more interesting we decided that we’d paddle the often-ignored upper section. We thought access might be an issue, but after some local advice and extensive mapping we located an accessible put-in about 30-40 km above the 123 Highway bridge.

On the hot and sunny morning of June 30th my truck – along with my Old Town Disco ’69 — rumbled up Randy’s steep gravel driveway in Gaspereau, N.B. Randy was in the yard preparing his Old Town Discovery 17’4”. For something different, we were both bringing our own boats. It was going to be my first overnight solo trip, and I was pretty excited. The Upper Cains is shallow with intermittent deep pools, and no real rapids — basically a perfect candidate for a canoeist’s first solo overnighter. Randy is also a certified canoe instructor, so I reasoned that if I was struggling I could – begrudgingly – ask him for a few pointers.

Our shuttle driver was Roger, Randy’s big, burly, soon-to-be father in law. We loaded the boats into the bed of Roger’s 1990’s GMC pick-up – stacked on top of each other – and strapped them down tight. Our excessive strapping prompted Roger to note, “we ain’t gonna be doin’ a hundred mile an hour boys, she should hold.” After which we hit the road, promptly travelling 99 mph.

The road to the put-in was rugged, and likely inaccessible by car. Thankfully, Roger’s truck weaved us through the patchy landscape without much trouble. The landbase in the area is mostly industrial. Fresh clear-cuts from harvesting resulted in unnatural, yet intriguing views of the forest interior. The understory of the spruce-fir forest appeared dark and barren. I wondered whether or not I would notice the cuts from the river — or would I be lured into imagining contiguous, untouched wilderness. Regardless, the area is wild country — fishing camps serve as the only human habitation.

The put-in was at a site where an old bridge used to be. The water was easily accessible via a gravel trail where four-wheelers cross the river. We bid our adieu to Roger and hit the water around 10:30 a.m. The temperature was already well above 20°C with expected highs of around 32°C — the forecast calling for sun all day. Thankfully we were both equipped with the finest headwear known to man, Tilley hats.

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Not a soul to be seen on a long weekend in July on the Upper Cains River

Roughly half of the trip was through crown reserve – no fishing — waters and the remainder was catch and release only. We fished the upper stretch before arriving at the no fishing area. The trout were taking on bombers. I landed a couple of beautiful 6-8” brook trout – with their signature vibrant blue and red speckles. After moving into the crown reserve zone, we put our rods away for the rest of the trip and just enjoyed the scenery and sunshine.

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One of New Brunswick’s most beautiful resources, the Brook Trout

Canoeing conditions were fantastic — the water level in Blackville read 1.0. We drifted under the glaring sun along side shale cliffs and past sentinel white pines – seemingly deep in the Acadian forest. My only complaint was that I was sitting turned around in the bow seat. The seats in my boat are moulded plastic, so they’re a tad uncomfortable.

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Amazing how they grow seemingly right out of the cliff

At one point in the early afternoon I realized Randy and I had spoken in over an hour. I paddled up alongside him and asked, “How are you making out buddy?”

He replied, “It’s hot, I think we need to get out of the sun for a while.”

I agreed, so we pulled our boats up on a nearby gravel point with some shade. In the hot sun, our beverage of choice was not doing us any favours in terms of hydration. I relaxed in the shade, staring up at the sky through the leaves of a silver maple tree and eventually dozed off. After about an hour Randy woke me up, “Hey GV, we should get going.” The shade break was exactly what we needed. We hit the water with a new-found sense of vigour.

At some point I realized that I forgot to take a waypoint at the put-in, so we had no idea how far we’d gone. This was problematic because we were looking for a certain site – famous amongst locals — known as ‘The Pines.’ Without having set foot on the site, we were searching based on a description. The site was supposed to be flat and shaded by majestic white pine. Without fishing, I became obsessed with finding it – it became our holy grail. Much to the chagrin of Randy, every cluster of white pine resulted in me asking, “do you think this is it?”

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“Hey Randy, do you think this is it?”

Eventually we reached what “had to be it.” It was everything we expected — shaded, flat, and covered with beautiful white pines. The twin flowers (Linnaea borealis) were in full bloom – they have a nice little pink blossom. The site appeared as though it hadn’t been used this year – most things were grown over. A bunch of old garbage was strewn about — why do people think that frying pans, pots, and beer cans will burn in a fire?

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Twin flower, Linnaea borealis

We set up our tent and settled in for the night. After the bugs died down, we sat around our campfire under the starlit summer sky and enjoyed a nice steak with a couple beers. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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Behold, the majestic sight known as “The Pines”

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Randy cleans up the fire pit

In the morning disaster struck. After a thorough search I asked, “Randy, where’s the pot so I can boil some water for coffee”.

He replied, “I didn’t bring one, I don’t drink coffee GV.”

I screamed.

I was left without coffee until we could reach the Tim Horton’s in Minto, N.B.

Parts of the river on the second day were striking, nice looking crown reserve fishing camps were situated on deep beautiful looking pools. Schools of large creek chub swam frantically away from us as we drifted over. I liked to imagine salmon and 4 lb trout lurked somewhere in the depths.

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Note the pool I’m paddling through. I spent most of the trip on my knees avoiding the moulded plastic seats.

The heat was intense again on the second day, and the shady spots on the river were most welcomed. We landed at the 123 bridge around 3:00 p.m. After loading up the gear and boats Randy noted, “wouldn’t it be great to do this for a living?”

“Yeah” I replied, “but I’m happy we can do it at all.”

We jumped in my truck and headed back to Randy’s place on the Gaspereau River, another river for another day.

Newfoundland Moose Season Has Arrived

With moose season in Newfoundland heating up let’s enjoy a bit of footage from the 2013 season. As you can see, I had about 20 pointed reasons to hunt where I did. For those interested, take a look at a series of articles I produced on my 2013 moose hunt — hopefully you learn from my mistakes!

Part 1 – The Hopeful Moose Hole
Part 2 – Target Acquired
Part 3 – Base Camp Construction
Part 4 – Unsuccessful Conclusion

Stay tuned for my series about my 2014 moose hunt. Here’s to a successful season!

Miramichi River Fly Fishing Trip

As Grant mentioned I was back in New Brunswick last week for a few festivities leading up to the end of the world as I know it — my wedding this winter. Prior to our St. Croix River run, I had scheduled a fly fishing trip with my father. Dad had won the trip in a draw at the New Brunswick Big Game Antler Show which was held in Chipman — our home town — this past spring.

So, on Wednesday evening we found ourselves heading north on Route 123 towards Doaktown and the storied Miramichi River. We landed at the Betts-Kelly Lodge with instructions to unload ourselves into the Lower Cabin. We soon realized that we were alone on the Lodge grounds and decided to settle into some deck chairs. As we sat and admired the beauty of the mighty Miramichi River, we witnessed a doe and her fawn brave the currents and cross the river just above us.

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The Betts-Kelly Lodge

Just as a bald eagle swooped into its nest at the top of a large white pine directly across from us — possibly showing us where to fish in the morning? — we heard a vehicle approaching. Our host Keith made his way onto the deck as my father and I introduced ourselves. We could see that he was somewhat puzzled and then he said “I’m dumbfounded as to why you are here.” My father chuckled and explained they had spoke earlier last week to confirm the date, to which he responded, “Today is Wednesday!?” He explained he was gearing up for the upcoming bear season and had lost all track of time. We assured him everything was in order at the camp, and that we were very low maintenance so he had nothing to worry about. After a few games of cribbage and a couple of New Brunswick’s finest cold ones, we retired to our beds with our alarms set for morning.

We awoke before the sun — at 6:00 a.m. — and began preparing our fishing gear. Having traveled from Newfoundland, I opted not to bring my rod on the plane. Dad assured me that I had an old rod at home I had forgotten about. As I pulled it from the case I immediately noticed  that the rod was on the light side for salmon. Sure enough it was a 5 weight. I also noticed that whoever had tied the leader and fly on last was a complete idiot — wait, who’s rod was this again? The floating line had been tied into a double overhand loop with the leader cow hitched onto it. Suffice to say it required some improvement.

I sent dad on his way to the river and settled in at the lodge table to tie on a new leader and fly. I had read that a nail knot is great for joining leader to floating line but I had no idea how to tie one. Thankfully, I was able to access animatedknots.com to walk me through each step. After a couple tries I had leader joined to line like a professional, with limited experience. I used the improved clinch knot — that I learned on the Serpentine — to attach an Orange Bomber, and I was on my way to the river.

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A beautiful sunrise on the mighty Miramichi River

The plan was to enjoy a few hours of fishing in our private pool and then return to the lodge for breakfast. The pool we were working was in the main part of the river. There was a ledge protruding from the left side of the river that created a nice eddy behind it. We were casting into the current and allowing the fly to drift into the edge of the eddy where we thought fish would hold up.

Our guide confirmed that the rumours we had heard were true — it had been a bad year for fishing. As few as 12,000 salmon had returned to the river this year, down from 112,000 in 1990. After several hundred casts, we were starting to believe those numbers. Ever the optimists, my dad and I opted to switch over to smaller flies in hopes of enticing a trout. I fumbled through my fly box and came up with a fly that I had no idea what it was is called. A true amateur fly fisherman had told me to simply add the word ‘machine’ after stating the colour of the fly — making my selection a “Brown Feather Machine”.

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Givin’R on the river

Within minutes of making the switch my father’s line went tight. Both of our hearts skipped a beat, we were into our first fish of the day! The trout darted out into the current and, as fast as he arrived, he left after spitting the small hook. Nevertheless this encounter renewed our hopes of taking a fish home and gave us the stamina to push the thoughts of bacon and eggs out of our heads for a few more casts.

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Have you checked your leader for knots lately, Dad?

On a break between casts, as I stood and enjoyed the view of the sun rising over the trees, I noticed a black object in the river exactly where we had seen the deer cross the evening before. I motioned to Dad and we watched as medium-sized black bear made its way across the river — no doubt on his way up to eat our breakfast. As he lumbered up the bank we agreed that it was time to head back to camp. Sometimes a trip full of beautiful scenery and some interesting wildlife encounters is all you need. As we were walking up the trail, I jokingly said to dad “it’s was a good thing we brought bacon.”

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5 weight, no big deal.

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Is that a bear? No it’s just my shadow.

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How’s your shoulder, Dad?

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The Chase men in their Tilly Hats.

A St. Croix River Day Trip

You’ll never guess who was in New Brunswick last weekend, the one an only Matthew Chase – my partner in crime. Young Matthew is getting married this Christmas and he was in town for a fishing trip and his bachelor party – a story for another day. After a successful visit we could only think of one way to cap it off, a canoe run. Unfortunately, water levels across most of the province were too low for canoeing. But — lucky for us — the St. Croix River in southwestern New Brunswick is dam controlled.

For 185 km, the St. Croix River forms the international border between Canada and the United States — the respective boundary between the province of New Brunswick and the state of Maine. The river flows southwards from the Chiputneticook Lakes in the north into Passamaquoddy Bay, in the world famous Bay of Fundy. It is one of three New Brunswick rivers designated as a Canadian Heritage River by the Government of Canada. This designation recognizes that it has “outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational heritage.”

The lower St. Croix is perhaps most famous for being the home of the first European settlement in North America north of Florida. In 1604, Pierre Dugua and Samuel de Champlain of France sailed up the St. Croix and established a settlement on the 6.5 acre, St. Croix Island. The settlement was ultimately unsuccessful – nearly half of the settlers died in the first winter – and was moved the following year.

We had never paddled the St. Croix, and didn’t know what to expect. For safety purposes, Matt’s father, Jeff, was kind enough to loan us his Old Town Tripper for the excursion – an upgrade over my Disco ’69. Our game plan was to put in by the old rail bridge in St. Croix, N.B. and run down to ‘Gravel Island Provincial Park’ – a total distance of around 25km. The water level looked good, the flow over the dam in Vanceboro read 960, which was plenty of water — apparently anything over 600 is ‘runnable.’

I’d heard contrasting views on what the river was like, some said it was a “booze cruise” while others said it was “intense.” Given that we were still recovering from the effects of Matt’s bachelor party, if it was a “booze cruise” it was going to be the driest one in history. So, when we were dropping off my truck at the take-out, it was good to hear from a park ranger that, “Little Falls is a bit of a challenge. Just run it on the American side and you’ll be fine.”

We were on the water around 11:30a.m. I was in the bow seat for the first time in a long time and it felt like old hat. Long before I owned my own canoe, I was Matt’s bowman on some wild river trips. I’ve learned a lot since those days — I’ve given up my gunnel grabbing ways. Our map indicated that that there were dozens of Class I-II rapids along the way and one Class III — Little Falls — all of which were broken up by large swaths of flat, slow-moving water.

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Hard to avoid rocks when you’re taking a “selfie”

One of the first things we noticed was the abundance of old pulp wood that lined the river bottom. For parts of the 18th, 19th,  and 20th centuries the St. Croix River was used to drive logs down river to local mills — the last of which was in 1965. Looking down through the crystal clear water and seeing the old logs gives you a sense that you’re paddling right over history.  With some imagination you can envision what a log drive 100 years ago might’ve looked like.

We were lucky to have the entire river more or less to ourselves — we only ran into one other group over the course of the day. With cabins few and far between, the river felt remote — a nice surprise. The natural landscape contained a diverse mixture of Acadian forest stand types along with wide open grassy marshes.

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The view from one of the many waterfront campsites along the way.

We were nervous as we approached our first set of rips — Upper Wingdam Rips. Matt was on edge because he hadn’t paddled in over a year, and I was on edge because well, Matt hadn’t paddled in over a year.  Mercifully, the old chemistry was still there and we made it through unscathed. By the time we reached Little Falls we were a well-oiled machine.

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I don’t have many negative things to say about the Old Town Tripper

At Little Falls we pulled out at the head of the portage trail above the falls — on the Canadian side — to scout it out. The trail would be a easy portage, if you were so inclined. The falls itself had two very different lines. On the right side — the American side — there are a series of ledges that appear to offer little reprieve, after which there is some fast moving water and not much else. The left side — the Canadian side — is longer and a little more complex. At the start of the rapids a line of rocks extends across the river which produces a series of small haystacks, after which rocks are dispersed across the river.

After much discussion, we decided to go against the ranger’s advice and run the Canadian side. We both agreed that ledges are difficult if there is no clear passage — it’s too hard to control how the boat comes over the ledge — and from our vantage point on we couldn’t see one. We ran through the obvious “V” on the far left bank at the top of the rock line, down through the small haystacks, and past a couple of rocks on our right. After these rocks we moved into the centre of the river to avoid what appeared to be another small ledge on the left. After the ledge, we moved back to the left and were home free! Talk about fun!

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Don’t worry, I’m a professional.

After the falls, the rest of the trip flew by. We stopped and marvelled and some of the incredible campsites along the way and discussed how great an over-nighter would be. We docked at the campground around 6:45 p.m., just as the sun was starting to get low in the sky. After loading the boat onto Jeff’s truck back at the train bridge, we shook hands and agreed that the St. Croix River is a river worth paddling.

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Another successful canoe run in the beautiful province of New Brunswick

Fly Fishing for Atlantic Salmon on the Serpentine River: Just Out for a Flick

I can count the number of times I have been fly fishing in my life on one hand and if you were to cut off both of my hands it would not hinder me from showing you how many fish I have caught on the fly. So when an amateur like me is approached by a co-worker with an opportunity to go fishing on one of western Newfoundland’s most prolific salmon rivers, I only asked when we were leaving and how many days of vacation to take.

We were heading to the Serpentine River, which is nestled between two of Newfoundland’s highest ranges, Lewis Hills and Blow-Me-Down Mountains. The river flows out of Serpentine Lake to the north-west through a series of deep holes, rapids, and falls before finally reaching the Atlantic Ocean. Most access the river via a 55km logging trail — that is long overdue for some routine maintenance. The trail arrives at the south end of the lake, after which a 10-minute boat ride will bring you to the river source.

We loaded all of our gear into our transportation for the next two days — an Old Town “LabradorPredator equipped with a 4HP Yamaha outboard — and set out across the lake. After navigating through the shallow opening, and around a couple sweeping turns we arrived at base camp. We set up our tent, enjoyed a couple footlong subs, and set about rigging up our rods so we could get in a few casts before sundown.

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The ‘Labrador’ Predator

As we idled down the river we gazed into the pools to see if we could see any fish. There were plenty of good-sized trout – the kind I dreamed about back in New Brunswick — but didn’t see anything resembling a salmon. We opted to pass through one of the larger pools — called Dark Hole — to try our luck on Governor’s Rock, around the next bend. Governor’s Rock is a deep pool on an outside bend of the river; it features a large rock in the middle. The pool is too deep to stand in, and it is lined with mature trees making fishing from a boat the only viable way to fish it.

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Check out the scenery on the Serpentine

We positioned ourselves above the rock and set anchor. My coworker Cory fished from the stern while I from the bow. The wind was moving the boat back and forth, giving us both ample opportunities to land a few casts in the slow moving water behind the rock. As I stated earlier I have not fly fished many times in my life, hence I was having a hard time casting from the boat with another person less than 8 feet from me. This difficulty became apparent to Cory, when I whipped him in the face on a back cast! As luck would have it — as I was apologizing to him while surveying for damage — the reel screamed…. ZINNNGGG! Fish on!

I pulled the rod tip skyward in an effort to set the hook and I was amazed to see a magnificent salmon breech the water and soar through the air landing back in the water behind the boat with a large splash. I kept the rod high in the air and began reeling. I was constantly asking Cory for guidance, as I had no idea how fast I should retrieve my line. There are numerous obstacles when fishing from a boat, all of which found their way into my path of retrieval. I had a close encounter with the anchor rope at one end and the motor at the other. The fish made a dive under the boat and the reel began screaming again. I battled him as he emerged down river from us as Cory picked up the net. He had me bring the fish to the starboard side and begin reeling hard. You could see the fish was tiring as he was beginning to roll on his side. It was merely a net scoop away from being my first Atlantic Salmon. Cory didn’t fail me.

After a 5 minute clash, there between my knees in the boat was a 4.2lb, 61cm grilse. I grabbed it by the gills and tail and held it proudly for the camera. What an exciting feeling to be holding that fish! I promptly tagged it and told Cory to shut off the camera and get his line back in the water!

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My 4.2lb baby boy! Catch of a lifetime!

That evening Cory and I relived the catch of the day as we shared a cold beer and watched as our fire flickered on the dark banks of the Serpentine. The night sky sparkled with thousands of stars and the promise of great day again tomorrow. We settled into our respective sleeping bags with dreams of Salmo salar dancing across the water in our heads.

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Base camp

The next morning as the sun poked over the hills, a granola bar made its way into my gut as I slipped into my waders. It was 5:20 and we couldn’t wait to hit the water. We slid offshore and gracefully paddled down around the bend. The plan for the morning was to fish the Black Hole we had passed over twice the day before and then make our way down river until hunger pains brought us back to camp for some bacon and eggs.

We beached the boat above Black Hole and prepared our rods. We had some luck on None of your Business, a green bodied fly wrapped with a silver line and sporting a sparkling tailso we both tied one on for this morning. I was accustomed to using the fisherman’s knot to tie on my lures, however Cory showed me how to use an additional half hitch that not only makes your knot stronger, but also assists in presenting the fly in a different manner.

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I’d like to thank my Tilly Hat protecting my face and ears

We both started making our way down through the pool casting as we went. As I neared a small eddy on the far side of the river I positioned myself for a 40-foot cast into the small ripple running past. I tried to land my cast on the eddy side of the ripple so my fly would be pulled down through where I figured the salmon would hang up. I worked the line up off the river back behind me pausing ever so slightly before whipping forward and lowering the rod tip parallel to the water. I watched as my floating line uncoiled slowly followed by my leader and dropping my fly lightly into the pool. My fly glistened as it drifted slowly in the current. I was just thinking about pulling my rod tip skyward for another cast when ZINNGGGG…. I was into my second salmon in two days!

I jerked the rod as high as I could and the reel screamed in discontent. The fish bounded skyward and hopped across the water on its side. I began reeling and making my way towards shore. Cory grabbed the net from the boat and began making his way towards me. We were both hopeful that this would be the second fish of our trip. I maintained pressure on the line and watched as the fish darted down river. Cory ducked under my rod with camera rolling as the fish made a turn into the current. I continued to reel as the salmon muscled its way up river against the current and against the drag of my reel. Both Cory and I looked on as my line came back at me like a spring and coiled up around my feet. The morning calmness of the Serpentine valley was interrupted with a few four letter words and a faint childish giggle from a man now hooked on fly fishing!

We rounded out our trip that afternoon with two beautiful sea trout, which tipped the scales at 2.4 and 1.8 pounds. The evening brought us some company on the river, and already content with our trip we allowed our friends to go fishing without us. We stayed by the fire and eagerly discussed our next trip to the Serpentine River.

Tight lines!

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What a trip!

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I dreamt about trout like these in New Brunswick

In Pursuit of the Brook Trout: A Cains River Canoe Trip

My friend Andrew and I had had been trying to get out canoeing together on New Brunswick’s famous Cains River since Spring 2013. When he informed me at the start of June that he had to use up all of his vacation days by July, we knew it was time. June 12th he was in my driveway at 5:30 a.m., ready to hit the road – while I was still upstairs in my underwear of course. Our plan was to spend two days paddling from the bridge at Grand Lake Road (also known as Highway 123) into the Main Southwest Miramichi River and down to the municipal park in Blackville. Approximately 60 km in total.

The Cains River trip is a popular one amongst New Brunswick fisherman because it is famous for its fly-fishing of Atlantic salmon and brook trout. While the salmon typically don’t run through the river until the fall, the trout fishing was supposed to be great this time of year. I’ve never had much luck fly-fishing – my excuse is I only just got into it a couple years ago – so I was anxious to get out on the water and work on my cast.  Note that this does not imply that I was expecting to catch anything!

After dropping a vehicle at the park, we arrived at the put-in around 9:00 a.m. The water level looked good, the gauge in Blackville was at 1.36 m. There’s a nice access point with a good place to leave a vehicle just off the down streamside of the road, on the Doaktown side of the bridge.  When we arrived – along with hordes of hungry mosquitos – an old fella was down there.

“Just checking out the river,” he said. “The trout are running up.”

“Any salmon in the river yet?” Andrew asked.

“Salmon aren’t even in the main river yet,” he scoffed as he got in his truck, evidently repelled by our lack of knowledge.

 

The first thing we noticed after hitting the water was the damage from the year’s ice flows. Many of the trees on the bank – up to 6 ft above the present water level – had their bark stripped off the first 4-5 ft of their trunk on the riverside. The riverbank itself was comprised of mostly lush, green herbaceous vegetation, tall grasses, young ferns, and – as we learned the hard way at our first stop – poison ivy.

“Crap, that’s poison ivy” I said to Andrew.

“Nah, not here” he replied.

“Dammit, I think it is” I said as it dawned on me that I’d just dragged my rope through a large patch of it.

 I’d heard that the fishing was best on the first half of the trip, so our rods were out shortly after we set sail. It’s always a little nerve-racking to me when two guys with 9ft fly-fishing rods are casting in opposite directions in the same 17 ft canoe – the math just doesn’t add up – but miraculously we both went unhooked. I was lucky enough to land the first fish of the trip, a 6-7″ brook trout with a beautiful, dark body and vibrant blue and red speckles. It took on a blue-winged butterfly in a little eddy adjacent to where a spring flowed into the river.

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Mind the Poison Ivy

Afterward things went quiet. At some point Andrew put on an orange bomber – a dry fly – and everything just clicked.  I put on a green one soon after and the 3-4″ trout were plentiful.  Our best spot was on the backside of a grassy island in a narrow channel. As we approached, Andrew said “I like the look of that spot, lets get out.” We beached the boat in the rocky shallows above the island and I decided I was in a good dry position to fish from the stern.

A drop in elevation at the head of the island resulted in a series of small standing waves – followed by what looked to be a promising little pool.  I was in position to fish from the over hanging grassy bank above the island, down into the waves.  I worked the bank first, then released some additional line to let my fly drift down through the waves. A 8-9″ trout was there waiting for it on the first pass – talk about exciting!  Andrew eagerly walked over to the pool and of course caught a beautiful 12-13″ brook trout almost immediately, and several smaller ones thereafter.

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Not bad for a guy that doesn’t know what he’s doing

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Andrew’s trout – there’s no jealously here at all.

When the pool went quiet, it was time to make a big push down-river. Our intention was to camp somewhere near the mouth of the Sabbies River – which we estimated to be near the halfway point of the trip. We paddled hard through the old-growth pine, fir, and spruce, past the fishing lodges, through the steep river valleys, and arrived at the mouth of the Sabbies around 8:00 p.m.

Finding campsites on a canoe trip can be a bit of a chore – the grass always seems greener on the other side. Making the decision more difficult is the fact that on a river — a lot like in life — the current only flows one direction and travelling upstream isn’t always possible. Lucky for us, we found a great site on a point on our second try.  The spot showed signs of many years of use, few of which were positive. Garbage everywhere, everything from 30-year-old beer cans to recent plastic water bottles – clearly, some people have no respect. We did our best to tidy things up, but there’s only so much you can do when you don’t have any extra garbage bags. If you’re reading this and planning on doing a similar trip, bring a couple extra garbage bags and help keep our province beautiful.

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Keeping a 120L dry-bag organized takes some practice

After a night of dreams about the boat floating away, we awoke to a wet tent and overcast skies. With oatmeal in our guts, we were back on the water around 8:30 a.m. As the Cains approaches the Main Southwest Miramichi it gets much slower, wider, and deeper. Much of this stretch of river is flagged as ‘private fishing’ so we were left to observe our surroundings and discuss the pros and cons of ‘private fishing’. While it seems unfair that any water should have access restricted to paying customers only, the conservation benefits are undeniable. It’s in the best interest of guides and outfitters to maintain a functioning ecosystem  in order to preserve their livelihood.

The landscape was dominated by pines in many areas, red pine, white pine, and even jack pine.  Things were so quiet on the river that we drifted silently within 10ft of a deer standing at attention on the bank. Unlike other tributaries of the Miramichi River I’ve been on, the geology surrounding the Cains River is mostly comprised of a grey shale. When exposed, smoothed, stair-like stacks of shale appear on the banks and up the river valley.

We hit the Main Southwest Miramichi with the wind at our backs and no need to even touch a paddle.  Drifting through, it was hard not to look at the wall-to-wall houses and wonder what it was like 100 years ago. Was it forested or fields? Regardless, it looks like a small municipality today.  We landed in Blackville around 2:00 p.m. loaded up the boat, and discussed wetting a line back at the 123 bridge.  However, when we were confronted with hordes of bloodthirsty mosquitoes, I changed my mind pretty quickly.  Rather, we shook hands, congratulated each other on a well-executed trip and headed back to Fredericton.

Scope Installation and Zeroing

I recently purchased a new Marlin XT-22 with the intent of building a training rifle for off-season shooting practice. This economic bolt-action repeater came with iron sights and with the option to mount a scope. Since most of my hunting rifles are outfitted with a scope I opted to purchase one for this training rifle. In keeping with the economy theme I settled on the Simmons 22 Mag 3-9x32mm AO offering.

As I was unboxing my new purchases I thought it might be beneficial for some if I wrote a technical review on how to install a scope, and ultimately zero — sight-in — a rifle. Hence, below is a pictorial account of the decisions made and steps involved when installing a new scope on any rifle platform.

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Before we get down to the nitty gritty details I think we should start with a few part definitions:

Receiver: The part of a rifle that contains the operating mechanism or action

Dovetail: A  joining method using opposing angles to hold two items together

Bases: Hardware mounted on rifle top to allow the mounting of a scope

Scope Rings: Generally a two piece circular ring that bolts around scope and onto bases, which come in various heights

Scope: A telescopic, tubular optic containing a reticle or dot for sighting a target

Windage and Elevation knob: Adjustment knobs on scope body to change point of aim with reference to point of bullet impact. Windage refers to horizontal adjustment while Elevation refers to the vertical.

In/lbs: Measurement units for tourque commonly used in reference to tightening of bolts

Scope Installation

The first decision in mounting a scope is which method of install you will use. Some firearms have the option of mounting a scope on dovetail groves in the top of rifle receiver; however, the most common method is mounting on mounting bases. The photo below shows the top of the receiver with groves for dovetail rings and 4 screw holes for mounting bases.

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I chose the more traditional option – using mounting bases – for two reasons, 1) although dovetail rings are sufficient for a low recoil rifle, bases are known to be a more solid option, and 2) there are many more scope ring choices for base applications than dovetail.

Because all firearm actions are different there a hundreds of base configurations. My particular firearm required a two-piece base – Weaver #12 style. If you are considering ordering from a catalog or online be sure to order both!

To install bases the factory screws must be removed from the receiver.

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The bases are simply mounted into place securely. These screws should be torqued to between 15-25 in/lb depending on rifle model. Tightening all screws to manufacturer’s specifications will save you a lot of time and ammo at the range – it effectively prevents you from trying to zero your rifle with a loose scope.

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Next comes the installation of the bottom half of scope rings. The ring clamps underneath the base with a long screw – which sits in groove of the base — and tightens (20-25 in/lb). The screw in the base groove keeps the scope ring from moving back and forth; hence tightening the screw onto the base holds the scope down and keeps it from moving side to side. This is one of the advantages of the base method over the dovetail. Dovetail mounting relies on sheer downward pressure to keep rings from sliding during recoil, whereas bases have a built in stopping grove.

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Next is probably the most important step in mounting a scope – the actual mounting of the scope (please hold your applause). Place the top half of the ring over the scope and set it in lower half. Snug up the screws so that the scope is held firmly but can still be adjusted.

You will need to determine the amount of eye relief required. Eye Relief is the distance from which the scope can be from your eye while your cheek rests comfortably in natural shooting position and which you can still see clearly through the scope. This can be set upby shouldering the rifle and placing your cheek on the stock – the way you would when shooting. If the power of the scope can be adjusted ensure that the lowest power is selected – to give you the largest field of view. If the scope is too far away from your eye a black shadow will appear inside the ocular lens, this is called parallax – and even I’m not qualified to explain that. Next, slide the scope in the rings closer or further away from your eye so that you have a full field of view. At this point you should turn the power ring to the full power of zoom to ensure that the same field of view remains present.

Before tightening the scope in place you will want to level it so that the reticle – crosshair — appears level in each 90 degree plain. Levelling a scope can be as simple as levelling the rifle and using a common level on a flat surface – elevation knob – or placing a level line on a wall and levelling the reticle to that.

At this point you should tighten the scope in the rings  – 15-20 in/lb.

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Normally you would be done, but in my case I had a minor issue – the bolt would touch the scope when cycling the action. My scope rings were simply not high enough, however, the minuscule height difference required did not merit purchasing higher rings. So, I used an old gunsmithing trick to give me the minor height change required. I removed the rings with scope intact and removed the bases. I then cut small strips out of an aluminum pop can and placed them under the bases creating a shim. After reinstalling everything, the bolt cleared the scope.

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Zeroing a Scope

Once at the range I was able to set the gun up in sand bags, which prevent the gun from moving around in the initial stages of zeroing — and can double as a shooting rest later.

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I set up a target at 25 yards and began to bore sight the gun. Bore sighting is a technique in which the bore or barrel of the rifle is aimed at a target and then the scope is adjusted to the same point of aim. This can be achieved by the use of a laser in the bore or by the method explained herein. To bore sight my gun I removed the bolt from the gun and looked directly down through the barrel. I then moved the gun so I could see the paper through the bore. Finally, I made sure the crosshairs in the scope were also on the paper. In theory this process ensures that you will at least hit the paper on your first shots as you begin zeroing.

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Prior to firing the first rounds I made some adjustments that many ignore when sighting in a rifle — adjusting the scope to your own eye. I focused the ocular lens so the picture was clear and I adjusted the objective lens to focus on the target at the current range.

I settled in behind the gun and began shooting. The first round struck the middle of the paper so my bore sighting had been effective. I finished my 3 shot grouping, and I was surprised when I didn’t see any additional holes in the target. Concerned, I loaded up 2 additional rounds to prove the first wasn’t a fluke. Upon looking at the target I soon realized that all 3 of my first shots had passed through the same hole! Not bad.

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As you can see the first grouping was low and right, 2 inches and 1 inch respectively. I spun the caps off the elevation and windage knobs and read the adjustment indicator. One click was equal to ¼ MOA – or Minute of Angle. MOA is another complex shooting term that simply translates to 1” at 100 yards. Therefore one click = 1” inch at 100 yards. Since I was shooting at 25 yards the amount of adjustment required is higher. Moving the bullet an inch at 25 yards would require four times the adjustment than it would at 100. Therefore to adjust my scope 2” up and 1” left I needed to move the elevation knob 32 clicks (4 clicks @ 100 yards x 4 (factor for being at 25 yards) x 2 inches required target movement) and the windage knob needed to be moved 16 clicks.

With the adjustments made I tried a couple 3 shot groups at 25 yards on other targets.

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Lastly, I moved back to the 50 yard marker to ensure that any minor adjustments were not required. I was happy with the way the gun performed and the rest of my day at the range was spent plinking!

Happy Shooting!

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