Rain has salmon ready to spawn.
Good news: Recent rains have encouraged landlocked salmon to enter the Stillwater River for spawning.
Ed Fair of B&A Tackle reported that Ed Manning brought in the first of the run, a 2-pound, 12-ounce big-kyped male. Many feared that low water might prevent their spawning this year. The rains have come just in time.
Weather extremes have negatively affected fishing elsewhere, though. Heavy rains earlier devastated the peak of the season on New York's Salmon River. My son lucked out fishing the tail end of the Coho salmon run when the flow was low, concentrating fish.
That run normally lasts only a few weeks, followed by the king salmon surge. The king's run was crippled by flooding. Normally, anglers expect a fishable flow of 500 to 800 cubic feet per second. At its most dangerous stage, the river reportedly exceeded an unfishable 17,000 cubic feet per second.
One local woman put up a sign at her house: "No fishing due to salmon in the basement."
Migrating kings allegedly got into her house through an open bulkhead. Unfortunately, both fishermen and businesses were badly hurt. If you plan to fish the big river in the near future, be sure to check what the current flow rates are to avoid a disappointing trip.
More sea ducks coming
According to master waterfowl guide Adam Smith of the Perfect Limit, big flocks of sea ducks - scoters in particular - passed through coastal Massachusetts recently, but left soon after on their way toward the Chesapeake Bay for the winter. More waves should follow soon.
The best sea duck hunting, especially for eiders, is yet to come, when conditions get cold and rough. If you can handle eating a bird that tastes a little fishy, you'll be consuming some of the healthiest meat in the world. They're loaded with omega fatty acids thanks to their oily fish diets.
Squirrel chatter annoying
With most of our songbirds having migrated south, the music of the forest has been largely reduced to a monotonous repetition of squirrel chatter.
Sitting in our tree stands, we hear - whether we want to or not - the chipmunk's two vocalizations: a long, drawn-out and rapid chip-chip-chip-chip (about 130 per minute), and a second, lower-pitched, drawn-out and slower chuck-chuck-chuck-chuck-chuck.
Hardly more impressive, despite accompanying tail flicks, is the gray squirrel's que-que-que-que bark. The red squirrel's incessant trills and chucks are equally cacophonous, and most annoying when they alert deer to our presence. All three scamper on dry leaves, fooling us a hundred times as we intently listen for the distinctive slow and rhythmic steps of an approaching deer. For me, that crunchy percussion is the most thrilling music of our autumn forest.
Theories on deer-herd explosion
Environmental Police Lt. John Pajak recently shared some of his provocative theories behind the dramatic population increase of local deer in our lifetime.
He feels the 1973 oil embargo was a critical catalyst. With skyrocketing fuel prices and shortages, Massachusetts residents bought woodstoves and extensively exploited firewood, thinning mature forests. Many of us bought our first chainsaws as a consequence of those challenging times. Coincidentally, Pajak theorizes, deer and grouse populations soon skyrocketed, benefiting from new browse created by the opening of the forests.
In 1986, another historical event took place here that Pajak feels changed our landscape and provided more deer habitat. Whole dairy herds were bought out by the government. Fields grew into shrub, brush and saplings, providing a cornucopia for our whitetails. And around the late 1980s, Pajak observes, thousands of acres of Camp Edwards/Otis Air Force Base burned clear for weeks, the result of a munitions fire. By 1994, a large deer population developed amid new browse there, too. Those who think periodic, appropriate cutting of forest doesn't have positive effects for wildlife can learn much from Pajak's observations.
No need for permit lines
Last Tuesday, a battalion of deer hunters lined up outside in the cold as early as midnight to purchase leftover doe permits at Fisheries and Wildlife headquarters in Westboro.
The fear of permits running out leads hundreds of hunters to show up very early for this annual event. Some veterans even bring chairs since the office doesn't open until 8 a.m.
Permits for only zones 10, 11, 12 and 13 were still available. Permits for Worcester County zones 8 and 9 were long gone. By midday, the long lines had diminished and hunters were able to purchase the $5 permits with a minimum wait.
For better or worse, online purchasing in the future may change what has grown into an amusing playoff ticket-like atmosphere.