During the Fall our fully guided Maine trophy moose hunts take up most of our time, but come Winter Ice fishing in Maine is a yearly winter tradition for us. Recently we headed up to a favorite lake to hit the hard water in search of cusk (freshwater burbot) and hopefully a few togue (lake trout). Mark took along his wife and stepsons for some of the action and it turned out to be a busy day with lots of fish caught!! As luck would have it, we went home with plenty of cusk to fillet up and fill the freezers. We even made a big batch of fish stock from some of the carcasses to freeze up for future chowders!! Here is our method for skinning, filleting, and making one of the best chowders you’ll ever have!!!
We have found the best method of filleting cusk is to first skin them. Skinning them is very easy and it really helps cut down on the slime that will be all over your table or cutting board once you fillet them, plus it make filleting much easier. Take a sharp knife and cut around the back of the head just through the skin and around the whole fish. Then with a pair of pliers, grab the skin and pull down towards the tail. Work the pliers around both sides of the fish if you need to, but they skin very easily if done fresh.
We cleaned and saved about ten carcasses for our fish stock that would be used as the base to our chowder. All the guts, skin, and heads were removed. We washed them up good and got all the blood/slime off them. Then we put them in a pot, covered them with water, brought to a boil, and let simmer for a couple hours while we finished filleting and packing all the fish. After the fish cooled off we strained all the bones/carcasses out of it, then placed it in tubeware containers for freezing.
Chowder is easy to make and takes about a half hour. Slice up some salt pork and fry it until you cook the fat off it. Take the pork out and brown a diced up onion in the pork fat. Transfer the browned onions and fat drippings over to a clean stew pot. Add diced up potatoes (about half as many or equal to as many pounds of fish). Then take your stock and fill up the pot until it doesn’t quite cover the potatoes. Place all the cusk fillets on top of the potatoes and partially submerged in the stock. Add desired seasoning. I use a liberal amount of old bay, salt, and pepper all over the fish. Cover it and bring to a boil then reduce the heat and cook until potatoes are tender. By laying the cusk on top of the potatoes and not down in the water fully submerged, the cusk basically gets lightly boiled depending on water level, but mostly steamed that way the cusk is not all mush once done. Take a fork and break apart all the fish into small chunks and stir it through the chowder. Add a couple of cups of heavy cream. Thicken it with corn starch/water if you desire, and season some more if needed. Thats it!! A classic Maine freshwater cusk chowder that goes down real well on a cold Winter day.
We also caught a number of tasty lake whitefish this day that we took home for the smoker. Stay tuned for another blog post about our smoking method that we have fine tuned during our time working in Alaska and smoking lots of fresh caught Alaska salmon!! For information about a guided ice fishing adventure check out www.eaguides.com
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The 2015 Moose season came with high anticipation at the Epic Adventures remote camp. This Fall we would be doing all of our September and October trophy moose hunts in multiple hunting zones inside the North Maine Woods and our scouting revealed the areas held some great bulls!! With numerous hunters booked this past year, we put in countless hours scouting our hunting areas prior to our hunters arrival. Scouting prior to the hunt, can make a huge difference in having a successful hunt or going home empty handed. It is pictures like this one though, at the end of a long week of hunting, that make all those hours and miles of scouting well worth it.
We typically use a large number of trail cameras to pattern trophy bulls inside of our hunting areas and we captured lots of bulls this year on them! Every year we are amazed to see what an area truly holds via the trailcams because you seldom lay eyes on these bulls just traveling the logging roads everyday, leaving many folks in Maine to believe that there aren’t as many moose in Maine as there really are! We like to have our trail cameras out for the month prior to the hunt and usually when the bulls start dropping their velvet around the 9th or 10th of September is when you will start seeing an increase in the activity on the trail cameras, with the peak of the activity occurring just prior to the moose rut around September 15-23.
After the many trips into remote camp scouting for the hunt, countless gallons of gas over many miles hauling gear in, and some late nights preparing for the 2015 Maine moose hunt, it was finally time to get settled into our remote camp and go after some trophy bulls!
Opening Day we awoke to very windy conditions and hotter than ideal conditions, but we were blessed with a great sunrise!!
Just before legal hunting hours began I arrived with my hunters, 17 year old Savannah and her father Fox, at the area we were going to start focusing on. Scouting revealed a couple of really nice bulls in the area, all we could hope for was we would find one of them that morning. Savannah was a very experienced hunter for her age and had already harvested a number of whitetail deer in her hunting career, so I was excited to have the opportunity to call in a trophy Maine moose for her. While we were gathering our gear and packing it into our day packs at the truck, I believed I had heard a cow bellow down behind us, but it was so windy that it was really hard to tell if I was just hearing things or not. Especially with the elevated anticipation that an opening day September Maine moose hunt brings to a seasoned moose guide. So I asked Fox if he thought he had heard the cow bellow and he confirmed that he also thought he heard one, maybe I wasn’t imagining things… We both agreed that it came from a direction behind us. This was the opposite direction I had planned on hunting that morning and I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to go in investigating or not, but we still had about fifteen minutes for me to mull it over while we let it get light out and finished a cup of percolator coffee. About ten minutes later while we were throwing our back packs on, getting ready to head out convinced to stick to my original plan of going to check the areas my trail cams had revealed a couple of nice bulls for at least a couple of hours, the cow bellowed again behind us. I knew after hearing her a second time that odds were good she had a bull with her this time of year and I had better change my plans and go in after her. I took a glance at my GPS and noticed a bog system down in where she bellowed from and knew with the warm temperatures predicted for the day that it would be a great place to catch her with a bull. I checked the wind and decided to work up the logging road a ways first to get downwind before working in towards her. She was in an area about a mile across in between two secondary logging roads. It was old cut over forest with a marsh system in between, surrounded by tall dark timber, a great place to find big moose! We got up the road a ways and headed in with the wind in our favor. I worked down through some old grown up skid trails where I could, bull grunting and dragging a shoulder blade as I went. Finally after making it about a quarter mile down in without hearing the cow again, I cow called to try and locate her. She still didn’t make a peep. I was a little worried that we might have been busted because it was so windy and swirling at times, but I kept heading in further grunting and dragging the blade as I went until we had reached the edge of the bog. It had been about an hour since we started in off the road and I stopped to make a series of calls and did some heavy raking, when we suddenly heard some raking coming from the other side of the bog. It was a welcome sound!! We hurried down about 30 yards to step out into the edge of the bog and set up where we could see. Savannah got her 6.5 Creedmoore comfortably set on her bog pod shooting sticks and her Father, Fox, got set up right next to her to back her up with his .375 Ruger Hawkeye Alaskan. I found a nice set of alders I could rake with my shoulder blade and began raking back to the bull followed by a couple of bull grunts. The bull responded by raking some trees and we knew he was committed! It wasn’t long, probably only a couple of minutes when Fox caught a glimpse of palms coming out in to the bog. I put my binos up and confirmed he was indeed a shooter. He raked some more alders and began moving to the downwind side out into the middle of the bog. I let Savannah know that as soon as she could get a shot into him she had better take it because he was going to get our wind any minute. He made his way across in front of us to our left and stepped out from behind some Alders when Savannah touched one off! He hunched from a good behind the shoulder hit and started off. Fox immediately followed up with a shot that went through the shoulders and anchored the bull right in his tracks. Even though Savannah’s shot was a fatal shot and another was not needed, we were happy to see her fathers shot had anchored the bull in one of the few dry patches in the bog!! I’m not sure if I was shaking more than Savannah, but I’m pretty sure I was. Just like that, it was over in an hour and Savannah had harvested a great Maine trophy bull!!It almost didn’t seem real. I joked with Savannah and Fox that it had been four years since one of my hunters had shot a great bull within the first hour. We had to pinch ourselves to see if it really just happened!? We managed to get across some of the water in the bog and laid eyes on the beast as he laid there. He was a great Maine bull for sure!!!
You couldn’t ask for a better remote Maine moose hunt! Now the hard work was about to begin. After looking at the GPS and realizing that there was another road to our West in the direction that the bull had come from and it would be about the same distance to pack out no matter what way we went, we opted to head West that way we wouldn’t have to cross the bog with heavy packs full of moose quarters. We took some photos and got to work on skinning and quartering the moose. For the last couple years I have gone to packing moose out of the woods instead of using winches because it truly allows you to get away from the roads and into trophy moose habitat. Once you skin and quarter a couple of moose you realize its really not that big of a project and in many cases its easier than fighting a whole moose out of the woods with winches. Usually we have a moose skinned, quartered, and in game bags in just about an hour and a half time frame. It aids in cooling the meat off quicker and is really the best way to go unless your moose is within about fifty yards of a road. I recommend using TAGS game bags to put your quarters in and they can be washed and reused after every use.
With one bull down we were excited to see how the rest of the week would go. Looking at the forecast we knew the best hunting would be the last three days of the week and that would be timed perfect with the peak of the rut starting, so camp life was a happy one that first night! It seemed everyone had an encounter of some sort with bulls that first day, but Savannah was the only one to pull the trigger. On the second day guide Jeremiah Jewel saw success with his hunter Phil. Jeremiah had worked a bull earlier in the morning, but was not able to get a look at him. They had logged some miles and decided to call it quits and head back to camp with still some legal shooting time left, when they spotted a nice bull on their travel back and Phil decided he would like to try and harvest him. Phil put a great shot on the bull and went back to camp a happy hunter that night!! Guide Mark Donaghy’s hunters were awful excited also about a bull Mark had bumped into in a new spot we hadn’t hunted before, but they couldn’t seal the deal on him that day. Mark’s hunter Danny was bow hunting and knew that would present some extra challenges but wanted to stick it out at least halfway through the week before swapping to the rifle. The bull came out on a winter road to Mark’s calling at about 180 yards and Mark noticed he was a giant right off, estimating he was a fair amount larger than Savannah’s bull and not one you see very often or get too many chances at. The bull presented a rifle shot, but had a long ways to go before he would be in bow range. He was headed towards them and appeared to be coming into the call when he dipped back into the timber and out of the winter road towards a bellowing cow. Mark tried working him for a couple hours, but with the wind swirling and blowing hard he was pretty certain they had been busted.
Wednesday we awoke to a very cold rain. Temperatures hovered above freezing all morning and showers turned into downpours. I decided to go with Guide Joel Carvell that morning and tag along with his hunters, which by luck happened to be Savannah’s younger sister Isabelle and her Uncle Blue. We headed to the same area I had intended to hunt opening day before hearing the cow bellow, knowing there were still a couple of nice bulls around. We set off walking in towards where we wanted to do our first calling sequence and got down in to where we intended to start, when we heard a cow bellowing in the back of a grown up chopping. We could hear at least two different bulls grunting with her. We made our way to one side of the chopping to get downwind and started working down in towards where we could here the cow bellowing. Joel called and raked with his cedar paddle as we worked down into them. That morning we ended up working right into five bulls. Four of the bulls were smaller bulls and one bull had some nice palms and fronts. We ended up being surrounded by the five bulls and had them all within twenty yards!!! Isabelle asked me how big I thought the biggest bull was, it was a pretty bull with palms and nice brows, but she had her mind set on getting one bigger than her sisters and elected to pass on him. That is a pretty dedicated fourteen year old! Not to mention how cold and wet it was that morning and we never heard her complain once. You can see a neat one minute video I filmed of the five bulls and Joel calling by downloading this link Maine_Moose_hunting_with_Epic_Adventures. After that close encounter we decided to head back to camp to get dried out, warmed up, and have some grilled sandwiches and warm soup for lunch.
As luck would have it, Thursday morning we awoke to the cool, calm, and frosty morning that was predicted earlier in the week and we knew it was shaping up to be a great morning of moose hunting. Each year it always seems we get one of these epic weather days to call moose and you have to make sure you have all your ducks in order to capitalize on them. Given the weather it was no surprise that the rest of the three tags were filled this morning! Mark went back into the same area he had seen the monster bull on Tuesday and ended up working into a bull that was with a cow in some big timber. Danny swapped to his rifle that morning and put a great shot on this bull when Mark called him to 30 yards. Mark located this bull in an area that most moose hunters in Maine drive right past and never think to hunt, but Mark was into bulls every day in that area and this bull was a great bull with a lot of age to him. When I went in to help Mark quarter and pack the moose out the quarter mile back to the road, we estimated this bull to be at least 8.5 years older and figured he may even go over ten years of age. He was no doubt past his prime and a great Maine trophy moose to take!
Joel went back into the same area he had called the five bulls in the day before looking for a big bull and luck would have it that he called in the same bull from the day before with the nice palms and brows. Today with her father by her side, Isabelle decided to take that bull. After a great shot she had her Maine moose!!! At fourteen years old she did awesome all week after doing a lot of walking and seeing moose every day! A short 200 yard pack out and her hunt was in the books!
The last tag was also filled that morning by John who was being guided by Stephen Schanz. After passing up numerous bulls all week in an area that saw very little hunting pressure, Stephen called this bull right in close and John decided it wasn’t a moose he could pass up. John has hunted moose in Alaska, Yukon, and Idaho and was truly impressed with Stephen’s calling and guiding skills and had an enjoyable week of hunting Maine moose!
October brought probably the toughest hunt conditions we have ever experienced at Epic Adventures and for the first time we had tags go unfilled, but by the end of the week all the hunters had passed on opportunities at moose, so it was a successful week of hunting. The wind blew most days, we saw an increase in hunting pressure from other hunters, heard too many electronic calls in the distance from inexperienced hunters, and in all… had to work harder than we have ever worked to put moose in front of the hunters. The rut had started tailing off and the bulls were not responding to calls like they were two weeks earlier, but they were still responding just not as vocally. We did get some bulls to respond and come in which was nice to see. On Monday I took my hunter, Jerry, into an area that I hadn’t hunted the first season, but knew from scouting and talking to a fellow guide that there was an impressive bull in the area. The trouble with the area is that it is thick and grown up with limited visibility past thirty yards at most, and to get into where the bulls typically are, it is a two and half mile walk to start the day. So you need to be mentally determined to hunt that spot. We got down into where I knew there would be some moose and sure enough a bull responded right off and it sounded like a good one. Right about then the wind picked up and we worked the area for two hours never to hear him again. They get big for a reason I guess. Looking at the weather we knew we wouldn’t lose the wind until the end of the week and it would be best to hunt other areas until we had the right conditions to come back into this spot until later in the week. In the afternoon I went and checked out a new area that we couldn’t get into during September because of some work they were doing on a logging road and sure enough it was full of fresh sign. Not all the rut sign that you see everywhere that is now two weeks old, but fresh feed sign and pull downs. It was obvious the moose were starting to transition into the hardwoods. We started working a hardwood ridge that had been cut some in the last couple of years and made it to the back side of it, when I heard a branch break after my calling. I told Jerry to get ready. A few minutes later a nice low 40’s bull worked right into 30 yards. He had come in silent like they often do during the October season. We had some fun with him, but decided that he wasn’t going to be a shooter until the end of the hunt. On Tuesday I went back into the same area after seeing all the fresh moose sign the day before. We had made it about a mile down a grown up, but passable, winter road where we had a good vantage point over a valley and decided to spend some time calling. It was cool and the wind was steady, but not swirling. After about a half hour a bull started raking 100 yards out. A few minutes later he raked about 50 yards out and we knew he was coming in. With the anticipation of laying eyes on him and listening to a deep grunt we were excited to get a look at him. It was then when you realize how frustrating it is at times to hunt moose in Maine, and I remembered why I try my hardest to get away from other hunters every year, but its not always possible. An electronic call rang out behind us a couple hundred yards, and I swear they must have hit that call twenty times in row!!!!!! Needless to say our bull shut up and we never saw him. It was obvious that these hunters were very inexperienced and didn’t realize that their method of hunting would most likely guarantee they go home that week with tag soup. A few minutes later a pick up truck came driving down the winter road towards us, with six hunters in the back of the truck bed using their E-call from the truck. I was parked on a dead end road, not blocking the road as that is illegal, but it was obvious we were in there hunting so it was frustrating to experience this.
On Wednesday the wind blew thirty miles an hour all day and we knew it would be a tough day of moose calling. I didn’t want to go back into the areas I was in on Monday or Tuesday because I didn’t want to risk spooking nice bulls and figured once the weather turned better the next morning we would go back. Just like the first season the forecast showed the best weather would be the end of the week. With it so windy I decided I needed to see a good distance and hunted some big clear cut areas that I normally don’t hunt. I showed up to my intended evening calling spot overlooking a large ridge that had been cut off and realized the wind was all wrong for our sit. It would be blowing right down into where I expected moose to come from. The wind was blowing thirty but it was only blowing from one direction for the most part, so I looked over my gps and realized the only place nearby where it would be in my favor was a small cut off area I had called the night before. I discussed it over with Jerry and we agreed we should go give that a try the last hour. We could check a nearby trail camera at the same time and see what was on it. We checked the camera and were excited to see a bull that we had nicknamed the “Dagger” bull, because of tines he had coming off the back of each palm, had been by just an hour after we called it the night before. We had pictures of this bull every week for the last month in a five square mile area, but hadn’t laid eyes on him yet.
So after a very lousy weather day of hunting our hopes were elevated knowing he was here the night before after we left. I spent the last hour calling and tried my best to get some sound in the air in between wind gusts. The wind was steady but it was in our favor which was a pleasant surprise. I had been standing about ten yards from Jerry for about a half hour and could see we both were starting to get pretty chilly. The temperature was dropping and the wind chilly, so I figured I’d go over and make some small talk the last half hour. I got to Jerry and started a conversation when I glanced to the right and saw a set of palms headed our way down an old cut trail. I threw my binos up and realized it was a good bull. We were kind of silhouetted and I had Jerry kneel down on a tree stump. The bull hung up about 40 yards behind some firs for what seemed like ten minutes. I grabbed my blade and just touched some twigs next to me doing some light raking. He started raking back, but I was having a hard time seeing him behind the firs. I was waiting for him to step out from behind them and wasn’t sure where he was. I knew he hadn’t bolted because I could see clearly behind the firs. After a few minutes of not seeing him I started scanning side to side. When I scanned to my left there was a palm right there at twenty yards!!! He had sneaked behind a long strip of firs and we never saw him coming the final distance. I told Jerry he would measure right about 50″, his palms were not real wide, but he had nice points. He stepped out and before I knew it, Jerry touched one off. The bull spun and I told Jerry to hit him again. He did! The bull went out of sight, but looked to be hit good. We hurried right over to look, not finding any blood we started down his tracks and came to a pretty sight about twenty yards later!!! Jerry had just harvested a beautiful 52″ Maine trophy moose on his Maine moose hunt after many years of applying for a tag!! He looked to be a good mature bull and a great moose to take during the October season. He wasn’t the “Dagger” bull, but we surely couldn’t pass him up!
In all it turned out to be a great moose season!! We made many memories, harvested some really nice bulls, had great camp camaraderie, ate some fantastic food cooked up by camp chef’s Candace and Rick, and in all it was a season to remember and be thankful for. If you would like to come to Maine and take part in the best moose hunt in the lower 48 and all of Eastern Canada please check out our website at www.eaguides.com for more information.
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Four exceptional Maine moose guides, with four great bulls.