We have an old friend in northern Maine that epitomizes the old time woodsman-sportsman and for his age, pushing eight decades, he's probably more active than the average younger man. How's he do it? He uses his brains and not his body.
A great example of how my friend Elory Walton (not of the famous Walton family) can handle a simple hunt for snowshoe rabbits as they are called by most folks is that instead of beating the bushes during the rabbit's brown stage, he'll wait until conditions are just right. When the woods are still brown with no snow and the rabbits have turned white. Using nothing but a .22 rifle and plenty of mileage in his old pickup truck, he drives at a slow crawl along many of Maine's back country woods roads. When he spies a spot of white standing out against the brown background, he knows he's got a target. The only thing on his truck that gets any oil are his doors, so he's able to slip out of the driver's side and very carefully sneak at least off the road before his always sure aim puts a bunny in the back of the truck. Elory's food intake includes lots of fish and game that he is so adept at providing for not only himself but for families he knows are in need.
Come the late season when it's fly fishing-only for trout and salmon, it's usually a tad too cold for him to launch a boat and hit the lakes and streams that abound in his area but he's always showing us photos of fish he's caught. His secret is so simple. There's a few bridges over his favorite rivers, the Little Madawaska and the Aroostook River. Rather than try to beat the bush along the streams he has figured out, over the years, a few hot spots that are downstream of the bridges. So he puts out enough fly line and leader with one of his homemade flies attached and works those spots from the bridges until he hooks a nice fish. And then he will climb down to the shoreline beneath the bridge to net his fish. We've been around a lot of fly fishermen in our day but he's the only one that we've seen using that technique, except for the tiny crowd of regulars at the outlet of some of Lake Winnipesaukee River's streams that are targeting landlocked salmon before the ice has cleared from the lake and this is in the spring, not in the fall.
One of his best spring harvesting days is when he can combine a fiddlehead fern picking day with catching a few trout, usually on the Aroostook River. He has an instinct of when both are peaking and seems to hit the river at just the right time.
The first time that we ever fished that big river we met Elory, by then a longtime friend, out in his small outboard trolling. "What's the plan," we yelled over the sound of the two outboard motors and the gurgle of the river. "Metal up and wood down," Elory answered.
Luckily we knew exactly what he meant, as by then we were pretty well acquainted with his ability to speak a lot in very few words. The "metal" meant small metal trout spoons or spinners. The "wood" meant trout-sized Rapala-type balsa, minnow shaped plugs. His reasoning came from lots of times getting a metal spoon hooked on bottom when trolling with the current and not having that problem going against the current. And with the Rapala lures, he had found that their natural buoyancy had produced fish strikes and not catching bottom when going with the current.
A couple times each fall, Elory will provide his table with some of the best wild game in Maine. As October comes to an end and the leaves start to fall, he's fill that old pickup truck with gas and head out on some of those same roads he'll be hunting later for the white bunnies but this time it's ruffed grouse (known as just "birds" or "patridge" to most Mainers. Ask him about the difference between "patridge" and grouse, he'll tell you that "patridge" are taken on the ground, while grouse are shot on the wing, when they flush. Regardless of how they are taken, most will agree that they are the "finest eatin'" of all the game shot in Maine.
For those that are considered as part of his close friends, they know that this old and kind of grumpy character has a heart of gold. He picks up all the ends of homemade bread from the local restaurant to feed the birds and critters. Surplus eggs that are going to go to waste at the local food pantry become pickled eggs when Elory gets his hands on them. His meatloaf made of ground goose meat combined with barley has kept a lot of hungry people sustained over the years. And the dozens of fishing flies that Elory ties in the off season that he shares with both kids and adult-kids make for many pleasant memories of fish caught and days of pleasure.
To know him is to love him. He's my "brother of the wild."
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.