Text and Photos By: Andrew Pelletier
IN THIS MID-SUMMER EDITION: Another Hartland moose loses its life… Let’s give them a “brake”, people! The Cure for the Summertime Blues – BLUE CRABS, that is! “Welcome Spirits and Solitude”, in homage to my dear, departed friend on the anniversary of his passing. What’s in Season – a look at shellfishing opportunities in our state and the CT Sportsman’s Wild Game Cookery.
I am inexplicably drawn to tidal estuaries. These small, brackish waters never cease to provide hours of exploration and observation as the ebb and flow of the ocean and sunlight create an ever-shifting environment above and below the waterline. Whether it be in a canoe seeking out flounder, in waders with fly rod for striper or digging clams at low tide on the flats, tidal waters not only offer a variety of sport and culinary delights, you always see and learn something new.
This month, I’ll share some thoughts on a recent outing to Clinton, CT where I spent a hot summer afternoon harvesting tasty blue crabs and learning about the northern diamondback terrapin. I’ll also offer a story I penned called, “Welcome Spirits and Solitude”. A story dedicated to the memory of my good friend on the anniversary of his passing, this 25th of July. I urge anyone who has a family member, a loved one or a friend who suffers from depression to try and reach out. Your kind words may make a difference and avert an untimely, tragic outcome. We’ll take a look at shellfishing opportunities in our state in the, “What’s in Season” section and I’ll offer up a delicious blue crab recipe that utilizes all that wonderful, fresh-picked crab meat. Pour yourself a nice, tall glass of iced tea, switch on the fan and enjoy the mid-summer edition of the CT Sportsman’s Journal.
YET ANOTHER MOOSE COLLISION IN HARTLAND, CT
This is the 4th moose fatality I’ve had the displeasure of coming across or hearing about here in my hometown of Hartland. I implore anyone who travels through rural roadways, particularly near reservoirs and rivers, to be aware of their surroundings and be prepared to stop, should a moose or bear decide the browse is greener on the other side of the highway. This collision happened on July 25th on Route 20 and there were no reported injuries to humans. The vehicle that hit the animal luckily only had a smashed window and drove away with minor damage.
These huge animals are always on the move and with the rut coming soon (between the end of September to the beginning of November) they will be all the more active. Give these awesome animals a “brake”, it’s more than likely that this unfortunate cow now has an orphaned calf or two left alone to their own eventual demise. Slow down and be aware… it just may save your life!
THE CURE FOR THE SUMMERTIME BLUES… BLUE CRABBING!
One of my favorite “dog-days” activities I indulge in when the coast of Connecticut heats up is blue crabbing in the tidal estuaries of Clinton and Old Saybrook. With an opportune Monday off work, I loaded the Forester with a small cooler, a long handled net, 3 star traps and a couple hand lines and made for the coast.
Crabbing is inexpensive and with a couple trash bags of returnable bottles and cans, I was able to buy ice for the cooler and a package of chicken thighs for bait. Total: 5 bucks and some change. The chance to reclaim a day of shirtless, adolescent freedom; trying to even out my ridiculous farmer tan and bringing home some big, tasty blue crabs – PRICELESS!
My destination was the Hammonassett River in Clinton where it converges with the ebb and flow of saltwater from the Sound. Ideal conditions that blue crabs favor and call home during our steamy, New England summers. The first order of business was to bait and set out the 3 star traps and tie off to the rail of the Route 1 bridge. The star traps are designed to lie flat on the bottom of the estuary and left to sit while the bait attracts the blue crabs. After 10 or 15 minutes, you check the traps by simply pulling the line up, which closes the four sides to form a pyramid shape, hopefully trapping a big blue crab or two inside. With the traps set, I went down to the water’s edge and baited a hand line, which immediately got lots of attention. As you feel the crab tugging at the chicken thigh, you slowly bring the line in hand over hand towards you. When the crab is near the shore and continues to tear at the bait, you get your net ready and slowly lift the bait toward the surface. The trick is to move slowly enough that they hang on until you see the bait, then you scoop the net under the bait and crab and, voila! The result being a keeper blue crab in the net like the one shown in the photo. That first blue crab measured 7 inches from spike to spike on the upper shell, a good start to an interesting day.
A legal blue crab in Connecticut has to measure 5 inches from spike to spike and measuring these ornery critters is no easy task. Fresh from the water, there is nothing meaner than a blue crab and if it latches onto you, it’s not letting go! Just keep in mind that a dollar bill is 6 inches and judge from there. I put the crabs I believe are legal immediately on ice in a cooler. If I doubt the legal size of a crab, I measure it after the ice has calmed it down a bit. Over the years I’ve become a good judge of a keeper blue crab and rarely have to return any.
With my first blue crab on ice, I tied the hand line to the handle of my net and threw the bait back out, then went and checked the star traps tied to the bridge rail. The first trap I checked – no bait. Second trap – no bait. The third trap I hoisted up had another keeper blue crab in it so I pulled the trap up to the road. I tried to get a photo of the blue crab in the star trap but as I tried to focus on it, the crab slipped through a gap in the trap doors! Here I am on Route 1 in Clinton, cars going by, watching this nut chasing an angry, runaway blue crab down the shoulder of the highway! I finally pinned the desperado between the cement bridge abutment and my open cooler and with a bit of persuasion, I had blue crab number two on ice. Rethinking my strategy and what had just happened, I decided to pull the star traps off the bridge and concentrate on hand lining, since I was getting plenty of action down below at the water’s edge.
When I returned, I couldn’t find my hand line or my net where I had left them. After a bit of head scratching I found my net had been dragged about ten feet away and my hand line was gone. My first thought was that I was dealing with a world record blue crab if it was powerful enough to drag my net and make off with my hand line. I rebaited another hand line and got back to it, hoping to capture this legendary, monster blue crab my mind had created. A few more legal blue crabs came to the net and were put on ice.
After rebaiting, I threw my offering out and I felt something violently tearing at the bait… something big. Visions of a giant crab filled my head as I slowly lured the behemoth toward the shore. As I lifted the bait, it would let go each time it got near the surface. I dipped the net deeper in the water and when I felt the bait being ravaged, I lifted gently and took a wild, blind scoop with the net. The net immediately loaded up with something heavy and thrashing, as I lifted what I thought would be the blue crab of a lifetime! I laughed when I saw the “monster”, which turned out to be… a turtle?! And what a cute little guy. Very docile and gentle and didn’t mind having its picture taken, save for a couple hisses at first.
“A turtle in salt water?”, I thought. I’ve never heard of such a thing. When I got home I did some internet research and found out that the turtle was actually a terrapin. The Northern Diamondback Terrapin is the only turtle in North America that lives its entire life in saltwater estuaries. They actually have specialized ducts near their eyes which allow them to secrete salt they ingest. Their range is from upper Cape Cod to the Florida Keys and the Texas coastline along the Gulf of Mexico. They were once harvested with no regulations, considered a gourmet delicacy in the early 1900’s but are now protected, at least in our state that I know. For more information on the Northern Diamondback Terrapin go to the CT DEEP website. After I netted the terrapin I started noticing that I could see their heads poking up all over the estuary.
I ended out the day with 9 blue crabs on ice and learned something new about our state’s wildlife in the form of a cute, little saltwater turtle. When I got the blue crabs home I boiled them in a pot of water, salt and Old Bay Seasoning. After they cooled, I put them in the fridge overnight and picked the meat from the shells and claws the next day. Nine blue crabs from 5 – 7 inches from spike to spike yielded about a pound of sweet and succulent crab meat. Check out the award winning recipe I found on the internet for blue crab in this edition’s CT Sportsman’s Wild Game Cookery.
I remember the phone call from Neil, Rich’s cousin. I didn’t recognize his voice at first, because he seldom ever called me, but his voice was grave and it sounded like he was drinking. He called to tell me that Rich had taken his own life in the forests of the Connecticut Lakes Region in Pittsburg, New Hampshire.
Pittsburg was a new world that Rich introduced to me on weekend jaunts to his father’s Christmas tree farm. The farm is just over the New Hampshire border in the Hamlet of Paquetteville, Quebec. It was a place I immediately became attached to. We hunted Grouse, or “Pa’drie” as his father called them, along the tumbling brook and the hallway of balsam and spruce that crowded the dirt road in the valley. On the other side of the brook was the U.S. border and Pittsburg, New Hampshire, only a stone’s throw of a child away. We enjoyed many meals of Grouse breast, sautéed in butter, washed down with cold Molson Ale. Later, as evening approached, we would drive across the border to Route 3 for some moose watching. The moose came out of the dense stands of balsam and spruce on narrow, well-defined trails to slurp the salty water in the wallows just a few yards off the highway, known as “Moose Alley”. During the moose season, some hunting camps along the highway displayed two or three trophy bulls hanging from heavily constructed gambrels. We would stop and marvel at their incomprehensible size and the impossible width and mass of the antlers. From outside, we saw the soft, amber glow of light in the camp’s foggy windows and the muffled sound of boisterous camaraderie. We would snap some pictures and unbeknown to the hunters, share in their celebration.
It was a completely different world… the wildlife, the wilderness, the foreign sound of Québécois French. Even the food was different. A plate we often ate, and a favored hangover cure, was Poutine: french fries, topped with fromage en grains, cheese curds that are so fresh, they squeak between your teeth, topped with thick, brown gravy. There was also moose pie, and cretons, a pork pate, served on toast.
A year after Rich’s death, on a guided deer hunt in Pittsburg, I met my guide, Toby, a tall, affable young man with a quiet manner. My girlfriend and I were staying at the Tall Timbers Lodge and he met us in the dining room to square up plans for the hunt the next morning. As the evening wore on, we learned that he groomed snowmobile trails in the winter and watched for forest fires from Mount Megantic in the summer for the Pittsburg Fire Department. I asked him if he had heard about my friend. He heard that Rich’s car was found by a fisherman, about a half mile in on one of the hundreds of logging roads in town. Rich had constructed a crude cross with a couple of dry branches, which he laid across the hood of his car. Then he wrote a note to his parents and sisters.
Rich’s father maintains a memorial where he was found. He planted a few balsam Christmas trees, mows the grass and replaced the crude cross with an iron one that is attached to a nearby birch. The silence is incredible and the solitude evokes his presence. Whenever I go there, I can sense Rich’s spirit… His sister gave me a stone with some words to her brother painted on it, and asked me to place it there for her. She told me that Rich’s spirit is revealed to her in the form of a brown rabbit. She explained, as kids, Rich would always choose a brown rabbit when they selected them as pets. She told me of an oddly out of place wild cottontail that appears in the backyard of her suburban home from time to time, and shows no fear of humans
On a fly fishing trip to Pittsburg, I headed out early to fish a stretch of the Connecticut River between the Second and First Connecticut Lakes. Driving in the pre-dawn darkness, I strained with tired eyes to catch a glimpse of a moose or deer. I saw a trio of young whitetail bucks, making their way towards the spruce stands along the First Connecticut Lake.
It was in the vicinity of the same woods where Toby had put me on stand the first evening of my guided hunt with him, the year after Rich’s death. On stand, I heard a quiet noise behind me. It was a snowshoe hare still in its brown phase. The hare was busy foraging and suddenly reared up on its hind legs and intently peered into the thick woods in front of me. It then darted back in the direction it came from. As I watched the hare retreat, I heard the distinct sound of a deer quickly approaching from the direction the hare was looking. The deer, which I thought was a doe, stepped into a small clearing. I took the shot and the deer fell where it stood. When I got down from the tree, I found that it was a spike. I stood in the clearing and thanked the deer’s spirit. I also thanked Rich’s spirit. Could the brown hare, as his sister described, have been a manifestation of Rich’s spirit that signaled the deer’s presence? Earlier that day, I had told Toby that antlers were not important. I told him I wanted a healthy young deer for the freezer that year. The deer dressed out at 113 pounds, it was November 13th and it was the 13th deer weighed in that day.
As I continued north on Route 3, I approached the logging road where Rich spent his final moments. I thought of turning off to visit, but it was still fairly dark. I was about to pass the logging road when a huge cow moose abruptly burst from the wilderness onto the thin ribbon of paved civilization. It had rained during the night and as I locked up the brakes, all I could hear were the sound of clacking hooves and the hiss of tires on wet pavement as I skid toward her. As the huge cow reached the centerline, her hind hooves slipped out from under her on the wet asphalt and she fell on her massive hindquarters. With my foot practically through the floorboard, I nudged her, ever so slightly, with the bumper of the car as it came to a halt. She quickly labored back to her cloven hooves, grunting as she made her way back to the safety of the woods. I finally exhaled as she dissolved into the dark forest. I was pretty sure I heard Rich exhale in the seat next to me and I said to him, “Yeah… that was a little too close!”
When I arrived at the parking area, it was light enough to be able to navigate the moose trail that snakes through the tunnels of spruce and fir to the river. I quickly slipped into my waders and laced up the boots. As I made my way along the trail it was absolutely silent. My steps made no sound; the ground is carpeted with a thick layer of spongy moss. The river is about a quarter mile away at the end of the dark labyrinth. At the trail’s end I could hear the water tumbling over the rocks in the shallow riffles.This is why I came. The smell of balsam, moss and sweet fern, the sound of pure water coursing through a stony run, the anticipation of the bend in the fly rod. As I stepped off the bank and into the water, I heard a grouse drumming on the other side of the river and a Canadian jay watched me inquisitively.
Off the main river, there is a small back bay, created by ages of deluge by the freshets of spring, where the fishing has been productive in the past. I waded into position and tied on a Gray Ghost and false cast to the dark, water-logged stumps on the right of the bay. I gently dropped the streamer about ten feet from the stumps. As I stripped the fly back I felt a take and a miss. I continued stripping and this time the fish took the fly with a solid “thunk.” I quickly played the thrashing fish to the net and not surprisingly, it was a vibrant, chunky, brook trout, resplendent in all its fall colors. The area near the stumps always held a few brookies. I quickly removed the streamer from its black mouth with forceps and released the trout from the confines of the net. I caught a couple more feisty brookies from the stumps then moved farther downstream. I cast into the calm of the bay again and as I stripped the streamer back, I saw the wake of a good fish in pursuit. A couple more strips in quick succession sealed the deal and a landlocked salmon exploded from the quiet bay. The serenity of the bay now agitated by the salmon’s aerial acrobatics and the silence interrupted by the sound of line being stripped off the reel. Eventually the Salmon tired and I brought it to the net. I admired the beautiful, 17-inch fish and its gold and gray hues with dark spots set on cream-colored halos. I slipped the salmon out of the net and it darted back into the depths and safety of its world. One more landlocked salmon came to the net and then the bite fizzled away. I waded back toward the stumps and beyond them to see if there were fish farther back in the bay. I caught one last brilliant brookie, and then climbed out of the water onto a large granite boulder that made a good platform to cast from.
As I cast from my granite perch, I caught movement to my left. A cow moose appeared from the thicket on the other side of the river. She waded downstream where the river turns left and then clambered out of the river and up an embankment, back into the thick woods. After about ten minutes, I saw the cow was standing at the edge of the woods. She took a few steps closer, and knowing their eyes aren’t so keen, I remained motionless. She waded into the pool directly across from me and was soon dunking her head under water to browse the vegetation on the bottom. We shared the pool for an hour, and then she left, unhurriedly, after she’d had her fill. I also had my fill, as the bite had turned off. Two nice salmon and four brookies was not a bad morning and breakfast was calling.
The company of the big cow was very welcome. Even if the big girl hadn’t kept me company, I felt Rich was there with me. As I took off my waders, I wondered if he could have somehow played a part in making it such a special morning. Did he know that he was the reason I have come back to this region, time and again, to enjoy all it has to offer? The beauty. The wildness. The solitude. On the way back I stopped at the logging road where Rich’s memorial is located. As I visited, I wondered, can a friend’s spirit transcend their world back into ours and physically make a difference in our days and experiences here on Earth?
August third, a couple years later and I took a day off work because it was my birthday. I decided that I would go to Harpswell, Maine to fly fish for stripers at the Basin. I planned to leave in the morning, but that night at Eleven O’clock, I decided to get on the road to arrive there for first light. It was a long drive and the windows were down. The August air was warm and sweet. The radio station was airing a Led Zeppelin tribute, one of Rich’s favorite bands. Hours of driving pass and I was pretty much on autopilot. This time I was taking my friend to one of my favorite places.
It was still dark when I arrived at the lobster docks at the mouth of the Basin. I saw traces of dawn to the east as I got out of my car, and a sky full of stars to the west as I tugged my waders on. I waded gingerly around the perimeter of the small cove to get to the mouth of the Basin. It was half tide and falling, a perfect scenario at this spot. Hungry stripers would be waiting to ambush morsels as they got flushed from the reversing falls. As I reached the other side of the cove, I startled some eiders that were sleeping in my intended position. They swam away, keeping in contact with each other with their questioning calls.
I studied the current and everything was perfect. I removed the black Deceiver that I tied the night before from the hook keeper and stripped out some line. I lifted the line off the water and launched it behind me. As I felt it load up, I brought the rod tip sharply forward as my left hand accelerated the line through the guides. The Deceiver landed just inside the seam of current and as I dead-drifted it past my position, a good bass slammed the fly. The fish took line and headed for the lobster buoys. I applied pressure by palming the reel and getting some angle with the rod, which headed it off short of the buoy ropes. Then the fish headed down current, making a break for the open water. I followed down the slippery, seaweed covered rocks and applied pressure that persuaded the striper out of the faster current into the calm of the cove in front of the lobster docks. After a couple more attempts for open water, the fish tired and I soon had the bass cradled on the soft kelp. “First cast, first bass”, I thought. It was about 30 inches or so and a great fight on the fly rod. It was light enough for me to clearly see that there was something hanging between the tail and the rear dorsal fin. It was a large clump of slimy algae clinging to something on the striper’s tail. I removed the algae from what appeared to be a tag that was crudely pierced through the bass’ tail and tied in a knot. I cut the tag off with my nail clippers and released the striper. I held the tag close, and I squinted to see the small print, which read: American Littoral Society – 640803. “64” for the year I was born, “08” for the month I was born and “03”, the day I was born. I just stood there bewildered. The orange globe of the sun was just rising in the misty, summer haze. I looked around and said, “Thanks, Rich. That was a real nice birthday present, my friend.”
WHAT’S IN SEASON FOR JULY AND AUGUST?
SHELLFISHING IN CONNECTICUT: PERSONAL USE / NOT FOR SALE
MUSSELS, OYSTERS, CLAMS and SCALLOPS (License Required): Contact the town where you plan to harvest these species for permit information or the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture Division at (203) 874-0696 or email at: email@example.com.
LOBSTER (License Required – no closed season): Minimum shell length is 3 3/8” from eye socket to end of carapace **Possession of egg bearing females is illegal** Legal methods include:
- 10 pots or less with 1 escape vent of 2” x 5 ¾” rectangular or 2 escape vents 2 ?” circular in the parlor (catch compartment) with a maximum trap size of 22,950 cubic inches
- skin diving, scuba diving and hand capturing
Call (860) 434-6043 and ask for guidelines and licensing requirements for personal use lobstering in CT.
BLUE CRAB (No License Required): Season dates: May 1st – November 30th. Minimum shell length (Spike to Spike) is 5” hard shell and 3 ½” soft shell **Possession of egg bearing females is illegal**
Legal methods include:
- Scoop net, hand line, dip net, trot line
- Star trap, circular topless trap under 26’” in diameter
- Semi circular cylindrical trap under 12” in diameter
For current Fishing Regulations, Creel Limits, Size Limits, Special Restrictions and other important information regarding the areas you fish – GO TO: 2012 CT Fishing Guide
For current Hunting Regulations, Licensing, Tagging & Reporting, Permits, Bag Limits, Hunting Areas and Special Conditions – GO TO: 2012 CT Hunting/Trapping Guide
COYOTE HUNTING:Coyote is open until September 29th
WOODCHUCK HUNTING: Woodchuck is open until September 29th.
Know and completely understand all hunting regulations BEFORE you head out!!!! Questions? Go to www.ct.gov/dep/hunting.
LOCAL HUNTING AREAS
(Maps for most of these areas can be found at www.ct.gov/dep/hunting)
- People’s State Forest – Barkhamsted (2942 acres)
- American Legion State Forest – Barkhamsted (1037 acres)
- Nepaug State Forest – New Hartford (1367 acres)
- Tunxis State Forest – Hartland (9518 acres)
Wildlife Management Areas
- Cedar Swamp WMA – New Hartford/Torrington (278 acres)
- Roraback WMA – Harwinton (1975 acres)
State Leased and Public Access Areas
- MDC – Greenwoods Pond – New Hartford (400 acres)
- MDC -Colebrook Reservoir/Hogback Dam – Colebrook/Hartland, etc. (4159 acres)
CT SPORTSMAN’S WILD GAME COOKERY
Picking the meat from blue crabs is a bit tedious but the end result is well worth the time put in. I like to boil mine the night before and refrigerate them overnight. This lets them firm up in the cold, making it easier to pick the meat from the shells. 9-10 crabs will produce a pound or more of delicious, sweet meat. I haven’t tried this recipe out yet but it sounds like a real winner to me! So good in fact that this recipe won the grand prize at the 50th Annual National Hard Crab Derby in Crisfield, MD.
Maryland Blue Crab Salad credited to Dee T. Van Nest of Annapolis, MD.
1 pound blue crab meat
1 avocado cut into small dice
juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons plain nonfat yogurt
3 tablespoons light sour cream
1½ tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning, divided
2 drops hot pepper sauce
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1¼ cups coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons chili sauce
½ pound baby lettuce
12 chive leaves
Inspect crab meat for shell. Set aside.
Combine avocado with lemon juice. Add yogurt, sour cream, parsley, chives, 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning, pepper sauce and capers. Gently fold in the crab, trying not to break up lumps of crab meat. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 2 tablespoons of cheese forming a circle about 3 inches in diameter on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Repeat to create 12 lacy shells. Bake approximately 10 minutes or until brown. Remove immediately from sheet.
Whip cream until slightly thick and add chili sauce and Old Bay seasoning to taste. Continue beating until soft peaks are formed. Arrange lettuce on six salad plates, top with one lacy shell and mound crab salad on shell. Position another shell on top with a few sprigs of chives. Garnish shell, salad and plate with a few dollops of sauce. Serve immediately.
SHARE YOUR PHOTOS AND EXPERIENCES WITH US!
We encourage those who hunt, fish or observe wildlife to share their pictures and stories with us and other readers. Please send your photos and stories to: firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to post them in future editions of The CT Sportsman’s Journal. We wish all of you a safe and successful season!