Squirrel Pie

It’s October and the surreal blood moon has passed, signaling fall’s hunts and harvests.

But first, fishing, a harvest of sorts, and specifically trout fishing, which should improve dramatically on selected local waters this week and next.

Why, you ask?

Oh, that’s easy. The annual fall-stocking program is underway. So, no, those state trucks you’ve spotted lugging splashy silver tanks with their small rear motors purring aren’t out on joyrides or returning from the garage or transporting trout from one hatchery to another. They’re freshening up selected lakes, streams and ponds with fresh, foot-or-longer rainbow and brown trout from MassWildlife’s hatcheries at Montague, Sunderland, Belchertown and Sandwich.

A total of 74,100 fish — 66,100 rainbows and 8,000 browns — have been allotted for this round of statewide stocking, during which each of the five wildlife districts will divvy them up equally. Computed, that means they’ll all receive a total of 14,820 fish, including 13,220 rainbows and 1,600 browns.

The stocking crews always await the September/October transition before embarking on road trips. Prior to that, the streams are typically too low and too warm to risk stocking a cold-water species like trout. Plus, trout can have fatal issues when carted around in mobile metal tanks during hot summer temperatures.

By this time of year, trout fishing has typically dwindled down to a trickle, with only the diehards, most of them skilled anglers, still out on the streams, fly rod in hand, or trolling in boats on deep lakes, where trout retreat to the deepest, darkest, coldest depths to ride out warm summer water temperatures. That doesn’t mean you can’t take lake and pond trout on the surface during the height of summer, because you can if you fish early and late, understand the hatches and know the location of spring holes supplying fresh sources of cold, clear water. Even deep-water trolling can produce consistent results, but not the continuous action of spring ice-out fishing, which takes place when famished winter trout are feeding voraciously within 3 feet of the surface. Come summertime, the same fish lie deep and anglers must be more patient and knowledgeable to produce consistent success.

The same can be said of summer stream fishing, unless working rainstorms that quickly raise the water level and color the stream a silty brown as food from the ground, tree branches and bushes is washed in, drawing even the biggest, most secretive trout out from their deep secluded lairs — fortresses often located on river bends, protected by overhanging roots, large stones or ledge, fallen trees, undercut banks and/or all of the above at a single site.

Local rivers ticketed for stocking this week or next include the Deerfield from Florida to Deerfield, the Millers from Athol to Montague, and the Green from Colrain to Greenfield. As for lakes and ponds, look for action at old standbys like Lake Wyola in Shutesbury, Cranberry Pond in Sunderland and Lake Mattawa in Orange. For some reason, isolated Warwick seems to get the best of it with no fewer than four impoundments stocked: Moore’s, Forestry Camp and Sheomet ponds and Laurel Lake. For those who enjoy fishing North Amherst’s Puffers Pond — hint-hint — you may want to take a trip there, too.

There’s nothing like the cool weather and colorful backdrop of fall to make trout fishing enjoyable. So don’t be afraid to take advantage of fall stocking, even is you are more of a spring and early-summer devotee.

Grey squirrel season opened last week, and the three-week September bear season is behind us, ending Saturday. Don’t hold your breath waiting for harvest numbers. The spring turkey harvest has yet to be announced by MassWildlife. Coming soon is open season on woodcock (Wednesday) and ducks and geese (Central, Oct. 13, Berkshire, Oct. 12). Another important date to remember is Oct. 17, when the season opens for pheasant, ruffed grouse, cottontail rabbit, snowshoe hare, and coyote. The wild-turkey and archery-deer seasons commence on Oct. 19. Farther down the road is the second, three-week segment of black-bear season, which runs from Nov. 2 through Nov. 21.

Speaking of squirrel hunting, it seems to be a lost art these days, but was quite popular in days past. The favorite weapon locally seemed to be the old Stevens .22-.410 over/under. The top barrel was chambered for .22 caliber long rifle, the bottom took .410 gauge, providing the hunter options of discharging a pattern at running, jumping, airborne squirrels or pinpoint, open-sight accuracy for a stationary target standing on its hind legs eating on a limb. The trick was to sit quiet against a large tree or stonewall, settle and blend in, and wait for the squirrels to start rummaging around above and at ground level. Then, with activity rampant, start picking away to fill the game bag.

Squirrel pie was a New England favorite, with many lard-crusted homemade recipes. But cut-up, butter-sauteed squirrel pieces in an iron skillet worked well, too, often prepared with onions, peppers and garlic, then a little dab of apple cider at the end, just before reducing the heat to a simmer and covering. The hind quarters, loins and shoulders were all tasty and tender and worked well on a bed of rice with fresh-picked wild mushrooms on the side.

The hunt was ideal for sharpening the shooter’s eye for approaching big-game hunts. Plus squirrels got hunters into the oaks and hickory groves in September for early deer and/or bear scouting. These days, with turkeys back in the picture, it would work for scouting fall flocks as well.

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