Sportsman’s Corner: Coronavirus and MassWildlife

Published: 3/20/2020 8:00:08 PM
Modified: 3/20/2020 7:59:56 PM

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on every facet of our lives. It has caused changes in the way we work, travel, socialize, shop and live our day-to-day lives. As a member of the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board, this writer received a briefing Wednesday afternoon from MassWildlife Director Dr. Mark Tisa to inform me of what adjustments had been made due to the health concerns and the state government’s reactions.

The first topic was fish stocking. MassWildlife has an inventory of trout in the agencies hatcheries that is valued at $3 to $4 million and that fish inventory is due to be stocked into the commonwealth’s lakes, ponds, rivers and streams starting right now. Hatchery workers were declared to be “emergency personnel” so they could begin stocking without delay. State workers, and all workers in the Massachusetts and across the country are vulnerable to be infected by the coronavirus. All precautions are being made and other employees are ready to step in to work on the trout stocking should any employee assigned to that program be taken ill. As a precaution, all stocking trucks will be manned by a single driver and a second employee will follow in a separate vehicle to keep “social distance” to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.

The early spring across the state has created a scenario where there should be great fishing during the 10-week period here in Massachusetts when trout are stocked and most actively pursued by anglers. The good news is that fishing is one of the best activities to help people get outside and “social distancing” is part of the sport. To find out what bodies of water have been stocked you can go the MassWildlife website (masswildlife.org) and get “real time’ information.

In his briefing, Mark said the headquarters building, like all Massachusetts installations, had been shut down Monday and Tuesday while plans for going forward were made. The MassWildlife Headquarters are “open for business” but in effect closed as the public is not allowed in and most employees are working remotely from home. Those doing field work or research will carry on as usual and management staff will be in constant communication and all operations will continue as planned. Necessary changes, like extension of time for the Natural Heritage program to work on permitting, have been made but things will go on for MassWildlife as usual until whatever time conditions are deemed to be back to normal. No one is suggesting that it will be less than a couple of months before we see the return to that normalcy.

Like most of us, my life has changed as I am not able to go to my job as deputy sheriff. Until I can return, there are plenty of things to do around the house, but it has also provided a chance to do a little “spring woodcock hunting.” Taking the dogs to likely spots has produced finds every time and there seem to be a lot of the migrating “timberdoodles” around. There are many locally who enjoy going out at dusk to observe the courting ritual of woodcock as the males fly up to great heights and then spiral back. The show is designed to catch the attention of females and it seems to be in full swing, albeit a bit early. Hopefully, we will get a few more outings before the birds begin to show signs of nesting. At that point, all the dog work stops, and the birds are left undisturbed until August, when the hatchlings are flighted.

At this point my spring trip to Kansas to visit my sister, and maybe do a little turkey hunting, is still on. Hopefully the airlines situation will have stabilized and flights will be back to something close to normal. We will see.

Locally, deer are venturing out into the mowings in the evening and, from all reports, they are looking no worse for wear and tear from the winter. It would seem like the health and numbers of deer should hold great promise for another excellent hunting season come fall.

Turkeys are also in transition as the males are gobbling. There still seem to be large groups of hens and last year’s hatch. The young males, called jakes, are beginning to band together and you are still seeing groups of mature males, sporting long beards. The process will evolve and soon the hens will respond to the gobbling toms when they are ready to be bred and nesting usually begins in late April and peaks in May.

Fly fishermen will soon see hatching insects, but word has it that some big holdover trout have been taken using large streamers in moving water. Get your fishing gear out and ready, it should be a great spring and lots of folks will have plenty of time to get outside. Be healthy!


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