I saw a man walking across the ice of a pond at a brisk pace. He was carrying a chisel with a 5-foot-long handle and an old-fashioned pack basket. Greeting me with a smile, he soon explained that he was checking traps, set for beavers in the pond. My eyes widened.
In the 10 years I have traveled Maine, I have heard of, but never met, someone skilled in the lore of this region’s ancient fur trapping tradition. And that is how I met the spry, 62-year-old retired railroad worker, Bob Martin.
An avid outdoorsman and a competitive canoe racer, Martin took up trapping in 1980 as another excuse to commune with nature. Because the trapping season begins in the early winter, he initially uses his canoe to scout the areas where the beavers and muskrats are active.
As soon as the ponds and marshes freeze over, Martin chisels holes in the ice to set the traps and to which he later returns with the hope of collection. Ever wary of breaking through, he taps with his long chisel to gauge the ice thickness to ensure a safe walking route. Every so often he does fall through the ice, he said, usually in water levels that don’t creep above his protective chest waders.
At his shop he skins the animals and prepares the pelts based on specifications by fur buyers. Martin gets a large number of requests from land and camp owners as well as municipalities to trap beavers from areas where roads have been flooded or trees have been damaged by the animals.
“I go to a spot and trap out the beavers, but they are usually back within a year or two. So I have been trapping in pretty much the same area for all these years, but I skip a few seasons before going back to some spots,” Martin said.