Monday, June 30, 2008

Bernie Konter's Fall Fest Pickles (and fishing of course)

Eleva Wisconsin and Independence Wisconsin are only 18 miles apart however they are as opposite as lefse and sour kraut. Eleva is a small Norwegian/Lutheran community while Independence is mostly Polish/Catholic. All Wisconsin small towns had something in common at the time, 1 tavern for every 100 residents and Independence was no exception. It was actually the place to go on a weekend with Midway, Travers Valley, Elk Creek, and E & J's bar hosting all of the area's young people looking for a good time. The drinking age was 18 and the times were definitely different. My wife is from Independence and through her and her brother I had the opportunity to meet many new friends. The Catholic Church in Independence is a tribute to the Polish tradition. Stop by if you ever go through there as you will not be disappointed. Every year on the first weekend in August the church has their annual fund raiser called the Fall Fest. I will never forget my surprise to see beer served on the church grounds. Moose Halama was the local Pabst distributor and it was everywhere! My conservative Lutheran upbringing made it awkward, however I quickly got past my initial reservations and decided these people aren't nearly as bad as my Grandmother had made them out to be. One thing that always impressed me was the fact that they always had fresh "Fall Fest" pickles that various people would bring around in 5 qt ice cream pails for you to grab a few and enjoy. They were always made from the first cucumber harvest, were excellent, and Bernie Konter made the best. Bernie Konter is quite the individual, maybe even a modern day legend. Now retired he would work 5 days away from home buiding state of the art bridges and come back on weekends to his family and a way of life that I envy. He is in every sense the the well rounded sportsman. His expertise ranges from trapping turtles, participating in the annual after deer hunting carp roundup on the Trempealeau River, to making venision bologna, canning any thing that moves, and "fall fest" pickles. For some reason he took to this young Norwegian although I would not doubt that a number of people could say the same. Years ago I gave him my business card and said to call me if he ever is in Minnesota and I would gladly take him fishing. I got that call 3 weeks ago. He was coming up with his wife, 2 daughters, their husbands and grandkids for they rented a house on Mille Lacs for the weekend. I decided to come up on Friday night to hit that magic hour bobber bite. With plenty of boats I drove up without the parachute hooked to the back of my burb. As I arrived in Isle the western sky was the color of midnight. Arriving at the house we decided a couple of beers would make the rain disappear a little faster. A quick dinner and it looked clear enough to hit the landing. Once on the water we hit a small squall that dampened our clothes but not our spirits until we were finally anchored on the Banana Reef in 12 feet of water. The bite was tough as evident by the movement of the launches every 15 minutes. My first bite got my hopes up until the fiesty rock bass appeared at the end of my line. We move twice anchoring in 20 feet of water which produced a 23 incher. The last stop of the night was in 15 feet and we added 2 smaller walleyes to the livewell. Although not the best night, it was fun to finally fish with Bernie and his son-in-law Jamie. And those Fall Fest Pickles, here is Bernie's recipe or at least how I make them (about 20 gallons a year). Cut fresh cucumbers lengthwise and layer them in a 5 quart ice cream pail alternating with raw sweet onions and plenty of fresh dill. Make a brine using 1/2 cup of canning salt, 1 cup of white vinegar, teaspoon of chopped garlic, a good tablespoon of pickling spices, and 8 quarts of distilled water. Mix well and pour over the pickles. Add a couple of wild grape leaves for that special flavor then cover them and put them into the fridge for a couple of weeks. Voila, enjoy what the rest of us have for years. I look really forward to fishing with Bernie again, maybe on the river next time.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cheesehead's Chasing the 'Eyes

Last Sunday I left home around 6:00 needing to meet my two clients at the baitshop before 8:00AM. I knew that they were a father/son combo (Bob/John) and Bob was looking forward to his 83rd birthday. John was looking for a unique experience on Mille Lacs for his dad yet wanted to make sure he was taken care of and was comfortable. I get really excited about these opportunties as anyone who wants to fish Mille Lacs at 82 deserves to be the star of the show. It did not take long before I learned that my guests where from Neilsville Wi, 40 miles from my home town of Eleva. Fellow Cheeseheads, the trip had started out perfect! The wind was pushing out of the Northwest so I decided to launch at the old Cashes Landing, north of the casino. It would offer better protection against the growing rollers. After John donned his Packer hat we headed for the first small flat off to the right. I rigged Bob with a crawler and John with a leech. I tie my own crawler rigs using TruTurn baitholder hooks. These hooks have the unique ability to do exactly what they advertise and the cam action really works. I find that especially with nightcrawlers, the hooks practically set themselves giving Bob the advantage. Well, 20 minutes and Bob was fighting his first fish. I could tell it was a big fish however the hook didn't have the bite it needed and the rod when straight. Still it was a good sign. Another drift and we decided to move to the next flat. The NW wind was tolerable and allowed us to drift the edges of the next 2 flats before we put our first walleye in the net. Those TruTurns came through. Another drift convinced us to bring out the planer boards and head to the next easterly flat. I am not a big fan of trolling across the waves but it gave us a nice needed rest. Running parallel to the edge of the next flat I really started marking fish, enough to say, pull in the boards. Just as I gave the word one of the boards started doing the dance. We landed a 25 incher and my mind went nuts. Continue trolling or rig through the marks on the screen. Well, I had to pull up the other line anyway so once in, I would make the decision. This line seemed to be wrapped around the trolling motor as it was coming in awfully odd. The line counter showed 10 feet left but it was really stuck now. I looked behind the motor and to my surprise, a 27 inch walleye was dangling on the end of the rainbow trout reef runner. My decision made we trolled another hour and picked up 2 more fish. Looking for a rest we decided to drift the marks. We ended with 2 more before heading back closer to the landing. Trying bobbers at our first stop and Bob caught this fish. The wind and the sun took it's toll and we headed back to the car with a total of 8 very nice fish released with the senior cheesehead pulling in 5 . Bob was 100% small town Wisconsin. A WWII vet, he entertained us with stories of his adventures, coming back home to eventually start a business and raise a family. He loves fishing and still has that sparkle in his eye when the fish finally hits the net. Bob could have easily been any one of the people that influenced my life as a young child in a small town. Unfortunately the Bob's of the world are fewer and further between. I hope that he enjoyed his trip as much as I did. Happy Birthday Bob.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Father's Day Fishing

My part time job is doing the occasional guide trip for my good friend Bill Lundeen ( at Lundeen's Tackle Castle. I usually help on the weekends when Bill is working hard in the shop. On Sunday I had the great pleasure to fish with Jeff and Annie. It was a short trip and with the cold front that just arrived the night before, we had little time to get some fish. We had a nice NW wind blowing, not hard enough to be uncomfortable yet good enough for a perfect drift. We first tried a favorite spot of mine offshore from Eddies. 3 drifts later Jeff hooked a nice 26 inch fish. We got it in and it was pretty beat up, missing an eye and had a ugly looking sore on it's tail. One more drift and we moved to Sherman's flat. Again with the wind, we could drift along an edge and we hit another nice fish. We did another drift but come up empty. I headed for my killer spot (in years past, at least) but it is very rocky and it wasn't exactly easy to fish. After donating 3 rigs to the rock Gods, I decided to move. We headed south to Roland's flat and drifted the outside edge. This time dad allowed his daughter to reel this fish in, another 26 incher. It was complete, I did my job as best I can, we ended up with 3 very nice fish despite a noticeable cold front. Dad and his daughter were happy. As I dropped them off on the dock I reflected on the wonderful relationship this father and daughter have. I bet everyday is Father's Day for them.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Smallies, Smallies Everywhere

Being extremely busy because of the late spring, I have been doing the 5 in the afternoon to 9:30 shift on Mille Lacs these days. So on Saturday night I was fishing with a my good friend Tom, who after working in Brainerd all day met me at the landing just north of the casino. He was on time, as usual! Tom is a brilliant electronic engineer who designed a maximizer for trolling motors 3 years before they came out. I usually do well on the deeper rock reefs this time of year so I rigged a leech on Tom's line and threw a crawler on mine. I could not have gone more than 20 feet when something slammed the crawler. It caught me by surprise as I was not ready for such an aggressive hit. That is a great way to say, I missed it! Of course this had to be an omen of things to come, also famous last words. After an hour of making squiggly lines on My GPS I finally got this 22 incher. After another half hour we moved. We tried an inshore flat then went to the first offshore flat and no fish. It was 8:00 and time to start pulling Raps. The reef was pretty full but for some reason most of the guys were fishing the down side of the reef giving us the room to troll the other side. I got a hit right away but it wasn't the typical headshake of a walleye, rather the rantings of a 3 pound smallie. We continued our route and on the other end hit another smallie. The next half hour produced 3 more smallies, a respectable rock bass, and a half a million bugs. The wind came up just enough to make the ride back to the landing bearable. The water temp was still 55 and with rain forecasted in the coming week, it could still be a while before we get in the 60's. Oh well, good for the tulibees.

Friday, June 6, 2008

2008, Year of the Cousin's

In 2000 my brother Steve and I decided to take my dad to Alaska for his 70th birthday. It was a trip of a lifetime for him and we have never have never looked back. We learned a lot from our first trip and both Steve and I have have returned every 2 years to take advantage of the terrific salmon fishing. My Uncle Jerry was one of the my early fishing mentors. Living in Idaho, it was often years between our visits. When I was young he gave me an old tackle box full of baits (boy I wish I had them today!). This sealed my love for fishing and Uncle Jerry. Over the years my time with Jerry was usually short and intense. In planning our trip for 2006 we decided it was time to get him to Alaska. His son Mark had just moved to Anchorage, he had retired, and just turned 70, just like dad did 6 years earlier. We finally got a commitment for what turned out to be the trip of a lifetime for all of us.
This is a picture of him holding a very nice Humpback (pink) Salmon on the Kenai River. My good friend Jeff King ( made our trip memorable by helping us with our fishing needs. The reason I am writing about Uncle Jerry is that I was just putting the final touches on our 2008 trip. Although I wish Jerry was coming with us again, he will be in our hearts and if we are really lucky we'll send some fish back for him (I know we can ship Humpy's to him!). This year trip is the Year of the Cousin's, with myself, brother Steve, cousin Mark, Greg, and Paul. My uncles are really excited to see us guys, in our 50's still sticking together as though we were 12 again. It makes them feel young as well. I have some great pictures and memories and look forward to sharing them in the future. Just remember what they say ............................................Alaska, before you die.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Leave The Driving to Mark

Saturday night I deviated from my usual MO and drove to Mille Lacs without my boat. My host was a friend of mine who has a place at Anglers Paradise, the old Dickies Portside( Big storms were moving through and he called to warn me of the pending downpour. Looking at the radar on the internet it appeared that by the time I got there the majority of the storm would have blown by. My strategy work perfectly and I arrived just as the rain stopped. A couple of smoked chops, fresh aspargas on the grill, and a glass of cognac hit the spot. We got out about 7:00 and fished till 9:45. We caught 2 keeper walleyes on bobbers in 7 feet as well as this picture of a typical Mille Lacs sunset. Sometimes it is nice simply to leave the fishing to someone else for once. Thanks Mark, it was a perfect compliment to the weekend.