Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year and Other Stuff

Well, we are on the eve of another year, welcoming in 2009. Looking back it has been a good year of fishing. Starting with a successful trip to Lake of the Woods in April, we enjoyed a consistent bite. Our Team Walleye opener on Leech Lake this year turned out to be the best ever with the most fish as well as the biggest fish caught in 35 years. Mille Lacs started strong but the bait fish hatch of what Bill Lundeen terms "Of Biblical Proportions" basically shut down the fishing this summer on the big pond. August saw our trip to Alaska quite eventful with a load of pinks in the Kenai, being hassled by brown bears, and simply enjoying the company of my cousins. Fall fishing was a lot to be desired however my trip with Captain Dave in Jacksonville made up for it. The big crappies showed themselves last week (not so good on Sunday) and I am looking forward to finally challenging those walleyes on Mille Lacs. We still have a lot of hard water fishing left and I plan on taking advantage of it.

One of the nice things about the blog are the responses I get from people. As my header states, I invite you to share your pictures and stories. To my delight, I do get responses from the various readers. The young lady holding the walleye is Laura, the daughter of a good friend of mine John DeLestry. I met John through a mutual friend a number of years ago and we have been fishing friends ever since. He read my post of last week and it inspired him to take the family fishing on a local lake near his home. His daughter caught her very first walleye, a respectable 19.5 incher, through the ice and is proudly posing with it here! I am glad that John is teaching his daughter the ways of the outdoors as it is exciting to see the young people enjoying the challenge. I also see that John has taught her how to properly hold a fish when taking a portrait. The key is to get your hand out of the picture so the viewer does not have a reference point. Fish always look bigger that way (Check out some of my previous pictures!)

This next picture is one of Ken Blasor, a fellow fisherman I met during my meetings in Jacksonville. Ken is a manager for Ferroxcube, a well known supplier of ferrite cores for the transformer industry. Although most of you probably do not have a clue what ferrite is, I can assure you that it is a vital component of our fish finders, GPS units, and most other modern electronics. I have supplied a number of components to the depth finder industry using his parts. Ken joined me for our association dinner and we hit it off right away. I suggested that he check out my blog and when I returned home he had read it, offering his own proof of his own love for the sport. Ken is holding a very nice King Salmon he caught in Sitka, Alaska this year. Having been to Alaska this year we had plenty of things to talk about.

As always, I love seeing your pictures and hearing your stories. It also help fill in those slow weeks when my life seems pretty dull. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

2 Below Zero and Falling

After a busy weekend of making bologna, plowing snow, and attending the annual Bots Christmas Party, I decided to head out late Sunday afternoon to see if the big crappies were biting west of town. The weather was cold and windy, promising to get worse. My insulated Thermal X portable house is great for these situations. The lake is the same spot where I caught the crappies featured on the very first post of this blog. Although I did get a late start, the sunset bite is always the best part of this fishery. After loading the ATV on my trailer and inserting the house in my truck, off I went. Needing bait I had decided that the short detour to Cabela's might take 15 minutes so I kept going knowing the hardware store in St. Micheal sells bait. Arriving at 4:02 I walked up with my minnow bucket and the door was locked. Not wanting to drive back to Cabela's or search for a different bait shop my bait was going to be strictly artificial. In this case it would have to be one in my tackle box called a Purist. I used to fish this ice lure fishing the backwaters of Alma and had forgot about it until Kevin reported his luck a few weeks ago using a Purist. I have yet to see this lure in sport shops around home and ended up finding them at couple of bait shops along the Mississippi River as well as Gander Mountain in Lacrosse.

Arriving at the lake to my surprise people were driving their big trucks onto the ice. A quick check verified the thickness at 15 inches and of course knowing this would save me another 15 minutes I drove out to my spot. Not only did is save time, the truck provided an excellent wind break for my portable. The snow on the ice is a nice bonus as it provides a way to seal the bottom of the house from the wind. Having set up, I started the heater, lit the lantern, and got out my Vexilar sounder. The hardware store being closed should have been an omen as my battery on the sounder was completely dead. Now what??? Ice fishing without my Vexilar is like fishing with blinders on my eyes. My first thought was to leave, however since I was fishing in 12 feet, I could work the jig in the bottom 5 feet of the water and maybe hit a few. I caught 3 right away including the first, a beautiful 12 incher followed up with one at 11.5". Wanting desperately to use my "underwater eyes" I remembered a battery that Tom Emmons had given me Friday afternoon. While in his office I noticed a couple of batteries sitting on his file cabinet marked BAD. Asking what they were he exclaimed that they were good, I tested them, do you want one? Perfect, a spare battery if I needed one and it was still in the truck. Tearing out the dead battery I inserted the "BAD" battery only to find out it was completely dead as well. So much for that. After a dead spell of 1o minutes it dawned on me that I had a battery in my underwater camera and proceeded to tear that apart, extracting it's power source and plugging it into my torn apart sounder. LIGHTS!!!! It's like the blind seeing again. I began catching fish immediately as I could now pinpoint their location and wait them out. At 6:30 the bite ceased but not before I had 9 crappies and a nice sunny. The crappies exceeded my expectations with 7 over 10.5 inches. I even threw back a couple that on other lakes would have definitely gone in the bucket. Despite all the troubles it was satisfying to be able to catch a mess of fish using a tried and true lure that needed no addition of live bait to make it successful. I also credit my spring bobber set up as many of these fish would simply swim up and inhale the lure. Only the slight twitch or the limpness of the line would reveal what was really going on below. I had missed at least 8 fish because of this.

It is Christmas in a couple of days and I hope yours is a joyous one. Hopefully my present will be to spend a day on Mille Lacs chasing those crazy walleyes. Of course I still have the Ol'Crappie hole to fall back on. Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Busy Time of Year

This is always a busy time and it has been no exception this year. My brother Steve called me on Friday night telling me that he had shot a nice deer earlier that day and I was welcome to share it with him. My deer hunting luck was far from spectacular so I decided to drive down on Saturday to Onalaska and take him up on his offer. Leaving around noon we stopped at a couple of relatives before making our way to his house. The strategy worked perfect as by the time I arrive he already had the deer cleaned and quartered. My plan is to use the venison to make ring bologna on Friday night and smoke it on Saturday. My brother-in-law has a fabulous recipe and I am looking forward to making about 70 rings this weekend.

On Sunday I decided to go ice fishing on a nearby lake. Putting my portable shack in the truck I stopped by Cabela's for some crappie minnows. I had contemplated going to Mille Lacs however they were in the throngs of a full fledged winter storm warning and it just didn't seem very smart. I left the house at 3:00 with the temperature of 37 degrees and by the time I reached the lake a half hour later the temp had dropped to under 17. There were a number of fisherman scattered around and an interesting amount of frozen bullheads laying on the ice. By the time I got set up it had fallen to 10 degrees and the wind was at least a category 1 hurricane! Driving to the lake I had seen a small flock of Trumpeter Swans heading north towards Monticello. Although interesting, I knew that there was a resident population of this magnificent bird that over wintered in the warm water discharge of the Monticello Nuclear Power plant. What I didn't expect was once on the ice, a constant parade of swans in small flocks of 4 to 10 birds, cruising by for the next 1 1/2 hours. My estimates were close to 150 swans which flew by at a very low altitude and noisily announcing their presence. I did a google search and discovered that as of December 11 there were in excess of 500 swans on the river. It has been reported up to 1300 swans can be in the area during the peak migration time. Not bad for a bird that was believed to be on the brink of extinction just 70 years ago. As luck would have it the only thing I caught was the these beautiful birds flying by. The fish were as uncooperative as I have ever seen on this lake and I could not even add to the bullhead morgue that was pretty well established. I hope to get to Mille Lacs on Sunday as I hear the walleyes have the feedbag on.

The swans made me think of the positive changes in my lifetime. Growing up in Eleva one never saw swans, bald eagles, white pelicans, turkeys, and deer were not that plentiful. Kevin and I would occasionally see an Bald Eagle while fishing on the Mississippi River and would be in total awe of the rare sight we had witnessed. Today bald eagles are quite common and hardly garner a response. I understand there have been recent visits by pelicans in the Eleva Mill Pond. When I was a kid I probably would not even have recognized what a pelican was. I had heard that my brother Blake who lives just a mile north of town had a bear hibernating in a culvert last year. I don't know what I would have done if we would have seen a bear in the woods when I was 12! With all the talk about climate change, pollution, water quality, and human influence I think if one looks around and understands where we were 40 years ago, we can't be doing that bad.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Farewell to My Biggest Fishing Fan

If I had to name the one single biggest fan of my fishing it would be my cat Dusty. I swear that cat could smell my catch a mile before I got home. If ever a cat loved fish, it was Dusty. Whether summer fishing or ice fishing, he would run to greet me then sit patiently waiting for the cleaning board and knives to appear. Once the first fish was about to be filleted, he would let you know exactly what was expected, the first bite off that fillet, right from the fish. He could darn near eat a whole 10 inch perch if you let him. It was almost embarrassing to come home skunked!
We got Dusty from my friend from Eleva, Kevin. His daughter was somewhat allergic to him and were excited when Kevin suggested we take him with us. Dusty certainly was a people/lap cat, never shying away from making his presence when guests were around. I will never forget the first time I blow dried my hair he jumped into the vanity and laid right in the bathroom sink waiting to experience the warm breeze from the dryer. Noise was never an issue if the reward was greater. I could literally use the central vacuum hose to clean his fur if needed and he would just sit and enjoy the attention.
As you can see he was a beautiful seal point longhair with the personality second to none.
Tonight we had to humanly put him down as he had been suffering from a number of issues and finally simply stopped eating. Whether you have a cat, dog, or other pet this is always the most difficult aspect of having them in your life. Our pets tend to love us unconditionally and ask for little in return. Dusty made my fishing trips much more important as he had very high expectations of me. I will miss him dearly.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Morning With Capt Dave

I arrived in Jacksonville on Tuesday evening ready to meet Capt Dave at 7:00 Wednesday morning. Last Sepember my good friend Glen Collins from the Chicago area stopped by my office and we discuss our meetings here in Jacksonville. I asked him if he wanted to golf on Wednesday morning before our meeting and he stated that he would rather do something like fishing. Well that was music to my ears! I got on the Internet and found Capt Dave's charter. He sounded like a great guy so I booked a 5 hour trip with him. Joining Glen and I was Gary Hicks from Michigan. We got up early and headed for the landing where Capt Dave was ready for us at the docks at 7:00. I had called him earlier on Tuesday and her told me that it would be cold on Wednesday morning and to dress warm. When asked how cold he said in the 40's to which I responded "So are you saying we should wear shorts?". I reminded him that it was 10 degrees on Tuesday morning in Minneapolis and his perception of cold was quite different than mine.

Arriving at the dock it took about a minute to realize we where going to have a great time. There is a long jetty that extends about a mile out into the ocean at the mouth of the St. Johns River. The jetty is made of large blocks of granite stacked in a pyramid formation and provide great habitat for a number of fish including Speckled Sea Trout, Redfish, Sheepshead, Pinfish, and Flounder. Current is the key to catching fish here and we were just at the beginning of slack tide, meaning no current. We finally found a little current along one point and anchored about 50 feet from the edge of the rocks. Our fishing rods were rigged very similar to how we fish for walleyes on Mille Lacs, slip bobber style. Setting the floats at 8 feet we hooked a live shrimp through the head and and lobbed it towards shore. The float would drift along until a fish grabbed it and within 10 minutes I had my first Speckled trout(top picture). They are a beautiful fish and are excellent table fare. Here's another one real nice fish we caught, making a total of 5 specks we caught on this spot.

Sensing that the tide was about to change we headed for the outside edge of the jetty. The tide had reversed and was now coming in causing the current to wrap around and flow in the opposite direction. It was interesting as the current on the top kept our boat in one direction while the current underneath was flowing in the opposite direction. Once the tide got going that situation fixed itself. Again we anchored about 50 feet from the exposed rocks, in 10 feet of water, and drifted our float rigs. The fish immediately hit our baits and we ended up with a number of nice speckled trout, a number of sheepshead like the one Glenn is holding. In Minnesota a sheepshead is another name for a freshwater drum, which is related to the saltwater drum family. Although the two are not related in this case, this jetty sheepshead is similar as it feeds on mollusks and other hard shelled prey. I had failed to set the hook on a bite I had and upon bringing the rig in to rebait I noticed the hook was completely bend into itself as if someone took a pliers and crushed it. Capt Dave took one look and said "Yep, classic sheepshead damage!". These fish have front teeth that look like ours as well the back is full of traditional looking molars that can crush almost anything. It was pretty amazing so I took a picture from a dentist's vantage point. My uncle Jerry should will appreciate this one! The fish can literally grab a clam an crush it's shell to get at the meat inside. If you look at it long enough it sort of reminds me of my friend Mark Taylor's smile.

The jetty is the main port entry for ships docking their cargo as Jacksonville has a huge car offload terminal. At the end of the river is a large naval base where a number of ships are stationed. It was interesting to watch these large battleships head to sea passing by our fishing spots. It was a great time and I have fish in the resorts freezer to bring back to Minnesota. Capt Dave was a fantastic guide to fish with and I would recommend him to anyone wanting to try a little fishing while in Jacksonville. You can book a trip with Capt Dave by going to his website: and you can read his version of our day with him at his fishing report page on his site: . We had a fabulous time and it completes another fishing experience that I had on that proverbial Bucket List we all have. Well, back to my meetings and other less important things in my life!