Sunday, March 29, 2009

Paper Graph Records From a Day on Mille Lacs

Back in the late 1980's early 1990's the state of the art fish finders were the Lowrance X15 and X16 paper graph recorders. Today they have been replaced by sophisticated LCD, high definition, color depth finders that come pretty close to matching the resolution of this older technology however these machines were superior in the ability to accurately tell the user what was below his boat. The graphs were an electro-mechanical marvel that included a gear driven device for pulling the thermal paper across a belt driven stylus. The stylus was a small wire that contacted the paper on one side of the belt and a metal strip on the other. The circuitry would "electrify" the stylus at varying degrees causing the wire that was traveling across thermal paper to burn an image on the paper. The paper usually came in a pack of 2 for $8.00, was 50 feet long, and you could get about a full day and a half if you set the paper speed to a reasonable level. The image was a very high resolution representation of the water column below the boat. It also provided a permanent record of your fishing adventure.

Going through my office this week produced a couple of my old graph recordings of a trip we took on Mille Lacs Lake on July 4th, 1993. This holiday was traditional with Tom Emmons and Tom McAtee (see my post fishing out in my brand new Skeeter 135T. This boat was a 17'3" fishing machine. Along with a 75Hp tiller, it was definitely the premier walleye boat on the lake. As with all new boats it took a while to get use to the specific handling characteristics of the Skeeter. One thing I soon found out was putting both trolling motor batteries in the front compartment really made the front end heavy. My first time out experienced a number of front end wave altercations in which I lost. Moving the batteries to the back made all the difference in the world. The day started out perfect with the water having a mirror like manner to it. We headed out to the flats and nailed a number of fish until the bite slowed. This first stretch of paper was recorded just off a flat in 36 feet of water. The left side is showing my jig falling to the bottom and being lifted up and down. We were marking fish and decided to drop the jig to see if they could be enticed to bite. As my jig is bouncing one can see the fish coming up to investigate it 4 feet off the bottom. My best guess is that they were tullibees (cisco's) hanging in the deep water. They are notorious for following baits, especially in the winter.

The second paper recording is what happened later that day. Our smooth water abruptly disappear with a north wind quickly turning the lake into a churning, angry, frothing mess. When the wind is blowing this hard and 3 guys in the boat, we decided to drift across the top of the flat. We were on 7 Mile and although continued to mark fish, the conditions were almost impossible. Looking at this paper you see that the bottom representation is quite jagged. The view is actually the result of the transducer mounted to the boat moving up and down the wave crests and troughs. What is significant about this recording was one wave encountered that measures 19.5 feet at the trough and 24.5 feet at the height of the crest. This is a true 5 foot wave, probably the largest I have seen on Mille Lacs. Note the arc just to the left of the circle, this is a fish taking on the same shape as the bottom. We decided enough was enough and we started our 5 mile trek back to the landing. Going with the waves can prove to be extremely dangerous. I remember carefully maneuvering the boat only to look back during one of those "heading up the next wave" and staring at a wall of water quite higher than my eye level waiting for a slight mistake. Recovering from the near disaster I stopped the boat and donned my life jacket. Mr. Emmons to this day reminds me of the time I finally found religion on the lake. It was quite an adventure and to my surprised the whole day was recorded forever. Memories come in many forms!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sunday Morning TV

Ice conditions have deteriorated rapidly on area lakes during the last week. This is that goofy time of the year and a good time to get caught up on the home projects. My washing machine has been going out for a while so I decided to get one of those new super efficient front load machines. They are quite an incredible machine as it will spin the clothes first to determine the load size, use about 1/3 the amount of water of a traditional top load machine, and spin them dang near till they are dry. The event prompted me to finish off my laundry room as the new appliances allowed me to build a counter above the machines as a great work area. We decided to tile the counter top but was warned that I would need to seal it good if I were to clean fish on it. I finished sealing the grout tonight! Certainly laying the tile, grouting, reconfiguring the plumbing, and finishing the ceiling took up the entire weekend. It is nice to see the fruits of your labor. On April 1st I am heading to Lake of the Woods for our annual ice fishing trip so next weekend will see me getting my gear in order as well, I need to prune my apple and pear trees in my small orchard.

Working hard on Saturday, I slept in on Sunday. Spring is a great time for fishing programs and Sunday morning, Babe Winkleman's Good Fishin' caught my eye. He was in Homer Alaska, a place that brings back many great memories. My dad turned 70 in 2000 and with the exception of his time in the Air Force, he had not left the comforts of home. My brother Steve and I decided to take him to Alaska for his birthday. Our first destination was Homer during the last week of June. Although my dad had the time of his life and it was great to spend the time with him, our fishing timing was way off for salmon. The early king and red runs were done and it was about a week away from the second runs coming in. Researching the timing, we decided to return in 2002 and fish in August to catch the pink and silver run, as well taking advantage of halibut in Homer. With Dad we stayed at the Wild Rose cabins and the view was so spectacular we just had to return. The picture is overlooking the bay with the glaciers on the other side. Babe was fishing with a number of guys from the Miller Brewing Company on a larger ship. We fished with Thompson Halibut Charters, limited to 6 people per boat. On this trip we would spend 3 days in Homer allowing a day for weather if needed. Our group included (left to right) my Cousin Greg, a biker couple, Gregs friend Bob, my brother, and myself. Fishing halibut in Homer means a good 2 hour boat ride to the prime spots. The boat ride was a great time to take in the sites and wildlife of the area. We saw quite a few sea otters miles out in the bay as well as whales, puffins, and porpoises. This picture is our catch for the day, 8 halibut and a flounder. This was not very good however we did have a couple of nice fish. It was pretty rough on the ocean which limited out success. I am on the right holding the big one we caught. If you noticed, the biker guy is not wearing a hat because I knocked it off his head putting the rods away. Needless to say he wasn't very happy! We decided to take the flounder back to the cabin and cook it for supper. I am sure the captain knew what the result would be but kept his moth shut. They have a special enzyme that turns the flesh to the consistancy of oatmeal once it's cooked. Lesson's learned.
Of course when in Homer, one needs to stop at the local watering hole, The Salty Dawg Saloon. This is a landmark complete with a sawdust floor, large rough sawn tables, and enough money, bra's and panties hanging from the ceiling to keep a guy busy for a long time! Of course we added our buck to the collection. Although we have not been to Homer in the last 4 years, watching Babe's show brought back all those fantastic sights and experiences we have enjoyed over the years.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Return to Wapagasat

Almost 6 months to the day I kept a promise to ice fish Wapagasat Lake with my wife's Uncle Andrew. This lake is near Amery Wisconsin and is a great central place to meet for a day of fishing. Along with Andrew ( in the middle) was his brother Bernie (on the right) as well as his son, and frequent fishing partner of mine, Jason (of course the only one remaining!). Bernie still runs the family farm south of Eleva, just north of Elk Creek and is a designated Century Farm celebrating over 100 years in the Rombalski family. Andrew lives in Eau Claire and Jason is here in the Twin Cities. I love these guys as they have always treated me as part of the family. Bernie's farm is over the hill from my Grandpa Roy's childhood farm. Great Grandma Anderson was well know by Bernie's parents, Ignatz and Julia Rombalski and had learned that they were very good friends and neighbors. I remember going to Great Grandma's when I was young and the highlight was the fact they had no running water other than a hand pump in the kitchen. When pumped, it gave up the best tasting water I have ever remembered. The water would run into a basin and scooped out with a metal "dipper" and served just like that. Of course this is the origin of the Big Dipper in the night sky as it looks exactly like one of those water dippers. Little did I know that 15 years later friends would be right over the hill.

Being from Eleva, of course I am Norwegian. Rombalski is truly an Independence name and is quite well respected in the area. There is always a little rivalry between the towns and neither of us mince words. My favorite joke to them is...........Why do they have ski at the end of their names........because they can't spell toboggan! Of course there are a lot of things they can do which are pretty amazing and make this Norske look pretty stupid! One of them was to out fish me by a long shot. I had the camera down and the amount of fish that swam by were incredible. Huge sunfish, schools of 5 - 7 crappie, bass, northerns, white bass, they would all swim up to my lure, give it a nudge and swim away as though my waxie was made of gasoline. The day belong to Andy and his son Jason. Bernie and I basically engaged in a hole to hole marathon searching unsuccessfully for a few stupid ones. Here Andy has a nice 9.25 inch blue gill which is a dandy fish in anyone's book. With a mess of nice crappies and a few sunfish, at least the Rombalski boy's didn't go home empty handed. Of course their short detour at Turtle Lake Casino prior to meeting us provided a great start as the guys won enough to buy us burgers once off the ice. We finished the day at the Home Base Bar on the north side of the lake and had the best 14 oz cheese burger I have had in years. Washed down with a Leinies, it just doesn't get any better than this!
I mentioned last week that the Northwest Sport show was at the Minneapolis Convention Center. This is a grand event and the 2009 show was no different as I made the pilgrimage on Thursday night and again Sunday afternoon. The first stop was to see my friends Ken and Judy Marlow, owners of Marlow's on the Kenai. We have stayed with them a number of times and have become good friends. As usual, Judy rewarded my visit with a jar of their fabulous canned smoked salmon. Before we stayed with them in August I had been to China and picked up Judy a nice string of pearls. She was wearing a blue sweatshirt and when I place them around her neck, she turned into what we now call her the Queen of the Kenai! They have a wonderful place right on the Kenai River away from the congestion of Soldotna. Their son Neil handles the guiding and along with a beautiful boat in Seward, he guides on the Kenai as well. In 2006 we had scheduled 2 ocean trips with him. We went out the first day and it was very rough and the fishing was difficult at best. The second day Neil informed us that we would not risk going out for the second day. It was in mid August and for some reason the sockeye run on the Kenai was late and huge. Neil was heading back to the Kenai so we asked if he would be interested in showing us some red (sockeye) salmon fishing. He agreed and along with my brother Steve and his son Kevin, we drove the 90 miles to the cabins. My uncle Jerry and his son Mark had decided to stop at the Russian River to try there luck from shore, which in retro spec was a big mistake as they saw it rain all day while you see we had nothing but blue skies and an unbelievable catch. We boarded Neil's boat and headed downriver to a shallow gravel bar area where we could tie up the boat and fish from shore. It was an interesting shoreline with a huge path worn where the bears had walked up an down this portion of the river. Red fishing is simple but requires one to acquire the knack. With a plain hook, a 3/4 ounce sinker, and a 6 foot leader below the sinker one would simply fish the 15 feet of water near the shore, casting a short line 45 degrees above you and allowing the line to drift until it literally gets passed through the mouth of the hundreds of fish swimming up river next to shore. When the drifting line suddenly changed its feel, set the hook! These fish were caught within 90 minutes and I would venture to guess we released at least 3 for every one we kept. It was one of the most memorable times of many that I spent in Alaska. Marlow's is a great place and if you have time check out their website

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Busy Week

Two weeks ago I dropped off my ice house, depth finder, and camera off at my friend Bill Lundeen's bait shop. Bill had a rather large group for last Thursday and needed some additional equipment which I was more than happy to provide. I have always respected Bill's business and have come to respect how difficult it can be to run a bait shop. On Saturday I decided to retrieve my equipment with a possible outing on Isle Bay for some Mille Lacs crappies. After discussing this with Bill, I decided that I would have better luck heading south, back to Pelican Lake where I have been doing pretty well. Earlier I had talked with my neighbor Tom and asked if he wanted to join me if I went to Pelican and I would call him on the road if it happened. We connected meeting in Albertville at 5:45. Arriving at the lake at 6:00, we headed for the same spot that has produced in the past. Immediately the fish were on a feeding frenzy with a quick five nice crappies on the ice. I had brought minnows, waxies, and a small box of freshwater shrimp. Trying the shrimp first the crappies just hammered them. They are somewhat fragile and lasted about 6 fish. Tom was working the minnows, I switched to waxies and we ended up with 11 respectable crappies and 3 nice sunfish before the bite tapered off. I suspect that an hour earlier arrival would have sent us home with a limit each. One of the real joys of fishing this time of day is the beautiful sunsets that show themselves.

Monday saw me getting up at 4:00 heading to Appleton WI for a business meeting. Dwight, our manufactures representative decided to ride along, giving us a good opportunity to discuss business strategies. Once done with our meeting it was time to head north 25 miles and make the pilgrimage to the most sacred site in Wisconsin..............Lambeau Field in Green Bay. There is a definite aura surrounding this magnificent stadium and if you have never been there, I suggest you take the time to visit. Our destination was the Packer Pro Shop. Here it is 4:00 on a Monday afternoon in March and there must have been 50 cars parked in the visitors area. You can get things at the Pro Shop that are simply not available elsewhere. My prize was a new Packer flag for the flagpole at home. The neighbors will love it! I had Dwight take a picture of me standing next to Vince Lombardi's statue. Along with Vince is a similarly sized statue of Curly Lambeau. What a pair! Certainly there are few stadiums in the world that can compare.

The last thing I have for this week is to let everyone know that the Northwest Sports Show is starting this Thursday at the Minneapolis Convention Center. I could spend days at the show looking at all the new items, talking to the reps, dreaming of far away places to visit. This years show only runs 4 days because of Convention Center scheduling. Years ago this show ran 9 days through 2 weekends giving plenty of time to go back for a number of visits. This year I will be there on Thursday and possibly one of the weekend days. If you go please stop by Marlow's On The Kenai and say hi to Ken and Judy. They are sure to have pictures of my brother Steve, Cousin Greg, or myself holding trophy catches while fishing with them. They are also listed on the Alaskan Links section on the left. They are two of the nicest people in Alaska. I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Blast From the Past.

This weekend found me blessed with the the worse cold I have had since my bout with pneumonia a couple of years ago. Confined to the couch for most of the day on Saturday and Sunday, I was resigned to watch fishing shows from morning thru early afternoon. One of the shows featured Midwest Outdoor's filmed at Wollaston Lake Lodge targeting those big pike. Although staged for constant action, these shows are often filmed over a few days as sometimes it can be really tough to get the "bite" just perfect. It reminded me how well my friend Kevin and I enjoyed fishing the spring northern pike that would give any fishing show a run for it's money!

Kevin and I would spend almost every weekend in Alma from about April 15th to around May 5th fishing post spawn northern pike. We would take a few weeks off for trout fishing opener before heading back to the river to continue our pursuits. Since the time we got our drivers license it was the thing we did. Kevin would often get to drive Milo Whipple's 57 Chevy until I had bought my own for $75. Our destination was always Wilbur's, a resort half way between Alma and Nelson. Wilbur rented 14 foot aluminum rowboats for around $3.00 a day, a buck and a half a piece was a lot cheaper than going to the movies. Having no outboard motors, we would take turns rowing up and down the shoreline casting daredevils, hammered spoons, Johnson Silver Minnows, and the occasional Bass Oreno. Although we were young, the rowing limited us to about 1/2 mile either side of the shoreline by Wilbur's. This time of year the river was high from the spring runoff and the northerns had finished spawning in the shallow marshy areas of the backwaters. These fish really had the feedbag on and more often than not we would return with a couple nice limits of northerns, including a number of large fish well over 12 pounds as I am holding in the picture on the right. Our catch and release ethics had not been developed yet!

Once we hit the ripe old age of 20, our resourcefulness increased exponentially. I had acquired a Martin 7.5 hp outboard, probably a 1950 model, complete with 360 degree turning capability. My boss had given me it completely tore apart and my dear Uncle Lee could not resist putting it back together. This piece of machinery completely changed Kevin and my approach to fishing the backwaters expanding our range and skill level. Our focus was totally on bass and northerns with little attention paid to walleyes, which would come later in life. The first picture is Kevin (on the right) and myself taken in about 1977. The style of the day were high front mesh hats and Army field jackets. Along with my Martin on the left and 2 limits of northern pike, it's a fantastic reminder of those wonderful times on the river with Kevin. Although I own a boat that back then would have been only a pipe dream, nothing can compare to those experiences of 35 years ago.