Sunday, April 26, 2009

Patience is a Virtue, Or So They Say!

Seems as though Fishing Opener will never get here! Looking at my Fishing Opener Countdown it says 12 more days. This weekend saw some much needed rain cover the area as it was getting pretty dry. Every year it is amazing how magically it turns green almost overnight. I have managed to apply the first spray my apple trees, till the garden, clean out the raspberries, and harvest my first picking of asparagus. I fired up the sprinkler system on Wednesday only to see that water must have leaked through freezing in the main line and split it wide open. Repairing it Thursday evening allowed me to run each of the 15 stations revealing at least 10 heads in need of repair. Never a lack for something to do, I have a pretty good list started.

We have a Sportsman Warehouse Store nearby that is closing. After picking up some seed potatoes Saturday morning, I headed over to see what deals or inventory they still had. Although well picked over I did manage to scarf up the last of a few Jigging Raps, Chubby Darters (I have no idea why, never caught a fish on them yet), 3 nice folding knives, about 100 panfish jigs, and a very nice propane fish fryer. I probably didn't really need the cooker but everything was 70% off and thought it would be fun to try. If my brother drives his truck to opener this year, I might just bring it along. Another great buy was 50% off the CO2 inflated life preserver belts. At my age treading water isn't exactly my best talent. Rumor has it that most men that have falling out of the boat and drowned have their zippers down. I always put one on before I get into the boat, are hardly noticeable, and give me that extra security 100% of the time. Getting a couple more will allow me to have my guests wear them keeping any possible rescue activities to a minimum. I eventually picked up 2 for my brother Steve as well. This really hit home this fall as a man my age was reported missing on Mille Lacs when his boat drifted into the shore with no one in it. The family is waiting for the ice to clear and the water to warm up in hopes his body will be recovered soon. I prefer to stay away from those headlines.

Another thing that I was able to stock up on were 7/8 oz Pixie Spoons and #4, 5, and 6 Blue Fox Super Vibrax Spinners. These 2 baits have been deadly for both Silvers and Humpy's on the Kenai River. Fishing the slow current areas around the islands is definitely the ticket. Here I am holding a dandy silver salmon that fell victim to the Super Vibrax. Watching Larry Csonka's North to Alaska this morning, he had a segment of fishing silvers on the lower Kenai. His guide's technique was to anchor at the top of a near shore hole, casting a Kwikfish into the current and letting it wobble stationary until a fish swims up an grabs it. This method is very effective however we feel there is more action casting the lures. As the fish enter the river on the high tide they will basically follow the shoreline, staying in the slack current areas to rest before their next push up river. We like to anchor in these slack areas and fan cast, bring the lures across or with the current. The humpy's tend to be just there however the silvers are another story. They tend to hit with vengence taking off like a torpedo heading for it's target. The key is to prevent them from heading to the main river current which if successful increases it's chances for freedom expotentially! I know exactly where they were fishing and like last months post about Babe Winkleman, it brought back great memories. It's nice to see something on TV and say.........I've been there before! There is much to do the next few days like trying to get the Ranger out for it's 2009 maiden voyage before heading up north. Seems like I just put my ice fishing stuff away................oh well.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mastering the Marlin

Well, my Taiwanese friends are gone, having experienced a memorable night of barbecue, ATV riding, and a relaxing time around the firepit pouring down a few Leinies. Sometimes the simpler things in life are the most enjoyable as they had never experienced this. On Saturday morning they decided to visit my home state of Wisconsin. Apparently my tales of grandeur had them curious. Needing to get them to the airport by 2:00 our time was limited so we headed to St.Croix Falls. A quick stop at the Kentucky Fried Chicken (very popular in Asia) we headed back through Stillwater then to the airport. Anyone who has traveled to China and Taiwan's urban areas realize how lucky we are living here.

This week marks the anniversary of my fishing trip to the Hotel Palmas de Cortez, Mexico. A previous post recalled my Mahi Mahi (dorado) catches with my good friend Walt. The real prize is catching a marlin. The end of April is not exactly the best time to catch marlin however they are present and one can reasonably expect to see some action. Marlin, like dorado spend much of their time at the surface. The preferred method of catching them is to drag colorful gurgling teaser baits directly behind the boat at around 4 to 6 mph. Locating a marlin can be a visual affair. Marlin sunning themselves at the surface often have their large tails sticking out of the water. A good eye can see these which sets up the guides to make a live bait presentation before it swims away. On the first day while trolling we spotted a nice marlin tail sticking about 18 inches out of the water. Quickly we reeled in the trolling lines while the first mate hook a nice 15 inch mackerel to a line and casted it out. The strategy was to pull the bait in front of the fish hoping it would take the bait. I was amazed at how close we could get to the fish as we circled around for the right presentation. As we approached within 40 feet from the marlin it instinctively coiled up and literally shot towards the mackerel slashing it's long bill in a zigzag pattern, covering the distance in less than 2 seconds. Guides count on hooked fish for tips so they handle the rods until assured the fish is hooked. This marlin hit the bait and was immediately 10 feet in the air as the mackerel slid down the line. Taking turns fighting hooked fish it was my partners time to begin the battle. About 3 minutes into the fight his line went limp and the fish was gone. After each catching a dorado, I was in line to get the next fish. While watching the teaser gurgle, pop, dive, and surface leaving a distinct line of bubbles a bill suddenly appeared inhaling the bait. After assuring it was hooked I was handed the rod with the freight train on the other end. This thing was unbelievable stripping out 300 yards of line in just a few short seconds. Jumping a number of times, it was an incredible show. After 15 minutes of airshow it decided to sound directly under the boat and hold it's position. It was like pulling on a stuck anchor and it took over 20 minutes to coax it to the surface. As I previously stated, these fish exhibit amazingly brilliant colors when hooked. The above picture was taken just as the first mate is about to grab the leader and land the fish. Notice how blue the side fin is. Pictures do little justice to how beautiful they are. We finally landed the fish and stretched it across the back of the boat for a picture. The boat is 8 1/2 feet wide and it exceeded this by at least a foot. The captain estimated the weight at about 150 pounds. As tradition, the crew likes to release all billfish caught as there are plenty of dorado's to eat. This remains the largest fish I have caught to date.
The next day paired me with Walt. We decided to try for yellow fin tuna in the morning. We headed for an island know to hold schools of yellow fin and bonito (a trash member of the tuna family). I never did catch a tuna, however the bonito's hooked were like catching a football with a jet engine attached. These were the first saltwater fish I had ever caught and it still amazes me just how hard they fight. Of course their are few opportunities in Eleva to hook into a 150 pound fish!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spring Fishing Rituals

April is the month the good Lord gave us fisherman a time to reset ourselves and prepare for the next great event, fishing opener. Back in Eleva April meant one thing............sucker fishing! Eleva is situated at the point where Big Creek meets the Buffalo River. About a third of a mile above this point, Big Creek has a dam forming the Eleva Mill Pond. This stretch of Big Creek below the dam created the perfect spawning habitat for a number of fish which entered from the river, however most of them were white suckers. Two hundred yards downstream from the dam lived Bud Tollefson. His property bordered the creek on the north and west sides and where it formed a corner heading south was a perfect hole for sucker fishing. A Zebco 202 on a solid fiberglass rod with a single hook loaded with garden worms was the ticket. Sticking a Y shaped stick into the bank we'd cast it out and wait for the tugs. Sucker meat is quite sweet and delicious however they are very bony and one almost needs to grind them up into fish patties to eat them. For this reason we released almost every fish and over those years I imagine the numbers between Kevin Aiona, Barry Kolden, and myself had to be in the thousands.

On the other side of the creek was the Doughboy Chicken Plant. Monday through Friday would see the factory running full bore, butchering chickens for the local markets. There was always a lot of water used in the processing and often the excess would run into the creek across from Bud's. This water generated from the area where the chicken entrails (guts) where stored in 55 gallon drums, awaiting the local rendering company to pick them up and turn them into mink food. The pond was always stocked with trout and inevitably some would end up over the dam into the creek below. Occasionally the water would have small chunks of entrails, often the livers. Art Kelley worked at the Chicken Plant and as kids he was always messing with our heads. He would often tell us about the legend of Ol' Liver Lips, an escaped rainbow trout that lived where this water entered the creek, which had gotten rather large on the diet of washed down chicken livers. Of course, he would often tell us that he had Ol' Liver Lips on but it got away every time. There was always a few nice trout caught below the damn however Art would never confirm whether they were the legend. Art created the illusion of anticipation every time we fished Bud's. The Chicken plant is long since closed and Art died of a heart attack at a very young age yet Ol' Liver Lips still swims giving us that anticipation of catching the monster every time we put the line in the water.

Looking back I still think of Bud, who has since passed away, and the welcome mat he put out for us kids. Because his house was in the creek bottom, we would cross his lawn, set up on the grass, and fish as though it belonged to us. Bud never said a word and often stopped by to see what was biting. I am afraid our attitudes about kids, liability, our need for privacy would prevent such a scene repeated today. I am grateful to grown up in such a wonderful small community with mentors like Art and Bud.

An interesting side note, I have my Chinese business associates in on Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning. They are from Taiwan and originally wanted to come in February until I told CK how cold it would be. He is not very fond of temperatures under 60 degrees. We will take him out for steak on Thursday night however he asked if we could have a barbecue at my house on Friday. I always like showing off the Midwestern hospitality and will give him a real Eleva style meal featuring Flip Flop Chicken. I have this small flipflop charcoal grill that makes charcoaled chicken almost as good as Walt Gehring did for the Eleva Broiler Fest. The grill is made in Bloomer Wisconsin ( ) and is a must for any serious cook that grills chicken. Washed down with a little Leinenkugels, I cannot imagine how it would get any better! I will also plan on taking them to Cabela's where they are amazed one can simply pick up a gun and take it home with them. The wide variety of weapons, camouflage clothing, knives, and sporting goods are simply not available in Taiwan. We have an envious lifestyle for sure.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lake of the Woods Adventure

Well, I am back from Lake of the Woods (LOTW) reporting that the fishing was great however the catching was somewhat slow this year. Joining me on the trip this year was the LOTW master Mark Mayerich, my brother Steve, Eleva celebrity and friend Kevin Aiona with his son Ben, an Iron Ranger Ryan Sterle, as well my good friends Mark Applen and Bill Lundeen from Lundeen's Tackle Castle. Arriving at Linders Hideaway at 9:00 Wednesday night, we were surprised to see quite a bit of fresh snow. Having chose ATV's as the transportation of choice would limit our excursions to about 2 miles off shore. Thursday started by loading up the ATV's in true convoys. My Polaris 800 was the big boy so I pulled my own house, my brothers, and an 8 foot long sled which held our augers. Kevin's ATV only had rear wheel drive which proved difficult at best. Here's Mark Applen drilling a hole in the ice with his 10" Jiffy. He has a 12 inch extension and is using every bit of it! The ice was at least 42 inches thick. The excitement of fishing LOTW is in the aggressive way the fish hit the lures as well one never knows what will show up on the end of your line. Walleyes, saugers, perch, northern pike, eelpout, and tullibees are on the prowl this time of year. The first day's numbers were good with a couple of 17 inch walleyes and nice saugers caught. We were fishing in 31 feet of water during the day and a couple of us headed for a near shore reef for the evening bite were I ended up with a very nice 19 1/4" walleye. Brother Steve reported that his fish finder transducer keep moving in the hole which was very unusual. Looking down into the hole he saw a northern nudging his transducer as though it was going to eat it! He tried to entice it in striking his lure but no avail. Apparently northerns are known for cruising the very bottom of the ice in search of bait fish that hang in the upper water column.

The second day proved to be about the same as the first. The weather would be a repeat of the first day with the sky being overcast and a light snow fall occurring off and on. One of my goals was to catch a fish on a chubby darter, a swim bait that is supposed to work well. Here Mark has a dandy walleye hooked one one of those chubbies! I never was successful. Friday's catch proved good enough to have a fish fry for the Catholics in the crowd. Kevin did the honors and we had a fabulous meal of walleyes.

Saturday was the best day regarding weather however it was significantly worse on the catching front. Every day after lunch I would head another mile out into the lake and fish 33 foot depth. In years past it was a great place to catch some larger saugers and a few tullibee. This time my brother Steve decided to go with me. It was not long until he got into a mess of trophy walleye. Here he is holding on of those trophies he had caught just a few minutes after arriving. In the meantime I had hit the mother lode of tullibees. Being a member of the whitefish family and often known as cisco's, they are excellent smoked or pickled. I decided to keep a number of them and make a batch for our Leech Lake trip. As you see I am sitting next to a pile of nice fish. The sun was out making it nice and comfortable, even with the sleeves rolled up. Notice my ATV only has one chain on the back. Kevin was having such a tough time getting around in 2 wheel drive I gave him one of my tire chains. It worked great as soon as he figured out how to stop going in circles! I kept about 8 of these beautiful silvery fish and we headed back to the group. We nailed a few more before calling it a trip.
While cleaning the tullibee's they had the usual yellow looking cysts embedded in the flesh. They certainly don't look the greatest but I figured I could cut around enough of the fillets to secure a good batch for pickling. Ending up with about 5 pounds of cut fillets clean of these parasites I throw them in the freezer and decided to search the Internet as to the origins of those disgusting grub like entities. What if found was very interesting. We often catch tullibees on Mille Lacs Lake however they are very clean. In LOTW and many other Canadian lakes, the tullibees are infected with tape worms that only reproduce in the intestines of Northern Pike. The adult tapeworm is attached to the intestine and produces eggs which are released through it's vent. These eggs hatch quickly and find a host such as a snail or other small invertebrate. In turn these are ate by tullibees. The tapeworm larva can only last in it's stomach of the tullibee for a few hours and must bore through it's stomach wall, embedding itself into the flesh of the fish. The form rather large golden like cysts in the meat and wait for a northern to make a meal of it's host. Tullibee is an desired preyfish for northerns. Once ate by the pike the cysts are released and the worm will attach itself to the intestine, feeding on what the northern ate and passing eggs. Apparently during the norther spawning time it's hormones change causing the tapeworm to lose it's grip and is expelled out of the northern and dies. The various articles claim that they are harmless and one is in no danger if humans eat them. They suggest that most people remove them as they are disgusting however I had finished cleaning and sorting pieces prior to reading this. Pickled tullibee is about a close to herring as it gets and I am looking forward to finishing the batch. We have already made our reservations for next year going a week later to aim for a little better weather.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Off to Lake of the Woods!

Today we take off to Lake of the Woods for a three day ice fishing marathon. Reports are indicating a very hot bite in the Morris Point area as the walleyes stage their spawning run up the Rainy River. Reports of 42"+ ice thickness still exist. We have a full house of fabulous anglers and we hope to repeat the excellent fishing we had in 2007 shown here with Kevin and myself with a couple of dandy walleyes. (See Bill, we do catch big fish!) Hopefully I will have a report from the lake, depending on the quality of my cell phone signal.