Monday, October 26, 2009

A Two Gloved Day

I have traded the cold weather for a little reprive and am writing from Los Angeles, California. It has been interesting as it is a balmy 65 degrees and everyone here is complaining about the cold. These people have no idea what cold our trip to Mille Lacs on Saturday afternoon. The weather was predicted to be 48 for a high, perfect for that last fling before the ice freezes. This last time outing also gives me a chance to make sure everything works before I put the boat away, dump a can of Seafoam into the gas for storage, and maybe catch a few fish as a bonus.

Arriving on the lake I was surprised to see the surface temperature at the Cove Landing at a blustery 39.3 degrees, burrrrrrrrr. Water is an interesting substance. It is at its greatest density at this temperature, meaning that is sinks to the bottom. This causes the phenomenon called turnover as the denser water displaces the warmer water on the bottom, stirring the lake up. At around 39 degrees the water is pretty even from top to bottom. As water cools below 39 it starts getting less dense and stays on the surface. When water reaches 32 degrees it freezes, expands and floats. Ice is a very good insulator, protecting the water on the bottom which will essentially stay at 39 degrees all winter long. This allows life in the lake to enjoy an environment that is quite a bit warmer than freezing.

One nice thing that occurs in the fall when the water temperature in higher than the air temperature, the time on the lake can be warmer than that on the water. When it is colder than the air temp, it will feel much colder on the lake. Well Saturday my partner Tom proclaimed it a Two Gloved Day and offered the above pose. Our plan was to start in Wakon Bay for perch before heading to Anderson's Reef to pull some cranks for walleye. There were a few guys fishing perch and actually catching a few. They were all pretty small. Tom had the most unique method of catching these perch. We were in 4 feet of water, he had his bobber stop at 5 feet allowing his jig to sit on the bottom. Pulling it gently off the bottom he could actually sit and hold a fish on his minnow for minutes at a time as they played tug of war with Tom watching his bobber sit suspended 2 feet under the surface. This technique rewarded him with 3 nice perch including this nice 12 incher. Although we didn't kill them, tom was able to go home with a nice meal. About 15 minutes before sunset we headed to Anderson's. The water on the lake was a little warmer, 41 degrees. At this temperature the tullibees should be spawning on the reef. When tullibees spawn they essentially chase all the fish off the reef. It must have been the case as we did not get a single walleye. Based on the current water temp this did not surprise me. It was a so so year but I have a feeling that ice fishing could be excellent this year. At 39 degrees in cove my prediction of ice by mid November may be right on.

Finally I decided to model a favorite hat of mine, the Stormy Kromer. I sort of collect hats and this is my favorite cold weather hat. Previous post of me ice fishing will almost always feature this hat. So what is a Stormy Kromer? Well Stormy was a ball player in the early 1900's before he became a railroad engineer. Apparently he would wear his baseball hat while running the locomotive and it would often blow off his head by wind gusts through the cab. He became frustrated with this so he asked his wife, a pretty good seamstress, to modify his hat so it would stay on. The idea worked so good that it became a legend. You can tell a Stormy Kromer by the string tie in the front. Although most people think that the pull down flaps are for your ears, the real reason is to give extra grip to your head. It really works well and for a hat, it's pretty warm. They are still made in the good old USA in Ironwood Michigan. You can check out their website at . And of course, my friends state that I look good in a it covers up more of my face! Off to make more cider this weekend (we made over 17 gallons last Sunday) and I really do need to get my deer stand up.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Apples, Apples Everywhere!

Well my cider press and grinder finally arrived last Friday. The plan was to try it out that evening with maybe another batch Saturday morning. The lawn needed mowing and I had planned on hitting Mille Lacs in the afternoon. Best laid plans! Getting carried away with the lawn mowing and before I knew it the time had sped away. It was good to get the a few things done around the house as I had committed to helping my sister-in-law Sue on Sunday to get a few things done around her house before winter. Another issue is the current water temperature on the lake. It is hovering around 44 degrees and with the wind predicted to increase I always worry about being on the lake myself. At this time last year a lone fisherman's boat was found drifting on the north side without the occupant. It wasn't until May of this year that he was found. No thanks! Unfortunately the soft water opportunities are slipping away. Deer hunting is just around the corner and the way the weather is going, we might be ice fishing by Thanksgiving. Looking back the latest open water fishing I have ever done on Mille Lacs was December 6th and we still caught fish that day. The earliest I started ice fishing was November 17 when a good friend Earl Taylor and I found 5 inches of ice on North Center Lake. Both those dates are pretty incredible.

So it's apple cider time. Unpacking the new cider press the first thing I noted was the ratchet assembly did not work. Typical Chinese forged metal. It was a great idea, just had to open the holes more. Getting the equipment home I ground up about 4 gallons of apple pulp, mixed in the peptic enzyme that John Felix suggested and waited till the morning to press the "pommel". Pressing is best done if you put the ground apples in a fine mess nylon straining bag. This prevents the pulp from getting into the cider producing a cleaner product. Morning came and I immediately loaded the press and promptly squeezed out a gallon. The straining bags also let you handle the squeezed pulp easier as I rearranged the bag and squeezed it a second time. This produced another 1/2 gallon, not bad. Grinding another batch of apples filled up a 5 gallon pail for the evening press event. The evening pressing yeilded about the same amount, 1 1/2 gallons of juice. Looking at the pulp it still felt wet. I decided to get out my meat grinder and run the freshly pressed pommel through it. Once ground I loaded it into the press and to my surprised squeezed another 1/2 gallon. The third batch was done using the meat grinder alone and yielded over 2 gallons immediately. I think this will be the preferred way. One thing is sure, fresh cider is like honey from heaven! It is certainly better than any store bought, at least I think so.

Next on the agenda, apple pie filling. Searching the internet for recipes proved helpful yet difficult. There are so many variations on the same product however one caught my eye. There is a product out ther called Clear Jel. It is a modified cornstarch product that is used to thicken sauces in canned foods such as soup, pie fillings, salsa, and anything else needing a thicker texture. One can use cornstarch to do the same thing however Clear Jel will not break down during the canning process and is more stable during storage. I started looking at ingredients in many store bought products and its interesting how many carry Modified Cornstarch in them. One cannot buy it locally, or at least I have not found it, and had to order it on-line. It works very good and it will be interesting how they taste in 6 months.

Finally the highlight of my week was attending the CSI tackle wholesalers show with my friends Bill and Kathy Lundeen. This is the place where the new tackle is presented for the area bait shops and I like to attend to see what's being pushed for the next year. One thing that caught my eye was Lindy Little Joe's new Splash Brite Lighted Bobber. The bobber has a built in LED and battery. There are hidden terminals that when water shorts them out, the LED lights. When you pull it out of the water, the LED turns off. No more forgetting to turn off you bobber when you are done fishing. The battery is said to last up to 30 hours and when it finally runs out of juice, the bobber can be used as a standard slip float. The suggested retail is around $8.00 and I think it's a pretty slick product. Well hopefully I can make that last walleye run before deer hunting starts.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Oh The Weather Outside's Delightful.......................

Hoping to repeat my success of last Sunday night, I could not wait for this weekend to show itself. Unfortunately it showed itself as the first and earliest significant snow in many years. With lows predicted in the mid 20's I had no choice but to shift gears and take care of a few things at home. Little issues like blowing out the sprinkler system before it freezes or picking my apples before the cold renders them useless. Picking my apples was the first priority. With 7 loaded trees, it would be quite an endeavor. Finally finishing up on Sunday afternoon the day ended with 22 bushels more than I started with. My hopes are to make both soft and hard cider with most of them. A few weeks ago I ordered a cider press and apple grinder, which hasn't arrived yet. My friend Kevin has a friend near Ashland Wi that makes a wicked hard cider. I asked him if he could give me John's number and instead he had John call me. We had a fascinating discussion on pressing cider and gave me some fabulous tips like using peptic enzyme for better yields. Hopefully my press arrives by the weekend so I can start the process. One thing John says is that cider is better if blended with a number of different varieties. Sunday I bought a 1/2 gallon of Honeycrisp only cider and it was rather bland, proving his theory. Another fate for my apples have been drying large batches in the dehydrator. Using one of those fancy apple peeler/slicers I simply run them threw leaving the skins on, spread them on the drying racks adding a sprinkling of sugar/cinnamon before putting them in the dehydrator. They turn out simply delicious. I will probably try to make a few quarts of apple pie filling as long as I'm at it.

My friends Eric Hayes and John Delestry were more active in the outdoors this weekend. Eric and John have joined me on Mille Lacs on a number of occasions including the night we had a wild ride from 3 mile to Cedar Creek Landing. Determined to fish the evening bite we launched at the landing around 4:00 one afternoon. The wind was out of the southeast, perfect for drifting the reef. We had caught a few really nice fish going into dusk when all of the sudden the wind switched to the northwest and grew to over 30 mph. The landing is was exactly down wind from our location and we decided we had better head in as the waves had built up to an honest 4 feet. Eric's boat is a 17.5 foot Lund Angler with a 70 hp Johnson(Suzuki) tiller. Definitely a marginal boat in these waves, the adventure began. This was about as crazy a ride as I have been on. Eric was at the helm, John in the middle and I had the front manning the spotlight. Eric was doing a great job even though he was not aware of the raging seas around him. I kept encouraging him to stay on the throttle as we pushed through the waves. Going with the waves can be a dangerous proposition. The motor wants to push the back end of the boat down when heading up the next swell and you literally have to beat the one behind you from catching up and filling your boat. I seen a particularly large wave we just crested and I yelled to Eric to check it out, shining the light on the water next to him. The crest of that wave was about 3 feet behind and 3 feet above him! I probably shouldn't have done that. Arriving at the landing it was obvious this was not going to work. As we approached there was a Pro V on a trailer and the waves were crashing over the stern, filling the entire back end of the boat. John had agreed to jump out into the water close to shore as we headed to Mac's protected harbor. He would get the trailer and meet us there. John is a brave man. Before leaving there was a 16 foot lund hanging around the landing waiting their turn. We approached them screaming to follow us to Mac's, we'll go get your car later. They wisely obeyed our request and were glad they did. It was a very difficult to get to Macs but we made it. Those guys were immensely grateful for our insight, we were just glad they were ok. In the meantime John had made it to shore to find the guys loading the Pro V only had a S10 Blazer and could not budge the boat from the water. John ended up towing their entire rig out enough to drain the water completely. Arriving at the landing we first went back for our new found friends car. Loading them both we called it a night!
The first picture is of Eric's dog Lambeau (you got it Packers fans) with their opening day bag of ducks including green wing teal, gadwalls, and 3 mallards, a hen and 2 drakes. This is a pretty impressive bag if I must say. Lambeau is getting up in the years but he still has it in him. Eric hunts around the La Crosse area and his luck was much better than around Minnesota. The second picture is of John's son bagging his first deer during Wisconsin's Youth Deer Hunt last weekend, an nice tender nubbin buck fawn. Limited to does, he did a fine job of showing dad who's going to be the future deer hunter in his family. That deer will sure taste good this fall. Thanks guys for sending in your pictures as my weekend was pretty uneventful. It looks like the weather will be more favorable for getting up this weekend.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Harvest Moon Harvesting

Last Sunday's full moon is known as the Harvest Moon. This bright moon is defined as the full moon closest to the autumn equinox which occurs around September 22th each year. It's name derives from the fact that the bright full moon would help farmers continue to harvest their crops well into the evening with the additional light it provides. Harvest Moons occur in October once every four years with the latest being October 13th. Well, the 2009 Harvest Moon did not let me down. My neighbor Tom loves the full moon bite and asked weeks in advance to reserve a seat in the boat. He is as crazy as I and with the ability to put up with my nuances, makes a fine fishing partner.

Our strategy was to launch out of the east side and fish our favorite perch hole first, checking to see if they have moved in shallow before heading out to our evening destination. Checking the wind forecast showed a predicted 5 - 7 mph blow from the NW. Not enough to change our plans we first stopped at Cedar Creek Public Landing. Well, the forecast lied. As one suggested, you are suppose to add the 5 and the 7 to get the real number. It was a strong 15 mph wind out of the NW and the rollers were a pushing 3 feet plus as they had the whole lake to work themselves up. Deciding that it would be too much work to land the boat at the access we headed to Mac's Twin Bay. They have a nice deep protected harbor and the $10 to launch is cheap insurance. Heading east to the perch hole wasn't too bad and we arrived fighting the wind for position. Not wanting to anchor, we drifted around a few boats and caught a number of small 6 - 7 inch perch. Not enough to keep our interest and understanding the pounding ride ahead of us, we decided to head straight to the reef. From our position it was straight into the wind for 7 miles. Nasty ride!! Arriving at our final destination 35 minutes later, the waves were literally breaking over the shallow rocks as if an angry ocean. Of course the good news was the wind guaranteed a perfect drift over the reef. The other interesting thing was the water temperature. Last Sunday it was a balmy 65 degrees as opposed to this Sunday's reading of 52. It had dropped a whooping 13 degrees in 7 days. Looking at the forecast for the next week, it could be in the low 40's soon. At 52 degrees the walleyes should be literally jumping in the boat!

Well, 2 hours of casting shad raps and rouges produced 1 - 13 inch walleye and a 14" smallie. Pretty paltry if you ask me. Standing on the bow, running the trolling motor in the big swells takes it's toll on an old man. At 7:30 I decided to start trolling, a less stressful endeavor. The wind had started to relent for the evening which set us up for what was to come. In the next 90 minutes we caught 14 walleye or 1 about every 6 minutes. They ranged from 12 inches on the short side to the fattest 27.50 incher I have ever seen. What ever it was the old favorite bait, the Rattlin' Rouge proved deadly. Tom's fished the fire tiger pattern and I stuck with my all time favorite, the tiger minnow. My 115 Suzuki trolls down like a dream and with a subtle pumping action, really triggered these fish. The fish were all caught in the 5 to 10 foot range with a surprisingly good number at 7 feet and deeper. We put 8 in the box, the first time I have completed a full boat limit this year. The keepers were very nice ranging from 14 to 17.75 inches, perfect eating size.

What I found very interesting was the amount of minnows that were present in the stomachs of the fish as we cleaned them. Each fish had at least 1 large minnow and most had 2 with some as high as 4. These fish were stuffed like a Norwegian at Thanksgiving! It is no wonder the bite has been tough of late. Certainly the cooler weather has triggered the fish to put on the feedbag. I am not sure where they could have fit anymore fish in their already stuffed stomachs but what the heck, they were biting. My last picture is one of the minnows we extracted from a fish. It was at least 5 inches long and looks like a young tullibee, which is reported in the lake at record numbers. They are predicting a high of 39 with occasional snow showers this weekend. I had better bring the winter gear as I sure could have used it on Sunday. At least we are catching fish!