Monday, December 28, 2009

Oh The Weather Outsides Delightful.......

This Christmas was interesting for us in Minnesota. It started on December 20th with all the local weather broadcasters forecasting the next "Storm of the Century" starting on Wednesday night through Saturday. Two low pressure systems were set up to meet, dumping up to 24 inches of snow by the time it's done, or so they say. All this brew-ha-ha forced mom to cancel our traditional Christmas Eve in Eleva, moving it to Sunday. Well, the snow turned to rain and although the storm lasted almost 4 days, the totals were somewhat less than predicted. About12 inches here in Dayton, it only accumulated back home to the tune of around 4 inches. Either way my snow blower and ATV got a pretty good workout, as well the weather forecasters lived their fantasies. Traveling to Galesville on Saturday, it was Christmas Day with my sister-in-law. My present to Sue was to fix her gas fireplace that would not stay lit, then loading Microsoft Office 2007 on the computer. Christmas on Sunday turned out to be pretty good as everyone was not stressed to get everything accomplished in a short time. As a bonus I did get to visit my classmate and good friend Rick Semingson and his parents, Dunk and Mary. Rick is retiring this year, boy how time flies. We also visited my friend Kevin and Janet Aiona. Come to think of it Kevin is a year younger than I and is also retired! He had a nice bucket of sunfish caught in Alma a few hours earlier. The above picture is looking east from my driveway. We have a good 14 inches on the ground and it's time to get the snowmobile out and put a few miles on.

One of the things I like to bring my folks for Christmas is my now famous apple wood smoked turkey. Having a variety of smokers over the years I finally have a professional style smoke oven made by Cookshack. After trying a number of methods have settled into brining the turkey with Maple Cure from PS Seasoning, a Wisconsin meat supply company. Making a brine using 1 pound of cure to 2 gallons of water, I reserve about a pint of cure and inject it into the turkey before soaking for 24 hours. One of the best turkeys for smoking are Archer Farms Brand, butter injected frozen turkey's from Target. They produce the most moist finished product of any brand I've tried, butter just flows out as you make that first slice into the breast meat. Taking up to 1 hour a pound, apple wood smoke at 250 degrees, the picture is the finished product. I guarantee it tastes as good as it looks. The brine has cure in it and gives the turkey a ham like flavor that is second to none.

With the snow messing up my weekend schedule, my neighbor Lory and I got out on Saturday afternoon to see if those big crappies would show up west of town. Although we did not get the big snows as predicted, what did snow was heavy, wet, mixed with rain. These conditions make ice fishing interesting. The snow on the ice causes 2 major issues, first being that it insulates the ice slowing the freezing process. Without this latest storm, we would be driving on the lakes by now. The other issue is the weight of the snow will cause water to be forced up on the ice flooding the surface under the snow. Forming a layer of slush, it makes travel and setting up on the ice very sloppy. Any ice houses that were on the lakes prior to the storm need to be jacked up higher than this slush layer or they will freeze in solid. Driving to the lake we found the conditions as described. Pulling our gear, it seemed like we walked a mile up hill! 6 inches of snow, 2 of it was slush, 150 yards later we set up. Immediately the sunfish appeared and they were hungry. With about an 90 minutes before the sun went down the action was steady catching about 30 fish. Most were small but I managed to keep 4 nice ones while waiting for the crappies to show. As the sun set those 12 inch crappies where non-existent in my holes. Lory had slightly better luck catching one. Another mile back to the truck, we called it a day. Mille Lacs is in my sight this weekend and maybe another trip to to check out the crappies. This cold weather predicted for the rest of the week will certainly help the situation.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Smack Down Time!

Knowing I was going to fish on Saturday the real question was where? As the last 2 Decembers have proved, this time of year the big crappies can be caught west of town. Early ice on Mille Lacs is also tempting as the fish have not been pressure for a couple of months now. A few calls along with a couple of Internet searches and Mille Lacs it was. My neighbor Lory Brasel and a friend Russ Clos agreed that it would be fun to try so we loaded up our gear, ATV's and headed north. Reports of minimal snow and 12 inches of ice gave us the opportunity to hit an offshore mud area about 5 miles out. As always we stopped at Lundeens to get our bait and to get an initial read on the lake. The day looked promising with the sun peeking out , trying to keep temperature reasonable. The other thing the sun does is stimulate the perch bite and we were hoping for these bonus fish.

Arriving at the desired destination we quickly set up about 100 feet apart. The area we fished was fairly large and spreading out would give us a chance to locate active fish. In addition to setting up my house I drilled about 20 holes perpendicular to the line we set up with the houses. If it's nice out and slow in the house I like to hole hop from one to another looking for active fish. It's a great technique if you can put up with the cold. The first rig I set up is a simple bobber rig with a rainbow shiner decorating my jig at the end of my line. This is usually good for a fish or two, and is deadly on the eelpout! My main hole is where I jig various lures such as Hawger Spoons, Jigging Raps, Swedish Pimples, Chubby Darters, and Rattlin' Flyers. I also have a 4.5 inch hand auger used to drill a hole for my Vexilar transducer which keeps it away from fish tangling when bringing them up. Starting out with a Jigging Rap it gives an idea if the fish are aggressive or passive. They will slam the lure if in an aggressive mood or simply ignore it when they are more passive. Half an hour of the Rap showed fish however they were not interested in the quick swimming minnow imitation. My next go to lure lately is the Rattlin' Flyer, a winged lure with a rattle chamber. Lures with rattles can really draw the fish in as the are curious to see what all the commotion is about. For an attractant I snap off the head of a nice fathead minnow and hook it to the lure. Often this simple addition makes a huge difference. This proved to be the right move as fish immediately appeared on both my depth finder as well as the video camera which was positioned to watch the action around the lure. A number of walleyes swam by until one just smacked the lure with vengeance. Unfortunately it was only 10 inches but it was a start. The next 2 hours were filled with 8 - 12 inch fish attacking or simple sucking in the minnow head. In the meantime Lory and Russ had each nailed a nice keeper walleye. It was my turn as I had caught a number of smaller fish. About 4:00 somebody turned the switch on. It was like a WWF Smack Down! Fish were coming in and very aggressively hitting the lure. Within the next hour we had caught 9 walleyes, 14 - 15 inch keepers along with a nice 23 inch walleye I released. The top picture are the 6 fish I cleaned at the house and the bottom picture is the largest I released. Unfortunately I forgot the first rule of a good blogger, to always take your camera! I usually get so excited about going that I always forget something. Improvising Russ took this picture with my phone. Far from the best, it at least shows the nice fish I released (I am positive I will hear about this one). It was a great day of fishing for sure. I was surprised that not one perch was caught or seen by Lory, Russ, or I yet I did end up with over 20 walleyes caught for the afternoon.

A couple of side notes. About a mile the lake ice transformed into a maze of ice chunks scattered as though Ol' Paul Bunyan himself stirred the lake just before it froze. I can't remember a year it was so rough. This week the forecast for Mille Lacs and the surrounding area including the Twin Cities are looking at up to 19 inches of snow, maybe more. This will put a severe burden on the lake as the weight of the snow will make maintaining Ice Houses on the lake as well as travel very difficult. Although the resorts will plow roads, it would have been nice if the snow would have waited about another week. Oh well, I am pretty sure we will survive. The storm will make our already white Christmas even whiter. Have a great Christmas where ever you are. With a little luck we will get dug out and ready to take advantage of the holiday season drilling lots of holes. I know those crappies are still there!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rude Awaking

After getting use to the weather in both Key West and San Jose, I woke up this morning with the realization it's not going to get any warmer in Minnesota for a while. With a crisp -10 degrees this morning it is a full 95 degree temperature swing from what I experienced 10 days ago. Oh well, life up north! With that in mind a last reminder and parting shot from Key West. Although it is hard to see, on the left side of the brown pelican is a ripple and another one just below, are the back fins of those large tarpon living in the harbor. As we were cleaning the fish both the tarpon and the pelicans would compete for the scraps. It was a pretty interesting sight as the fish were exceptionally quick to dispose of anything thrown over, including the carcasses we cut up and the skins. Tarpon have huge gaping mouths and made quick work in a single gulp. I asked if anyone tries to hook these monsters and was assured that the marina would not look kindly on the person who would attempt this. It was an interesting surprise to see these beautiful fish.

After being gone for 8 out of the last 10 days, I came home to the snow and cold. Although my neighbors help out in clearing the snow there is still much to do. I have a Polaris 800EFI with a plow which makes short work of my pole shed driveway and the back road to my trailer storage area. It took most of the day to clean up everything, just in time for another 3 inches Sunday night. Saturday night was the neighborhood Christmas party at the Botner's and it never disappoints. Unfortunately I tend to stay to the very end which was 3:00 Sunday morning. Of course this had a direct affect on my plans for ice fishing on Sunday. Like a good trooper I did make it out to Pelican Lake for the evening bite.

Assuming the ice would be about 4 - 6 inches thick and I would need to walk a bit, I decided to take my old Swedish Mora 7" hand auger. It's not been used in years and figured it was probably a little dull, the thin ice would make it tolerable. I have a Nils Master 4 1/2 inch auger that slices like butter however I wanted to use my Vexilar in the hole and 4 1/2 inches is pretty small. For these early excursions I have a small portable 1 man shelter that my friend Bill gave me. It fits perfectly in the back of my Suburban and is easy to pull around. Arriving at the lake and walking out about 1/4 mile, I picked a likely looking spot, quickly discovered that my auger was significantly duller than I had imagined and the ice was at least 10 inches thick. Rocking the auger back and forth, 15 minutes later I had a hole through the ice. Normally I drill 2 holes, one for my jigging rod and one as a set line however that wasn't going to happen this time. Luckily I brought a heater with and soon had a warm and cozy place to fish, and fish I did. Usually one can nail a few sunnies as well the crappie bite always gets going at dark. I guess someone forgot to tell the fish and I did not rule out the mental game as getting home at 3:00 takes it's toll! I did take a picture of the lake with a few guys scattered around me. A quick census showed I was not alone. Oh well, it was good to get out seeing the swans flying back to the river and listening to the owls hoot their chorus of sounds was worth it. Next week I will get more serious.
One thing nice about fishing on the northwest side of the Twin Cities is that Cabela's stands in the way of my journey home. They had a sale on an item my Cousin Greg introduced me to, Fleece Lined Jeans. At $24 a pair, they are one of the best investments for the winter. It sure beats having to wear long johns! So to Greg I say Thanks.....Thanks A lot. I'll be looking for the big crappies next week. Also, take the time to check out this weeks post by MT Bucket (see the link on my left sidebar). All I can say is I am jealous!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Key West Fishing Paradise

I am finally getting time to report on last weeks adventure. After spending 5 days in warm Florida this post is being written from San Jose, California. It is not as warm as the Keys but certainly more comfortable than the -5 degree blizzard they are having in Minnesota right now! The conference went well and as the host I made my mark by arranging a presentation by my friend Fred Lehman. Fred is probably one of the most interesting persons you could ever meet and although his hour long presentation on the Structure of the Milky Way was somewhat unrelated to the transformer business, for most part our attendees were spellbound. You can see Fred's work at

After being stuck for 3 days indoors hosting the conference in West Palm Beach, my business partner Lyle and I headed to Key West a couple days of leisure. The highlight of our time included a 6 hour fishing adventure with with Captain Steve Rodger of Spear One Charters. This would be my first time in the Keys and I was not disappointed. The trip began at a local marina convenient from our hotel, meeting Captain Steve at 7:20. The first thing I noticed were the twin 300hp Mercury Verado's hanging off the back of the boat. The boat was a 28 foot Conch, open bow with a center console, 2 very large livewells, insulated storage, it was set up beautifully. I could only imagine what this boat could do. After stowing our gear it was off to catch our bait. Our strategy was to catch at least 500 or so pilchards and fill the baitwell. We cruised the shallow areas along the shorelines looking for pelicans diving into the water, as this would indicate the presence of baitfish below. With my boating experience, I was directed to run the boat while Captain Steve threw the cast net into the school. The water was less than 2 feet deep and because it was rather windy, the water was less than ideal for locating these schools. My job entailed watching the Captain and as soon as he threw the net, stop the motors and trim them all the way down, driving the skags into the bottom, anchoring the boat. I was surprised how well the cast net worked with up to 100 fish with each throw. We did get the boat stuck a few times before we had our compliment of lively 4 - 6 inch pilchards, similar to the shiners we use in Minnesota. The water in shore was this beautiful turquoise color caused by the white coral sand on the bottom. My first picture was taken on our way back but it really shows this amazing effect.

Our first location was an underwater reef rising to 60 feet surrounded by 160 foot water. Did I mention it was windy? The waves were at least 8 feet from bottom to top (we in Minnesota would call them 8 footers but on the ocean they are officially 4 foot seas). The tide was running almost opposite the wind, which made conditions difficult. We would anchor on the edge of the reef and start chumming for fish. This meant putting a block of frozen ground up fish into our chum bag as well throwing live pilchards into the water to attract fish. It didn't take long for the fish to show up. You could see them gathering behind the chum line in flashes of brilliant blue, yellow and silver. The key was to fish those out of sight as they were pretty finicky. Our equipment included a heavy spinning rod and reel with mono or braided line and a fluorocarbon leader. We used a plain Mustad live bait hook with no weights, letting the bait drift with the current, creating it's own action. It took some getting use to as the wind worked against the current causing a substantial bow in the line. It didn't take long to get the first fish, a bar jack. These fish fight like crazy! Being a good fish to eat we had one in the box. The next fish to come on board was a yellow tail snapper, what we were really after. These are some of the best tasting fish caught and are plentiful. Unfortunately sharks love them as well. My first yellow tail was greeted by a 6 foot shark that decided it wanted the fish more than I did. Grabbing the fish
and diving, there was little to do but break the line. This played itself out many times and one soon learned that you cannot give the sharks the opportunity for an easy feast. According to our Captain, these sharks have learned where the easy meals are and show up frequently. The good news is we managed to get 7 nice yellow tails. The second picture is me holding the bar jack and a yellow tail.

Being a seasoned fisherman it did not take me long to figure out the system. These fish hit hard and once hooked they take off. On the other hand for Lyle this was his first trip fishing on the ocean and with a guide. It was important that to make sure he was having a great time. It took him some time to get comfortable with the waves, managing your presentation, and landing the fish. Although the fish practically hooked themselves, the real challenge was to get them to the
boat before the sharks. Lyle became the sharks best friend! It took a while but Lyle did pretty well. The first nice fish was this cobia he is holding with Captain Steve. These fish fight like crazy and the sharks would rather dine on yellow tail so he had a better chance of landing it. Although cobia are a great eating fish, there is a minimum length and this one was just a tad too short. Notice the spines just before the dorsal fin. These can inflict a very painful sting, which might explain the shark avoidance.

One of our issues was a pending storm approaching the Keys. A line of thunderstorms had stalled for a few days and on Saturday morning it had let loose. With only a few hours before it would be on us, we decided to try for larger fish like Mahi Mahi, tuna, wahoo, and sailfish. Because reefs tend to draw all species of fish this time of year we headed out about a mile and drifted back in. The strategy was the same, throw a ton of bait into the water to attract the fish and hope they would take the ones with hooks in them. It didn't take long for the tuna to arrive. The first on was a small skip jack tuna, not as good as yellow fin but acceptable. The next fish I caught was a bonita, a very dark fleshed member of the tuna family good for cat food or cut bait. The Captain saved it for future clients. Finally Lyle hooked into a nice fish. To Lyle's credit he works out at the gym frequently and this fish provided him with his daily routine! After a grueling 15 minute fight we gaffed this nice black fin tuna, the prize for the day. With the storm front clearly in view there was time for another short drift. Although we emptied our bait well in an attempt to entice our quarry, this drift produced nothing.

It was time to leave with 10 miles between us and the dock. I was amazed at how well the boat handled in the waves as we struck the storm head on. Just like on Mille Lacs, the wind shifted from the north at 40 mph as we hit the wall of rain. Once into the turquoise waters again, the shallows dissipated the waves and we were able to let those Verado's breath. Once at the dock the rain stopped and hints of blue sky had already shown itself. We gathered our fish and Captain Steve began to fillet. The table was mounted right at the end of the dock edge with a compliment of pelicans waiting for a free lunch. Wanting to learn how to clean these fish I assisted in skinning and removing rib cages and bones. Tossing the scraps out into the water produced a huge swirl before the pelicans could get to the morsel. I looked into the water and there were 6 huge tarpon cruising around too, looking for handouts. A couple of them were over 6 feet long. Apparently like the pelicans they have made this their permanent home living on the scraps of each days fishing adventures. It was pretty interesting to say the least.

Although we did not catch a lot of fish or any large ones, it truly was a fabulous experience. I would recommend Captain Steve to anyone as he was knowledgeable, patient, had first class equipment and provided what you should get from a guide, a great time. After learning my lesson when I brought fish back from Cabo, we cut them up into dinner sized portions, the hotel allowed us to use their freezer, and on the way back we purchased a cooler and some dry ice for the airplane ride home. The fish were good an froze and I look forward to having some yellow tail snapper next week. Although I have spent the last 8 out of 10 days in balmy weather, it is supposed to be below zero this week and I might just be able to get out on first ice this weekend. Lets hope!