Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Back for More

Here's the hope that everyone had a very Merry Christmas.  I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with my father.  A month from 81 years old he had just finished a regiment of radiation and chemo in his fight against esophagus cancer.  Always the optimist, he is doing surprisingly well with his doctors giving him kudo's for his ability to take everything they have thrown at him.  He is also a realist.  His first CT scan will be on Monday, January 3rd and we will see how he has progressed.  Whatever the results, even at his age he is an inspiration.  We also got a chance to visit with my good friend Kevin and his family.  Although our time was short, we always seem to squeeze in a months worth of updates in a few hours.  One of the things I look forward to (but never expect) is the possibility of getting a package of Kevin's homemade lefse.  Well, I was rewarded with a couple of packages before we left.  If you have never had homemade lefse, I guess I feel sorry for you!  Nothing is better than a piece of lefse, spread with butter, rolled up and warmed in the microwave.  For all you non-Norwegians, I feel sorry for you!

Sunday was back at Mille Lacs Lake with my good friend and hunting partner, Jack Taylor.  Jack has been catching northerns at his lake place on Platte Lake, west of Mille Lacs and was hoping to run into a few walleyes.  I told Jack I would pick him up in the morning, he would have to do nothing other than bring refreshments and I would take care of the rest.  The morning started out plowing the snow in my back area to get to the trailer.  Next was the need to shovel 2 feet of snow that accumulated on the trailer.  Pulling the trailer down to the shed, the next task was to load up the ATV and my portable shack.  I guess someone had other plans as I backed the trailer up, both front tires were flat with the beads broken.   Plan B!  Getting the jack out, I grabbed a ratchet strap and wrapped it around the tire.  Immediately the bead took and 1 tire inflated, one to go.  The second one wasn't as easy.  Doing the same exercise, I noticed the valve stem was shot.  Having a new valve stem I attempted to replace it but that proved a waste of time.  Replacing the tire with a spare an hour later I had the equipment loaded.  Picking Jack up we headed north, stopped at Bill's and went back to Dewey's.  To my surprise they were driving right to my spot.  With 18 inches of ice I was willing to take the chance.  As last week the 3:00 - 5:00 slot was the magic time.  I ended up catching 6 walleye and missing a beauty. 

Jack's dad was my good friend Earl Taylor, who passed away about 14 months ago.  Earl and I spent many hours fishing as we had many great experiences on the ice.  When I picked up Jack he had a surprise for me.  Back in the early 90's I had helped Earl get set up with a depth finder for ice fishing.  Being in electronics, I always had the pulse on the latest and greatest.  Back in the late 80's the hot portable depth sounder was Tom Mann's Super Sixty Hummingbird.  In it's trademark yellow case, it was powered by 2 - 6 volt lantern batteries.  Capra's Sporting Goods Store had a special bracket for mounting transducers and worked great for these types of units.  I gladly accepted the gift from Earl, a reminder of both him as well as how far we have come with winter ice fishing electronics these days.  Here is a picture of my prize, just as I set it up for Earl. 
Notice the bracket is a clamp connected to a ball type connector.  One would clamp the bracket to the edge of the case and stick the transducer into the hole drilled in the ice.  To help with the alignment I would glue a small bubble level to the top of the transducer.  This assured that you could position the transducer for the optimum sensitivity.  I am looking forward to getting her running again and may just take it out to experience the way we ice fished 20 years ago.  Either way it a cherished gift from Earl.  Wednesday I head to up to Lake Winnie with my friend Mark Applen.  We plan on staying in his wheel house, fishing Wednesday afternoon, Thursday, and coming home on Friday.  It should be an exciting couple of days and hopefully a great report. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

First Ice, Double the Pleasure

The much awaited first ice fishing trip of this winter season finally happened.  As I had predicted Mille Lacs lake was ready for us as my neighbor Lory accompanied me to the lake Saturday morning.  I was originally going to just bring up my gear and use the 2 up Polaris Touring snowmobile that Bill and I own yet seeing how much gear we actually had, I reconsidered and decided to haul up the ATV.   The other advantage of this would be our starting point could be 5 miles closer to our destination, a definite plus.   As always a stop at Lundeen's confirmed our first strategy as we loaded up with some fatheads, rainbows, a couple of the newest secret baits, and some refreshments.  Our destination was the deeper areas just off of Indian Point.  The best place to start from was Dewey's, just south of the point where we knew there would be ample parking.  Surprisingly he had a road plowed out at least a mile and a half out onto the lake.  Not enough to get us at our spot, we paid him the $5.00 to park on the ice (a pretty good deal) and after loading up the portables, augers, electronics, and bait we were off.  Arriving in 28 feet of water I had marked from a previous visit we separated, drilled our holes and got down to business.  I was excited to try my new camera and was not disappointed.  I usually drill 3 holes in my shack; one on the upper right for jigging, one in the lower left as a dead stick, and a third for the video camera.   The camera itself is tethered to a cable that connects to a wireless remote control positioning tripod.  This allows me to us a small hand held control to rotate the camera in any direction.  Whats real interesting is the camera has a built in sensing device which has a direction indicator on the screen.  Once you locate your lure, it's easy to pan the lure in the other hole then return to your main lure.  Well the walleyes started coming in almost immediately.  The camera is a great way to study how they approach your bait, what kind of mood they are in, and their relative size.  It also helps to confirm your depth finder readouts as they relate to what's below.   The walleyes were not very large and almost in a negative mood.  I tried a number of lures with little luck starting from a Rattlin Flyer to a Hawger Spoon.  When the fish are negative often it takes a lure like a Swedish Pimple with a minnow head to trigger a strike, but that didn't even work.  Frustrated by their lack of interest I panned over to my dead stick pole with a plain minnow hanging from a bobber.  As the camera panned over onto the screen was a walleye just sitting there with my minnow in it's mouth.  A quick jerk and the walleye was off the screen and heading to the hole in the ice.  Only about 12 inches, it never the less was my first walleye of the season.  In the meantime Lory had already caught a couple of walleyes, but was not setting the world on fire.  I decided to move down the spot about 100 yards and after only 15 minutes Lory called stating the walleyes had turned on.  Moving back to my original spot I reset putting on a jigging rap, figuring a more aggressive bite was happening.  Lory on the other hand was catching them on a plain jig head and a whole minnow, and had 4 on the ice.  I finally got the hint and switched, catching a nice perch and 5 more small walleyes, while he ended up with 12 walleyes caught and a bunch missed.  All told we caught 18 walleyes total, kept 6 respectable fish and had a blast.  As usual the prime time was between 3:30 and 5:00.  Here is a picture of Lory with a nice eater.

Sunday was a cleanup day around the house and with things settling down, I decided to try the dusk crappie bite at one of my favorite early season lakes near Buffalo, MN.  My other neighbor Tom wanted to go with us on Saturday however his truck's timing chain had other plans for him.  Sunday was a better day for him so we loaded up the gear and headed out, arriving at the lake around 3:00.  We knew this would be a quick trip and if the crappies are in, it won't take long.   The fishing area is close to shore allowing us to simply walk to the spot.  Some guys were driving on the ice which was about 10 - 12 inches and I surmised they must have much better insurance than I do!  The sunnies were in like crazy so I took this picture of the camera view below the shelter.  There are at least 8 sunfish swimming by and you can see the one near the center about ready to inhale the bait (the small white object in front of it).  While watching the sunfish sort of disappeared as the next thing you saw was a large northern pike coming into view.  I guess those fish aren't that stupid.  

Sundown came however the crappies had not shown up.  Too dark for the camera I put it away relying on my trusty old Vexilar FL20.  Tom was determined to try some crappie minnows while my go to bait is a waxie.  In this fairly shallow water (about 12 feet) I like to work the water column as crappies can be about any depth this time of year.  Noticing a jiggle at the the bottom of the display I lowered my bait and was rewarded with that tell tale inhale of a crappie bite.  Setting the hook, it was a solid fish, just what we were looking for about 12 inches.  The real question would be if this was a loner or part of a school.  10 minutes later confirmed it was a loner.  I did manage a second smaller crappie and added it to the pile of 3 reasonable sunfish and the crappie.  Although we didn't slay them, it was still nice to get out 2 days in a row.   This weekend is Christmas and I will be busy visiting my dad, who turns 81 this year.  With a little luck I will be back at Mille Lacs on Sunday and maybe a couple more days before New Years.  BTW, I am keeping the Dean Martin Christmas song for another week as we did get another 6 inches on Monday, so enjoy!  Have a fabulous Christmas and hope each one of you has a good tug at the end of your line.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

So the predicted snowfall for Saturday was 12 - 16 inches and they were not too far off!  17 inches later, Saturday's snowfall was listed as the fifth largest since they began keeping records.  Considering that 18,000 years ago Minnesota was covered with a sheet of ice 2000 feet thick, I seriously doubt this is the case.  Never the less it makes for an interesting weekend of frantic weather coverage.   The weathermen are stuck in the studios, going on 18 hours without sleep.  You know these events have to be the highlight of their careers!  Truth be told, they probably could not leave anyway as all the roads were closed down.  Lucky it was the neighborhood Christmas party on Saturday night, with the roads blown shut, there was no better place to go than to Bot's house.  Here is a picture looking down the road by my house.  I have to admit this is pretty darn early for this much snow as we probably have 2 feet on the ground already.   Apparently this is the snowiest start to December on record as well.

One benefit of this huge snow event was the collapsing of the Metrodome, home of the Minnesota Vikings.  Being a Packer fan I would have to say the side show has been nothing but comical.  When the dome was built in 1982 the first couple winters saw the roof give out.  See the Metrodome uses air pressure to keep the dome inflated, like a big balloon.  It's interesting to go to a game there, as you enter the pressure pops your ears.  When the game is done, they open the revolving doors and as you approach the opening you are literally pushed out with a gust of wind.  Give them credit, it has held for quite awhile, including the great Halloween Blizzard of 1991, which dumped 28 inches of snow on October 31st.   Anyway it should play well for a new stadium.  Monday night's game is going to be played at the new University of Minnesota's football stadium.  They will be hard pressed to accommodate all of the ticket holders but it will be fun to see how the Vikes do in their new surroundings! 

Luckily the snowfall totals on Mille Lacs has been significantly less.  Snow cover tends to insulate the ice, keeping it from freezing (makin' ice) as fast and adds weight to the top causing water to sit on the top just under the snow.  The high winds of Sunday keep much of the lake bare and with -15 overnight temperatures it can make an inch of ice a night.  Reports from Bill claim that there are already plows on the lake pulling out houses.  You wouldn't catch me driving on the lake with my suburban this early!  By Saturday there should be a good 12 inches in most places, more than enough to take a snowmobile or ATV to a few of my secret early ice spots a few miles out on the lake.   Hopefully I will have a great report for you as I don't think I could stand another weekend of dealing with the snow.  As far as local lakes, the snow will make this first ice challenging at best.  I am anxious to try out the new camera, the new St. Croix ice rod I bought at the show, and a few of those special lures that seem to catch me every year.  I will leave you with a picture of the parking lot at work.  We are suppose to get another 3 - 4 inches tonight and quite honestly, I am not sure I know where they are going to put it all.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Ice Fishing Show

Last weekend was the annual St. Paul Ice Fishing Show at the Excel Center in downtown St. Paul.  This is a 3 day show featuring the latest and greatest products for the upcoming ice fishing season.   My good friend Mark Applen called and suggested we head down on Saturday afternoon, an idea I was up for.  The show has grown significantly in the last few years and arriving the 2010 attendance was incredible.  One thing that became clear very quickly was the amount of new and exciting products for the guy who loves the hard water fishing.  From the latest in depth finder technology to what I call mansions on wheels, there is something for everyone.  There were gadgets for jigging your pole, new ways to clean the slush from your freshly drilled holes, and an amazing collection of sophisticated electronics claiming 1/4 inch separation 30 feet below you.   One of the newer devices out is a LCD display underwater camera.  I have owned a couple of the earlier model CRT type cameras however they are somewhat bulky and have limited battery life.  The new Marcum VS625SD pictured here has a bright sunlight readable screen, a High Definition Sony camera, and respectable battery life.  Cabela's had a nice $100 off coupon this week and coupled with a number of unused gift certificates, I pulled the trigger on one.  I am looking forward to using it this winter and of course they are becoming popular options for summer fishing.

One thing that is fun at these shows is buying "The Show Special".  Mark and I are suckers for this tactic and readily open our wallets to the deals.  I was the first to fall victim, buying a clip on LED light for the inside of my portable ice house.  Having seen them at stores for $25.00 the $12.00 I paid seemed like a bargain.  Next were the new St. Croix ice rods, nice and light with just the right action.  $20 regular price, the show special was another 10% off.  Well, contrary to what anyone says, it's always nice to have another fishing pole, in the bag they went.   After enjoying a shot of Christian Brothers Brandy at their booth we headed for the back room and ran across a very unique product, the Frying Saucer.  A second look verified a clever fish fryer using what looked like and inverted sombrero mounted on legs with a propane burner.  Completely portable it looks like just the ticket for frying fish outside.   A perfect compliment to Mark's ice house, he just had to have one and they were more than able to oblige!

20 years ago the ideal setup for ice fishing was to pull a permanent fish house, built on runners, onto the ice and leave it there for the season.  Today it is being replaced with what are called Wheel Houses, a fish house built on a special trailer, made for the ultimate in portability and comfort.  The base trailer frames have special axles that lower the house to the ice via rotating the wheels.  More like a modified travel trailer they have holes in the floor, bunks, a table, storage, and depending on what you want to pay, kitchens and bathrooms.  Starting at $6000 for a basic model you can spend up to $25,000 for a luxury house.  The convenience is the ability to move around from lake to lake or simply leave it in one spot.  Mark has a nice smaller house and he has talked about getting something larger.  For me, I still like being able to move around the ice with minimum effort.  Maybe someday!

Finally we have had enough cold weather to create fishable ice conditions.  Unfortunately we are also having record snows, with at least 10 inches on the ground with another 12 - 16 predicted for tonight and tomorrow.  Last Friday I returned from a 4 day trip to Austin Texas to a winter wonderland.  Arriving late Friday night, it was obvious I was going to spend the next morning shoveling snow.  By the time I cleaned up all of my driveways plus my neighbors, hit the Ice Fishing Show, and repairing my plows and snow blowers, the weekend was done.  It appears that I will be repeating the same thing this weekend with significantly more snow to deal with.  Blizzard conditions are predicted with the high temperature on Sunday to be around 0.  It's way too early for this.  Hopefully I can get out but it's looking more like it won't be till next week.  Oh well, I do have my portable set up in the shed and I can still pretend!  I will leave you with a shot of the Ice Fishing Bikini Team, always a warm reminder of winter's more interesting traditions here in Minnesota.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Electronics and Fishing

Electronics and fishing have had a long history together. Things have progressed a long way and at a crazy pace. Modern electronic components such transistors, Mosfets, and integrated circuits have worked their way into the necessities of today’s fishing scene. The average boat today has more electronic capabilities than computers of just 15 years ago. One simply has to look at my boat, a 2008 Ranger 620T and you quickly see what I am talking about. Bolted on the back is a 115 Suzuki 4 stroke, fuel injected, computer controlled, including oxygen sensors, timing circuits and other sophisticated engine management systems. Next to it is a Minnkota Vantage trolling motor, complete with a deployment system for lowering the motor into the water which state of the art pulse width modulation circuit maximizing the power for optimum battery life. Under the stern area houses 3 large glass mat series 31 deep cycle batteries all connected to a built in microprocessor controlled battery charger assuring maximum charging for each outing (if you remember to plug it in each time you put the boat away!). Moving up to my control console, there sits a Genetron depth sounder with incredible circuitry for marking fish and a Garmin GPS that has a built in base map accurate to less than 20 feet. A control module directs which functions such as lights, live well, and accessories can be turned on or off with a simple poke of a button. With built in live well timers it even has electronic circuit breakers, replacing the need to have replaceable fuses. The engine gauges now provide integrated information such as total hours and service alerts on top of the standard RPM readings. In the control panel is mounted a sound system, complete with an AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio and a built in Ipod dock. In between the back and the front, each compartment including the live wells have it’s own LED lighting assuring that if left on the power consumption will not drain the batteries for weeks. The front of the boat has a remote control module for the sound system, a Maxum Bow mount Trolling motor with the same maximizing circuitry as well a built in transducer and temp sensor. This feeds into a Lowrance HDS 5 color depth sounder/gps unit with the latest base map information. Eventually I will replace the Genetron with an Lowrance HDS10 with side scan sonar, integrated GPS, Sirius Weather Radar capabilities, and can be connected to the sound system to control all functions from one central location. This is quite a step from the first depth finder I owned, a Heathkit which I built myself. In my tackle box are a couple of lighted bobbers which are triggered by the presence of water between 2 contacts. Reel them in and they shut off………….magic! (actually it FET technology at it’s simplest)

Being in the electronics business I have had my associations with a number of these products, some that are main stream while others were simply some ones next million dollar idea. As mention in a past post, I designed the power output transformer for the Clearwater Classic which is still being used today by Marcum. My Genetron’s were provided by Dick Knutson for whom I made many wound parts for. Although they are still one of the finest fish locators out there, technology past them years ago and combined with the Red River floods of a few years back and the passing of Dick, they are destined to be museum pieces soon. Some of the less famous products I have been involved with include an electronic controlled trolling hard bait, like a Shad Rap. Inside were a battery, solenoid, and a timer circuit. The solenoid controlled a movable lip which would dive for a certain time then pull the lip causing the bait to change direction or depth on it’s own. Interesting idea but at $35 each, those snags could be awfully hard on the wallet! My good friends Tom Emmons and Tom McAtee made a maximize for our trolling motors long before Minnkota introduced them. Probably the most interesting device is the one pictured here, the Magnabait. It is a water tight, floating device that has built in speaker with an LED in middle of it. Powered by a number of internal batteries, it’s purpose is as an electronic lobster baiting device. See, lobster fishermen have to use rather expensive bait to entice lobsters to into their traps. The electronic device has a built in circuit which produces a short sound mimicking the mating call of a lobster. The LED flashes at the same time as the sound is generated, about every 20 to 30 seconds. Apparently this is an acceptable alternative to actual lobster bait, and I guess it works pretty good, unless of course they lose them. I have some friends in the electronics consulting business that did some work for the company and offered me to try them while ice fishing. The theory is that crawfish make the same basic sounds and will call fish into the area you are have your holes drilled. Although I used them many times, the jury is still out as to their effectiveness. As for lobsters, well I haven’t caught one yet! Here is the website if you are interested in more information: http://magnabait.net/

Once again I am writing this on a flight to Austin Texas, where the weather promises to be in the 70’s all week. Much better than the 4 inches of snow I just left. This weekend is the Ice Fishing Show in St. Paul and I look forward to checking out all the new gadgets for this year. I might even get a chance to hit the ice on Sunday, as it is forming as I write.