Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Last Minute Scramble

With the ice conditions on Mille Lacs continuing to deteriorate my friend Mark Applen and I have been contemplating a trip further north, say the Canadian Border.  After talking to my friend Pete, checking out the video fishing reports from the Wigwam Resort on Lake of the Woods, it seemed like the place to be.  Putting something together this quickly and between Christmas and New Years would be challenging.  Calling almost every place I knew it would be difficult to find last minute accommodations for this week and as predicted, not a room available anywhere.   The guy at Wigwam was very helpful however there were a lot of options available we never explored.  First of all the lodging.  Calling back and asking about driving on the ice with Mark's wheel house (we can stay in there), they cannot guarantee however the guy said the resort will let us stay in the house as long as it's parked in the camp area on the resort.  $10 a night, including electricity seems reasonable.  If they were going to let us drive out on the ice all of our problems would have been solved.  Unfortunately they are only allowing specially equip ice transport vehicles and or snowmobiles and ATV's at this time.  Because of our last minute hair it would be dumb for only 2 of us to drive 2 trucks, one for the house and the other for the ATV's.  Yes, we could have put it in the truck but where do we put our portables,  it just presented 1 too many issues.  I had just about given up on the notion of being able to put a trip together.   This morning a light bulb went off, maybe the resort has ice shacks for rent, we could pull the wheelhouse up then use the resort services for the fishing.  Being somewhat restrictive as to where we fish, never the less it could be a good option for just the 2 of us.  A quick call this morning and voila, I have a house rented for 2 days which includes transportation to and from the heated shack, bait, and free fish cleaning!  We are heading up Wednesday afternoon, a 6 hour drive, with the hopes that the bite is still going strong.  It sure beats hanging around the house.  In the meantime my friend Pete sent me this picture of his friends 11 pound walleye they caught and released on Lake of the Woods a few weeks ago.  Pete is a friend of ice fishing legend Dave Genz and they were up for a few days and figured the total number of walleyes and saugers caught was well over 350 fish for 3 days.  Here's hoping my report will be as good as theirs and the fish are as big.  I did stop at Fleet Farm tonight and found a few potentially deadly lures to try out (of course I do that every week!).  Stay tuned

A quick word on Christmas, it was great, no snow yet but Santa found his way.  It was nice to see all of brothers and sisters at Mom's; Steve, Beth, Jon, and Blake as well as a few of my nephews and nieces.   It feels that we are all at some crossroads in life, never thinking too hard on any one issue yet understand none of us are getting any younger.   Maybe a few days away will clear the old noggin and a better reflection will pop out of my fingers.  On the other hand sometimes there just isn't much to say.
Happy New Year, stay safe and look for a a potentially amazing report in a few days!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Second Ice?!?!

It's been and interesting week to the start of our ice fishing season.  Last week was my first adventure onto Mille Lacs and it was an encouraging experience.  6-12 inches of ice had cover the first mile or so and the lake was completely frozen over.  The first 10 days of December saw nighttime temperatures near zero, perfect for making ice.  A thin but effective snowcover kept the temperatures ideal for freezing up the lake hard.  Last week everything changed as we had a significant rain, melting all the snow, causing the average temperature to increase.  The show stopper came last Thursday as the low pressure front moved east and brought gale force winds from the north.  I am not sure how it all happens but the wind created large areas of open water while piling the ice over 15 feet high on the south shore.  I snapped a picture as we drove by the pile of 12 inch thick ice chunks that were a flat surface last weekend. It's pretty amazing what Mother Nature can do.  The fact is that all week it's been high winds, one day from the west, the next from the south, the next day from the north.  This has caused something that hasn't been seen at Mille Lacs in all the years I've ice fished, almost a complete island of ice has formed around the lake isolating most of the lake from normal travel.  It's effect can best be seen at this MODIS website, a site that displays pictures of daily satellite photos of North America by region.  You can chose the day you would like to see and if it's clear can get a excellent idea of ice cover, useful both at the beginning of the season and towards ice out.  Here is a screen shot from December 20th, 2011 showing the view from space and the large open areas that travel completely around Lake Mille Lacs.  For reference the lake is about 18 mile north to south and 14 miles east to west.  As you can see the ice island encompasses 80% of the surface area.  We are going to need the wind to stop blowing and some below zero temperatures to really heal up those open areas for safe travel.  Pretty interesting for sure.  A picture is worth a thousand words and if you know anything about the current conditions on the lake, this picture says it all.  Be careful out there!

Although we knew there was open water on the lake, the area I fished last week should be safe to walk out to.  Meeting my friend Mark Applen Saturday afternoon we assessed the situation as reports suggested that we stay off the main lake.  They were right!  Walking out to the spot in Vineland Bay the ice was solid and appeared to be firmly attached to the shoreline.   There were a number of wheel house that had been pulled to the area using ATVs, something I suppose I could have used however I do need the exercise.   With more activity at the spot I fished last week we moved down the break to an area we could have by ourselves.  I set up in 22 feet while Mark punched his holes in 15 feet.  The break is very abrupt as he was only about 12 feet from me.  As always I drill a number of holes around the area which allows me to move around, finding the right depth.  Mark pretty well planted himself on his first 2 holes.  The perch were thick in my spot.  I threw my camera down and at any given time there were at least 10 on the screen, all 6 inches and smaller. I caught numerous 6 inch perch while Mark, just 12 feet away was hauling in 10 inch perch.  Well the old saying is where there is perch there is walleyes so I just decided to wait them out.  In the meantime Mark was accumulating a nice pile of fish including a couple of nice walleyes like the 21+ he is holding here.  I did see a few walleyes on the camera, some of them very respectable yet the 7 foot differential must have been the depth where the fish, done with feeding, settled in for the night.  My stubbornness sort of took over and I stayed till dark with only 1 fish to show for the day.  Mark, on the other hand had 10 perch and 1 walleye on the ice, and had released 3 other walleyes outside the slot limit.  Oh well, at least somebody got some fish.  My only solstice is the fact that it was my idea to fish where we did yet reality it was probably the only place to fish that was safe.  While out on the ice we got a call from Bill, the Mille Lacs County Ice Rescue Squad was busy that day.  4 guys had walked out to Sloppy Joe's and got stranded on an ice chunk that broke off of the shore anchored ice shelf.  After resolving that issue another call came in as a couple of anglers were floating away out of St. Albans Bay.  I like ice fishing but have no desire to use trolling as a viable technique.

This weekend is  a special one as I wish everybody a very Merry Christmas.  It will be different without my dad but I know he would be sad if we did not celebrate with our hearts in the season so we will not let him down.  At this time last year we had 18 inches of snow on the ground, today it is as brown as can be.  The winter solstice happens tonight and I am looking forward to the days starting to get longer (more fishing time!).   I doubt there will be time to fish until after Sunday and I have a couple of nice pictures that can be used for fill.  Be good and make sure to leave Santa something special, he definitely deserves it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

First Ice 2011

FINALLY!!!  With the stretch of near zero weather last week I was primed to get out and drill a few holes.  Decisions, decisions..............go local for some panfish action or head to Mille Lacs where I had some good report on the walleye bite.   That invitation from Bill was too much so I loaded my new Eskimo Ice Fishing Combo into the truck and headed up north.  Last spring while in Cabela's they had a closeout on an Eskimo setup, a Quickfish 3 pop up shelter, an 8" hand auger, an ice fishing seat, all in a narrow sled that included a cover.  I believe I paid less than $160 for the entire setup.  I was really looking for something that was light and portable, would easily fit in the back of the truck, and easy to pull.  My insulated Clam house checks in at well over 100 pounds, coupled with my Strike Master auger, heater, flasher, camera, and bait we are talking about a couple hundred pounds of gear.  When I can simply drive to my spot via the truck or ATV it's not a big deal but if I'm walking, that's a lot of weight to tug around.  The Eskimo setup is simply perfect for these early ice outings as well, something light for those short trips when it's nice out.  My destination was an area they call the "Trough" located in Vineland Bay.  After stopping at Bill's to load up on bait I headed up the shoreline and pick a spot where it would be easy to walk out.  About 1/2 mile or so offshore, the Trough is an area with a steep drop off in the middle of 12 feet of water.  It stretches for a good 1/3 of a mile and bottoms out at 24 feet.  The drop off is steep going from 12 to 24 in less than 10 feet.  Normally I have a GPS with the lake contour loaded into the map software but when I pulled it out the batteries were completely dead.  Knowing the drop was straight north and seeing another shack about where I was going, I headed off. 

It's interesting walking first ice.  The ultimate dilemma is what do you trust more, yourself or the ice!  The reports had the ice thickness at about 6 inches, more than enough to support a guy walking.  With no snow on the ice I made sure to put on a pair of ice cleats on my boots, a must for first ice.  I do not want to repeat the same fate my friend Leon Lambert suffered during a trek across 11 Mile Reservoir in Colorado on clear ice, he slipped an shattered his wrist. The first 1/4 mile was pretty rough.  As the ice freezes on Mille Lacs it works it's way towards the middle of the lake.  Often a wind will push the newly frozen sheets of water into the bays, piling it in many layers.  This ice is white in color and layered provides a very secure base for walking.  As I approached the edge of the chunk ice there were more areas of clear ice, frozen between the chunks.  Eventually I passed the edge and started crossing substantial patches of ice that was sometimes difficult to judge the depth.  Relying on cracks in the clear ice to give the confidence of it's thickness, I worked my way out to where those guys were.  About half way out those guys had packed up and headed in.  The first thing I noticed was they were staying on the white frozen ice chunks, the same as what was near shore.  It makes you think if one was doing the right thing.  Fortunately the ice was strong, safe and realistically I probably could have rode my ATV............naw.   Having developed the confidence my next task was to find the drop off.  Using my Vexilar and water from the minnow bucket I shot transducer readings through the ice every 50 feet.  12 feet, 12 feet, 12 feet, 12 feet, 24 feet, alright!  Backtracking to the top of the break I found where the bottom started leveling out and setup there.  Drilling a couple of holes in 22 feet, a few holes up the drop, a few beyond the drop, and a few in line with my depth, I was ready to fish.  The ice was a good 6 inches and all fear disappeared for the time being.  I fished outside testing each hole to determine the best place to set up my base.  My original strategy of 22 feet paid off immediately as the Vex lit up like a Christmas Tree in that bottom 6 foot range.  Bang, a small perch, bang, a nice perch, bang, a 14 inch walleye........Wow.  I drilled another hole, set up the Eskimo and settled in.  It was about 12:30 and my plan was to fish till 4:00 as I had a turkey in the smoker for my neighbors annual Christmas Party. 

Between 12:30 and 4 the action was steady.  I ended up with a 14 inch keeper walleye, an 18 1/4" (pictured on top) and a bonus 24 inch walleye pictured above.  Along with about 25 perch (keep 8) I am not complaining for the first time out.  the hot lure was an orange #5 Jigging Rap in a Brown Trout pattern, with a minnow head on the bottom treble hook.  Fishing the clear ice is intersting as you can see the fish underneath the ice as you  reel them in.  This time of the year sitting on the ice can be nerve racking to say the least.  As the ice freezes it is constantly moving and cracking.  As it cracks the ice sounds like you are hitting a large metal tank with a hammer, a sound that reverberates across the surface.  As I sat in my shelter the ice let out a huge rumble as I heard the crack coming towards me.  Fishing the hole in front of me, the crack actually split my hole in half and continued between my 2 legs.......time for a heart check!  Although in no danger, it is still somewhat nerve racking to watch the ice crack in front of you.  I took a picture of the crack as it entered my Eskimo, I guess you just had to be there.  On my way back I entered the area near shore where the ice was rough.  Ice sheets piled up makes for an interesting scene, one I decided to take a picture of.  Trying to get a fish eyes view I laid on the ice and pulled out the camera.  Well it stopped working.  Laying there for about 5 minutes working on fixing it with no luck I got back up and continued my walk back to the truck.  Being about 200 yard from shore I noticed someone walking towards me..............a game warden maybe?  Here it was guy who's wife noticed me laying on the ice and was concerned.  Getting closer he asked if I was alright.  Assuring him of my failed photography event, I expressed my appreciation for his kindness and concern with one of my Ron Schara Outdoor Calendars.  We were both satisfied, I met a very nice man concerned about his fellow fisherman, he got a nice calendar and the fact that his efforts did not go unnoticed.   I am sure that if I could have stayed till sundown the walleye count would have increased nicely.  With that I am looking forward to getting back up this weekend.  My friend Mark Applen is heading north to grind some venison and with a little luck I can tag along and help then find time to close out the evening on his "secret" spot.  We'll see!

By the way, I have been meaning to comment on my friend Dewey's last post.  If you check out the left side (called a sidebar) you will see a category of Blogs I Follow.  One of my favorites is What's Dewey Doin'?  Sometimes other people have this knack of saying what you are thinking and Dewey is the expert at this.  His last post is a simple letter to his dad.  Although I never knew his father, and I know he has long since passed, it takes courage, insight and a huge heart to write what he did.  This will be my first Christmas in 56 years without my dad and I am not sure I could have expressed myself any better.  Thanks Dew, missing somebody hurts but wow, I wouldn't trade that ride for nothing.  You are the man!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Back in Eleva


Hopefully my traveling for the year is done as I am writing this while on a flight from San Jose, California back to Minneapolis.  San Jose is an interesting town where you have a mix of palm trees, evergreens, and trees that have started to lose their leaves.  Although nice, I prefer the diversity of our weather back home and last weekend was no exception.  While my wife attended a cookie baking event my brother Steve picked me up in Fountain City, Wisconsin with the intent on heading to Eleva and help my mom.  Our first stop was the Seven Hawks Winery, downtown Fountain City. Wisconsin is known more for their cheese than it's ability to grow good wine grapes however there is an increasing interest in new hardy wine grape varieties suited for our climate.  An example of this is in Pepin, WI where one could not miss the large castle like building being constructed to house a new winery along the river.  Fountain City's Seven Hawks Vineyard has been there for a number of years now and is located just upriver from town, nestled into the hillside, it kind of looks like those pictures of vineyards in Italy.  Steve and I stopped to taste their wares and admittedly it was pretty good.  One of the nicer wines was a drier white apple wine.  Being near many commercial apple orchards it only makes sense.  Unlike many fruit wines made in the Midwest this was not post sweetened.  It provides a benchmark for the apple wine Lory and I are making and hopefully it will turn out as good.  Here's a link to their website to learn more about the wines they offer: http://www.sevenhawksvineyards.com/?page_id=8

While in Eleva it had snowed a good 4 inches.  It was one of those times where the snow was sticky enough to stick to everything it landed on.  With no wind the effect was stunning.  As I passed over the Buffalo Bridge, just out of town, I could not help but stop and take a picture of the Buffalo River as it passed under the gorgeous winter scene.  Standing there on the bridge brought back many good memories of my time growing up in Eleva.  The bridge was our favorite stop to try our luck at catfishing using the chicken livers we had gathered earlier from the chicken plant.  The hot, humid part of August was the best time as catfish would move up river to spawn and were very active.  Sometimes you could even stand on the bridge and see their ghost like forms crossing the shallow areas to the next deep hole.  Armed with a coffee can of livers and a generous coating of Off repellent, you could always count of seeing Vic Wenaas or Art Kelly fishing on the bank with the pole set in a forked branch harvested from a nearby alder tree.  The bite was always the best right at dusk and on a good night you could get 2 or 3 nice fish.  Unfortunately there are no longer any well used paths from the bridge to the river as I suspect people have better things to do these days (that's debatable!). 

The other nice surprise was running into an old friend, Tommy Austin and his wife Kathy.  Steve and I took my mother down to the bar where my brother Blake's wife Jo was having a little birthday celebration and there he was.  Tom is still running Austin's Body Shop in the same building he's been since I can remember.  That building was actually the old blacksmith shop that my grandpa Roy owned and Tom had bought it from him.  The shop was a great hangout for my friends and I when we were teenagers.  Tom would often put us to work wet sanding cars that needed to be painted, running errands, and probably the most exciting aspect, riding on his homemade hard tail chopped motorcycles to Eau Claire picking up paint at Sam's Auto(someone had to hold it).  At the age of 15 I am not sure my dad would have appreciated me riding on the back of these contraptions so I never told him.  Eau Claire was a good 18 miles away remembering getting off the bike and my back muscles would just be parted by the vibrating sissy bar one leaned back on.  Either way it was quite an adventure.  Tom is still into the motorcycles and has many articles attributed to his custom designed Harley's and association with Klock Werks out of South Dakota.   Word is he may be working on a Victory, something I can't wait to see.  Tom worked with his dad, Herman Austin.  Herman's story is tragic when in 1955 a drunk driver crossed into his wife's lane hitting the car head on and killing her and 3 of their children.  For a small town like Eleva and the Austin family, this was a horrific event. When I worked at the gas station Herman would always stop by on his way home and fill up a 5 gallon can of fuel oil to heat the house for the next day.  I still remember it as if it was yesterday, Herman would give me a dollar as the price per gallon was $0.20.   It was fun to run into them for sure. 

I am pretty sure I will be walking on some ice this weekend, trying my luck on the early crappie and sunfish bite.  It's been around 10 each night with highs less than freezing.  Here's hoping something doesn't screw that up.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Enjoying Florida

The week after Thanksgiving is traditionally the time for our annual fall meeting of The Transformer Association, an trade organization that specializes in the transformer industries of North America.  This years meeting is at the Marco Island Marriott Resort on Marco Island, Florida.  Sometimes I like to mix business with pleasure and would have tried to schedule a fishing trip however it did not work out this year.  Located on the southwest tip of the Florida peninsula, I have to admit I love the area this time of year.  Although it has been somewhat cold for this time of the year (something that has plagued us the last 3 times we have been to Florida), it certainly beats Minnesota!  Tonight it is about 61 degrees, back home it's headed for 10 above.  The next 5 days here shows a forecast in the 80's while Minnesota should be making ice like crazy with temps not getting above freezing.    As stated earlier,  I think there will be walkable ice by December 10th, not a bad start.   The resort here is beautiful as the white sand beach comes right up to the hotel grounds.  Last night was a perfect time to take a picture of the sun as it sets over the Gulf of Mexico.  I am surprised the number of shells littered along the beach.  I would like to come back here and try my luck at offshore fishing.  The popular fish here is grouper.  I went to a restaurant last night and had their special, broiled grouper as well our banquet tonight also featured almond crusted grouper.  I love saltwater fish as it has a better texture and flavor than freshwater fish, and fresh grouper is no exception.  I fly home tomorrow and have been upgraded to first class so I am looking forward to a relaxing flight.

On Monday before I left for Florida my wife and I joined my good friend Bill Hogle and his wife Cheryl to see Leo Kottke, somebody I had quite honestly never hear of.  A little research indicated that he is probably the best acoustical guitar picker alive today.  Playing at the Guthrie Theater in downtown Minneapolis, I felt it would be a good opportunity to see a couple of things I had not experienced before, the Guthrie and Leo.  I was not disappointed.  Watching Leo play the 12 string guitar sounded like there were 2 other guys playing behind him.  I am fascinated by the ability of this man to control this 12 string with the precision of a surgeon.  Now I would have to also admit that I had never hear any of his music prior and only recognized the last encore song, a take on a 60's pop song.  Never the less it was extremely exciting to experience a new artist and I will probably seek out more of his music.  He did kind of remind me of my good friend Jeff King, a noted picker who's work is legendary in both Soldotna, Alaska and Mazatlan, Mexico.  Speaking of Jeff, I did stop at Everglades City and could not resist the need to stop at a local bait shop.  They had something I have been meaning to buy, a 12 inch cimeter knife to replace the knife that I had sold Rich.  It's a great knife as it makes the perfect instrument for cleaning salmon caught in Alaska as well as steaking out a large piece of venision. I can't wait to get it home and try it out.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving seems to have crept up on me in record fashion this year.  With dad gone my mother hasn't the energy or desire to have a house load of people, even her favorite sons, so Thanksgiving will be at my sisters.   I do understand my mothers thoughts on this as living in Minneapolis, it's a full 2 - 3 hours away for any of our family to share the feast in Dayton, so we get out of having to do much of anything other than drive to Wisconsin and bring a dish.  If you have been a fan of "Fishin' With Dave" for a while you know that I am an avid Green Bay Packer Fan.  You would have to be living in a cave not to know they have not missed a beat since entering the playoffs and winning the Superbowl last year.  Knock on wood the Packers are 10-0, the only undefeated team left in the NFL.  It is really interesting how complete the transformation from Brett (who?) Favre to Aaron Rodgers has been.  Of course as the 2008 NFL season began almost everyone in Sconnie was upset with Ted Thompson, the Green Bay general manager who let Favre go in favor of Rodgers.  By the same token most were sick of his retirement antics however one could argue that he still was one of the best despite his game ending interception against the Giants in the NFC Championship game.  You know the old saying, a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush!  Well, when Favre retired again from the Jets then unretired to play for the Vikings all bet's were off.  In 2009 the Vikes went 13-3 for the season, including 2 wins against the Pack and Aaron Rodgers.  Well, the Vikings went down in typical Favre style as he threw an interception in overtime to allow the New Orleans Saints to go to the Superbowl.  Deja Vu!  In the meantime the Packers continued their development and have won the last 4 games against the Vikings who continue to struggle finding an identity.  As beloved as Brett Favre was to the Packer fans, his attempt to stick it to us by signing with the Vikings and the success of Aaron, most of us have really discounted his decisions.  After his first retirement, the Packers were going to retire his number at the first game in 2008.  I suspect that they will eventually put his number up in Lambeau but I think it's going to be a while! The Packers play the Detroit Lions on their historic Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit.  It's a little too early to get cocky about it and certainly the Lions are capable of beating the Pack.  Never the less the Packers make the down time between soft and hard water a lot more interesting and fun.  GO PACK!!!

Amongst other things like putting the boats away and settled for their long sleep and breaking out the ice fishing gear is the development of the fruits of our labor, slowly fermenting in Lory Brasel's basement.  Lory decided to get into making wine this year and together we bought some equipment to perfect this age old craft.  With an abundance of fruit this season, there was no shortage of varieties to make.    Here is a nice and colorful picture of our wines sitting in carboys, finishing off their fermentation.  From left to right they include raspberry, pear, wild grape, plum, and chokecherry.  The raspberries, pear, and wild grapes come from my property and the plum and chokecherry is from Lory's.  Not shown is 5 gallons of apple wine that we pressed a few months ago.  This picture was taken about 6 weeks ago, you can see the foam on the top of the wild grape wine as it continues to ferment.  Lory has since re-racked the wine into smaller carboys and will be ready to bottle next week.  These wines tend to be very dry and will require us to sample each one to determine just the right amount of sweetener if needed, a tough job but someone has to do it.  The picture does little justice as the wine is very colorful ranging from a deep Cabernet color to a rose to a pleasant chardonnay hue.  Obvious these wines are not as sophisticated as one would buy in a store but it's like anything you do yourself, it always has that special aura about it and I can't wait to open our first bottle.

The weather doesn't look like it will start to make ice until next week where the highs will be in the low 30's with the lows in the teens.  With the Ice Fishing Show starting on December 2  I would bet there will be walkable ice somewhere by next weekend, a great start to the season.  I still have a lot of work getting my gear ready and luckily it's fairly organized.  New line, re organizing the tackle box, charging the camera and Vexilar, it's a whole new season!  Have a Great Thanksgiving and do give thanks for all that we are fortunate for.  I have added 2 Thanksgiving songs for the holiday, enjoy.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Deer 1, Dave 0

Well the Minnesota Deer Hunting season ended on Sunday with the result......no venison in the freezer.  The last few years my success while deer hunting has been better than the state average of around 40% of hunters filling their tag.  Bagging a deer has it's plus and minuses.  On plus side there is nothing better than fresh venison tenderloin chops, fried in butter, with onions and garlic, it doesn't get any better.  The minus side it quite frankly it's a lot of work!  Field dressing, dragging out of the woods, hauling it home and hanging it in the pole barn is only the beginning.  The fun really starts when the butchering begins as I am one of those guys that are leery of dropping it off to have it processed.  Besides being to cheap to pay someone to do what I am pretty good at, if it isn't too cold out and one can convince a neighbor to help me it isn't too bad of a job.  Oh well, maybe next year.  One of the things I would really like to do is harvest a trophy deer, something I could hang on the wall.  Having deer hunted for 40 years now I can only remember once when I saw a respectable rack on a deer and then I could not get a good shot off.  Being a responsible hunter means you don't take the chance to wound an animal if you can help it.  Oh well, other than that time the largest buck I ever shot was a small 6 point buck (3 x 3 for you western hunters) with about a 10 inch spread, nothing to write home about, that's for sure.  On the other hand I have friends that seem to have experienced a number of trophy bucks in their lives.  My Uncle Jerry is one of them as I have a couple mule deer rack mounts of his earlier years hunting out west.  They are impressive to say the least.  Leon Lambert, my good friend from Pueblo, Colorado is another guy that seems to have no shortage of large buck mounts, a Boone and Crockett elk mount, and a number of trophy pronghorn mounts.  His house looks like a museum of natural history!  Another is my good friend and fishing partner Lory Brasel.  He hunts near his home town of New York Mills, MN on his step father's land.  Although it is a small piece of property, it is a natural funnel for deer coming out of the river bottoms into the fields above.  Here he is pictured with a beautiful 10 pointer (6 on one side and 4 on the other), a nice addition to the 2 he already has hanging on the wall.  It's ironic that the biggest deer I have ever seen in the wild was about 15 years ago.  Back then I would often fish the fall trolling bite on Mille Lacs till midnight or 1:00 in the morning.  One night arriving home around 2:00AM I turned on my big halogen lights in the back of my house only to see a huge 10 point buck with an even larger 12 pointer right behind it.  Oh well.

I shoot a Remington Model 6, 30-06 pump action rifle.  My first deer hunting rifle was a sporterized 30-06 military gun with a simple 4X scope, it must have weighed at least 10 pounds.  I bought it from my boss at the time for a whooping $75.  Although extremely accurate, it was a bear to carry around and I needed to look for something more practical.  Lee's Taxidermy in Prescott Wisconsin was probably the best place at that time to buy a gun, something I soon found out.  Having only $350, I was determined to get a simple Remington 760 pump, a sling with hardware, some shells and a case.  The owner suggested I get the Model 6 instead, it was a fancier, nicer gun with a Monti Carlo stock, special checkering, and a unique cartridge end mounted in the receiver.  Stating I didn't have enough money for the gun but he must have either felt sorry for me or really wanted to get rid of that gun.  The price was $340 for the rifle, $15 for the sling, $10 for the mounting hardware, $365 + another $17 for tax.  Having only $350, he told me to take the gun and pay me later if I could.  As I left a pretty happy new gun owner he yelled out "Hey, you better sight that gun in" and handed me a box of shells to boot.  I ended up buying a scope from my good friend, the late Pat Holmes.  His company was the rep for the company that made all of the 1 inch aluminum scope tubes for Burris.  He got a super deal and I was in business.  4 years ago I was sighting my gun in and the first shot was 6 inches high, 4 to the left.  After adjusting and shooting another round it was now 6 inches low and 4 inches to the right!  I adjusted it back to where it was and the third and fourth shot was a bulls eye.  The next year a deer came by my stand, one that Jack had hit in the leg.  It took me 6 rounds to finally I finally put the deer down.  Knowing something was amiss and because the scope had a lifetime warranty I sent it back to Burris.  A couple weeks later they called stating the springs were weak causing the scope to be off, they could not fix it, the model was obsolete, and they would offer me 75% off any scope in their lineup.  Because most of my shots are under 50 yards I took their 1.5x - 6x model, quite a bargain at $200.  After carefully mounting the scope I bought some Federal Premium 165 grain Sierra Boat Tail bullets to sight it in.  Man, I had trouble as they were all over the target.  10 years earlier a worker at our plant loaded me a bunch of shells that were dead one, 2 inch patterns.  Talking to my in house gun expert Brett Jelkin, he believed that the factory loads were not ideal and he would load me up some shells to try.  He set the bullets a little further out so there wasn't as much "jump" when the bullet hits the beginning of the barrel and did it ever make a difference.  My first 3 rounds yielded a group at 1 1/2 inches, pretty impressive.  Brett does an excellent job as his shooting knowledge is second to none.  He even sent me this ballistics chart with the solid bold line being my loads while the dotted lower line is a standard factory load.    Although I was definitely ready, I never did get a chance to put it too the real test.  The good news is that everything will be ready to go next year. 

This morning it was 10 degrees and the small potholes and swamps were froze over. My guess is the surface temperature on Mille Lacs has to be in the high 30's.  Hard water can't be far behind.  My friend Keith is back from his summer in Alaska and I am determined to meet up with him a couple of times out on the ice.  In the meantime my neighbors boy, Ryan Przymus stopped by with a couple beautiful pictures of a 17.5 and a 15.5 inch crappies he got in Nonyhoa Lake.  When I asked him where that was he said.........Non yhoa business!  He promised he'd take me there and I am looking forward to it.  He also promised to send pictures however I am still waiting and will post them when they show up.  Those were impressive to say the least.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Deer Hunting Family Style

The 2011 Deer Hunting season so far has been just that, hunting.   Having strategically located my stand in a “can’t lose” spot, Saturday morning Jack and I were greeted with nothing less than gale force winds, sometimes gusting to 35 miles per hour.  The swamp I was in did not have the big 16 to 20 inch diameter poplar trees of Rich’s place so I had to settle for something less sturdy and as I found out, more susceptible to the whims of the near hurricane.  The fact that my stand is 20 feet tall to the chair added another aspect of excitement to a rather unsuccessful opener.  There were times that I swear the only thing holding that tree up was the ladder portion of my stand.  I always wear my harness just in case the unfortunate event would see me falling out of the stand, I’d be saved.  As the wind increased my thoughts ventured to whether or not it was a good idea as if the tree went down I would be securely tethered like a flag to a flag pole.  Apparently I survived.  The greatest thing about deer hunting with Jack is all the great people we meet.  What impresses me the most is how they have involved their entire families into this great tradition.  Friday night was spent at Rich’s place, having our traditional steak feed and reacquainting ourselves with those we spent the hunt with last year.  There was no shortage of young hunters as Brett’s son (featured last year), his friend Brennen, Chris with his 3 super smart boys, Kevin, his dad Eugene and his boy Austin long with Ken.  I love to engage the kids on the ways of the world as we shot a few rounds out of my pistol and spent the night arguing which gun was the best for deer.  Unfortunately I did not get a picture of our group this time, something I regret.  I did however snap this picture of our hunting host for this year, Loren Tolama and his fine bunch of children and grandchildren.  Sunday’s wind was an exact repeat of Saturday’s weather and during the afternoon the Tomala's called and said were coming over to see how we were doing………….. 3 truck loads! Loren is the guy on the right side of the picture and is the big kahuna of this bunch of dedicated deer hunters.   On the far right is Nathan Tomala, a senior at Pierz High School who is playing this week for a chance to go to the Minnesota State Football Tournament.  In between is his parents, uncles, and 4 of the most interesting young hunters I have ever met.  They spent an hour with Jack, Ben and I discussing everything that is important in life like deer hunting, football, and whatever makes the kids smile.  A couple of weeks ago Loren took Ben in the John Deere combine to pick corn while letting me get on the old Farmall M and pull the gravity box over to the edge of the corn.  I think I could have stayed there all day.  If you measured wealth not by money but by family, the Tomala's are definitely one the "richest" families I know. 

So what does deer camp look like?  Well, Loren suggested we pull Jack's wheel house (pictured above) onto the property to make sure we have an official headquarters to base ourselves out of.  It was kind of nice to have a place to get our hunting clothes on, cut up some lunch, and have a place to unwind for a few minutes before heading back to Jack's cabin.  It worked out really well as we cooked some locally made wild rice sausage for lunch on Sunday, pretty good if you ask me.  When I first started deer hunting in Minnesota, it was with my friend Mark Taylor, Jack Taylor, Mark's brother-in-law Tim Guzek, and myself.  We would leave Minneapolis right after work on the Thursday before opening day and drive to Roseau, MN to hunt with Dale Larsen, a guy that I worked with who was from that area.  Roseau is home to Polaris Industries and is located 10 miles from the Canadian border.  We probably started going in 1980 and would take "Old Blue", an older powder blue van that Jack and Mark's dad Earl had.  We would throw a love seat and chair in the back then loaded her with our favorite refreshments as it was about a 6 hour drive.  Arriving around midnight at the Evergreen Motel, they'd leave the room door open for us so we would not have to wake them.  Back them we had little money so 4 of us crammed in a single room with 2 queen size beds.  At about $20 a night, if we split it our cost per guy was $20, a bargain!  Those were the days for sure.   Well, Mark hasn't hunted with us in a number of years so we thought we'd send him a picture that might convince him to come and spend the weekend with us.  The last picture is our proposition, a couple of chairs, a bottle of "Easy Jesus" (E & J Brandy) and a plastic red cup already mixed for him.  I did e-mail it to Mark but like a lot of us, sometimes as we get older we simply have more excuses why we don't try to enjoy life as much as we once did.   Maybe next year.  I am planning to go up for a day this weekend and see if I can still bag a deer if possible.  The weather is suppose to be nice as last weekend the deer simply would not move with that wind.  Wish me luck! 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Deer Hunting Weekend

This weekend is the start of Minnesota's deer hunting season.  My friend Jack and I have been hunting the last 8 years just south of Jack's cabin, 12 miles west of Onamia, MN.  Now that our friend Rich has passed away and the land is up for sale, we have scouted out a few areas however Jack's neighbor at the lake was kind enough to give us permission to hunt his 80 acres.  Last weekend Jack and I set up our stands on the new property.  I am back in the middle of a small swamp but luckily it is pretty dry and should not present any issues like my old stand at Rich's.  The weather this week should be nice but windy.  Unfortunately the deer tend to sit tight when the wind blows so we'll have to see.  A few years back I bought a new ladder stand and is what I use today.    At my age it's considerably easier to climb the ladder and sort of set myself into the seat rather than having to strap a stick ladder, hang a stand by a T-nut and ratchet strap, get it all aligned so I don't slip getting into it, then hope like heck I didn't fall asleep!  We are still getting together with our hunting group for our Friday night steak feed, something Rich always enjoyed.  Another interesting aspect of hunting the new land, the neighbor has trail cam pictures of a couple of cougars walking around the area.  You can be assured my gun will be loaded when I walk in.

I am way behind in posting pictures my friends have sent me so I will include one of my friend Matt Taylor and his girlfriend Christina.  Matt called me earlier this year and asked for advise on planning a trip to Alaska.  Having been there a number of times I was able to help Matt put together a nice experience.  They took my advise and did a combo out of Seward.   I am pretty sure they headed to Montague Island, a popular halibut spot, got their limit then went for silvers on the way back.  Matt said they had a blast and caught tons of fish including these two beautiful silver salmon.  If you look close, the silver Christina is holding has some pretty big marks on the side, more than likely cause by a salmon shark that prey on these fish.   I really enjoy sharing my experiences and advise with my friends, especially when things turn out well. 

Off to deer camp, hopefully da thurty pointer will be in my sights on Saturday morning!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Indian Summer

Here in the Upper Midwest we often experience a nice warm spell after we have had a killing frost.  This fabulous weather is known as Indian Summer and can be some of the nicest of the year.  This is also the last push for the fish to fatten up for the long winter ahead, with the spawning season just after ice out.  Some of the walleyes I have been catching have already started developing eggs.  Although I have tons of stuff to do before the snow files, the temptation to take advantage of the Indian Summer day that last Saturday turned out to be was too much.  I decided to meet my friend Jack at his cabin on Platte Lake and check out our new deer hunting land for this year.  Just south of our old spot on Rich's land, the 80 acres proved to be significantly less wet as it was getting tough tromping through a 1/4 mile of swamp in the dark, with your hip boots, never sure that the next step wasn't going to fill those boots.   The new land is about 70% fields with the rest a mixture of popple, oak, and some minor muskegs.  It looks pretty good as we scouted the best spots, met the neighbors, and walked the parameter.  Once that was done our plan was to head to Mille Lacs to take advantage of the late afternoon perch bite mixed with some shallow water reef trolling just as the sun would disappear from view.   Jack's 7 year old son Ben wanted to go with and figuring I wasn't going to stay out late, it would be fun.  We picked up a bag of crappie minnows at the bait shop before heading to the lake and took off.   Once on the lake we headed for a relatively shallow bay to fish perch in 4 feet of water.  This time of year you can often catch your limit quite quickly with the bonus aspect of seeing the fish hit your lure, something I thought Ben would enjoy.  It was very surprising to watch Ben work his spinning rod and reel.  Most children start out with a spin cast outfit, something that is easier to handle and somewhat cheaper to replace if it happens to go overboard.  Not Ben!  From casting to setting the hook on the first perch of the day I was pretty impressed by this young man's fishing demeanor.   I remember catching sight of his bobber sailing out 60 feet or more thinking it was nice of Jack to help his son.  Looking back towards them, Jack was still baiting his hook while Ben was setting the bail on his reel.  He can only get better. 

Just as the sun set on the horizon we headed to Indian Point to troll shad raps for an hour or so.  Ben was a little chilled so just Jack and I put out rods.  About 15 minutes into the run something slammed my shad rap hard.  It felt like a very nice fish yet when I got it close to the boat it seemed to have shrunk by 8 inches or so and lost 4 pounds.  Ben wanted to net the fish so we gave him the net and he scooped up the walleye better than a lot of guys I have had in the boat.  Jack took a picture of me holding the "monster" 19 3/4" walleye and another of Ben working his net magic.  The return trip down the long reef produced another walleye for Jack.  With the temperature dropping, Ben was getting cold so we called it a day.  All told we had 8 nice perch and kept both walleyes.  It looks like this might be my last soft water trip for the old Ranger for the year.  This weekend will see Jack and I setting up our tree stands and doing some more  scouting of the land we are hunting on.  Deer season opens on Saturday, November 5th, hopefully the new location brings us luck.  Indian Summer is suppose to return next week, probably the last 60 degree day we will see until next March.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dallas'd Out

Having spent the last 5 days at the Solar Show in Dallas, I am pretty whipped.  Although it may sound like fun, standing in a booth for 8 hours answering the same questions, heading back to the hotel, meeting your business contacts before going to dinner, finding a good place to eat, then having a nightcap with them before retiring to your hotel room, answering e-mails till 1:00, then getting up at 6:00 to do the same thing the next day wears a guy out.  Dallas is an interesting town and about 30 degrees warmer than here in Minnesota.  When we arrived on Monday my good friend Joe Stanfield picked up Lyle, Welly and myself from DFW.  Driving us back into downtown Dallas Joe and I dropped off Lyle and Welly to set up the booth and we went back out to to airport to pick up a couple more colleagues.  Between airline flights we were able to sneak into Bass Pro Shop and look around.  Not having a lot of time I did find something interesting, Dynamite Redneck Fishing Lure, a red tube meant to look like a stick of dynamite with deep fried pork rinds and Tabasco Sauce inside.  My friend Jeff King has a bundle of dynamite in his guide boat  using it as a prop against the possibility that if they didn't catch fish, he always had a backup plan!  These reminded of me of Jeff so I bought 3 of them to use for the same purpose.  I am curious what the pork rinds taste like. 

The Dallas Convention Center was located about 5 blocks from our downtown hotel.  On the way is one of the first cemeteries in Dallas with some of it's occupants being born in the late 1700's.  Many of the stones are tipped over, missing, or unreadable however the intact ones tell an interesting story.  There are early government officials, civil war casualties, but the most striking are the family plots where many of the young children were laid to rest.  Born 1839, Died 1841 there are so many that only lived a few years of their life.  Obviously living in Texas in the middle of the 1800's was not easy.  At the cemetery location is a sculpture monument(s) dedicated to the old Longhorn Cattle Drives of the time.  There must be at least 50 true to life bronze sculptures of what it must have been like to drive these animals across the plains.  Each sculpture was unique, complete with it's own Brand, tattered ears and skin flaps caused by their horns hitting each other.  The Longhorns were depicted as lean, probably signifying their ability to exist in the driest conditions.  It is an amazing piece of work and if you are ever in downtown Dallas, it's worth a stop.  Although we did not go through the Book Depository Building were Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal shot, killing President Kennedy in 1963, my friend Joe stated that at that time they were acquaintances with the owner of the building.  Joe said that the owner removed the original window that was used, denied that he knew anything about it, and when he died his son returned it to the now museum.  Pretty cool.

Last weekend was too windy to fish!  Bill called me on Saturday and said that I should stay home, the lake was just a churning with 35 mph winds.  I took the opportunity to pick the rest of my apples, made some more cider, and tried getting more stuff done before deer hunting.  I am hoping to be able to use the predicted warm weather to get the boat prepped for winter.  A few bottles of Sea Foam in the gas and get it through the engine, I can always change oil and the lower unit grease later.  I have some nice pictures of the the wine my neighbor Lory is making that I will publish later, the work never ends!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Grousing at Club 10

Last weekend I was invited to the annual grouse hunting tournament at my cousin Don Schmidt's hunting cabin in Alvin, Wisconsin.  Cousin Don is my mothers sister Pat's son and mom hadn't seen her in a while.  Pat and my dad always had a nice friendly rivalry on game day, arguing about Brett Favre's ability and who would win.  It's something that made their Sunday's much more interesting.  Pat lives in Antigo, Wisconsin about 40 miles northwest of Wausau and my brother Steve and I decided to kill 2 birds with one stone, drop mom off at her only surviving sister's place while we continue another 90 miles to the Michigan border and spend the weekend with Don at Club 10.  Club 10 is an interesting place to say the least.  Don's Grandfather on his dad's side had an opportunity to buy 40 acres of hunting land located about a 1/2 mile south of the Upper Michigan border, just north of Alvin, Wisconsin.  The year was 1944, the war was still going on when  the land came up for sale, one could buy it for the back taxes totaling $76.  Well, in 1944 $76 was still a lot of money and Don's grandfather could not afford to buy it himself.  Many of the men in the area were farmers and spent most of their spring, summer, and fall working the land.  As soon as the ground froze it was not that uncommon for these men to head for the north woods and work in the logging camps, cutting wood all winter.  It was here that his Grandpa found 9 other guys to chip in about $8 each to obtain the property, hence the official name...Club 10.  It took another year to build the cabin that still is in use today.  Although today the cabin is about an hour from Don's house (he lives in his grandfather's old homestead) back in the 40's it took the entire day to drive their model A's up the dirt roads to the cabin.  Today the original galvanize siding still covers the cabin, salvaged from an old barn.  There is no water or electricity as it is 2 miles from the latest power line, but a generator gives some comforts of home.  Situated in the middle of the Nicolet National Forest, it definitely is isolated.  Today Club 10 is owned by the descendants of the original owners, has a legal set of bylaws and has become a fixture in the area.  My first picture in my cousin Don standing on the steps of the cabin and the local bar owner Dennis sitting on the Green Bay Packer Chair.  Don, thanks for the great time.

After arriving Friday night Steve and I were introduced to the gang.  Don has a Ruffed Grouse hunting tournament on the second weekend of October which usually attracts 30 or so guys.  The guys are mixture of local farmers, construction workers, business owners, all who have hunting cabins in the region.  Don offers prizes for the most grouse shot, prepares a fabulous prime rib dinner after dark, and provides a perfect setting to share all of the stories associated with Club 10.   This is the big woods, full of large maple, hemlock, aspen, and white pine which stretches for miles.  Steve and I decided to walk into the woods as it appeared to be prime grouse country yet were somewhat hesitant as we forgot to bring a GPS.  Luckily Don had one for use to use, which came in useful a few hours later.  It was pretty windy and it became obvious that walking the wood for grouse was probably not the best strategy.  The winner had his limit of 5 grouse and they were all bagged while cruising the thousands of miles of logging roads in the area.  Towards the end of the day Don gave us a tour of the area in his Polaris Ranger and we did get to shoot at an actual grouse, but that was about it.  It was a good excuse for some exercise, seeing cousin Don, spending time with my brother Steve, and getting my mom up to see her sister Pat.    This picture proved interesting to Don as he arrived on Thursday night.  Apparently a bear had visited the cabin and had decided to chew up the post that held up the entrance light.  I was hoping I didn't run into him while walking the woods with my 12 gauge loaded with light grouse loads.  If so the score would have probably been Bear 1 Dave 0!

This week has also been the peak of our apple cider making operation.  With the help of my neighbor Lory, his wife Lyn, and my wife, we have pressed almost 18 gallons of fresh apple cider during the last 4 days.  We are getting pretty good at it as our team work can slice up and grind 10 gallons of apples and press out 6+ gallons in about 2 1/2 hours.  My press can really put the pressure on and we have an excellent yield, about 60% of the ground apples turns into cider.  I have been feeding the pomace (squeezed out apples) to the bees and it doesn't last long.  I have picked about 20 bushels of apples so far and estimate at least another 6 - 8 bushel need to be harvested.  I am amazed at how clean the apples are and for sure it has been my best year ever.  Here is a picture of my neighbor Lory and Lynn putting the pressure on the cider press as the juice runs into the pail.  It a gift from heaven for sure.  Autumn is moving fast as the leaves are now off the trees and the weather is finally cooling down.  Losing a number of trees to wind storms, I need to get out an buy a replacement this weekend and get it planted before it freezes.  The perch haven't inhabited the shallows on Mille Lacs yet however the walleyes have been going strong.  There are few weekends left for open water fishing yet I have so many things to do, so little time!  Oh well!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Report From North Pole Alaska

This week I received a call from my friend Pete Mlinar, a fellow fisherman and electrician who is working in the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.  Pete is a proficient fisherman and is solely responsible for my Mississippi River smallmouth knowledge.  Having been laid off in Minneapolis he decided to sign the book in Fairbanks Alaska with the hopes of landing a job at the top of the world.  This March he loaded his River-pro Jet Boat and drove to Fairbanks.   His quest was successful as he started a regiment of 6 weeks working, 2 weeks off.  The money is good and within a short time Pete hopes to make enough to retire.  Working through the summer, winter has began to set in at his camp with snow covering the ground.  Throughout the summer he has sent me pictures of caribou and musk ox seen around the camp.  On his 2 weeks off the company flies him back to Fairbanks where he has befriended a fellow sportsman which assures him a place to stay and store his boat.  Word was out that the silvers were in thick near Delta Junction, Alaska which was an hour from where he stays.  Pete's River-Pro boat is quite the rig sporting a 200 hp Merc Jet Drive.  Having been to Alaska many times I can assure you that this is the Cadillac of the boats running the rivers.  Pete reports that his tip stated the fish were 8 miles down from the landing but with the water gin clear, 60 seconds heading down river he found the mother load of silvers.  The first picture is an absolutely gorgeous silver salmon.  This fish has made it way up the Yukon River to the Tanana River, a trip that has to be over 1500 miles.  If you assume this fish entered the Yukon in late July it has taken it over 60 days to make the journey, almost 30 miles a day.  When we fish the Kenai River for Silvers the fish are fresh out of the ocean and are a bright silver color.  Although I have caught fish that are just starting to turn color, we have caught nothing as beautiful as this fish.  Pete is planning on getting a graphite reproduction of this fish as it will make a great addition to his trophy room.  His work will shut down for 3 weeks over Christmas and I hope we can touch base then.  Here is another picture of his ride home, following the now snow covered Alaska Range on his right.  Man does that give me the itch, thanks Pete!

Saturday we were fortunate to attend the wedding of my cousin Linda Barneson's youngest son, Brad.  It's been 2 months since my father passed away and it was great to get together with my friends and family from Eleva for a better occasion.  Linda's husband Dennis Barneson, along with his brother Gary were instrumental in getting me started fishing Mille Lacs.  Gary had been going there for a number of years for the Minnesota Fishing Opener with a some of guys from home and they finally invited me.  Over the years they had stopped going but it had a lasting impression, one that is still with me today.  Both have made the trip to my Uncle Jerry's in Idaho to hunt elk, something I should have really done but you can only do so much in life!  Jerry has a cabin in the mountains of Idaho, a perfect place to hunt these magnificent animals.  Hunting in the rut, the bulls are open to bugle calls and the hope is to call one close enough to decent shot.  Over the years they've accumulated a ton of stories and a few elk along the way.  This year was no exception.  Jerry sent me a picture of Brad's best man, Dave Frank with a huge bull taken with his bow.  It's a real team effort with guys scouting, bugling, and if they get one, skinning, quartering, and hauling the meat out.  Congrats guys on a successful hunt, one that will undoubtedly offer a lifetime of stories.  Someday.

I did make it to Mille Lacs on Sunday afternoon to see if the bite was still going.  The mild weather had warmed the water temp at least 3 degrees from last weekend.  Trying the same pattern as before my neighbor Tom Olson and I started at the 4 Mile Gravel with lead lines.  Earlier that day my friend Mark Applen had called with the hot tip......redtails in 30 feet, the walleyes couldn't leave them alone.  The wind had created a nice walleye chop in the morning but by the time we launched the lake had laid right down.   Although the fish appeared to be up off the bottom not a minnow, Shad Rap, Husky Jerk, Rouge could entice a walleye.  After 3 hours of trolling we headed back to the reef to cast for walleyes and muskies.  I got a couple of 10 inch walleyes before we started my new favorite trolling run.  On a #5 crawfish Shad Rap produced our first keeper, a 16 incher.  Within an hour I had 3 nice walleye slam my bait but they never made it to the boat.  I use Excalibur Rotating Hooks for an unbelievable hook up success but the fish must have been hitting light as I seldom lose fish like this.  Oh well, it was still fun.  This weekend I am taking my Mother to Antigo Wisconsin to see her sister while my brother Steve and I continue to Elvoy Township on the Wisconsin/Michigan border to hunt grouse with my cousin Don.  He has invited me every year and this year we figured it would be a good chance to get mom out of the house and verify if Cousin Don actually is telling the truth about his annual fall hunt.  Either way the leaves should be in their peak form and I should have a good report for next week.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pig Roast and Lead Lining, a Great Combination

This weekend proved to be a full court press.  My neighbor Tim Kuntz hosted his annual September Pig Roast at the "Men's Crisis Center" (his detached 2nd garage).  Tim is one of those guys that never does anything without doing it big and last Saturday was no exception.  When he first moved into the neighborhood you could tell he had some substantial talent but it was wasted at his job, working in IT for a local hardware/software company.  Tim and I hit it off right from the start as we both hail from small town America and share the same values.  One of the things I got Tim interested is smoking meats.  After making some venison sausage with my smoker he built his own smokehouse that rivals most BBQ pits.  Needing a pig roaster, he welded up one using an old large tank, mounting it on a trailer, most of the bugs have been worked out.  Out neighbor down the street was holding a fund raiser on Friday night for his school and asked Tim to cook a hundred pounds of pull pork butts.  He obliged and we went over to check out the party.  Plenty of beer and great pulled pork, the party had a cowboy theme, with all the guys dressed up in hats and boots.   Sticking with my own kind I remarked to Tim if he knew the difference between a real cowboy and a fake one.  Nope.........so I told him, real cowboys have the crap on the outside of their boots.  I think there were plenty of guys there that weren't real cowboys!  Because our plan was to start the pig at 1:30 Saturday morning, we decided to hang around the party till the end.  The pig went on as we finished around 2:00.  The next morning I brought my propane deep fryer and my Karaoke setup for the entertainment.  It was a busy Saturday as we helped with the final preparations.  That afternoon I pressed 3 gallons of fresh apple cider which we put in a large coffee server for anyone needing to warm up.  Serving at 5:00, there were over 120 neighbors and friends that showed up.  The highlight of the night was Welly Chou, the guy I work with and who I took fishing last week.  Welly is a championship Karaoke singer and was the hit of the party.  Singing like a pro, everyone stuck around till after midnight.  We finished the second keg of beer before closing it up at 2:00 for the second night in a row.  No rest for the wicked!
 
Because Welly stayed with Lory Saturday night and the lead line bite was still on, three of us left on Sunday noon for Mille Lacs.  We were in surprisingly good shape by the time we left and got to Bill's by 1:15 with 2 main goals, to drop off apples and to get Welly a duplicate fishing license.  Someone had broke into his car on Friday night taking his laptop and wallet.  The strategy was to repeat the same drill we did 2 weeks ago, lead line till just before sunset then head to the reef and troll the shallow 5 - 8 feet of water.  The prior trip was very successful on the line line side of the strategy but the reef trolling didn't go so good.  It's still worth a try (in my mind)!  My first stop was at 3 Mile Reef to check the water clarity.  When we arrived a couple of weeks ago I could not see the bottom rocks in 4 feet of water.  Although that can be a good thing, I wanted to recheck it during the a period when the sun was higher in the sky.  A quick run over the reef and I never saw the rocks, something that should be pretty easy as in past years.  After discussing it with Bill we speculated that the reef, which is known to be covered with Zebra Mussels is no longer as visible for the mussel shells are quite dark and may just be enough to make it look like the clarity is less.  From there we headed to the deep gravel.  With 3 in the boat and 2 lead line rigs we had to set up a side planer board with a #11 Rapala Tail Dancer in a Rainbow Trout color.  We trolled for over an hour before the first fish hit, on the Tail Dancer.  It was a nice 18 inch walleye, perfect for the live well.  We had #5 shads on the lead line as Lory got a nice walleye and I nailed a small one.  Another 100 yards and the flag went down on the planer board and you could tell it was a nice one.  Giving the rod to Welly he reeled in his largest walleye ever, a gargantuan 26 inch fish, as fat as I have seen them.  In the meantime I switched to a blue/chrome Rattlin' Rouge as the larger Tail Dancer seemed to suggest the fish were looking for a larger bait.  A few minutes later that lead line pole doubled over as Lory reeled in a nice 23 inch walleye.  The lead line total was 4 walleyes in the box ranging from 16 inches to 19.875 inches, some good eating for later, and at least 4 more released.  At 7:00 we reeled them up and headed to the reef.   Connecting Welly and Lory with the #5 shads, I did a shallow running Rouge.  Our casting strategy didn't pay off again but the trolling strategy put another 18 inch walleye in the box as those 2 caught and released a total of 6 fish.  I changed to the Shad Rap but alas, it was too late.  With 5 walleyes in the box, a nice perch, some great fish released, it was a very successful outing.  Cleaning the fish I noticed how much fat was in their bellies.  It must have been a great July and August for feeding on the young of the year tullibees.  Splitting them up we all got a nice meal as I cooked mine up on Monday night.

This week I have a wedding in Eleva, however I do want to get out again on Sunday.  With everything going on it might be my last one or two trips for the year.  Looking back I am wondering if I am running out of time or simply running out of energy! 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Let The Harvest Begin

Because of Adam's wedding (more on that) and visiting my brother in the hospital over the weekend, I thought my current project might prove interesting. September 15 usually marks the time to start harvesting fruit from my mini orchard.  I am starting with the watermelons that succumb to our early frost.  A wagon full of melons is a colorful way to start the post.  Last year we had a very late and hard frost which essentially eliminated 99% of all the apple and pear blossoms available on the fruit trees.  This year has been quite the opposite as my crop will be the best I have ever experienced.  Both my dad and my Uncle Jerry had an important influence on raising a few apple trees and had successfully harvested from their trees so I decided to follow suit.  Living on 5 acres gave me the room to plant a few trees and plant I did!  Today I really have a nice little orchard that has rewarded me with more work than I know what to do with.  My inventory of trees includes the following: 1 Parker Pear, 1 Patton Pear, 1 Summer Crisp Pear, 1 McIntosh Apple, 1 Wolf River Apple, 3 Honey Gold Apples, 2 Fireside apples, 2 Honeycrisp Apples, and 1 Haralson Apple.  I have 3 new apple trees going, another Fireside, Haralson, and lord knows what the last one is.  Apples tend to bear heavy one year then light the next however last years frost put all of my trees in high production mode.  Normally you should spray them with a Sevin insecticide when the apples are about dime size to chemically thin them out.  This tends to make the remaining apples larger and better evens out the boom/bust cycles of the tree production.  We'll, I didn't get to that this year.  One thing I did do was buy an auger for drilling holes around the tree's drip line for fertilizer.  Each apple tree got 4 holes full of a straight 10-10-10 fertilizer and I would say that it really helped the trees.  With not thinning them, fertilizing, and being a high production year I am literally swimming in apples.  I am sure that having honeybees on the property didn't hurt either. Not only are they numerous and large but with only minimal spraying, the apples are for the most part absolutely beautiful and worm free.  Maybe the wet June and July along with spraying at the optimal time was the ticket, whatever I am enjoying the best apples I have ever grown. 

So let's start with my pears.  This picture is of my Patton Pear tree.  It always yields nice supermarket sized pears that are hard fleshed and sweet.  This week will mark the end of these as they ripen super fast on the trees then fall to the ground.  With apples, those pears that are subjected to long periods of sunlight develop a blush where the sun hits them.  The pears are delicious, numerous and I can't give enough of them away.  My other 2 pears are the totally worthless Parker, and the Summer Crisp that goes from green to over ripe in about 3 days.  The Parker and Summer Crisp really make great pollinators for my good pear.  I suspect someday I will learn to time my early pear harvest better.  Pear trees have quite a few suckers and as a post I did last fall, often grow 8 feet in a year.  My largest pears tend to grow near the top of the trees so I have tended to trim off the crowns to allow a more reasonable means of harvest as my Little Giant Ladder only goes to 11 feet.

My next picture is one of my most unusual fruit trees, the Wolf River Apple.  I call this a heritage apple variety, originating in the Wolf River Valley of eastern Wisconsin.  It is often called the one pie apple as they are an extremely large apple, the size of a softball often weighing a pound or more.  They are very cold hardy and also carry the "Frost Apple" label as it will become sweeter after the first frost.  Fairly disease free I am ready to pick these within a few days.  I have main purposes for this apple, first it provides good blending qualities for making cider and secondly, it's a great bragging apple.  When people see it they are often very impressed with my growing abilities.  Little do they know it's all in the tree!  The funny thing about this apple is I never bought this variety.  For years I thought it was a Fireside but could never figure out why it was so different than my others.  A few years back I decided to do some research and finally solved my problem.  The next picture on the left is my Haralson tree.  This tree is my most prolific, producing a fine crop of apples every year.  They are a late apple and will not be ready for harvest for a couple of weeks yet.   The sun has really worked its magic on this years crop as they are a beautiful deep ruby red color.  The Haralson is crisp and tart making it perfect for eating, baking, and cider.  Because of its tartness, most of my cider is based on this apple. I'm betting I'll get 3 bushels off this tree.

 The fifth picture is my Fireside apples, my absolute personal favorite.  These are the second largest apples I have and are also the latest to mature, often at their best after a hard frost.  The Fireside is another long forgotten apple yet has a very unique flavor with a crisp texture.  The 2 trees I have are very close together, I should have separated them a long time ago.   I did replace one of my original apple tree's that died with a third Fireside.  These apples trees tend to be quite thick branched as well being close together they don't "red up" as well as the others.  One thing I noticed about this apple is it produces 2 different skin types, a dull matted surface and a glossy, almost oily look.  I prefer the dull matted looking apples as they seem to have a better flavor and texture.  This is another nuance that I need to look into.   The next apples pictured are my Honeygold's, an derivative of the Golden Delicious but much sweeter and cold hardy.  These trees are also very prolific and really come into their own around October 1st.   They are an excellent for eating as well as perfect for blending into cider to add that fabulous sweetness.  The apple gets it's name from it's beautiful color and honey like sweetness.  Those apples that have direct access to the sunlight will develop a nice copper colored blush on the exposed side.  If you look closely at the picture you can see on the center apple how the leaf has blocked the sun enough to create an outline of the shaded part of the apple.  Commercial orchards prune their trees to allow the maximum allowable sunlight to hit the apples to create the optimum market characteristics. 

On Saturday I ended up picking about 5 bushels of apples off of 3 trees, my Honeycrisp and McIntosh.  This is the first year my crop of Honeycrisp actually turned out decent with few worms or bruises and are as good as if they came right from a commercial orchard, crisp and sweet. The McIntosh apples always turn out good as they are another relatively older apple with its origins back to 1811.  Being crisp and tart they make a great pie apple and are very good for blending cider.  After picking my first crop of apples I was off to Adam's wedding, a nice affair as they were married at an outdoor park, the weather was kind.  Adam and his dad Mark fish with me every year at Leech Lake.  For his wedding I put something extra in their gift to assure Adam come better prepared to fish with me next year.  His dad  provided the refreshments for the night so we told him that we would fill up our thermos before we left.  Mark appreciated that of course!  Saturday is the neighborhood Pig Roast at the Kuntz's and Sunday Mille Lacs is calling pretty loud.  The water temp has dropped almost 15 degrees from a couple weeks ago and I hear the bite is going pretty strong. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Walleyes with Welly

It's been an interesting week as we are on a collision course with autumn.  I am writing this from the San Diego Convention Center exhibiting at a medical show.  The weather here is beautiful and consistent, 70 degrees during the day and 65 at night.  Intellicast is saying tonight will be 30 degrees at home.  Usually that number is associated with the temperature at the airport so unless they are wrong we could have a hard freeze.  The garden is in a low spot, so much for my watermelons!  The great news is the mosquito's day's are limited.  I am flying back on Thursday and will assess the damage then.  Sunday was the full moon, the opportune time to fish walleyes on Mille Lacs.  During past September mid month fishing trips to Mille Lacs, I have been extremely successful casting Shad Raps and Rouges on the shallow mid-lake reefs.  An hour before sunset to an hour after, the reef would become the popular destination for walleyes looking for an easy meal.  Admittedly that bite and pattern hasn't been so good lately.  There were evenings where we would handily catch 12 - 15 nice walleyes.  My goal last Sunday was to see if that bite will ever materialize again.  Stopping at Lundeen's, Bill knew my plan and sarcastically ask if I was fishing for memories tonight!  Based on my success of the last 4 years that was a pretty honest assessment.  Even so if you don't try you'll never know so I had to try.   A new fisherman joined me, Welly Chou, an engineer that I work with.  Welly was born in Hong Kong, has developed into an excellent engineer as well an excellent Karaoke singer.  Having won a number of amateur contests, he even opened up for Keith Urban a few years back.  Not much of a fisherman, he expressed interest in accompanying me on one of my trips to the pond.   One thing I really enjoy is introducing fishing to someone who has little experience.  Sometimes I can be somewhat overwhelming with the electronics, methods, and strategies, Welly is curious enough to put up with that for a day.  After buying a fishing license we headed to the east side of the lake the plan was to lead line the nearby deep gravel bars for a few hours then head to the reef and cast shads through dark.   Connecting a #5 purple shad rap to Welly's line and the same in hot steel pattern to mine we let out 5 colors of line and started trolling.  We would go through pockets of fish but didn't seem to strike a pattern to make them hit.  Bill had called to see what we were doing and decided maybe the #5 shad raps were too small and the fish were looking for something different and larger, maybe a husky jerk or a rouge.  After hanging up on him we would switch after we went around the one hump however within about a minute the port rod bent over.  Giving Welly the rod he reeled in our first keeper walleye I had gotten in over 2 months, a nice 16 incher.  Resetting the lines back at 5 colors we went another 100 yards when we nailed another one.  Between the keeper walleyes would often be a single pull on the rod then it would return back to normal.  Reeling in to check the line there was a 9 inch walleye at the end of the lure.  Enough to move the rod but once hooked they would simply be dragged behind the lure.  Because you really want to keep a clean lure going you had to watch the rod all the time.

Within 45 minutes we had 4 keepers in the livewell and by the time 2 hours had passed we had 6 keepers, a nice 12 inch perch, and released a 27 1/2" as well as a 23 inch walleye.  In addition Welly caught a nice 28 inch northern pike, an unusual catch in 30 feet of water.   We ended up with 13 walleyes caught, 1 northern, and 5 perch.  Not bad for 3 1/2 hours of trolling.  As the moon began to rise over the horizon we decide to pull in the trolling lines and head to the reef to cast for walleyes.  As Bill gave me a hard time about "fishing memories" I noticed the buoy marking the northwest corner of the reef had been moved.  It is good that I have the latest Lakemaster chip which overlays the bottom contours (1 foot increments) on my front HDS5.  There were still GPS tracks from last October's trip so following the reef would be easy.  With a southwest wind we stayed on that side of the reef casting with the wind into the 3 - 5 feet of water.  It took about a half hour to cover the entire reef and as Bill probably predicted, not even a follow.  Having to fly to California in the morning, I decided that one pass was enough.  If the fish were there they would have hit.  Not the case.  Maybe Bill is correct as this would be the 5th or 6th time I have tried my hot pattern of 6 years ago with little or nothing to show for it.  I am not sure what has changed but it certainly doesn't look good.  I will try again in a week or so and maybe we just need a little cooler weather (it's coming!).   With surface temperatures in the mid 70's this could be the key, we'll see.

My good friend Adam Mayerich is getting married this Saturday.  I gave his him and his dad a lesson on trolling walleyes on Leech Lake last opener and I am looking forward to seeing him and his family.  Sunday will probably find me back in Eau Claire as my brother Jon has been in Intensive Care since last Friday with a severe case of pneumonia.  I am worried about him as he has had enough medical problems in his life.  I am not anxious to see the frost damage tomorrow but unfortunately it is what it is.  Maybe we'll be ice fishing soon!!!