Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Wild Weekend

With the weatherman predicting another record snowfall for Sunday while Saturday's weather would be the last of the February thaw, I decided it would be a great time to head up to our deer hunting grounds on Rich's place and retrieve my ladder stand.  The trek back to my stand consists of a quarter mile adventure through an alder swamp.  At the end of deer season last fall it was decided that rather than go through all the work of removing it piece by piece, it would be much simpler to leave it in the woods and wait till the swamp freezes.  Of course that's what I said year and the heavy part of the stand keep it's host tree company all year.  Determined to get it out before the thaw, and looking at my schedule, it was as good a time as any.  The fact that I needed to pick up my ice fishing gear from Bill Lundeen and my friend and hunting partner Jack claimed the crappies were really biting on his lake, I picked up my frequent weekend companion Lory, and once again headed north.  Our route takes us up the Great River Road which parallels the Mississippi River, crosses the confluence of the Crow River before meeting the highway north.  Crossing the Crow River, we ran into an interesting scene, 10 - 12 wild tom turkeys robbing a ground feeder in front of a house.  It's been a tough year for turkeys with the deep snow. 

The pending storm must have had the all the wildlife on high alert.  Hooking the trailer to the truck, I noticed something ran over the edge of my holding pond.  Sure enough  it was my red fox whom lives inside the drain culvert.  This holding pond is basically a depression that drains a good portion of my neighborhood runoff rain and melt water and allows it to be reabsorbed into the water table.  If the water gets too high, there is an outlet culvert which runs underground a few hundred feet, emptying onto the flood plan of the Mississippi River.  It only to the outlet in the spring while the ground is still froze and the melt is fast.  I suspect that the depth of the culvert keeps it fairly warm deep inside, making a cozy home for the fox.  One of the benefits of having the fox around is the noticeable absence of rabbits on the property.  Last year the rabbits were at epidemic levels, eating everything in site.  I hope it decides to stay around for a while as it pretty cool to see it around quite a bit these days.  One thing is for sure, if you walk down to the culvert the fox has made his presence well known as they make sure their skunk like scent is everywhere!

Our first stop was at Bill's to pick up my portable ice house, Vexilar FL20, and my underwater camera.  For my efforts I was rewarded with a smoked Tullibee that he had caught last week.  The fish was a work of art and would go great with the Miller High Life that Jack always has.  Next stop was Jack's cabin on Platte Lake, 12 miles west of Mille Lacs.  There we unloaded the trailer, replacing the contents with his 2 up snowmobile, the perfect means for hauling out tree stand and headed for Rich's place.  Coming around the corner, something caught my eye, a huge immature bald eagle high in a tree.  Stopping to take a look, it soon became apparent, it was guarding a road kill deer, exposed by the weeks snow melt.  Getting out to take a picture, it decided to take flight.  Had this been a more mature eagle, I doubt it would have given up it's readily available food source.  Never the less it was pretty cool to see a young eagle this close.  After accomplishing my goal, we headed out on Platte Lake for the evening bite, which never developed.  A few sunnies was about all I could muster up, but all in all it was a good day.

Admittedly I am getting sick of winter.  After spending a few days in 76 degree Anaheim, CA two weeks ago, then a couple of 60 degree days in Denver last week and reading Jeff's adventures in Mexico, the latest 12 inches of snow has taken the wind out of my sails!  A week from Friday I travel to Rockport Texas to fish Redfish in the barrier marshes of the Gulf of Mexico with my Texas friend Joe Stanfield and Jim Cox, one of my suppliers.  The website looks interesting and will provide a good break for this long winter.  In the meantime the weekend plan is to try again for a limit of tullibees, maybe smoking them this time.  We did open a jar of the pickled ones Lory did last week and they are coming along real well.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tullibee Time

Earlier in the week my friend Bill Lundeen asked if he could once again use some of my ice fishing equipment for a large client outing he is having this week.  This presented a perfect opportunity to head up to Mille Lacs as the word was out the tullibees were biting with some bonus jumbo perch mixed in.  With the weather scheduled to hit the mid 40's on Saturday, I called my neighbor Lory to see if he was up for some tullibee fishing.  Having never caught one of these beautiful silver fish, he jumped at the chance.  Tullibees are a member of the whitefish family and are often referred to as cisco's.  Mille Lacs represents the southern most extent of their range as they are a cold water fish, thriving in the lakes north to the arctic circle.  On Mille Lacs tullibee die offs occur, especially if the surface temperature stays in the high seventies for too long.  The lake is shallow and windy causing the water temperature to mix and stressing these cold water fish.  3 years ago the lake experienced a considerable warm spell triggering a massive die off of tullibees.  In August, thousands of dead fish were floating everywhere.  Well of course, this has happened before however this time we had a new culprit, Global Warming!  The crash in the population at Mille Lacs generated new regulations.  Fisherman were now limited to a 10 fish limit and the fall netting season was cancelled, and remains so today.  At one time they were considered rough fish, bony, only catch able in the winter, and basically good for pickling and smoking.   The last 2 summers have been much cooler and the fish have rebounded tremendously.  Gill net surveys of the lake revealed a year class never before seen on Mille Lacs.   

Tullibee are a fun fish to catch. They generally inhabit the deepest waters of the lake and a good place to start is on the deep edge of the flats that are scattered through out the north half of the lake.  32 to 36 feet is prime depth.  These fish have a pertinacity to follow lure high off the bottom, and the flashier the better.  I have "jigged" them up over 25 feet to the point where I could see them down the hole.  Having a fairly small mouth, they will occasionally hit a lure dressed with a minnow head however a nice plumb waxy grub is almost irresistible.  I like to use a small panfish jig with a larger hook, say #6, tied about 6 inches below a hook less spoon, something shiny as an attractor.  Perch find this combination pretty tempting as well.  Drilling a number of holes starting from the top edge of the flat to about 30 yards off the deep edge we immediately started catching smaller perch. Sometimes these little perch will also follow a bait up high before plunging back down to the bottom.  When a tullibee hits, you will know it.  They are very powerful for their size, violently head shaking all the way to the surface.  By the end of the day we had 7 nice tullibees and 4 jumbo perch in the 12 - 13 inch range.  I figured we must have missed at least 10 more of the silvery fish as they were biting pretty light.  I made a deal with Lory, I'll clean them for you and you make your famous pickled fish.  Tullibee is a member of the herring family and have the same texture and flavor you find in gourmet pickled herring (although some may find that a contradictory term).  It will be a couple of weeks before they are done but I will let you know how they turn out.

Writing from 38,000 feet, I am on my way back from Denver.  Tuesday night we had the chance to take a quick ride through Estes Park, CO and the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. This time of year the town fills with wild elk that use this area as there wintering grounds.  I was surprised to see a large number of nice bulls gathered in small groups grazing along the roads.  This was an exceptional animal as you can see he has a few battle wounds from previous encounters with other bull elk.  His left brow tine is broken, his left ear is pretty mangled and his hair had evidence of past fights.  I guess they will begin losing their antlers soon, growing a new set by August.  Simply amazing!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

All's Well in Cheeseland

Well, I suspect you probably know what this post will be, my  beloved Green Bay Packers won their 4th Super Bowl on Sunday with Aaron Rodgers erasing any doubt that Ted Thompson did the right thing in getting rid of Brett Favre after the 2007 season.  Being the only true Packer fan in my neighborhood, it was sweet justice!  Even on Sunday afternoon my Viking fan neighbors chose the Steelers over me.  In the end the inability of the Steelers to complete their 4th down play in the last minute killed their chances.  The Packers were a sleeper this year.   Their record of 10-6 didn't tell the whole story as the Packers never trailed by more than 7 points both during the regular season all the way through the playoffs being the first team in NFL history to have such a tight scoring differential.  Of the Pack's 6 loses, 5 were by 3 points and the 6th was by 4.  Pretty unbelievable if you think about it.   Either way its a great time to be a Cheesehead for sure!

Last week I reported the plan was to take put the Brazilians for a Minnesota ice fishing experience.  Well Friday I received the call, it was too cold and they cancelled.   What!!! Too cold, holy moly, it was only 28 degrees out!   Never the less I was still interested in going out to I decided to call the Braselians, Lory and his wife Lynn to see if they were willing to step up to the challenge.  Agreeing, we headed back to Pelican Lake for the evening crappie bite.  Getting there around 1:00 we moved 2 times before hitting the honey hole.  Drilling 2 holes and setting up the house, i was lowering my dead stick bait with a minnow however it wouldn't go down.  Little did I know that the a crappie had sucked it in, waiting for someone to set the hook.  I had a rather small #10 hook which is not the best for minnows and subsequently lost the next 6 minnows to the initial drop.  Finally getting a nice fish, we stayed till dark catching a nice number of fish while bringing home enough for a meal.  Not the most prolific day on the lake, it was fun never the less.

Writing this from Anaheim California, the weather is nothing short of fabulous.  With temperatures back home below zero, we are enjoying 70 degree days.  Attending the Medical Device and Manufacturing Show, the largest in the nation, we get a chance to talk to future customers that may need our services.  Working trade shows is a lot more difficult than it seems but all in all it is a necessary to attend and be a player in the industry.  I will leave you with a picture from my back lot, a beautiful red fox living in the culvert that drains my water catch basin for the storm sewer system.  The culvert is 4 feet or so under the surface and provides a warm environment for the fox.  He often is found sleeping on the south facing bank of the catch basin, catching a few rays of the warm sunshine.  I hope he sticks around for a while as it's kind of cool to have him around.  Hopefully  I can get to Mille Lacs this weekend.  You will have to put up with one more week of my beloved song, sorry, I cannot help it!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Snowmobile Weekend

Friday was my annual snowmobiling trip with my friends Dwight and Mike.  This is our third year of hitting the trails and its been nothing short of fantastic.  Taking Friday off assures that the trails are still pretty smooth before the weekend crowd does it's damage.  Friday we put 146 miles on our sleds as we made a loop from Emily, MN to Hill City, Palisade, then back to Emily.  Finishing out the evening at the Bungalow Supper Club, we enjoyed an all you can eat rib dinner that was out of the world.  Nothing beats a small town Supper club.  Having stuffed ourselves beyond reason, we headed back to Mikes cabin for an evening glass of wine while sharing a few stories of our snowmobiling adventures from years past.  Unfortunately this is one of the few times I can get out with my sled and it's much appreciated.  Saturday morning we got up and drove west 15 miles to Cross Lake, MN for breakfast.  That sausage and sauerkraut omelet sure hit the spot!  Back by noon we loaded up with a total of 176 miles, shut the cabin down and headed back to the city.  We have record snow on the ground I am planning on trying to get more miles in this year.

Vic Wenaas owned the Mobil Service (heavy on the service) Station in Eleva.  Formally owed my my grandpa Roy, I started working for Vic in 1970 at the tender age of 15.  My job was to work the 5:00 - 9:00 shift, pumping gas, washing windshields, checking oil, all those things that one used to expect when you would pull into a gas station.  All gas stations were "full service" then and the thought of pumping your own gas was unthinkable.  Regular leaded gas was $0.379 per gallon and fuel oil was a whopping $0.199 per gallon.  During that summer I had 2 jobs.  3 nights a week loading chickens for Willy Drangsveit and 4 nights a week working for Vic.  About August Vic gave me an ultimatum, either quit loading chickens and work for him or quit and work for Willy.  I chose Vic and never looked back.  I can not even imagine today any 15 year old having to make that decision, as I don't even think they could work until they are 16.  One thing it did was give me plenty of money in my younger days.  Vic was the most important mentor in my life outside my family.  He also had a Ski Doo snowmobile and influenced me to buy my own that year.  Managing to save a pretty good chunk of money, Vic brought me to the Ski Doo dealership in Augusta, Wisconsin were I bought a 1971 Ski Doo Olympic 299 single cylinder Rotex engine with a whooping 18 horsepower.  I still remember paying $572 cash for my new form of winter entertainment.  Those were some of the best times of my life.  Along with my friends Jimmy Tollefson, Steve Herbenson, and Tom Peterson, we turned snowmobiling into the major transportation method for the next 3 years.  Most trails at the time where simple one width tracks that traveled between major towns and those that owned sleds.  My friend Jim had a trail going from behind my house, up through Schultz's pasture, through Indian Valley, up over Old Baldy (a large hill with no trees on it), through Heaths, across O'Krooley's and ending at the Tollefson farm.  Jim, his dad Gyle, and brother-in-law Jim Rose had made a number of trails through their back wooded acreage which claimed a number of front bumpers as maneuvering became more difficult as the winter went on.  I ran that sled hard for about 3 years, literally wearing it out before trading it to Gary Engen, along with a bolt action 22 rifle and a recurve bow for a blonde stock Belgium Browning A5 shotgun.  I still have the shotgun as well memories of those days sledding with my 299 along with Jim and the "Great One". 

Today I run a 2006 Polaris 900cc Switchback.  This sled is quite a contrast from that 1972 single cylinder Ski Doo.  Putting out a solid 152 horsepower, she'll top 115 mph faster than you can imagine.  It sports a 144 inch, 1 1/4 inch lug track that hooks up with the ability to lift the ski's when you crack the throttle at 55 mph.  One of the best things about the motor is the electronic reverse feature.  To go in reverse, let the engine return to idle, push a button and the engine begins to slow down.  Just before it's ready to stop the ignition suddenly changes causing the piston that was just on its way to TDC (top dead center) to ignite prematurely forcing the engine to reverse direction.  No gear changes, nothing to engage, just a simple push of the button.  Back up, push the reverse button again and the motor does the same exercise only reversing the engine back to it's normal running direction.  Sweet!   The sled is great in the deeper snow as it has that longer track (normal track size is 121 inches) however unfortunately is pretty front heavy.  It's been out west with me a couple of times before I reconfigured my older 2004 700cc Switchback as it is lighter, more maneuverable, and handles much better on the side hills.  Oh well, with the new sleds selling for more that $10,000, I suspect the 900 will carry me for a few more years. 

This weekend is guaranteed to be exciting.  On Saturday I have been recruited to take a number of guests visiting from Brazil ice fishing with my fishing partner Mark Applen.  Mark called me for some advice and help.  I think we have a great plan to show what we do for entertainment here in Minnesota.  Maybe we can trade and ice fishing trip for a Peacock Bass Adventure on the Amazon.  Sunday needs no explanation as the Packers are in the Super Bowl.  Back at my neighbor Tim's for the big game,  there will be at least 50 people expecting to leverage the situation against me.  Oh well, at least the Pack are Back.  Enjoy the game and Happy 81st Birthday to my Dad!