Thursday, June 23, 2011

Father's Day

Last Sunday was Father's Day.  Although the bite continues to be hot, between seeing my dad and having the double pleasure of visiting my Uncle Jerry, who is in from Boise Idaho, I don't think fishing would have been any better.  As both my dad and I get older, you come to the realization that things will not last forever.  Thinking back these two guys have given me some interesting fishing experiences over the years.  Dad got me started fishing as we often fished the Eleva Pond for trout and crappies, the Buffalo River for carp, and as a special treat we would head to Marshmiller Lake near Bloomer Wisconsin for the slab bluegills.  April was sucker fishing in the creek below the dam and a few choice holes in the river.  Trout fishing in Eleva was usually relegated to the months of May and June as the Rod and Gun Club and the Wisconsin DNR would plant hatchery browns, rainbow, and brook trout into the pond and local streams.  I will remember one April, I suppose I was no older than 10 years old.  My fishing pole was an old 5 foot steel octagonal rod with a Pflueger level wind reel loaded with black Dacron line.  My dad had rigged it up with a sinker and hook, with a can of worms my brother Steve and I headed to the bridge on Hwy 10 that crossed the creek from the pond.  The creek ran through town so it was only about a block from where we lived at the time.  Well, don't ask me how but I somehow caught a northern pike that had come up from the Buffalo River and it was huge!  It was the biggest and meanest fish I had ever seen (compared to the suckers in the river), guessing it was at least 3 feet.  Not knowing what to do with it, Steve ran home to get dad.  Lucky thing northerns are pretty tough as I suspect my sense of panic was well relayed to my dad as it took about 5 minutes for him to get down to the creek.   Dad unhooked the fish, took one look at me and slipped it back into the water.  As it swam away my jubilation went as well.    Knowing my limits of expressing myself in front of my father, he sensed my frustration, explaining that this fish was not legal to keep for at least another week.  In hindsight it taught me a good lesson as I probably could have got away with carrying it home but those teeth were pretty intimidating.  BTW, the fish was only about 22 inches but I can guarantee it was much bigger when I caught it.

I had not seen my uncle Jerry (Zeke) since uncle Keith had passed away a few years ago.  I have mentioned how influential he has been in my fishing life and seeing him on Sunday was a pure pleasure.  I have previous posts of our fishing adventures in Alaska and Mille Lacs however it really started in the summer of 1965 during a visit to Boise.  Zeke was a dentist and I suspect he made an offer to my dad, bring Steve and Dave out for a visit, I'll fix their teeth for nothing and we can enjoy some time together.  Well the trip out was memorable as we went through the Black Hills, stayed in Cody Wyoming before heading to Yellowstone.  At that time it was popular to feed the bears and we saw quite a few of them.  Heading to Boise my brother and I got all of our cavities filled (still in today) and managed to find some time for fishing.  Zeke used this opportunity to teach me how to fly fish, something almost unheard of in Eleva.  Boise is considered high desert and because we were pretty young we stuck to fishing the irrigation canals that flowed through the area.  I suppose there might have been some trout in these waters however we caught mostly squawfish, a native member of the carp family which inhabits the western part of North America.  Zeke says they call them pikeminnows, a more politically correct term these days.  Today I still fly fish today using the same techniques I learned over 40 years ago fishing in Idaho as this nice dolly vardon caught in Alaska demonstrates.  With a little luck maybe Steve and I can retrace our journey of 1965 and try a little Idaho fishing later this year.

As for Father's Day, it was a good one.  My dad is not doing too well but then again just seeing him was a blessing.  Here is hoping for the chance to celebrate it again next year.  The weather has been wet and windy yet with a little luck I'll get to Mille Lacs on Saturday to catch him a few walleyes for supper, he'll like that!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Bite is On

 Sunday was our day to reaffirm that the hot bite we experienced during last weeks MTT was the beginning of that pre summer frenzy which usually lasts through the month of June.  Joining me in my boat was my neighbor Lory as well I allowed my friends Tom and Tom to tag along, provided they stayed out of my way!  Having exhausted my supply of leeches we stopped and picked up a half pound before heading to the lake.  Our destination was the Shah-Bush-Kung-Bay landing, just north of the casino.  Sometimes known as Cashes Landing (years ago), it has a nice deep water protected landing and offers a lot of fishing options being near the middle of the lake.  There are a number of great late spring/early summer spots just off the landing which are excellent for catching walleyes.  This year everything is about 2 weeks late and these near shore locations should be really hot.  Well my predictions were true.  Within 15 minutes we had our first walleye.  Looking for something in the box the first 6 fish were all larger than 18 inches.  With the slot at less than 18 and 1 over 28, it was proving difficult to do.  I started with a crawler and Lory with a leech, Lory nailed the first 2 so I switched.  That was a good strategy for the first couple of hours.

As often happens, the bite went slow for a little while so I decided to head to a deeper rock reef a mile north.  Generally this reef is good for some of those slot fish for the livewell but the rocks makes it more difficult to fish.  My guess was correct as we nailed 2 fish, one for the box and a 25 incher I am holding in the first picture.  More often than not usually I am the only guy on this reef.  Many times guys will drive by and see my boat, quick turn around and see what's up.  On Mille Lacs most people fish the well known spots where all the other boats are.  When they see someone in a spot unfamiliar, they got to check it out.  As I stated its quite difficult to fish with the rocks so most people don't stay long.  After a few lost rigs and fewer marks on the sonar we headed back to our original spot.  We immediately started catching fish again, ultimately ending up the day with 12 and 2 in the box?  Lory nailed this fat 26 incher on a leech, the largest of the day. We chose to spend the last hour trolling Indian Point with Shad Raps.  With a south wind hitting the reef all day it should have been good for a couple of keepers.  Well all we caught were 6 smallies.  I truly believe that these reefs have been over run by smallmouth bass which leaves little left for the walleyes (in my opinion!) 

I am getting more familiar with my HDS10 and am having a lot more fun.  My previous depth finder, the Genetron, was excellent at marking fish which over the years I had developed the confidence.  My greatest concern with the new Lorwance was redeveloping that confidence.  One of the ways I am learning is to record the sonar readings and look at them on my computer.  This is actually pretty amazing as I found recordings of my sinker and bait falling to the bottom.  We marked a tremendous amount of fish and it is fun to go back and actually see where they were, look at the GPS points, and try to establish some patterns.  A labor of love for sure.  Friday is my annual duty of helping my good friend Mark Applen making his ENA Golf Tournament another success.  We hope to raise another $25,000 for helping kids with cancer, having passed the $200,000 mark in the last 8 years.  It is a tribute to the Applen's dedication to their son Eric, who passed away from this terrible disease.  Sunday is Father's Day and with my father struggling it will be good to spend some time with him.  As a bonus my Uncle Jerry is in Eleva, man I have been practicing up for a few years now!  Luckily we like each other.  Might just have to skip out early one day next week for that evening bite as the night ban has expired on Mille Lacs.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wrong Strategy or Simple Greed!

The plan for Saturday's MTT Tournament was set, leave work early on Friday heading up to Mille Lacs for a possible hour or two of pre-fishing.  Stopping at Bill's for a possible last minute update I stopped for gas before meeting my partner, Mark Applen at his fish house.   The tournament rules meeting was at 7:00 at Hunter's Point Resort.  The organizers had a pretty nice set up with grilled brats and burgers available and an outside bar pouring drinks and serving beer.  My friend Joe Stanfield coined a new title for a common cocktail I enjoy, a Captain Morgan with Diet Coke.   He calls it a Skinny Pirate and about 80% of the bartenders figure it out.  When I ordered it Joe's way, the lady loved the name but couldn't figure it out.  Pointing to the bottle of Captain, she smiled............coming right up.   The rules meeting started, 2 flights leaving, 1 - 50 at 7:00 AM and the second 51 - 70 at 7:30.  We were officially #47.  No culling was allowed meaning once a fish is in the live well, it stays there.  Our limit on Mille Lacs is 4 fish each so each 2 man team could catch 8 fish however only the largest 6 fish could be entered.   The legal slot on Mille Lacs is under 18 and 28 and over.  The rules were specific, any fish on the 18 inch line and you would be disqualified.  Any fish on the 28 inch line would count.   Fish under 13 or dead fish turned in would result in a 0.12 pound penalty.   You must be recognized as in line for the weigh in before 3:00 (or 3:30 if in the 2nd heat), the official time was determined by the Tournament Director, no ifs, ands, or buts!  Winners would be announced at 4:30.  Deciding to relax rather than pre-fish we headed back to the ice house for a walleye and smoked rib dinner.  It was a pretty early evening as we had to be up by 5:30 and at Hunter's by 6:15.

Waking up at 5:30 we were greeted with a familiar loud hum of at least a billion lake flies that hatched through the night.  The trees, cars, houses, anything withing 100 feet of the lake was literally covered with these rather benign but annoying insects.  BTW, I do mean a billion.  This is one of the largest bug hatches I have seen in years, verified by the tremendous amount of carcasses floating on the lake.  Although a royal pain, we did manage to load and launch our boat arriving at Hunter's Point with plenty of time to spare.  All the boats staged just outside of their breakwater as the "Official" pontoon broadcast the National Anthem over the marine band radio, channel 68.  Boats were to parade by the pontoon single file and in order and away we were off.  Our strategy was to head back to the winning reef we fished last year.  About a 10 minute ride we arrived to an empty hotspot, fabulous!  Last year there was a tournament boat parked on our spot, although he did leave early.   Mark started with a short snelled leech while I long lined a crawler.  Within 5 minutes we had our first keeper fish, a nice 17 incher.  The next 2 hours were incredible.  By 9:00 we had 5 in the box, had caught over 15 walleyes and were well on our way to a respectable tournament limit.  The bite was definitely hot.  Our plan was to keep those fish over 16 inches, get our 6 then head out to try the flats for a 28+ fish.  Debating to keep that 15.5" inch fish, we decided to through it back as we "knew" we could get that last fish to meet our high expectations.  Having laid down a pretty good set of GPS tracks Mark was on the front of the boat when this huge muskie swam by.  I caught a glimpse of it's tail and my estimate was 48 inches plus.  Muskies are always exciting to see but not this time.  The slot fish simply stopped hitting for about a half hour after the muskie swam through.  When the fish decided to start biting again, all we could catch were those in the over 18 to 26 inch range.  With 5 fish and only larger fish hitting, we decided to go for broke and head to the flats for a big fish.  Noticing no one was on the Midget Flat, we cruised  over and started marking fish like crazy.  Missing a couple I finally felt something nail my crawler rig.  Feeding it line for a few seconds I set the hook and she was a hog.  As it came into sight it looked like the tourney winner.  Quickly landing the old girl a measurement revealed we'd have to stretch her another 2 inches to contend.  A quick picture and back she went along with the last of our hopes for that first place.  We weighed our fish at exactly 7.77 pounds, well maybe that number was lucky.  In the end we finished 16th out of 70 boats, with a pound separating 16th from 6th.  Our decision to throw back that last 15.5 inch walleye cost us the money.  Disappointed in our hearts we screwed up.  Never the less our "real" score would have put us in the top ten finishers 2 years in a row.  Oh well, I think there is a saying about being a "Legend in our own mind", that's us!  Next year we will definitely remember what we didn't do.  The first picture is the 26 inch walleye we coaxed out of the Midget and the second one is the bugs resting on a boat in the harbor.  It was a ton of fun as we did catch over 20 walleyes.

The plans are to head back up on Sunday to see if the hot bit is still on.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Back on the "Dead Sea"

With all the hoopla of the opener behind us, it was time to head up to the pond and see how the walleyes were biting.  Having 2 weeks to report on, I will start with my trip on May 22nd with Jeffrey Chen, my business colleague from Taiwan.  Jeffrey gets to Minnesota about once every 2 years so I look forward to doing something special with him.  Having no set time of the year to travel we have made done everything from snowmobiling on the North Shore to checking out the floods on the Mississippi River.  Of course all of these things have a down home slant of good old Midwestern fun.  Because he had never fished before, we decided a day on Mille Lacs would be a great way to spend the day.  Asking if he'd go rain or shine, he answered "of course!".   Well, with the weather we have been having lately it looked more rain than shine.  After picking him up at the hotel we headed north to Bill's for a license and bait.  Although Jeffrey had fished in Taiwan before, the bait shop proved to be pretty interesting.  It sort of reminded him of the restaurants in China where your meal is either crawling or swimming.  A bucket of leeches, some crawlers, and refreshments we headed to the east side where the bite was reported in 20 feet of water just off the rocks.  Well, half the lake must have gotten the same report as there was a pretty good crowd fishing the area.  After about an hour of backtrolling the rain decided it was time to make our trip more miserable.  Donning our rain suits the sky opened up like one of those overflow buckets at the water parks.   Having had enough of the "hot bite" we headed to a shallower spot closer to shore.  10 minutes into the pattern a 15 inch walleye answered the call.  Being the good sport I let Jeffrey reel in his first walleye.  The rain continued off and on and with the light bite decided to try some bobber fishing which would give Jeffrey a chance to see a bite in action.  Anchored on the spot we caught the first walleye, the strategy seemed sound anyway.  After an hour and anther 1/4 inch of rain we moved out to deeper water.  The wind had picked up and noticing a net being used on Big Point we decided to drift across the point.  Once again within 5 minutes we nailed a nice 22 incher.  Jeffrey reeled this one in as well and after 3 more drifts would be the last fish we caught.  He didn't quite understand the reason we had to throw the big one back as he was looking forward to a walleye dinner later that evening.  Assuring him we did the right thing, we still had at least one fresh fish and with a couple out of the freezer, he would have his wish.  Deep fried walleye and fresh grilled asparagus, it was truly a meal fit for a king, at least Jeffrey thought so!

On Monday my good friend Tom Emmons and I decided to start out his open water season on Mille Lacs.  Although the day was nice and warm, the wind was howling out of the SE at around 30 mph.  In order to be somewhat comfortable, we  launched out of the Cove Bay landing and fished the south end of the lake.  It wasn't as bad as I anticipated..........the waves that is!  Man, the walleye bite left a lot to be desired.  Everything seems to be about 2 weeks behind schedule as the lilacs are still in full bloom around here.  With surface water temperatures around 56 degrees, the fish haven't seemed to move too deep yet.  We spend a bunch of time on Sloppy Joe's and marked a number of fish but they had lock jaw for one reason or another.  Moving to a few shallower spots proved fruitless.  Deciding to try and troll some shad raps around Anderson Reef about the only thing we came up with was a 14 inch smallie.   My secondary reason for going up was to do a little scouting.  On Saturday my good friend Mark Applen and I are once again entered in the MTT Walleye Tournament.   The entry fee was again part of our ENA Charity Golf outing where last year Mark and I took third place winning $1024 on behalf of a generous donor.  This year we are being sponsored again by our committee member John Budde, a testament to his faith in Mark and I's ability to at least triple his money!  I only hope that we can find the mother lode again and make John happy.  The rest of the week is going to be nice and warm and should help our strategy.  Wish us luck, we'll probably need it.