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.