Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Couple Nice Fishing Reports

My planned "last trip" to fish Mille Lacs hard water fell apart at the last minute on Sunday.  Deciding to call Bill before leaving he said to bring the ATV as you can't get on with the truck.  Not wanting to drive back home and spend another hour hooking everything up I decided it would be a good day to get caught up on fixing my lawn tractor tire and putting new wheels on my jon boat trailer.  I always like getting fishing reports from my friends and earlier this week I received a couple of nice ones, One from Ben Taylor and the other from my Wisconsin buddy Kevin Aiona.  This first picture is Ben holding a large crappie caught on Platte Lake, where their cabin resides.  12 miles west of Mille Lacs, Platte Lake is a fairly shallow body of water that has sunfish, crappies, bass, the occasional walleye, and a ton of snake northerns.  Ben's dad is my friend and deer hunting partner Jack Taylor and he is turning his son into quite the young fisherman.   Still a little young to join us on our annual Leech Lake Opener with the guys, it's getting harder to leave him behind.  Ben is always the last one off the dock, fishing up to the last minute before hopping in the car to head back home.  His fishing accomplishments include a number of nice crappies like this, many northers caught on tip-ups, and largemouth bass caught right off their dock.  One of these days I'll look forward to showing him how to fish the big pond.  Nice catch there Ben!!

The next picture is right out of a Sunday morning fishing show.  Earlier in the week my good friend Kevin was fishing below the dam in Alma, Wisconsin and nailed this 28 1/2 inch pig walleye.  Kevin and I have spent many a day chasing walleyes and saugers in the spring as the fish tend to congregate below the dams, getting ready to spawn.  The fishing is usually pretty good up to the time the water gets too high and fast from the spring runoff.  This year the wet autumn and generous snowfalls have pushed the river to over it's flood stage fairly early.  Often we simply have a high water crest, then the river settles down somewhat back to a fishable state.  I am afraid we may be looking at 2 flood crests this year.  Never the less those big walleyes are there and if you can time it right, put on quite a show.  When the water comes off the crest and the temperature hits 45 degrees, you can find the big walleyes up on the flooded banks, in the timber, sometimes less than 3 feet of water.  Kevin picked this nice fish up in the middle of the river as you can see the lock walls and downtown Alma.  The flooding also means the backwater areas above the dam are accessible.  35 years ago this was prime time to fish northern pike on Daredevils and Johnson Silver Minnows.  We have been talking about trying to get back and try these waters for old times sake.  We'll see where that goes!

As stated earlier the end of March signals the start of the dead period, waiting for the ice to go off.  The next 2 weeks will determine if it's an early, normal, or late ice out.  Last year was pretty early as the ice on Mille Lacs had already pulled away from shore.  3 years ago Leech Lake still had ice on walleye opener, May 9th.  March is the perfect time to trim all of he fruit trees in my orchard.  Trimming promotes healthy growth, optimizes fruit production, helps disease prevention, and keeps the trees a manageable size.  Mature apple and pear trees tend to grow sucker branches on the pruned limbs.  All of these sucker branches have to be removed as they serve little purpose other than to fill up the space you just pruned out.  It's amazing how prolific these rouge branches can be.  With 11 apple trees and 2 pear trees the number of branches that need remove are in the hundreds (I know I said a million earlier, it just feels this way).  Some of them can grow quite long over a single summer.  Here are a few of the longer branches I trimmed from the trees, as you see they are almost 8 feet long.  Thinking about the real growing season, that's almost an inch a day.  Last year a very late frost in the second week of May pretty much destroyed my entire crop.  Hopefully this year Mother Nature will be somewhat less aggressive.  I am off to one of my favorite events of the year, the Northwest Sportsman Show.  There never seems to be enough time to cover everything I am interested.  Oh well, it will be fun trying.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Winter's Back

Today I woke up to the grim reminder that even though we have officially passed the Spring Equinox, winter still rears it's ugly head and has it's option of returning for another 30 days.  With 7 inches on the ground and a low temperature of 0 predicted for the morning, the wonderful weather I experienced in Texas is simply a fond memory!  We are entering the time of year I call no man's land.  The ice will be on the lakes till at least the 3rd week in April, yet too unstable to ice fish unless you go 300 miles north.  It usually takes a few weeks for the water to warm up but I am guessing it will be May before the boat will come out.  Along with the snow we got a pretty good rain, totally around 2.5 inches of total precipitation.  Of course this has raised the latest media hype regarding the flood warnings around Minnesota.  I don't recall it being at this level however based on the snow and rain, it doesn't look good.  Roads are closing and unfortunately a state road worker was killed when his excavator was trying to clear an ice dam when the water's current sweep his machine into the raging flood.  My good friend Kevin sent me an e-mail today with the current Mississippi River conditions at Alma, Wisconsin.  Fishing below the dam, he caught a real nice 28 inch walleye (Kevin, you need to take pictures!).  Kevin reports that the river flow is over 3 times the normal rate for this time of year and the fishing below the dam is pretty well over until the levels crest then settle down.  It's seems pretty early for these levels as I recall the middle of April was usually the peak of the high water.  As I have comment in a past post when I was young and living back home in Eleva, this would be about the time Kevin and I would start sucker fishing the Buffalo River.  It was an annual event that seems as though it was only yesterday we were fishing places like Bud's, the Culvert, Trix's, and Carp Sough.  A gob of worms and we were in sucker heaven!

Last week we did get a hint of things to come with a few days hitting the mid 50's, it temporarily melted a lot of our snow.  One of the things I have been working on has been my winter motorcycle project.  Last spring I bought a Honda 600 Shadow and after 3 months sold it for a Victory Kingpin.  A larger bike, I have been spending some time upgrading the looks and comfort by changing out the rear license plate holder, changing out the seat, adding a luggage rack and switching a few items with chrome versions.  Having put the bike back together it was nice enough Saturday to go for the first ride of the year.  I decided to check out the "flood stage" of the Crow River and put 45 miles on before discovering there was little evidence of what was to come but never the less it was a great excuse to get out.  My ride occurred between spending most of the day trimming my fruit trees.  March is the perfect time for this activity and I will elaborate on this later.  All I know is I must have cut at least a million branches!  The highlight of the day was seeing a flock of 35 Sandhill Cranes flying overhead.  Normally we see them in small groups seldom over 6 birds so this was a quite the sight.

Sunday proved to be somewhat cooler, a perfect excuse to ice fish for what might be the last time of the year.  Although the ice is still plenty thick the warm weather had deteriorated the access points enough to prevent one from driving onto the lake.  Loading up my auger, tackle, Vexilar, and bait into a pull sled, I headed for the north end of Pelican Lake where a short 1/4 mile walk put you on fishable waters.  The first thing I noticed were most of the holes were wide open.  Water form the snow melt tends to drain into these holes and keeps them open.  Walking from hole to hole I spent the first hour trying to figure out where the fish were.  After about an hour and 30 holes fished, I finally hit upon a couple of fish and parked myself in 10 feet of water.  Catching a fair amount of fish I only ended up with 1 nice crappie and 1 nice sunny as the rest were pretty small.  The weather made the area around the lake extremely foggy yet the geese and swans were making their presence well known.  With no wind, it was a very peaceful afternoon.  With temperatures falling for the next couple of days, I might be able to sneak out on more time, maybe looking for those Jumbo Perch on Mille Lacs that have eluded me the last few years.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Texas Reds, Part 2

Redfish fishing in Rockport Texas was an experience I will never forget.  I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to fish in a number of interesting areas around the country and each has their own unique set of circumstances.  By now you probably have figured out that I love to fish.  Whether it's fishing suckers off the dock or hauling in halibut in Alaska, there is another common thread that always adds to the experience, the people I have the pleasure of meeting.  Over the years those people have become good friends, whether it's Jeff King, Mile 14 fame, Ken and Judy Marlow, Keith Holtan, Bill and Kathy Lundeen, and for the most part all of my close friends, we have a common bond, fishing!  My trip to Texas was no different, new friends were made and it was though I have known them all my life.  My host for this trip was Joe Stanfield (sitting on top, to the left).  Having met Joe over 20 years ago at a trade show in Cincinnati, it was clear we had much in common.  He's quite the Joe, a Texas boy, has that typical Dallas accent with a heart that I cannot figure out how it fits in that short little body of his.  Although I only get to see him once a year we make up for lost time pretty fast.  This years APEC conference (work related) was in Fort Worth and Joe suggested that our friend Jim Cox (lower left) from California and I join him the weekend before for a Texas adventure.  Jim is an avid fisherman himself and often seeks tuna off the coast of California as well is at home being an independent judge for billfish tournaments in Costa Rica.  Joe met both of us at the Corpus Christi and took over from there. From the hotel to the guided trip he took care of everything. 

After checking into our hotel the next item on the agenda was to make contact with Butch and Penny (Butch is in the yellow jacket), Joe's old neighbors when he lived in Rockport.  From the minute we walked in you could sense that any friend of Joe's was a friend of theirs.  The have a beautiful home on a canal that is connected to the main waterway leading to the popular fishing spots in Rockport.  Built above a sacrificial floor designed for hurricanes, their house became our home for the next 2 days.  After catching our fish, Butch and Penny hosted our fresh fish dinner as long as we furnished the wine.  The redfish on the grill with Butch's recipe was incredible.  Although he cooked each of us a fillet, half way through mine I knew it was not going to be enough and weaseled my way into having him cook another whole fillet for me.  Truth be told I could have ate a third one but decided not to make a total pig of myself.  Here is a picture of Joe, Butch and Penny.........I left with an open invitation to visit them again.  I hope that it will be possible in the future.

Jim had to fly back to Dallas on Sunday morning so after dropping him off at the airport, Joe and I headed up the coast to Galveston, meeting up with his good friend's Dick and Horacene Daugird.  These two amazing people run the Lighthouse Charity Team, a charity dedicated to helping people in need and assisting in raising money for other charities through providing meals to raise funds.  Completely made up of volunteers and sponsors they have carved a valuable need for servicing those less fortunate.  Dick, Horacene, and their crew served over 3000 meals a day for a month, helping the victims if Hurricane Ike, which devestated Galveston in 2008.  Arriving at their Galveston home it was pretty incredible.  A sizable building sitting on the water front, it served as a base for charitable events in the area.  I was to meet Dick last summer while he was in Minnesota however the storms prevented us from getting together.  We sure made up for it in Texas.  After having a couple for beers Dick and Horacene gave us a tour of the town, checking out a friends $1,000,000 house before treating Joe and I to dinner at a waterfront restaurant.  Here is a picture of my new friends as we enjoyed our dinner.  It was clear that Dick enjoys smoke cooking as much as I do and has the equipment to prove it.  Our discussions lead to turkey brine's and I sent him a few packages of PS Seasonings Maple Cure to try out.  Somehow I think that it will become his favorite. 

Leaving Galveston Joe and I drove to the marina where he moors his 58 foot yacht.  Although he would probably disagree with me, where I come from 58 feet is a damn big boat.  Finishing the night at the "club" we met a few other amazing people before we hit the sack, ready to head to Dallas the next day.  The fishing was great but the people you meet makes these trips even more memorable.

Of course I did go fishing on Sunday.  Inviting my friend Mark Applen to head up for another batch of tullibee's, having never targeted these fish he readily agreed.  We picked up Lory and headed to Mille Lacs.  The ice season is winding down as the walleye fishing is now closed.  We still were able to drive out to the hot spot and by dark had 26 tullibees for Lory to pickle.  This will probably be our last trip to the pond before opener as the temperatures are scheduled to be in the 50's this week which causes the ice to expand and heave.  It's been a good season and maybe I'll try one last attempt to fish crappies on Pelican. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Texas Reds

My well planned fishing trip to Rockport,Texas was everything I had imagined and much much more.  Meeting my good friends Joe Stanfield and Jim Cox at the Corpus Christi airport on Friday afternoon, we located our hotel on the main drag and headed directly for Joe's friends Butch and Penny.  Resident's of Rockport, Butch was also going to join us on the trip Saturday.  Rockport Texas is a smaller city on the gulf coast, nestled behind the Inter-coastal Waterway, 3 hours south of Houston.   Here large saltwater marshes and barrier Islands create a haven for fish and wildlife, including alligators, migratory geese, white pelicans, and the endangered Whooping Cranes.  Aransas National Wildlife refuge is located in this area and the chance to see one of these magnificent birds was pretty good.  Waking up at 5:30 Saturday morning, a quick breakfast and we were off to pick up Butch.  Arriving at the house he had some bad news...............storms with severe hail were due to pass through the area and our captain had called delaying our trip till after the squall line passed, he figured about 11:00.  Killing time we had a chance to view Butch's beautiful house, located on a canal leading to the prime fishing grounds, talk about fishing strategy and envision how good those fish were going to taste this evening. 

Being a fishing guide also means that you have to know your weather, and our guide Dave was no exception.  Heading to our rendezvous point, it was 10:50 and the blue skies were within sight after enduring a pretty windy, rainy morning.  Our trip would be a first for me, first airboat ride, first redfish caught, first time fishing the gulf.  I can guarantee you it exceeded my expectations for all three.  The first order of business was loading up our gear into the 22 foot, flat bottomed boat powered by a huge V8 engine.  Putting out 545 hp, this aluminum blocked, fully blueprinted Cadillac engine drove 2 - 8 bladed propellers, each counter rotating for stability.  This machine rocked.  After securing our noise muffs, hats we took our place on the boat.  Being the one most excited about the trip and my past guiding experience, I got to ride up in the elevated cockpit of the boat, putting me about 7 feet above the surface of the water.  Our guide Dave idled out of the launch area before he hammered the throttle.  I know one thing, being up on the top, right in the main flow of air is a rush that's hard to explain.  It was still pretty windy from the morning's storm so we stayed close to the edges of the marsh, crossing over oyster beds, the Inter-coastal, up small islands, thru channels to our fishing grounds.  Dave would simply take the boat, run it up into the marsh grass, pointing the front end into the waters edge and shut it down.  We fished the channels that ran through the marshes, usually in water less than 2 feet deep.  It actually reminded me a lot of fishing Indian Slough back home with my buddy Kevin.  Our rigs were simple, a 3/4 oz egg sinker with a 2 foot leader, plain hook, and hunk of fish for bait.  Casting it out into the open water, it was identical to cat fishing, wait for the fish to grab the bait, let it run for 10 seconds or so before tightening the line and hammering the fish.  It didn't take long before Jim nailed his first, a beautiful 24 inch fish, one for the box.  Reds have slot limits in Texas with all fish under 20 inches released and you can keep one over 28 but you need to report it to the Fish and Game department, where you will get permission to catch another one.  Few do as the 22 - 26 inch fish are the best to eat.  Moving a couple of times, we had 3 in the box before heading to the honey hole, and honey it was.  Our limit was 12, and with 6 in the box, none caught by myself, the "feel sorry" factor started.  "Here Dave, reel this one in........BS, I catch my own fish!  Well 3 minutes later and I nailed the 26 incher you see in the first picture.  Once the ice was broken, I quickly established myself as a credible Red Fisherman, catching the largest of the day, one over 28 that had to be released.

We ended out the day with 12 nice redfish caught within a span of less than 2 hours.  We endured a once in a lifetime ride on an incredible machine, capable of skimming across anything that's wet, and got to see 2 Whooping Cranes on the way back.  Once at the dock we loaded the boat and watched the guide clean the fish with the efficiency of a seasoned pro.  There were the usual cast of pelicans, gulls, and terns to take advantage of the free meal they were about to experience.  Simply slabbing the fillets off the backbone, he removed the ribs and left the skin on.  Our plan was to have Butch cook them up for us that evening, using a few of his famous seasoning and barbecue grill.  We headed back to the hotel, cleaned up, and stopped at an oyster bar for a little appetizer of 2 dozen raw oysters before heading back over to Butch's.  His recipe was pretty simple... fajita seasoning, lay the fish directly on the grill skin side down, close the cover and cook for 20 minutes.  It was the final reward for what turned out to be a memorable trip for me.  Another item crossed of my bucket list!  There is too much to tell in one post so I will add another later in the week.  I am still in Fort Worth, heading back tonight with nothing left but a sunburn and memories.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Pickled Fish, a Labor of Love

Two weeks ago our trip to Mille Lacs was specifically to catch some tullibees for making pickled fish.  As stated earlier, the tullibee is a member of the whitefish family, an oily fish, makes an excellent imitation of real pickled herring.  I have had pickled sunfish, northern, suckers, yet these fish lack the specific texture of herring.  My dad was a big herring eater and when I was young the real good pickled herring was bought at Nelson's Grocery Store in downtown Eleva.  The store was an old fashioned small town store in a brick building with wood plank floors and a full service meat counter.  Back then everyone shopped the local store as it was more convenient to simply go downtown as opposed to driving to Eau Claire.  There was also a different attitude about supporting the local business man, the level of service was superior and there was little need for going to a grocery store for things other than groceries.  Gary Hillestad was the butcher behind the meat counter and would cut up a steak anyway you wanted.  Usually in the fall Nelson's would feature pickled herring.  It was always served bulk as it came in a large wooden pail made of vertical wood pieces held together with brass banding.  The herring chunks were mixed with whole pickling spices, onions, and were sold by the pound.  Herring was in the category of oysters and T-bone steak, a special treat and it was none fresher than from Nelson's.  After moving to Minnesota and meeting my friend Earl Taylor, he was a huge pickled herring fan.  Earl always had pickled herring and his favorite was from the Day Fish Company in Day, Minnesota.  Later in life we learned that the Day Herring was really supplied by Olsen's Fish Company in Minneapolis.  Olsen's makes a pretty good herring however I have fell in love with my new favorite brand, Brasel's Dang Good Pickled Herring.  The first picture is the real deal from Lory.

Per my post a couple of weeks ago, we caught 7 nice tullibees.  I cleaned the fish and Lory agreed to make the pickled fish.  Ending up with 6 pints, it took about 12 days and holy smokes!  The fish has the exact texture of the best pickled herring with a much better flavor, less fishy and very fresh.  With my taste buds in a whirl I suggested to Lory we head back up to the lake and see if we can get more for pickling.  Stopping to see Bill, we picked up a carton of waxies, a couple new secret baits, and the latest perception of where to fish.  Deciding on a mid lake hump coming up to 30 feet, we drilled our holes and set up the houses.  Saturday was pretty cold, never getting above zero, however the fish didn't seem to mind.   Dropping my first line into the hole, the bait never reached the bottom before a nice fish hit the lure dressed with waxies.  Tullibees really put up a great fight and I was amazed at the size of the fish that came through the hole.  What a great start.  The fish continued to bite throughout the day and within a couple of hours we each had our limit of 10 fish.  I drilled a hole for my underwater camera and the fish really put on a show.  Tullibees tend to bite light and often are just at the end of the line.  A slow oscillation of the rod tip  can can be critical to pick up this bite.  When seeing them hit the lure on the camera, it's fun to correlate what you see to what you feel.  Often there were up to 6 fish in the camera's view with fish appearing every few minutes.  It's also interesting to see the fish under the hole that the depth finder is looking down and see how the fish are represented.

With 20 tullibees and a few bonus perch we headed back early to start cleaning fish.  I like to use my brother Steve's method of filleting fish for the tullibee, slab off the sides by cutting down the backbone then remove the ribs and skin.  This is identical to how we clean our salmon in Alaska.  Not being very good at the secondary operation of cutting the rib bones out, my new Cabela's fillet knife has made me an expert.  Wasting little meat, we ended up with over 9 1/2 pounds of fillets for the next batch of pickled fish.  Lory and I make a great team.  I have shown him a new species of fish to target along with locations, and technique whereas he brings his ability to turn them into a bonafide delicacy.  They won't be done for another week or so but I can tell you it will be worth the wait! 

Friday I am off to Rockport Texas to fish reds and sea trout.   A couple of years ago I fished in Jacksonville, Florida and had high hopes on catching a red drum as this is one my list of fish I have not caught.   I love watching the weekend fishing shows, especially when they are going after reds as they look like an interesting fish.  We will be fishing out of a large air boat in the barrier marshes of the coastal regions of Texas.  Reports include the possibility of seeing an alligator or two.  My host Joe Stanfield has arranged to spend the evening with a friend of his and are planning on having fresh fish for supper (notice I said planning!).  The famous Blackened Redfish starts with this fish and heres hoping we are successful.   Look for my full report next week.