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. 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!!!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Riding with Brother Steve

Actually it's my real brother Steve, not my spiritual leader although sometimes he would beg to differ!  Ever since Steve bought my 600 Honda motorcycle we have been talking about getting together some day to ride together.  Talk is always cheap and after about a year we decided on last Saturday as our do it or forget it day.  Trailering my bike to Alma, WI I unloaded it with the next stop being his house in Onalaska.  The weather forecast had been on and off rain but it appeared as though there would be a window of good riding before dark.  Just as I passed the bait shop on the south side of town I decided to put on my rain gear just in case.  None too soon as the rain started a mile down the road and continued for the next 52 miles to his house.   The radar indicated the rain was heading east and I threw my jeans and socks in the dryer while we gave it an hour to move along.  Our original routes were pretty ambitious so we decided to stay within 60 miles of La Crosse, WI with our first leg taking us to Melrose.  The area in western Wisconsin is called the Driftless Area, an area untouched by the glaciers during the last ice age.  The main feature is the Mississippi River Valley yet many smaller valley's emanating from the numerous ridges are everywhere.  Often these valleys are called Coulee's or Dugway's, they are essentially areas where creeks and rivers follow old canyons eroded by ancient water forces.  The result are many roads that curve through the valleys and follow ridges connecting the small towns and villages 10 - 15 miles apart.  They are perfect for riding motorcycles, offering a great balance of curves and stunning scenery.  Our route took us through the Mindoro Cut, a very unique feature on Highway 108 out of Mindoro, WI.   As you can see from the top picture the road just squeezes through the cut which according to the plaque was constructed in 1907-08 and was all hand-hewn.  I found it interesting that it claims to be the second largest hand-hewn cut in the nation.  Whether this is true or not, one can only go by the sign.  I suspect that if no explosives were used, this might be an accurate statement. 

Heading down to Cashton, WI we stopped for a bite before noticing the rain was again approaching.  A quick check of the radar image on the phone suggested we could ride to Prairie du Chien, maybe spend an hour at Cabela's to wait it out so away we went.  The route took us along State Hwy 27 which followed the top of a long ridge for over 36 miles, right into our destination.  The ride was awesome as the valleys branched out of both sides of the ridge as we travelled the road.  Arriving in Prairie du Chien we check the radar again and it appeared as though nothing had changed.  Steve had failed to update it when we were in Cashton, a quick refresh and uffda!  It would appear as though the rain was going to be around for a while.  Donning our rainsuites we drove  the 60 miles back to La Crosse in a deluge.  One of my safety books insist that you ride in the rain on purpose to get a feel for it so when you have to ride on wet roads you know what to expect.  Not complacent, never the less I was surprised how well our bikes rode in the rain.  I really want to get back in that area again before the snow falls as there are hundreds of miles of roads to explore.

Monday was sort of a lazy day, a time to get caught up around the house.  My orchard is exploding with fruit, something for next weeks post.  I did slip away on the river with my neighbor Tom Olson.  His father had just passed away and it was a good time for us to spend some time together and discuss the situation.  Launching at the neighbors it was amazing how much the river level had fallen in the last 2 weeks, almost 3 feet.  The reduced water flow was evident as my jon boat and 15 hp motor hit a respectable 15 mph on our upstream journey.  This is a full 3 mph faster than just a few weeks ago.  Where you could go almost anywhere was replaced by watching the depth finder closely making sure we didn't run a ground, which I did!  Luckily I have a rock hopper on the skeg of my motor making it pretty bulletproof.  My favorite island was now a solid piece of land connected to the shore and it was evident why we caught fish were we did when the water was high.  While exploring an area the trolling motor caught the bottom and sheared the adjustment pins right off.  Although it continued to work it was a struggle to hold it in place while running the motor.  Overall it was another good trip.  We each caught about 5 smallmouth with most of them experiencing LDR (Long Distance Release) as well 4 northern pike and this nice walleye that Tom convinced to hit his lure.  I am really interested to learn more about the walleye haunts in the river however the time for the shallow water walleye bite on Mille Lacs is starting now.  It looks like Sunday might be time to try it out.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Back to Mille Lacs

With the promise of getting back fishing on Mille Lacs each week I finally got the opportunity to go on Sunday.  The guy that has been helping me the last month or so had a special request, one I could hardly turn down.  Lory's father-in-law, John Mindermann of New York Mills was coming by on Sunday and he asked me if I would take him fishing.  With the wind forecast for Mille Lacs being calm, it would be a perfect place to try lead line trolling as there has been a few fish going on this technique.  Mille Lacs Windcast is the site I go for the wind forecast as it is a great way to plan your trip, where to launch, and how uncomfortable you are going to be.  Having not been in the Ranger for at least 6 weeks I decided that she needed a good cleaning.  Just having completed my new HDS installs and the 2 month old fish slime still on the carpet I decided a trip to car wash was in line.  The nice thing about today's self serve car washes is the pressure generated is not as high as they once were, and is perfect for getting the carpets clean.  The problem is there is a lot of water left to drain out and it was still somewhat wet and fish smelling by the time we left.  Of course it is a boat!  After loading up on refreshments and launching the boat we headed to a deep gravel bar a few miles out.  With three in the boat the strategy was to run 2 lead line rods with #5 Shad Raps plus a side planer board with a #11 Tail Dancer 150 feet back from the board.  My bets were on the #5 Shad Raps doing all the hard work however that was not the case.  The first hit came off the planer board as the Tattle Tail flag was completely down.  Handing the pole to John he reeled in to the line attached planer board, I removed it and let him fight the fish.  At first he claimed it didn't feel like a fish but as the end got closer to the boat it was obvious this was not the case!  2 minutes later we landed a nice 23 inch walleye.   As we trolled around the gravel bar the HDS marked individual fish, schools of fish, large swarms of bait fish, fish here, fish there, fish everywhere.  Obviously the fish were there but not very hungry.  After 2 hours of trolling we moved to the next gravel bar 5 miles out.  Although we marked another mother load of fish the only fish we got was on the planer board again, this time a nice 25 inch walleye that we gave to John.   Here is a picture of John with that walleye.   We did get a keeper walleye on a lead lined Rouge as well when we pulled in our lines to move we had a couple of small perch that didn't even register as a hit.  Finishing the day we trolled Indian Point with Shad Raps and hooked a nice smallmouth for John to reel in.

Last night I went to the Minnesota State Fair with a few goals in mind.  I have a great and a not so great pear tree in my orchard but for the life of me, I forgot which tree was which.   I originally purchased a Parker Pear and a Patton Pear variety.  I grabbed my best and largest pear and brought it with with the plan to talk to the University Horticulture Department.  Well after being passed around everyone exclaimed it was a beautiful pear but didn't know the type.  Frustrated I went by the fruit judging area and voila, there were a few trays of pears that looked exactly like what I had in my hand, a Patton Pear.  That only took me 15 years to figure out!  Next was a visit to the John Deere display to discuss which snow blower attachment to buy.  Getting that out of the way it was back to the Horticultural building for a little Minnesota made wine.  Although Minnesota is not the best place in the world to grow wine grapes, the local vineyards do a pretty good job with the fruits that are available.  For $10 you can get a sample of 3 different types so we had a semi sweet raspberry, a local made dry red wine, and a lighter red similar to a Pinot Noir.   They were all pretty delicious, enough to buy a bottle or two next time I have the chance.  Next stop was the DNR building.  They have a huge outdoor cement pond full of fish from huge sturgeon, muskellunge, northern pike, buffalo fish, gar, trout, and almost every species found in Minnesota.  As a fisherman and amateur naturalist it was fun to stand next to people and hear them try to identify the different fish swimming by.  It's a fabulous display and I could stand there for hours if time allotted.  Taking a tour through the main building I ran across a young intern manning evasive species booth.  This is a pet peeve of mine and although I understand at the high level the laws, I liken driving away from the boat landing with my drain plug still in and getting a ticket is like giving me a speeding ticket before I even get in the car.  Although I have never got a ticket for any of this I like to argue on principle.   While there I had my friend Tom take a special picture for my friend Dewey Ness.  He loves these kinds of pictures so me looking like a Forest Ranger was the perfect gift for him!  Labor Day weekend is here and I have a motorcycle trip planned with my brother with the potential of getting out on the water on Monday, either the River or Mille Lacs again.  Fall is in the air as the Sunday night forecast is supposed to be in the low 40's.