Thursday, January 26, 2012

Heave Ho

Last weeks sub zero weather was just what the doctor ordered to heal up those open area's on Mille Lacs, some that were over 1/2 mile wide.  With the new ice pushing 8 inches, although not safe enough for cars and trucks, an ATV would be the perfect mode of transportation for our Sunday excursion to the lake.  With little snow on the ice it was critical to put the chains on the rear wheels which really stabilizes the ATV when traveling over clear ice.  Loading up my tow behind portable in the back of the truck, we put the ATV in my ramp trailer, Lory and I headed up US Highway 169.  With every aspect of that road memorized as I am exactly 68 miles from Bill's bait shop, 1 hour and 10 minutes if I hit the stop lights in Elk River just right.  With the conditions stabilizing we figured Bill would have the latest hot spot for us to try.  My friend Mark Applen had called as we drove up telling of a nice limit of jumbo perch he had gotten yesterday on the east side.  My original plan was to fish one of the deep offshore gravel bars, one that has been very productive at first ice.  Being almost February its far from first ice yet ice conditions have resulted in little fishing pressure on anything out further than 2 miles.  Well Bill had bad news, the ice has healed nicely however the rising temperatures have caused the ice to expand and heave, causing a major obstacle for getting out very far.  The crack extended from the southwest end of the lake following the shore for 5 miles before cutting across Indian Point then dipping into the bay between there and Sherman's Point.  Bill suggested that some houses are now stuck on the lake side of the crack and bridges were already being dragged out to provide a safe crossing.  We decided to try an area I call Roland's Flat, just NW of Indian Point.  Mark and I fished there the previous week and had some action.  The backup plan was to fish the deeper rock humps south of Sherman's however in both cases this heave pictured stopped us in our tracks.  This heave line was about a mile out from the landing and if you look closely at the middle you can see it extends as far as you could see.  The high point shown is over 5 feet and the darker areas at the base is water that has flowed through the crack onto the ice.  The previous week this was open water.  With the ice at 8 inches it didn't pay to try and find away around so we fished the south edge of the flat with the top being right about where the water starts.  Not the ideal spot on the flat but we really had no choice.   

The plan had changed but we were in a fairly good area, there were few people around us and no one venturing close to the heave which marked the top edge of the flat at 15 feet.  Like most flats the edge is a fairly steep drop and within 30 feet was the bottom edge at 22 feet.  My GPS showed a slight inside curve which usually indicates a prime spot.  The nice thing about this flat is that the top is covered with weeds and provides excellent cover for perch and walleyes.  Unfortunately the fish did not share my enthusiasm for this great spot!  Being rather pleasant out hole hopping wasn't much of an issue.  Lory did find a hole that did have a fish in it as shown here, a fat and plump 25 inch walleye that went back down the hole.  10 minutes later he had a smaller fish on, surely a  keeper but it got off just as he brought it to the hole.  A couple more hits and that was about it, the flurry lasting a whole 30 minutes.  As for me.........well someone has to assure his friends catch fish, take the pictures, make sure they are on safe ice, and have a nice ride back to the truck, yep that's me!  I missed one fish and that's all she wrote.  Oh well, still nice to get out.  Lory was using a plain jig head and minnow while my bait of choice was a Jigging Rapala.  Admittedly the Jigging Rap is a more aggressive bait and the jig with minnow is a more finesse presentation.  Obviously the fish wanted finesse rather than attack a faster moving lure what few there were of them.   The weather this week is back in the mid 30's to 40 and it should be interesting to see the new developments.  The websites are telling of marked roads to the middle of the lake for snowmobile and ATV traffic only.  This might be the weekend I can get out to some of those past productive offshore areas as I have not had a good report since my Lake of the Woods trip.  Maybe it's time to start planning another trip to the border.

The warm weather is tugging at my soft water ambitions.  I am starting to reconfigure some of the things on my boat for more convenience.  With March a month away and no significant snow anywhere in the Mississippi River drainage area, it could be an early start for the Ranger this year.  With ice fishing going the way it has, maybe it's a good thing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Back To Reality

Last weekend was spent repainting my family room.  It was about time as it's been the same color for 19 years and provided the incentive to look at replacing the carpet as well.  This and the fact that my Green Bay Packers were playing on Sunday afternoon gave me cause to finish up a few things around the house and relax during the game.  I can report that the room turned out great and is ready for a new carpet.  I cannot say that the game on Sunday turned out as well.  Although my beloved Packers finished the season at 15-1, they looked like a team that hadn't played in a few weeks.  Between the miss tackles and passes it was almost embarrassing.  Oh well, the good news is that it will free up the next 2 Sunday's to hit the ice hard.  With the below zero temperatures of this week it will be makin' ice like crazy.  I am really looking forward to those open water areas on Mille Lacs to heal up so we can fish the deeper offshore areas.  The fishing reports have been spotty with some guys doing well while others struggling.  Of course a number of my friends have been getting out and the first picture is of my deer hunting partner, Jack Taylor.  Jack has a cabin on Platte Lake, just west of Mille Lacs, a shallow lake full of small northerns, and occasional walleye, and some really nice crappies.  Here Jack is posing with a couple of crappies over 11 inches that he caught a few weeks ago.    Platte Lake is shallow enough to be in danger of freezing out every few years so the lake association has put in a few aerators when the oxygen levels get low.  Nice crappies like this are the result of successfully preventing the lake from having depleted oxygen levels when the snow blocks the light to the natural weed growth.  With the total lack of snow this year, they might not even need to install the aerators this year.

This next picture is my friend Pete, back from Alaska for a month.  Pete is good friends with Dave Genz of ice fishing fame and they wasted no time getting in some great ice fishing before Pete heads back to Fairbanks to start work this week.  Having drove to Alaska last March, he got assigned to the oil fields in Prudhoe Bay where it is now dark 24 hours a day.   Working 6 weeks on and 2 weeks off, there is little time to spend money and his intent is to work another year then come back and retire.  He is the master of the Mississippi River and I look forward to fishing with him in the future.  Here Pete is holding 2 bull bluegills that measure right at 11 inches.  Those are huge bluegills for anywhere in the country.  Of course fishing with Dave doesn't hurt as he is one of the best pan-fisherman on ice around and has all those great secret spots to nail fish like this.  Dave also has the latest and greatest equipment as he is sponsored by Vexilar, Clam Corp, Strikemaster, and a number of other ice fishing specialty companies.   Pete is driving back via the Alaskan Highway and I wish him safe travels, he'll need it this time of year.
The warm weather has made this years ice fishing season some what odd as I am already seeing some stores start closing out their inventory in preparation for open water fishing.  This will take a month or so but the change is happening.  The warm weather has given me an opportunity to work on my boat, cleaning up a few of the wiring items, and rethink how my electronics are mounted.   Certainly it's better than staring at my snowmobiles that just sit there and complain of no snow.  We are truly in a drought as there has been no significant rain or snowfall since August, almost 6 months now.  I knew when I bought that new snow blower we'd skip a year of snow.  You are welcome!  As stated, the Pack is out, Mille Lacs is in and I will make sure I have a ready camera next time.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Technical Difficulties

One of the things I like about technology is the amazing amount of it out there for everyone to use.  For me, I really like digital camera's and try to keep one available where ever I go.  My go to point and shoot camera is a Canon S95, a very feature loaded device that is very fast for a camera that fits in the palm of your hand.  Fast is a term used to describe how wide the aperture can get to let as much light in as possible.  For the S95 that reference is f2.0.  What this really means is that it will shoot excellent pictures in low light conditions, most represented on my blog by the beautiful sunset pictures I have posted.   After being frustrated by "forgetting my camera", I bought a cheap Nikon refurbished point and shoot digital to simple always keep in the boat or car.  Well, that camera is not very good, probably worth what I paid.  It has served me OK in a pinch but had a tendency to overexpose light areas and over saturate the colors.  At first ice I told the story of laying down on the ice to take a picture only to see the camera didn't work.  Well, I sent it in under warranty and they will fix it but it's now been over a month.  In the meantime I am more frustrated with my Nikon than ever as you see last weeks picture of Mark makes him look like he has a neon shirt on!  I decided to order a new Canon 300 ELPH300HS to replace the Nikon, received it last week and took it fishing with me last Saturday.   Meeting Mark on the ice, we fished an inshore structure called Roland's Flat.  Unfortunately there was open water on the far side of the flat so we were confined to the west end.  Still, there is a nice drop.  Having my new camera ready for it's inaugural debut I took a couple of pictures of the nearby open water (January 7, open water on Mille Lacs yet?!?!?) which looked interesting.  I noticed 3 beeps after each picture, checked it out and the message on the screen said "no card".  Just my luck, new digital camera and no memory card.  Oh well.  Towards evening Mark asked me to hit the hole he was in as there was a fish down there and wasn't biting on his lure.  I dropped my neon perch colored #5 jigging rap and within seconds a nice walleye had fully inhaled it.  Pulling the transducer first I landed the fish, a respectable 24 inch fish beautiful in color, fat and sassy.  Again without a camera I turned to Mark to take one with his phone...too dark.  I fumbled for my phone however my ice armor has way too many pockets and couldn't hold the fish and dig so I simply let the fish go without an ounce of proof.  Really, it was a nice fish.  This was the only fish I caught but it was still nice to get out and check out my new XTR ice grippers.  Pretty nice.  So, my first picture is of Keith Holtan and his fish from his Lake of the Woods last week.  Instead of writing my blog last night both Lory and I went to the St. Paul Sportsman Show to meet Keith and his wife Jane, along with their friend and my cousin Greg's friend Al.  We ended the night at The Liffy, across the street from the Excel Center were we enjoyed a few Guinness's together.  I got some interesting stuff at the show, a new motor trailering support for my 115 Suzuki, a couple of interesting jigs, and a BoomB(())X, a device that can be powered off of a standard USB port and audio output jack found on a laptop.  It literally turns any box, Styrofoam minnow bucket, cup, into a speaker.  It's pretty cool!

So my next picture is of my cousin Greg's son-in-law, Joe Thomas.  Joe plays for the Cleveland Browns and is the top Offensive Left Tackle in the business today.  Personally I think he would look a lot better in a Green Bay Packer uniform, but I suppose it would not leave him much time to ice fish this time of the year.  I am sure he'd rather be practicing but that's a different story.  If the speculation is true Aaron Rodgers back up, Matt Flynn is a free agent this year and with his spectacular performance 2 weeks ago, might look good in a Cleveland uniform.  It would be nice to see him get a Super Bowl ring.  Joe caught this  nice musky last weekend at Greg's lake, east of Chetek, Wisconsin.  I haven't received the details of the fish but everything points to at least a 45 inch length and I suppose around 25 pounds, maybe Greg will comment.  Having just hoisted a 51 inch sturgeon through the ice, I understand the excitement a fish like this brings.  Funny, I never seem to catch anything like this when I fish Greg's lake!  Either way that fish makes Joe look small, something I know he isn't.

The middle picture is the latest from the satellite on January 10th.  As you see there is still a lot of open water around Mille Lacs yet.  With the below zero temperatures of the last couple of nights, here's hoping it will get somewhat back to normal soon.  It might be hard to get out this weekend as I have a room in the house tore apart and am painting.  It wouldn't be so bad however we haven't had much luck matching colors.  Maybe a run to Pelican Lake will be in order, and of course the Packers play on Sunday afternoon, that will be a must watch!!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wonders of the WigWam

Well, enough complaining already!  I am sure that you will all check out my first picture and rightfully so, what a story.  As I wrote in last weeks post, a last minute scramble solidified Mark and my decision to fish at the Wigwam Resort.  Our plan was to pull his wheelhouse to Lake of the Woods and us it as our sleeping quarters staying at the Wigwam. On my way to his location, The Fisherman's Wharf,  Mark called and suggested we see if there had been any cancellations at the resort or in Baudette.  Agreeing that pulling the wheelhouse would be an extra burden, Mark found a room at the Walleye Inn, a motel in town.  Although 15 miles from the resort, it would free us from the hassle of reduced mileage, setup and tear down.   Picking Mark up at 11:30 AM we were enjoying a beer with Wigwam's owner Tom by 3:30.  Although staying in town also had it's issues, it made our arrangements less complicated.  Our schedule was to pick up a ride to a large, heated ice house we rented from the resort at 7:30 Thursday morning.  Showing up at 6:00 we had a nice breakfast then got in line.  The ice was 14 inches thick and the resorts were only allowing light vehicles like ATV's or the proverbial 4 wheel drive, fully chained Geo Trackers pulling a dual axle people hauler.   The ice would support heavier trucks but the volume of traffic would have severely cracked the ice causing bigger issues.  So 6 of us loaded into the dark trailer and headed out 3 miles as though we were on a secret mission, hidden from any knowledge of our route.  Dropped off at house Number 35, the holes were drilled, our bait was transferred and we were set.    The fish limit consists of 8 in possession which only 4 could be walleyes or all 8 being saugers.  A nice sauger is 15 inches and we started catching them right away.  At the rate they were biting we were concerned about keeping too many fish too fast so we let a lot of nice fish go all about the time the bite slowed down.  At 2:00 the walleye bite turned hot and I caught 4 nice 17 - 18 inch fish, perfect keepers.  The nicer saugers were more difficult to get and after talking to a friend the suggestion of having the resort fry up your fish sounded pretty dang good.   We managed to get 5 more saugers, enough for dinner at the lodge.  Between my 4 walleyes and our ride back Mark caught this beautiful 24.5" walleye.  Like the walleye from last week's post, this thing was a pig as I estimated it was over 6 pounds.  Most walleyes this size will weigh in at around 4.5 pounds.   Day one was pretty exciting, the bite was great, we ended up with 9 fish in the bucket, a nice trophy walleye and enough fish for supper.  I will admit the the resort did a great job deep frying the fish and with a side of beans and a salad it doesn't get any better.

Friday morning brought us on the first flight of fisherman on the lake.  This time we got house Number 36, about 50 yards north of yesterday's house.  The same game, we started fishing by 7:30 and immediately started catching saugers.  Our strategy was a little different this day, keep the nicer fish right away as we needed 12 to fill our limit.  About 9:30 Mark decided to put a whole minnow on his lure, dropped it to 26 feet when a huge red mark on the depth finder came up to meet his lure.  One gulp and the fish was hooked.  Not understanding what exactly Mark had at the end of the line, it was obviously a large fish.  The first thing Mark asked if I would remove his 2nd line and the depth finder from the hole he was fishing in.   This was a good move, something I soon discovered would have been a good idea if I would have done the same.  Almost immediately the fish came up to the top.  Because the water is stained, it's visibility is about 3 feet.  At about the 5 minute mark I caught a quick glimpse of the bottom part of the tail and announce to Mark that the 10# walleye on his bucket list was at the end of his line.   The fish went back to the bottom and essentially had it's way with everything including my 2 lines that were still down.   As I watched Mark trying to reel in the fish with his 3 foot St. Croix Ice rod and reel loaded with 6# Crystal Fireline the drag keep going.  At one point I began to doubt whether Mark knew what he was doing as he reeled against a drag that was clicking as though the pressure nut was loose.  Little did I understand as this was starting to get ridiculous, I wanted to get back fishing!  10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, almost 40 minutes had pasted before the tangled mess of my line appeared above the hole.  Carefully cutting the lines, I freed Mark's line of the tangles, just in time to see this monster fish swim past the hole.  Sturgeon!!!  Another 5 minutes Mark had it's head in the hole as I grabbed it and pulled and pulled and pulled it through.  51 inches and an estimated 50+ pounds, Mark had successfully landed the biggest fish of his life.  It was pretty amazing as I got to witness the capture of this beautiful prehistoric beast.  Although not on his bucket list it quickly was added and immediately crossed off!  As for me, here is a picture of my super sized tullibee, proof I actually can catch fish as well.  And Mark,  it took all of my posturing to get him to head up with me and it turned out to be one of those lifetime memories for both of us.  By 7:00 we were heading south, a take out container of our fillets deep fried for the way home, and somewhat exhausted.  We are already talking about next year.

As a parting note I was really impressed with our time at the Wigwam Resort.  We were treated like as though we had been coming up for years.  It probably helped to drop my friend Keith Holtan's name as he grew up with the owner, but something tells me that was just a bonus.  Both Mark and I will definitely be back.   You can check out their weekly fishing video at IDO Lake of the Woods Fishing Forum as it's pretty good.  Make sure to have them fry your fish at night, it's great and only costs $5.00.  Fishing was reasonable at $100 per person you got a ride out to a huge heated house, bait for the day (rods, reels, and lures if you need), a ride back at night, and your fish cleaned, packed and frozen.  Quite a deal if you ask me.  Mille Lacs is still exhibiting issues but the south side seems stable.  The weather is still warmer than normal and there was no snow between Minneapolis and the Canadian Border, very unusual.  It's only a matter of time before the big freeze moves in.  Jeff King made it to Mexico and next week is our time to spend with Keith at the St. Paul Sportsman show sharing a Guinness at the Liffy.  Fishing should definitely get back to normal this weekend, whatever that is.