Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Hot Bite Continues!

A month ago my good friend Bill Lundeen asked me if I could help him out with his annual corporate event taking a number of individuals fishing for a couple days.  I thought about for a week or two and decided that nothing was more important than helping a friend out.  Bill has trusted me with his clients many times and I had helped him with this same group a few years back, how could I say no.  Knowing how to put guys on fish and being versatile whether bobbering, pulling crawlers, or lead lining, it was important that these guys had a great time and this year the catching wasn't going to be too hard.  Not being able to sleep very well the night before, I got up at 5:00 and headed north nto Lundeen's.   There I met my counter part who would be in his boat, Mike Meleen.  Mike is an icon in the Onamia area and probably as good a bobber fisherman as there is.  The trip would be worth simply working with him and learning a few tricks from the master.  Our first task was to get up to the landing just north of the Casino and be ready for our group.  Arriving around 9:00 we had our group assembled.  Brett, his daughter Tara, and Gordy would go with Mike while Jim and Bill would fish with me.  Mike has a nice 20 foot center console Lund with a 115hp Johnson 4 stroke (made by Suzuki) and can fish 4 pretty comfortably.  My Ranger fishes 3 guys comfortably so it was a perfect group.   While I headed straight for Sherman's flat, Mike checked out the deep rock areas.  With 3 in the boat we brought out the crawler rigs on a 3 way setup.  Running 1 ounce sinkers, it allows you to keep the tangles to a minimum and the crawler up off the bottom.  Within the fist hour we had 5 fish netted including this nice one Jim got.  Truth be told Jim caught most of the fish as Bill and I fish Mille Lacs quite a bit so it was fun to make him work a little!  We did some lead line
trolling and did get a few more walleyes before Jim had to get back to the landing as he was heading out.   In the meantime Mike had his group at the Blue Goose for lunch so Bill and I made a beeline for Garrison.  They were nice enough to wait for us as we got time to chow down before heading back out.  I don't fish the north end much so my strategy was to simply see where Mike was going.  A stop at Myr Mar Flat proved quite productive.  By the end of the day we had landed 21 walleyes in my boat and 26 in Mike's boat, not a bad day at all.  Here is Bill with a nice 27+ walleye that he caught in the afternoon.  Between our boats we ended up with 5 keeper walleyes and a very nice perch, something that has not been common in the last few years.

It was after 7:30 by the time we got back to Bill's, Mike took the fish home and cleaned them while I jumped in the shower to cool off.  Bill's wife Kathy had a quick supper ready, I ate, had a glass of wine and I was out like a light.  The next morning we had to be at Izaty's dock at 8:30 to meet whomever wanted to fish.   Mike got the jump on me as he was going to check out a few areas that were rumored to hold fish.  In the meantime I stopped at the gas station and filled my boat, unloaded at Cove and got 2 miles from the landing when I remembered that the leeches were still in the cooler.  Back to the landing, retrieving the bait, I pulled into the dock at 8:30 sharp.  We had the same group less Jim so I took Bill and the others stayed with Mike.  I am not much for fishing the south end this time of year however Mike is the expert.  We followed the Lund for an hour but we both struck out.  Mike headed to another deep rock pile while Bill and I went to Sloppy Joe's and lead lined again as Bill had to leave by 11:00.  We caught 1 walleye before bringing Bill back in, he left as I waited for the next group Tom and his son Jack.  After being treated to lunch at Izaty's my suggestion was we run the 10 miles back to Sherman's where I knew the fish were.  Tom and Jack were up for a boat ride so we headed north.  A quick stop at 7 Mile produced 1 fish before we went to Sherman's.  Immediately we noticed nets out as the tip was over crowded with boats.  Heading down the edge we started marking and catching walleyes on the 3 way crawler rigs.  3 hours later we had 16 fish netted with Jack doing the majority of the work.  Here Jack is with the largest of the day, 27.25 inches.  I had to laugh as we were moving down the edge, Jack's rod was in the rod holder and it was bent in half.  I yelled, Jack...Fish!  As Jack grabbed the rod his dad reminded him that he has to pay more attention to what is going on.  After netting the fish and re-baiting, we headed back down the edge passing another boat.  Almost on cue the guy in the other boat yelled that our rod was bent over.........Tom's rod.  Jack and I had a pretty good laugh as apparently it can happen to anyone.  In the meantime Mike was struggling to find fish so I suggested he come over by us and anchor.  Not one to horn in on a spot I assured Mike we would work around him.  Mike anchored up the edge where we had marked a ton of fish and literally put on a bobber fishing seminar.  Within 90 minutes they had caught over 24 walleyes on one spot.  Uffda!!!  Brett's daughter Tara did most of the work in his boat proving the younger generation can hold their own against us old guys.  When we finally stopped at 6:00 both Mike and I had netted over 92 walleyes for the two days we fished with 6 keeper walleyes for the crew.  I had a great time, made some new friends, and got one heck of a tan.  I look forward to the possibility of fishing with this group in the future.  As far as Mike, I turned him on to my Tru Turn Hook crawler rigs and gave him a handful of hooks while he shared his secret bobber jig and gave me a handful.  It was nice to be able to learn something and share something.

The recent rains up north have risen the river back to it's high point, 4 feet above the level of the previous Sunday.  It will be a few weeks before it returns to some manageable flow.   This weekend may see me back at Mille Lacs to fish with my friend Mark Applen who is staying up at his ice house.  The way things are going, I can see the bite going for the next 3 weeks or so.  Maybe I'll call my brother Steve.  Six weeks from now we will be heading to Alaska, something I am really looking forward too.  The raspberries and blueberries are ripening in the garden and the warm weather has really jump started the corn.  It's going to be a busy summer for sure.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Close to Home

This week featured a full day on Friday working at the ENA Memorial Golf Tournament (more on that later), cleaning up around the house on Saturday, and taking the Ol' River Runner out for her 2012 maiden run on Sunday.  I'll start from Sunday and work backwards.  After the heavy rains from a few weeks ago the Mississippi River level has finally receded enough to make it feasible to fish for smallies and whatever else could be biting.  My hectic schedule put me in lazy mode and after discussing with my neighbor Tom, should we go to Mille Lacs or the River, the weather man decided for us.  With rain in the forecast we stayed close to home, hitched up the jon boat and launched at my neighbors landing.  On Saturday I finally got the boat cleaned out and bought it outside to see if she would run.  A little stubborn, the motor finally came to life after about 10 pulls on the recoil, then purred like a kitten.  Once on the river our strategy was to motor 5 miles up the river then drift down, casting the shorelines.  The water level was still 2 - 3 feet higher than normal and somewhat dirty.  With the current running around 2.5 mph, the top speed going up river was a gut wrenching 12.3mph.   25 minutes later we arrived at our starting point just as the clouds opened up, just my luck as I left my rain suit back in the pole shed.  Thankfully it was a nice warm summer rain and actually felt pretty good!  Because of the poor river clarity we decided to cast medium running Bomber A's in a hot fire tiger as well as a bright orange crawfish pattern.  Figuring the fish would hold tight to the bottom and needed some sound to help them locate the bait, the Bomber's have proved to be our number 1 crank bait on the river.  Within 10 minutes Tom hooked a young smallmouth bass, then nailed a nice one.  I had a nice catfish hit my orange Bomber hard enough to break a hook off the back treble.  I decided to change to the same green fire tiger pattern and within 10 minutes this nice 3 pound smallmouth plowed into my lure.  As we continued to drift the river a  few more smallies were caught, 2 very small northern pike (8-12 inches), and Tom had this nice 5 pound catfish hit his lure like a freight train.  I am always amazed at the tenacity these channel cats will hit a standard crank bait as the standard mode of catching them are more related to stink baits and bottom fishing.  Catfish are actually good to eat however the ones out of the river are pretty fat and tend to be mushy.  Maybe I am cooking them wrong!  My brother Steve is a great catfish connoisseur and maybe I need to get a recipe from him.  It was a successful couple of hours on the river and now that the area has been dumped on again, I see the river reports predicting the water levels may go back up another 3 - 4 feet.  It could be another couple of weeks before the levels get back to normal assuming we don't have a lot of rain in the forecast.  Fishing the river is a lot of fun as you never know what you'll catch, which keeps it interesting.

Friday was our 10th annual ENA Memorial Golf Tournament.   Each year we raise money through the golf tournament which is used to assist families who have children battling cancer.  We do not fund research, we have zero administrative costs as 100% of the money goes to helping these families cope.  It may be helping to fix a car, providing critical transportation that the family cannot afford, anything to help them deal with the day to day struggles of dealing with cancer.  Most of our funds are administered through the Fairview Foundation, an organization based with the Fairview Health Services, including the new Amplatz Children's Hospital located at the Fairview Riverside location in Minneapolis.  Our goal was to break the $250,000 amount raised with the 2012 event and by all indications we blew by that number.  It is a very rewarding experience, one that I hope to continue and see us break the $500,000 goal.  The above picture is our team of dedicated individuals with Mark and Jan Applen in the middle.  Great job!

Friday and Saturday I will be helping my friend Bill Lundeen entertain a corporate event by trying to catch some walleyes for his clients.  The bite is still on and hopefully it won't be too windy to make things uncomfortable.  I should have more pictures and stories next week. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wind and Walleyes

Sunday's forecast for Mille Lacs was steady winds at 20 mph with gusts over 30, severe storms developing in the late afternoon.  Assuming the weatherman was right, my neighbor Blair Wolfram, his friend Kevin Keehn from Chicago, and I left for the lake at 6:00 in the morning.  Blair did me a big favor a few weeks ago by taking an old shed of mine, but as I stated in an earlier post that's another story.  During the move he wanted to know if I would be willing to hire out as a guide and take them to Mille Lacs sometime as Kevin was interested in catching a few walleyes.  With the bite being what it is I predicted a successful trip, a prediction that wasn't too hard to make.  The crawler bite has been on fire and with little rain, the garden has not produced much in the way of bait.  A stop at Lundeen's to load up, 6 dozen crawlers plus what I had of my own would hopefully be enough.  Driving up the south side of the lake on Hwy 169 Blair commented on how calm the water seemed.  With the wind blowing straight out of the south I assured them that the current perception will change quickly!  The landing surprisingly had parking spaces left, a sure sign that the wind blew some of the fisherman away.  Once launched our first stop was an inshore deep rock pile off of Sherman's Point to see if there were any fish hanging around.  The HDS10 sonar unit really marks fish well and I have gotten to the point of only fishing structure where I see fish.  With nothing showing up on the graph and a tip that 7 Mile Flat was hot, we headed east.  Once out of the bay the wind showed it tenacity to create rollers and whitecaps.  When the wind gets blowing hard it can be difficult as the splash from the boat cutting the water often gets blown right into the boat and into my face.  The goal of driving 4 miles out to 7 Mile was quickly changed to looking at Sherman's Flat first.  Arriving at the edge we slowed down and scanned the structure.  There were about 10 boats working the area, some drifting across the top of the flat while a few were working the edge.  Those on the edge were catching fish as we saw at least 3 fish landed before we even got our lines in the water.  With the waves peaking around 3-4  feet I decided to tie on 3 way rigs using a 2 foot dropper line/1 ounce bell sinker and my hand tied 8 foot crawler rigs featuring Tru-Turn hooks for a more positive hook set.  The heavier weights would keep the lines closer to the boat to avoid tangles as well as keeping the bait in the strike zone more consistently.  The Tru-Turn hooks for the most part do not require one to give the fish much line once a bite is felt and if you simply put the rod in the rod holder 9 out of 10 times a fish will hook itself.  The real advantage is that almost all of the hooks are in the upper jaw area causing little damage giving the fish an excellent chance for release survival.  Once a fish swallows a hook all bets are off.  We immediately started catching walleyes as the graph showed them stacked right on the edge and if you marked fish you caught fish.  By 2:00 we had 21 fish on the counter with at least another 10 that had got loose half way to the boat.  The top picture is Kevin with a nice walleye and the next is Blair with a dandy 27 incher.  It was interesting to see all of the blood suckers on the fish as the walleye Blair is holding as it has quite a few attached to the bottom jaw area.

With the bite slowing somewhat we headed to 7 Mile Flat checking out what was happening there.  It was a wet ride for me, thank God the temperature was in the 80's!  As we did on Sherman's, I found the east edge of the flat and using my trolling motor, we could easily stay in the sweet spot while the wind blew us up the flat.  As with Sherman's we immediately started marking fish on the edge.  An hour later we had another 12 fish landed including a triple on the first pass.  There was only 1 other boat on the Flat, a testimony to how rough it was.  As predicted my Sirius Weather module started beeping, warning us of the pending weather warnings issued for the area.  My HDS will overlay the radar signals onto the GPS portion of my readout making it easy to track what the storm was doing and although it was still in the distance, it didn't look good.  Deciding to get closer to the landing we went back to Sherman's Flat and caught another 3 fish before heading in.  My largest for the day was this 27 inch fish.  Our total for the day was 36 fish netted, 5 slot fish for the frying pan, and another 12 - 15 fish hooked but not landed.  Other than Blair having to readjust his concentration on the horizon, we had a great time with most of the fish measuring between the 21 - 27 inch range.  We never gut hooked one fish which might explain why we lost a number of them but who's complaining.  Looking at the time we got on the lake, time not fishing, and total fish hooked, we were getting a fish every 8 minutes.  It sure kept me busy.  I know that Blair and Kevin had a great time as fishing doesn't get a whole lot better than this!  We ended the day with a stop at a local watering hole for a burger and a cold beer before heading home.  All I know is that it took at least and hour before I got rid of my sea legs. 

This Friday is the ENA Memorial Golf Tournament which I am the official photographer.  Besides helping to raise money and take pictures, it give me a chance to do something nice for a very worthy cause.  Rain is predicted for Saturday so I am hoping to get back to the lake on Sunday.  Next weekend I have committed to help my friend Bill as a guide for a big corporate event he hosts each year.  I have done this in the past and it can be rewarding to help someone who's never caught a walleye land a trophy.  If the bite continues as it has, it shouldn't be too difficult.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Feed Bag is On!!!

Despite last weeks sad turn of events, getting out on the boat can help wash all ones sorrow away.  Having a few sorrows to wash, the hot Mille Lacs bite has been nothing more than phenomenal and I have been taking advantage of everything she offers.   My first real trip was actually on Sunday, May 27th.  Although my friend Tom Emmons would more than likely disagree, he did take priority over what turned out to be a pretty good fishing trip.  This trip included Lory Brasel bringing his 18 foot Lund to fish with Tom McAtee, and I showing the newbie to walleye fishing, Welly Chou, the finer points of the Mille Lacs post spawn bite.  After stopping for bait at Lundeen's, Lory got the jump on heading to the landing on the west side by 10 minutes.  The wind was brisk from the east and my concerns about the rough water were confirmed as the lake came into view, 3 foot rollers hitting the shore.  As we passed the Conoco/Subway we spied Lory's truck parked, probably loading up for lunch.  A quick call confirmed my suspicions, it would be a lot easier and comfortable if we turned around and launched on the east side.  Although about 20 more miles, it was a smart move for sure.  Launching at the new Liberty Beach Landing, the ramp was full as we had to park the truck on the main highway.  There were 3 tournaments being held in the coming week (more on that) and with the bite strong, every landing was overflowing.  Finally getting on the water we headed to the first structure 2 miles out.  The east side of Mille Lacs has a ton of unnamed humps that come up from 35 feet to 20 - 24 feet, some are rather large and some are very small.  After drifting over a few times we fired up the Suzuki and headed a mile south to a small unoccupied structure topping at 22 feet.  We drifted across and the Lowrance lit up with fish hanging a foot or two off the bottom.  Usually this means the fish are active and it prompted me to try out the anchor function on my Minn Kota Terrova I-pilot.  Wow, what a fantastic feature for bobber fishing walleyes!  The anchor in the boat just became 99% obsolete.  With the bow into the wind the trolling motor kept us exactly in position above the fish with little sway.   Rigging up Welly line and casting it out he watched as this was a new experience for him.  As the bobber hit the stop on the line, set at 20 feet, it just kept on going.  I was wondering where his bobber went when we realized it was down.  Now bobber fishing has a technique all it's own as you really need to tighten the line before you set the hook.  With the fish moving and you stationary, this can be difficult to teach the right touch.  With that, Welly missed the first bite, the second bite, and the third bite before asking me to set the hook on the fourth hit.  Refusing, he finally got a nice 16 inch keeper.  While the Terrova held us in place a large thick mark appeared on the screen of my HDS 10.  Quickly reeling in my rig and letting it back down right next to the boat, the leech and sinker came into view as the fish swam up to meet it at 18 feet.  Back down it went and as the bobber hit the water it just kept on going.  A quick flick of the wrist and the above picture is what ended up in the net, a really nice 27.25 inch walleye.  Not bad.  The 4 of us ended up with 8 keeper walleyes, enough for each to enjoy a nice fish fry.

Last weekend was tournament time as Mark Applen and I fished the Minnesota Tournament Trail event on Mille Lacs, Sunday June 2nd.  We have fished this tournament for the last 2 years with the highlight being our rookie year where we took 3rd place, winning $1046 for the ENA Charity Fund.   Last year we gambled and may have placed 6th, in the money but our strategy pushed us to 16th place.  This year we ended up a respectable 69th out of 83 teams.....not very good!  Although the fish were biting like crazy we decided to stay close to our east side hot spots and caught a bunch of 21 - 25 inch fish yet no slot fish under 17 inches and no lunkers over 28 inches.  The primary issue was the early spring have moved the fish into deeper water, into their summer peak locations.  Our traditional hot spot of 2 years running was basically void of fish.  I was pretty confident that one needed at least a 28 inch fish to play the game and the winning team brought in 2 plus 4 slot fish (you can weigh 6 fish per team) for a total of over 18 pounds.  This along with a number of teams who did bring in a 28 incher made placing in the money very difficult.  Never the less after working our spots we headed out to the flats to try and salvage the day.  We were in the first flight of 50 boats to start at 7:00AM and as you can see the majority of the boats headed north to the mud flat areas.  We headed to the gravel bars and humps off the east side and really never got a slot fish or a 28+ until we moved to the Midget Flat.  Immediately we started marking fish and soon employed our trusty I-Pilot to hold us in place while we through out the bobbers.  Almost immediately they went down and within a 20 minutes we had 2 slot fish under 17 in the live well.  We continued to work the flat and caught about 19 fish total with the majority being again in the 21 - 25  inch range.  With a few hours left we decided to go back where we received a good tip that there were some slots being caught, as well be closer to the weigh in.  We managed to catch our third slot fish then had to head in to be counted as arriving before 3:00 to avoid disqualification.  Hindsight is 20/20 and the chances of getting a 28+ are as good where we fished as anywhere yet thinking about it, the area's were hit hard by the launches and they probably took most of those fish under 17 leaving little for us.  Oh well, it was still a blast to fish with my friend Mark, a great prelude to our big event on June 15 to raise money for the ENA fund to help the families of children with cancer.  This year is our Tenth Annual and we should surpass the $250,000 raise for a great cause.  If you feel like helping click on this link ENA Fund and hit the donate button on the bottom of the page to give through your Pay Pal account.  It's really a worthwhile cause and I will report on our success after the Golf Tournament we hold as our major fund raiser.  The last picture is a 25 inch fish that we got early Sunday morning of the tournament.  As I said, we really caught a lot of nice walleyes however Mark refused to take any more pictures unless it was of a 28 inch fish.  As a result this is the only picture I have for a reather successful day of catching the wrong sized walleyes!

Sunday I am taking my neighbor Blair and his friend from Chicago to Mille Lacs hoping to repeat the success of the last 2 weeks.  Blair asked if I would be interesting in hiring out but since he moved my shed (another story), it's the least I can do.  I hope the bite is still on, which it should be and I look forward to an exciting report next week.