Friday, September 28, 2012

“When the Gales of November Came Early”


Steve's 22 inch walleye
 Gordon Lightfoot’s song, The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald, has a line which comes close to describing the conditions of last weekend’s fishing adventure.  As stated in previous posts this was the big event my brother Steve arranged, having me showcase the famous Mille Lacs September bite and showcase I did.  My guests were all from the La Crosse, Wisconsin area and represented an interesting mix of successful business men to my nephew Kevin.   The plan was to leave at noon on Friday, head to the lake and fish the late afternoon/evening bite before checking into our rooms at the Grand Casino.   I was paired with Steve Contrell and Steve Dolezel, the key players with my brother Steve’s new company he works for, Authenticom.  Their business is quite interesting as they deal in information, a hot item these days.   Our first stop was Bill's of course, we needed licenses, bait, a few hot lures, and a couple of lead line rigs for trolling.  The wind was already coming out of the west northwest at 15 to 20 mph when we arrived at the landing just north of the casino, I could see the whitecaps a mile out from shore.   Hoping the wind would settle down for the late afternoon we headed to Sherman's for some deep water trolling.  You could see patches of rain to the northwest of us yet it seemed as though it would leave us alone for a while.  After about 2 hours of trolling the flag finally went down on the port side planar board.  5 minutes later we had a nice 25 inch walleye.  Further trolling the deep produced nothing but water over the bow as we struggled to maintain a pattern close to the edge.  With sunset heading our way I decided to move in towards Indian Point and fish the shallower reef that runs straight out from the point a 1/4 mile or so.   With the wind blowing in to the reef, the chances of the shallow water bite producing were good.  Being on the front end of a cold front was the negative.  Out with the Shad Raps we immediately caught 2 smallmouth bass, 14 inches long, dang things.  Just as we reached the end of a reef a fat 21 inch walleye hit my crayfish colored #5 shad rap.  It was 7:30 and looking west towards the landing didn't look so good we decided to call it a night, 10 minutes too late.  Half way to the landing we hit the front with all it's fury.  The rain simply stung ones cheeks as we worked our way to the launch, the wind must have been over 40 mph.  We arrived at the landing soaked, loaded the boat, checked into hotel ready for dinner.  A great steak, a good nights sleep and we would be ready for the morning.

Steve with a deep water smallie

Saturday was a new day however the wind decided to repeat Friday's performance.  Adding to the experience was a morning air temperature of 35 degrees, we decided to launch out of the Red Door Resort with the plan to stay out of the wind as much as possible.  One of our boats was piloted by Victor and only had a depth finder on board.  I decided to fish the Resort Flat where they could drift along the top of the flat with jigs and Lindy Rigs while we trolled around in the deep.  Having seen a boat land a fish in the deep water we figured the fish might be there.  Even being sheltered from the wind, it was still strong as we struggled to stay in a steady pattern.  The flag went down on the board and Steve reeled in a nice 22 inch walleye which he is holding in the first picture.  After another hour of fighting the waves we moved inshore to a fish the water around a deep rock pile.  The waves were much more tolerable however with the wind it was still pretty cool.  We nailed another walleye and a surprise smallmouth in 24 feet of water on the lead line, a total surprise.  Having enough fun for the day we loaded up and headed for the Blue Goose to warm up.   Admittedly I wasn't prepared for the cold and even with flannel lined jeans and heavy shirts I got pretty chilled.  Of course my guests were most important and I let them dictate the time to leave.  Maybe we all simply figured out that it didn't pay to be stubborn.  You know it's cold when you find pleasure in holding the fish because it is warmer that your hands!  Waking up to 28 degrees Sunday morning we decided it best to simply head south.   I had a great time fishing with the Steve's, they really hung in there and I certainly took advantage of their business experiences.  Maybe we can get them back up next June for a better chance to catch fish without a constant shiver.

Getting home earlier than expected my next task was to haul my tractor down to Hudson, WI and have the rear engine seal repaired.  I met my friend Dwight Jordan who offered to accompany me to the mechanic he recommended earlier.  We dropped the tractor off, returned the trailer to my cousin Greg's, and made my way my brother-in-laws to watch the finish of the NASCAR race and whatever football game was on.  Monday was a depressing evening as I watch my beloved Packers lose on one of the worse calls in NFL history.  Just returning from Chicago, I am looking at what the weekend will bring.  For sure Saturday will be spent at the annual neighborhood Pig Roast where we have a 230# hog ready for the smoker.   I have some big minnows left from the weekend and I would really like to find some time to get out on the river.  We'll see.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Scouting For This Weekend

Tom's 27 3/4" Walleye on an X-Rap
 My brother Steve is one of my best friends.  About 45 years ago our Dad would have begged to differ as we had our share of scuffles growing up together.  I remember one incident in particular, as we were pushing each other around on the stairs he took a swing at me.  That day I was faster than him and when I ducked his fist continued all the way through the sheet rock.  I knew we were in trouble, however it was apparent that he would take the brunt of it, I mean really, it was his fist that put the hole in the wall.  The years have added civility to our relationship as we have been to Alaska together, ice fishing at Lake of the Woods, is a seasoned member of Team Walleye, and the occasional trip to Mille Lacs.  Steve has recently changed jobs and the company owners love to fish.  When the subject of Mille Lacs came up he said that his brother Dave fishes it all the time, which evolved into let's go and this weekend it's show time!  Steve, his son Kevin, and 6 others are meeting me on Friday as we try to put some fish in the boat. September can be an interesting time of year to fish Mille Lacs.  My strategies have changed through the years as long line and lead line trolling have become an important technique to catching walleyes.  The walleyes have been hit pretty hard this year as well, things have changed regarding fish location in September and October.  It was a given that starting about the first of August the big fish would move back on the reefs to take advantage of the forage found there.  My only mounted walleye came off 3 mile reef on August 12, 1988 in 5 feet of water, right at dusk.  There were years where I could show up on a reef, cast shallow running lures like Rouges or Husky Jerks and catch 10 - 15 walleyes in that half hour before sunset to dark time period with a few in that 28 inch class.  The last 4 - 5 years this pattern has definitely changed.  Myself and a few others who have taken advantage of this now

My First walleye of the night
 rare bite believe that the recent change in smallmouth regulations which only allow one fish over 21 inches have affected the shallow negatively (for walleyes).  We theorize that the smallmouth populations have exploded and have taken over the shallow rock reefs making it almost impossible for a walleye to find anything to eat there.  Certainly there has been a movement to deeper water and maybe it was already there, we just didn't know.  All I can say is things have changed.  So in light of my task, neighbor Tom Olson and I went up Saturday afternoon to do some pre fishing.  Launching out of Cove Bay, the plan was to fish the deep water for a few hours, hit the shallow rock points before settling into that "potential" shallow water crankbait bite at dusk.  Well the deep trolling simply burned gasoline and the shallow rock point proved little to build my confidence.  On to Anderson's Reef where I have had success before but it's been hit or miss.  Tom likes to cast for muskies so he casted a large #13 jointed X-Rap while I pitched for walleyes.  About the time I lamented the lack of fish on the reef a dandy 27  3/4 inch walleye grabbed his muskie lure.  Not that walleyes don't hit large baits but it is a good example of "big fish eat big baits". 

19 inch walleye on a #5 Hot Steel Shad Rap
 With the sun setting we changed to long line trolling shad raps and rouges at the edge of the reef.  I have a milk run that goes from the south tip of Anderson's, up along the west side and over to a little known hump and back.  Much of this water is 10 feet and word was that this depth was putting out fish.  My favorite color shad rap has been Hot Steel as it's been a great lure both for shallow water and deep lead lining.  15 minutes into the troll I hooked my first walleye, about 13 inches and came out of the 10 feet depth.  My next fish was a 12 inch smallmouth and was followed up with a 14 inch smallie.  As a side comment, I'd love to keep a few of them.  Smallmouth bass out of Mille Lacs are as good deep fried as any walleye can be.  Swinging around the hump something more substantial hit the lure and we landed this 19 inch walleye, interesting..............maybe the reef bite might materialize this year.   In the next 30 minutes I got another smallmouth and an 18 inch walleye before darkness settled in and the bite went dead.  After a half hour of trolling with nothing to show it was time to head in.  We ended the night with 4 walleyes including the nice 27 3/4 incher, 4 smallies, not bad for a short time fishing.  It goes back to what I had stated earlier, often the bite this time of year is in that last 2 hours of fishing and it was no different this time.  This is why I am never much in a hurry to leave for Mille Lacs in September.   A comment on the drive back to Cove Landing.  There is a very shallow rock reef that lies across the entrance to Cove Bay.  In recent years it has been marked with red and green navigational buoys however I have it marked in detail on my GPS as they will eventually remove the buoys for the winterbefore open water fishing ends.  At night I simply follow my route with out incident.  For some reason this year they decided to add additional buoys and extend them out further from the reef.  The route I have on the GPS now has a red buoy smack in the middle of my marked entrance.  It's a reminder that you can never trust the exact placement of the buoys on Mille Lacs and if I had remembered my spotlight, things would have been better.  I didn't hit it thank God!!

I look forward to fishing this weekend however the wind cast has both Friday and Saturday at 20 mph from the Northwest.  It will definitely change our strategy of where to fish and of course help cool the water down.  The surface temp was still 68 on Saturday but I expect it to have dropped under 60.  With air temps in the 50's predicted, its interesting when the water is warmer than the air.  We are due for our first frost soon and it should put an end to canning tomatoes, finally!  In Chicago next week for the exciting Coil Winding Show as I have a reservation with a good supplier at Gibson's Steak House on Wednesday.  It's quite an experience if you haven't been there.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Transistion Time

Fresh Lime with Cilantro Salsa from the garden

September is one of those transition months here in Minnesota as the weather can be 92 degrees one day and 52 the next.  It's been extremely dry around home after what proved to be a very wet start of the summer.  The warmer than normal spring forced nature to show herself about 3 weeks early before a normal frost killed most of my apples.  The ongoing dry weather has now put stress on our trees, which are simply turning brown and falling off.  What apples that did develop are to my surprise 3 weeks early and most of the meager crop of McIntosh, Honeycrisp, and Haralson's has simply rotted away.  I think all that's left is a few Honeygolds, an apple that is normally harvested in the middle of October.  September is also the month when the Kramer Open is held.  Normally I would participate with my good friend Tom Emmons in a race to see who's the best sporting clays shot.  One year I had him beat by 1 bird going into the last 6 targets of a 100 round event.  Nailing the first 4 the pressure got to me and I missed the last 2.  Tom hit the first 4, then #5 to tie and #6 to beat me by one bird.  He accused me of letting him win, I never let on if I did or did not.  It kept his perfect record of shooting better than me in this event, something that I look back on as I something I really miss, that rivalry with Tom.  Of course I really miss him as well.  Sunday was a day for catching up in the garden.  This year has given me a bumper crop of Amish Paste Tomatoes, a variety I decided to try instead of Roma's.  With the tomatoes ripening like crazy I decided to can some salsa using the bounty of the garden.   So far I have put up 24 pints of some pretty good stuff.  One never knows when the first frost will happen so its a scramble to get everything done.  My brother Steve was telling me about the virtues of Brandywine Tomatoes.  Being not much of a raw tomato eater I have to admit that these are pretty good.  They are an heirloom type, have a pinkish hue to them and are very meaty.  They will definitely be in the garden next year. 

Granite Street Curbs

This week found me in Cleveland Ohio for an exciting meeting with my fellow associates from The Transformer Association.  It is a very interesting city with a redeveloped downtown area and a number of great restaurants and bars to relax after a hard day of meetings.  Cities like Cleveland really have an a unique story behind them.  Located on the south shores of Lake Erie, it became a major location for the steel industry which feed our Nation's industrial grow, especially through World War 2.  At the time our iron ore came from Upper Michigan and Minnesota and with rich coal deposits in the Appalachians, it was a perfect place to make steel.  Along with Gary Indiana, Pittsburgh and Bethlehem Pennsylvania, the evidence of the old steel industry is everywhere from the rusted out stacks of the old factories to the soot blackened  blocks of which the old buildings still bear.  It is situated on the Cuyahoga River, once famous for starting on fire in the 1960's.  In many of the downtown areas one will find that the street curbs are actually made of granite, pieced together in slabs up to 10 feet long.  They are everywhere and lord knows how old they are.  I suppose the granite lasts a lot longer than concrete and the availability is much greater than the rest of the country.  One interesting conversation was about the fishing in Lake Erie.  The zebra mussels have really cleared up the water which has obsoleted the famous Erie Dearie, a weighted spinner lure made for fishing with nightcrawlers directly under the boat.  The water is so clear that even in 30 foot depths, the walleyes simply scatter.  Perch fishing remains popular as they are always present under the boat.

With colder weather on the way I will probably keep putting up my tomatoes.  With a little luck I will get to Mille Lacs for one last pre-fishing trip before my brother, his son, and their work associates come up next Friday for a weekend of lead lining.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Back to Familiar Waters

Lead line and a #5 Shad Rap

It's been a month since the Ranger has been wet and with Alaska wearing off it was time to get back on Mille Lacs and see if the walleyes were still biting.  Saturday was spent putting 250 miles on the Victory motorcycle with my friends Kevin, Tom, and brother Steve.  After trailering to Alma, Wisconsin I dropped my wife off at her cousin's, unloaded and met everyone at my favorite store Fleet Farm, the one in Winona, MN.  From there we headed west through the Root River and Zumbro River valleys in what turned out to be a beautiful day.  This area of Minnesota is similar to my home town of Eleva, Wisconsin full of bluffs, valleys, and winding roads.  Sunday was a family day leaving Monday as my designated fishing day.  I could tell my boat was pretty lonely sitting in the pole shed for a month so away we went to Mille Lacs, my neighbor Lory and I.  The reports were pretty much pointing to deep water trolling as the ticket for success.  Some were getting walleyes in the shallow reefs on bobbers/leeches in the evening but I really didn't want to sit still for any length of time.  After dropping off my Alaskan gift to the Lundeens we headed to the east side, launching out of the public landing at Liberty Beach.  With the stable weather and no wind my first stop was 3 Mile Reef to check out the zebra mussel situation.  Apparently they have completely covered every square inch of the reef however the water was so cloudy that it was very hard to make them out.  I did cast for some smallies but that didn't last very long.  Heading to the deep gravel we got out the lead line rigs, attached some #8 Flat Raps, and started trolling.  The water was simply gorgeous as trolled the 32 foot depths, 5 colors in the water and rods in their respective holders.  It's pretty cool when a fish hits the lure as the rods bend over and do their fish on dance.  When there is only 2 of us in the boat and a fish hits I will stop the motor, reel in the other line as the other guy fights the fish without dragging it at the same time.  This is a lot more fun and
What the walleye coughed up!
you will have to set the line anyway so it's no big deal.  Within a couple of hours Lory had me by a few fish so I switched to a #5 Shad Rap.  Almost immediately I caught this a nice 24 inch walleye that had a surprise with it.  Hooked on the front treble was a small walleye, about 5 - 6 inches long.  I surmise that the walleye I am holding in the picture actually purged the smaller walleye from it's stomach during the fight and it got caught on the front hook of the shad rap.  The small walleye was hooked upside down as you see it and definitely dead.  It has teeth marks on it's body and was still pretty fresh.  A couple of thoughts, first of all it is evidence that the fish have started feeding heavy.  Not unlike the salmon we caught in the ocean, they are stuffing themselves.  Secondly, I kind of find it disturbing to see a walleye cough up another walleye.  I know they are cannibalistic but you can't help but wonder about the biomass as we continue to discuss how messed up the lake seems to be.  Oh well, maybe I am simply being too naive.

Lory's nice walleye

The star of the day was Lory as he had the hot rod.  When we first started trolling I nailed the first 2 walleyes and because they were not exactly jumping in the boat, I was concerned that he wasn't catching anything.  I even offered to have him reel my next fish in, one popped my line but never got a solid hook set.  After that he caught the next 3 walleyes and finished the afternoon with this nice fish caught on his purple backed Flat Rap. Score, Lory Brasel 4: Dave 3.  Neither of us caught any fish in the slot which was under 17 inches.  Lory came close with a 17.5 inch fish but that was as small as it got.  I was interested in getting back to 3 Mile as the sun was starting to set and see if we could nail any walleyes shallow water trolling.  I have a nice milk run that has been very productive in the past and although 3 Mile hasn't been kind to me lately, the "Milk Run" always seems to produce a fish or two.  Well, all we did was waste gas, hook a few zebra mussels, and have a really nice rock bass slam Lory's Flicker Shad.  The water temperature was still in the mid 70's, kind of high for late summer reef trolling as I suspect it will be better in a few weeks when I fish with my brother and his group.  I am sure of one thing, the deep water bite will more than likely continue to be steady.  7 fish in 4 hours, I don't think that is too bad for this time of year.  The fish seemed scattered but we found them and probably shouldn't have wasted time in dead areas where we didn't mark fish.  Well, you have to start somewhere!

A followup on my tractor issues from last week, I got Fergy running like a fine tuned watch.  After putting on a new rebuilt carburetor, rewiring the entire ignition/charging system, and trying a new coil, she still sputtered really bad, maybe worse than ever.  The last thing left were the points and condenser.  As I began to remove the screw that hold the condenser to the distributor plate, it snapped off at the plate.  Now what???  Figuring out how to remove the plate, I checked out the other side and the screw was bent, that made no sense as you could not install it that way, it had to have bent while in the distributor.  Looking at it the only thing that made sense was at some point the centrifugal weights hit the screw, bent it, and more than likely prevented the distributor from operating properly.  After finding and removing the broke end, replacing it with a shorter screw, reassembling with new points and condenser, it was like she couldn't wait to show me how well it would run.  I'll bet it didn't turn over 2 times and it fired off.  A few adjustments and the engine is running perfectly.  I am close to having all the important work done as we have an appointment later in the month to get the rear engine seal fixed as it's leaking oil pretty bad.  It's come a long way in a month, that's for sure.  The plans are to maybe get back to Mille Lacs one more time before the 21st or even hit the river, it's low, slow and gotta be on fire.