Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Fergy's Home

1955 Ferguson TO35
 Saturday was something that I have waited for at least 10 years now, the opportunity to acquire my Grandpa's old Ferguson tractor.  With the reality that it was not going to be used by Wes anymore, they finally agreed to let me pick it up.  My cousin Greg had a nice car trailer for transporting it so my first stop was in Hudson and hook it up to the truck.   Along the way I decided to call my other brother Jon to see if he wanted to tag along and with little going on he was happy to ride shotgun.  I was glad hedecided to join me as it gave us some time to spend together and an extra set of hands would be helpful if I ran into any issues.   A quick stop in Ellsworth to pick up a few packs of fresh cheese curds for the road, picked up Jon, stopped at Kevin's and helped Ben solve his depth finder problem, we arrived in Onalaska to pick up Steve and his wife Jean.   Jean grew up in Prairie Du Chen and her dad Wes bought the tractor from my Uncle Keith some 24 years ago.  Jean's brother Richard was up from Kansas helping out with things and met us as we opened the garage where the tractor had been stored for a few years.  First things first, it needed a battery.  A quick trip to the nearby Walmart solved that issue.  With the battery in we double checked all of the fluids and hit the starter.  Although it cranked over pretty good, it refused to start.  It had been sitting for over a year and the ethanol gas had taken it's toll.  The rubber hose connecting the air intake to the carburetor was a complete mess and the plugs were pretty black.  Another trip to the tractor supply store for replacements, we installed the plugs but she refused to start.  Suspecting we weren't getting gas I removed the bottom of the carburetor and as suspected, the needle valve was stuck.  Tearing it apart, using some spray carb cleaner, and reassembling we first confirmed that gas was filling up the bowl, turned the key and Voila, she fired right off!  Steve did one last repair on the driveway before we loaded it on the trailer and headed home.  She's in pretty good shape as it was fixed up years ago with new front tires, repainted, and converted from 6 to 12 volts.  There is some hydraulic oil coming out of the housing which leads me to believe the seal in the transmission may need replacing.  On Sunday I put her to work first fixing my own driveway for my pole shed before hooking the brush hog and doing a little mowing.  She performed flawlessly on both fronts however when I unhooked the mower I noticed a wire had gone through the back tire sidewall.  The tires are liquid filled and will require a mobile tire service to come out and fix it for me.  Oh well, the price for having fun.  I will probably have the tractor fully restored this winter, fixing the leaks and repainting.  There is alot of information online and by putting in the serial number I have learned that Ferguson, made in 1955 is the same age as I am.  I am sure she still has a lot of life left in her!
Nice Smallie from the wall

So playing farmer on Sunday left little time for fishing however with the river so close by, it takes little incentive to head down and fish for a couple of hours.  The river was down at least another 2 feet from where it was last week which meant we would have more time to fish the hot spots.  My neighbor Tom decided to go with me as he really enjoys fishing smallmouth and the time frame was perfect.  As usual we motored upriver for 20 minutes or so then drifted down casting our Bombers along the shore.  The water is still pretty dirty, more than likely coming from the Crow River that dumps into the Mississippi at Dayton.  The Crow always seems quite muddy as it flows through the farmlands of central Minnesota.  I think it's enough to affect the water clarity downstream from where it meets the main river.   Along the shoreline is a mix of deeper holes, artificial rip rap to prevent erosion, docks, and railroad walls to protect the homeowners and to provide a safe access for their boats.  In one stretch there are a couple of timber type walls with step openings that still have water covering them.  These are perfect ambush points for big smallies as the one pictured on the right slammed my bait as my cast put the lure tight up to the inside of the step.  My buddy Pete loves fishing redtails along this type of cover and one day I will have to bring down a few minnows and try it.  For now the river is still a little high to read the structure below but it is getting better.  In one area you could see the shallow riffles forming excellent places for the fish to hide out and with the reduced current flow the fish start
Tom with a respectable fish
leaving the shorelines and spread out into these areas.   We nailed a nice one that was about 30 feet from the edge of the shoreline, it should only get better. Between Tom and I we caught 9 smallies in about 2 hours of drifting, as well he landed a couple of smaller northern pike that hit his crankbait.  Here's Tom with a nice 17 inch fish, one of 3 that he took in a small area that was hot.  No catfish this trip, however it is getting to the time of the year to really start fishing them with crawlers and stink bait.  Maybe Sunday night!

This weekend is the rebirth of Bogger Hollar, the annual Fagerland Family Reunion that was hosted by my dad's late cousin Ronnie Olson.  This year his niece has decided to hold it at her place and I am looking forward to seeing all of my relatives on my dad's side of the family.  I tell you it is sure better than seeing them at weddings and funerals.  My garden in growing like weeds............wait, those are weeds!  The cucumbers should be starting, the corn is beautiful, I have ripe Amish Paste tomatoes abound, the string beans are almost ready, and the new potatoes are ready.  With the rain, fertilizer, and heat, nothing makes a garden come to life.  Unfortunately much of the stuff will be ready by the time I leave for Alaska.  I guess it will be good for the neighbors. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Back On Old Man River

20.75 inch smallmouth bass
 The continuing sauna we call Minnesota is becoming a broken record.  By the time one does anything meaningful, you are covered with sweat, dehydrated, and lack any real ambition to do much.  My neighbor Tim and I had volunteered to provide the entertainment for a neighborhood graduation party on Saturday and with Sunday booked I checked the river levels behind the house.  They were back to a reasonable flow rate allowing me to fish without having to fight the heavy current.  With nobody around that was interested in going, I loaded up the boat and headed out myself.  My jon boat does an acceptable job in the river, especially with only one in the boat, upstream I can hit 15 mph in the calmer current.  It takes about 30 minutes to motor up a mile or so past Dayton, where the Crow River dumps her muddy waters into the Mississippi.  Normally one has to negotiate a couple of shallow rapids but with the river still up a couple of feet, I had plenty of water under the boat.  Just as I arrived at my starting point the motor abruptly killed. A quick check verified that the vent on the fuel tank was not open as evident by the long sucking sound of air filling the void of gas used up as I loosen it.  Once the pressure stabilized I squeezed the fuel ball, choke the engine, and pull my arm off, which in 95 degree weather is no picnic.  Nothing fired and the boat had already drifted past the first good smallmouth area.   This is the main reason I like going upstream as if anything happens I will still get home.   The current is still pretty fast as the GPS verified the boat was moving around 3.5 mph.  Worst case, I'd be back at Blair's landing in 2 hours.  When the water is high the fish, especially smallmouth bass like to hold tight to the shorelines where the current is less and there is more cover.  Staying about 30 feet from the edge of the shore, the strategy is to cast into the shorelines with my favorite Bomber A, working as much good cover as the boat drifts by.  At 3.5 mph you only get one chance as the trolling motor does not have enough power to bring the boat back through again.  The best areas are those that drop off a couple of feet close to shore then gradually hit deeper water,
22 inch channel cat on a Bomber
say 4 - 6 feet deep under the boat.  My second cast produced a nice 18 inch smallie, a great start.  Being alone presents a number of problems including the boat is now out of control while you fight the fish, netting these can be difficult in the current, and there is no one around to help you record the events of the day.  My second fish about pulled the rod out of my hands as it bulldogged to the bottom.  It must have been quite comical to watch as my boat is drifting down the river doing slow circles as I failed to shut the trolling motor completely off, stumbling over the seat to get the net while dodging the overhanging trees in the path of the boat.  After a grueling 5 minute battle the fish finally slipped into the net, a 20.75 inch smallmouth, the largest I have caught ever.  It was interesting to take this picture and it didn't turn out too bad.  BTW, my friend Pete taught me how to take great fish pictures, get them out in front and hide your hands as it makes the fish look great by taking away any reference point.  Well, because I only had me to take the picture, this fish is held pretty close to my body as I needed the distance to capture the entire fish, and it's still pretty impressive!  Continuing to drift down, I caught 6 more bass from 12 to 18 inches as well as a 22 inch catfish and man do they fight.  And the motor, well about a mile down from where she stopped I tied up to a tree creating a more stable situation where after a few pulls she came to life.  I think it was probably flooded and just needed time.

Blueberry thieves!

So last week I complained about the 2 families of wild turkey's cleaning out my blueberries.   Coming around the pole barn to get the jon boat out, something caught my eye, heading straight for the garden.  Sneaking around the other side, got my camera, and watched as the turkey's knowingly started moving back away from me and out into the edge of my tall grass.  My field is just full of grasshoppers and it's obvious they were having a feast.  Momma turkey went into the tall grass which triggered a huge exodus of grasshoppers to jump out of the way and into the shorter grass as the little ones scrambled to eat them as quickly as they could.  With the blueberries gone they have now resorted to my cherry tomatoes and bird food that I put down for anyone who wants it.   It's not that I don't appreciate these huge birds around, and if they simply ate grasshoppers and bird food, it wouldn't be a problem yet the line is drawn on the tomatoes!  I did buy 4 Nite-Guard  electronic pest controls for the deer problem and I have to say that for the most part I haven't seen 1 deer track in the garden since they have been installed.  Unfortunately they only work after dusk and are simply a solar powered battery operated red LED device that blinks dusk till dawn.  Apparently deer and other night creatures think that they are the eyes of a predator.  The turkey's arrive after they shut off and really don't care about what I think.   Oh well, I'll take this over living in the city any day.
Grandma Myrt, me at graduation, and Grandpa Roy
This weekend will be spent picking up an old tractor that my Grandpa Roy owned.  Grandpa Roy had a severe stroke in 1960 which basically left his entire right side of his body paralyzed.  You can imagine back then there was little in immediate care, and the nearest good hospital was an hour away by the time they drove down to pick you up.  By 1965 he had recovered (if that's what you want to call it) enough to get himself into a Chevrolet El Camino truck and using only the left side of his body, give him back some of the freedoms he had lost.  The stroke also left him a little on the grumpy side but as kids, we really never knew him as anything else.  It was still a fun time in my life as he would let us ride in the back of the pickup as we delivered groceries to the farm, sit on top of a gravity wagon full of just harvested soybeans as we picked off the legs of the hundreds of grasshoppers on the 15 mile trip back from the fields, stuff you could never do today.  Grandpa had an old Ferguson TO35 tractor that he managed climb up on and off, using it to plow snow, haul around trailers full of grain, and whatever chores he felt were needed.  When I was 16 he taught me how to drive the tractor so I could use it to help plow his snow, move dirt for him and occasionally clear off snow on the local mill pond so we had a place to ice skate.  After Grandpa Roy passed away, my Uncle Keith sold the tractor to my brother Steve's father-in-law, Wes.  Many years ago I asked Steve to request that if he ever sold it, I want first chance.  Well, after at least 15 years I am finally going to pick it up.  Wes fixed it up, put new tires on, painted it and although this was a few years ago, it has been stored inside all this time.  The tractor has a 3 point hitch which I have a blade and brush hog to mount, and my cousin Greg is going to sell me Grandpas old 3 point disc.  With a little luck the Ferguson should be in the pole barn on Saturday night and I'll be fishing on Sunday.  By the way, if you double click on the last picture you will notice that the tassel on my graduation cap is gold.  This is because I graduated with honors, being in the top ten of our class.  Just don't tell anyone that there were only 9 of us!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Blueberries and Walleyes, What a Pair!

My 8 pails of fresh picked blueberries

Last year we discovered the joy of picking blueberries at Blueberry Ridge in my home town of Eleva, Wisconsin and according to their website Saturday would be the first official picking day of 2012.  Along with my wife Lyn and neighbor Lory Brasel, we loaded up and headed east on Highway 10 which would take us straight to our destination.  Lory had been to Eleva in the past as he and others came down for my dad's funeral last August.  I suggested that he stop and pick some berries, which they did, and he was looking forward to filling a few buckets to bring home.   I love showing off a few of those out of the way spots that are truly represent what rural Wisconsin is all about.  Our first stop was the Ellsworth Creamery in Ellsworth Wisconsin, home of the worlds best cheese curds.  Everyday at 11:00 AM, the day's cheese curds are brought out from the factory, packaged in one pound bags, and ready for sale.  There was quite a line up waiting to buy which assured that our order would be packed within minutes of hitting the sales floor.  It is hard to describe how delicious fresh cheese curds really are.  Still warm in the bag, once opened the warmth and creaminess are accentuated with the unmistakable squeaks they make as they contact your teeth, a symphony in itself!  And squeak they do.  Within 5 miles we had devoured one bag knowing we need to save some for later.  Next stop was Plum City, Wisconsin to show Lory the beautiful trout pond carved out of a hillside by early settlers in the late 1800's.  The pond is feed by a substantial spring which keeps the water cool and flowing, perfect for the couple
Lory with a nice 26 incher
hundred rainbow trout that live there.  Springs have little dissolved oxygen so they have installed a couple of large aerators to enhance these levels.  The water is crystal clear with trout ranging from 15 to 28 inches.   They even have a vending machine to buy trout pellets for feeding the fish.  Unfortunately I forgot my camera, I should learn by now! It is a neat place to visit, very peaceful and if you enjoy watching fish like I do, a perfect place to spend a few minutes.  Next stop was my friend Kevin's house to pick up a GPS he used during fishing opener.  He warned us that cars were lined up at 6:30 in the morning at Blueberry Ridge and he doubted they would have any berries left.  With that in mind we drove up Mockingbird Hill and over to the blueberry patch where there were plenty of people still picking.  Lory and I had sent Mark and Andrea (Owners of Blueberry Ridge) a 1.75 liter bottle of our homemade Eleva Blueberry Ridge Wine which we we made a few months ago.  It is pretty good if I say so myself, and they were thrilled to receive it.  Mark assured us there were plenty of berries left and he was right, we filled 12 ice cream pails in 2 hours.  Lory took 4 and I took 8, as pictured above.   These blueberries are huge, some as big around as a quarter.   As we hauled our berries back to their new "headquarters" I promised Mark that if he wanted to fish Mille Lacs, I would be more than happy to accommodate him and a guest.  His wife Andrea claims that he would really enjoy that so here's hoping he takes me up on my offer.  We have frozen most of the blueberries by simply putting them on a cookie sheet and freezing them before packing.  Blueberries freeze very well and make an excellent frozen treat in this hot weather.  Of course, more wine is on the menu.  Thanks Mark and Andrea for a great day of picking!  As a side note, last week I posted a picture of my blueberries as they had just started to ripen.  Notice the word HAD.  When I went out to check on them Sunday morning, there wasn't a ripe blueberry left on any of the bushes and none were on the ground.  Monday the mystery was solved as there were 2 hen wild turkeys with about 20 little ones circling my patch, looking for what they might have missed the day before.  I guess we'll just have to go back to Eleva and get more.

Not huge but still nice
Bill had asked if we had a chance to pick a few buckets of blueberries for him, he'd certainly appreciate it. Well, of course we did and with all the work accomplished on Saturday, Lory and I decided to hit Mille Lacs on Sunday afternoon, delivering our fresh picked berries as well, spend some time on the lake.  Not in a big hurry to get there, we left at 2:00 in the afternoon with the plan to be on the lake around 4:00.   Our first stop was to drop off the berries and charged only the price of the berries plus a few dozen crawlers as our picking fee.  My plan was simple, drag crawlers on the edge of the flats until we found some fish, engage my Minnkota I-pilot, and hone our bobber skills.  Like a broken record, our first stop was Sherman's as we dragged rigs for 30 minutes only catching 1 fish.  Deciding to head to 7-mile, we trolled the east side of the flat and again got one nice walleye but that was it.  As we approached the south end of the flat the Lowrance began marking fish more consistently with small pods of fish close together so we engaged the anchor function and brought out the slip bobber rigs.  Within 90 minutes we had over 16 walleyes caught, at least another 8 lost as we attempted to set the hooks early to avoid harming the fish, and put 3 in the livewell.  These were all caught on leeches in 24 feet of water.  As I have done so many times before, the fish bit the best when the radio was tuned to Willie's Roadhouse on my Sirius Radio.  It must be that old country those walleyes love! One thing that I learned about using slips knots as bobber stops is you need to check your depth all the time.  Once you reel a fish in the stops will catch on your rod guides and slide up the line, changing your depth to something more shallow.  I showed Lory how to use the rear depth finder to check your depth by dropping the rig next to the boat and watching it on the screen.  More often than not it was set too shallow, we would reset to about 18 inches off the bottom while watching a fish come into the screen and grab the leech.  We left the lake by 8:30, cleaned the fish and were done by 11:00.  Not a bad weekend at all.

I continue to prepare for Alaska as well watch the Mississippi River level as it's almost back down to where it was 3 weeks ago.  We may go back and get more blueberries, there is a graduation party in the neighborhood on Saturday, and I am chomping to get back on the river.  Seems like there is plenty of things to keep me busy!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Taking Nothing for Granted

The Grant's, Mike, John, and Dave
I received an E-mail the other day from my nephew John, who is at Fort Rucker, Alabama training to be a helicopter pilot.  He had sent some photos of a snowmobile trip he had taken while lamenting that he missed the "upper Midwest weather".  A quick check of revealed a surprise, here in Minnesota at 9:00 AM it was 84 degrees, heat index of 95 while Fort Rucker was a cool 75 degrees!  Go figure.  The fishing trips from last weekend as well as the heat made me decide to forgo the weekend trips and concentrate on the planned 4th of July trip with my friend Mike Grant and his 2 boys John and David.  I have been friends with Mike for years and was really looking forward to getting his boys out for a relaxing day on Mille Lacs.  Knowing it was going to be hot, we decided to start at 9:00 and just take it easy for the day.  Loading up on plenty of water and red licorice, we hooked the Ranger up and headed north.  John is 16 and Dave is 10 so the first thing I reminded them is the 2 rules in my chewing tobacco and no cigars!  Once we established that this was understood the rest of the day would be easy.  The wind was out of the south at around 10 mph and blowing across the 78 degree lake kept us at a reasonable temperature.  The first picture is of the Grant's with Mike in the white, John standing on the bow of the boat, and Dave holding a nice 26 inch fish.  Needless to say Dave caught most of the fish thanks to his gracious older brother, a lazy dad, and myself, who could not resist seeing the greatest smile in the world!  This fish was caught on Sherman's and to be honest I was quite surprised at the lack of boats on the lake as we even got "Rock Star" parking at the landing.  With 4 in the boat we tried both nightcrawler rigging and bobber fishing.  This fish was caught on a leech/bobber right under the boat using my infamous ice fishing technique.  If a mark shows up on my depth finder while in a stationary position, I simply drop my leech over the edge and can watch the bait go down and in this case, the fish come up to meet it and inhale the bait.  A quick flick of the wrist and the battle is on.  The bite wasn't as aggressive as it had been and we were marking a lot of fish but they seemed to be rather neutral.  Needing a slight break from heat we headed to 7-Mile looking to do some deep water trolling around the flat.  John is in a fishing club at school so showing him a few new methods would be good and maybe we might get that elusive 28 inch + fish to boot.  Well, the trolling was a bust up to the time we reeled the lines in when John discovered we had been pulling an 18 inch walleye for who knows how long.  The fish got off right at the boat and immediately headed down, we decided that it would count as a caught fish.  Marking quite a few fish on 7-Mile we put the 3 way crawler rigs back on to search for any aggressive fish.  Although the boys didn't really like Country Western music, I convinced them that without it, I was afraid the fish would simply stop biting.  Asking if they knew Toby Keith's Red Solo Cup, I found the song, cranked up the volume and bang, the rods started bending like my corn in a windstorm.  The boys laughed as though they had learned some mystical secret to getting the walleyes to bite, and bite they did.  A quick flurry of at least 5 walleyes as Toby played in the background was proof enough.  We ended up with a total of 13 fish including this 25 inch walleye and I am not sure who has a bigger smile, Dave or the walleye.  These boys were absolutely the greatest, well behaved and truly loved to fish.  They understood the need to get these fish back in the water fast and that they did as the pictures were taken within 10 seconds of landing, great job boys.  I look forward to sharing some of my experiences with them in the future as I promised John that if he came over I was sure we could add a few things to his tackle box.  As soon as the river gets back to normal, we will head out one night and try our luck on catfish.  Honestly, I am not sure who had more fun, them or myself. 

Side dressing corn
So did I tell you it's been hot?  Sorry to sound like a broken record but there is some good news, the sweet corn is growing like crazy.  The old adage that corn should be knee high by the 4th of July is pretty much over with these days.  Sweet corn loves 3 things, hot long days, adequate water, and nitrogen as corn is really a grass.   The last week has really spurred it's growth and with the heat and amount of rain, all it needed was the nitrogen.  Most of the farmers today use liquid anhydrous ammonia to fertilize their corn and at 82% nitrogen, it is extremely effective.  It is hard for an ordinary gardener to apply anhydrous so I use the next best thing, a granular version called Urea, which is rated at 46-0-0, or 46% nitrogen.  The best way to apply is once the corn gets about a foot high or so, make a trench along the row and side dress the corn with it.  I plant 6 rows of corn, 3 as early as I dare and 3 rows a few weeks later.  This assures a longer harvest time as one is about ready to be done the other is just getting ripe.  Once the urea is spread in the trench it gets covered with dirt.  The stuff is pretty strong as if you have a cut or sore on your hand and get some of the urea touching it, it burns like crazy.  In a few days the corn will turn a beautiful dark green color and grow like crazy.  I did this to the first 3 rows a few weeks back and it's already almost 4 feet high.  The plan is to have the first 3 rows of corn ready before I head to Alaska, and the second 3 rows will be just getting ripe, in time to compliment fresh salmon on the grill.   The unfortunate thing about this weather is that the weeds tend to grow as well!

In my garden
Although my blueberries are really coming along, I will probably head to Eleva this week to pick a few pails at Blueberry Ridge.  It will be a great chance to see my mom and brothers, wish my friend Kevin a safe journey as he and his wife head to Colorado on their motorcycle, and get stocked up on blueberries.  I have quite a few but would never get the pail fulls I need to enjoy them all year.  Here is a picture of my most prolific blueberry plant, working its magic for me.  With Alaska 5 weeks away, my brother Steve and I have put the final touches on our trip which includes a flyover trip across the Cook Inlet to a place called Bachatna Creek.  We are definitely looking forward to the cooler weather!