Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Return to Red Lake

Cooler full of walleyes

With the threat of sub zero weather ahead of us, my friend Mark Applen landed in Minneapolis from Maui, Hawaii at noon on Friday and by 3:30 we were heading back north to Red Lake.  A chance to get one more weekend of fishing on Red, our secondary goal was to pull his wheel house back home after being stored at JR's for the last 4 weeks.  Joining us were Mark's friends Russ and his brother Randy as well as Mike, Judy and their chocolate lab.  After solving the world's problems during our 5 hour ride up, a quick check with the crew confirmed they were at JR's Corner Access and our arrival would be perfectly timed to enjoy the walleye's they had brought in and had fried up.  I ordered a round, sat down and chowed down on the perfectly deep fried walleye chunks with Russ's special homemade tartar sauce.  Sorry but sitting in a simple converted pole shed on a picnic table, eating fresh walleye and washing it down with a beer, true nirvana!   It was time to fish and we had a plan.  Up until the time we arrived JR was not allowing anyone to venture out past the crack in the ice, based on the pending below zero weather and high winds.  Our friends were on the shore side of the crack however our intent was to return to our previous location, 6 miles out on the lake and over the crack. 
Mark with a nice eater
As we left JR confirmed that the bridge across the crack was open, we were free to explore.  Mark and I decided to take the 6 mile trip, crossing the break and returning to our spot where we did so well a few weeks earlier.  The wind was still reasonable and there were few in the area, a good sign.  Setting up exactly where we were last time, it was about 10:30 before we settled in for the night.  Things sure had changed in 3 weeks as we failed to get a single bite.  Waking up to below zero temperatures and an increasing wind our strategy changed to fish closer to Mark's friends closer to shore.  Besides, they were catching more fish!  This was my third trip with Mark and his house and I had finally figured out the routine and we were packed, moved, and reset in about an hour.  Spreading out in a line separating our shacks by about 50 yards, we set up off the reef hoping our decision would be the right one.  Our timing was perfect as the predicted high winds and falling temperatures were right on the doorstep.  Snug in the wheel house we went to work with Mark catching the first walleye, the second walleye, the forth and fifth walleye.  Yep, I managed only the third of five we caught.  As things slowed down we headed to Randy's mansion on wheels to play a little Farkle, have some 5 star, and plan the evenings trip to the resort for dinner.  Although accused of playing conservative, I did win the last hand allowing me to at least buy the first round of beers. 

Sunrise and the Sun dogs
With the wind howling, a substantial ground blizzard occurring, we loaded all six of us into Randy's truck and headed in to clean fish.  As before the indoor fish cleaning room was much appreciated as Russ and I took the knife to our total of 11 nice walleyes we had together.  Having JR's fry up 9 total, we feasted on our familiar meal, had a few brews, talked smart to a few guys and took advantage of indoor plumbing, it was time to head back to our mansion's on the ice.  Setting up the rattle reels, Mark was fast running out of steam and we hit the sack.  Unfortunately both nights we spent on Red were silent.  There is nothing like being woke up at 1:00 in the morning by the sound of the rattles clanging away as a walleye runs with the minnow.  The good news is we did get a good night's sleep, something I am sure Mark appreciated, yet I am sure he would rather have sacrificed!  Waking up to a subdued wind, it was -12 below zero as the wind had rearrange was was an even layer of snow the day before.  With the rattle reels silent, we decided to pack up early and head south.  Sunrise can be an enchanting time and Sunday morning was no exception.  As we began to pack up I snapped this picture of the sun as it begins it's daily journey across the sky.  The 2 spots on either side are called Sun Dogs, evidence of ice crystals in the air, a reminder of the day before.   By 10:00 we were on our way back home, another great ice fishing adventure.  Although the fishing wasn't the greatest, I always consider it a bonus when fishing with good friends.  Admittedly I missed Judy's pickled garlic, but you can't always have everything you want!  For Mark, dealing with a 100 degree swing from 85 in Maui to -15 at Red Lake provides an interesting contrast for sure.

This week has been cold with the last few days at -15 below zero, at least we continue to make ice.  With little snow, you can basically drive anywhere on the lakes as long as you pay attention to areas of possible current and ice heaves.  I am not sure where I will end up this weekend however my friend Keith is putting the bug in my ear to meet him somewhere.  Sunday looks like the nicest day, maybe a trip to Mille Lacs is in order.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Huge Non-Typical Whitetail
Last week was dominated by 2 major events, attending the St. Paul Sportsman Show and the Saturday night Green Bay Packer/San Francisco 49er's game, with maybe some ice fishing in between.  It's probably easier to start with the fun aspect of last week and deal with the not so good later!  The St. Paul Sportsman Show is the first of the year, not as large as the Northwest Sportshow, but a great way to start 2013.  My friend Lory Brasel and our Wisconsin Sales Rep, Dan Dominski decided to tag along for a night of entertainment.  This show has more what I classify as non sports related exhibitors, guys who sell salsa, surplus junk sellers (there are some good deals), cookware, yet still has an interesting mix of things to see and buy.  One of the more interesting booth was the Steve Porter's Live Trophy Buck exhibit, where they brought in a trailer with 3 huge bucks they had raised from birth. Along with the trophy bucks was the genetic history of each as well as the sheds from each year to demonstrate how these deer mature to such beautiful animals.  It was certainly interesting as these deer seemed very comfortable being the stars of the show.  As every show goes, one cannot leave without buying something and this year was no exception.  The first item was an innovative LED lighted slip bobber which had 2 colors and used standard button type batteries.  A guy was selling a slip bobber knot device for $5 which had a lanyard, line clipper, and extra line....just had to have one of those.  Next was a couple jars of locally made salsa before I bit on an 18 inch Rapala EZ Glide knife for $10.00.  The retail on the knife was $39.95 but I think its probably been discontinued as it is a bit long.  I figured if I got good at it, I could skin 4 fillets at once!  Of course the highlight was meeting Keith, his wife Jane, and their son Mac, who flew down from Anchorage to spend some time with his parents.  After trading a few things I bought in China for him with some eco-friendly cleaner that they used in their fish cleaning house on the Kenai, we settled in at the Liffy for a couple pints of Guinness and something to eat.  Hopefully I can find the time to get out fishing with Keith soon.

Muskrat in the yard in January?!?!
I did go fishing on Saturday, before the game.  With only a few hours my destination was either going to be Little Pulaski Lake in Buffalo or possibly Pelican Lake near Albertville.  A stop at the hardware store in St. Michael to get bait the guy at the counter confirmed they were driving on Pelican, with 15 inches of ice, you could go anywhere.  My mind made up, it certainly would be easier to unload my portable and drag it 20 feet rather than the 150 yards at Pulaski, as I would not have trusted the ice there.  As I approached the landing to drive on the lake there was a pickup truck going about 40 mph, headed straight for me.  Stopping before driving on the ice, I waited till he was on shore then rolled down the window and asked the conditions.  I really wanted to give him a lecture but he was about 17 years old and would not have listened anyway.  As you travel on the ice with a vehicle, it creates a wave of water ahead of your travel.  The faster you go the larger the wave, sometimes to the point where you hit a weak spot and the ice blows up in front of you.  Idiot!  I set up in 9 feet of water and immediately started catching fish, small bluegills.  By 5:30 I only managed 5 keepers and they were questionable.  It was cold and I really didn't see any point in taking pictures so we'll leave it at that.  Rushing home to watch the Packers, I cleaned the fish, gathered my refreshments and went over to my neighbor Tim's to watch the game on his huge 10 foot projection TV.  That's about all I will say about the game other than there is always next year.   I did want to show you an unusual thing that happened on Saturday morning, one of our cats disappeared behind the house.  Walking around the garage, the next thing I saw was a standoff between it and a muskrat, Lord knows where it came from.  Apparently it had been eating in the ground bird feeder and our cat Rocky probably thought he had died and gone to heaven.  You see Rocky is a legendary mouser, let him outside and before you know it he's got a mouse ready to chow it down.  It's pretty amazing how careful he eats his prize catches, starting from the head, he downs everything but the entrails.  I am sure Rocky assumed the muskrat was the biggest mouse he had ever seen and was contemplating his smorgasbord.  Unfortunately this mouse fought back and he was keeping his distance!

So with the Packers eliminated from further playoff action, I plan on heading back to Red Lake for the weekend with Mark Applen.  Our intent is to spend a few days fishing then pull his wheel house back to Mille Lacs.  Talk is the bite has slowed down but one never knows as you will never know until you try.  One thing for sure, it's going to be cold.  According to the weather reports Minnesota is expected to see the coldest air in 4 years.  Projected to be over -20 below zero, it could prove interesting yet one things for sure, it will be making ice like crazy. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New Fishin' Partner

Pete with a keeper!
It's been a busy week with the outcomes significantly better than last week.  During the last Green Bay Packer/ Viking game of the regular season my neighbor Pete Sipe had suggested that we should go ice fishing the following weekend after New Years, I about fell off my chair.  Pete lives down the block from me and we have a lot in common.  He owns the Marathon Service Station in Osseo, MN.  After securing a job in Minneapolis, my first apartment was in Osseo.  I would drive by his house every morning, patronize his then father's gas station, certainly had seen him many times without knowing 20 years later he'd be one of my trusted friends.  I have asked Petey at least 100 times to come fishing with me and this time he agreed.  Now the pressure was on, where to go, what strategy, I didn't want his first trip with me to be his last.  I suppose I should have had more confidence in him as he was just looking for a good outing, something I'm sure we accomplished.  Deciding on Mille Lacs, the fishing reports have been good, the ice conditions were stable, and with clear water to try his new camera, away we went.  Although the reports of 15 inch ice is adequate for driving, it's still a little early for me to be free ranging around the lake, especially with the new cracks present.  Bringing my side by side ATV, we decided to pull our shacks out after crossing the first bridge over the heave that always forms near Indian Point.  Our first stop was a deep gravel hump a couple of miles east of the point.  Usually at this time of year there are a few shacks parked in the middle of this area yet upon arrival there was only evidence of a wheel house that had come and gone.  Setting up on the edge it wasn't long before Petey nailed this nice keeper walleye.  This area was simply a stop on our way to Sherman's Flat, an area reported to have a hot bite.

23 inch walleye
Within an hour we were set up on Sherman's Flat in an area that I am very familiar with.  On an edge near one of the points,  it is one of my go to spots on the lake both summer and winter.  Drilling holes along the top 24 foot edge as well as the 34 foot bottom edge, all we needed was some cooperative fish.  They were hard to come by.  Marking fish, they would come up and look at the bait, hang for a few seconds and disappear.  As always I drill about 10 - 15 holes for moving around, the flats provide the perfect place to apply this strategy.  24 feet...........34 feet.........24 feet, moving up and down produced nothing.  Fishing a hole just outside my portable shack, I set my rod down as I went back into the shack to get something, returning a minute later and picking up my ice fishing rod, it bent over.  Getting the fish up from 24 feet, it was a nice 23 inch walleye.  Unlike the last nice walleye I had caught on Mille Lacs a few weeks ago this fish was fat a sassy.  A beautiful golden green color, it looked well fed and healthy, something that was nice to see.  With sundown close this had to be a sure sign the bite would materialize.  Unfortunately it was not the case.  We managed to mark a few more fish yet 2 were all the day would bring.  Packing up at dark we headed back to the truck, stopping at Lundeens before having lunch at the newly opened Chico's.  When we stopped at Bill's, I was going to comment on how small his fatheads were.  Being busy he asked me if I could help myself to the minnows we needed so I scooped the fatheads out of the end tank where they always are.  Arriving back at his shop I was looking at the tanks and noticed he had the normally fathead tank on the end was now marked Crappie.  No wonder the minnows were so small! Oh well.  Regardless of the minimal catch, Petey did much better and certainly more hardcore than I expected.  It was a great outing and he promised to go out with me again, something I look forward to.

Today's event was my past due colonoscopy, something I honestly look forward too.  About 14 years ago I discovered blood in my stool, not a very exciting proposition.  A subsequent examination removed a polyp, which was explained as a problem waiting to happen.  The next one was scheduled 2 years later and with a clean report they are now scheduled every 5 years.  My doctor reminded me that I was over 18 months past due and suggested I get this taken care of.  I am sure many of you have already experienced this wonderful medical procedure and have enjoyed the prep almost as much!  For those who haven't, you should look forward to this important procedure.  Colon Cancer is nothing to ignore.  If you are 50 or have a family history of colon cancer please allow yourself to be checked out as the picture says it all.  Besides, it's really fun to chug down a gallon of GoLytely only to go heavy an hour later, not really but honestly, it isn't that bad.  Equally humiliating is having to lay down while a skilled physician lubes you up and inserts a 6 foot combination camera, air hose, vacuum cleaner.  This is a great time to ask the doc to look for your hat as it must be there as I have had some people tell me my head is up my ................. he'll smile.  I learned today that they use carbon dioxide gas to inflate your colon verses plain air.  Apparently the CO2 is reabsorbed into the body causing little to no discomfort, he was right.   The report was great, clean as a whistle and more importantly, peace of mind.  For those who have gone through this, you know what I mean.  For those who haven't, don't let a potential time bomb tick away.

A final note, the Packers won in convincing fashion last Saturday against their rival the Minnesota Vikings.  Saturday night they play the 49er's and it should be a great game.  Thursday night is my annual date with Keith and his wife Jane, both working their booth at the St. Paul Sportsman Show.  I haven't seen him since Alaska and it will be good to get together.  With a little luck I can sneak out before the game and get a few panfish on a local lake.  Next week is looking like a trip back to Red Lake may be in the cards.  A busy week for sure................GO PACKERS!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Red Lake, Red Hot!

A fiesty 36 inch northern pike
The much anticipated time between Christmas and New Years meant only one thing, ice fishing.  In the past it has always been a time for something special with special friends, yet as always things change.  Based on our success at Lake of the Woods a year ago, my good friend Mark Applen was planning our third holiday adventure.  Mark has a nice wheel house (not as nice as it could be however that's another story) equipped with a furnace, 2 bunks, table, sink, and a substantial flat screen television for those slow moments.  This is my third year of taking advantage of the holiday season with Mark and each one has provided a special memory of an exciting trip.  In 2010 we joined Mark's friends for a few days on Lake Winnibigosh, 3 hours from home.  This was my first trip fishing Winnie and we did alright as we were on an underwater break which gave me an opportunity to move around somewhat.  The trip was highlighted by a substantial snowstorm that stranded us 6 miles out on the lake.  Although our efforts were valiant, it really took the resort plow to come out and rescue us.  2011 saw us at Lake of the Woods and Mark landing a 50 inch sturgeon, something neither one of us will forget.  This years trip found us at Red Lake, 4 1/2 hours north of home. 

Rattle Reels
Mark had been there the week before and knowing we were going to start there left his house at JR's Corner Access. At a $1.00/day storage fee it made no sense to spend 4 times that much on gas to pull it home then back again.  The plan was to arrive Wednesday night, fish through the night into Thursday.  If fishing was good, we'd stay and if not, Lake of the Woods was simply another hour north.  Arriving at 8:30 Wednesday evening we hooked up the house, paid the access fee of $15 for multiple days, had a beer and headed out on the lake.  JR had just opened up a bridge across a major break in the ice some 3 miles out which opened a vast area of unfished waters.  Taking about 2 hours to find a spot to drop the house, drill holes, and get set up, we were fishing by 10:30.  The walleyes started immediately as we caught a few on the jig poles before setting up the rattle reels to attempt to get some sleep.  Rattle reels are special made wheels that have steel rattles inside them.  Line is wrapped around the spool and are mounted to the ice house wall directly above each hole.  In Minnesota you can fish 2 lines each so before the lights are out you lower your lines into the water and if a fish takes the bait, the turning of the spool will cause a loud rattle with hopes of waking you up and catching the fish.  Well rattle they did, pretty much all night, finally stopping at 3:30 in the morning.  I am not complaining as it's easy to stop this, simply don't set them yet hearing those reels go off is music to my ears, regardless of the time.  So much for a good nights rest!

Mark with a dandy walleye
Thursday brought with it a steady parade of walleye's hitting everything from sucker minnows, Rattlin Flyer's, Slender Spoons, Jigging Raps, Lindy Darters, and a bait we dubbed the tuna spoon, which Mark did extremely well on.  Not unlike Lake of the Woods, Red Lake walleyes would come in small schools of fish roaming the vast featureless basin.  Action would consist of catching 2 or 3 fish in a flurry then waiting 15 or 20 minutes for the next group of fish.  Red Lake has an interesting history as in the late 90's the Native Americans, whom control 80% of the lake, netted everything out.  During the early 2000's crappies filled the biomass void with an explosion of 15" fish.  Gradually the restrictions on netting, the restocking of walleyes has brought the lake back to the hottest bite in Minnesota.  Along with walleyes, a population of respectable northern pike exist in the lake, as my first picture shows the feisty 36 inch fish that hit my jigging rap.  The walleyes were fat and sassy, nothing like the ones I caught on Mille Lacs last week.  My largest was a 23 inch fish, caught on a Lindy Darter.  Similar to a Chubby Darter, my friend Mark Mayerich's favorite LOTW bait, I express scepticism as I hook it on my line.  Experimenting with lures, I pumped the darter about 10 times when the fish hit, proving my initial comments completely off base.

Fresh fried walleye!

By the time we left on Saturday morning the tally of walleyes caught was well over 70 fish.  with only a few fish under 14 inches, the majority were between 16 and 19.  This year the limit on Red Lake had been increased to 4 fish under 20" which guaranteed we would bring fish home.  One nice thing about JR's was the indoor fish cleaning facilities and the great way they would cook your fish.  Bring your fish in, clean them, cut them into pieces, and for $5.00 per person will deep fry them, add some french fries, for a meal of fresh walleyes that was fit for a king!  I love the simplicity of it all, served in a shallow cardboard box, some tarter sauce and ketchup, finger food at its finest.  We cleaned 7 walleyes on Thursday, cooked and ate 4 of them, with 3 in the box.  On Friday we brought in another 5 (can only have 8 in possession), cleaned them and ate 2 with 6 in the box.  Saturday we only needed 2 more to fill our limit which was pretty easy.  Although we brought steaks, pork chops, and a cooler full of food, the daily walleye feast was enough to satisfy our needs as we bought most of it back home.  I don't think you could have asked for anything better than this as the walleyes were fried to perfection. 

Avenue of the Pines

Another successful trip, our backup plan never materialized.  This was my first trip to Red Lake and I'm sure it will not be my last.  In the grand scheme of things the drive seems to go fast as the roads to Red are very good.  The part I love the best is the stretch between Deer River, MN and Northome, on Minnesota Highway 46.  Labeled The Avenue of the Pines, the highway winds though the Chippewa National Forest and it's majestic pines.  The newly fallen snow provided a perfect scene as we drove back through the walled route, contemplating our great 3 days together.   Mark is the perfect host as we have the same interests and passions.  He still won't let me take the top bunk, did I say he can be stubborn!  This week brings me licking my wounds from Sunday's Viking win yet hopefully there is redemption next Saturday night as the Pack will host Minnesota at Lambeau field.  The below zero weather keeps adding to the ice and by Sunday we should be driving to our hot spots on Mille Lacs or exploring the panfish bite closer to home, we'll see.  Happy New Year everyone and may 2013 bring a you success.  Keep those lines tight!