Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ok, One More Time

Last 23" walleye for the 2012 Mille Lacs season

At the last minute Mark Applen asked if I was interested in joining him to fish the Mille Lacs Perch Extravaganza at Hunters Point on Saturday, fishing Saturday night and heading home on Sunday morning.  As things worked out I took him up on the offer deciding to drive up on Saturday afternoon and fish the evening and morning bite.  What the heck, I really enjoy fishing with Mark in his wheel house, and his deer hunting friends Russ, Randy, Roger, Scott, Mike and Judy.  The Mille Lacs Perch Extravaganza is one of the largest ice fishing tournaments on the lake.  Focused specifically on perch, the winner is usually a nice 14.5 inch fish, weighing at least 1.5 pounds.  With the current perch situation on Mille Lacs, it was going to be a tough contest to win.  Driving up on Saturday afternoon I decided to meet up with Mark after the tourney was done, 4:00 would be about right.  Wrong!!!  By the time I arrived at Hunter's Point the line up of cars force me to sit for over an hour to finally get on the ice.  In the meantime I had been trying to call Mark to get his exact location of where he parked his wheel house so I could meet him.  
Big walleye in Isle

Luckily Mike called as I just got on the ice, they were at The Whitecap Inn.  Nice, I crossed the bridge at Hunter's and headed across the ice to meet them.  After having a brandy we headed back to their village they had set up, and settled in for some homemade chili, Farkle, and a lively political discussion.  I figured I was about 6 hours behind in the beer department as everyone was in bed by 9:30 but me!  Fishing till 11:30, I marked a few fish but could not get them to hit so I set the rattle wheels and hit the sack.  An hour later I was awaken by that familiar sound of the rattles going off.  Being in the bottom bunk I got up as the reel was definitely peeling line off.  A quick jerk and I pulled in this nice 23 inch walleye, the last of the season.  Mark had gotten up so I had him snap a picture from the top bunk, a great view from his perspective.  The rest of the night was uneventful as was the morning.  At least I caught something. We packed up, pulled his wheel house to his friend Russ's place and parted ways.   Bill had asked if he could use my equipment for a large group guide trip this week so I headed across the south end of the lake, passing through the town of Isle.  Minnesota is famous for it large statues depicting the importance of a certain theme for an area.  In Isle as in Garrison they have this huge fiberglass walleye by the visitor's center. 

Loren's skid loader
 Thinking about driving home, grabbing my crappie equipment and trying a nearby lake I decided to see if my friend Jack and his son Ben were at there cabin, 15 miles from Mille Lacs.  To my surprise his wife Janet answered......yes, they are out on the lake, come on over.  Arriving 20 minutes later Ben became my chauffeur as he picked me up with the snowmobile and brought me out to their ice house.  Deciding to try for the large crappies on the lake Jack drilled a few holes for me.  The first hole had fish and one hit my waxie with vengeance but I missed it. The rest of the day was no better as I fished for a few hours with nothing more than marks on my Vexilar.  Ben tried his best to help me but like every other day this year, it wasn't in the cards.  At midnight on March 4th all fish houses south of US Highway 2 have to be off the lake.  Because Jack would not have time to get up next week we decided to pull his shack back to the cabin.  With 2 foot drifts covering the lake and the only road available was the guy down the lake, we had no choice but to use it.  Along with Jack's house was his neighbor Dan's house, Chad Tomala's house, and a few other neighbors.  After getting Jacks house loosened from the ice we bought my pickup truck out to pull it off.  Hooking it up we got about 25 yards before a drift stopped us in our tracks.  At the same time Loren and Chad Tomala were heading to their shack, right next to Jack's when his truck got stuck.  While we were digging our way out Loren went back to get his little skid loader to clear a path.  A master at operating, I told him he must have been a drummer in his past life as you need to use both feet and arms to be proficient in moving snow.  Getting all of the houses off the lake became much easier and for Jack and his great neighbors it was good to get the end of the season done with.  For me, I just enjoyed the exercise and of course Jack's friends at the lake are super!

With the weather warming up and my desire to at least get one limit of crappies, this is my goal for the next couple of weeks.  The daily temperatures are now in the low 30's and you'd be surprised how fast 30 inches of ice can disappear.  Wednesday was the last day to comment on the Mille Lacs situation and I will post my letter to the DNR later.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Drought Continues

Greg's 30 inch Walleye from Mille Lacs
 Another week, another fish-less day on the water.  Looking back at the year, the last successful day ice fishing goes way back to the weekend of December 28 when I was on Red Lake with Mark.  Although I have caught fish during the last 2 months, I really haven't kept more than 5 "I almost should have thrown back" sunfish.  A couple of weeks ago we tried Green Lake by Princeton with limited success however Pete saw a bunch of crappies on the camera and Jason did manage to keep 6.  Attributing this to a tough bite I decided to head back there on Sunday, I mean really, what's the chances of striking out 2 times in a row?  Well, I can tell you that it was pretty good! Picking up my neighbor Tom, we headed north to Green.  This time I brought my HDS7 which has depth maps of the most popular lakes in Minnesota, maybe a better understanding of the lake would increase our luck.  Arriving at the lake, Green was not one of the lakes that had any information on much for that plan.  We ended up going back to our spot from last weekend knowing that at least there was some fish there.  Like the movie Groundhog Day, I felt like Bill Murray's character, living the same scene over again.  I guess there isn't much else to tell.  So this week's picture is of a friend, Greg Jones.  A follower of this blog, we met in Anaheim attending the same week long trade show.  The first thing to come out of his mouth was how well they did on Mille Lacs the weekend before, catching quite a few fish including this 30 inch walleye.  With my luck lately, that's the last thing I needed to hear! I am glad someone is catching fish and it's great to have him share the memories with me.  That's a beautiful fish and will look great mounted on the wall of his office.  I guess I should have drove further north. 

Pickled Alaskan Silver Salmon

This week is the last weekend for inland walleye fishing.  It stays open into April on Lake of the Woods and is year around on the Mississippi River.  I usually have a chance to fish Mille Lacs more yet my travel schedule has been quite filled up lately as the year is flying by.  My quest for a crappie dinner has also influenced my Mille Lacs experience this year.  Last year I had 3 very successful outings on the big lake bringing home my limit of walleyes each time.  Maybe it's just hard to get excited about the current situation at Mille Lacs, something I will save for a future post or two, or three.  So in the absence of cooking fish I decided to make some pickled salmon from the fish I caught in Alaska.  Searching the Internet the perfect looking recipe appeared.   Using about 4 pounds of fillets the first thing was to skin and cut into chunks.  A 24 hour soak in 1 cup of salt to 4 cups of water then another 24 hour soak in white vinegar and it was ready for the brine.  A simple brine of 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, pickling spice, and the special ingredient, 1 cup of white port and just not any white port...Fairbanks White Port.  Uffda, was that hard to find.  I did find it in a 1.5 liter bottle, cheap and sweet, I told the clerk at the liquor store that there was enough for both the fish and I to get pickled.  Using red onions I figured that if nothing else the jar would look nice.  It'll be ready in a couple of weeks and I hope it's as good as it looks.  With halibut left in the freezer, that might be my next thing to try unless of course we can find some tullibees on Mille Lacs in a few weeks.

This weekend is busy and if I do get out it will only be for a few hours again.  Mark asked me if I wanted to fish the Perch Extravaganza on Mille Lacs but I have another engagement I need to attend.  Sunday may find me down on the river with my friend Kevin, we will have to see how that turns out.  Oh well, it snowed again and that will keep me busy for a while.  We have actually had some decent snow this year and maybe I'll get a chance to take out my snowmobile for a ride.  I know that we need the moisture as the Mississippi River behind the house was awfully low this fall.  Here's to changing luck!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Few and Far Between

First crappie of the day

Because of my travel schedule lately and the fact that my laptop is still in need of repair, I am finally getting a chance to wrap up last weeks fishing adventure.  I think the title pretty much says it all.  Having just got back from 4 days in California, it has given me time to reflect on how my ice fishing success has gone this year.  My time in Anaheim was manning our exhibit at the largest Medical Device and Manufacturing show in the United States.  Because Minnesota is a hotbed of medical device manufacturers and suppliers, there were plenty of my fellow outdoorsman from here that flew down to work the show as well.  While sitting at the booth entertaining customers, a friend commented that by the looks of my blog, ice fishing season seemed to be going pretty well this year for me.  I laughed and commented that he must be only looking at the pictures!
My response was that in reality, other than my pre-New Year's adventure with Mark, the only fish I have been eating is coming from my Alaskan trip.  Last weekend was no different.  Pete, my new ice fishing partner had his trip cancelled and wanted to go back out.  Acting on a tip he had gotten, a small unmarked lake north of Elk River was hot.  After doing some research, there must have been an error as the lake was nothing but a mud hole, no access, nothing.  With the start of the day already a bust, we decided to head to Green Lake, east of Princeton.  Joining us was my friend Jason Rombalski, who by the way is always good luck, and a friend of his.  Green is a medium sized lake with a good population of walleyes, perch, and crappies.  It also has some nice structure for fishing crappies in the basin areas.  Figuring I didn't need my GPS for the first lake, suddenly it would have been nice.   A few weeks back I decided to buy something smarter than me, a Samsung Galaxy 3 smart phone.  While waiting for the fish to bite I downloaded a Cabela's app that actually uses the GPS in the phone and overlays your position onto a contour map of the lake you are on, providing there is one.  Well, I started the app and voila, the lake map and our position appeared on the screen.  We found an area outside of a group of houses that looked promising and drilled some holes.  It was nice enough to fish outside and Jason nailed the first keeper, a 9 inch crappie.  Meanwhile I couldn't keep the 4 inch perch off my line and Pete, with his camera down the hole reports that it just thick with fish, just not biting.  Jason left early with 6 fish, enough for a meal, Pete and I continued till well after dark.  We marked a ton of fish but they sure were finicky.  Usually before a storm, which we had on Sunday, the fish go crazy but not this time.  As stated, we did mark a ton of fish, saw them on the camera, so it might be a good place to go back and try again. 

Ben's Northern
 My friend Jack has been doing pretty good at his cabin on Platte Lake.  Although the crappies haven't been too cooperative, the northerns have more than made up for it.  His son Ben has developed quite the knack for fishing these northerns as Jack sent me this picture of a nice fish he caught a few weeks ago.  They usually pickle them as there are no lack of pike in the lake.  Ben's going to grow up to be quite the fisherman and at 8 years old is already pressuring us to take him to Leech for our opener.  It might be a little too cold and rough but in a couple more years he will probably out fishing his dad, if he isn't doing that already.  While at the show in California, a colleague of mine stopped by to show me his success on Mille Lacs last week.  After hearing about the 20+ walleyes they caught, I asked him to send me pictures.  Not being sure which flat he was one, I have a pretty good idea as his group did as well as anyone.  There are only 2 weekends left of the inland walleye fishing season left and after February 24th, only Lake of the Woods, Rainy River, and the Mississippi will be open for walleyes.  It is only an indication of how fast this winter has flown.  Sunday is suppose to be nice out so a possible trip to one of the offshore flats may be in the cards for the weekend.  Being gone a week does little to help get caught up around the house.  Let's see, clean the garage....go fishing, Hummm.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Superbowl Weekend, Winter's Half Over

 Mark's feisty northern
With my neighbor Tim's annual Superbowl Party on Sunday along with snow predicted, I decided to head out on Saturday to retry Pelican Lake near my home.  My last trip was somewhat uneventful although I did catch a meal of sunfish that my buddy Kevin calls Hatta's...........Hatta keep'em, Hatta throw them back.  This time I decided to fish the east basin which has the largest expanse of 12 foot water and is seldom fished.   While plowing snow Saturday morning with my tractor, my friend Mark Applen drove up to check out what was going on and 5 minutes later he agreed to tag along to see if we could get some crappies.  Hoping the afternoon would warm up somewhat, we took our shelters while thinking maybe could get by without them.  A quick stop at the hardware store in St. Michael and we were off to the east side of the lake driving on where the lake meets the road.  With the ice over 22 inches thick we could drive wherever we wanted.  A tip from the guy who gave us the minnows gave us our starting point along the south shoreline in 12 feet of water.  I drilled about 10 holes, 30 feet apart, in a straight line towards shore with the last hole in 8 feet.  This is a great strategy to try different depths to determine where the fish might be.  Mark caught this 2 foot northern and other than a 4 inch sunfish I caught, that was about it for our first spot.  I did mark a few on my Vexilar but nothing that would cooperate.  Suggesting a move, we headed west towards a group of houses before veering towards a spot that looked promising.  Fishing till dark we only caught 3 crappies that would have been better served as bait for a tipup.  I suspect that with the water as cloudy as it is this year, the weedline might be less than 10 feet causing the fish to be shallower than in the past years.  Because it's so close and there have been a few good reports, it might just be a matter of time.

Hunting for mice
While heading to my pole shed to get the tractor ready for plowing there was a beautiful red fox hunting mice in the field behind the house.  He must have been hungry as I was simply a minor distraction for him.  It was fun to watch as the fox would listen, watch, then finally take a leap with all fours off the ground coming down on dinner.  He did get a mouse before deciding that having someone watch him hunt was a violation of his privacy.  Heading towards the neighbors, I snapped this picture as he started his trot east.  His coat was thick and full and looked good.   It's pretty neat to have them around although they do have a fairly strong odor that I could sense from my car.   The other advantage is they tend to keep the population of rabbits in check as they were getting way out of hand.   Checking my previous posts on my fox sightings they seem to start around the first week in February as I have made mention a couple of my sighting in both 2010 and 2011.  I wonder if this is the same guy?  Along with coyotes, deer, raccoons, and muskrats, the back yard is pretty tame as I don't have to deal with 1000 pound brown bears as my friends in Alaska do!

With a Saturday temperature predicted to be 35 and my neighbor Pete hinting he'd like to get out, I think we're going to try a couple of lakes I haven't fished in a while, maybe Lake John, west of Annandale, MN.  In the late 1980's my friends Mark and Jack Taylor had a crude ice house on Lake John.  We did pretty well however late in the year the heavy snows had caused water to flood the floor with a depth of 4 inches.  Having to remove off the ice by February 28th we filled the inside with rock salt.  The following week the water had disappear yet it was still frozen into the lake.  A guy came by offering the solution to our problems and after following his instructions to go into town and buy a box of 30-06 shells, he proceeded to shoot the whole box of bullets through the floor and into the ice.  The theory was that the slugs would hit the ice and fracture it enough to loosen the lake's grip on the bottom of our ice shack.  I thought the guy was crazy but what the heck.  It didn't work and we were left with simply tearing it apart for firewood, never to see the ice again.  Although a pain, it was fun fishing in our own special castle.

Friday, February 1, 2013

One Eyed Walleye

The one eyed walleye

Coming out of the deep freeze that occurred last week and Saturday's weather forecast appearing to be reasonable the plan was to spend the day with a number of firsts for my friends.  My fishing companions were Lory Brasel with his new Otter portable, Pete Sipe with his new Clam Thermal, and Keith Holtan, the first time we have ice fished together.  All three had a good reason to get out so I picked the destination, Resort Flat out of the Red Door Resort on the north end of Mille Lacs.  Reports were encouraging and with Keith coming down from Brainerd, it would be convenient for all of us.  After stopping at Lundeen's for bait, we headed north to the McDonald's in Garrison to complete our foursome.  The Red Door Resort is right smack in the middle of the north side and they do a great job catering to ice fisherman.  Every year a crack/heave develops parallel to the shoreline, about 50 - 100 yards out.  Water is an amazing part of nature.  At 39 degrees it is at it's densest sinking to the bottom insuring livable water for the fish.  Only 7 degree's colder it becomes the lightest as it freezes and expands by 10%, which is why it floats.  As the ice continues to freeze it actually shrinks and with the -20 degree weather a few days earlier, the ice contracts causing a break that opens up a space between the ice sheets.  At the Red Door they had a bridge crossing the crack which opened up earlier in the week that spanned 8 feet.   Without the bridge it would be crazy to try and drive across the newly formed ice that filled the crack.  Of course as the weather warms up, the ice will expand which will cause the ice sheets to push together causing huge heaves up to 8 feet high.  This cycle repeats continually as the temperature swings from -20F to 36F then back down.  Once across the bridge we drove 3 miles out to the flat. 

Lory's 24 incher
There is an area along the flat that has proven to be pretty good so we set up along the edge taken up a good 50 yards of an area.  Punching holes from 22 feet on the top of the flat to 34 feet on the bottom edge, we went to work.  Unfortunately the weatherman was a little off as it stayed around 10 degrees with a strong wind blowing the snow around and filling the holes I had drilled.  Although I punched over 25 holes for "ice trolling" my guest decided to stay out of the wind and fish in there shacks.  Me, I still like to hole hop and worked the area until I needed some relief from the wind.  With Keith in my Clam, I set up my Eskimo pop up next to the truck, out of the wind in 34 feet of water.  Lory had a fold up chair and I was in business.  With the area covered, it was now up to the walleyes to tell us were they were at and what they wanted to eat.  Well, they took their merry old time.  As Keith came by to check on how I was weathering the wind and bite the bobber on my dead stick was nowhere to be found.  With a nice big shiner hooked to the end of the line, chances are what ever had it was good sized. Carefully taking the slack out of the  line until the line was tight, a quick set and I pulled up this nice 26 inch walleye.  She was in pretty bad shape, skinny as a rail (like most of my Mille Lacs walleyes have been) and missing it's left eye.  It looked like it had been that way for a while and I suppose it is why the fish was so skinny.  Next to catch a fish was Lory, the first in his new Otter.  Another skinny 24 inch fish never the less a great way to break in the shack.  His fish came out of 22 feet of water, right on the top of the flat. 

Pete's 23 inch walleye

Next to catch of fish was Pete.  All snug in his new Clam, the fish made a mess out of his fishing lines before we were able to get it turned around and up through the hole.  Now this fish looked pretty good and healthy compared to the previous two as it measured 23 inches.  Pete was in 24 feet, closer to the edge of the flat which really didn't help with zeroing in on the perfect location.   There was one thing in common, all fish were caught on a whole minnow.  No matter how hard or soft I jigged my Rattlin Flyers, Jigging Raps, Hawger Spoons, the only thing I could get were a few fish coming in to look at the commotion then leave.  I did mark what I'm sure was tullibees as they aggressively followed my lures up the water column more that 12 feet.  After this summer's tullibee die off, it was nice to see that a few survived.  As for Keith, I set him up right at the edge break of the flat in about 25 feet.  This is usually my favorite spot as walleyes cruise the edge looking for their next meal.  Unfortunately the never showed up for him, not one of my better days of putting people on fish.  Oh well, I am fortunate that being a guide, he understands the situation.  Hopefully I will get the opportunity to rectify this situation again with better results.  Either way we did get 3 nice fish, marked enough to keep it interesting, fished with my friends, and finished the day at the Players Bar and Restaurant for their fish fry.  I really got the hankering to catch some crappies and maybe Sunday I can get out before the Superbowl.  

I am finishing this post from the Sky Club at Chicago O'hare.  My regular laptop is broke and am using my friend, Tom McAtee's.  Usually I can do this on the plane or somewhere I can find time and space but it is almost impossible to type on my 10 inch Asus pad.  I sent it out to Oregon to get fixed and with a little luck, it should be back next week.  One last thing, I did by something from for my laundry sink.  Not spending enough to get free shipping I ordered a Buck folding fillet knife (like I need another fillet knife) to get past $25.00.  I got it on Wednesday and it's really nice.  If you take the free shipping into account, I got a very good deal.