Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Winding Down

A nice mess of crappies
Last year at this time we were basking in 80 degree weather, the ice was already off Lake Mille Lacs, and ice fishing was the furthest thing from my mind.  This year we have yet to break 50 degrees in the month of March, something that hasn't happened in 30 years.  I guess it just proves that Mother Nature tends to even things out.  So with the continued cold weather comes the chance for late season ice fishing and my neighbor Petey was ready to go.  With significant snow remaining on the ice our strategy was to pick a local lake that should have significant traffic to have packed the snow enough to get around.  Having fished Pelican Lake near Albertville a couple of times, unsuccessfully of course, it seemed a good choice for one last outing.  Minimizing the amount of equipment, we brought Petey's ice house, my auger, our electronics and after stopping at the hardware store in St. Michael for bait, headed out to the lake.  Even with the colder temperatures the sun is getting higher in the sky which is melting the snow.  Expecting the landing to be in some state of slush, mud, and water, I was pleasantly surprised how good it was.  With few on the lake we drove to an area where I have done well in the past, 9 - 10 feet with weeds scattered.  With the wind howling out of the north, we drilled 4 holes using the truck as our wind break.  With about 6 inches of snow on the ice, another 4 inches of frozen slush, there was still at least 26 inches of ice as the auger drilled right
A bonus bullhead!
up to the handles.  After cleaning the holes, the fish started biting right away.  Nothing big but the action was good.  Within a couple of hours we had the bottom of our pails covered with sunnies and crappies, the largest being about 10 inches.  As the sun moved closer to the west it was time to put up the shelter and get warmed up.  The fish kept biting as we sorted through 14 crappies and 11 sunnies, nothing extraordinary but based on my year, I'll take it.  Pelican Lake does have bullheads in it and although I have seen them on the camera, had never caught one through the ice.  Well, there's always the first time as I coaxed a fish to come up and hit my ice jig, a sure sign of a crappie chasing the bait and pulled out this ugly bullhead.  Now, suppose I was from Iowa, this would have been a trophy but it wasn't what I was looking for.  Oh well, it did hit pretty hard.  I forgot my camera so I did this self portrait with my new "smart" phone.  It has 2 camera's, one on the screen side and one on the back.  Although the quality is not as good, the image on the screen allows you to at least attempt to get a good shot!  The other thing that I have enjoyed while fishing with Petey this year is to see him advance in his ice fishing skills.  Now I am not about to say that I am a better ice fisherman than him however I have been able to pass some of the things I do to be more successful.  For instance, I was looking at his depth finder and noticed that it seemed to have the sensitivity turned up quite a bit for 9 feet of water.  Disputing my thoughts, he showed me what we were looking at, the sinker above his ice jig.  Sinker........what the!  Complaining that the ice jig didn't sink very fast, he needed the sinker to get it down, all I could say was Uffda!!  The object of shallow water pan fishing is to slow the lure down, keep it light so when the crappies come up and inhale the bait, they don't get knocked in the head as a result.  Anyway he later admitted that the sink rate wasn't that bad as he started to catch more fish.  On our last trip I showed him how using a Frostie jig with a larger hook would increase his hooking percentage, which it did.  Petey's a good student, at South Stanchfield his catch rate of what we cleaned was 11%.  Sunday's trip yielded 25 keeper's with Petey's share at 8, a whopping 32% of the catch, a 3X increase in adding to the next fish fry.  At this rate I might have to start fishing alone again!

The snow is still here.
As I indicated, winter still has a pretty good grip at the house.  I snapped this picture on March 26th, the snowdrifts are at least 3 feet high along the road and the blanket is a good 8 - 10 inches.  With the temps heading in the 40's this weekend things will start to loosen up.  The weather is absolutely perfect for sap flow from the maple trees as my neighbor boiled up 65 gallons on Sunday and has promised me a pint.  Another advantage of a cold March is the apple trees will have plenty of rest and their bloom should happen as normal.  Last year's unusually warm spring and a colder than normal May raise havoc with all of my fruit trees as the crop was no existant.  I predict a bumper crop of apples, pears, and raspberries for 2013.  The snow will really help the moisture and with the amount up north, the river should get back to normal.  Time to organize the tackle boxes, clean up the reels, replace the line, and get ready for opener which is only 6 weeks away.  We ordered all of the Team Walleye hats and shirts this week as Mark Mayerich and I continue the countdown to the successful organization of our trip.  All I can say is we sure miss Ron Edberg.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Big Changes at Mille Lacs

Mille Lacs

First off, I finally got back from California, a busy trip for sure.  I was there for our annual APEC (Applied Power Electronic Conference) show and certainly if it is any indication of the economy, things are booming for sure.  I know one thing, Los Angeles is a great place to visit but quite honestly, it would drive me nuts to live there.  Staying in Long Beach, no matter which direction you went, it was at least 2 hours before you seen anything that resembles a bit of sanity!  While I was there the new regulations and announcements for Mille Lacs Lake have been released.  This is a topic that I have avoided yet has been on the top of my list for discussions with my fellow Mille Lacs anglers.  Personally I am extremely frustrated and really try to keep my posts non adversary and politically neutral.  This one has got my goat however as I have never seen a lake so mismanaged, but of course that is my opinion. The DNR has stated that the population of walleyes on Mille Lacs is at an all time low, perch are almost no existent, the eelpout are gone, but by golly its sure turned into a good smallmouth lake, yet we will still allow netting of walleyes during the spawn even though we close fishing at spawn for everyone else.  Because my travels have limited my time to articulate my thoughts in a civil matter, this week I am simply going to post the results from this weeks news release by the Minnesota DNR regarding the upcoming fishing season on Mille Lacs. 

Does anyone know?

Mille Lacs walleye anglers will be limited to two fish beginning May 11, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday morning. The harvest slot will be 18 to 20 inches. One walleye in the two-fish limit can be larger than 28 inches. Last year the limit was four walleyes, with only walleyes under 17 inches allowed to be kept. Fish that size were difficult to find. Changes also are coming this summer to smallmouth bass and northern pike limits on the big lake. The lake’s 27- to 40-inch protected slot regulation for northern's will be narrowed to a 33- to 40-inch protected slot, with one longer than 40 inches. The possession limit is three. The smallmouth bass bag limit and slot limit will be broadened to allow for more harvest. The new regulation is a 17- to 20-inch protected slot. The possession limit is six, with only one longer than 20 inches in possession. Previously, all smallmouth bass less than 21 inches had to be immediately released and the possession limit was one. “We want Mille Lacs to continue to be a world-class walleye fishing destination,” said Dirk Peterson, DNR fisheries chief. “Currently, the size and structure of the walleye population isn’t where we want it. We are committed to remedying the situation as quickly as possible through regulations that are designed to increase survival of the lake’s younger and smaller walleye. The smallmouth bass and northern pike regulations are designed to protect smaller walleye until we have better information on what these predator species are eating,” said Peterson. “We’ll be starting a predator diet study this spring. Meanwhile, the regulations will allow anglers some additional non-walleye harvest opportunities while also retaining solid numbers of trophy-sized fish.”  The DNR said it wants to conserve the lake’s large 2008 year-class of walleye because no strong year-class is coming up behind these fish. Fish in this year-class are 15- to 17-inches in length.  The new rules, the DNR said, intend to keep the total walleye kill below the combined state-tribal 2013 safe harvest level of 250,000 pounds. Fishing regulations may be adjusted if angler kill is expected to be either too high or lower than the anticipated. This year’s safe harvest level is the lowest established since treaty management began in 1997.  Tom Jones, Mille Lacs Lake coordinator, said a 2-inch walleye harvest slot is not unprecedented on Mille Lacs, having been implemented in 2001, 2002 and 2007. He added the state’s walleye harvest has been below this year’s allocation level of 178,500 pounds four of the last 10 years and in 2005 the harvest was below 200,000 pounds.  The lake is also becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable. This is due largely to changes in the aquatic community, including the presence of unwanted aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussel, spiny water flea and Eurasian watermilfoil.  These factors, plus a state and tribal harvest management strategy that focused largely on walleyes in the 14- to 18-inch range, all have contributed to a declining walleye population.  Jones said despite the declining walleye population, winter walleye fishing was good, which typically suggests good fishing in spring, too.

Went to the Sportshow last night, something I always enjoy.  One of the things I really look forward to is seeing Ken and Judy Marlow from Alaska.  We have stayed at their place many times and really enjoy their company.  We usually fish with their son Neal on his boat, The Shearwater however he had upgraded to a larger, overnight boat.  Although it would have been fun, with my cousin Mark's wife meeting us to fish the second day, it just didn't work out.  As I told Judy, we definitely missed fishing with him.  Maybe next year.   They were nice enough to give me a jar of their homemade canned smoked salmon, always a treat.  Judy also showed us a picture of a bald eagle that took residence on their deck this year, actually walking up to the patio door and peering in.  It is pretty amazing.   Whether it's Ken and Judy, Jeff and MP,  Keith and Jane, it's pretty neat to have friends in fishing paradise.  With the overnight temperatures in the single digits there is plenty of ice fishing left.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

OK, So I Got Lucky!

Pictures from a better time!

With last weeks success in the book I figured the chance for a repeat was in the cards.  Heck, I didn't even reveal the name of the lake last week, that's how confident I was.  My spot was 300 yards from the nearest house, no real activity present, it just had to be at least good for one more night.  In my dreams!  So with that my second weekend at South Stanchfield Lake was a total bust.  Convincing my neighbor Lory and my wife's cousin Jason that I had the spot, we headed out on Sunday afternoon to repeat the action of last Saturday night.  With daylight savings time just starting, there was no need to get an early start as darkness was an hour later, 7:30.  Having snowed 6 inches between the weekends, maybe there would not be as many people and it would even be better, yeah!  Heading up Highway 47, a quick stop to get some grub and off to the lake.  I was surprised there were as many people on the lake as there was but still, no one in my "secret" spot.  Like last time the perch were hitting like crazy yet the anticipation of darkness and the bite kept us focused.  Well, it never happened.  After an hour of fishing past sunset with nothing to show, it was time to leave.  There were fish there but lord knows what they were thinking, certainly they weren't hungry.  We packed it up, stopped for a beer and headed home.  I guess I should not be surprised, last week was just an anomaly.  Oh well, there is always next weekend.

Collecting sap in my yard

March as been pretty cold as it goes.  My neighbor Brandon has asked if he could tap the mature maple trees that I have in the yard, all 5 of them.  Being a guy that likes to do this kind of stuff I gladly obliged and now have 5 - 5 gallon buckets waiting for the right day/night temperatures to get the sap flowing.  Sap flow is really dependent on the weather.  Below freezing temperatures at night and 38-42 degree day temperatures get that sap flowing at it's maximum level.   Each tree has a hole drilled into it and a tap inserted.  A bucket is hung on the tap and a tube from the tap to the bucket assures that all the sap is collected in the bucket.  Maple Syrup is made by boiling maple tree sap to the point where the sugar content is about 66 - 67%.  You can easily determine this by the temperature of the boiling sap.  When sap is mostly water it boils at around 212 degrees F.  As the water is driven off the sap, the boiling point goes higher and when the boiling liquid finally reaches 219.1 degrees, it is at the point of perfection...Maple Syrup.  It normally takes about 30 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.  Brandon has done a great PR job in the neighborhood as there must be at least 100 buckets scattered throughout the streets of my development, Wildwood Springs.  My friend Bill Lundeen also makes maple syrup and has a fairly large "sugar bush", a name commonly associated with a stand of maple trees used to collect sap.  Both Brandon and Bill have large wood fired evaporators to concentrate the sap to syrup, Brandon's is pretty nice and Bill's is a production grade piece.  Either way I am sure that there will be plenty of syrup this year as this spring is set up just perfect for collecting sap.  With plenty of snow on the ground it's assured to be below freezing at night and with the sun higher in the sky, it's bound to warm up.  Last year we had temperatures in the 70's and the sap never did flow much, this year will be completely different.  I'll let you know how they do. 

Next week I am off to Long Beach for our biggest trade show of the year.  I am looking forward to seeing my good friend Joe Stanfield, it's too bad we can't do a little fishing in California for an afternoon, oh well.  Arriving back on Wednesday night, Thursday marks the first day of the Northwest Sportshow.  The biggest of the season, I look forward to checking out the latest and greatest each year.  Some people say that not much changes but I guess it depends on how you look at it.  For me, it's a chance to see my contacts, question the guys that should know, and dream about the next new adventure.  My friend Keith is heading back to Alaska for a few weeks and I actually talked him and his wife Jane into having lunch with me before he goes.  Life is pretty damn good.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I Can't Believe it, Crappies!!

My first keeper crappie of the season
So, after chasing crappies on and off for the last 3 weeks, my neighbor Pete finally had the lead on the fish that we were looking for, a nice mess of crappies.  Based on our experience a few weeks ago when I went with him, he had better come up with something better than the last hot tip he got.  Actually I am a patient guy and trying new lakes is always interesting and one never knows, you could learn a thing or two.  Agreeing to meet at 12:30 on Saturday, he had minnows from the week before while I made an early morning run to my friend's Bill Lundeen to get my Vexilar and pick up some additional bait.  Having a cup of coffee with Bill and Kathy is a great way to spend the morning and with the new Mille Lacs regulations being discussed, we had plenty of things  to talk about.  After solving all of the days problems I grabbed a pack of Frosty ice jigs, a dozen waxies, my electronics, and a box of maggots then headed south.  Finishing up with a few things around the house I packed up my equipment, auger, and after deciding to fish out of one house, drove a block to pick up Pete.  Not sure how to get to his secret lake north of Princeton, we took the scenic route only to find upon arrival that there was no way to access the lake!  Discussing our options maybe his friend meant the lake across the street.  It certainly didn't appear that it was much of a secret as there were at least 200 houses and cars on the lake.  Well, it was the only lead we had and I wasn't going back to Green Lake again.  There was a vast area between 2 clumps of houses so we decided to look at this area as there was only one other guy in the area.  Asking how deep, he confirmed 17 feet, this was exactly what I was looking for.   Drilling about 10 holes to check things out, we got a good feel for the structure and started fishing.  Perch, perch. perch, they were everywhere and not a one over 7 inches.  Full of black spots, they weren't very inviting as we let all but a couple of the larger ones go.  As the sun began to set Pete decided we needed to be warmer so cleaning the snow off the ice, we set up his 2 man Clam and fired up the heater.  Although I don't mind fishing outside, once the sun went behind the clouds the holes started to freeze up pretty fast and I headed into the Clam.  As darkness grew I noticed marks higher up off the bottom, maybe 12 - 13 feet.  Bringing up my lure the fish struck but I missed.  With my waxie gone I knew that my lure had to change, a Frosty Ice jig with a #8 hook, something larger as crappies tend to simply inhale the lure and you need to set the hook as soon as the tension leaves your line.  That made a huge difference as the very next fish represented the first keeper crappie I had caught all season, not huge but a start!  For the next 90 minutes the bite simply got better.  As I kept hooking fish, I suggested to Pete that he change his lure as I thought the hook he was using was too small.  A quick change and he landed two immediately.  Unfortunately his urge to prove he could catch one on his own terms was way to much pressure and he went back to his old methods.  We ended up with 17 nice crappies ranging from 9 to 11.25 inches.  Crappies can be deceiving 
A nice batch of 9 to 11 inch fish

as an 11 incher looks just like one over 12 inches!  Deciding I needed a picture of our fish before forgetting we laid them on the ice for a pose.  As we were admiring our catch one of the fish nearest my hole took a flip, landed in the water and swam off before I could reach far enough down the hole to get it.  Damn, we'll have to stay to replace it.  By 9:30 we were successful in getting the one that got away, the bite had slowed so we packed up and headed to the bar for supper.  It definitely was my best day for crappies in 2 years as well finally broke my 2013 ice fishing drought.  One thing about larger crappies is they tend to swim up to the bait and just inhale it.  No tell tale tug, simply a slight movement of your line as the tension comes off the rod tip.  You better be quick and watch your line as they can spit it out as fast as they suck it in.  Although I used to be a big spring bobber fan, they can be somewhat delicate.  Learning from my friend Kevin, the master of line detection ice fishing, I'm getting much better with my Black Betty setup and not as good as him its close.

Just have to show another picture!

Dropping Pete off at his shed at 11:30, I decided to take care of the fish myself.  With a couple of smaller perch, I clean 19 fish.  On Sunday an impromptu fish fry developed at my neighbor Toolman Tim's where we fried up the fillets in my 20 inch frying pan while Pete's wife brought over the potatoes, I brought the beans and tarter sauce while Connie made a fruit dish.  It's amazing how many crappie fillets you can get in a 20 inch pan, we had them all fried up in about 10 minutes.  Nothing tastes better than a last minute fish fry with the neighbors!  The pressures on to do a repeat.  We had another 10 inches of snow early in the week and I expect the lakes to be difficult at best to travel on.  We are looking at rain on Saturday, maybe enough to knock the snow down and the prediction for next week is in the 40's.  The good news is we need the moisture as last fall was very dry, affecting the rivers and lakes.  With 10 - 15 inches of snow cover on most of the lakes, it will be interesting to see if I can get out this weekend and repeat my success.