Saturday, June 29, 2013

Reunion With Canada

Hungry walleyes!
After a 40 year absence from fishing north of the 49th Parallel, Saturday was the date of my return.  I was pretty excited as we were following the same basic route that I took with the Tollefson's back in 1970, crossing the border at Pigeon River on the North Shore of Lake Superior, continuing through Thunder Bay to Nipigon, we drove by our old destination at Lake Nipigon for another 70 miles to Geraldton, Ontario.  My brother Steve conveniently picked up one of our hosts at the MSP Airport, Dane Kane who flew in from Atlanta to fish with his in-laws Victor Sr. and Victor Jr.   This gave them the chance to pick me up at home, saving me a 2 hour drive to meet them in Eleva.  We left the house at 9:00 with the intent to meet the rest of our group at the Culver's in Two Harbors, MN.  Enduring the Duluth Marathon and the 49 degrees with fog, we finally met up and headed northeast.  Before crossing the border we topped off the gas tanks.  At $3.55/gal, it would be better than the $5.40/gallon just a mile down the road.  Going through customs was better than I thought, just a few trick questions to see if you knew how to answer them the right way and we were off.  With 40 years between me and the last time I traveled in the area, admittedly it was a lot different than I thought I remembered.  With the time change we arrived by 8:30 that evening to the White Wolf Resort on Hutchinson Lake outside of Geraldton.  Sunday morning saw our caravan of boats heading to Burrows Lake, 15 miles from the cabin.  A crude landing, of rock and gravel there were 2 options, the shallow back your truck into the water or the steep side where one barely needs to get the trailer wet.  I chose the steep one.  With my brother Steve and his son Kevin in control, all I could do was sit back and enjoy the ride.  The first strategy was to cast the weed edges and shorelines for northern pike.  They were hitting as though they had never seen a bait before.  Ranging from 8 to 28 inches it was impossible not to have a fish on one of our 3 fishing rods at any given time. 60 northerns later we tried for some walleyes along the shorelines with little luck.  In the afternoon we moved to an area where a railroad bridge narrowed the outlet causing a nice current flow.  Sensing an opportunity I had 10 walleyes landed before Steve and Kevin knew what was going on.  With the walleyes hanging on the current break and the slower current areas we landed about 60 walleyes before the northerns decided to move in.  Although the walleyes were pretty small, most in the 12 inch range we did manage 4 nice keepers in the 16 - 18 inch range, enough to do our part for supper that night.  It did take a while to find the fish but we managed a good day.

River lined with pilings
Monday was suppose to be the start of having the lake to ourselves.  5 miles long, there are lots of places to fish northerns however we were focused on more walleyes.  The upper reaches of the lake have inlets that form slow moving rivers as the waters head either to Hudson bay or Lake Superior.  Burrows Lake is right on the continental divide and it's outlet can either go north or south depending on the water level and a few control dams in the system.  We decided to explore heading through the first inlet channel to a shallow lake to its inlet to another lake.  Both channels were surprisingly deep and held the promise of walleyes.  After 5 hours of exploring and fishing, we ended up with 3 more keeper fish.  Deciding to head back to the railroad bridge wouldn't you know it a boat was parked right in the middle of "our" spot.  With no desire to crowd the area we left going back to the northern spot fighting the waves that a 20 mph wind had whipped up.  An hour later it was time to head back to the cabin for more fried fish.  At the end of day 2 my honest opinion was less than favorable.  Plenty of 16 inch northerns and only locating one walleye hotspot full of 12 inch walleyes, the lake was beautiful but a pattern wasn't coming together.  Tuesday would prove to be more interesting as the discussion turned to hitting another lake, Longlac located 30 miles east of our cabin.

Supper caught!
Morning arrived as we headed east to the town of Longlac and had to make a choice.  Because of the high water it would be difficult to travel under the railroad bridge separating the incoming river from the main lake.  Longlac (Long Lake) is exactly what it infers, long.......over 60 miles long and a lot of water.  We decided to fish the river, there was good current, the water was deep and it seemed like great place to find walleyes.  The river showed remnants of the old lumber days when logs were floated down the river to the mills in Longlac as it was lined with large pilings driven into the edges of the river, some still having cables attached to them.  The strategy was simple, tie up to one of these individual pilings along the edge and cast your jig bringing it up the edge of the drop where the walleyes were stacked.  It took about an hour to figure the pattern and we began catching walleyes, much nicer than the first 2 days.  We moved up the river, jumping from piling to piling determining some were better than others.  In the meantime our other 2 boats had left the river and headed to the lake across the road.  Catching over 100 walleyes with 12 nice fish in the box, we headed back to the resort to clean our fish.  Victor Sr., Victor Jr., and Dan in one boat, Travis, Steve, and Ken in another pulled up with the mother lode, plenty of 17 inch fish with a 26 inch walleye caught by Victor Sr.  Apparently they let a number of nice fish over 19 inches as you can only keep 1 over 18.1 inch.  The discussion quickly went to Wednesday's plan, go back to Burrows Lake for the 18 inch northern massacre or back to Longlac for the 20 inch plus walleyes committing suicide..........back to Longlac.

Kevins 23 incher
Wednesday brought us back to the scene of yesterday's hot bite, along the main highway in 5 feet of water.  Being done with the spawn and with the water temperatures at 68 degrees, the walleyes had just started to go on their feeding binge.  Fishing for 2 hours and only 3 walleyes caught they either moved or we needed to wait for the bite to turn on.  Without a depth map we looked along the shoreline to determine a possible flat area in the 8 - 11 foot range that gradually sloped to 5.  A little exploring and we found our spot as the wind would drift us from 11 - 5 feet, next to a rock island, seemed like a great place.  As we move into that area Steve hooked his biggest fish of the weekend, a 33 inch northern which satisfied a promise to a friend to bring back a nice pike fillet.  Concentrating on walleyes, the bite began.  Travis's boat came over to see what we were doing as saw the obvious as 3 walleyes were released.  The moved over by 50 yards and immediately caught a 28 inch walleye, a beautiful fish anywhere.  They left early as we continued to catch walleyes up to 23 inches.  The day ended with over 130 fish landed and released, not bad.  The hot bait for us was a Gulp Minnow with 1/3 a nightcrawler for additional scent.  They just slammed it.

Steve caught the largest northern pike of the trip
I admitted to the guys that my first impressions were not what I had expected.  Looking forward to a more remote location, we simply went to their favorite lakes they had been going to for over 40 years.  I soon realized that my place was simply a moment in a long history of family, friends, camaraderie, and fishing experiences.  Of course the last 2 days of 250+ walleyes caught didn't hurt, it is really like my own experiences and adventures.  These guys joined me last fall for a day on Mille Lacs and it was a fishing disaster, one that I would not blame them if they never came back even though I knew better.  The guys that came up of our annual Leech Lake opener only to be greeted with ice, who knows what their expectations were.  My mistake was making comparisons to 40 years ago.  I had the opportunity to get more acquainted with 6 new friends, had a wonderful new experience, and really did catch a ton of fish, I am not sure what more a guy would ask for.......nothing. It was a fabulous time, one I will not forget. 

Sunday will see me on Mille Lacs with my neighbor Blair and his high school friend Kevin, from Chicago.  We had a blast last year and hopefully Sunday will be a repeat.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Bite is On!!!

A nice 26 inch walleye

After a month of excuses such as the lake is still iced over, too much rain, too windy, have to be somewhere other than the lake, my neighbor Lory Brasel and I finally made to to Mille Lacs for my first "No Pressure" fishing trip since opener.  With most of the garden in and although it was raining at the house, the radar showed the all clear at Mille Lacs, we headed out around 2:00 for the late afternoon/evening bite.  The wet weather has been perfect for my nightcrawler supply however we still stopped at Bill's to get the latest and greatest as well, I needed to stock up on a few essentials for next week (more on that later).  Deciding to go out of the landing north of the Casino, our strategy was to fish the close in humps first then move out to Sherman's flat after 6:00 with a possible finish shallow trolling Shad Raps on Indian Point.   By 4:00 we were on the humps and back-trolling spinner rigs with crawlers.  By 4:15 Lory's rod doubled over as he reeled in the first fish of the day, 19.5", in the livewell it was a great start.  At 4:30 a walleye dang near pulled my rod out of my grip, man were they hitting those crawlers hard.  I have stated this many times, nothing works better for crawler rigs than TruTurn brand bait holder hooks.  The long shaft with the cam action, the walleyes basically hooked themselves with every fish caught, hooked in the upper lip.  Honestly, one doesn't even have to let them take the crawler as they are right there!  With a 23 inch fish landed, we had 2 in 30 minutes.  Almost like clockwork Lory nailed another one, this time a 26 incher.  It was my turn again and at 5:00 I reeled in our 4th fish.  Fishing in the 16 to 20 foot level, it seemed that the fish would hit the best when the sun went behind the clouds then stop as it came back out again.  After a few more fish we decided to stick to our plan and head to Sherman's Flat. 

22 inch fish

 During the next 2 hours we managed to catch another 6 walleyes, all looking like they can out of the same 22 inch mold.  By now the wind had completely died and the bug hatch about drove us crazy.  I do like fishing crawlers during a bug hatch as the fish are really tuned in. As the sun's edge started to touch the tree tops our next stop was Indian Point.  I was surprised by the amount of boats in the shallow water (4 - 6 feet), anchored and bobber fishing.  Now I know this is a good strategy and there were 2 of Eddy's Launches parked on top of the reef.  It's common, the boats hang around the launches and are as bad as the bug hatch.   Thankfully all the boats were at the far east side of the long and narrow reef giving us some room to establish a trolling pattern.  I like staying in the 6 foot or less water as moved up and down the reef in an east to west direction.  There are a lot of smallies on the reef and they seemed to like my new Storm Smash Shad I had gotten from Bill for Christmas.  I did end up with 4 little bass while Lory, using a jointed diver managed to hook another nice 23 inch walleye.  Over all it was a great 5 hours on the lake, 13 walleyes and 4 bass with one in the slot for supper.  As you can see in the picture the evening was just perfect, a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  One other thing I finally figured out was the pointer on the GPS screen of my HDS10.  While fishing with Mark a few weeks ago I noticed that with the Lowrance Point 1 GPS receiver with built in compass, the pointer on the screen always indicated the position referencing where the front of the boat was pointing.  This drove me absolutely crazy, pointing opposite my heading, I just didn't like it.  Having e-mailed Lowrance, calling their 1-800 customer service number, even talking to Bill, nobody could answer my question of how to turn the compass function off, assuming this would now give me a true perspective of my actual heading via the pointer on the screen.  The last word was complicated!  Well, I did figure it out, I simply found the right menu item to turn the heading setting configuration for the Point 1 to OFF.  Voila, I am back to normal, which is a good thing.  Funny thing is that it really wasn't very complicated at all, oh well.

So Saturday I join my brother Steve and his son Kevin, and a few guys that fished Mille Lacs with me last September for a trip to Geraldton, Ontario Canada.  Other than a few business trips, I haven't fished Canada in almost 40 years.  After 12 hours of driving, we should be at our cabins by 9:00 and ready to go for fishing Sunday through Wednesday.  With northern pike and walleye on the menu, I have been assured that the action is fantastic.  I called my friend Paul Wenaas who fishing Canada quite a bit for some advice about minnows.  His secret is to freeze minnows that have been covered with 20 Mule Team Borax, they will be as good as you need.  I froze about 25 dozen last night, ordered 500 crawlers to pick up on the way, and have restocked my tackle box with Daredevils and smaller muskie baits, looking for that 40"+ northern.  I am pretty excited to spend some time with Steve and Kevin, hopefully I can teach them a thing or two again.   Returning late Thursday night, my report might be a few days late next week.  The following Sunday, June 30 is promised to my neighbor Blair and his friend Kevin, from Chicago.  They fished with me last year and really wanted to do it again......dang it, I suppose!  As well I am getting reports from Lake Oahe from my friend Roger Weber and they are hammering the walleyes.  Let's hope the bite stays hot for another 4 weeks. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Broken Record

Our new Ice Freezer

My life in the last 4 months consists of either funerals, weddings, graduations, or simply waiting for the endless rain to stop.  This week was no exception as on Saturday we headed to Columbus, Wisconsin which is east of Madison, for a 1:00 funeral then turned right around back to Eleva for my nephew's high school graduation.  Having little time to spend with anyone, at least if I got the day accomplished successfully, it would leave the hope of heading to Mille Lacs on Sunday for a little walleye fishing.  Waking up to a pouring rain which was working it's way north, and with the wind howling out of the east, I just didn't have the desire to fight the elements, not good.  On the other hand my friend Bill had something we wanted so my neighbor Tim and I decided to take a road trip north to pick it up.......a genuine commercial ice storage freezer.  See Tim and I went together to buy a commercial ice making machine a few years ago assuring we both have all the fresh crystal clear ice we need for the long summer.  It's great for fishing, traveling, drinks, whatever you need ice for, it's there for the taking.  We had a small freezer that we would store extra ice in as it's good to have a stockpile on hand.  This spring our freezer quit working so we needed a replacement.  In the meantime I spotted this beauty in Bill's basement, something to do with storing bait but it never worked very well.  So on Sunday we gave her a new home.  I guess the whole point of it is more about having something cool verses something practical.  The cool factor always wins!  I have access to pre printed ice bags in 2 sizes, 8#'s and 20#'s so we have a few years worth of those in stock as we have started replenishing our stocks.  With the cool weather, the ice maker will produce about 50 - 70 pounds of clear ice per day.  Here Tim is filling bags as we get ready for warmer weather (if it ever gets here).  Once the outside temperature reaches 85 degrees the ice maker really slows down its production so our plan is to rely on our storage capability, which just increased significantly.  We figure it will hold about 1000 pounds of bagged ice, enough to take us through any warm spell this year. 

Ben's new fishing pole

Graphite fishing rods came on the scene about 35 years ago, first in expensive fly rods then expanded into both casting and spinning rods.  Although very light and sensitive, those first graphite rods were pretty brittle.  As technology advanced, companies began to improve on the materials used in high end rods and one of those advancements for the time was Bass Pro Shop's Boron Elite.  Boron was a stiff but durable material, not as light as graphite yet helped the issue of breakage.  Having to have one I ordered it from Bass Pro along with the latest Abu Garcia casting reel with magnetically controlled line braking.  A sweet rig for sure as at the time high end casting reels had pistol type grips providing a more ergonomically designed handle.  Today you don't even see these as this type of grip left little leverage behind the reel seat.  Either way it was at the time "state of the art" and was a great rod for fishing bass and northerns.  One year I lent it to a good friend Pat Holmes, who was going on a fly in trip to Canada.  Pat and his friends got trapped in a forest fire that was heading straight towards them.  A helicopter arrived just in time to pluck them from a point on the lake yet there was neither time nor room to take any equipment with them.  So much for my new rod and reel! Pat's insurance covered it so after receiving my check I simply ordered another one.  Today the reel sits on the shelf, I am going to use it to make a catfish rig for the river.  As for the rod, time has blown right by the pistol gripped Boron rod.  At the time Bass Pro was charging $79.95 for the rod, about what standard graphite's were.  After staring at it for about 20 years I finally decided it needed a better home and along with a nice Zebco 33 reel, I gave it to Ben, my friend Jack's son.  Ben never says much but Jack assured me he was in seventh heaven, one that specializes in fishing.  The pistol grip is perfect for him and the boron is almost impossible to break.  Ben will need to stop by the pole shed more often as I have a lot of things to get rid of!  Here is a picture of Ben holding his first northern caught on Platte Lake with his new pole.  I'm pretty sure there is a lot of luck left in that fishing pole.

I picked up the boat from Formula One, a propeller and skag repair shop in Rogers.  They did a great job as both the prop and skag look brand new.  I have had them do work before, like the time I hit Indian Point going half throttle, that wasn't as cheap as this repair as they had to replace a bent prop shaft.  Stainless steel props are nice but they have zero give when they hit something.  This time the prop hit a rock as I back up in idle speed, much easier on the motor.   Friday is our big golf tournament and I am looking forward to what Jay may have brought this year, in the past I have bought a few nice things at the silent auction as he always brings something nice.  Last year I bought a Marcum Showdown for ice fishing.  I haven't decided which day will find me on Mille Lacs however Sunday looks like the best day of the weekend.  All I know is the walleyes are starting to bite and here I am chomping at the bit. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Our 3rd Annual MTT for Eric Applen

Catching in the rain

Last Saturday my friend Mark Applen and I competed in our third annual MTT walleye circuit tournament on Mille Lacs Lake.   The people who run the Minnesota Tournament Trail happen to be Mark's neighbors at Fisherman's Wharf on the east side of Mille Lacs and graciously donate a tournament position each year.  Mark and I assure that their donation is fully utilized to it full extent by purchasing at the stated value, a great excuse to spend a day together on the lake.  It has not been without it's rewards as the first year we entered landed us in 3rd place, good enough to raise $1046 for Mark's passion, the Eric Nicole Applen fund.  The story has been told many times yet the work is as important as ever, supporting those families affected by cancer.  Last month my cousin Mark Anderson from Anchorage sent me an e-mail asking for help.  A co-worker and obviously someone special to him had a 7 year old daughter that learned she had a rare form of leukemia.  A quick diagnosis in Anchorage determined that her best hope was in Portland Oregon, a decision that needed no discussion.  She was transported by air ambulance immediately to Portland and the family could only sit back and watch.  Understanding that families are thrust into these situations without fully understanding the impact on their day to day lives, the ENA fund sent a significant grant to help them deal with their situation.  No, we cannot fix the problem but we can try to take a little stress away.  I'm never sure but really it's only important that we try.  If you are interested in helping make a difference please go to  and donate whatever you feel is appropriate.  Our big fund raiser, the ENA golf tournament is on June 14th and to date we have raised over $250,000 for helping families simply cope.  As far as this year, well we finished 40th out of 73 teams.  It's easy to look back at our strategy and for me 
Dinged prop
we left a hot bit to look for that elusive 18 - 20 inch slot.  After catching a 19.875" keeper on our first spot, another 23 incher and it went dead.  With the late ice out we decided to fish shallow yet the weeds hadn't even emerged with put a wrench in our strategy.  The next stop was a 20 foot offshore hump about 3 miles out.  I started to mark fish immediately however they tended to be tight to the bottom.  As the wind picked up we decided to drift and within 5 minutes something slammed my nightcrawler.  3 minutes later we netted a 20.5 inch walleye, a tad too big.  As the wind continued to build, we drifted a pattern ending up with 4 fish up to 26 inches in less than an hour.  It was raining like crazy and as you see the pictures we got included raindrops on the lens.  Getting beat up we decided to move back to the shallower area where we missed a nice walleye and landed an 18 inch smallmouth bass.  Our weigh in was at 3:30 so we headed north to get closer to Hunter's Point Resort, the host of the MTT, and did a drift across Lakeside Reef.  There was a lot of fish yet we only ended up with a keeper smallie.  Heading in to make sure we qualified, I dropped off Mark at the dock with our fish then moved out.  Because the wind was blowing into the resort and the troughs of the waves were substantial, as I backed up at idle speed my prop hit something and it wasn't good.  Immediately the motor started to vibrate as I knew this wasn't going to be cheap!  After getting back to the dock and loading the boat, the skag was bent to the left and one blade had been altered a bit.  I'm pretty sure the shaft is good but we'll see as I bring it in on Monday to get fixed.  This whole thing got me thinking about my planned trip to Lake Oahe in July and what would I do if I hit something.  A quick check of Craigslist found a 14 x 20P Suzuki propeller for about 1/2 price of a new one..............I'll take it!  A good deal, it's probably a good idea to have a spare, especially for my trip out to Lake Oahe in July.

World Class Apple Wine
 This week has been anything but normal.  Saturday was our MTT, Sunday was an effort of get a few things done around the house then head to Hillsdale, Wisconsin for a graduation of an old friend's grand daughter.  On Tuesday my wife and I spent the afternoon/evening taking wedding pictures for our dear friends Bill and Kathy Lundeen's daughter Amanda and her new husband Tom.  With Bill's bait shop facing the peak time for his business, any distraction would have an impact on his success for the year so a mid week wedding was perfect.  Luckily Bill's friend Mike Meleen (who I worked with a couple weeks ago) decided to help by manning the shop.  On Wednesday night Lory Brasel and I spent time bottling our homemade apple wine.  It actually turned out fabulous as we bottled 25 750ml bottles of the wine.  The apple wine was made from cider that Lory and I pressed in 2011 from my orchard and included 5 different varieties; Haralson, Honeygold, Honeycrisp, Fireside, and Wolf River.  Apple wine starts out very dry so it needs to be sweetened to make it drinkable.  After doing a little taste testing I believe we got a winner and proceeded to bottle.  Lory commented that he would like to enter the wine at the Minnesota State Fair and I agreed.  We have rhubarb wine in the  fermenter and may actually get another batch of apple going.  It's pretty good stuff!

This weekend is again crazy.  We are driving to Madison to attend a funeral, my nephew Alex graduates, and my gut feel is that the walleye bite on Mille Lacs is hot.  I cannot get my motor in to get the skag and propeller fixed until Monday so I might have to use my new "used" prop.  My plan is to switch the prop, maybe head to Mille Lacs on Sunday, and let the chips fall where they may.  With the constant rain the garden is starting to weed up, the grass is growing like mad, and work is absolutely nuts!