Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lake Oahe, Days 3 and 4

Mark with a nice northern pike
The tropical heat of Thursday gave way to a complete switch in the wind, now coming out of the north at a pretty good clip.  Our strategy had completely switched from sorting through the walleyes to accepting the fact that 90% of our fish were going to be under 15 inches.  Liberal limits were set to help reduce this specific population as the floods of 2012 washed a significant amount of bait fish out of the lake, leaving the predator to prey ratio way out of proportion.  It would be nice if the Minnesota DNR was so diligent!   With 2 days behind us we had some catching up to do and decided to again head down river to fish our new spot, Nodding Horse Bay and continue into the main portion of the river.  Although we didn't get much action in the bay, the mouth and areas to the south came alive.  One of the nicer catches was Mark's northern which went about 36 inches.  It's interesting fishing the river as you never know what's at the end of your line and this fish surprised us.  Maintaining a controlled drift with the wind the action was steady.  Slowly the live well began to fill up with fish, enough that I started the front live well to keep the fish as fresh as possible.  Our drift consisted of moving up and down a deeper edge, staying in the 22 - 28 feet range and moving around a point, maybe about a quarter mile of water to fish.  Mark noticed a fish had followed his bait up then decided to stay under the boat.  It was a nice smallmouth bass, one that was smart enough not to fall prey to our jigs.  Mark threw a leech within a few feet and it just inhaled it.  Smallies are excellent table fare and it joined the already growing cache of fish destined for the cleaning table.

A Success Day's Catch
 By 4:00 we were counting and double counting our fish, making sure we did not go over our boat limit of 24 walleyes plus our bonus fish.  An impressive catch for the day, we did have some nice walleyes but the majority were under 13 inches, they would still make a great meal.  As you see in the picture, the South Dakota Parks Department provide a very nice cleaning station at the boat landing area.  Complete with water, Teflon cleaning surfaces, and a huge fish grinder, its a perfect place to clean and dispose of what's left of your fish.  Heading back to the house we were staying in, it was time to vacuum pack the fish and get them in the freezer.  South Dakota does not require one to leave any skin on the fish for transport.  Their only stipulation is that a piece of filet counts as 1/2 a fish.  Cut a large filet in half and it counts as 1 fish.  Because the average fillet was small we put 4 in a bag and sealed it flat so they could be counted.  In the end this pretty good as the fish froze perfectly and would not require any further processing when we got home. Now that we had everything figured out, the last day should be a breeze.

25 inch walleye, best of the trip
On Saturday we woke up to a cool 55 degrees and an east wind blowing into a distant thunderstorm. Because our spot had been successful we decided to return to the area we learned was called Slide Hill.  Almost immediately we began to catch fish.  On Friday we depended entirely on the live wells to keep our fish fresh, this time we bought a bunch of ice to ice them down if the fish turned belly up.  It was a great idea.  Up to this point the largest walleye we caught was 23 inches, a few in the 18 inch range and the rest under 15.  I was jigging my 3/8 ounce VMC Neon Moon Eye (NME) with a Powerbait paddletail tipped with a half a crawler when something smashed my lure.  The fish hung to the bottom, shaking it's head just like a large catfish, it didn't want to come up.  Convinced it was Mr. Whiskers, there was no need to hurry with the net as catfish usually hook themselves pretty good in their fleshy mouth and require surgical techniques to remove.  A few minutes later I could pick out a light colored shape, yep, must be a catfish.   Just as it surfaced the white tip of the tail became evident and we landed the largest walleye of the trip, a fat 25 incher.  These fish remind me of lake trout as when you clean them the cavity has literally rolls of fat inside them.  It was a great addition to a pretty good week and a nice reward for the last day of some serious and hard fishing.  Again we ended the day with our limit of walleyes as we headed back to the landing to clean our catch.  Sunday we packed up and by 7:00 we were on our way.  Some final thoughts: Night crawlers worked as good as anything and offered the greatest variety of fish caught; The water is very hard as it has taken 3 days to get the white film off my boat; My jigging skills have improved significantly with back to back Canada and Lake Oahe trips; It's great to be with the people you care about.   I have a feeling this won't be my last trip to this fabulous fishery.

A sign from Eric
In the meantime I did get my tractor put back together, began to weed my infested garden, picked the last of my raspberries, and headed to Eleva for our annual Fagerland Family Reunion at Jim and Kristy's on Saturday.  An extra special surprise was seeing my great Aunt Florence Olson, sitting in a chair looking as good as ever.  She is 101 1/2 years old and I must have talked to her for over an hour.  My Dad's favorite aunt, he made her adopt him after his mother (Florence's sister) died back in 2002.  Amazing articulate, we talked about everything including her hearing, loss of sight, and memory things that I have started to experience!  I guess I have a long way to go to catch her.  We did stop at Blueberry Ridge and picked 4 ice cream buckets of blueberries which I am enjoying every night.  Feeling somewhat lazy I decided to give my friend Bill Lundeen some berries and drove my motorcycle to Mille Lacs on Sunday.  Returning home my neighbor Lory was picking choke cherries for wine so I grabbed my ladder and helped.  We picked about 17 pounds.  Wednesday evening I head up to Mille Lacs with my good friend Chuck Teasley, he joins me every year about this time.  Although the fish bite has slowed down, it will be a great day as always.  I will leave you with a pretty cool experience.  While trying to catch a fish on the third day at Lake Oahe, we had not even come close to filing our limits.  As we arrived at our fishing spot on Friday a dragonfly landed on Mark's sleeve.  His son Eric, who past away 12 years ago as a teenager often shows his presence in the form of a dragonfly.  I tried to get a picture on his sleeve but apparently it wasn't talking to me!  Giving Mark the camera, the dragonfly flew down and landed on the boat, just next to him, allowing it's picture to be taken.  Our success immediately changed as we took full advantage of the sign given to us.  All I can say is it worked.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lake Oahe, Days 1 and 2

Steve with a nice Striped (white) Bass

Not unlike my trip last month to Canada, last weeks adventure to Lake Oahe was a return to a 22 year old memory of the last time I fished with my friend Roger Weber, of Aberdeen, South Dakota fame.  Besides re-living memories, our host Russ Praught let us on to the increased daily limit of 8/day and possession limits of 24 fish for walleyes caught on Lake Oahe.  Because the severe lack of baitfish has threatened the populations of walleyes, a special regulation was put in place to help reduce the numbers of predators in the system.  Of the 8 per day, only 4 could be longer than 15 inches, with only 1 over 20 inches.  The ideal catch of the day would be 1 over 20", 3 at 19" and 4 at 14.5" per guy.  The actual catch would prove to be productive however not as optimistic.  Russ and his group left at 4:00 however we weren't as anxious as my brother Steve, Mark Applen, and I headed out at 6:00AM.  Arriving 7 1/2 hours later, we were on the water by 2:30 and immediately found Russ, Nate, and Gary fishing in the bay.   Oahe is a large reservoir on the Missouri River that extends over 230 miles above the dam in Pierre, SD.  The fishing locations consist of finding flooded points and flat areas that offer structure to hold fish.  For the most part it is flooded canyons and sharp drop-offs that mark the old river channel, and often dropping to 90 feet deep in less than 50 yards.  My Lowrance has an Insight function that is helpful in determining structures as well one can sometimes figure out what's below by looking at the shoreline to see, is it steep or sloping?  Reservoir levels can
Mark in Striper Heaven!
fluctuate considerably so the reference depth contours of my map chip are based on the full pool.  With the water level down about 20 feet and assuming some inaccuracies,  the contour lines were off by up to 30 feet yet were good enough to provide an great reference for what was under the boat.  Russ was fishing in 25 - 40 feet of water in the bay and catching a few.  We decided to move to the Moreau River area around an island to try our luck.  We did catch a number of 12 -13 inch walleyes but through them back, looking for larger fish.  The plan for a fish fry that night didn't look so good as we only had 5 in the live well.  It would soon become obvious that if you wanted fish, those 12 inch walleyes would start looking better.  As the boat worked our way back up the shore line we entered a mud line (caused by the interaction between the waves and the current) and immediately I got hit. This was no walleye and soon I hoisted a 18 inch striped bass.  Looking at Mark who was in the front of the boat I yelled....ANCHOR LOCK as the Terrova can hold the boat in one position, I knew these fish school up and it could be a frenzy.  I was right!  Steve and I traded our jigs for crank baits and we were catching a 17 - 19' striper on at least 9 out of 10 casts.  Mark was going crazy as he had never experienced a hot striper bite and couldn't get over the amount of triples we experienced.  I took a video and uploaded it on YouTube, you can check it out on this link: Striper Fishing.  The action lasted for over an hour before we were forced to leave, my guess was we caught close to 200 fish.  We used to catch these fish on Lake Pepin but never this big and for this long.  It was a great day to end day 1. 

23" Walleye
Day 2 brought the hottest day of our trip, over 100 degrees by early afternoon.  Determined to stay cool and protected a long sleeve Simms fishing shirt and long Cabela's fishing pants were my choice of clothing.  The new modern fishing clothing are amazing even on a miserable day like Thursday turned out to be.  After deciding that yes, the Moreau River was nice, the walleyes were small and challenging to locate.  One of the features on my Lowrance Map software was fishing tips for areas and after reviewing a few notes about a bay south of Swan Creek, we decided to try a few areas before settling in on Fielder Bay.  As we entered the bay Steve noticed something moving on shore.  Needing a little break we motored over to the far shoreline only to find 3 horses standing at the edge of the water and shaking their heads up and down.  The oddest thing we had ever seen I took a video and again uploaded on YouTube, check it out on this link: The Nodding Horses .  It was as though they were saying......Yes, Fish Here!!!  Well, within a few minutes I landed what would be the largest walleye for the first 2 days, a 23 inch fat pig.  The horses were right, Fish Here!  We did get a few more walleyes however as it got warmer during the afternoon we needed to find something a little more productive.  Moving out of the bay and into the main river we noticed a boat fishing just south of an area called Slide Hill.  With my contour map I could see that it was working an underwater point in the 22 - 26 foot range.  The wind created a perfect drift as we started fishing somewhat shallower that our previous target depth of around 30 feet.  Immediately we started catching fish.  Walleyes, northern, sheepshead, catfish, smallmouth bass, perch, crappies, stripers, one never knew what you would pull up once the hook was set.   Still being somewhat particular with the size of our walleyes, it just didn't seem right to keep those 12 inchers but man, this was the majority of what we were putting in the boat.  It was a lot of fun catching a variety of fish and admittedly those larger catfish put on quite a fight, we still fell short of
our limit of walleyes despite the liberal limits.  Something was not right and we finally figured it out, it was us!  As we met Russ and his 2 partners Gary and Nate Fischbach back at the landing meeting at the very nice cleaning station it was obvious, if we were going to catch our limit it had to include a significant number of small walleyes.  As we talked to the locals who fished the area often, they acknowledged that the population of walleyes were skewed to the under 
Second day limit from Russ, Gary, and Nate
15 inch fish and the regulations encouraged the harvest of the smaller walleyes.  If you have ever fished Lake of the Woods in the winter, you will soon figure out that a 13 inch sauger is an average fish and fair game.  Setting our standards at about 14 inches cost us a day and a half of our possession limit and going forward we relaxed our expectations.  Besides, a 13 inch perch was always acceptable, tomorrow would be different.

Our first 2 days proved to be our exploratory phase of the trip.  Getting our bearings and fishing memories from 20 years ago, we needed to step it up if we were going to bring home any fish.  I always like to leverage myself with the locals as they can shortcut your strategy considerably.  Akaska, SD is a friendly town of fisherman with a great sense of community that is tied to fishing.  Cleaning my boat a couple drove by with their golf cart, the preferred mode of travel, asking how we did.  Explaining the small fish I was assured that the under 15 inch fish made up the majority of the population and we should really start keeping these. As well I related my story of fishing 20 years ago with my friend Roger and his home town friends the Kessler's, when George Kessler hosted Governor Mickelson of South Dakota.  The guy remembered the day the Governor came to Akaska, an effort from the local supporters to get the 9 mile stretch of gravel road from town to the boat landing paved with asphalt.  The shore lunch we had off a bay south of the landing was the inspiration for what now is known as Governor's Bay, named after that event.  It's interesting to realize that I was there for a small piece of history that was significant to the local area. Governor Mickelson tragically died in a plane crash on April 19, 1993 as it was a sad day for my South Dakota friends.  My experience was special as our shore lunch was spectacular, eating fresh fried walleyes and all the fixin's while the Governor told stories of the wild west, South Dakota style.  Later he offered to buy everyone a drink at the local saloon as we walked down the boardwalk to enjoy a beer with him.  Today that saloon is gone, the road is still maintained, and the memories are as they happened yesterday.  This week is family reunion time and I have much more to share for day 3 and 4, it will have to wait.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Quick Note Before I Head Out

Front end work

Tomorrow morning at 6:00 I head out to Lake Oahe.  The weather is hot and here's hoping the bite will be as well.  It's been a scramble the last 2 days with the 3 inches of rain we had on Friday night to celebrating my niece's birthday on Sunday in Wisconsin, there's a lot to get done.  I did decide to take the front end of the Ferguson apart to replace the pivot pin and bushings that had worn out.  It came apart pretty well but soon discovered that the bushings I had ordered 6 months ago were the wrong ones.  The right one should be in by the time I get back and pending any further problems should be back together by next Monday.  It will be just perfect as the back of the field is getting pretty long and needs mowing.  The other issue is that its parked in front of my jon boat and the river is slowly making its way to a more normal flow after our very wet and late spring.  Hopefully I can get out on the river next week and catch a few smallies or catfish, if I am not fished out from 4 days on the Missouri River..........not!
Ben's 23 inch Walleye

With little time to write anything of substance this week, I will end with a picture of my good friend Ben Taylor and his 23 inch walleye he caught out of Platte Lake this weekend.    I'm sure that it provided a great start to a fish fry later that evening.  Ben's chomping at the bit to get up to Leech Lake with us for opener and become an official Team Walleye member.  With catches like this, I'm not sure we want him!  I think he'll fit right in.  Here's hoping we'll have plenty of pictures and memories for my next post.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fishin' With Hondro

Hondro with a 27" walleye looking pretty dapper!
It's been over 15 years since Hondro Zeller has graced the front of my boat but after a few false starts we finally were able to connect last Friday, July 5th.  Originally he was going to try and find a camping spot on or near Lake Mille Lacs for the long 4th of July weekend, a seemingly impossible task only a few weeks before.   Settling on the 5th, it would give me some time to get things done over the weekend and enjoy the lake on a less crowded day.  Along with Hondro was his son Anders.  Both met me at my pole barn at 8:00 AM, maybe too early considering the evening before yet I managed to be ready on time.
Upon arrival we loaded everything up as he introduced me to his son Anders.  I thought I heard right, like the first part of my last name but quite honestly I wasn't too sure what I really heard!  A strapping young man, had just graduated from college and it would be exciting to hopefully show both of them a great day on the water.  By the looks of things there was going to be some wind on the lake as it was blowing directly out of the south pretty good for 8 in the morning.  The last time I fished with Hondro was in my Skeeter 135T.  Back when 3 Mile Reef was a great walleye spot, we had spent the day fishing the area and it was pretty rough.  Remembering our ride back to the landing, we hit a wave and my rear trolling motor bracket broke.  The only thing that alerted me to the situation was a slight hesitation in my boat as the motor hit the water.  Held on only by the power cord, I looked back to see it bouncing on the water at 25 mph.  Slowing to an idle the motor sunk sunk to the depth of the remaining cord as I pulled it up, set it in the boat and continued on.  Luckily Minnkota did a great job fixing it back up.  Making the usual stops we had the boat in the water by 10:00.  The south wind didn't seem so intimidating at the landing yet I knew it was only going to get worse.

Anders with a nice fish.
One can probably gather that I usually have a strategy as I work my way further from the shore.  Sherman's first, 7 Mile second, 9 Mile third, Plan B fourth.  Sherman's proved difficult as the wind blew perpendicular to the edge.  It can be rather easy to quarter along the edge but with a number of guys hovering an area on the edge, it made positioning rather difficult.  An hour later and we didn't have a single bite.  Next stop was 7  Mile, again a number of guys hovering but at least the north/south drift lines were better.  Still nothing.  Next stop was 9 Mile and to my surprise there was no one there.  Maybe we just hit the flat when the fish turned on but whatever, we proceeded to start catching walleyes.  The first one was a 19.5 inch fish, perfect for the live well.  Unfortunately it would prove to be our last keeper fish.  As we drifted a better north/south line, we continued to catch fish, often 3 per drift.  Motoring back to the south end we could easily keep on a line that stayed at the edge of the flat.  Eventually another boat showed up an promptly worked the area right in the center of our drift line.  9 Mile Flat is big enough to get away from the interference and still be on fish.  After 4 hours of working the flat we had over 16 walleyes, 1 in the box, a surprising 2 under 17 inches, and a 27 inch walleye, Hondro's personal best.  The wind had started calming down somewhat but that was temporary as it began to pick up speed again late in the afternoon.  With a desire to head back closer to shore I decided to show them how to deep water troll using both lead line and planer boards.  Trolling from 9 Mile to 7 Mile would not take that long as I had heard the basin bite had started.  We rigged the planer with a #11 Tail Dancer in a purple color, 150 feet of line out, attached the in-line planer and started trolling.  The next 2 rods were lead line with my new Suffix 832 lead core which was suppose to sink and extra 2 feet per color.  3.5 colors out and it became a waiting game, but not too long.  The first rod to double over was Hondro's lead core with the #5 Shad Rap.  We reeled that one in and reset just in time to see Anders planer board flag to drop.  Another  nice walleye at the end it was my turn.  I didn't have to wait too long as my lead core folded over.  3 nice walleyes in less than an hour trolling, seemed pretty good to me!  At 5:30 we decided the wind had taken most of our energy and we headed in.  Loading the boat we stopped at Bill's to give him a report, bought a coke and headed back to Dayton.  It was a great day to get out, the wind proved to be not much of a determent to our success, and after quickly cleaning the 19 1/2 inch walleye we did keep, Hondro and Anders had supper in the bag.  Admittedly I did ask for clarification on the origin of Anders name, a name I had never heard of.  They laughed and explained it was really Alexander and it was simply a derivative.  As I get older my hearing isn't so good so it was a relief to know that I was hearing it correctly!

Caught on Lead line
So next Wednesday Mark Applen, my brother Steve, and a few other friends are heading to Lake Oahe for 4 days of fishing.  It should be pretty exciting as the Fish and Game Department in South Dakota has raised the possession limit of fish caught in Oahe to 24 walleyes.  Our fearless leader on this trip is Russ, and he has found a place to rent for $30/night/guy....not bad.  It's a 7 hour drive from home with only about 4 miles being freeway.  Like getting ready for Canada, I have been busy stocking up on the right presentation as I am sure the walleyes will be found in much deeper water.  Bottom Bouncers were made for this type of fishing as we will probably pull a lot of night crawler rigs.  I head out to Cincinnati on Thursday for a business trip and the weekend weather looks like thunder storms, it might be a good time to finally fix the pivot pin in the front end of my tractor.  The "back 40" is getting awfully long and needs to be cut with the brush hog.  I would like to get the front end fixed before doing any extensive work with the tractor.  Although the fishing season started slow and late, I've made most of my time on the water up and then some!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Back on the Pond

Kevin and a nice walleye

After 4 days of fishing in Canada the next date was with my neighbor Blair Wolfram and his friend Kevin from Chicago.  Last year Blair had asked me if I could take his friend fishing, we were able to get out in the middle of June, and did very well.  This trip was a couple of weeks later however with the late spring, timing was perfect.  My friend Mark Applen was staying at his place on Mille Lacs and had started giving me early morning reports as he was out on a mid-lake flat.  Words like "Committing Suicide, On Fire, Jumping in the Boat" made us wish we would have left 2 hours earlier.  The last draw was a picture that came on the phone of a 44 inch northern he just released.....uffda!  Stopping at Lundeen's to pick up some supplies and the secret bait (shhhh...small pike sucker minnows) we headed to the landing.  Based on the past spotty reports of little pressure on the lake I expected the landing to have plenty of parking yet as we turned the corner you could see rigs parked in the ditch, a sure sign the bit was good.  All the rain has certainly filled up the lake, evident by the dock at the landing requiring a good jump or wet feet to get in the boat.  I generally have a strategy of stops, starting inshore first then working our way to the middle of the lake.  With Mark's reports still coming in we decided to just meet him at 7 mile.  As we approached the flat he was easily identified by the guy standing in his boat waving us over!  There was a nice chop on the lake and as we got closer he was reeling up another fish.  There were quite a few boats on the flat and with 3 guys I decided to circle the outside edge.  An hour later we had 5 walleyes on the board.  Finishing our first trip around the flat back to Mark, he was ready to leave.  With both his keepers in the boat, the wind was dying and bite slowed, he left for his place at Fisherman's Wharf. 

 Caught on a crawler

Another hour at that flat and a few more fish we decided to look for a less crowded flat.  With so many guys on a structure, they can push the active fish off the flats.  The calming winds causes the water to flatten out, add the high sun and you can be assured the light penetration is at it's maximum.  Once this happened the walleye's became more scarce although they didn't stop biting, it was just longer between fish.  Deciding to go back to my original strategy we headed back closer to shore and fished Sherman's Flat.  We had little competition as there were only 3 boats left verses the 12 that were working it as we passed it earlier.  No jumping in the boat we managed another 6 walleyes for a total of 13 caught.  Moving north to Seguchi Flat's long western edge, another 5 walleyes were netted.  A final stop back at Sherman's saw an additional 2 fish for a days total of 20.  Not saying it was a bad day but once the wind stopped blowing it became more difficult to locate active fish.   Had we been there 2 hours earlier, it could have been double that.  Oh well the price for a decent nights sleep.  We did not end up with any keeper fish, those in the tight 18 - 20 inch slot range yet we did get a surprising 17 incher.  I suppose you could look at the good side, at least we didn't have to clean fish when we got home!  With the bite as good as it is my next trip planned is Friday the 5th with a good friend Hondro Zeller.  The last time he fished with me was when I had my Skeeter 135T, probably in the mid 1990's.  I don't remember if we caught any fish but I do recall how windy and rough it was.  We hit a wave and my rear trolling motor bracket broke sending the entire unit into the water as I only became aware of it as the motor, held on by the cord, was bouncing off the back!  Going too fast and acting too smart, thank God I am older now.  This trip will be a little more civilized as the Ranger handles the water much better and the weather is supposed to be beautiful.  Hopefully next weeks post will be a good one.

Monday we met regarding our Lake Oahe trip and have that pretty well organized.  Russ wants to leave at 4:00 in the morning, go go go.  Draining my livewells on Sunday the valve control for one of them broke.  On top of that there must have been some water left in the system as one of the valves by the aerator pump was leaking pretty bad, typical of what happens when water freezes and cracks the case.  I did get to my dealer to secure parts and will put them in before Friday.