Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Too Hot To Fish!

Successful day of fishing in Seward
This weekend reminded me of a day in July around 1984, I decided to go fishing a small lake near Lake Minnetonka called Whaletail.  The forecast included a strong south wind of 20 mph and highs of over 100 degrees.   The lake ran north and south and was a conduit for that wind.  Like fishing in a convection oven, all I did was make myself miserable.  I'm not sure it filed that outing as Lessons Learn but it sure made me think about getting out this weekend, something I really wasn't up for.  Now this time of year is traditionally when I am in Alaska basking in the flannel shirt weather, maybe even a light jacket.  Unfortunately all I could do was live the fantasy through my good friends Jack, Mark, Matt, and Jared Taylor, all whom had left the Saturday before to their first Alaskan trip together as a family.  I couldn't have been more excited as half the fun was helping Jack plan his adventure.  Loading him up with my waders, fishing rods, baits, coolers, and other items that I figured he would need, the only thing missing was me.  Maybe next year.  So in the meantime they fished with the same captain we did last year in Seward, a young man that really knew his stuff.  Calling Jack on Sunday morning, they were just leaving the docks and heading to sea.  It turns out they had 6 foot seas and decided to fish the cliffs near the entrance of Resurrection Bay for silver salmon.  They loaded up in about 40 minutes, typical of that area.  There next stop was Montague Island for halibut.  Typical of the size there you can see they filled out with a limit of 20 pounders, not bad.  Mixed in were some rockfish and yellow eyes.  Been there, done that and it never gets old.

A limit of Susitna River silvers
The Taylor's have a connection in Anchorage, their cousin's wife Marina.  Marina was married to Tom Jarvis, a teacher who went to Alaska, taught in Nome, retired in Anchorage and began to work for the Alaska Fish and Game, his dream job.  Unfortunately he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and a good man left us too early.  Marina still has their cabin northeast of Anchorage, near Wasilla so the boys took full advantage of Alaskan hospitality.   Booking a river trip on the Little Susitna river, they took advantage of the silver run still in progress.  I love fishing silvers as the really know how to punish a 8 foot rod and a Super Vibrax spinner.  These fish are mixed with some being pretty fresh as indicated by their bright chrome color with those that have been in the river a few days turning more red colored.  Either way they are delicious on the grill and here's hoping the Taylor's will invite me over for a celebration meal.  Like my family, this will be a trip of a lifetime and I only hope that they do this again, time is always too short and running out.  Good job boys!

So it's Labor Day already.  The garden is full of weeds, tomatoes are starting to ripen, potatoes have died back, and the second crop of corn will be ready in a few days.  My cucumbers have been a complete disaster and along with the onions you got to got to wonder where the green thumb went.  The apples are looking good and putting some heft to them.  The Summer Crisp Pears have vacated their home and lay scattered on the ground.  Next to ripen is the Patton pears as they have developed into a very substantial sized fruit and taste great.   Apples and raspberries are next and within 4 weeks we could have our first killing frost.  The clock keeps ticking for sure.  I have an invitation to go back to Canada this fall with my neighbor Pete and at first our schedules didn't match but it looks like it's pushed out a week, I am not sure I can refuse.  This weekend is my annual pre-Labor motorcycle ride with my brother Steve as we travel the scenic roads of southwestern Wisconsin.  Hopefully we can plan our eventual trip around Lake Superior, a trip we should have taken this week!  It's suppose to cool off next week with lows back down in the 50's, a welcome relief from these 80 degree nights.  It's always something.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Wingdam Walleyes

Carter's on the board!
Looking for a bite that's been better than Mille Lacs these days, I received a call from my friend Eric Hayes inviting me to fish the wing dams below the dam in Alma, Wisconsin with his 9 year old son Carter.  About the same time I got a call from Mark at Blueberry Ridge, the berries were perfect, come on down.  That's all I needed as the plan was to meet Eric at the boat landing around 9:00 on Sunday, fish till 3:30, pick berries till 6:00, and spend some time with my mother before driving home.  With perfect timing I arrived at the landing about a minute behind Eric and Carter.  Now  I had meet Carter a few years back and was excited to see him again.  Kids need adults that can engage them and I was looking forward to teaching him a few fishing skills.  Well, no teaching needed!  Our strategy was to begin trolling the front of the wing dams with crank baits such as Bombers, Shad Raps, or Smash Shads.  Wing dams are rock structures put in the Mississippi River to direct water flow to the channel, assuring enough depth for the barge traffic.  Some wing dams are better than others depending on the water flow, depth, location, how steep the front side is. Because they are made of rock, it's easy to get hung up and with the zebra mussels, lines such as Power Pro or Spiderwire are needed to avoid cutting your line and losing your bait.  Snags are fairly easy to get out but sometimes a lure retriever was necessary.  Eric hadn't fished this area much so we would have to troll the face to get an idea of it's lay under the water.  A big advantage was his Lowrance Side Scan, we could see exactly where the rocks started, ended, and the position of the wing dam to the boat.  The first fish was a dandy, about a 10 pound northern that hit Carter's lure.  For a nine year old Carter handled that fish like a seasoned veteran.  Dad lets him use a pretty sweet St. Croix rod with a Shimano Stradic reel, I have friends I would not trust with that rig.  I snapped a few pictures before I realizing the camera could take a video (I keep forgetting). With that we got Carter bringing in the northern and dad putting doing an excellent job of netting.  I just love how those big northerns look coming to the boat.  Check this link Carter's Northern. We continued fishing a few more wing dams when finally Eric caught a walleye over 15 inches, the minimum size limit for the river.  A few minutes later we had a second one.  From then on it was smaller fish, close, but it's pretty hard to stretch them as long as we needed.  Oh well, I did finally get one, a 14 inch walleye on my Smash Shad and this was the last walleye we got for the day, a total of 6 fish, 2 keepers and 4 released.

Carter's walleye
Carter was getting bored of the uneventful  pace of trolling, especially given the last 2 hours were pretty unproductive.  He had his eyes set on the rock rip rap along the shore, a perfect place to cast for bass, especially smallmouth.  His favorite lure was a plain plastic fluke rigged on a worm hook, unweighted and danced just below the surface, I was told the fish go wild for these.  Watching Carter cast into the rocks he would often end up on the shore while I was struggling to get close enough. He got hung up a few times but I admired his aggressive attitude toward those fish that were up tight against the shore. While we moved along the rocks and worked the edge, the bass didn't disappoint.  I think I ended up with 5 bass, including this nice smallie that Carter netted for me.  3:00 came fast as we loaded the boat up and I headed north to Eleva.  It was a real pleasure to fish with Eric and Carter, Eric has fished walleyes with me at Leech and Mille Lacs and Carter is a chip off the old block.  I brought him a Cabela's Fisherman's Folding Tool and he loved it.  Admittedly worried he might be too young but dad gave me the go ahead and he never put it down.  Hopefully in 30 years he'll remember how he received the tool in the bottom of his new tackle box.  I got something out of the deal as well, a new way to fish bass on the river behind my house, and a new friend, pretty good trade if you ask me!

My guide for the day!
Stopping in Eleva I headed to Blueberry Ridge to get my quota of blueberries.  They were more ripe than a couple of weeks ago, with Mark's help I picked 6 large pails.  We'll probably make wine out of a couple of the pails, 1 goes to Bill Lundeen, and the rest will get frozen.  Blueberries freeze very well and in the middle of winter they certainly are a treat.  I am writing this at the Cleveland Airport, having been here since Tuesday, it's time to go home.  My great friends Mark, Jack, Matt, and Jared Taylor are in Alaska fishing and they have sent me some great pictures of their adventure which I hope to write about next week.   They are coming home on Saturday so I'm looking forward to a full report.  My plans for the weekend are still not settled as we are definitely in the dog days of summer.  Maybe catfishing on the river, a motorcycle ride, working on the garden, there's never a dull minute this time of year.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Those Crazy, Hazy, Lazy Days of Summer

First smallie of the year
Just like the old Nate King Cole song, we are in the middle of the summer and to be honest, the fish aren't biting too well these days.  As well it hasn't been too hazy either!  June was warm however July has not seen the air conditioner run very much as the weather has been just about perfect.  Of course Alaska weather is perfect for me so I love those lows in the 50's each night.  Reports on Mille Lacs have been spotty, my friend Pete, who fishes the Mississippi River is even complaining about the slow bite and for him, that's unusual for the river.  Last week's post with Charlie wasn't my worst days of catching on the pond but it ranked right down there.  I guess the good thing about that is it appears that Mille Lacs could be filling the voids as Mark reported catching a couple of foul hooked perch in 34 feet of water last weekend.  Time will tell.  With our ENA Golf tournament party slated for Sunday and the simple fact that I felt lazy, it was decided that Lory and I would head back to the Mississippi River on Saturday and try our luck again as we had more time.  While contemplating our trip the neighbor Todd came by to see what was up.  Telling him that we were going on the river in a half hour, maybe he should join us. Todd is not much of a fisherman but we asked anyway and expected the same answer......I have to work on work.  Sure enough, that was his answer.  Hey, it's Saturday afternoon, you can work tomorrow as he headed home.  3 minutes later Todd was back, deciding that maybe a few hours on the river wouldn't be that bad.  Loading the boat and hooking it up to my Polaris UTV we headed through the pasture and to the landing next door.  Things worked quite a bit faster with an extra guy as we had the gates opened and closed in record time.  That's where the "faster" ended.  With three 220# guys in my 14 foot jon boat being pushed by a 1976 Evinrude 15 horse outboard we hit a blinding speed of 6.5 mph up river.  With 3 mile ahead of us, it took about 2 beers to get there.  Earlier I had picked up a dozen nice river shiners at Vadoo's bait and was determined to catch something on them.

Todd's first Mississippi catfish
Our first spot was a deeper stretch of river, running about 9 feet for about 100 yards or so.  A guy was fishing there last week with crankbaits and it looked pretty good.  Noticed I said looked as we tried shiners, crawlers, and preserved minnows yet the only thing we managed to catch were a few snags on the bottom.  Next stop was in front of the Stephens Farm, once owned by Win Stephens, the prominent Buick dealer in St. Louis Park.  You can tell it was a nice place a one time but after Win died, his wife Elsie pretty much went in seclusion with a house full of cats.  We saw her in Cub Foods one time with about 40 pounds of frozen beef liver that reportedly she cooked and ground up each day to feed her cats.  Never the less, the river that borders her property on the north side can be pretty good.  Not today.  Moving over to the Anoka County side of the river, we headed around the north side of the island on a channel that can be pretty good.  As we headed down the outside bend I nailed a smallie on a fire tiger Bomber.  At the same time both Todd and Lory hooked up as well, a triple on crank baits.  Netting my fish first, the lure was stuck in the net as Todd's fish was small enough to bring in by itself.  Lory had the nicest smallie yet had to wait for the net, too late as he tried to lift it in the boat the line broke and off swam the smallie with a lip ring in him.  We motored back up and tried the run again but we must have caught them all on the first run.  Oh well, it was still nice to at least catch some fish.  The current is swift as the water runs around the island, maybe that's a clue where the fish were hanging out.  Unfortunately with 3 in the boat it's a little tough to maneuver.  

What a pig!
Heading down river the rest of our strategy was to fish the deeper hole below Cloquet Island, maybe some nice catfish were biting, anything that might be interested in a crawler of minnow.  Changing rigs to a slip sinker and circle hook, we loaded them with night crawlers and let them sit on the bottom.  The first to hook up was Todd with a small catfish.  Not the largest catfish but his first on the river.  Next line to give a tug was mine, and tug it did.  With circle hooks you don't set the hook rather a simple easy pull and the circle hook with work its way to the corner of the fishes mouth and turn causing the hook point to dig in.  When fishing halibut in Alaska circle hooks are the preferred hardware.  Halibut tend to swallow the bait and with the circle hooks you can literally pull them out of their stomachs and because the fish are straight down the hook does it's job allowing a safe release if the fish is too small.  Whatever the fish was it was big.  My guess was a nice 12 pound catfish however as it broke the surface a tank of a carp made itself known.  Now this was by far the largest carp I had ever hooked as it bulled it's way around the boat.  After a 10 minute battle we finally had it in the net.  My guess was 20 - 25 pounds but of course one always likes to exaggerate.  Never the less it was huge as I snapped a few pictures and let it go.  Years ago I would have probably brought it home for dad to smoke, cut it up for the garden, or simply throw it on the bank as carp were not very desirable.  Ed Enos, my friend Kevin's grandpa was an expert at smoking carp, a delicacy back home.  I suppose I could have considered this but it seemed like too much work at the time, away it swam.  Still it made for a fabulous picture. 

I have an open invitation to join my friend Eric to fish the wingdams south of Alma, my old fishing haunts.  It's tempting and I hope to report next week.  My garden continues to be taken over by weeds, the cucumbers have failed miserably, and the tomatoes seem like they are 3 weeks behind.  I guess the cooler whether has put the hold on everything.  My new raspberries are doing well and I picked blueberries last weekend.  I guess the good thing is that by time the peppers and tomatoes are ready I'll be more in the mood to make something of them.  It's suppose to warm up later this week and with the State Fair starting next Thursday, summer is going fast. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Day With Charlie

Chuck's 26 incher
The first week of August usually means a visit from an old friend Chuck Teasley.  I have been writing this blog since 2008 and the only 2 times we have missed was in 2008, when I was in China and 2011 when my father died.  Other than that, we make a real effort to get together once a year to fish Mille Lacs.  Charlie is an interesting guy, has the biggest chip on his shoulder yet would give it to you in a heartbeat if you needed it.  More time than not we include our friend Dan Hoene, but this year Dan couldn't make it.  Our adventure started Wednesday evening as Chuck met me at the pole shed.  After hooking the boat up we headed north stopping at Bill's to get the latest news on the bite, then heeding his advice and stopped at the Spirit Lake Steakhouse in Wahkon for supper.  All I can say is wow!  The food was absolutely fabulous and my favorite was the walleye strips, totally unbelievable.  Finishing dinner we headed to Fisherman's Wharf to stay at my friend, Mark Applen's estate!  It's pretty nice as Mark has turned an ordinary ice house into a comfortable castle.  The night was clear and the stars were incredible.  After an hour of watching Gator Boys we finally hit the sack for a great nights sleep.    Thursday brought a northwest wind with whitecaps coming into the east side shorelines.  Our strategy was to head to the west side and fish the flat areas including Sherman's, 7-mile, 8-mile, and wherever we could find fish.  In the end it would prove more difficult than we expected. 

Chuck's 23 incher
Our first stop was The Cut on Sherman's Flat.  This is usually my go to area as I start at the inside end of the drop off and work my way up to the tip.  I was marking a ton of fish but nothing was biting.  On my way back down the edge there was a boat working the same break but headed directly for me.  Deciding someone had to give, I moved out of the way and let him pass.  I minute later I got a call from my friend Jon Bathke asking way I almost ran them over.  As a passenger in a Lund, Jon drives a Warrior Boat so I didn't recognize him.  We agreed to keep each other abreast of the current bite and went our own ways.  Next stop was the 7-mile as the west end was perfect for the wind drift.  After 3 hours we still had nothing to show for our efforts.  Time to start lead lining.  After an hour of unproductive trolling Jon called and said they were having some luck at the 8-Mile flat.  We were already heading that way so we decided to simply stay our route.  In the meantime I decided to switch to a #11 Tail Dancer on a planer board.  Still marking fish, they simply weren't biting.  An hour later I decided it was time to move and while reeling in my Tail Dancer a nice 24 inch walleye hit the lure.  Landing it we took a picture however the SD card was locked so no picture.  This was our inspiration to keep trolling and Chuck landed 2 more nice fish, a 26 inch walleye shown above and a 23 incher.  Both were caught on a lead line with a small orange crank bait.  Besides a fish that hit the Tail Dancer again, that was about it.  We hit Indian Point and trolled the length of the reef but no dice, not even a 12 inch smallie.  Heading back to the landing we loaded up and ran into Jon, who had just loaded up themselves.  He did somewhat better with 6 fish landed, still a fairly poor day considering the week before was on fire.  That's fishing.

Saturday I loaded my motorcycle on the trailer, dropped off my wife in Eau Claire and headed south.  After 2 hours of picking blueberries at Blueberry Ridge in Eleva, I unloaded my bike and put on 150 miles riding the beautiful roads of Trempealeau County.  Sunday saw the 2013 inaugural launch of my 14 foot Jon Boat as it made it's maiden voyage on the Mississippi River behind my house with Lory Brasel.  Thinking the fish were shallow, our first mistake, a gentlemen fishing the river gave some advice, fish the deep edges.  Somewhat difficult at first, we decided it was best to come back with a better strategy, maybe jigging the 10 foot holes with a 3/8 oz jig tipped with a crawler might be the ticket.  In other words, we didn't catch a thing!  Never the less it was nice to get out and we do have a plan for the next adventure on the River.  The summer has actually been pretty nice if you like the weather a little cooler.  The water temp on Mille Lacs was 70 degrees F, pretty cool for the first of August.  My tomatoes are begging for warmer, more humid temperatures but it doesn't look promising.  At least it great sleeping weather!