Thursday, October 31, 2013

Apple Cider Time

Kevin's Paddlefish!
The first thing I would like to share is a picture that my friend Kevin Aiona sent me this week.  When I first saw the picture he texted to me I wasn't quite sure what the heck it was.  Closer examination revealed a prehistoric looking fish he had caught below the dam in Alma, a paddlefish weighing at least 40 pounds.  More common in the middle areas of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, I can never remember anybody catching one of these fish even though I have heard they are found this far north.  Calling Kevin to get the scoop he explained that while fishing walleyes below the dam in Alma he hooked into something large.  Often large catfish will hit a jig and minnow, he simply assumed it was a big Flathead.  After a prolonged battle it finally came to the boat and to his surprise it was a paddlefish.  Alone in the boat his net wasn't large enough to land the fish and with both being somewhat exhausted he was able to grab it under the gills and bring it in the boat.  Hooked in the mouth, it must have been swimming by just as he lifted his jig as paddlefish are plankton feeders and generally will not hit a lure of any kind.  In fact they are usually caught by snagging them during a special season or by accident.  Either way I am sure Kevin was surprised as he released the fish back into the river.  Along with the once in a lifetime catch, he went home with a nice limit of walleyes as they move towards the dam to spend the winter.  Nice catch Kev!

Cider Production Line
So Saturday was the day the Brasel's and I planned to start up the cider press.  Without an apple crop last year it had been 2 years since the last time we squeezed cider.  This year included a new, larger press and the integration of my apple grinder that fit right on top of the press.  Its actually a pretty slick deal, grind the apples directly into the cider press hopper till full, swing away the grinder an press away.  Prior to pressing Lory had made me 4 wooden half circles to put underneath the main press plate.  When we set up the press a few months ago it was noted that the main press mechanism did not go far enough, in my opinion, to adequately press a less than full load of ground apples.   We were right as these wooden spacers really helped the cause.  With about 40 - 50 bushels of apples from the harvest we averaged around 1 gallon of cider per bushel.  2 years ago we ground the apples in my meat grinder first, which really worked great for extracting as much juice as you can yet it's a slower process.  With the new grinder on the top, the apples are not ground as fine and therefore don't yield as much juice but with so many apples, it just seemed a waste of time and really, what I don't use will eventually get thrown away, so why work harder.  One advantage we have is I have 6 varieties of apples.  From super sweet to tart, and everything in between, apple cider is always better when it is blended as it adds balance to the flavor.  By the time you have read this we have pressed over 28 gallons of delicious apple cider, some are given as a reward for their help, Lory has already started this year's vintage apple wine, and it's just plain fantastic to drink.  We might try to use up more apples and make more this weekend, we'll see.

It's on Fire!
As you know our Minnesota fishing opener was completely froze out this year with the ice leaving almost 3 weeks later than a normal year.  The weather has carried on this fall as of October 28th, most of the leaves are still on the trees.  Normally by now the trees are showing their naked winter form but not this year.  The dry period we had in July and August was hard on the ash trees and they dropped their leaves early.  I have a catalpa tree, the one with the huge leaves and long beans, which really doesn't like the cold and a hard frost will make it drop it's leaves in less than 24 hours.  In the meantime the oaks, birch, maples and most of the other trees continue the 2-3 week delay that the late spring gave us.  The wait has it's advantages as the maples in my yard are simply on fire.  This picture is my Silver Queen Maple, a cross between a silver maple and a hard maple.  It grows like a weed, typical of silver maples, but has the color of a hard maple with brilliant reds, orange, and yellow colors.  Of course the real problem is when they all fall off and I have to clean them up.  I can never remember the leaves staying on the trees so long, but of course I've never seen ice still on a lake in the middle of May either.  Mother nature is interesting for sure as this year we went right from summer to late fall.  It seems as though the days are screwed up this year and there just doesn't seem time to do anything as scheduled.  I suppose it's never as bad as it was on Halloween, 1991 when we had over 31 inches of snow by the end of the next day, November 1st.  This storm was part of the scenario which occurred when a hurricane moving north along the Atlantic coast and another low pressure system developed into the Perfect Storm.  Thank God it's suppose to be in the 50's this weekend, Indian Summer at last!  I plan on setting up my tree stand on Saturday, preparing for the 2013 Minnesota deer hunting season that starts on November 9th.  Maybe I'll get lucky and get that once in a lifetime monster buck, but don't hold your breath. The first of the ice fishing expositions starts Friday, a sign that hard water is not too far away.  I got the oil changed on my 115 Suzuki outboard and was amazed at how clean it was, maybe a sad reminder of how little it really ran this year as opener was a bust and both times in Canada were with other boats.  I hate putting the boat away but it's time.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Last Time Out?

Keith with a nice smallie
With the allure of trolling walleyes on Mille Lacs during the full moon, last weekend was probably the only opportunity to get out before the water turns hard.  Not that I'm a big full moon guy as frankly the success I had 2 weeks ago was just the opposite, a new moon and dark yet successful.  Never the less, with time running out I had the chance to fish with my friend Keith Holtan, who just returned from Alaska to spend his winter in Brainerd.  Keith was a former assistant to the Nisswa Guide's in Brainerd who then went to the Kenai River to become one of the established guides.  Meeting Keith in 2002, he was our guide as we booked a trip with Jeff King at Budget Salmon Charters.  Both being from Minnesota, we had a lot in common so when I suggested we meet at Mille Lacs on Friday night he jumped at the chance.  I reminded him the bite was tough, just like any good you customer, set up the scenario, and if the outcome is better than expected, your a hero!  Well, there wasn't much heroing going on that day.  I decided that the south end might be better as the north end of the lake has been getting pounded.  With some previous success we headed out of Cove Bay and started with some deep water lead line trolling on Sloppy Joes, something to bide our time before sunset.  With all of the navigational buoys pulled it gave me an opportunity to show Keith my boat electronics with the big screen HDS10, the networked receivers and entertainment peripherals, previous boat track history, the works.  On the Kenai there is little one needs other than depth yet I still say that Structure Scan would be interesting.  Arriving at Sloppy's I mark few fish and caught nothing.  We moved to a mid depth structure west of Spirit Island, and with the exception of a very small smallmouth bass, it was also void of fish looking for an easy meal.  Next stop was Indian Point to troll the edge of the drop off.  While running the 2.5 miles to get there the sleet started pelting us, enough to accumulate on the carpet.  We made 2 trolling runs up and down the long reef that extends into the lake and the only thing to show for our efforts was a nice smallmouth bass, typical of what we seem to catch on Indian Point these days.  As the sun continued it's downward journey we headed back to Anderson's to see if we could at least repeat the success of a few weeks ago.  Making a number of long, deep to shallow to deep, up and around trolling runs with nothing to show for it, we called it quites at about 8:00.  I had some friends that were just arriving on the lake and would fish till 2 or 3:00 in the morning, been there, done that.  Stopping at the Onamia VFW for some walleye fingers and a couple of Nordeast beers, we parted ways.  I am positive this won't be the last time we get to fish together in the next 5 months however I sure hope we can be more successful.  The good thing, Keith understands fishing and being a former Ranger owner, I am sure he enjoyed the boat ride as much as anything.

A standard Haralson, pint of salsa, and a 22 oz Wolf River
So did I say apples!  I am literally drowning in apples as yesterday, with the help of my neighbors Lory and Lynn Brasel, we finished the last of the picking.  This year was a bumper crop on the 10 mature trees I have. A quick survey of the boxes of apples sitting in my pole shed, I'll bet I have over 40 bushels of some of the best apples I have ever grown.  The last to be picked were the Fireside's and Honeygolds as a good frost really improves their sweetness.  On Sunday morning I started the process and picked the apples off my Wolf River tree.  I have discussed them in the past however I picked the biggest apple I have ever seen and just had to post it.  Of course the picture really doesn't do it justice unless you realize how big it really is.  Weighing in at 22 ounces (1 3/8 #) it is 5 inches in diameter and almost 16 inches around, this thing is huge.  Named after its discovery location along the Wolf River in eastern Wisconsin, these apples are noted for their enormous size, cold hardiness, resistance to disease, and it's ability to fill a pie shell with just one apple.  Unfortunately they aren't the best eating apple yet once cooked, are delicious.   This variety (as well as my Fireside apple) has fallen victim to some of the more popular apples today like the Honeycrisp, Zestar, Gala, and other recent cultivators to hit the markets.  With the popularity of some of the older types of heirloom plants, maybe it will become more popular, I just know that it's alot of fun to give them away as my neighbors are really impressed with my growing abilities.  It gives me an opportunity to remind them why they call me Superdave!  This weekend will be apple cider time as a bunch of us plan on getting together to make home made apple cider at it's best.  Our process includes washing the apples, cutting out the bad parts, grinding them into the cider press then tightening the press screw down.  With all the apples and some dedicated help we will probably make at least 20 gallons or so.  If your around, stop in check it out.

Pocket Gopher making a mound
October weather has been quite wet.  With the last 2 mornings at 22 degrees, what was growing has stopped.  It was snowing on Sunday, we really went from Summer to Winter, Fall wasn't even around for more than a week with the next 10 days looking more like the middle of November than the end of October, so much for global warming.  I still have things in the garden to dig out, change oil on the Suzuki outboard, get the snow blower out, blow out the sprinklers,  the list is a mile long.  This time of year really brings out the pocket gophers.  They get their name from the big pockets of flesh that form cheek pouches on either side of their mouth and are used to store food (roots and stems) as they gather it for the winter.  In October the newborns are large enough to be kicked out of their summer homes so they migrate to newer areas and start building their own series of tunnels and wintering areas complete with the new mounds to announce their presence.  When I was a kid there was a $0.50 bounty given by the County for a pair of gopher feet.  Along with that the farmer would often match it because the mounds of dirt made by the gophers were very destructive to their equipment, especially the machinery that cut alfalfa.  Today they are simply a pain in the butt and so far I have only trapped 2 of them.  It's easy to see if they're active as they make quite a few mounds preparing their tunnels and dens for the long winter.  I estimate there is about 4 more that need to go, we'll see if I can get them before the ground freezes.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hooked for a Cure

Dylan and his 16# trout.
One of the things I really enjoy about my work is all the people I have met over the years.  My business Precision Inc, is an electronic transformer manufacturing company in Minneapolis and I have been there since 1976, my very first real full time job out of technical school.  Through the years we have become a substantial supplier in the industry and our membership into the TTA (The Transformer Association) has given me access to the real players in the industry.  Serving as the president of TTA I have a ton of good friends who manufacture the same things that we do.  One of those guys is Vitez Pablo Nayarady, owner of ECI World, a transformer manufacturer in Massachusetts.  Pablo and I have a number of things in common and maybe more that are opposite as I often kid him, I'm his favorite redneck! Pablo is Hungarian and the Vitez in front of his name is given as an honorary knighthood title, similar to the English title of Sir.  Pablo also owns a highly renowned winery in Napa Valley called Trifecta and I can attest to the quality of their wines.  Through his winery Pablo does a tremendous amount of Philanthropic work for a number of charities, many are very well know such as the Tug McGraw Foundation, a cause started by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill (way out of my league).   Well, I was on his site a few weeks ago and something caught my eye, a charity called  Hooked for a Cure.  You know me and fishing, I had to open it.  The site is run by Pablo's nephew Dylan Wawruck, who reminds me of my younger years.  Dylan's grandmother is dealing with her second recurrence of breast cancer and he decided to do something about it.  Using his love for fishing he was just looking for support for each fish he would catch this year with the proceeds going to the Susan G. Koman Foundation.  At 13 years old this is quite ambitious and with my association with our own charity for cancer families, it was impossible to turn down.  His top category was the Whale Sponsorship, $100 for 100 fish caught, I couldn't resist.  It's hard not to be impressed with Dylan and when Pablo sent me this picture of his 16 pound brown trout caught on a fly rod it gave me the perfect subject for this week's post.  A quick check on Dylan's site shows 334 fish caught since starting his quest, that's an impressive number for anyone.  What's more impressive is the initiative he has shown to get up and do something rather than sit and play video games all day. Fantastic job Dylan on catching a great fish but more importantly on your quest.

Myself with Brother's Steve and Blake
Sunday found me in Alma, Wisconsin where I met my brothers Steve and Blake along with my nephew Danny and his girlfriend for what probably is the last motorcycle ride of the year.  All I can say was it was gorgeous as the leaves are finally showing their full color.  The roads in Buffalo and Trempealeau counties are made for motorcycling and we took full advantage.  Blake is a seasoned biker and has over 87,000 miles on his Harley while Steve and I are still working to pass the 10,000 mile mark.   Living in the area is suppose he takes these roads for granted as it was a chore to keep up with him while Steve and I are simply enjoying the beautiful routes.  We did stop at a few places, small and unique establishments basically in the middle of nowhere yet great destinations.  One was Hanson's Hideaway just south of Arcadia, Wisconsin on Highway 95, overlooking an expansive valley.....a fantastic location especially this time of year.  I had Danny take a picture of my brothers and I, a great reminder of our day together.  Brothers are interesting to say the least.  Steve and I are 18 months apart and used to fight like cats and dogs.  By the time we were seniors in high school, we settled down as our interests and values had come together.  In the meantime my other brothers Jon and Blake were younger, especially Blake (by 10 years) and by the time I was out of the house he was turning 10.  Not that I didn't like him but honestly my interests were far from developing a relationship with my younger siblings.  Of course as one grows older you do have more in common besides blood, as dad has passed away and mom is 79, I count on them to help her get through as it's difficult for me to be there all the time.  They really do a great job of helping mom and I am grateful for their concerns and friendship.  As stated this will probably be my last ride of the year as they are predicting snow for next Sunday. Who knows, maybe we will get a true Indian Summer, it just doesn't look like it.

A Haralson Harvest
My apple harvest is in full swing and I have to admit that it's pretty bountiful!  First to be picked were the McIntosh apples which yielded around 4 bushels full of what I would call U.S. Grade Extra Fancy, a way of saying they were large, had great color, and no worms.  McIntosh have a great flavor but get soft fairly quickly.  Next harvested was the Haralson's a tart apple that really crunches when you first bite into them.  With my neighbor Lory and Lyn on Saturday we picked the tree clean which I estimate was over 8 bushels.  There were all sizes however I was very surprised at the number of large apples we had and again few worms.  Apparently all of the work this spring and summer paid off as apples do take some care.  They need a good pruning before the blossoms emerge, after blossom drop they need to be chemically thinned as you would get zero large apples and all small ones.  Thinning also helps to lessen the stress on the trees and gives a more uniform crop each year as apposed to a great yield on year and nothing the next.   The apples need to be sprayed about every 6 weeks to minimize insect and cedar rust damage.  Along with fertilizing the trees it looks like this year the work really paid off. I still have 5 trees that need picking, my Honeygolds, Fireside, and Wolf River apples hoping to get it done this weekend and ready to start pressing cider.  I just wish time wasn't flying by so fast.  On Friday my friend from Alaska, Keith will grace the boat as we do some full moon walleye trolling on Mille Lacs.  The way the weather is looking, this could be the last trip of the year for the old Ranger as well, unless of course we really have a tough time keeping the fish off the lines.  Hopefully I'll have a great report next week as we head towards deer hunting.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Window of Opportunity

First fish of the evening.
Last week we finally got some much needed rain.  Projections had rain through Sunday however by noon Saturday, it was looking pretty good.  Too wet to mow the yard, too wet to garden, I decided to fire up the old Ferguson and finish mowing the field behind the house with the brush hog.  I didn't really care if I made ruts in the field and with the wet grass, there would be minimal dust.  The brush hog is a 3 point hitch mower that is driven off the tractor PTO.  5 foot in width, the heavy blades will mow down anything in it's path including trees up to 2 inches in diameter.  I was able to finish it up while contemplating whether I should try and get up to Mille Lacs for the evening, after all it was turning into a nice night.  After stopping by my neighbor Tom's place, we had a plan to leave at 32:00 and fish till about 8:00.  Nothing too long but if they were biting, we'd know.  I finished the mowing, unhooked the brush hog and put it away for the winter, cleaned the tractor, and at 3 Tom showed up.  The sky didn't look too bad to the west, maybe it would be a nice night.  As we approached the lake and hour later, the sky was telling us a different story!  I hadn't seen Bill in a while so we had to stop and touch base.  It's been slow on the lake and anyone (even me) coming through those doors were welcome.  Picking up a few things, getting the latest reports, we left but not before he gave me my early Christmas present, and ice cream pail full of his hand harvested wild rice from a month ago.  It's insanely delicious.  From there we headed to Cove Landing as our strategy was to troll Anderson Reef, just about a mile out from the landing.  Anderson Reef used to be very good in the fall, often there is competition for the trolling runs by the guys fishing leeches under bobbers.  To my surprise there was not one rig in the parking lot, we would have the lake to ourselves. 

Besides the fact that the trolling bite had been slow, the darkening skies didn't help either.   Bill thought the buoys marking the channel and the reef had been pulled yet to our surprise they were still in, which always helps to have a visual reference point.  As we launched the boat the clouds gave us a little taste of what was to come.  Maneuvering through the marked channel that separates Cove Bay from the main lake, we headed straight for the south tip of Anderson's Reef (no relation) and started on the west side.  I like trolling the south and west side of the reef as it offers a nice trolling run caused by the gradual slope of the drop off from the shallowest point.  On the north and east side of the reef it's pretty abrupt and you can get into trouble fast.  At Bill's we discussed the strategy of using larger baits so I went with a large Rattlin Rouge while Tom tied on a #12 X-rap.  We hadn't gone 100 feet and Tom nailed a nice walleye, actually it took me somewhat by surprise as I did not expect a fish so soon.  We snapped a picture and back it went.  Now at this point it's easy to, it's going to be hot tonight!  With the lures back in the water and another 5 minutes later a fish hit my Rouge.  Unfortunately it must have struck short as it came off after about 10 seconds, oh well, still a good sign.  I like to troll over to an off reef hump, makes for a nice trolling run and 20 minutes after Tom's first fish I landed a 19 15/16" walleye, good enough for the live well.  A half hour later Tom gets our 3 fish in the boat and at 7:20 I even the score with 2nd fish.  By now the rain is in full deluge mode and we were getting pretty wet.  With the wind and rain and our years of experience, there was no need to continue the punishment....we headed back to the landing and to report back to Bill.  It was the best trip I have had on Mille Lacs since the middle of July, 5 hookups, 4 landed, 1 lost, all in about 2 real hours of fishing.  The water temperature was still a balmy 60 degrees as the fish felt warm to the hands as we unhooked them.  Although the night was short

Fishing in the Rain!
This post is later than usual as I just got back from Chicago.  My friends offered to include me on a salmon fishing trip out of Waukegan, Illinois but it didn't work out.  My apples need picking, the trucks in the shop, and it looks like Sunday I will be joining my 2 brothers for a nice fall motorcycle ride back home to see the gorgeous colors the trees are displaying this time of year.  My friend Jeff King was here last week to see his son and we just didn't have time to get together, maybe next time.  On the other hand Keith is returning home and might force me to take him on a trolling run to see if this post is actually true!  Earlier I stated that my friend Bill gave me a pail of wild rice.  He and a friend spend a number of days around the first of September and harvest wild rice in the lakes around his place.  Using a canoe and rice harvesting sticks they paddle through the rice beds, knocking the rice off the plants into the bottom of the boat.  This method of harvest is the same the Native Americans have used for centuries.  Once gathered the rice is spread out to dry for a few days before it's brought to a processor who will further dry and remove the hulls.  After harvesting around 1000 pounds of wild rice the processing yields about half or 500 pounds.  If you are ever driving north on Highway 169 by Mille Lacs stop by and buy a package of his hand harvested wild rice, it's absolutely delicious.  Open water season is swiftly coming to an end, time to start thinking about ice fishing...........uffda.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What The Heck

Chamberlain Narrows just a sunrise.
It's been a strange fishing season to say the least.   Starting in May our annual Leech Lake Fishing Opener was essentially cancelled because the lake was still frozen over.  Taking a few weeks for Lake Mille Lacs to start firing up, I returned to Canada in June for the first time in almost 40 years for 4 days of non-stop fishing.  Back to Mille Lacs, the fishing remained good up to my trip to Lake Oahe for 4 days.  By the time I returned the bite slowed significantly.  Most of August and September was either on the river and cumulated with a 5 day trip to Lac Seul.  Leaving at 6:00 in the morning, I took this memorable picture of the Chamberlain Narrows looking north as the sun was about to rise.  I love the way the fog rises from the water as the air temperatures was about 28 and the water temp was still in the high 50's.  Usually fishing once a week from Minnesota Opener to the middle of October, this year has seen as many trips yet 11 of those days were concentrated in 3 separate trips with the time in between filled with other activities.  All I can say is thank God for those 3 trips!  I am almost embarrassed to say that the last time the Ranger has been in the water was August 7th.   For me that's pretty bad yet looking back I do have a pretty good excuse however my Suzuki is getting pretty lonely.  So, am I feeling guilty........after all this is called "Fishin' With Dave", admittedly yes it's been a year of highs and lows.  Yet with Mille Lacs fishing collapsing on itself and the destinations I have experienced this year being exceptional, I'm not complaining.  The next few weeks don't look any better with a Chicago trip planned and a few family weekend events, I am hoping to try the fall trolling bite on Mille Lacs at least a couple of times before deer hunting.  With the water temps still in the 60's, I got a feeling it will be prefect in a week or so.

Jeff King
The moon must be lined up just right for October as my two great friends that I have made over the years from Alaska have contacted me.  The first is Jeff King, Kenai River Guide extraordinaire and owner of Jeff King's Budget Charters originally from Montana, his son Max lives in Minneapolis so Jeff and his wife MP are planning on visiting him this weekend.  I am really hoping to get together with them on Monday, just before I head out to Chicago.  We did get to see Jeff last year during our Alaskan trip but with both of us being busy, sometimes it's just hard to coordinate times.  Let's hope this weekend will be different.  As a side note, if you look down on the left side of this blog under "My Blog List" you will see Mile 14,  a great reflection of Jeff's salmon on the Kenai in the summer, fishing rooster fish in Mexico in the winter.  One of these days maybe I can meet him in Mazatlan, we'll see.  The other event is the return of Keith Holtan, the guide Jeff had us with in 2002, fishing silvers.  Now with his own place called Beaver Creek Cabins just off the Kenai,  Keith spends his winters north of Brainerd and we are going to try and hook up for a evening of trolling on Mille Lacs.  Whether I can deliver on the big walleyes will be one thing yet I'm thinking it would be worth it to take a day off from work and see if I can reverse rolls and guide the guide!  An interesting note, last week I reported my trip to Lac Seul and Keith had the opportunity to fish there a few years ago.  He asked me to say hi to Ken, the outpost owner, I mentioned it and Ken replied..........oh yes, the guy with the Alaskan Salmon.  Obviously he made the right impression.  One meets a lot of people in their lives and both hold a special place for me.  I look forward to seeing both in the same month and I don't even have to travel 2500 miles to arrange it!

Keith and Jane Holtan
Fall is running a few weeks behind and the good news is it's finally raining.  So far in September I have made at least 27 quarts of Salsa from my home grown tomatoes, peppers, and onions.  Having finally figured out that last years salsa was pretty good (of course to my standards) the 2013 vintage is living up to the expectations.  Potatoes are still in the ground and my apple crop is simply fabulous.  Saturday I harvested the apples off my Macintosh tree with 4 bushels of fabulous tasting apples and 2 bushels being almost perfect, no blems and huge.  The spring fertilization, thinning of the apples after blossom drop, and a pretty good spraying routine, I'm pretty impressed.   With the Wolf River's apples  hanging to the ground, my Honeygolds are breaking branches on the trees, the Haralson's are exquisite, the Firesides getting larger every day, it's a great year for apples.  With my new cider press, we should be awash in fresh apple cider for quite some time.  I like to blend the apples, just like the big boys, and it really turns out good.   With a record crop, my neighbor Lory and I have already made plans for our next batch of apple wine with the hope of doing better at the 2014 Minnesota State Fair wine competition.  I don't know about you but it sure seems like time just flies by these days.