Thursday, January 2, 2014

Another Year Gone

Monster Northern
2013 ended on a positive note as Mark and I headed back up to Red Lake, our second trip within a week, hoping the good bite was still on.  Having spent Christmas Eve and Christmas in Wisconsin, the plan was to head up Thursday afternoon, enough time to clean up the 4 inches of snow that had fell the night before.  When we left JR's last week he told us not to arrive earlier than 2:30, anticipating it would be a busy afternoon, lucky we did.  Arriving at the resort you could sense the craziness of the hours before our arrival, some guys confirming that the line to get on the lake was almost a half mile long.  JR's does it right, he plows his roads then perpendicular to the main road are side roads with well spaced plowed spaces for your wheel house.  The houses are spread out enough so no one is on top of each other yet close enough to be by your friends as Russ Praught and Mike were joining us later.  Mark and I are patient guys and we knew it would be a while before JR would let us on the ice.  Fact is he was out of spots and needed time to plow a few more places for us.  We would wait as getting on the ice at 7:00 or 10:30 made no real difference in our plans as there was plenty of time for fishing in the next few days.  Just about the time Russ showed up JR said we're going!  Perfect timing.  Our patience was rewarded with a spot at the end of the road, 6 miles out, and had yet to be fished.  We were settled in by 11:00 and started catching fish right away.  After putting a few in the box, it was time to get some sleep as we had 2 full days of fishing ahead of us.  By Friday morning the the cooler had 4 walleyes waiting for the fillet knife as it was decided we would try to beat the evening rush and take our fish into JR's for cooking around 2:00.  About 9:00 that morning the walleyes suddenly disappeared.  Up to this point there were always fish on the Vexilar, coming and going, we catch a few, mark a few.  All of a sudden my rattle reel went down, a quick jerk and the line became limp.   All the signs pointed to a northern lurking below.....the disappearing walleyes, cut line.  Time to bring out the heavy artillery, my rod loaded with Fireline.  A few jerks of the lure and something inhaled the bait and the battle was on.  After about 5 minutes Mark gaffed this huge northern pike, it was about 39 inches and weighed close to 15 pounds.  We snapped a few pictures, put her back down the hole, and the walleyes magically returned.  I did catch another nice northern pike, a little over 28 inches, they are quite fun to catch but their sharp teeth certainly raise havoc with your lines and lures.

14" Crappie, My Largest Ever!
Both Friday and Saturday were beautiful days on Red with temperatures in the high 20's.  This was about to change quickly.  The temperature on Saturday started falling and by nightfall we were in full ground blizzard conditions.  Not wanting to miss out on our daily fish fry at JR's we managed to drive in before it got too bad out, too late as you could tell we had better make our visit short as it was going to be a long night ahead of us.  Driving back to the houses proved to be an adventure as the wind and snow continued to start plugging up the roads.  Arriving at the houses called for a shift in our parking strategies, it would be critical to keep our generator out of the wind, assuring proper operation through the night.  Finally settling in in for the night the temperature had dropped well below zero and the blowing snow made it all but impossible to see more than 100 feet, enough to make Russ's house disappear into the blizzard.   Luckily the walleyes continued to cooperate, they weren't jumping through the holes yet they kept things interesting.  One of the rattle reels went off, I got up and set the hook, something didn't feel right as it was a good fish but it fought differently than the walleyes and perch we were getting.  Up through the hole came the largest crappie I have ever caught, a 14 incher.  13 years ago Red Lake's walleye population was decimated by the commercial fishing on the lake and crappies like this filled the void.  I never was able to take advantage of the crappie bite however this fish was enough to tell me I really missed out on some great fishing action.  I still prefer walleyes to crappies but a limit of 10 like this one would have been pretty nice.  During the first trip to Red that we made before Christmas, 90% of the fish hit the rattle reels, with few on the jigging lures.  I caught quite a few more on Jigging Raps and Slender Spoons this time, my favorite way to fish walleyes.  There is nothing like seeing the mark on the Vexilar shoot up from the bottom to smack your lure, sometimes you have to have the patience to wait as it's easy to pull it away from the fish before it really has it.

Marks truck surrounded by a drift.
Our plan for Sunday morning was to leave early, getting home early in the afternoon however the previous nights weather caused a delay in our strategy.  Waking up to a beautiful clear sky, the road completely drifted in and the temperature was a crisp -25 below zero.  The wind was still contributing to the wind chill but everything certainly had settled down.  Unfortunately I had left my "warm" boots in the car back home which meant I had to keep moving to stay warm, luckily we had lots to do.  With a lot of water still coming up through the ice and considering the cold weather, the house cranked up pretty well.  Our plowed spot ran northwest from the road so Mark pointed his truck into the wind as stated before but caused a pretty good drift to form along side the truck.  We ended up shoveling a path for the truck, assuring we could at least get it hooked up to the house.  Of course the main road was completely plugged and even after a couple of passes with the truck, it would have been hard to make it through and even worse, we didn't want to be in the way when the plow came by.  By the time the house was hooked up we could see the plow truck heading our way, perfect timing.  A few passes and we were on our way off the lake, another successful trip which included a couple nice northerns, 2 wonderful walleye meals at the resort, a limit of walleyes for each to take home, and a great way to spend time with my friends Mark, Russ, and Mike.  Mark left his house at the resort, I guess another great excuse to go back up to Red Lake.  I am getting to like this wheel house fishing and am thinking about seeing what's available on the market, maybe if I buy one my brother Steve might join us.

We are headed for the coldest weather of the year next week.  Monday's high is suppose to only get up to -15 below zero.  Let's hope this next cold spell will start freezing up Mille Lacs Lake.  It is a sad sight for sure as the water and slush has prevented any movement at all on the lake. Some reports still have the ice thickness at less than 10 inches and when we drove by on Sunday there were no houses yet on the lake.  For being a top destination for walleyes, everyone certainly has to be hurting for business as there is simply no one around.  If the resorters can get a few roads started the cold should shore up the ice and get some action going.  Some of my friends are headed for Red this weekend and I am anxious to see their reports.  Here's hoping 2014 will be a great fishing year!

1 comment:

Beaver Creek Cabins & Guide Service said...

I started fishing the monster Red Lake crappies when the limit was still 15. A single limit would fill up a 5 gallon bucket. Good to see that there are still a few of them around. I'm not sure if the guys at JR's will back me up on this statement but at the peak of the crappie run there were more anglers out there than present day walleye fisherman. It was a sight to see with lots of happy anglers. Don't know if the perfect storm will happen again but it's nice to see an occasional monster crappie to remember the good old days.