Thursday, February 27, 2014

Perch Extravaganza

Saturday was the 31st Annual Johnson's Portside Perch Extravaganza held at Nitti's Hunter's Point Resort on the east side of Mille Lacs.  It's an interesting event, a perch fishing contest with a ton of great attendance prizes like a couple of Ice Castle Wheel houses, 2 ATV's, I'd guess about 100 different prizes from ice augers to simple tackle bags.  Of course there are prizes for the biggest perch caught, $500 and they pay to 10th place, it seems like one could get lucky.  I have certainly had my luck in winning things lately with a very nice payout from what was assumed as my dismal 3-8 numbers on the Super Bowl.  Last year I met Mark and the gang, but arrived too late for the drawings, simply stayed over night in his wheel house as we fished for walleyes on the last weekend of the season.  This year it would be different, I'd meet Mark on the ice on Friday with my brother Steve and neighbor Pete, we'd get the house set up in the deeper water where we could fish all night and be ready for the start of the contest on Saturday morning.  Well, my last post predicted an interesting Friday as the storm dumped over 10 inches of snow from the Twin Cities north through Mille Lacs, and it was a mess.  What is normally a 90 minute drive took over 3 hours as Hwy 169 was pretty much glare ice all the way.  After getting bait at Lundeen's we met Mark and Russ on the ice, just off shore in a special area plowed for wheel houses.  As predicted, the plan was to get out to deeper water early in the morning so we waited.  The morning brought more confusion as the people in charge stated that anyone going out was at their own risk.  Around 9:00, and with no further updates we decided to head out on the ice, about 1.5 miles out.  Scott had left earlier and found a few lanes punched into the snow off the main road, long enough for your house and your truck, maybe not ideal but it was a place to fish.  A quick assessment with Mark and we decided to double stack our wheel houses in the plowed lane and park the trucks on the main road.  This would prove to be a smart idea on Sunday morning.  Mark drilled his holes and dropped the house, then I backed mine in, drilled and dropped.  The combined weight of the new fallen snow and our houses caused the water to immediately come through the holes, but we block our houses up with 4 x 4 timbers, it wasn't too bad.  Getting everything set we started fishing for that winning perch, and in 26 feet of water, it's possible as we had 4 hours to do it in.

Our own fishing show!
Almost immediately we started marking fish.  Steve decided to put his underwater camera down to see what was showing up on the Vexilar's.  First of all, it's amazing how clear the water is on Mille Lacs.  I have seen it this clear before however the camera really tells all.  With our holes being separated by around 10 feet, he could see the sucker minnow I put down for the possible big walleye or northern.  Behind that was my slender jig bouncing up and down, Pete's minnow hanging there to entice a fish, and perch, tons of them all 2 - 3 inches long!  The television in the house has a video input so we plugged the output of the camera into it and could watch on the big screen, There must be some interaction between the sensor in my camera and the frequency the television screen operates at which causes the squiggly lines, still you can make out whats going on.  The white lure the perch are looking at is a small jig with a waxie on it.  Underneath is a small flat rock covered with zebra mussels.  Just to the upper left of the white jig is my sucker minnow waiting to be inhaled and the black dot near the top is a sinker on Steve's line.  There are at least 9 perch scattered around as some tried to get the waxie in their mouths but were too small.  He did manage to catch one of these and based on the bite, the thought was that even something this small might win!  The problem is that the contest rules are quite loose with the official rules of catching it between 8:00AM to 2:00PM, it must be weighed alive.  It wouldn't be too hard to push those rules a little it but I think the weather conditions helped keep people honest.  I do know that 9th place was over a pound so we are glad that our 3 incher wasn't brought in.  Once the contest ended the drawing started at 3:00 and went on till about 5:30.  None of the guys we were fishing with won anything so we went into the bar and had a few conciliatory drinks, ordered some food for the evening, had a few conversations with the locals about the current situation on Lake Mille Lacs before heading back to the house.  By then the weight on the ice continued to flood the area and at 6:00 Sunday morning Mark was knocking at the door.....lets go, it almost up to my floor.  That's pretty amazing as both of us had our house blocked up on 4 x 4 and it was well over that at Mark's while mine had got to the top of the blocks.  As I said earlier, it was lucky we parked on the road as the flooding made it almost impossible to pull the house off it's resting point.  Mark had to get the jerk strap out and broke me free, then it was my turn.  I unhooked the house and returned the favor as his was even further into the water/ice mess.  It has reminded me that I need to get my strap and get it back in the truck as well, when these conditions exist it's nice to have a friend around.   Off the ice, we stopped and had breakfast before heading home.  Even though it was a lot of work we didn't get to fish where we wanted, didn't catch anything or win anything, but it's still always nice to get away and relax.

With the snow depths on the lakes what it is, I doubt the wheel house will see any more action this year unless Lake of the Woods opens up.  It's been plain brutal this week with low temperatures below zero since last Friday's storm.  It's hard to believe that the daily high for this time of year is now up to 32 degrees and the 10 day forecast shows no real return to normal.  This should be an interesting spring for sure, heck in about 2 weeks we go back to daylight savings time, uffda.    My John Deere 47 inch Snowblower has seen it's use this year and on Sunday I broke the main drive chain while cleaning up last Thursday's mess.  Hats off the Pete who let me use his heated garage to repair it in 65 degree comfort.  Sometimes when you work in below zero conditions you take shortcuts so working in the warm I was able to reset the sprocket alignment, the main cause of my problems in the first place.  The John Deere is ready for the next snow event, I'm glad because I'm not!  Looks like it will occur on Friday.  All inland walleye and pike fishing has closed as of Sunday so it's either on the border waters or panfishing from now till May. Winter obviously isn't done.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

4 foot snow banks
Well, if it isn't below zero here in Minnesota, it's snowing.  It's sort of you want beets for dinner or for supper..........pretty much a no win situation.  On Monday a storm came through the area and dumped about 5 inches total which put our total for the season to over 50 inches.  It finally warmed up to 45 yesterday however what that really means is another storm is about to come through again and sure enough, the National Weather Service is predicting 6 - 9 inches of snow tomorrow.  If this happens, we will go over the normal amount of snowfall we have for an entire year, which is about 55 inches total.  What's even more frustrating is we never had our January thaw, which is normal, and March is usually our snowiest month.   This has left the ground covered with at least 15 - 18 inches of real snow cover which is the most I can remember in over 20 years.  Yes, I know, when I was a kid we had twice as much and I would probably believe that except I was half as tall back then.  Well, the good news is the lakes should be full and the ground moisture will help the farmers get a good start on things.  One other thing that it helps is the snow does insulate the ice on the lakes and both Leech and Mille Lacs have ice thickness's less than it would normally be for this time of year, even considering the amount of below zero temperatures we have had.  With a little luck we will not have a repeat of the last years fishing opener where the ice was still on the lakes.   Back in 2012 I decided to retire my stand alone 8 hp dual stage snow blower for a 47 inch model that fits on the front of my John Deere X724 garden tractor.  It's actually a very nice unit, shaft driven and modular, it takes about 10 minutes to mount it to the tractor and with 28 hp behind it, the JD will throw the snow anywhere from 30 - 40 feet away.   In 2012 I used it twice for a couple of 2 inch snowfalls yet this year we are making up for lost time.  It's kind of fun blowing the snow and maybe next year I'll look at getting a cab for it. 

Thanks Sis!
On Saturday night I met my neighbor Pete at Tim's heated garage where solving the worlds problems start (unfortunately we never get that part finished!).  Pete suggested we head to Pelican Lake on Sunday afternoon, an invitation hard to resist.  Because it was somewhat nice out we decided to load up our portables into my trailer and fish outside first, having shelter if we needed.  I had been out there a number of weeks ago and did pretty well, but got stuck in the deep snow by myself.  Deciding that the snow should be settled by now we headed back to the same place and my assumptions were completely wrong.  Someone had plowed a narrow road out about 1/2 mile and at the end we decided to cross country it to my previously marked spot.  We went about 100 feet before the wheels started spinning, we were again stuck on the ice.  Luckily I had Pete with yet it wasn't quite enough as we needed the help of 2 cross country skiers passing by.  Unhooking the trailer and pushing it back to the hard pack, the truck proved a little more difficult.  After shoveling and pushing we were able to clear ourselves, relief!  Ahead of us was another individual that had the same idea as we did, stuck on the ice.  4 of us managed to push him out as well, we thanked everyone and decided to simply fish where we were.  Pelican lake is a shallow lake and we were in 10 feet, about the average deepest part.  It would prove to be a tough bite and although we marked a lot of fish, they pretty much had lockjaw.  I managed a few crappies but nothing to take home, we fished till 7:00 then left.  Much to my sadness the DNR is about to drain the lake and manage it for waterfowl.   If you click this link Pelican Lake Draining, this is today's article in the paper which outlines the plan.  I have complained about this in previous posts but it seems like it's kind of like pushing a rope.

Now, I'm not much of a Facebook fan yet it's hard not to exist these days without having some link to people you know.  So I get this e-mail, a notification that my sister Beth had posted something and I should check it out.  Pulling it up was this picture and a comment "Is this why U fish so much, LOL".
I guess she knows me pretty well and it was great to know she's thinking about me.  As I finish this post we are under a severe winter storm warning with the season's worst storm slated to start Thursday morning.  Some areas east of Minneapolis are predicted to receive up to 18" of snow, different than stated in my first paragraph.  Depending on the final storm track this could shift more to the west and we could be right in the middle of it.  Either way, I started the post complaining about the snow and I see it did a lot of good.  Friday looks like a clean out day then expect to meet my brother Steve at the house, pick up Pete and head to Hunter's Point on Mille Lacs.  Hopefully Steve can make it from Lacrosse safely and the resort will have enough spaces plowed out for our group of 5 wheel houses.  Either way we are simply not getting a break on the snow this year, uffda.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Stuck in LA

Fishouflage European Carp Pattern
OK, another idiot move by yours truly!  The second week in February is always the MD & M Show in Anaheim, California and my company, Precision Inc., always has a booth there.  It's been awfully cold in Dayton this year with at least 50 days where the temperature has been below zero, the 80 degree weather in California would be a welcome change.  Catching the early flight to LAX, it was a typical -18F when I left the house.  Looking at my flight options for the return flight I decided to book the redeye back on Thursday night, board at around 1:00 in the morning, the 3 hour flight would get me in Minneapolis around 6:30AM on Friday.  Good plan, saves me a hotel room and I could sleep on the plane.  Well, reread my plan......leave Thursday night at 1:00, well that is actually Friday morning.  The Thursday night flight booked was leaving 24 hours earlier than what was in my head so I had to rebook.  the Friday morning Redeye was full so I am finishing this  post from 35,000 feet, a few days late but at least I am back on track.  From my view the weather is very nice in Los Angeles yet that's about all that's nice.   It seems like there is a gazillion people living in LA as you can drive for hours and never leave the city.   One interesting thing about shows are the people you meet.  The booth next door to me was a German company and the guy in charge had just arrived.  After talking to him for a while we soon discovered something in common, both of us love to fish.  In Germany he often fished for European Carp as well as zander, similar to our walleye.  He also talked  about pike, whitefish, eels, but I forgot to ask about German Brown Trout.  Of course I had to describe ice fishing to him, something he thought was pretty interesting. Yesterday I showed him a site where he could buy shirts with a European Carp imbedded in the pattern.  Fishouflage is one of my favorite sites and I own a number of their products, mostly in the walleye or crappie patterns.  He thought that the carp pattern was quite interesting and took down the website.  I was not sure they shipped to Germany but promised if he had any trouble I would take care of it for him.  He'll probably be the first in Germany to flaunt his passion on his shirt, it was a lot of fun talking to him and we left with.....if you're ever in Minneapolis I know someone who could entertain you for a day of fishing.

Marbled Godwit
One thing I like in LA is to walk along the beaches and jetties on the ocean.  This time of the year the water is around 55 degrees and the only thing around are the crazy surfers in wetsuits and shorebirds.  My friend and colleague Mike Schubert was my host and after setting up our booth on Monday we drove around the area of Huntington Beach where he lives.  Mike has a boat harbored at the American Legion where there is a big area of channels and harbors in Alamitos Bay, Newport Beach.  Showing me the entrance to the harbor it was pretty nice as I saw Californian Sea lions swimming  up the entrance as well a number of shorebirds feeding in the surf.  One in particular called a Marbled Godwit, had a very and pointed bill, it must have been 6 inches long.  These birds would walk along the sand, just as the water receded, looking for bubbles, a tell tail sign of sand crabs their favorite food.  They would shove the entire length of their beak into the sand in search of their next morsel.  No bigger than a dime, they would pull the crab out of the sand and immediately eat it, it was fascinating to watch them work.  As well there were small birds, usually in packs of 6 - 10 that would race in and out with the waves, just staying ahead of the water.  With the surf's mesmerizing rythme, it was very relaxing to just stand there and take it all in.  Sort of like another world, behind me was the big city and in front of me was the peacefulness of the ocean.

It's finally threatening to warm up next week.  After the last 2 months of below normal temperatures, it will be a welcome relief.  I am anxious to get out and do some crappie fishing, maybe Sunday.  The Mille Lacs Perch Extravaganza is next week and I probably need to practice up for that as well.  The winter is going fast as we only have another 9 days of Minnesota inland fishing season for walleyes and pike, not very long.  Lake of the Wood stays open till April 15th and I might just have to make one more trip up north, we'll see. Planning for my Louisiana trip has been fun and I am really looking forward to catching and eating some redfish.  Our host, Dick called me as one of his guides read this blog and was interested in walleye, offering a trade, walleye fillets for flounder.  Seems like a good trade to me and I'll be bringing some with!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Maiden Voyage

Morning on Red Lake
After working on customizing my "new" used Salem Ice Cabin, last weekend was the scheduled maiden voyage.  I love rigging my boat, installing the electronics, trolling motors, and all those cool personal touches that make your rig yours.  The previous owner Terry had already added a few items giving me a chance to add to the conveniences.  One of the first things was getting an electric auger hookup for drilling holes inside.  Electric is nice because one doesn't have to deal with fumes yet self contained electric augers only come in 8 inch and I was interested in a 10 inch.  These are usually connected directly to a deep cycle battery yet in this house the battery is completely enclosed with no inside access.  Taking a clue from my Ranger trolling motor connections, it seemed a great idea to install a Ranger receptacle into the house and replace the large jumper cable style clips with a connector.  The battery is located in a sealed compartment under the sofa requiring me to remove it along with the wood panel cover.  Underneath was 3 compartments, one for the main battery converter/charger/fuse center, one for the battery housing (battery has no internal access to the terminals), and one just sitting there waiting to be taken advantage of.  It's is really wired nice as I cut a 2 inch hole in the front panel underneath the couch, bolted in the receptacle, and wired it into the main battery connections.  Looking at the third compartment area and thinking about it I decided to order a standard door from Salem and cut a hole underneath the couch and make a storage area for my cables and extension cords.  I have received the door but will wait till warmer weather to finish the job.  Next job, organize the storage for my broom, ice chisel, and shovel.  The house has an enclosed "bathroom" area so I mounted special wall clips to snap in each of the tools.  It's pretty slick.  I also bought a 6 gallon pail with a toilet seat for those needs away from modern plumbing.  There was a basic 24" TV but after being in Mark's wheel house, I enjoyed his larger TV with built in DVD, I replaced it with a 28" and an Omni Mount wall bracket that allows a considerable amount of movement and secure storage.  The Salem came with 2- 20# propane tanks....somewhat light so I replace them with 30#er's.  The dealer wanted $35 for a kit to change but it really only needed a longer threaded rod, $5.00 at Fleet Farm. 

Steve Comfortably Fishing!
With all the changes in place my brother Steve and Kevin Aiona met Mark Applen and I as we headed north to Red Lake with the plan to meet Keith Holtan at the resort for a weekend of walleye fishing.  Also our friend Russ and his brother Randy were already on the lake "saving" a spot for us.  Mark  had stored his house at JR's and arriving about 30 minutes before me, he was hooked up and ready to go.  After locating Keith at the wrong resort we paid JR and headed out 6 miles to the Center Bar for the Friday night bite.  Unfortunately the bite wasn't as good as it was at New Years and by Saturday morning Russ had decided to move in closer to shore.  Packing everything up, by 9:00 we were up and on our way to meet Russ.  Luckily Keith pulled his weight and we had enough fish for a Saturday Night fish fry.  Depending on how you look at it, "un"fortunately Keith had to leave early which with one less mouth to feed allowed us to really pig out on the fish!  It was great to fish with him again and I am sure it won't be the last this year.  Heading back to the shacks after filling ourselves with fresh deep fried walleye, we settled in for the night with the plan to head back south by 9:00 Sunday morning arriving in time for the Super Bowl party.  Fishing stayed pretty uneventful through the evening with a few 13 inchers being caught but that's about it.   One never knows if it was smart to move back in but that's water over the dam.  It was a great time to be with everyone and the next planned trip is the Perch Extravaganza at Mille Lacs at the end of the month.  One thing I learned was my assumption that the propane valve was dedicated to which tank you have it set on was wrong.  On Saturday night we ran out of propane at 4:00 in the morning and I had to get up and switch tanks via the valve.  Apparently if I would have just opened both cylinders, the valve would have automatically switched them preventing the furnace from shutting off.  At -20F, that would have been a lot nicer!  On the other hand the stars really put on a show in the darkness of Red Lake, cold and crisp and clear.

Russ and Shadow
All in all I really like the wheel house.  We got the setup and tear down times to about 30 minutes, not bad, especially when we worked as a team, one drilling holes, letting the electric jacks down, banking with snow, cleaning the slush out of the hole, and getting things straightened out.  With a heavy travel schedule in the next 4 weeks as well as the deep snow on the lakes, there may only be a few more opportunities to get out on the ice but then again things can change fast.  The holes are very well placed and it's very comfortable to fish out of.  Steve and I had stopped at Walmart in Grand Rapids to pick up a coffee maker and saw one of our favorite movies, Secondhand Lions starring Robert Duvall and Michael Caine, in the $5.00 bargain bin.  It's pretty cool to fish in a comfortable and warm environment, watching a great movie while trying to outfox a walleye.  Our friend Russ has a young pointer named Shadow and I happened to check on them on Saturday afternoon in his house.  Looks like they were enjoying a mid afternoon nap when I walked in so I took a picture.  The cold weather continues as we are setting 40 year old records for below zero nights during the winter of 2013-2014, and it's getting old.  What's more interesting is the current snow cover on the lakes insulates the ice and has prevented it from getting very thick which should make ice out dates more normal.  We certainly don't need a repeat of last years fishing opener's ice cover.  I'll probably hit a local lake this weekend before heading to California on Monday.  I got to admit it's going to be nice to see mid 70 temperatures again!