Thursday, April 24, 2014

2 Weeks to Go!

Tearing Apart My Motor
Not unlike last year, 2014's weather, a late Easter, and the early Minnesota fishing opener date of May 10 is compressing my to do list to the limits.  The garden is far from dry enough to tiller, the yard is in various shades of brown, at least I was able to get all of my fruit trees pruned.  The list goes on and on and right at the top is getting my boat ready.  Because I winterize it before putting it away for it's 5 month sleep, usually my task is a simple cleaning up the accumulation of fishing stuff that ends up in the boat during the winter and maybe one substantial improvement.  This year I am running a Lowrance HDS12 Touch and decided that it would be nice to finally connect the engine data interface from my 115 Suzuki outboard to the Lowrance.  Seems simple enough as you just need to buy the proper Engine Interface Cable and an addition NMEA 2000 network T expansion port.  I order the cable online from  Browns Point Suzuki, a large Suzuki dealership in New Jersey who has everything.  When talking to them it was suggested that if I wanted to keep my existing tachometer/monitor gauge working, I would need another adaptor cable.  After receiving the cables I figure this would be about an hour job to hook everything up.  Famous last words.  After pulling of the right housing the first thing I noticed was there is no room in the engine cable grommet for one more cable.  After staring at the motor for a while, reading the installation instructions, staring more,  it became obvious that this task was getting over my head and fast.  The cable instructions said to plug it in the SDS connection yet the schematic in the Suzuki's Owner's Manual showed no such connection.  After posting a question on Walleye Central, the guy who help with the tiller handle replacement, Dan suggested I give him a call.  He was more than helpful especially solving my cable routing problem yet in the end I still couldn't see the Suzuki appear on the HDS12.  Doing a simple Google search of my issue lead me to a number of informative posts yet they seemed very complicated.  I finally e-mailed Browns Point about the confusing instructions that do not line up with the manual, a simple reply from their service department and a quick reconnect was met with success!  That was the good news, the bad news is the service suggested reprogramming the cables software to fix a fuel rate error.  I wish they would have suggested this before they had sent it to me but so be it as the cable is on its way back to Browns Point for updating.  Hopefully it will be here next week and in time to get it put back together for Wisconsin Opener as it would nice to try it out before we head to Leech Lake.  Once connected it will be a nice addition to the information presented on the HDS unit such as true RPM, fuel usage, trim position, engine hours, and a few other engine outputs.  I suppose in the grand scheme of things, it probably doesn't make a lot of difference as I've been running these motors now going on 14 years without a single problem. 

Fresh Cheese Curds
Friday was my Mom's 80th birthday so we headed to my brother Steve's in LaCrosse, WI on Saturday to take her out for dinner.  On the way down we stopped in Ellsworth, Wisconsin to buy some cheese for my friend Joe Stanfield, who lives in Dallas.  Joe was kind enough to help set up our Louisiana trip last month and at the time he was commenting on how good the cheese was that I had sent him a number of years ago.  You see Texas really doesn't have a lot of good cheese there as I remember when my uncle Dewey moved to Ardmore, Oklahoma he always brought a bunch of cheese back with him after visiting Eleva.  Ellsworth is known for their great cheddar cheese curds, the kind that squeak in your mouth as you chew them.  Leaving the curds their natural color, they are delicious.  When you buy them at the creamery, they sell so many that the packages are actually warm from the final process.  Those being the freshest create almost a symphony as you chew......ok, not really but it is pretty interesting.  The older they get the less they squeak so it best to eat them right away.  The other cheese I bought that was outstanding is their 6 year old Cheddar.  Cut from a block it almost crumbled as you handled it but the flavor was amazing.  I ended up with a number of varieties including Coly, Farmers Cheese, Smoke Cheddar, Beerkase, Havarti, Wisconsin Brick, Chipotle Colby, White Cheddar, and Jalapeno Monterrey Jack, Joe should stay plugged up for a while!  In addition, he loves the real wild rice that I get from my friend Bill so I included a couple of packages.  Until you've had real wild rice, you don't know what you are missing.

The weather made a substantial dent in the ice cover last week with most of the large lakes around Minneapolis ice free.  I am getting more confident that we will have open water on May 10th for the fishing opener at Leech.  If you go to Mille Lacs Lake Webcams you can see there is a substantial difference between this year's picture verse last years.  As of April 23rd the ice is slowly starting to pull away from the shore and is truning black, last years picture shows a lake still snow covered and shut tight.  There's not doubt however that it's going to be tight!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Back in the Snow Again

Glaciers and the Driftless Area
I am trying to stay positive about the current state of the weather here in Dayton, MN but it's getting harder by the minute.  Of course with the snow piling up by the minute certainly doesn't help.  I try hard not to be too political as this is a blog about fishing yet those who know me understand I have some passionate views on things and one is Global Warming.  Now I actually believe that Global Warming is happening, in fact I am pretty sure it's been a positive for the last 10,000 years.  The last Ice Age was the Wisconsin Glaciation period when most of Minnesota and Wisconsin were covered by ice over 3000 feet thick except for an area called the Driftless Area.  My home town of Eleva, Wisconsin is in this area, often called the Coulee Region and consisted of a number of bluffs and valleys where we fished and hunted, a sportsman's paradise.  Most of the lakes in Minnesota as well as the Mississippi and Minnesota River valleys were formed during the current warming period we are in today.  If you dig down a couple of feet anywhere on my property you will run into sand and gravel deposits left from the last glaciers.  Well, if Global Warming is happening, I'd love it to move back to Minnesota for a couple of years.  Our 2013 Minnesota Fishing Opener was significantly delayed as the ice had not gone out of Leech Lake by May 11th.  This year has the feel of a repeat performance as the lakes like Mille Lacs and Leech have significant ice on them. Minnesota's fishing opener is on May 10th and I know a lot can happen in 3 weeks but I tell you, this is getting old! The forecast for Leech has night time temperatures in the low 20's until Saturday where it gets back into the 60's for highs.  We will have to keep our finger's crossed for sure as I would sure be disappointed to miss 2 fishing openers in a row because there was still ice on the lake.  As a note, I don't have any problem with some ice as one of the best ever openers for catching fish was when the Narrows Area between the main lake and Walker Bay had significant ice, enough so resorts on that side could not launch boats.  We nailed the walleyes and as well, one could literally scoop up the "ice cubes" out of the water and throw them in the cooler to keep the beer cold.  I guess you could say it was a perfect combination!

Saturday I attended the funeral of a friend, Mike Melleen of Onamia, Minnesota.  Mike was quite a fisherman on Mille Lacs Lake where I had met him at Lundeen's Tackle Castle a number of times before I really got to know him.  I guess you cannot be in Onamia without noticing the Meleen name.  A fixture in the area he originally built the Meleen's Holiday Sports (now the BP station across from Bills), Trophy's Sports Bar, and various business's in the area.  I got the chance to fish clients with Mike a few times and one of those days really sticks out in my mind. Check this post from 2012. We had fished the day before with 5 other guys, 2 in my boat and 3 in Mike's.  I had been doing really well off of Sherman's flat and decided to fish there first.  After getting a number of nice fish by 12:00 one of my guys had to leave so I brought him back to the landing.  In the meantime Mike headed north and by the time I got back on the water they were at the Blue Goose having lunch.  My guest suggested we meet them there, a nice 20 minute boat ride from the landing.  Once lunch was finished we headed straight east to a flat I had never fished before and we started hammering them.  By the end of the day we had caught over 50 fish for our guests before bringing them back to the landing.  The next morning was set to leave from Izaty's resort on the south side.  He still had the 3 people from the day before while I still had one.  We fished like crazy that morning but didn't catch a thing.  By 11:00 it was back to Izaty's for me to drop my guest off and pick up 2 more for the afternoon. They finally showed up around 1:00, invited me for lunch before we took off around 1:30.  My conversation went something like this..."Well, we fished the south end this morning and it was pretty slow.  I am confident the bite is still going on the flats, the waves aren't too bad and it would take about 30 minutes to get there".   Luckily they agreed that if we were going to fish, we had might as well catch some.  Off we headed back to Sherman's flat were we immediately started catching fish.  In the meantime, no Mike.  About an hour later he calls to tell me he's struck out so far.  Telling him we are hammering them on Sherman's, he shows up just as we pull one in.  As suddenly as he shows up he leaves, getting out of my way before returning 15 minutes later.  "Mike, anchor right here!" which his reply was that he did not want to horn in on my success.  Reminding him that we are working as a team, please anchor and I'd work around him,  really it was no problem.  Well once anchored it was like fishing wash tub as my first pass brought a "We got 3!".  The second added another 4 to that number, the third pass brought his total to 12.  We left 2 hours later with another 45+ fish caught between us.  At the dock Mike, who when it comes to fishing is as competitive as I've seen walks up and said to me "Dave, you saved my day, Thank you".  I know damn well I didn't save his day yet to receive a compliment from him was priceless and I'll always remember that time.  Later we worked together at Lundeen's while Bill and Kathy attended their daughters college graduation, it was a lot of fun hanging with Mike.  At the funeral I had learned many things about him I never knew but the most impressive was his sort of pragmatic attitude about things.  What ever hand you are dealt in life you have to play it.  I had heard him say his line "You gotta do what you gotta do" but he really lived it.  I was glad to have come to know Mike Meleen.

April 17, 2014 with 12 inches of Snow....Uffda
I was going to post this last night however when I got home it was snowing more significantly than when I originally wrote the post, enough so to take a picture of my plight!  By 8:00 this morning we had accumulated close to 12" of snow.  I quick took this picture of the end of my property where I have a road going back to the bee hives (something for next week's post).  My thought was to simply not do anything and wait till the weather melts the snow but as you see it got to be too much.  Unfortunately I removed the snow blower attachment and chains from my John Deere lawn tractor so I decided reattach it.  Luckily it's a quick hitch and only takes about 10 minutes to attach.   Thinking I could get by not putting on the tire chains on the tractor it only took 50 feet to get stuck so it was back into the shed to finish the job.  The weather forecast claims the rest of April will have above normal temperatures including 70 degrees for Easter Sunday, we'll see. The Ranger 620T is slowly starting to wake up from it's long winter's sleep.  I am enhancing my Sonic Hub audio system with a new input for my bluetooth receiver giving me more choices for my audio system.  Another project is trying to connect my Suzuki engine interface port to the Lowrance HDS12 so I can better track the engine functions and admittedly that's not going so good!  We have ordered our onion plants from Texas and here's hoping the garden will be dry enough to get in and rotor till.  Like I started the post, I hope it doesn't take too long!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mille Lacs 2014

Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota
It's time to comment on the current changes to the fishing regulations on my favorite fishing lake Mille Lacs.  Those who follow this blog know that I love fishing Mille Lacs for walleyes from May's opener to the end of February.  I would say that fishing has been pretty good the last few years with plenty of nice walleyes caught and like any lake it can have it's good days and bad days but on average I can't complain.  Unfortunately there are significant issues with the walleye population and it perplexes guys like myself that have fished the lake for over 30 years and have seen the changes.  Since the Supreme Court ruling in the late 1990's allowing the Ojibwe to harvest walleye for substance, the State of Minnesota has allowed them to gill net walleyes prior to the spawn.  Right or wrong this has set in motion a number of yearly adjustments in "safe allowable harvest" numbers, ever changing slot limits, and bag limit restrictions.  For me the last 3 - 4 years has been exceptional for consistent catches of nice walleyes in the 20" - 28" range yet these fish looked like the were starving.  While the perch fishing disappeared, days of 30 to 50 fish on a nice June day were not uncommon.  Once called "The home of the quarter pounder" few fish under 20" came in the boat for me during the last 2 years.  With the fisherman's slot at 16" - 20" and the nets targeting the same fish, it seemed inevitable.  Add to the fact that the explosion of both smallmouth bass and now northern pike just added to the predator base, the fish had ate itself out of house and home.  Now, personally I don't buy all of this yet I'm not in charge.  So we have a crisis, to many big walleyes, pike, and smallmouth....not enough forage and no survival of significance for young walleyes, perch, or tullibees for the future.  The DNR's strategy for 2014 is to significantly lower the allowable harvest, increase the limits of northern pike from 3 to 10, open up the slot limit for smallmouth, and institute a year long night fishing ban from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM.  In addition the bag limit stays the same as last year which is 2 walleyes in the 18" - 20" slot.  Top this off with what turned out to be a terrible ice fishing season (the DNR claims only 450# of walleyes harvested from Dec 1 - Feb 23) has created a tenuous situation for the business's that rely on fishing such as the bait shops and resorts.  Some are much more vocal while others are trying to figure out how to survive by creating opportunities.  It's definitely not easy.  For the DNR's take on the lake you can check out this link:
Mille Lacs Lake.  Also, the DNR in an attempt to soften the issue has started a newsletter called Hooked on Mille Lacs which can be accessed by clicking on the link.  Interesting.

Big Head, Little Body ( the fish, not me!)

So what do I really think?  First and foremost, no lake in Minnesota has been able to be managed while netting is present, not Red Lake, not Lake of the Woods, not Leech Lake.  Even if a certain allowable harvest is permitted, taking these fish prior to spawn only reduces the hatched biomass which is contrary to what the DNR claims as they say has more than enough spawning females.  It is well known that the lake is full of young fish, the perch hatch is the best in years.  This coincides with the complete shutdown of the fall bite as the fish had plenty to eat, were fat as pigs, and didn't need to chase down lures.  So what happened in 2013.......the ice was still covering the lake on opener, no significant netting was done on the lake.  Maybe it's too easy to assume yet something has changed.  Another interesting fact is that the Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources have looked at walleye populations and have determined that the 18" - 21" fish are the ideal spawning size with the highest success rate.  These are the exact fish that are targeted by the nets and is also represented on the current slot size fish we are allowed to keep.  The Minnesota DNR does not agree yet on the "Blue Ribbon Panel" to study the issue is a biologist from Ontario, go figure.  I am in agreement with the smallmouth regs going back to where they were.  Quite honestly a 16 inch smallmouth is delicious.  As far as the northern limits going to 10, I guess it opens up a lot of opportunities if you like them and know how to take out the Y bones.  The lake is getting clearer which definitely can affect fish populations as zebra mussels haven't help.  Whatever the changes, it certain that the good old days of fishing Mille Lacs, especially in the late 1980's thru 2006 may remain as such, good old days.  Lets hope not.

An interesting parallel to our issues at Mille Lacs is the early King Salmon run on the Kenai River.  Because of the low return population of these magnificent fish, the first run which occurs in June has been closed to any fishing.  Guiding on the Lower Kenai River consists of 3 major salmon runs, the early Kings in June, the 2nd run of Kings in July, and the first run of Silver Salmon in August. For my 2 friends on the Kenai who make their living as guides, both Jeff King and Keith Holtan understand the measures taken yet have a common concern for netting that has a huge effect on the returning population.  I guess we all have our agenda and thoughts.....ah to be King for a day!  Either way you will see the results of both fisheries as we document our experiences.  You can see Jeff's experiences to the left on Mile 14.  The weather is finally warming up as opener is just 4 weeks away, I think we'll be on the lake for sure!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

In Between

Guidlines for Pruning Apple Trees
It looks like we are heading into a long "In Between" period again this year, from the last ice fishing trip until opener.  Just when the snow is finally melting away, we are bracing for another major snow storm to pass through Dayton later tonight, with 10 - 14 inches predicted by Friday evening.  Now I know it snows in April but this is getting old.  There actually is enough ice on the lakes to fish yet my list of things to do before opener isn't getting any shorter.  One of my big chores in the March/April time frame is to prune all of my fruit trees.  I have 3 pear trees and 9 apple trees that need constant attention if I expect fruit from them this fall.  Pruning helps the health of the tree by thinning out the branches and allowing the fruit to develop better.  The pear trees really sucker bad and can grow over 6 feet in one growing season.  These all have to be removed as the suckers take energy away from the fruit development.  Both the pears and the apple trees can grow quite high which causes 2 issues later on.  The first being my hose sprayer doesn't go that high so I try and keep the trees at around 15 - 20 feet at the most.  Second, when it comes to picking time it's a lot easier if I can deal with the fruit using my standard ladders.  It takes about an hour to really do a good job on each tree but in the end it's worth it.  My friend Rick Shermer has a small orchard and last year he really went to town on his trees.  I just shook my head as he basically gave each one a butch haircut.  I promised him that this spring would see me come by the house and take over his task before he turns the trees into wood for smoking.   With the storm coming it will probably be next week before I can get mine finished and head over to do his.  Our neighbor Brandon has been maple syruping the last week and has 4 of my large sugar maples tapped.  His goal is about 1500 gallons of sap which will produce around 40 gallons of pure maple syrup.  It's a nice treat as he brought over a bottle from his first evaporation batch and it's very good. 

Dick's Fried Walleye Louisiana Style
Last week Lory and I attended the Northwest Sportshow at the Minneapolis convention center.  Attending on opening night, which was last Wednesday assured there was plenty of room to look at everything as it really gets busy on the weekends.  The first thing we got was a nice lighted bobber that the first 300 people got free.   It's pretty nice however with the night ban on Mille Lacs this year for the entire season, I probably won't have an opportunity to use it.  The next thing was to pick up some Cajun fish spices from Wayzata Bay Spice Company of Roger's Minnesota.  They have a couple of excellent blends as I needed them for the Redfish caught in Louisiana a few weeks ago.  The rest of the show was pretty normal, nothing really new this year, or at least I didn't think so, yet it is always fun to check it out, especially seeing my friends Judy and Ken Marlow.  We have stayed a number of times with the Marlow's, at their cabins on the Kenai River in Alaska.  As usual, he had a jar of canned smoked salmon, definitely worth the price of admission!  Sunday was our fish fry to try out the fillets sent back from my trip.  Dick Daugard, my Texas friend called me about a month ago and offered to trade me flounder fillets for walleye fillets, if I had any to spare. He reads the blog and had never had walleye before.  Eating walleye is common here in Minnesota and it seemed to be a pretty good deal so I brought a couple of packages from the Red Lake trips earlier this year and gave one to Dick and the other to Robert.  Dick fried them up after we left camp then sent a picture of  his work just before they got consumed.  His comment was that they were spectacular, which we already knew.  Dick is quite a chef and can really cook up pretty much anything you give to him.  We did get catch some flounder as we fried that up on Sunday and although I am a big fan of saltwater fish, admittedly the walleye is better.  The menu was decided as we cooked up 3 types of fish, flounder, redfish, and black drum.  The flounder was pan fried, we put the black drum and a smaller red on cedar planks, then cooked the large redfish fillet "on the half shell".  Describe a couple of posts ago, I was anxious to show my neighbors how it was done.  We all agreed that the pan fried flounder was good, the cedar planked method was good, but the redfish on the grill was absolutely fabulous.  I do have a few more redfish fillets and look forward to our next cooking event.

Opening my Outdoor News Sportsman's Weekly paper, on the front page has the headline: Ice-covered opener: Two years in a row?  All I can say is Uffda!  Living here in Minnesota for 38 years now, I can't imagine this happening again so Team Walleye is simply keeping their fingers crossed.  A lot can happen in 5 weeks so it's no use to get too worried yet to be honest, there is still quite a bit of ice on the lakes up north.  Our best fishing was the year we had significant ice on Leech Lake yet we could easily get out of Brindley's, where we stay.  Oh well, there is little we can do about it anyway as their is a lot to do before opener.