Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Back on Mille Lacs

Austin's 21 incher
Saturday was finally the first day I was able to fish Mille Lacs Lake since fishing opener on May 11th.  It's the latest the boat has been absent from the lake since I can remember.  Usually Memorial Day is the first run to the big lake but because the boat was in the shop and last week was too windy, I'm about 4 weeks later than normal.  My good friend Hondro Zeller and his family were planning on camping at Father Hennepin State Park last weekend.  Hondro called me to get some advise on making spinner rigs and what beads to use.  After a few tips I suggested we meet on Saturday at Lundeens, we could split up his family in our boats then he could follow me to the summer haunts of the Mille Lacs walleye's.  Arriving about 1:00 we headed for the landing by the Casino, I was surprised that it was almost full.  Fishing reports haven't been very good as the rain may have put a damper on things.  Usually this time of year would find a person parking in the ditch along the road, maybe blocks away as the mud bite tends to be pretty good until the middle of July. With all the negative publicity about Mille Lacs, fisherman have been scarce as the area businesses are feeling the pinch of reduced limits, bad press, and a general feeling of despair about the fishery.  Note, my friends Jeff King and Keith Holtan, Kenai Alaska guides understand.  Never the less the best time to go fishing is anytime so we launched our boats, split up the crew where Hondro's wife Faith and daughter-in-law Brittney went with him while both Hondro's son's Austin and Anders went with me.  Like most guys I have a milk run for this time of year.  Hit the Humps first, head to Sherman's Flat, then to 7 Mile, try 9 Mile, maybe pull some lead core before doing one last trolling rig up and down Indian Point.  Seldom do I ever get past Sherman's however this time it was tough.  Marking quite a few fish on the graph, we also marked huge schools of bait fish as the fish have plenty to eat.  As Hondro followed us to Sherman's his wife Faith nailed a 24.5 inch walleye, her biggest ever.  It was pretty funny as Hondro was trying to get the net in place when she yelled "Get out of my way!" as she didn't want to lose it.  It's fun to see someone get excited about fishing as she later thanked me for helping her catch
Hondro Zeller at his finest!
it by bringing them to the right spot.  The fish got me excited as I had seen them on the graph, maybe the fish are turning on.  We continued to troll up the Cut and finally caught the one and only walleye in my boat for the day, this nice 21" fish that Austin nailed.  I had fished before with Hondro and Anders but this was my first time with Austin.  He was pretty excited and even though that was the only one we caught, he would have stayed out all day.   We continued the routine heading for 7 Mile with nothing to show, went to 9 Mile and experienced the same, did some deep trolling before heading back to Sherman's where Hondro went back to.  Just as we were pulling up Hondro landed another nice walleye.  As he held it up, I snapped this picture.  I'm not exactly sure what he is showing off but I know his wife sure thinks he's a stud!  We ended the day with a trolling run up Indian Point hoping to get some small mouth bass but no luck.  Back at the landing we loaded the boats and headed back to town.  It was great to get back on the lake and with some stable weather in the forecast it simply has to get better.  Some observations, the water is a high as I can remember as we had to jump onto the docks to get in the boat.  The reports of super clear water caused by a number of things like the zebra mussels had certainly changed from my point of view.  Seeing only about 6 feet down, the water was in fact pretty churned up, which is good for fishing.  Some reports even have a huge zebra mussel die off as the winds had pushed a lot of dead shells onto the shorelines during the last storm.  The slow bite could be contributed to the large amount of small perch, again a nice sign.  I still have little confidence that our Minnesota DNR have a clue on how to fix the lake as they just spent 15 years screwing it up.  There is a ton of theories but I find it interesting that Lac Seul had the same problem so they bought out the netters and implemented an 18 - 21 inch protected slot for walleyes and it's an amazing fishery.  These are the exact same fish size that we target on Mille Lacs.  Some one has to wonder the logic but I guess the rest of use are just too stupid!

Fish at 30 feet
So, I said we were marking a lot of fish on Saturday so here's a picture of what that means. While deep water trolling in "No Man's Land" we kept driving over pods of fish that were suspended at 30 - 32 feet in 36 feet of water.  The left side is the GPS display and you can see we are just about straight north of 9 Mile Flat by about a half mile.  The right side is my sonar display and you can see a pod of 3 fish on the left side with another tight to the bottom as the next fish is starting to appear.  We use search type baits like Reef Runners for the planar boards and #5 Shad Raps for the lead lines.  These are great  reaction baits and suspended fish often mean active fish, they should have had a hit them just because!  Well there are no pictures for a reason, none of the fish were hungry or mad enough to hit the lures.  The rain last week has caused the Mississippi River near the house to be at it's highest level all year and it's really flowing through the park just down the road.  I'm anxious to get on the river but the way it's going it will be a while.  In the meantime my plans to fish Lake Oahe has been disrupted by a business trip that can only be scheduled at the same time.  I did enjoy the fishing last year so I'll have to make other plans.  My good friend Joe has thrown out the possibility of going on a 2 day tuna fishing trip out of San Diego later this summer.  With the latest El Nino occurring this could be a lot of fun if you don't get sea sick.  I've caught 10 - 15 pound Yellow Fin and Black Fin tuna and they are by far the fastest and hardest pulling fish pound for pound.  Another friend, Jim Cox has been on these trips and 40 pounders are not uncommon.  I couldn't even imagine.   Hopefully I can get to Mille Lacs again this week, with the stable weather we may finally hit some active fish.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Boat is Back

Example of a Bow Fishing Boat
After 4 weeks of being in the shop I finally picked up my boat from Frankie's on Friday night.  It was pretty hectic at the dealership as they were sponsoring a Bow Fishing Tournament for carp, dogfish (bowfin), and gar.  The tournament started at 10:00 that evening and ended at 10:00 the next morning.  It looked pretty interesting as they had 37 team entries which drew which lake they were allowed to fish on, which keep the amount of traffic on any one lake to a minimum.  Bow fishing carp consists of going on the lake at night with a special boat rigged for this type of sport.  Generally there is a platform for the shooters, lights to shine into the water, and a generator to power those lights for an extended period of time.   Once the sun goes down the carp cruise the shallows in search for food.  Using the lights, it's pretty easy to see the fish but it takes a knack to actually hit them with an arrow.  The water causes the light to refract and if you are looking at a fish under water its actually closer than they look.  Therefore you must shoot below where the fish appears or the arrow will go right over the fish.  It takes a few shots to get a feel for how much refraction verses the depth verses the distance and most people tend to miss a lot of fish at first.  When I was about 15 we all had re-curve bows and in the spring the carp would come into the back sloughs carved out from the meandering Buffalo River which ran through Eleva.  Carp Slough (later we named it Northern Slough) was a favorite spot as it had a wide opening into the river and the carp would be in there thick.  Today carp shooting is much more advanced and it looks like fun as you can hire a guide to take you out for a few hours.   Well, when I got my boat home and started putting it back together I discovered they had given me the wrong stern light.  Back up to Frankie's in the morning, I arrived just in time for the weigh in.  Set up like a bass tournament, all the guys lined up as they drove their boats into the shop area where the guys would unload their fish, count and then weigh the largest.  To win the tournament, you had to bring in the largest fish.  In case of a tie, the number of fish brought in was next.  All together it was a slow night as a cold front came through and the wind made the conditions tough.  326 fish were shot and the winning carp weighed 34.18 pounds, a monster.  I was thinking about grabbing a couple of the smaller ones to take home and smoke but with having to get the boat ready and dealing with the rain,  I decided it would be too much work.

Rockin' and a rollin'
The boat looks great and pictures would not do it justice.  My earlier post showing the damage included a number of deep gouges in the gel coat, which is poly-flake to make it nice and glittery.  The finished product looks just like new and you cannot even tell there was any damage.  It's impressive what they can do as I feel like I got a brand new boat back.  Of course, for $6400 I suppose it better look good!  The nice thing is it forced me to reorganize the boat, vacuum out everything, rearrange my rod storage, clean up the anchor storage area, and throw away all the stuff that seems to accumulate over time.  With everything back in order the plan was to head to Mille Lacs on Sunday and see if she still recognizes me.  Sunday morning was greeted with rain, something we have been inundated with lately, and by the time it lifted north a 30 mph wind took it's place.  Too rough to fish I decided to simply drive my motorcycle up to Lundeen's and finish some electrical repair work that I had started the week before.  Going up Hwy 47 I arrived at the lake stopping at the Scenic Overlook just north of Isle, MN.  I'm glad the boat stayed home as there were 4 - 5 foot rollers coming into shore, it would have been extremely uncomfortable fishing in this wind for sure.  It turned out for the better as it gave me enough time to fix both Bill's commercial coffee maker and cappuccino machine the right way and not just kludge it together. With my mission accomplished it looks like next week will be the first time since opener that the boat will be out.  I have made arrangements with my friend Hondro to meet him at Mille Lacs on Saturday, providing the rain stops.

This Friday is our annual ENA golf tournament where we raise money to help families of children who are suffering from cancer or other devastating conditions.  We raise close to $25,000 each year and this is our 12th annual.  Our projections should put us at over $300,000 raised for a great cause.  The nice thing is we give 100% of our proceeds as everyone works hard as a volunteer for the simple satisfaction that the work is gratifying.  The garden is a mess as we have had at least 10 - 12 inches of rain during the last 2 weeks and every time I try weed or plant the mud swallows my shoes.  It looks like my second crop of sweet corn is going to be pretty late.  On the other hand, as I said last week, those onions are blue ribbon bound!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

No Boat Yet

AIM's Walleye Length to Weight Conversion
It's been a month now since my bonehead move on Leech Lake, hitting another boat.  As stated the damages definitely required a major repair as I brought it into Frankie's the day I returned from opener. After getting all the estimates and settling with my insurance company, it's simply a matter of getting in line with the body shop and everything points to it being ready for this weekend.  Of course getting the boat back doesn't necessarily mean that it's ready to go.  Knowing that it would probably be at the repair shop for 3 - 4 weeks I removed pretty much everything that wasn't bolted down, you never know.  It only took about an hour to empty all of the compartments out however putting all of the stuff back in will be another story.  This will be a great time to clean up everything, sort through the good and the bad, kind of like getting a new boat!  Having expected it a week earlier, I have resigned myself to the fact that it's probably a fair punishment if you may, for damaging it in the first place.  Never the less I am getting restless as the water temps on Mille Lacs are now in the low 60's and the mudflat bite should be starting to turn on.  There was a catch and release tournament on Mille Lacs last Sunday at the Red Door put on by the AIM Pro Walleye Series (read the story here).  This is a great venue for the lake as the teams would turn in their top 5 fish caught.  I understand that the fish were assigned a weight based on a method given to all boats.  Each fish was required to have it's picture taken with a specially formatted SD Card, in a provided measuring trough, and any discrepancy from the strict rules resulted in disqualification of that fish, and I understood there were a few.  Here are the AIM Rules if you are interested.  Although the total results of the tournament have not been officially released the winner, Bob Nitti's (Hunter's Point Resort) team submitted 5 fish that weighed 38.13 pounds, over a 7 1/2 pound average.  In the press release referenced earlier, the winning strategy was using slip bobbers with leeches on the top of the flats.  Pretty impressive, which brings me back to my boat.  I'll have to scratch that itch pretty soon as i get really excited about 26 - 28 inch walleyes that roam Sherman's Flat this time of year.

So, while the boats away it's given me a great opportunity to get caught up on a few things around the house.  It's not that I haven't had a fair number of times fishing as 3 days at Lac Seul feels like a month of fishing around here.  I would never say that that's satisfactory yet it's nice to have the pole shed half cleaned out, the garden planted, and the lawn is starting to look pretty good.  It's been a very wet and late spring which has delayed a my gardening as the soil continues to be saturated causing it to lump then dry hard after tilling.  It's really almost too hard to till but it's got to be done.  Because of this my potatoes are just poking through, the first rows of corn is about 2 inches high, but wow, my onions are looking pretty dang good.  Last year I'm sure that they were planted too deep and never really developed any bulbs of a decent size.  This year we ordered onions from Texas, Long Day varieties for our long summer days, as well special onion fertilizer with trace nutrients.  The instructions state to also us a 23-0-0 fertilizer 2 weeks after planting to boost the tops of the onions.  Having 46-0-0, I simply used half the recommended application rate and did it ever help as my onions have never looked so good.  I guess we'll see in another month or two how they turn out.  Another thing I did was spray my apple trees for the first time.  Getting a $50 coupon from my neighbor Pete, I bought a 26 gallon tree sprayer, big enough to spray all of my apple trees in one mixing.  This thing will spray 30 feet vertically and does a great job, as long as I mix the orchard spray correctly.  My first batch didn't turn out too well as I doubled the dose and instead of mixing 2 TBS per gallon I mixed 2 ounce per gallon.  Well, the trees did not like that one bit as it burned the leaf tips.  Worried I might have killed the trees, they are finally coming back and looking pretty good......another lesson learned, haste makes waste.

Besides getting the Ranger back and ready, I have been working on my Jon Boat for the Mississippi River.  Our steady rain has keep the river close to flood stage for the last 6 weeks but it's starting to recede.  I need to look for a 25 hp short shaft motor as the 15 hp Evinrude that's on it is not quite enough power for 2 guys. I do like fishing the river and is always my short term escape when I have a few hours to kill.  

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lac Seul, Part 2.

Pete with a nice walleye
So how good is fishing at Lac Seul?  Well, from a consistent standpoint, it's probably the best place I have fished yet.  Starting at around 2:00 on Tuesday afternoon till my final cast on Thursday night, I estimate that both Pete and I landed over 300 walleyes, maybe 400 as you just start losing count after a while.  The bait of choice is a simple 1/4 ounce gold colored jig with a rainbow minnow yet I was determined to buck the trend.  Armed with a good selection of Berkeley Gulp and the appropriate 1/4 ounce jig heads I am pretty satisfied with the results.   My technique was a method perfected by The Griz, a famous walleye guide from Minnesota.  I have met Dick Grizinski many times at both the local sports shows and at Frankies, my boat dealer. The Griz is a pretty well known guide, has a website, and has made Snap Jigging a signature presentation.  An interesting side note, my 2008 Ranger 620T was ordered for The Griz but certain circumstances prevented him from taking delivery and in 2009 I picked up his boat.  So, what is snap jigging?  It's a simple technique of letting a jig settle to the bottom the quickly snapping your rod a foot or so causing the jig to jump off the bottom before settling back down.  I decided to try it on Leech this year as the bite was difficult and had some success.  The problem with snap jigging is the walleyes usually hit it on the way down just when you have the most slack in your line.  Often you can see the fish hit your jig via movement in the line or simply the next time you snap there's a solid hook set and the fight is on.  You do tend to miss some fish as they often hit the jig before you have time to react yet I think the excitement of the strike outweighs the negative aspects of snap jigging.  Using Gulp and snap jigging results in some amazing strikes and I think its much more exciting than simply dragging a jig and minnow.  Looking at our catch rates, I would have to say that my strategy caught as many walleyes as the traditional methods but I didn't have to deal with constantly rebaiting with minnows.  Sharp hooks and special jig heads that have a straight hook shaft with a wire bait holder worked great, my preference is VMC Neon Moon Eye Jig which worked great in combination with Gulp Alive Minnow Grub.

A nice 22 inch Walleye
Fishing was focused in shallow areas on or near points and in 4 - 12 feet of water.  Personally I felt the fish were in very shallow and I did really well casting into the shorelines.  Chamberlain Narrows is a necked down area where the walleyes pass through on their annual spawning migrations and they certainly were in the area last week.  Quite honestly we seldom ventured more than a mile from camp as the walleyes seemed to be everywhere.  One of the best spots was about 300 yards across the channel, anchored in 10 feet of water.  I took a video that shows Pete and I hooking 17 walleyes in 17 minutes.  This wasn't untypical as it seemed everywhere we went we caught fish.  Lac Seul has a slot limit where all walleyes between 18 - 21 inches have to be released, a total of 4 fish per person which only 1 can be over 21 inches. One of the other interesting regulations is that if you keep a fish, you have to kill it.  We accomplished this by simply folding back their heads and breaking the neck.  It's a big fine to have a live fish on board so it's important to make sure the fish are dead.   You can bring back 4 walleyes and luckily you can eat what you want and eat we did.  Bruce has a nice propane cooker on the deck of the cabin and using a deep cast iron frying pan (I call it a chicken cooker) we had fish each night to compliment or main meals. On Wednesday night Garith made his "infamous" fish boil.  Using Zatarain's Crawfish-Shrimp-and-Crab-Boil-In-a-Bag, I was skeptical but after looking at the ingredients ( I am severely allergic to crustaceans) and seeing it was just spices, I couldn't wait.  Apparently Garith is the master at this and after boiling rutabagas, carrots, potatoes, in the pot with the spice bag he added walleye when the water became minimal.  After using a ladle to transfer to your plate, he had melted butter to pour over the mixture and using a little salt and pepper I got to admit it was seriously fabulous.   On Thursday night we had Surf and Turf when Garith made a prime rib and we cooked up the remaining walleyes needed to keep us legal.  I have decided that Garith and I make a great pair!  Along with being his co-pilot, we have the same philosophies, same tastes, same attitudes, and we like the same stuff.  It's never too late to meet new friends!

Cessna at Sunset
I did take some videos of the plane then uploaded them on YouTube with the help of my smarter engineer, Welly Chou.  They are pretty interesting and if you have a fast internet connection, change the resolution to 720P or 1080P, it's pretty incredible.  Here are the links for your convenience.  The first is when we land at Lac Seul called Arriving at Chamberlain Narrows.  Turn the volume up to hear the distinctive sound of a 9 cylinder Pratt and Whitney Rotary Engine  It's really cool.  Next is Parking the Beaver, again a short clip of Garith driving the plane to it's parking spot.  Finally a parting shot of our departure from fishing heaven on Lac Seul called Leaving Chamberlain Narrows. Outpost.  Our flight back took a little longer as we bucked a 20 knot headwind most of the way.  Taking off at 7:30 we stopped at Scotty's Seaplane Base on Crane lake to go through US Customs and refill the gas tanks.  Dropping Tom off at Round Lake, we took off just as Bruce landed his Cessna.  A quick flyover to say goodbye to Bruce and Wayne, we head back to Surfside arriving by 2:20. With plenty to do it was back to the same old grind, planting the garden and getting caught up because the late spring.  Here is one of my more interesting pictures as I walked down to the beach at sunset to capture Bruce's plane, a Cessna with amphibious floats. Certainly after a day of fishing the show Mother Nature put on each night was incredible.

With a sad heart I also learned this week that a fellow fisherman and friend had died over the weekend, Bernie Konter.  Bernie was from my wife's home town of Independence, Wisconsin and was a friend of her brother, John. Back when I first started blogging in 2008, Bernie was one of my first subject, even before I started adding tags to the posts.  Bernie Konter's Fall Fest Pickles apparently caught the attention of his daughter Tonya of Wilmar, MN and on Monday night while I was helping Adam with his boat I received a phone call from a 320 area code.  Answering it, I learned that Bernie's family had searched his name and discovered my post of almost 6 years ago. I was also told that he passed away on Saturday at the young age of 70 years old.  Bernie was a good man as he moved to Buffalo City, Wisconsin after he retired to be closer to his love of the Mississippi River and fishing.  For some reason he was always very nice to me as our relationship was based on the occasional running into each other and talking about fishing.  In 2008 he called to see if I'd meet him and his family at Mille Lacs and I couldn't refuse.  Bernie was famous for his Fall Fest Pickles, a recipe that I make every year without fail.  He loved the outdoors and I guess my only regrets will be not spending more time with him.  Maybe in another life, God bless you Bernie and I hope there's a fishing pole waiting for you somewhere.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Back From Lac Seul, Part 1

Our Ride Awaits!
Staying on plan and picking up Pete at 5:45 on Tuesday morning we headed over to meet our pilot Garith before driving to Surfside Sea Plane Base, our starting point.  Loading the plane took a few minutes and by 6:30 we were in the air.  I have to confess it was pretty exciting as they put me in the copilots seat where I could monitor everything that was going on.  Before leaving Bruce Fishbeck, one of our electrical engineers at work helped me with downloading an app for my phone used by private pilots for navigation.  With a flight plan set we started the plane and idled out into the lake for takeoff.  First thing I was told by Garith was never leave my seat until the engine is stopped.  Not that I didn't need to be told but it was still good advice as I have a fondness for my head staying attached to the rest of my body.  After warming the engine to the required 60 degrees C we pointed the plane into the wind and hit the throttle.  The de Havilland Beaver is a workhorse of a plane.  With the capability of carrying 2000 pounds of cargo it's a big plane yet didn't take long to get the floats on plane before lifting off the water. Actually I used one of my apps to monitor our speed at takeoff and was impressed at lifting off the water at about 50 knots.  The weather was light rain and a pretty low cloud ceiling so we flew about 1000 feet above the ground, watching
Our host, Garith!
for towers and other obstacles.  Admittedly I was somewhat surprised how low we flew yet after a few minutes it felt comfortable as the view was outstanding, even in the rain.  Our destination was Round Lake, on the northeast corner of Mille Lacs Lake, it was very cool to see the terrain that I drive by frequently.  As we arrived over Mille Lacs, one could see the skies were clear to the north giving us clear sailing to Lac Seul. Landing on Round we picked up Tom then headed for Sand Point Lake Canadian Customs just north of Crane Lake before departing for the Chamberlain Narrows.  Leaving Surfside at 6:30, we touched down at our destination at 11:15 4 hours, 45 minutes later.  It sure beats driving, which would have taken almost 11 hours to get to the outpost camp by road and boat. Our pilot Garith was fabulous!  As stated, Pete let me sit up in the copilots seat because he knew I would be interested in what was going on.  There is a lot going on to fly the plane from retracting the steering rudders, pumping the flaps to lower them for takeoff and landing, keeping the gas tanks balanced (there were 5 on this plane holding about 140 gallons), adjusting throttle, propeller pitch, fuel mixture, elevator position, altimeter, radio frequencies, GPS destination points, and other critical aspects of flying.  The engine is a 9 cylinder Pratt and Whitney rotary engine and has a distinct rumble as it powers up as smoke clears from the cylinders.  I'm not sure how many hours Garith had behind the stick but I can attest to the smoothness of our takeoffs and landings as well his willingness to share some of that knowledge with a curious passenger.  Spending 10 hours next to the guy was a pure pleasure and hopefully I will get another chance to fly with him.

Sunset on Chamberlain Narrows
Arriving at Lac Seul Outpost our arrival committee, Bruce Wiley and Wayne had flown up a few days earlier and as requested, had the frying pan ready for our first lunch, fresh walleye!  It just doesn't get any better than that, get off the plane, unload, and fill up on the best meal there is.  After getting settled in and cleaning up,  Pete and I loaded the boat and by 1:30 we were fishing.  The Chamberlain Narrows area is a necked down area in the northeast section of Lac Seul, a huge reservoir about 200 miles north of the US/Canadian border.  There is always a little current going through the narrows and is a major migration route for walleyes moving to and from the spawing areas.  Because the spawn was just completed the fish were shallow, often less than 5 feet.  Our first stop was across the channel from the outpost, about 300 yards.  Unfortunately the boats did not have depth finders so it was figuring out via the old fashioned way, drop your jig until it stops then pull it up and go from there.  Pete is very familiar with the area and is knowledgeable where the shallower underwater points and sand bars are located so it wasn't that difficult.  The current allowed us to drift the areas looking for active fish before anchoring to pitch jigs.  Starting at 10 - 12 feet we started catching fish almost immediately.  It seems like the fish would move through in waves as we could catch 5 - 10 walleyes before it would be quiet for a 10 minutes or so before starting again.  Fishing till around 7:00, I guess we caught and released over 60 walleyes as we kept 4 of them for supper.  Lac Seul has a nice slot limit where all fish between 18" and 21" must be released and you can keep one over 21".  We basically let everything over 18 inches go back in the water.  A short ride back to camp, I cleaned everyone's fish before firing up the cast iron frying pan to make supper.  One of the things I showed the guys was how to "zipper" a walleye.  It's always fun to teach old guys new tricks and this was a good one.  A simple way to remove the pin bones in a walleye fillet, it makes cooking and eating them a lot more pleasurable.  After a great meal and cleaning up we we settled down for a nice cocktail of TX Whiskey, brought to me by my good friend Matt Davis from Texas, and enjoyed the beautiful sunset on Chamberlain Narrows.

There is too much to write in a short time as there is a lot going on.  Trying to get the garden in before the rains came this weekend, it's always something.  I have some video's to download and as Paul Harvey would say, "The rest of the story" will have to wait till next week.  Hopefully I can get back on schedule with some interesting accounts, pictures, and fishing tales of my trip.