Thursday, July 31, 2014

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20 inch smallie on the Mississippi River
With things finally settling down it was the perfect week to take advantage of the alignment of the stars and the moon to get some serious fishing in.  It's been about 2 months since I've had a decent fishing outing and it was time to break the long dry spell.  This week it was fortunate to be able to fish both the Mississippi River and Mille Lacs within 2 days of each other and both proved successful.  Sunday afternoon was the maiden voyage on the Mississippi River with my 14 foot jon boat equipped with a "new" 1999 Mercury 25 hp motor.  The boat was originally my brother-in-law's who passed away a few years ago.  Equipped with a 1976 15 hp Evinrude, before putting it on the river, I installed a Rock Hopper to protect the propeller from the shallow waters that occur once the river falls to it's normal summer flow.  Quite an ingenious device, it bolts onto the lower unit and although not too intrusive, it does create enough drag to slow the speed by a couple miles per hour.  With a current of around 3 mph and with another guy in the boat we could hit a whooping 12 mph going upriver.  Being a 1976, the 15 hp was the last year they used points for ignition and it was a hard starting at best.   Looking to add some power I ran across the 25 hp on Craigslist and picked it up last Monday. Accompanying me on the river was my neighbor Tom Olson, a bonafide river rat himself.  Launching at the neighbor's once in the water a couple of pulls and the motor started right up.  Knowing we might have to make adjustments, the first thing we noticed was the power.  The boat is rated for a 25 hp max and it sure liked it.  A mile into our trip up river we hit 18 mph and the front end was plowing which meant we needed to move the pin up which increased the trim providing more lift.  Moving it one hole up made a world of difference as we gained 2 mph and the boat handled fantastic.  With the logistics out of the way we continued our trek upriver, about 6 miles before we decided to start fishing.  This time of the year the water is perfect, high enough to go anywhere but not enough to flood into the trees.  Our plan was simple, drift down one side of the river, casting crank baits or a sucker minnows under a bobber until we reached our starting point, Blair's Landing, it would take about 3 hours.  With a favorite bait the Bomber Model A fire tiger crankbait, the 3 cast produced a 28 inch northern pike, a great start.  We generally practice catch and
My "new" 1999 25 hp Merc
release on the river unless of course we get a walleye so it went back in the water.  15 minutes later another northern pike hit the lure. Fishing the eddies formed by the current, rip rap along the river, under trees next to shore, and retaining walls at the river's edge,  the fishing was pretty good.  The first nice smallmouth bass came as my crankbait sat on the surface of the water while I needed a quick second to engage the reel.  A subtle slurp and the bait disappeared. Slow to react the fish really set the hook itself and the battle was on. 2 minutes later a 17 inch smallie was in the net, a nice first fish.  My friend Pete uses large live minnows under bobbers to fish trophy smallies so I had rigged a rod to try it.  Coming upon a retaining wall, I pitched a hooked sucker minnow under a bobber right next to the wall and as soon as it hit a huge swirl engulfed it.  One quick tug and she was gone as the line broke right at the slip knot bobber stop. Whatever it was, it was nice but that's about all I can say.  As we floated down a couple more strikes and near misses by large fish swirling at the boat we finally arrived across the river from the house. Having lost my prized fire tiger Bomber it was replaced with a crayfish colored duplicate.  A nice eddy sets up there as we started at the top of the hole.  Immediately I had a dandy fish on as Tom was starting to set his pole down when a nice fish hit his line.  His fish was gone as fast as it came yet I continued to fight what ended up in the net, a gorgeous 20 inch smallie.  Going back we nailed 2 more smallies out of that spot before moving on.  A couple more small fish hit before we packed it in.  One last piece of business, I headed the boat downstream for a top speed, 26 mph.  Although we were only out for about 4 hours it was very successful as I caught 2 nice northerns, had 3 nice fish swirl at the bait near the boat, a 17 and 20 inch smallie, as well Tom and I landed another 4 bass and had lost as many.  I did flood the motor trying to start it so it may take a few times to understand it's temperament.   Not bad for a Sunday afternoon and I'm looking forward to getting out within the next week.

Chuck's 12 inch walleye on lead core
On Tuesday was the annual trip with a good friend Chuck Teasley who now lives in Illinois across from St. Louis, MO.  Originally the plan is always the last Thursday in July but scheduling conflicts forced us to go a couple of days early.  As usual, Charlie meets me at the pole barn then we head north picking up bait, checking into Hotel Applen, then head out for a nice dinner.  Deciding to eat at the Spirit Lake Steakhouse in Wahkon, the evening was one of the nicest we've had all summer as we invited Bill and Kathy Lundeen to join us.  With dinner out of the way we headed back to Mark's place to check out a few of my Lac Seul videos before hitting the sack.  Morning arrived and although the forecast called for minor winds from the northwest, at 7:00 it was already starting to show signs of stronger winds to come.  After stopping for bait we launched on the west side to take advantage of the calmer side of the lake as it would be a good place to start what hasn't been too successful of a strategy these days.  Albert Einstein said it best "The definition of an insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results"!  Well, I know that we are a few weeks behind as the walleye bite goes and one should be able to get fish on the flats with night crawler rigs this time of year.  Like the prior two times I fished Mille Lacs, the fish have to start responding to the pattern at some time.  So here we go again, Sherman's Flat, 7-Mile Flat, 9-Mile Flat, Sliver Flat, and not even a nibble.  You would have thought after 3 outings that something would hit but alas, I guess I'm insane.  We did each get a 12 inch walleye on lead core line just off of Sliver and although it's nice to see some smaller fish, we didn't even feel them on our lines.  Honestly, the 12 incher was my first walleye I have caught on Mille Lacs this year and for all practical purposes, it really didn't count.  With nothing happening off the deep flat areas, our next move was to try 5 Mile Gravel with lead core.  It's usually a better late summer spot and anything had to be better than our current strategy.

First official Mille Lacs Walleye, 27 incher
On the way south to 5 Mile one comes fairly close to 3 Mile Reef.  A favorite spot for fall trolling, it has a lot of small mouth bass and on a whim decided to try casting the top as the wind was perfect for a nice drift.  Chuck desperately wanted some fish to take home and with the new regulations on smallies, it should be easy to at least get a few for a fish fry.  After casting the full length of the reef we switch tactics and started trolling #5 crawfish colored Shad Raps.  I have a particular honey run that few if any utilize the series of humps that sometime contain fish.  Pulling the raps across the top of one of the 6 foot hump produced a nice hookup and the way it was running, it had to be a northern pike.  As I got closer to the boat it became obvious that this was no northern pike rather a huge walleye.  A walleye?!?!?, 6 feet of water at 1:30 in the afternoon on July 29th........really?  It was then we discovered that the landing net had been left in the back of the truck forcing Chuck to grab the fish with his hand.  Too big to grab behind the gills, he finally got both hands on it and brought her in.  Measured at 27 inches, she was fat and sassy, not like years past.  Snapping a few pictures we let her go, my first official walleye caught on Mille Lacs this year.  It's almost embarrassing to even admit it but what the heck, you can't hide the truth. Admittedly it was nice to see that I'm not completely jinxed and in fact after resetting the lines we trolled another 50 yards when another fish almost ripped the rod from my grip.  Chuck even noticed that the rod almost flew from my hands.  2 minutes later we hand landed another nice walleye, not a large as the first one but at 23 inches, nothing like keeping the streak going.  We did catch a few keeper small mouth bass and after a number of trolling runs and noticing the waves were now pushing 3 - 4 feet, it was time to leave.  It did remind me of the time my friend Tom Emmons and I arrived at 3-Mile in the middle of July on a calm afternoon and there were literally thousands of 18 - 22 inch walleyes cruising the top of the reef in 3 - 4 feet of water.  It was spectacular.  Like the previous weeks 26 inch walleye caught in the weeds by my neighbor Pete, maybe it's time to think outside the box.  Old habits sure can take a long time to die however. Pounding our way back to the west side of the lake we hit Indian Point and put a couple more smallies in the live well.  The last half hour was spent fishing the weed tops in Vineland Boy where Chuck did get a smaller northern pike before we decided to head back.  A quick stop at the Long Siding Bar and Grill for a burger, by 10:00 the fish were cleaned and Chuck was headed back up to Alexandria to finish the week with his family.  Chuck and I see each other about once a year and each time is like it was yesterday.  I'm glad we had a chance to get together again as we look forward to next year.

It's pickle time in the garden as we have started making the famous Bernie Konter's Fall Fest Pickles.  I have adapted his recipe for a 5 quart ice cream pail by filling it with long quarter sliced cucumbers, onion slices, and dill (all fresh from the garden).  Next comes the brine, 8 quarts of water, 1 cup of white vinegar, 1/2 cup of canning salt, a generous tablespoon of minced garlic (not dried), and about the same amount of pickling spice.  Mix it up and pour over the cucumbers.  Seal with the cover and in a week or so they'll be ready to munch on.  The blueberry crop at Blueberry Ridge in Eleva experienced a rough winter so the picking has not been very good. My raspberries are great and now that I planted a few different varieties, we are having berries from July 1st thru the end of September.  The plan is to try and get back on the river again on Sunday to take advantage of the existing river height as it's easier to fish right now.

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