Friday, December 26, 2014

Back to JR's

Steve's 36 inch northern
November's weather was good enough to give us a significant layer of ice on the lakes which started the ice fishing season with a bang.  Lately however we've experienced a December thaw and all of the snow has disappeared on both the ground and the lakes making for easy travel no matter where you go. Taking advantage of the great weather we decided to head back north to Red Lake last Thursday night and stay through the Sunday.  Joining my friend Mark Applen and I was my brother Steve and friend Kevin.  Because of meetings I was stuck at work till 3:00 while Mark left at 8:30 that morning with Kevin which was good as they could scout the area and have our location ready to go.  In the meantime Steve showed up on time as I snuck out earlier and was ready at the pole shed when he arrived. Leaving at 3:30 and needing to stop at Bill's we figured an arrival time around 8:00 or so and by the time we got the house hooked up and pulled out on the ice we should be fishing before 9:30. Needing Mark to blink his lights a few times we finally located him and parked about 200 feet away.  As luck would have it there was areas on the ice which had a small amount of snow on it, just enough to provide a nice insulating bank around the ice house and in the wheel wells to keep us warm. With some teamwork we were finally fishing right on time and it wasn't long before we had our first walleye.  After a cocktail with the guys we set up the rattle reels and hit the sack after a long day of working, driving, and setting up.  Friday came and I have to admit, the fishing was pretty slow.  Not that there wasn't any fish around rather they were quite tight lipped and would come and look for a few seconds then as fast as they came, they were gone.  Occasionally a fish would simply slam the bait in a complete opposite mood of the day, often it would come as a surprise as you weren't ready for it.  Steve did have a very large fish on his line on Friday but it threw the hook before we could see it, of course after a 10 minute battle.

A nice 16 7/8 inch keeper
By Friday late afternoon Russ Praught showed up with his nephew Zack and Mike Schneps arrived with his friend Tim, we had our small shanty town set up.  After a couple hours we had enough fish to take in to JR's and have him cook them up for supper that night.  It's a pretty good deal, simply clean your fish, cut them up into smaller pieces, hand them to the cook and he brings back your walleyes nicely deep fried with a pile of french fries to boot, all for $5.00 a head.  Russ brings his special tartar sauce and with a nice glass of Maker's Mark on ice, it just doesn't get any better.  Because fishing wasn't that good we headed back to our shacks for a friendly game of Farkle, something that seems to be a tradition with Mark, Russ, and Mike.  It's played with 6 dice and doesn't take too long to figure out how the scoring goes.  Seems like I need to equip the house with a game.  Retiring for the night we caught a few on the rattle reels but again the fish were not jumping out of the holes like 3 weeks ago. Saturday morning brought a new day and some more fish.  Our goal was again to have enough walleyes for supper that night and like the previous day, we managed to get enough to provide a meal. Most of the fish were about 16 to 18 inches and the new limit on walleyes that took effect on December 1 made a difference.  The previous slot limit was 20 - 26 inches, 4 fish with only one over 26 however the new slot is 17 - 26 inches and 3 fish with only one over 26.  We did get a number of fish in the 17 - 20 inch range that a month ago would have been in the pail so it did make getting a keeper sized fish a little bit more difficult.  Certainly the action was good enough to eat a meal each day and ultimately bring home some walleyes for later.  Just before we went in for supper on Saturday night Steve hooked into another big fish as it quickly tangled all of the rattle reel lines that were down.  This time we were successful in landing the fish which turned out to be a very fat 36 inch northern pike.  That nice fish deserved top billing on this post and is the first picture above.  Like 3 weeks ago when Keith landed his 40 inch northern, it takes a while for the fish to come back into the area if a northern is around so we are glad to catch these fish then let them go thinking that they have had enough of us! After making sure we had enough fish for supper we headed to JR's for our nightly fish fry.  This night Mark pulled out his special tartar sauce and wow, it was in Russ's class.  It certainly makes for an enjoyable day of fishing when you can eat fresh walleyes almost as soon as they are caught.

TX at JR's on Red Lake
The plan was to leave by Sunday morning at 9:00 however the fish seemed to be biting better so we extended it till 10:00.  I guess we really didn't do any better and Steve had another 3 hours of driving once we hit home so we started packing up.  We got everything put away, hooked up to the trucks and headed for JR's.  I pulled up first as Mark was right behind me.  While handing Steve the fish to clean for the way home, I noticed Mark was talking to JR as I haven't even seen him since last year. Mark had given him a bottle of 18 year old Wiser's Whiskey, his favorite brand.  They were discussing how mad JR was as his so called friends were drinking his gift without impunity, actually mixing it with coke for crying out loud.  I had picked up a 1.75L of straight Wiser's for JR and it seemed as good a time as any to give it to him.  To us it's never a big deal but I know that it's important to make sure you are a good customer and to let your host know that you appreciate everything they do for us.  Appreciative of our jester, JR gave Mark and I a special parking spot for our wheel houses which later we learned the back lot was completely filled, a true gift.  It really pays to be nice to nice people and JR is the greatest.  Speaking of great friends, Matt Davis from Texas introduced me to TX Whiskey while we were on our Louisiana fishing trip with Matt, my wonderful friend Joe Stanfield, brother Steve, Mike Schubert, Jim Cox, the Professor, and our hosts.  It's a great sipping whiskey and Matt makes sure I always have some around as it's only sold in Texas and Louisiana.  I brought a bottle up and we had a few rounds with Adam, JR's son who helps run the place.  I like to send pictures to Matt and Joe showing them where TX has been and to let them know I still appreciate their thinking of me!  TX has been to Lac Seul, Leech Lake fishing opener, deer hunting camp, and now Red Lake.   Maybe I should send this picture to the distillery, maybe they'll send me a bottle.

Well, it's Christmas time again and like my dad used to say, the older you get the faster it goes.  I'll definitely be heading to Eleva to see my family on Christmas Eve then head to my wife Lyn's family as they are going through some issues as we all get older.  We have a standing invitation to spend Christmas with the Taylor's, our Minnesota family and with a little luck well make it back in time. The plan is to get back up to Red Lake after Christmas and before New Year, might as well while we have the time off.  A very Merry Christmas to all of you, especially my loyal readers including Jeff King (who's in Mexico dammit), Dewey Ness, Keith Holtan, all my fishing friends especially Kevin Aiona, Mark Applen, and Bill Lundeen.  There are too many of you and I'm sure you know who you are, have a great Holiday Season as I look forward to seeing all of you soon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Spring has December

On Lake Pulaski
After a hectic week in San Diego and spending some time with my Taiwanese friend Jeffery it was time to get back to work.  It looks like I had the flu for the last ten days as I really didn't feel very well until the weekend.  As stated last week the weather was predicted to be in the high 40's and low 50's and the weatherman was right this time!  It was sort of like a temperature inversion had settled over the area and by Monday all the snow was pretty much gone everywhere.  With a few hours available I called my friend Pete Mliner as we had talked earlier in the day about heading out to a local lake near Buffalo.  I used to do well at the lake but the last few years it's been a struggle and with Pelican Lake being my local go to lake, my other previous haunts were forgotten.  Now that Pelican has froze out last year and the DNR is lowering the levels (that's another topic!) it's time to re-explore these older lakes as well as new ones. After stopping by Cabela's in the morning my afternoon cleared and I picked up Pete around 2:00.  It was interesting because we were going to Lake Pulaski and he had a friend on the lake where we could park our truck and walk out.  Arriving at the house we were greeted by Mark Haskins, and old Team Walleye member.  I guess I was the only one surprised as everyone assumed I knew, funny.  So after catching up on things and unloading we headed out on the lake and drilled some holes with Pete's new drill adaptor/auger.  It actually worked pretty good as the ice was a solid 12 inches, it took a little to get used to but we drilled quite a few holes.  As you can see there was a lot of water on the ice and my first hole became a drain for the rest of the day.  Moving from hole to hole we managed to get 7 crappies, the biggest about 10 inches. Nothing to brag about it was still nice to get out and renew at least one of my old fishing holes. Once the sun went down the bite stopped so we headed back home.

Andy with a nice walleye
The balance of the week has been getting prepared for our next visit to Red Lake for the weekend. This trip is going to include my brother Steve, Nephew Kevin, and good friend Kevin Aiona as we plan on heading up on Thursday afternoon for 3 nights of what hoping to be a great weekend of ice fishing.  As stated a few weeks ago I have left my Salem Ice Cabin at JR's Resort on Red Lake so it's pretty easy to drive on up, hook onto the truck and take it out.  My friend Mark is heading up 6 hours earlier and with a little luck he'll have the spot ready for us, maybe even have some fish to eat for supper!  Last week my friend Andy Achman was at Red with his newly acquired Ice Castle and they did pretty well.  He sent me a report where him and his brother Pete, both Team Walleye veterans, had caught over 40 walleyes after a few nights out of JR's.  He stated they had to move once but caught all the fish they needed to eat and bring home.  Parking his rig next to mine, I tried to convince him to join us this week but he's too busy.  Here's hoping the walleye's are still hitting as the weather forecasts are quite stable for the next 5 days, which is perfect for the walleye bite.  With the near zero temperatures the last few days warming up to the high 20's for Thursday thru Sunday, it should be perfect.   There is absolutely no snow on the ice and it might be a good time to practice putting on my tire chains just in case we get stuck.

Christmas is just around the corner and as always, it's moving too fast.  Although all the snow is gone it looks like Sunday through Tuesday may just give us enough snow to have a White Christmas. With the 25th falling on a Thursday this year it really breaks up the week, and not necessarily in a good way.  With a little luck I'll do well this week and be back up the next.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fishing the Kelp Beds

Red Rockfish matching my shirt!
Last week was a tough one as the flu or something as diabolical hit me on Tuesday, just in time for my flight on Wednesday to attend our annual fall TTA meeting in San Diego, California.  Limping through the conference, I wasn't in very good form yet was able to pull myself together for our planned fishing trip on Friday afternoon.  The last speaker on Friday was done by 11:00, it was time to head to the harbor where we hooked up with Sauerfish Charters located in one of the harbors just minutes from downtown San Diego.   On the trip were a number of important colleagues including Bill Dull, Randy Eller, Chris and Jeffrey Chen, CK, Lyle Shaw and myself.  Although the December/January time of year is not the best time to catch fish off the entrance to San Diego harbor, there is no better time to fish than the time you get to go!  Our host was Eric Sauerwein, captain of the 42 foot twin diesel "Classic Fishing Battle Wagon" was extremely gracious and worked very hard for our fish.  Eric had a very interesting setup on his electronics which included a Furano 12 inch depth sounder and a Nobeltec computer based navigation software that was separate but tied into his systems.  With a computer screen in the helm, it would show our position as well as the bottom contours, not as lines but rather in 3D as we could easily see the shelves, drop offs, canyons, humps in real 3D, it was pretty awesome and something that would be nice for around Minnesota for sure. As we pulled out of the San Diego harbor we were greeted by the USS John C, Stennis (CVN 74) aircraft carrier coming into the San Diego naval base.  These ships are huge and this one was no exception.  Coming within 100 yards as we passed by it was interesting to see the escort gun boats, complete with a person on the 50mm machine gun staying between us and the carrier.  Many waves to the sailors we continued to the 70 foot level and started fishing.  Our rigs were pretty simple, a stout rod with a open spooled trolling reel with about 20 pound test and a 3 ounce sinker tied to the end.  Looped at both the 1 and 3 foot location above the sinker was a horizontal line with about a #2 octopus hook.  The hooks were baited with cut squid and dropped to the bottom, much like fishing halibut or rockfish in Alaska.  Right away I had a tap tap and pulled up a calico bass, a type of rockfish.  It was pretty small and I released it but coming from 70 feet of water, it ended up as seagull food.

Bill's bonus fish, a nice yellowtail
The swells were actually pretty good sized, I suppose 6 to 8 feet and it made standing on the bow, fishing off the rail somewhat challenging as we were about 8 feet above the water.  It took an hour or so to get my sea legs and by 3:00 it was pretty comfortable.   I did manage to get about 5 fish including a keeper bronze rockfish and the red rockfish in the above picture.  Although not very big I have been assured they are very good to eat so we keep most of what we caught.  The highlight of the trip was when Bill Dull hooked onto something considerably more substantial than the smaller rockfish we were catching.  The captain speculated that it might be a nice halibut, considering where we were fishing but having caught halibut before, they don't run like this fish did.  Trying to follow the fish around the boat, Bill headed towards the bow as the captain followed him with the gaff.  All of a sudden the first mate notices a large shape in the water, a damn California Sea lion.  These things are notorious for stealing fish and whatever Bill had on would probably make a nice meal for the seal.  As Bill rounded the bow the fish made it's presence known, a Yellowtail. CK and Jeffrey were very excited as the yellowtail makes some of the best sushi in the world and is known as Hamachi and they are huge fans of raw fish.  The critical factor was to get to the fish before the sea lion did and as you see in the picture, we were successful.  The yellowtail is a member of the amberjack family and is a very strong swimmer as you can see by the shape of the fish, almost like a longer tuna.  Everyone was pretty impressed with the catch including the captain as a fish like this is a real bonus this close into the harbor. Actually you can see the video of Bill catching the fish and the excitement HERE, it's pretty cool. My excitement came when I was reeling up the red rockfish pictured in the top photo.  Just as it came to the surface a huge sea lion lunged for the fish, normally I'm not very fast but a quick snap and I was able to deprive the swift mammal it's dinner! It's pretty impressive to watch them swim around the boat, searching for an easy meal but there wasn't anything this time around.

Jeffrey, CK, Lyle, Bill, Dave, Chris, and Randy
After catching a mess of fish that included the yellowtail, 5 red rockfish, 2 bronze rockfish, 1 white sea bass, 1 calico bass, and 4 mackerel we headed back to port. The first mate simply gutted the fish as Bill was going to finish packing them when we got back to Temecula, CA.  I'm sure there was plenty of fresh sushi to be eaten sometime later in the weekend.  It was interesting to watch the seagulls and pelicans follow the boat as they would fly parallel to the side of the boat and look over at the fish as it was being gutted. Once the entrails were thrown over it was a battle royal to see who would get the meager scraps.  It was a lot of fun to watch for sure.  Even though the fishing wasn't spectacular, it was fun to get out for the short amount of time we had.  I can definitely put San Diego as one of my "been there, done that" spots as I continue to explore new and different places to fish.  We left California on Saturday coming back to the colder weather, quite a change.  In turn Jeffrey flew to Minneapolis on Sunday so I picked him up and we went to the ice fishing show in St. Paul.  He found it interesting as they have no ice fishing in Taiwan.  He left on Tuesday as it was nice to show him a little bit of Minnesota while he was here. This weekend is supposed to be warmer than normal, actually they are predicting as high as 50 degrees, now that is a change!  The ice will be heaving like crazy as everything heats up and expands. I will probably fish around home this weekend looking for some crappies and sunnies using the new rod I bought at the show.  Next week will find my brother Steve, his son Kevin, and I back up to Red Lake, here's hoping the lake gets settled down by the time we get there.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Red Hot Red

Parked on Red Lake
What a week of indecisiveness! Saturday I got a text from Russ Praught, he was in the tree stand and the talk around camp was the possibility of heading up to Red Lake with the wheel houses, bring the portables and either ATV out or walk out to the first break.  That first ice can be awesome and word was the Upper Red Lake was on fire with his friend catching 2 limits of 4 walleyes in a couple of hours.  Actually Mark Applen and I had discussed going up on the Friday after Thanksgiving and a quick call confirmed, he had a conflict on Saturday and had to be it town to attend.  On to Plan B, contact my good friend Keith Holtan to see if he had any interest.  Originally we were going to take Mark's wheel house up and leave it.  Plan B was to take my house up, park it on shore, and fish out of JR's.  Keith confirmed that he could go but would like to be back on Saturday which fit with my plans.  In the meantime Mark could not take the fishing reports and decided he would head up by himself early Friday morning and return in time for his Saturday night commitment.  On Thanksgiving the word came JR's were letting 1/2 ton pickups on the ice. So Mark headed out at 3:30 on Friday morning while I waited till 9:00, getting caught up on my extended trip back home on Thanksgiving.  Keith confirmed and I would pick him up around noon, we'd be at JR's by 3:00.  With the Salem hooked up I headed north first stopping at Bill's to get bait and propane before continuing on to Brainerd to pick up Keith.  In the meantime Mark called to confirm JR's were letting trucks and wheel houses out and he was on the lake making his way towards the rock pile.  That's a game changer as we would no longer need any portables.  As I pulled into Garrison a text from Mark confirmed, s
tarted at 11:00 and by 11:16 he had 2 fish in the bucket.  At 11:25 he repeated his text, 4 in the bucket, I'm done!  Uffda, his limit in 20 minutes and I'm still 4 hours away.  Arriving at 3:00 we said hi to the crew at JR's, paid Adam, and slowly drove on the ice heading west towards Mark. A mile or so down the lake we spotted his house and pulled up about 100 feet away.  Coming over to help we had everything set up by 4:00 with lines in the water.  I took all of one minute to have a fish in the bucket and with Mark anxious to get back to JR's for supper we went to work.  By 4:30 Keith and I had our 8 walleyes not counting the 6 or so we let go, time to go back in.  Geez, we had only been there 30 minutes and had to go.  Of course the strategy was simple, get back to JR's and clean/cook our fish before the crowd gets crazy.

40 inch Northern at Midnight
After stuffing our faces with fresh fried walleye and Russ's World Famous Tartar Sauce, it was time to head back to the Salem to settle in for night.  Keith and I decided to watch an Alaskan based movie called The Big White starring Robin Williams, Holly Hunter, and Woody Harrelson.  When my cousin Greg, Paul, brother Steve and I were in Alaska the discussion started about the best movies ever.  My choice was "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", cousin Greg's was "What about Bob", Steve's was "Second Hand Lion's" and Paul's was "The Big White".  These are all great movies and definitely worth putting on your list as I have all 4 in the wheel house.  In the meantime we continued to catch walleyes although not as fast and furious as a few hours later but it was OK as we were getting tired. Setting the rattle reels for the night it was time to get some sleep.   About 11:30 all hell broke loose on 3 of the 4 reels.  Keith had set the hook on a big fish and it decided to wrap around the remaining reels before it was subdued.  Pulling it out of the hole the fish kept coming and coming, all 40 inches of it.  A quick picture of Keith holding the fish after jumping out of bed and he let it go.  That's pretty exciting for sure.  Luckily the rest of the rattle reels were silent for the remainder of the night as we woke up at 7:30, ready for the morning bite.  Keith doesn't drink coffee and Mark showed up just in time to fill up my mug which was appreciated.  He had 3 fish and was looking for a 4th as he planned on leaving withing an hour or so.  The bite started picking up around 8:00 and we were able to help Mark with his needs and fill up our bucket with 8 really nice 17 - 19.5 inch walleyes by noon.  We continued fishing till 3:00 before packing up and parking the Salem behind JR's till next time.  After cleaning the fish we headed south for the long journey back to Brainerd, then home.  Although we only stayed about 23 hours with another 10 hours of driving and 2 hours of setting up and tearing down, it was quite a trip.  The walleye action was incredible and it was amazing to think we are at least a month ahead of where we were last year.

Successful Morning's fishing on Red Lake
Fishing on Red Lake has been nothing short of phenomenal, much so that the limits have changed for December 1st to February 22, 2015.  Because our trip was still in November we were allowed 4 walleyes under 20 inches and although 1 of those fish could be over 26 inches we would never keep one that big.  On Monday the possession limit drops to 3 and the length drops to under 17 inches. There has been a lot of fish taken out of the lake in the last couple of years and though the walleye population seems healthy I don't think it's going to bother anyone too much if they cut the harvest back somewhat.  With the Lake Mille Lacs restrictions of 2 fish between 18 and 20 inches, the change in Leech Lake and Winnibigoshish perch populations, and the huge increase in fisherman using wheel houses (Count me in!) Red Lake is almost the perfect storm.  A good population of fish, little structure so almost any spot can be a good spot, the ability to hold a lot of houses more than offsets the 4 1/2 hours of drive time.  I suspect that eventually things will change, the fishing will die down on Red,  Lake of the Woods - Leech - Winnie - Mille Lacs will become more popular and the hope is they become more wheel house friendly.  Right now it seems as though 50% of the wheel houses are at Red right now and will be for another couple of months.  I know that as the years progress it is much more enjoyable fishing out of my portable RV with holes in the floor than it is dragging the ATV and my Clam X2 Thermal, unloading it and finding a spot to fish.  It also nice to hit these further away lakes and have the ability to spend a couple of days enjoying the outdoors rather than simply loading and unloading your stuff and leaving right away.  I'll always have the portables as it's really not a bad way to fish, in fact I'm looking to upgrade my one man Clam to a fully thermal model as my go to panfish shelter.   I am finishing this post on a Delta Airlines A320 bound for San Diego for our annual fall TTA (The Transformer Association) meeting.  The 70 degree weather will be a nice change to the below normal temperatures we have been having in Minnesota.  No trip would be complete without something to do with fishing and Friday will be no different as my friend Bill Dull has arranged a half day charter off the coast of San Diego to fish the kelp beds.  This is something I have yet to do so I'm pretty excited.  Going with will be my Golden Brother CK from Taiwan as well as Chris and Jeffrey Chen, Randy Eller, and Lyle Shaw.  Here's hoping we'll have some nice pictures for next week.  Getting back on Saturday, Jeffrey is flying in on Sunday to visit our factory.  We are planning to go to the St. Paul Ice Fishing Show, it should be an interesting experience as Jeffrey i from Taiwan and I can assure you there is no ice fishing there!