Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fishing Cajun Style, Part 2

Camp Dilligas, Cameron Louisiana
It's hard to contain the excitement of a new fishing adventure and the friends you make on the way.  Last week was about the fish but it really was too much to say in one post so as Paul Harvey would say, "The rest of the story".  As you drive along the coast one can see the problem with hurricanes in this area, the land is a flat as a pancake and it really would not take much water to flood a large area.  The first picture is our headquarters for fishing Camp Dilligas, a house moved next to a point in the brackish waters on the south end of Calcasieu Lake, about 4.5 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.  Essentially the lake is at sea level as it is connected to the Gulf by a canal used by ocean going freighters.  These huge ships travel about 40 miles inland to Lake Charles, Louisiana to drop off and pick up a variety of things needing to be moved.  As you can see the house is set on concrete pilings at least 12 feet in the air.  Between the pilings are steel beams on which the house is secured to, I suspect the house sits about 6 feet above sea level so the water would have to come up 18 feet before any damage would occur.  Now if you look at the area and assume that it is pretty flat all the way to Lake Charles, that's a lot of water pushed up ahead of a hurricane. Driving through Cameron, Louisiana the High School is on pilings, the churches, the hospital, any building where it's critical to survive the storm surge, they are set at 18 feet above the level of the Gulf, which is higher than the previous ordinances for buildings in that area.  As stated before we left the area heading east on Hwy 82 and for miles there were simply concrete slabs with nothing attached, washed away as Hurricane Ike slammed the shore.  Just in case you were curious like I was when asking Robert what Dilligas means.....his response was Do I Look Like I Give a S_ _ _?     I guess that answered that.

Control Weir Separating the Lake from the Gulf.
At the fishing camp the best place to fish was off the docks that ran along the side of the channel where the weir, or what we would call a control dam was centered.  With the Gulf on one side and Calcasieu Lake on the other, the weir had 4 gates to help control the water flow between the two for either maintaining water level for navigation or flooding.  The picture shows the structure with a fence enclosing the gate controls as apparently there was a time when the Corps of Engineers decided to mess with the water levels just as the shrimp were coming into the areas.  Shrimping is very important to the local economy and preventing water from allowing the shrimpers to be successful wasn't very popular so they decided to take matters into their own hands, opening the gates and destroying the mechanisms for operating them.  Right or wrong, sometimes you do what you have to do.  The tides in this part of the country are quite tame and move about a foot every cycle.  As opposed to the Homer Alaska where they can mover 25 feet every cycle, it was hardly noticed.  The water would slowly run from right to left before turning around.  The best fishing was this side of the weir as our timing had the water flowing in our direction, perfect for the fish to congregate.   I suspect the water differential on either side was small yet there was a nice current.  Returning from our Saturday guided trip, we baited up and threw our lines into the sweet spot identified by Robert.  So I'm watching the water flow and soon it became still then started running the opposite way.  Well even in Alaska, slack tide lasts more than 2 minutes but wow, did that change fast.  Asking one of the locals about what just happened to the water level, he looked to our left and confirmed, "yep, a ship just passed, heading up the canal" as there was a huge ship moving north, about 2 miles away.  He went on to say the the displacement of these large ocean going freighters is enough to raise the water level such that the flow will reverse.  Sure enough as the ship headed further up the canal the water slacked then reversed itself.  Now my first reaction was those Cajun boys were messing with us snowbirds but I witnessed this at least 2 more times.  On the other side of the weir was a dock where in September and October the redfish push the shrimp up into the channel and it's a free for all.  One of things that make this place so special is the shrimp run where they took over 10,000 pounds of large shrimp right off the docks via cast nets.  On Sunday morning Robert's 14 year old grandson was throwing a 6 foot cast net off the dock, catching various small bait fish as he was practicing his throwing technique.  I've watched this before when we fished Key West and our guide stood on the bow of the boat and loaded up with bait using his cast net. There is certainly an art to throwing one of these as they tried to teach me.  Knowing how to use these nets is a right of passage and although I was pretty bad at it, i'm going to buy one and practice here on the Mississippi River for smallmouth bait.  Hopefully if I ever return, I'll be a better student of their ways.  Tied to the dock were a couple of crab traps and they pulled them up before we left on Sunday.  Both had around 15 pounds of blue crab in them as they emptied them into a basket and washed them off.  I am allergic to them as well as shrimp and crayfish so it sort of puts the limit on what I can eat however I am told they are fabulous.  You can see where they get their name, from the blue claws and feet with the female crabs having the orange tips on their claws.  You have to be impressed with all the color coming out of these waters, the crabs and redfish are simply beautiful.

The ability to change the water flow!
A basket of blue crabs.

My Buddy Joe
In the past I have talked about my friend Joe Stanfield and thought it would be good to say a few good things about him as he is truly one of those guys that fit something someone told me a long time ago. Friends are like stars, you don't always see them but you know they are always there.  We met in Cincinnati at least 20 years ago and for some reason he and I hit it off right from the start. Joe isn't necessarily the tallest person I know and we often talk about the weight both of us need to lose yet it's a lot tougher for him as his heart is so big, it has to fit somewhere!  He's definitely a southern gentlemen and I simply treasure the time I can spend with him, usually a couple of times a year at various conferences and trade events.  In 2011 Joe arranged to met our good friend Jim Cox and myself in Corpus Christi to fish reds with his old neighbor Butch.  Seems like anytime I'm with Joe it takes 2 weeks to wind down from the excitement and fun as my post Texas Reds from March of 2011 clearly shows.  He gives me crap all the time about my motorcycle then he goes ahead and buys himself an airplane!  Now if it had floats, maybe he'd be on to something, I could fly down then we could head down to the bayou as the plane would have plenty of room to land.  Maybe I'll have to start working on this with Joe.  Here in Minnesota it's still cold as Sunday night it was 0F again.  I did go ice fishing on Sunday to a lake I haven't been to in a while, Lake John by Annandale, MN.  Most of the snow is gone off the lakes but the ice is still over 36 inches thick as one could drive anywhere.  I drove out to a couple of the basin area without a single fish.  As I planned to move closer to shore there was the distant sound of an auger, someone else was on the lake.  Heading in that general direction, stopped about 100 yards from the guy and drilled 4 holes to vary the depth.  In the meantime he walks over, leaving his gear about 30 feet from where I was fishing and introduced himself.  It didn't take long to get comfortable with Chuck as he claimed his age at 73. I thought that was pretty impressive he walked all the way on the lake until he looked at me and said "It's nice to meet another old guy on the lake".  Well, I guess he said it all!  I loaded his stuff in the truck as we drove around looking for fish as 2 lines are always better than one but no such luck.  As the sun started to set I could sense he was getting cold so volunteered to go whenever he wanted.  We packed up and headed to shore, helped him unload and said thanks and goodbye.  I guess it was nice to see a couple of old guys spending the afternoon together.  It does make you think.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Fishing Cajun Style, Part 1

Nice Black Drum, First Fish
Well, the big weekend finally arrived on Friday as I met my brother Steve at the airport on our way to Cameron, Louisiana.  First stop was Houston, Texas to meet up with our fishing party consisting of the both of us, Joe Stanfield, Mike Schubert, Jim Cox, Professor Doug Hopkins and Matt Davis.  After getting our rental car at the airport and loading everyone up, we headed east towards Port Arthur, Texas before turning south along the coast towards Cameron.  This area of Louisiana was hit hard by Hurricane Ike, which in 2008 cause extensive damage due to the exceptionally high water surge that occurred.  Not the strongest hurricane to hit the gulf, it ended up being one of the costliest as it changed much of the area where we fished.  Traveling between 100 yards to a mile from the Gulf of Mexico, evidence of the hurricane was all around us from slab foundations where houses sat to damage yet to be repaired.  Traveling east on Louisiana Highway 82 to Cameron it was amazing to see all of the refineries and oil related industries that went on for miles. Basically following the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, a shipping channel stretching from Brownsville, Texas to Carrabelle, Florida, I was amazed at all the barge traffic moving up and down the canal, a superhighway for ships.  In addition we drove over many very high bridges which would allow ocean going freighters to travel up to a 100 miles inland to drop off and pick up cargo destined for who knows where.  Just before getting to Cameron we had to cross one of these shipping canals that had many refineries all the way up to Lake Charles, Louisiana via a car ferry.  Prior to getting there my friend Joe called to remind me that I needed a Ferry Pass, they were $8.00 and you could buy them at the store on the right, about a mile from the ferry.  Looking for the store that didn't exist all of a sudden we were at the ferry gate. Now what?  Assuming I could buy one through the guy directing the cars onto the ferry I had rolled the window and asked "Can I get a ferry pass here?"  "You don't need one" was his answer.  Damn Joe as our waiting in line to board the ferry allowed him to catch up, he was beside us with the whole car laughing hysterically as they asked the guy if that silver car inquired about a ferry pass. Well, at least the trip was starting out on the right foot.

34 inch Redfish
A short drive via a dead end road across private land, we arrived at Camp Dilligas our home for the next 2 1/2 days.  The camp sat on the top of 12 foot pilings to prevent any severe damage against the next hurricane that might hit.  Unloading our stuff I was anxious to get fishing from their famous dock next to the water control weir, one of 4 on Calcasieu Lake.  Fish congregate at these weirs and it was up to us to catch them.   Using raw shrimp as bait, the first fish I got was this nice Black Drum.  A great eating fish, it went straight into the cooler for Saturday night's dinner.  What we were really after was Redfish, often called Red Drum.  I've caught these before for they fight like crazy and are delicious to eat, as it wasn't long before I had one on and it was a nice fish. Bringing a 6'6" medium heavy casting rod paired with a Shimano reel and 12 pound  mono, it was the perfect match for these hard fighting fish.   It's amazing how hard they hit the bait and simply run.  It took about 10 minutes before they could net this 34 inch redfish, my best ever. One of the locals figured it weighed about 10 pounds but I knew better as it was a workout to hold that fish up for the picture.  Trying to get a few nice shots, my arms would only last about a minute before I had to let it down.  Checking the internet, the weight vs length charts put the fish around 18 pounds and it felt like at least that! The fish themselves are very beautifully colored with a distinctive metallic bronze hue along the back, reddish fins and a white belly.  They are members of the drum family, related to the pictured Black Drum as well the freshwater species we call Sheephead or sometimes croakers (they make a croaking noise after you catch them).  The world record is 94 pounds, I can't imagine.  Apparently as the fish get larger they head to the ocean and once over about 30 inches are then classified as Bull Reds.  I couldn't imagine what a 60 pound fish would fight like. Together Mike, Steve, Jim, Matt and I all got a few fish on Friday night, an great way to start the weekend.

Great eating size
On Saturday we were treated to a guided trip on Sabine Lake, a brackish water lake on the Texas/Louisiana border and is known for it's speckled trout fishing.  Getting up at 4:30, we made our way across the ferry and back 45 miles west of the camp to meet the guides. Steve, Mike and I went in one boat while Matt, Joe, the Professor, and Jim went in the other.  Not unlike here in Minnesota, the weather has been unusually cold as the water temps were about 61 degrees, 5 short of when the fish really start coming into the shallows of the lake and bite.  While Matt's boat went quite a ways north, we stopped at the first small reef and about the second cast I had this nice redfish.  Although sea trout was the target, I'll take these any day.  The spot only produced this one fish so we decided to catch up to the other guys and head north to what was called "The Coffee Grounds".  Sabine Lake has a channel on the west side that supports ocean sized freighters that service the oil refineries located between the gulf and Port Arthur, Texas.  All this boat traffic along with the shallow waters creates a pretty stained water although the guide stated it was pretty clear today, you could have fooled me as I thought it was still pretty dirty.  One thing surprising was how shallow we fished with the water seldom over 4 feet deep.  Our lure of choice was a 1/4 ounce jig with a simple rubber body about 3 - 4 inches long.  One of the other fish "bonus" fish we got was flounder.  A flat fish similar to the halibut we catch in Alaska, these were quite a bit smaller and if fact was surprised we even kept them.  The guide insisted that he'd trade flounder for redfish any day for table fare.  We'll have to see! Being about 14 miles from the landing we started working our way back and ran into the other boat.  Getting closer it was apparent the guide had the net in his hands as the Professor was fighting a fish.  Not much of a fisherman I even had to borrow him a hat, the only reason I knew it was him.  Around the boat he was going as they fought that fish for a good 15 minutes.  Finally bringing it in was a huge bull red, 30 pounds.  It certainly was the largest fish Doug ever caught, maybe the only one!  It was good enough for to take the big fish prize we had funded early in the morning.   As stated, sea trout was the target fish yet we fished all day without catching one to add to the cooler until the last place we went before heading back.  In a small shallow bay Mike finally nailed one and it was a dandy hitting over 7 pounds.  The guide claimed that he has only gotten a very few this big and it was truly a trophy fish.  Having finally caught a target fish we headed back to the landing as it looked like rain was about to start.  After getting the boats loaded and parked under the main bridge as the sky opened up.  The guides cleaned the fish and quite honestly I was quite disappointed.  Leaving about 25% of the fish on the carcasses, they simply were in a hurry and did a poor job.  Being fussy I've seen this before with other guides and I guess they simply take it for granted that the cleaning of the fish is simply an option, they should know better or I should have.
The Professor's 30# Red

Mikes Trophy Sea Trout

Crawfish Heaven!
I have to admit we ate pretty well at Camp Dilligas.  Dick's Charity, The Lighthouse Charity Team, provides food for those in need such as serving over 30,000 meals to the volunteers and Emergency Responders working to help those affected by Hurricane Ike.  Food is their deal and food we had.  Friday night was an authentic crayfish feed as Dick's good friend and genuine Cajun Cook, Robert Gaspard took the reins.  Robert is a true gentleman and really knows how to cook everything in Louisiana style.  Unfortunately I am allergic to shrimp, crayfish, crab, and lobster, Robert took pains to make sure the food did not get mixed as his mom has the same problem.  Cooking 20 - 30 pounds of live crayfish, they turned a bright red the minute they hit the boiling water. Robert has a special way of cooking them with a secret process that produces the best, tenderest, flavorful crawdad's as attested to by my brother Steve.  Served in an 18" platter, everyone was given at least one of these and seconds were definitely available.  It's an art to suck crawfish out of their shell and within a short time he was an expert.  For me they cooked up some fried oysters, dipped in a special Cajun coating and deep fried to perfection.  Partnered with their homemade cocktail sauce, I must have at 20 or so.  Truly an authentic meal.  On Saturday Dick had been marinating 18 ounce ribeye steaks again with their special recipe and through them on the grill.  I'd say they were as good as anything I have had.  In the meantime Robert put on a couple of the redfish fillets on the grill, preparing them "On the Halfshell" meaning the skin and scales were left on and that side was set directly on the grill. Coated with hot sauce and salsa, the fish was fabulous.  If you were not much of an eater, this wasn't the place for you!  It's too much to write in one week so stay tuned for next week, just too many pictures and experiences.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Fast Week!

Ben's Devils Lake Perch
If last week was a slow week, this one went by at super sonic speed.  With driving down to see my mom on Sunday to the parade of guest at work this week, I had little time to think about anything, especially this weeks blog!  Well, luckily my friend Ben Aiona has come through to save the day.  Ben had planned to go to Devils Lake, North Dakota on Tuesday however a tragic snowmobile accident left one of Eleva's outstanding young citizen, Brandon Semingson's funeral on Wednesday.  Ben is part of the Eleva Fire Department as was Brandon and Ben delayed his trip to pay his respects.  Eleva is a close knit town and Brandon was the grandson of a good friend, Sidney Semingson.  It's a terrible thing when a town loses one of it's own and unfortunately these things happen regardless.  My condolences to the Semingson family.  I am assuming Ben left after the services and arrived on Wednesday night, in time for his guided trip with the Perch Patrol on Thursday.  The Perch Patrol is a guide service out of Devils Lake, North Dakota specializing in catching the big perch that roam the lake.  My friend Bill Lundeen know the guy that started this, Steve Dahl, a former guide from the Mille Lacs area. It's interesting to read their site (click the link), their claim to fame was having fisherman hop on the Empire Builder, the Amtrak train that runs from Chicago to Seattle, stopping at Devils Lake, ND at 6:00 AM.  They would pick you up upon your arrival and take you fishing for 2 days then load you back on the eastbound train to complete your trip.  It look pretty nice however lately with the amount of oil trains coming out of North Dakota, they are no longer recommending on taking the Empire Builder as Amtrak is secondary to the freight traffic and is often delayed up to 8 hours.  On the same topic, we visited my wife's cousin Carol, who lives in Fountain City, Wisconsin and works at La Crosse Milling in Cochran, Wisconsin. La Crosse Milling makes oatmeal from prepared oats that originate in Winnipeg, Canada.  She has seen her work hours cut because they cannot get their oats delivered and she stated they were 32 train cars short, waiting for delivery.  The oil trains have taken over most of the traffic on the rails.  As a side note, driving up highway 35 on Sunday night, I saw not less than 8 trains parked on the rails, waiting for the traffic to clear, something in the 40 years of traveling those roads, have never seen.
2 Limits of 14" Perch

Ben took over the Heating and Air Conditioning business from Mike Wenaas, his long time employer.  With this winters weather he has been plenty busy and after stopping by on Sunday, he was ready to get out of town.  He sent these pictures via text messaging of his wife and his successful day on Devils Lake.  These perch are in the 14 inch class and one has to be impress for sure.  Apparently they each got a limit of walleyes as well but I didn't get a picture of them.  Knowing Ben, he'll be out tomorrow fishing again before returning for the weekend.  With a little luck I'll be invited to the fish fry.  These pictures remind me of the time Ben's dad Kevin, Paul Wenaas, my brother Steve, and I went to Devils Lake to fish walleyes an perch in the winter.  I remember bringing my secret bait, freshwater shrimp, a sure bet for perch.  Well the locals pretty much laughed at me as the lake is full of them, to the point where they float up to the top of your hole, oh well.  Not having any luck on Devils Lake, we got a tip about a lake east of there, Stump Lake, where the water was once too salty to support fish but the overflow from the rising waters at Devils Lake had brought the level in Stump Lake up 32 feet.  Enough water entered the lake to again support fish so the North Dakota DNR planted over 2 million perch in the lake and we arrived at the perfect time.  Driving to a spot where the trees extended out of the ice and we could look into the old blue heron nests, we started catching perch, all in the 10 - 11 inch range, and hundreds of them.  It was probably the best perch fishing ever yet it looks as though I need to reschedule a trip back out to take advantage of these beautiful looking perch.  Thanks Ben!

Tomorrow morning I head for Houston to meet up with my brother Steve, dear friend Joe Stanfield, Jim Cox, Matt Davis, The Professor (long story), Mike Schubert, and Dick of Lighthouse Charities for a weekend of fishing the coastal waters of central Louisiana.  I had done this with Joe a few years earlier in Rockport, Texas and it was an absolute blast.  We are headed for a private fish camp near Cameron, LA and I'm looking forward to showing those Cajun boys a thing or two about fishing.  We have a few surprises in store and interesting, Dick asked if I could bring down some walleye fillets for them to try.  Not one to skimp on who we are, Steve is bringing some Wisconsin Cheese, I have the walleyes as well I'm bringing some real hand harvested wild rice from my friend Bill.  I'm not sure what they will think but you can bet this Yankee will give em hell regardless!  I have the APEC show in Fort Worth on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday so it will be a busy weekend for sure.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Slow Week

Heddon River Runt, Bass Oreno, Whizzling Sparrow, Pfueger Chum Spoon
Now that fishing season has closed for game fish in Minnesota in conjunction with once again, below zero temperatures, there was no fishing done last weekend.  The best I could do was to do some snow blowing with my newly fixed snow blower, which by the way worked pretty good.  The guy at the John Deere dealership warned me that some people don't like a chain that needs to have a link connector added verses a complete chain as they make more noise but to be honest, I don't hear the difference at all.  Actually a length of chain with a connector turns out to be a lot easier and if it breaks again, I'll just use bulk roller chain.  I nice surprise last week was a letter from my Uncle Jerry in Boise, Idaho.  Getting a letter is still pretty exciting as Jerry is pretty old fashioned and I really appreciate the time he takes for me.  The letter include another letter that was in my Grandma's photo album he ended up with, one from the Colonel at Howard Air Force Base in Panama, congratulating my dad's parents on his promotion to Sargent in the US Air Force.  It's interesting as the letter spelled out a personal recommendation of my father, at that time it was hand typed on a typewriter, I'm sure my grandparents were pretty proud.  I am also sure at the time, my dad couldn't wait to get out! Either way I have talked about Uncle Jerry in previous posts, he's one of my lifetime hero's and probably solely responsible for my love of fishing.  One of the things I have never mentioned was the time I visited him at my Grandmother Myrtle's house one summer when he returned from Boise to Eleva.  As bad as my memory is I was probably around 12 years old and every kid needs someone to look up to as my grandma always said I reminded her of Jerry, her youngest son.  Before Jerry left that summer he presented me with his Wisconsin tackle box, a brown metal box with a single tray and loaded full of baits.  I suspect that living out west had changed his fishing strategies more towards fly fishing for trout and with zero bass or northern pike in Idaho, there was little need for a box full of "Mississippi River " baits.   Of course I felt I had just hit the jackpot!  Now back then baits were meant to be used and although that tackle box would probably worth thousands of dollars today, it was simply an opportunity to catch fish 47 years ago.  The tackle box was full of classics including a number of Heddon baits like the River Runt, Jointed River Runt, and Pumpkinseed as well as original Daredevils, Pfueger Chum Spoon, Bass Oreno, Whizzling Sparrow, Johnson Silver Minnow, Creek Chub, Mepps Original, Jitterbug, and many others I never even heard of. Most of those baits are either hung up on a stump near Wilbur's (up river from Alma) or hanging in some fishes mouth, as quality line wasn't the priority back then.  Amazingly I still have some of the original baits from that tackle box given to my by Jerry, as you can see in the picture.  These baits were the rage of the day, long before companies like Rapala hit the scene. You can still buy new Bass Oreno's as some of the old classic's never fall out of favor.   I know he does read my blog and I hope the picture brings back those same great memories as it does for me.  Love ya Uncle Jerry!

With the cold temperatures for the weekend, my wife Lyn and I went to the Minneapolis Home and Garden Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Saturday.  It's been a while since we have been there and I sort of enjoy the stuff they have for sale that you can only find at these shows.  You always seem to find a deal and we certainly took advantage.  One of the first booths was Deli Direct Wisconsin Aged Cheddar Cheese Spread in their Horseradish flavor.  I have always loved horseradish and remember eating roast beef at grandma's house where my grandpa Roy and I would always have a good dose of horseradish on our meat.  Now I can't be sure if I really liked it or I simply wanted to be as tough as grandpa was.  Either way I'm a horseradish lover and this cheese spread will be a nice treat for my next fishing trip.  Another thing we bought as an innovative invention called the Gripstic.  A simple device, it's a plastic device for sealing potato chip bags, salad bags, anything that you want to seal tight for assuring freshness later.  The third thing we ended up with were some very well done Mexican painted pottery.  My wife must have impressed them as we got a buy 2, get 2 free.
Personally I don't think it was that good a deal but the people were very nice and I have to admit the pots looks pretty good.  It also gave me a chance to talk with some insulation guys, garage door companies, and windows.  After 22 years of being in the same house, some upgrades are coming due.

With the weather warming, it still might be time for some ice fishing.  On a sad note the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had declared one of my favorite lake for the past 6 years Pelican Lake, open fishing as you can take all the fish you want.  The early freeze, heavy snows, cold temperatures, and overall shallowness of the lake has dropped the dissolved oxygen levels below what can sustain fish.  Reports show guys sawing large holes through the ice then scooping up fish that come to the surface gasping for oxygen.  The lake is essentially dead and will be declared officially froze out.  This is unfortunate yet the DNR had planned on lowering the water lever anyway to restore the lake to a duck pond.  Although I don't agree, it pretty much a mute point now.  With a little luck I may get out this weekend and if nothing else start preparing for our trip to Louisiana.  I can't wait!