Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Canadian Opener, part 2.

Me with a nice walleye and my caretaker!
Sitting in the cabin while there's fish to be caught is pretty hard.  Admittedly I have become a little softer in my age yet I knew that the walleyes were continuing to move through and we were missing out.  Of course the temperature continued falling as well as the rain but for a moment around 7:00 Sunday evening there appeared to be a small opening in the rain, as not to be so miserable. There were plenty of guys fishing off the main dock and they were catching fish yet I wasn't too excited to stand with 6 other guys vying for a spot.  Just north of our cabin and a little ways up from where the Beaver was parked was a sand bar that jutted out from the shore about 100 feet of so forming a perfect place for walleyes to congregate.  There always seemed to be boats working the area and as I walked the quarter mile hike along the shore there was one parked off the bar.  Arriving on the bar, we exchanged a wishful greeting as they pull away without much luck.  Fishing from shore has it's place and this sand bar had walleye written all over it!  I am sure you could fish it effectively from a boat however on shore you have the perfect vantage point to work the sharp drop that it formed as well as the eddy that wrapped around the downside shore.  I think most guys simply don't feel comfortable fishing as close to the shore as they need to be.  It was pretty easy, cast straight out from where the sand is off the shore, feel your jig tumble down the edge, then bring it back through the eddy. Because the wind was blowing pretty good it would create a huge bow in my line which was difficult to control yet I could see the fish hit the jig by the change in that bow, enough to nail a nice walleye. My second cast repeated the first, a large bow in the line, that slight movement, tighten it up and set the hook.  2 casts, 2 walleye.  At that point I decided to change to a heavier jig as better control was needed.  Putting on a 3/8 oz jig proved to be positive as now it was easier to reel in the tension without dragging the jig too far.  The walleyes didn't seem to care and for the next 90 minutes each cast produced a fish from 13 - 24 inches.  It started to rain again, the temperature was still falling as well my hands were getting numb yet the fishing was too good to stop.  With 3 fish on the stringer, cold hands, and the rain intensifying I decided it was time to pack up and leave before it got worse.  As I headed towards the cabin here was Bruce walking my way to get my butt back, my hamburger was getting cold.  I guess when the walleyes are biting, nothing else seems to matter yet there is something special when your friends do care about you.  In the end it was an unforgettable experience, I guess up there, they all are! Unfortunately because of the rain, cold, and by myself, I didn't take any pictures of that night so the first one is Bruce and I the next morning with a nice walleye.

Pete on Monday afternoon
Saturday was beautiful, Sunday was cold and blustery but Monday saw us waking up to 3 inches of snow covering the ground and 27 degrees.  Uffda!!!  Water to the cabins were starting to freeze, water in the propane regulators were starting to freeze, what a mess.  It took a few hours to get everything usable again as I pulled off the top of the stove to see if there were any problems.  Man was it dirty! Deciding that we were not going fishing for a while as the snow was coming down horizontally I got out the cleaning spray and started cleaning the mess from a couple years of use, spills, and neglect.  Once everything settled down we decided that time was a wasting and our purpose was to fish, let's go!  Bruce, Pete, Mike, and I decided to take the boat out after scraping all the most of the snow aside to comfortably fit 4 guys in the 20 foot Alaskan.  That was a mess in itself as we had no shovels to move the snow,  we pushed it to the sides with our feet then used the net to get out what we could. With the weather the way it was our plan was to try and find some wind protected shore to keep the misery factor an a minimum, which was hard to do. Luckily the fish were still biting and the good news was that we didn't need a cooler to keep the caught walleyes in as they did just fine laying on the deck in the snow.  On Saturday I did really well using Gulp on my jigs  however by Sunday the water had cooled and it was strictly a minnow presentation.  We tried a number of areas but the best spot seemed to be the sand bar that I had fished the night before.  With the snow coming down it did limit the amount of boats fishing and we were the only one on the point at this time.  It was pretty much a fish a minute with 4 of use flinging the jigs and by the time we were done there were 4 walleyes and a big lake whitefish on ice.  Lake whitefish are common in these lakes but tend to be very hard to catch.  I was pulling a jig and minnow across the sand bottom when it went thump and the battle was on.  Whatever it was, it fought
Nice Lake Whitefish
hard thinking I might have the biggest walleye of the trip here!  Actually as it came up near the surface it looked sort of like a walleye yet usually you can see the white tip on the tail, this fish had none.  Getting it closer to the boat it became obvious it wasn't anything I've caught before, a Lake Whitefish.  It was exciting to catch one as they are supposed to be excellent to eat and of course a delicacy smoked.  After coming back in it was time to show the boys my real talents for making steak on the grill. Bringing up 8 nice 18 oz New York Strips my intent was to make the famous Steak ala Kienitz after a recipe by my old neighbor Troy.  Previous posts in this blog have described the culinary masterpiece but for those who don't want to search again here is the simple procedure.  After setting the steaks in an aluminum roasting pan take a bottle Tabasco Sauce and empty it over the meat.  Next open a medium bottle of Frank's Hot Buffalo Wing Sauce and empty that on the meat, turning the steaks over to get it on both sides.  Next dump a bottle of hot Pace Picante Sauce then let it marinate for at least 2 hours at room temperature.  Fire up the grill and simply throw the steaks on right out of the pan, keeping as much sauce on as you can.  A little messy and you have to watch the fire so the sauce doesn't burn, cook no more than medium rare. Other than Mike, the rest of the guys looked at me like I was crazy but a quick sample and their minds had changed from thinking they would need a bottle of Tums to put out the fire to WOW, this is fantastic.  You can teach these old dogs new tricks!  With dinner out of the way and the need for 3 more walleyes to fill our limits, Mike and I decided to go back to the sand bar and see if we couldn't accomplish the task.  Although it was cold, snow is nicer than rain so we suited up and walked the 1/4 mile to the point.  It didn't take long to get our remaining fish and as a bonus Mike caught another lake whitefish, a twin to my earlier fish.  With that we returned for a couple of cocktails before getting ready to head out in the morning, 6:00 would come soon enough.

Morning on Lac Seul
Tuesday morning greeted us to a gorgeous blue sky, light winds, and the promise of above freezing temperatures.  This was perfect as ice and snow covered the airplane and the only deicer was the buckets of lake water we could throw onto the plane.  In the meantime Bruce, Tom, Wayne, and Mike were loading the boat in time to follow the camp boats back to the landing as it is takes the guessing game where the rocks are when the water is as low as it is. While Pete and I brought our stuff to the dock, Garith warmed the plane up and tried to park it in the sun to help melt everything.  Once loaded it still took a few hours to make sure we had everything melted off before we took off. Rising off the lake in the plane is an awesome feeling and the view is spectacular.  Heading east, Garith always likes to fly around the major airports to avoid having to talk to the control towers as well as any traffic.  This time he headed more east than he thought as sitting in the copilots seat I could see the GPS and the instruments stating our destination and ETE (Estimated Time En-route).  At take off it was 1 hour 32 minutes but after about 15 minutes in the air it said 12 hours.  The GPS showed us flying straight east so after a little discussion and making a 90 degree turn we got back on course which was good as we only had about 2.5 hours of flying time with the gas we had on board.  Finally landing on Crane Lake and going through customs we added about 55 more gallons of fuel and headed home.  The weather was perfect and by 1:00 we were at Surfside.  It is always fun to fly over the Iron Range by Hibbing, Eveleth, and Virginia, Minnesota.  From the air the view is spectacular and it really is amazing the impact on the area.

It was a great trip again but ironically was a repeat of the Minnesota Opener, beautiful on Saturday and turned to crap for the next 2 days.  My boat was scheduled to be started on May 20th and takes about a week.  Assume it's shipped this week, Frankie's should have it next week and Deb has promised that they would take care of me.  That's all one can ask.  In the meantime I have a lot to do around the house getting the garden planted, the lawn mowed, as the rain has finally decided to get back to normal, heck the Mississippi River is up 6 feet already and more rain is forecast for this week.  My Grandpa Roy always said that you can never get enough rain. I guess that after living through the depression and the drought years of the 1930's, he's probably right.  On the other hand my friends in Dallas, Joe and Matt might just disagree about now.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Canadian Opener, Deja Vu??, part 1.

Our ride!
After the fast paced events and crappy weather associated with last week's Minnesota Fishing Opener at Leech Lake, Friday finally came as Pete picked me up then headed over to pick up our pilot, Garith Anderson and continue on to SurfSide Seaplane Base in Lino Lakes, MN.  The weather was raining during the previous 2 days and Friday was forecasted to clear up yet the last minute change included fog in the morning. Arriving at 6:00 AM we had a pretty low ceiling and the owner said that until we see the lights on top of the 500 foot tower across the lake we were staying put.  After 2 hours of BS and coffee the ceiling lifted enough to take off for Lac Seul.  The flight plan was to head north following Interstate 35 then over Eveleth/Virginia and landing at Sand Point Customs on the Canadian side of the Crane Lake area.  The low ceiling was with us the entire first leg of the route and we were forced to "Scud Run" at about 500 feet above the ground.  Scud Run is a term based on our military's Scud Missile system where they fly below the radar view and follow the terrain.  I thought it was pretty cool as you could easily see the wild turkey's in the fields and the deer but Pete wasn't as comfortable as I was.  An hour into the flight Garith noticed something unusual in a tree, 3 black bears!  I guess it gives one a perspective of how low we were really flying.  Landing at Sand Point Customs we were greeted by the agents who took our passports, asked the usual questions including our alcohol cargo. You are allowed 1 liter of booze or 1 bottle of wine or 1 case of beer per person, any more than this requires you to pay duty on the excess.  Well we had an extra bottle of wine and a case of beer over our allocation and when we declared that the guy said "It's your lucky day boys, the tax computer is down".  With that we got back in the plane for the short 1 1/2 hour flight to Chamberlain Narrows and Lac Seul Outpost.  Arriving at 1:00 it was time to unpack and get settled in and meet the guys who included Bruce and Mike, Wayne, and Tom.  Because opener was on Saturday and northern pike was the only fish you could catch, some of the guys were out trolling rapala's while we took care of a number of maintenance items at the cabin including sweeping up the constant sand and washing windows.  Wayne, Tom, and Mike came back from "northern" fishing to report that while pulling Rapala's, they could not keep the 22"+ walleyes off the line, a great sign for Saturday.

Bruce with a typical 22+ inch walleye.
Saturday was gorgeous, just like opener at Leech the week before.  Bluebird skies and a gentle breeze provided the perfect setup for a great day of fishing.  With 7 guys, normally we would have 3 boats however the lodge had a limited supply of boats and coupled with Bruce's change in plans to bring his own because of transom issues, we had 3 in the rental and 4 in Tom's Smokercraft.  This is my 4th trip to Lac Seul and this year Bruce (our host) asked me if I would fish with him.  Normally I fish with Pete but it would be a nice change of pace to fish with the master of the area. Our first stop was north and around the corner however there were 2 houseboats parked in the sweet spots.  Anchoring close to one of them, the walleyes were biting but the noise of the generator was a huge deterrent to staying there.  Next we heading further north off a point, anchored and caught a number of really nice walleyes, a couple of northerns around 36 inches and a few for our dinner later that evening.  Moving back down towards the cabin we hit a small cove that proved to be quite productive before finally ending up directly across the cabin off a sandbar that formed a nice eddy, the perfect place for a walleye to stop.  The lack of wind allowed us the perfect anchor position to fish either inside the eddy, right on the current break, or in the deeper water. Hammering the walleyes just doesn't do it justice as waves upon waves of walleyes from 15 to 26 inches keep coming thru on their way to the main lake after spawning.  The fish were plentiful and hungry as the weather and the bite gave me the opportunity to fish with a 3 inch white Gulp Minnow Grub that was on fire.  The success almost forced Bruce to switch however I think there was a primary reason for the hot Gulp bite.  Although the bite was light and both Bruce and I agreed that scent was a key factor, with Gulp I could cast my jig 20 - 30 yards then drag it back covering more area.  With minnows the typical tactic was to simply drop it off the side of the boat, wait for a walleye to swim by then hang on.  By working more water I feel it's an effective tactic to get your bait in front of more fish and I like being more proactive anyway.

My 26 incher.
Continuing catching one after another we stayed across the channel for the next couple of hours.  I ended up with the my largest fish of the trip, a nice 26 incher. Because of the spawn these fish were skinny but hungry. We ended the day with about 70 walleyes caught and released then kept about 8 for our fish fry later that evening.  I would say that over half of the walleyes we caught on Saturday were over 22 inches, quite impressive.  Interesting that I probably caught more walleyes in the first 2 hours of fishing than I did for the 3 days we spent fishing Leech the previous week. Volunteering to clean all of the fish I filleted 14 walleyes on Saturday night and zippered 8 for frying. With the help of Garith, we deep fried those fish to perfection. There is nothing better than fresh caught walleye to end the day. A few cocktails of TX whiskey provided by my good friends Joe and Matt really rounded out the day.  I wouldn't say that I was tired of catching fish however admittedly it was a pretty satisfying day.  Things were about to change dramatically in the next 12 hours as we woke up on Sunday morning with a strong northeast wind and temperatures in the low 50's and dropping.  It was a repeat of the the previous week where we had beautiful weather for opening day and it went downhill from there.  With sheets of rain traveling horizontally down Chamberlain Narrows there wasn't much of an incentive to get in the boat and subject ourselves to the punishment outside.  We had lots of time before making any decisions so when someone suggested we have omelets for breakfast I thought it would be fun to test my skills.  The ban on poultry and eggs coming across the border forced Bruce to buy eggs in Dryden and eggs they were!  A three egg omelet was a big as a 4 egger yet everyone seemed satisfied.  Bruce, his son Mike and I decided that we came to fish so let's go fishing as we bundled up for a 3 hour session.  Trying to get out of the wind because our anchor would not hold, we were not very successful yet we did manage to keep a few fish towards our take home numbers.  This would have been the perfect time for the anchor lock function on a bow mounted trolling motor.  Unfortunately neither Tom nor the rental boat had that luxury as we struggled to stay in the bite zone.  Unlike the previous day my Gulp wasn't working as well so was forced to switch back to a plain minnow and jig.  The challenge to catch fish on artificials is great but there is no reason to be stupid.  The rain became relentless as all three of us decided it was insane to continue so we headed in to dry our clothes, warm up, and have a cocktail to reflect on the day.  What came up that evening was quite an experience for me however I'll wait till next week to finish the story!

The good news is the boat should have started to be built on Wednesday so it shouldn't be long now. It's probably good as I need to get some things to get done around the house.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

One Opener Down, One to Go

A Miserable Sunday
Well, like everything else these days Team Walleye's 42nd Annual Fishing Opener at Leech Lake ended as quick as it started.  One of the things that is going to stop is looking at the forecast 10 days before an event and getting excited about the predicted nice weather. What looked like a beautiful weekend in the 70's turned into a Northeaster of epic proportions. Opening Saturday admittedly was nice, sunny and in the 60's by the end of the day our faces were pretty sunburnt.  One could travel around the lake in relative comfort however Sunday and Monday were a complete 180 degree opposite with highs in the mid 40's, 20 - 35 mph winds out of the northeast, and cold driving rain that tested our will to stay out, in fact many simply elected to stay in.  As you see in the picture the wind was howling and it had the water pretty churned up as visibility was less than a foot sometimes. This year we had a special award donated by Kevin, a hand made spinning rod complete with matching colored accents to our hats and inscribed with the Team Walleye 2015 commemorative tribute.  We decided that the fairest way to award this prize among others was a simple and fair proposition.  You see we have 6 separated fishing sessions, 1 each morning and one each evening after supper.  A qualifying fish is 12 inches or longer so if a person caught at least 1 over 12 in a session, he would be eligible to enter a chance for the rod giveaway drawing.  If you caught a qualifying fish for each session, you received 6 chances. It worked out good until one of the guys thought we meant an entry for every fish over 12" so we spent some time pulling out his slips.  Besides the fishing rod we have prizes awarded for the 3 largest fish, the most individual points and most team points which is a determination of your own numbers of fish caught and how well you did to put your teammates with you on the fish.

Mark Taylor with a decent eater.
The trip started somewhat on the wrong foot as we stopped by Lundeen's Tackle Castle to pick up shiner minnows.  Checking them at the next gas stop 60 miles up the road one of the bags had all the oxygen gone and the  minnows were dying.  We quickly got a cooler, my brother Steve's portable aerator and luckily saved about 60% of them. That was close.  Not having my boat was an issue for me for sure.  Although haven driven wheel boats before this was the first time I was faced with learning a whole new process like which side to fish out of, how the wind affects our position, what to do with everything.  It was sort of like being a fish out of water but eventually I caught on and recovered well.  Saturday morning was our first session and as always, we started at Pine Point.  This is the go to area yet is gets pretty crowded in the morning.  I had Mark Taylor and Mike Kimpel in the boat with me and after catching a couple under 12" decided to go exploring, which is something I enjoy.  Off we went to an offshore reef, the conditions were great but I didn't mark anything.  From there we went to Ivan's Reef and starting catching some really nice fish in 14 feet of water, right off the rocks.  By 2:00 we had 10 walleyes caught, 7 in the live well when the game warden showed up.  Pulling along the leeward side of the boat we exchanged greetings before getting down to business.  First the license check, we were good.  Next he asked about our fish so I pulled out our Team Walleye score sheet and explained we had 7 in the live well with the biggest 19.5" and we released a small on and 2 over 22". "Can I see the 19.5 fish?" so we pulled that out and it checked out perfect.  He commented how organized we were then did a life vest check, OK on that front.  Finally he asked for the throw cushion, readily accessible.  Thinking I had seen it before every compartment I searched was empty as I danced around the boat.  Explaining it was not my boat and was fully aware of the requirement I did a desperate look underneath the fold down seat as he exclaimed the fine for that was $600. Digging for something he whispered to the other guys that he was just kidding but I didn't know that! Not finding anything his next comment was that underneath a seat that was difficult to access was not readily accessible as I gave sir, I am afraid we are missing that vital piece of equipment. He must of felt sorry for us as he asked for my license again and stated that we were only getting a warning this time, uffda. Sometimes you win one.

My Awards
Sunday night was good as we did really well on Duck Point in 10 feet of water.  As stated earlier Sunday morning was absolutely horrible with predictions of an inch of rain coming.  Luckily it held off till about noon but it certainly took a toll on our enthusiasm as everyone was in by 1:00.  A couple of us took the time to head into Walker and pick up a few groceries and stop at Reeds, always a nice place to look around.  Also Sunday was my night to cook our annual fried walleye dinner and admittedly I got started probably later than I should have.  Luckily the weather was terrible and for the most part everyone except Andy and Pete decided to go out so it turned out OK.  Even I decided there was no use fighting the waves and to be honest, although Mark's boat was pretty big, it just doesn't ride like a fiberglass and as well, I was still learning the finer aspects of boat control. Monday was a little better as the wind laid down to 15 - 20 mph, almost tolerable.  We decided to hit the the area below Stoney Point thinking the wind would be better there but there wasn't any fish there. Heading back to Pine Point we were surprised that it seemed calmer and the walleyes had the feedbag on as we ended up with 13 for the 5th session.  Going in to eat at 2:00, dinner was served early and we were back out by 5:30. Unfortunately the hot bight of 3 hours ago was over with and for the rest of the evening we only managed 2 keeper walleyes as the heavy mist continued.  I really wanted to troll shad raps so we decided to troll the shoreline back to the resort which proved to be a bust. Maybe the cloudy water had something to do with it yet when we passed Brindley's dock a boy was just reeling in a nice walleye, go figure.  In the end Andy got the 1st and 3rd place for the largest walleye with my nephew Kevin getting the second place position with a nice 24+.  As you see I won both the Team award for the most total walleyes caught in a boat for the 3 days as well the individual points champion for the greatest amount of fish and points accumulated.  Ryan Sterle won the custom fishing rod even though he only fished for 3 sessions then went home.  All in all it was fun even if the weather proved hard on some of us old men!  We are definitely looking forward to next year, hopefully I'll have my boat by then and be somewhat proficient at it.

Speaking of my boat the last time I talked to my dealer the new delivery date was May 20th.  Before leaving town to fish Leech they called to ask me about a title to my old Ranger, which I didn't have. Asking about confirming the 20th Deb told me, no that was the build date and it would take a week after that plus another week to ship it from Flippin, AR to Minnesota.  A few days at the dealership and it looks like about June 5th is the date now.  The good news is that I should have a number of normal fishing days under my belt so the wait isn't that bad.  Still.  I am frantically getting ready to fly to Lac Seul, Canada with Pete in Garith's recently repaired Beaver.  The plan is to pick up our pilot at 5:30 and we should be in the air by 6:30.  A 4 hour flight and we could be fishing by noon.  I did peek at the forecast today, like last weekend it doesn't look like what was predicted 10 days ago, oh well here we go again.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Ready to Go

Northland 1/4 oz Fireball Jig
Ready or not, Leech Lake here I come!  To be honest I am not as excited as about opener as in previous years. Time seems to march so fast that what we planned back in January is almost like it was yesterday and last year's opener was like it was a month ago.  Oh well, the joys of getting old. The 2014 opener was almost like 2013 with a very late spring and the predicted bite on Leech was nothing to brag about, still we did catch fish.  This year it's totally different as the ice went out 3 weeks earlier and we have had a spell of nice warm weather, the spawn should be well over with and the fish in a hungry mood.  This should help our success tremendously.  One downside might be that with the current conditions and regulations on Lake Mille Lacs there will probably be a big crowd on Leech with the hot spots having a lot of pressure.  It's okay if most people are simply drift fishing while pulling a jig as this is pretty effective on opener.  If they decide to try and troll or God forbid, anchor (I've seen before) it can be a zoo.  On the other hand using a 1/4 ounce Northland Tackle Fireball Jig, a nice green or chartreuse color seems to work the best, paired up with a 3 inch shiner minnow and voila, a walleye smorgasbord at it's finest.  Speaking of shiner minnows, the last couple of years the supply of these morsels have been tight and in fact 2 years ago the ice wasn't even off Leech so luckily we didn't need minnows for bait.  With the early spring this year we should be in really good shape.  Team Walleye orders about 4 gallons of shiners, we used to bring fatheads but nobody really liked using them. The problem with shiners is they are more fragile than fatheads so if the boats don't take care of them, they go to waste and they are much too expensive to throw out.  It's a lecture I give every Friday night to the guys.  The other thing that the early spring will do is help the shad rap bite.  It was the winning strategy last opener as my boat pulled in 12 walleyes from 8:00 - 10:00 on Monday night to clinch highest point award for most fish caught.  The conditions will be very favorable for hitting some of those deeper spots like Grandville Flats as the bigger females tend to migrate from the shallower spawning areas after they've rested for a week or so.  Once there those big females tend to put on the feedbag and it can be very productive.  Either way, boat or no boat, I have a number of strategies that will definitely be in play this weekend.

New Fish Frying Device
Usually Saturday night at fishing camp is steak night with Sunday night marking our usual walleye feed.  Years ago I bought a special Cajun Cooker for frying all sorts of things and it tends to do a very good job.  Unfortunately it takes almost 4 gallons of cooking oil and about an hour to heat up to the correct temperature.  I does an excellent job by keeping the oil on the bottom of the cooker cool therefore the stuff that sinks doesn't burn and ruin the rest of the oil but I have to admit, it can be a pain to setup, get hot, then clean after one's done with it. This year I got an open kettle type cooker with a stainless steel frying basket.  I am sure that we will have to change out the oil a few times but in the end it will be faster and easier to clean up.  This year I bought some liquid shortening from Costco instead of soybean oil.  The word is the liquid shortening withstands heat better and will last longer than regular oil, we'll see. We started having a walleye fry at fish camp as the joy's of eating fresh walleye out weighed taking home frozen fish.  The hats need to be picked up and we'll buy the bait on the way up on Friday morning, other than that everything seems to be a go. Hopefully I'll have a good report next week of record sized walleyes and numbers just jumping in the boat.  So until Friday, I am still organizing Mark's boat, learning the best places to store stuff, deciding what to bring and what not to bring as sometimes I am worse than a woman, want to be prepared for everything.

The weather has let me get way ahead of planting the garden as the first rows of sweet corn went in Tuesday night.  This is at least 3.5 weeks ahead of last year and should get me some great eating towards the end of July into August.  The weather has been much drier than last year allowing me to really go to town, which is nice as my fishing schedule is pretty busy until the May 20th.  Heck, last year I didn't even start planting till after June 1st and everything didn't start ripening till after Labor Day.  My boat should be here in exactly 2 weeks, I sure wish it was here now but you know what they say, patience is a virtue!  Wish me luck.