Thursday, December 22, 2016

Too Cold to Fish

Mark Threw back this walleye
Okay, I said it!  We have been patiently waiting for the ice to freeze thick enough to pull our wheel houses out on Red Lake and it sure isn't like 2 years ago when we had enough ice to drive on the lake the Friday after Thanksgiving.  With the below zero weather last week, it definitely made ice, enough for me to consider pulling up my house last Friday however a pending snow storm put a dent in that plan.  Plan B was to Ride up with Mark on Saturday as he already has his house up at JR's Corner Access, stay the night then hitch a ride home with Russ on Sunday morning to be back in time for a business meeting I had scheduled for Sunday night.  Unfortunately the predicted low for last Saturday night on Red was supposed to be close to -26F and both Mark decided to stay home until Sunday and Russ decided to drive home on Saturday instead of dealing with everything in the brutal cold. Therefore my plans for a quick trip to Red were dashed but that's OK.  Mark did head up on Sunday as JR was letting 1/2 ton pickups drive out for the first time this year.  Although fishing wasn't spectacular by any means he did manage to catch some nice fish before he headed home on Wednesday.  According to his text messages he was able to get 9 on tuesday, enough to keep one interested as well, have enough fish to take into JR's and eat supper.  Mark said that there was a good 15 inches of ice, which is enough however after the below zero weather of last week and now we are hitting the lower 30's it's likely that the ice is expanding and starting to heave so JR is probably putting out bridges today.  The weather report for next Sunday doesn't look the greatest with 8 - 12 inches of snow predicted.  I will be going there with my brother Steve on Monday as he has to drive his son to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, I suggested he just keep driving north and we will head to JR's so as of now, that's the plan!

Automatic Satellite Antenna
I have been experiencing difficulty with my DirectTV for the ice house.  My system includes what they call a carryout antenna which is can automatically lock in on the satellite and receive the signal, a receiver from my house, and the appropriate cables.  One of the cables connecting the antenna to the through wall connector was bad so I got another one.  Stupid me bought the same one again. Well these coaxial cable connectors are simply terrible to try and thread on to the matching end in the cold and this week I reached my wits end as my TV kept saying that I had a bad connection.  I finally thought through the issue and bought a new cable with a moulded shroud over the connector that allowed one to easily turn the connector onto the matching connector on the antenna and house feed through.  I also picked up an adaptor that I can screw the cable onto one side and simply insert the other side without any effort.  I tried them last night and Voila, works like a charm!!  this should allow us to pick up the Dallas/Detroit game on Monday night, hopefully Dallas will set the Packers up for a great game the following Sunday.  As stated, this was the second time I had issues with my cables, hopefully it is the last.  Either way I am anxious to get ice fishing, not that Florida was bad, but fresh walleye sounds pretty good.  I have a surprise for my brother, I am bringing a couple of grouper fillets to saute' in the house, he will enjoy that hopefully enough to want to schedule a trip back down and fish.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Naples, A Warm and Distant Memory

Matt's Huge Kingfish
Well, the cold weather finally arrived with the temperature dropping to -10F this morning.  That's 96 degrees colder than when I left Florida a week and a half ago.  A definite change, at least we are making significant ice for ice fishing.  My friends have been to Red Lake already however they really haven't done very well on the walleyes, I suspect after Christmas things will improve.  My friend Mark Applen was there last week and although he walked out, he said the water was pretty dingy, a result from the winds stirring up the water just before the lake froze over.  So last weeks post was part 1 and this week gives me an opportunity to show off the nice Kingfish that my friend Matt Davis landed.  While we were on the boat out fishing the first mate, Bob saw this big Kingfish swim by in the water.  I don't know, nobody else saw it and I suspect because we were all concentrating on fishing.  He grabbed on of the spinning outfit, grabbed a large greenback out of the baitwell and casted it in the general direction of where he seen the fish.  On his 3rd try the fish hit his bait and the fight was on.  As you see in the picture this fish is designed to be a fast swimmer and on the first run it almost spooled the line on the reel.  He was able to make up some ground then gave the rod to Matt for some fun.  A Kingfish is short for a King Mackerel, and normally they are usually caught near shore and are a lot smaller than this one.  I knew exactly what Matt was going through as I had just landed the 200# goliath grouper 15 minutes earlier and the battle was on!  It was pretty amazing to watch this fish take off on some pretty massive runs and Matt could do little but hang on.  While my battle was more of a bull fight, Matt had his hands full.  After about 20 minutes the first mate got a gaff in its side and we pulled it aboard. This was a huge kingfish, the largest ever caught in the boat at almost 56 inches and pushing 40 pounds.  They are OK to eat so we kept him however it would not fit in the cooler without cutting it's tail off.  That was 2 giant fish in one trip, that was pretty special as wewe considered these bigger fish simply a bonus to a pretty good charter.  I wish that I would have thought to take a video of his catch but too late for that!

One of the interesting thing was when we entered the inland channel to back to the docks a pelican landed on the stern of the boat, looking for a cheap and easy meal.  Apparently the first mate might have known this guy because he immediately opened the cooler to get some frozen bait fish to feed him.  He stayed for some time before he had enough free food and flew away.  These pelicans are all over the place and are very opportunistic.  There must have been 20 or so by the cleaning table on the dock waiting to scoop up the fish guts and whatever else was left over from the fillet table.  We even had 2 of them land on the dock and walk right up to us and tap our legs with their long beak. Obviously they didn't seem to mind  hanging with us as long as there was a free lunch involved.  We
Glen Collins, myself, Bill Hardt, and Matt Davis with our larger fish.
finally got all of our fish cleaned which included Gag Grouper, Red Grouper, Mangrove Snapper, Lane Snapper, and a big Kingfish.  I suspect we had at least 25 pounds of fillets so we dropped off about 15 of it to the restaurant by the docks to be cooked for our dinner that night.  I can tell you that fresh grouper is pretty good blackened and broiled.  We had some of the kingfish broiled and the smaller fillets of the Lane and Mangrove snapper we had them deep fry it.  All of the fish was delicious however I liked the grouper the best.  Luckily I had about 6 pounds of fillets to bring home, which I did quite successfully and will be enjoying my catch for a while anyway.  My friend Bill Hardt has a place north of Naples that we visited prior to flying home and at the club where he lives we had a fish called a tripletail.  We ordered the tripletail sandwich without the bun and they gave us a whole fillet broiled, it was excellent.  I would like to try and get a few of them next time, it was interesting as when the boat came in the first mate saw a few of his friends in a small skiff, and they held up 4 nice tripletails, I guess that was the first time I had ever heard of them.  Maybe when we head to Tampa in March for our annual APEC conference I can talk these guys into going back for another trip on the Sea Legs as we have done this before on past APEC conferences, both in Ft. Worth, Texas and a few years back, Charlotte, NC.  We'll see!

The latest reports have the ice at about 9 - 11 inches on Red Lake and I know they are pulling houses out with ATV's however my house is probably too heave for that.  The plan might be to go up with my friend Mark on Saturday however the high for Red Lake is only supposed to be -6F and the low that night is -23F, dang cold if you ask me.  I might go just to ride with Mark and come home on Sunday with Russ.  I really wanted to pull my house up there on Friday however we are forecasted to get up to 10 inches of snow at home before going into a deep freeze, so I may have to wait until after Christmas to get up there.  You know what they say, all good things come to those who wait!  At least after Christmas one should be able to pull out the house with the truck.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Fishing in Naples, David and Goliath! Part 1

Beautiful Red Grouper
Well our long awaited trip to Naples, Florida has come and gone, however the memories are here to stay!  Naples was the site of our annual Fall TTA meeting and it was held at the Grand Naples Beach Resort.  It was very nice but quite honestly about a half mile or so from the beach.  There was a beautiful elevated walkway through the mangroves but the days were filled with conferences and there was little time to enjoy the amenities.  As previously stated, a number of my transformer colleagues also love to fish and on a number of past trips we have arranged to arrive a few days early or stay a few days later and take advantage of our location and get a day of fishing in and this trip was no exception.  My friend Glen Collin's cousin Tim has a place in Naples as it became our headquarters for the offshore grouper fishing trip we had booked for Saturday, December 3rd.  Now Glen has fished grouper before however there was a bunch of use, including me, that had never fished grouper.  We had 2 boats chartered however the wind was up and the offshore seas were forecasted to be 4 - 5 feet, which in freshwater terms would be 8 - 10 foot swells total height from top to bottom. The captain we booked was ready to go out even though it would be rough however the other boat said no way was he going out.  Well, I've been to Alaska and know how the conditions would be so I quickly took my place on the offshore boat along with 3 others, Glen Collins, Matt Davis, and Bill Hardt.  The boat was called Sea Legs and reminded me of some of the boats I had been in before. First thing we needed to do was to catch some bait, in Minnesota they looked like shiner minnows however they were called Greenbacks.  The captain had a special place about 3 miles off shore where these bait fish congregate so he slowed the boat down and got into position while our first mate threw a cast net into the water.  I'm not sure what was there to hold fish as it was in the middle of nowhere but bait fish we got.  Back in 2009 when Lyle and I fished Key West, the guide did the same thing in shallow water however this time it only took one cast to have all the bait we needed.  These greenbacks ranged from 3" to 5 inches and I helped him get the bait into the baitwells located in the back floor of the boat.  The next stop was a 45 minute ride to the first spot.  These guides have special reefs or sunken ships they fish and more often than not, made made structures that have been place there to attract fish, and especially grouper.  Grouper are fish that tend to stick close to home so it becomes easy to fish out these structures so there is a strategy of not hanging too long on one structure as it may take months for them to repopulate with catchable fish.  Our quarry for the day was Gag Grouper, Red Grouper, and a number of snapper species that inhabit the same structures such as Mangrove Snapper and Lane Snapper.  Gag Grouper had a minimum size limit of 24 inches while Red Grouper was 20 inches.  The snappers were open to pretty much any size and actually kept some as bait for bigger fish.  Our equipment was medium heavy spinning rods with braid and a fluorocarbon leader with about a #1 or #1/0 circle hook with an egg sinker.  the spinner rigs had a light siner, maybe 1/2 ounce but I thought for fishing 30 -  45 feet of water, that wasn't enough.  They gave me a medium level wind with about a 1 ounce sinker, perfect as I'd rather feel the bottom and know where I was.  If I could have rigged my own bait I'd put the sinker above a swivel with about a 2 foot leader so the bait could move, as the rigs we were using had the sinker up against the hook, oh well!  The fish I am holding is a very nice Red grouper, very pretty.  All the targeted fish are delicious to eat.

The seas were pretty rough but not as bad as I had experienced in Alaska.  It was pretty warm out as the daytime temperatures were in the mid 80's so it was pretty comfortable that way.   We started out a a couple of spots before ending up anchored next to a sunken ship in 40 feet of water.  It was interesting, the Captain stated that the water depth changed about 2 feet per mile so we were out almost 20 miles from the shore. We already had a number of  fish in the box including a couple of legal gag and red groupers along with a few mangrove snappers and we had caught some lane snappers.  They were small but very colorful.  Because I was using the heavier level wind with a bigger sinker, the first mate rigged me up with a large frozen greenback with the tail cut off for extra scent.  Well, something hit the bait and with circle hooks you simply lift gently as the hooks will catch the side of the lip as it is being pulled and generally will hook the fish in the corner of the mouth.  Well, something really took my bait so I waited 10 seconds or so and while still feeling the fish I swept the rod and the tip basically stayed where it originally was.  Damn, I think I hooked bottom!  Well the line started moving away so it was a mad scramble to get it off the bottom so I wouldn't get caught up in a snag as we had previously experienced.  This fish though hardly moved so maybe I was already snagged up.  Well it moved to the other side of the boat and the battle was on.  The Captain right away suspected it was a Goliath Grouper, a very large fish that live along with the regular groupers.  He told me that it would be almost impossible to get that fish with the lighter tackle we were using however I had pretty good control of what I was doing.   My friend Matt Davis was smart enough to film my fight so here is the video of the fight and of the fish. Goliath grouper are a protected species and although not illegal to catch one must release them.  This fish was estimated by the captain to be over 200 pounds, not the largest but a substantial fish nevertheless. When I finally got it to the surface the first mate gaffed it through the mouth as to not hurt the fish and we all got to look at it's enormous size, definitely the largest weight fish I have ever caught.  Admittedly it was a tough battle and although I took pictures, the fish was too large to bring on board and stand alone pictures don't do it justice!  Enjoy the video as it is a great recorded memory of the occasion.  I get tired just watching it!

Next week I will finish the story as this was not the only big fish we got.  I will put in a plug for our charter, Tom' Deep Sea Fishing as this guy was great and I would definitely go out with him again.  There is a lot more to tell but certainly this was a fish of a lifetime.