Wednesday, January 25, 2017

First Trip to Mille Lacs

First Walleye on Mille Lacs this year
Being in between trips to Red, I decided to try my luck at Mille Lacs on Saturday.  I know the warm weather has caused some serious ice heaves so it would be interesting.  You see water is at it's greatest volume at 32 degrees, or just when it freezes.  Even though it still makes ice as the temperatures drop, the ice will shrink which causes cracks to open up as it shrinks and leaves dangerous situations until the water freezes and seals these cracks up.  However the opposite happens when the temperatures warm towards 32, the ice expands to it's greatest volume again and the ice pushes against the shore and will start piling up against each other causing some serious heaves. Saturday was no exception as the weather had been warming all week and these heave raise havoc with the bridges the resorts use to span cracks in the ice so people can drive across to safe ice. Actually on the east side of Mille Lacs I saw pictures of these ice heaves over 10 feet high, and of course they take out any bridge that is spanning the heave.  On the west side it wasn't so bad so after stopping by Bill's to get minnows, I went out of KJ's ice road, just about a mile up from Lundeen's. His road was in pretty good shape and he had been working on the bridge so it was pretty easy to get across the crack and head towards Spirit Island.  Bill had stated that Mike Schneppenhelm was just in and got minnows and he was out of KJ's, so as I crossed the bridge I asked KJ where Mike was, just west of Spirit Island.  The road was pretty good however it had a lot of water on it.  I found Mike as he with with his wife Judy exactly where KJ said he was, so I got a handle on what was underneath us and started drilling holes.  It was 38 degrees out so no need for a shelter, I drilled about 10 holes up and down the edge and started fishing.  I like a Jigging Rap so I started with that as I was fishing about 26 feet of water and it would go down fast.  Immediately a fish came on my Vexilar FLX28 but only came up about 6 inches off the bottom then quickly disappeared, usually a sign that they were finicky.  After a couple of these events I decided to go with a less aggressive bait, a Hawger Spoon but with the same result, they'd slowly come up and look at the bait then disappear.  At this point I changed up a lot of baits going less and less aggressive, ending up with a Swedish Pimple and a whole minnow.  About 5:00 the fish got a lot more aggressive.  I had been hole hopping and marked fish in each hole however I headed back to where I started and as my lure dropped down a mark came towards the bait very quickly, a sign to get ready.  As expected the fish hit my lure decisively and I hooked my first walleye on Mille Lacs this ice fishing season.  Mille Lacs has a limit of 1 fish between 19 and 21 inches, a difficult size to find yet it was still fun catching as this first one was about 16 inches.  I quickly re baited and dropped it again only to see the same thing happen.  This time the fish headed back down however came right back up and slammed the bait.  Not as big as the first one, say maybe 14 inches, never the less it felt pretty good as my walleye catching hasn't been that great this year.  With 2 fish caught it was getting pretty dark and difficult to fish in the open so being satisfied with getting something, I packed it up and walked over to Mike house.

Judy's 26.5 inch walleye
There in Mike's house we were sitting and discussing the latest and greatest about Mille Lacs when a rattle reel went off. Judy carefully grabbed the line, felt the fish, and set the hook.  The battle was on as she exclaimed......This is a nice fish!  We got it up to the hole and she was right, a beautiful 26.5 inch walleye. It had swallowed the hook completely so we cut the line and released it back down the hole.   Pretty nice as it was fun to see a bigger walleye caught.  Although we reset the lines, it was pretty dead after that fish and I haven't talked to them since I've been back to see how they did through the night however I hear that Mille Lac's night bite has been pretty good.  My plan for this weekend is to go back up to JR's and fish the weekend with my friend Mark Applen.  We plan on doing a guided trip for Trout on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, Mark did this a few years back and totally had a fantastic time.  The plan is to fish the weekend then pull our fish houses home and try to fish Mille Lacs on night before the season closes. Red hasn't been very good this year and it's at least 5 hour drive to get there so with the fishing so good on Mille Lacs, it only makes sense.

Lots of stuff going on with the Salem Ice cabin.  I have panelling that is coming loose so I got a battery operated brad nailer to bring with me to repair.  My access door to the upper bunk compartment broke so I had my neighbor Tim professionally glue it back together for me, he states it will not break again at the joint.  Last time I was up my electric Strikemaster Big Volt connector broke.  It was hard to figure out the problem however I did order a couple of replacement connectors and it was easy to see what the problem was once I got a good look at them.  It's like new now but I cannot figure out how it got like it did, it makes no sense.  On our first trip to Red my 12 cup stainless steel percolator got knocked off the stove and it fell top first into the hole.  We were able to get it before it sank however not fast enough to save the basket cover off the inside.  Well I searched hard on the internet for replacement parts and finally gave up.  In a desperate move I e-mailed a company called CSI outdoors that look like they sell the same coffee pot (many seem to) as the one I have and asked them if they had parts.  Didn't hear from them until last Thursday, a guy called and said yes, we have parts and after explaining my dilemma he said he has them for $6.95 each.  I exclaimed how impressed I was that he called me back, I'll take 2!  He said that he'd give me a deal on 2 for $10 plus shipping so I hope they are the same as I have made some assumptions based on the pictures I saw. Another issue is my stove top range in the house, there are silicon rubber grommets that keep the top burner grate in place.  Somehow I am missing a couple of them.  On my way to Mille Lacs on Saturday I called Andy Achman to see where he was and his answer was at Milaca Unclaimed Freight picking up his new Ice Castle.  I was only about 5 minutes away and stopped.  He has got a nice house and as long as I was there I thought I would check to see if they had any of the grommets. Nope but I did find them on E-Bay and ordered 8 of them.  By the time I get my house back she'll be just like new.  Amazing how these little things add up!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Quick trip to Red

Sunset on Red Lake
At the last minute on Friday I decided to head back to JR's on Red to spend the weekend.  It was a hectic week for sure and I needed some time to clear my head.  Trust me, there is no better place to clear one's head than a weekend in the Salem!  Of course I did get some good inspiration from my friend Russ who was heading up in the morning and picking up our friend Mike at Mille Lacs.  Also our good friend Scott Anderson and a few others were joining us, my addition to the trip would assure Mike would have a comfortable place to sleep rather than in Russ's house which would have been pretty crowded.  Russ had gotten there about 1:00 and was set up southwest of Center Bar, which is about 6 miles across the ice towards the reservation line that divides Upper Red Lake.  I got out of the cities at about 1:00 so my ETA was going to be around 6:00.  This meant stopping to get minnows, bacon at Osseo Meats, eggs, and water for coffee. I arrived right on time.  I got my house hooked up and the furnace going and waited for Scott to arrive.  He was running late and I was very uncomfortable trying to find Russ out in the middle of nowhere.  Deciding to wait for Scott, he finally arrived at 7:30 which gave me time to fill up one of my empty propane tanks and unwind. Scott was in contact with Russ and knew where he was going which made it better for me, I just followed him out.  At some point we had to turn off the main path and cut through the snow, making our own path.  About 100 yards into it my truck got stuck.  Luckily Scott had a strap and he was able to pull me to my final destination about 50 yards from Russ.  Russ had already taken Scott's house out and had it set up.  It takes about an hour to get set up and the reports were that the night bite was hot.  Finally getting the house set on the ice, the snow banked up to seal the bottom, my DirecTV working, I was set for the night.  Mike came over and we settled for the evening.  I was so tired I never heard any of the rattle reels go off however Mike was good about it and had 2 walleyes and a perch in the bucket when we got up.

Texas Goodies
Saturday turned out to be a nice day as the wind had died and the sun was shining.  Through the night we had accumulated about 13 walleyes and decided to go into JR's to have fish for lunch.  They are really good at the resort in accommodating my growing sensitivity to flour and the hives I get from it. Last time I had given the cook some corn based fish coating and this time I brought a new fish coating device and some Louisiana Style Zatarain's corn based coating mix again. They did our fish in that and it was excellent, I think a lot better than what they use but again, I have little choice!  I bought a bunch of this coating for Canada as well as Leech Lake opener as we definitely have fish while on those trips.  I did go to the allergist last week and confirmed my status, you would think not eating wheat would help me loose some weight but that doesn't seem to help!  We left the bar pretty full and headed back out to fish the rest of the afternoon and evening.  Russ's brother Randy drove down from Lake of the Woods to join us, he has a new Ice Castle that is pretty nice even though he has had some issues with it.  Randy is a pretty good guy and very innovative.  He has a small snow blower he brings with to help bank his house with snow and then he clears a path between our houses so it's easier to walk.  After a game of Farkle (the official game that these guys play) I retired back to the Salem to watch the football game.  Fishing was still slow for me however the other guys seemed to do pretty good.  Apparently the trick was using a plain hook rather than an ice jig, I am not sure I get it however the results spoke for themselves.  A couple of things happened this trip.  First I broke cupboard door and forgot to bring any glue to fix it so I brought it back with me and my neighbor Tim Kuntz glued it back like new. Secondly my Strikemaster Big Volt, 12 Volt ice auger  had an issue with the main cable connector. I installed a standard Ranger type trolling motor plug into compartment where my battery is as it is hidden under the couch, and also put a trolling motor plug on the main cable so it's pretty clean.  Well the connector from the main cable to the power head had broken, I knew enough to get it working but needed a better fix so I got that done this week as well.  I got back on Sunday to go over to Tim's and watch my Green Bay Packers beat Dallas in a nail biter! Early last week I sent my two friends in Dallas some fresh cheese curds, some colby and aged cheddar from Cady Cheese near Spring Valley, WI.  Along with the cheese was a note telling them that this was something they could enjoy while watching the game on Sunday.  I receive this nice box of Texas Goodies the other day, their answer to my badgering!  My friends Joe Stanfield and Matt Davis are really great guys and any excuse to give them some crap is definitely done!

Finally when up at Red during the end of our December trip  the top cover for my stove fell down and pushed my stainless steel stove top coffee percolator off the stove and into one of our holes.  My brother Steve caught it but not before the lid on the brew basket fell off and sank.  I have been trying to get another lid but it is almost impossible.  The coffee pot is made by Tops Manufacturing and there is no website for them.  I know that this percolator is private labeled by a number of companies including GSI outdoors.  Well I e-mailed them and believe it or not they called me back and stated, yes we have them!!  I ordered a couple incase it happens again, I am impressed!  So my door is fixed, my auger connection is fixed, my coffee pot should be back in service next week, just in time for RedFest.  I am hoping to get on Mille Lacs this weekend, we'll see.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Busy week

Leech Lake Opener with Jon
Well, we got my brother taken care of last weekend however it came with some family drama as often these things do.  It still did not take away from the celebration of his life and the fun we had together the last few years taking him to our annual Team Walleye Leech Lake Minnesota Fishing Opener.  At the funeral there were a lot of pictures of Jon holding up walleyes that he had caught on Leech including this one with his beloved mentor and guide!  Jon loved going up with the guys where he was simply accepted as one of the guys, which meant a lot to him. Jon was never much of a fisherman however I do remember taking him down to Alma on the Mississippi River backwaters and after a day of basically catching nothing we hit a weed bed that was loaded with northern pike and just hammered them.  Jon was looking forward to this year's trip but I sense some doubts that he was going to make it as his condition had turned terminal a couple of years back.  We all know what that mean but we never anticipate the end date.  Oh well, at least we have some great memories of him at Leech and it is very satisfying to know that he appreciated us taking him with.  Unfortunately this leaves a hole in our group for the 2017 opener but my friend Kevin will probably come with us, that would be a great replacement!  Either way I will miss my brother coming up, we are all getting too old and one has to really cherish the time spent together, one never knows when that that will be the last time.

Keith's perch checking him out!
Because of the funeral and the Green Bay Packer game on Sunday, it put a damper on ice fishing, probably for the next week or so.  My wheel house is parked at JR's yet and I do plan on getting up there soon as I can as all reports point to the fishing has been picking up.  I know that the fishing on Mille Lacs has been on fire with reports of 30 to 40 walleye days however the limit is tight, you can only keep one between 19 and 21 inches.   This is not the main reason I haven't fished Mille Lacs this year as I do enjoy fishing Red Lake in my wheel house and if you get a couple of fish under 17, JR will cook them up for you, something I really enjoy.  My friend Mark Applen is usually who I go with however he has been traveling lately and is in Nashville this weekend for work.  My friend Keith Holtan has been doing a lot of fishing on his lake in Brainerd, and the water is pretty clear.  He sent me this underwater camera shot of a perch looking straight into the lens, as he caught a number of nice ones over 12 inches.  Boy, it's been a long time since I've caught a nice perch and maybe I can get together with Keith sometime and hoist a few!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Tough Last Few Days

Nice walleye
I am not exactly sure how to start this but just start typing will probably do.  Last Monday my brother Steve picked up our good friend Kevin Aiona in Eleva and he headed up to my house to join me in our inaugural first ice fishing trip to Red Lake, Minnesota.  Our plan was simple, Mark Applen was already on his way, we would catch up to him and set up our Salem Ice Cabin's that night and spend the next 4 days on the ice.  Usually first ice is prime time however it's pretty late for first ice, the day after Christmas.  No matter, we had the will to make every effort to have our first trip on the ice successful.  The reality was somewhat different than our expectations however you know the old saying."a bad day fishing is still better than a good day at work!"  Monday was a day of predicted snow and the going was slow however we arrived at JR's just as Mark had hooked up his wheel house and him and his wife Jan were waiting for us.  It took about an hour however we finally got our driving plan and headed out on the lake.  We got 1/3 mile from the resort and it was blowing so bad, we decided to turn around.  Relegated to sleeping on land until the morning, one of JR's guides, Hazard, offered to  get us across the bridge and to an area.  Of course it was worth a nice tip as we got set up about 2 miles from JR's.  With 3 of us the house got setup pretty fast and we were fishing within and hour, by 9:00PM.  We had already ate something at the resort so fish was not in the plan for that night, it was getting late anyway.  The next morning we hit it pretty hard but we were at the end of a pretty good storm front and usually the day after is not very good.  Luckily we got enough walleyes for Tuesday night fish fry at JR's.  About a month ago I ended up in the hospital over night because my flour (wheat) allergy suddenly got worse.  I had gone to Scheel's Outdoors in St. Cloud and found a totally corn based fish coating and JR's cook graciously agreed to use it for our fish.  Absolutely amazing and super delicious, and I was very thankful that he was able to make the adjustments!

Brother Jon
On Wednesday about 11:00 in the morning my brother Jon called on the cell phone to tell me that he is being air lifted from Luther Hospital to Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis.  He has suffered from Wyburn-Mason Syndrome, a congenital condition that causes blood vessel malformations in one's eye, middle part of his head and brain.  Up till now the doctors have been able to extend his life through carefully cutting off the blood supplies to those deformed arteries however that was not without problems because the tissues cut off from the blood die and need to be dealt with.  In the end he lost his right eye, nose, upper mouth palate, and at one point had his whole right cheeks surgically replaced.  Once the blood vessels weaken they can rupture causing severe bleeding, Jon almost bled to death a few times.  The last time the doctors could do anything to stop the bleeding, the informed him that it would be the last time they could do it.  Last week, just as we headed up north, Jon started bleeding again.  This time there was little they could do but to carefully see if they could stop it however the masse of deformed blood vessels had infiltrated his brain and any of the past efforts would have resulted in a severe stroke so they had no choice but to let God decide his fate.  Jon knew he was not coming back home and said goodbye. Steve was with me and both him and I decided 6 years ago to take Jon as our guest to Leech Lake Opener, even though Jon wasn't much of a fisherman, he really enjoyed getting away with the guys and as well, they accepted him as part of the gang.  This was good because of all the surgeries he had, he looked pretty rough and was always self conscience of it.  Most of the time he didn't feel well enough to fish but that was OK, he loved being at the resort and being part of something.  In that phone called he took the time to Thank both Interesting that people look at this picture and state that.....yep, you guys look alike.  I'm pretty proud of him as he fought a courageous battle, he passed away on Saturday night about 6:30.  I was nice that Steve was still in Eleva and had the chance to bring our mother up one last time.  I know this was hard on him but I also know that saying goodbye was important to her.  His funeral is next weekend and I will be celebrating his life with the family in Eleva however I should have a few fish stories and pictures to tell about a better time next week.