Friday, March 30, 2018

Sportshow Time

Dan Gapen and I
One of the things I cannot get enough of is the Minneapolis Northwest Sportsman's Show at the Convention Center in downtown Minneapolis.  It is the largest event of this type and pretty much features everything one experiences in the course of a summer of fishing and enjoying the great outdoors.  Most years I have the opportunity to attend twice and this year was no exception.  Last Thursday I had the pleasure of having Bruce Wiley accompany me.  Thursday is senior day and those 62 and older get a $3 discount, one might as well take advantage of this.  Most people know that I like to talk a lot and at these shows it's no exception.  With everything form my boat dealer, Frankie's to the electronics on my boat, to all of the things I use and like, they are usually represented at the show and increasing one's knowledge of these products and changes is always good.  New technologies are often presented at the show and it's a great place to get caught up with the industry.  Also it's a great place to meet all of the friends you've made over the years and see those that read this blog regularly.  Bruce commented that geez Anderson, I can't take you anywhere where you don't know someone!  Of special surprise was stopping by Showalters Flyin Service, I met Denny a few years back at JR's on Red Lake while waiting to get out on the lake,  he exclaimed that JR was at the show.  I quickly texted him and made sure that we would not leave without seeing each other, which towards the end, we met him in the very first row.  He was with his Airplane sales guy and Bruce and him hit it off very well.  It is always nice to see JR outside of the zoo he operates at Red Lake and Bruce and I promised we'd fly up sometime and have lunch.  JR even threatened to fly over to our camp on Lac Seul and fish with me for a day.  I am going to try and make that happen sometime.  Sunday found me heading back to the show to follow up on the things I did not get to do on Thursday, take advantage of the deals that are posted on the last day, as they'd rather sell it then pack it up.  One of the booths I ran across was Dan Gapen's booth, and he was it it!  Dan Gapen is probably the most famous river fisherman there ever was (OK, my friend Kevin is pretty good as well!) and has written books on River fishing as well has his own bait company and is the inventor of the Ugly Bug jig.  I stopped to shake his hand and to tell him I just bought his River Walleye Fishing book on Amazon and they were surprised.  We talked about his days fishing the Nipigon River, he knew exactly where my buddy Jim Tollefson and I fished when we were in our late teems, at the old loggers camp by what Dan called Victoria Falls, the outlet of Lake Nipigon.  I ended up buying a book from him and he personally endorsed it for me, signing a nice greeting and his name.  He was still pretty sharp and I am anxious to try some of the techniques we discussed when fishing the Mississippi River this summer.  On Thursday, a new RS landing net, the Green Bay model, found it's way into my hands.  I got the bright Lime Green model, it will be easier to see when I need it.  Sunday was a little more expensive, ending up with a new storage box fro under the back seat of my truck, Reeds had 25% off of their Simms clothing so a light hooded shirt found it's way into my bag.  Leaving fully satisfied with my visits and about $200 dollars poorer, I headed home.

Last fish through the ice, of the year?
Saturday was our almost annual fishing trip with my wife's uncles Bernie and Andy, and their sons Jason and Jake.  A couple of years ago we fished at Jason's in-laws place on Chetac Lake in Birchwood, Wisconsin.  This year we headed back to Wapogasset Lake, just east of St. Croix Falls.  Fishing on the north side we could not drive on by the resort access but a mile down the lake was another access not affected by the sun, it was good enough to get on.  We headed north to fish in about 12 feet of water yet the fishing wasn't very good.  Andrew and I got a nice 10 inch perch each, but that was about it.  It was a long time between fish so at at about 3:00 we headed north to Balsam Lake, one of Andy's hot spots.  Finally figuring out where to get on the lake we drove out only to drill holes in 5 feet of water.  My Navionics App with the lake map was not working because of poor cell service.  Heading to the center of the bay we eventually found 11 feet of water.  Later it was discovered that 11 feet was about it.  Being in the basin should have been a good place to fish however the only thing that bit was this small pound and a half largemouth bass.  It put up a great fight on the 3# test line but it certainly wasn't a crappie that we were looking for.  By the end of the day this was the only fish we got on Balsam Lake, the debate about leaving Wapogasset started but what's done is done!  Either way it was my first trip to Balsam Lake and although the fishing wasn't that great it was a beautiful lake, one worth coming back to sometime.  It was just like being 200 miles north of home, I was quite impressed.  We finished the day at a local bar and grill having a great hamburger before heading home. 

There is a lot of work to do before opener.  The boat is still in storage however the front step needs welding, the depth finders need to be reinstalled and updated.  All of my equipment is at home and have been working on changing line, cleaning the reels, getting the tackle boxes reorganized.  The trip last month to Texas has changed my attitude about bass fishing and I'm getting organized to do more of bass fishing this summer.  It's Easter Weekend and we have a while before the ice goes out as the ice was at least 32 inched thick last weekend.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Maple Syrup Time in the Neighborhood

Collecting Sap in my yard.
The weather has warmed up enough to start tapping the maple trees in the neighborhood and gather enough sap to make maple syrup.  The ideal time to tap trees is when the outside temperature drops to the mid 20's at night and in the 40's during the day.  This cycle gets the sap flowing from the roots to the upper branches and depending on the weather, moisture, and temperature cycles one can harvest gallons a day from a single large maple tree.  My neighbor Brandon does the sap collecting then has quite an operation to process the sap into syrup.  As you can see in the picture, he has 5 large plastic buckets to collect sap in as I have about 7 nice maple trees in the yard that are big enough to tap.  My guess is Brandon has over 120 trees tapped in the neighborhood as the last number he texted me was at about 1000 gallons collected so far.  With another 2 weeks or so of sap collecting weather, I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up with over 3000 gallons of sap.  He has a pretty slick way of collecting, a large 150 gallon plastic tank strapped to a trailer that he can pull around.  He can dump the sap in the tank quite easily then move on to the next house.  It's sort of like a milk run as he is getting around 140 gallons a day, not too bad.

Brandon's wood fired evaporator
There's a lot of work to making maple syrup however it is well worth the trouble.  Beside tapping the trees, one has to collect the sap daily.  Then it has to get unloaded into his storage containers, he has enough in his shed to collect 300 to 600 gallons of sap.  Maple sap has a normal sugar content of about 3% but it can vary from 1 - 5%.  The process is to boil the sap, which boils the water away and the sugar content becomes concentrated.  When the boiling liquid hita a temperature of 220 degree, it's pretty much syrup at that point.  Finished syrup is approximately 66 - 68% sugar.  Any less than 66% and it may spoil, as well about 68% the natural sugars tend to settle out on the bottom of the jar.  Brandon uses a reverse osmosis machine to help concentrate the sugar levels of the sap to make it faster to cook it down.  The osmosis machine basically removes pure water out of the sap which increases it's sugar content.  If he runs 300 gallons of sap through the machine it removes about 100 gallons of water and leaves the remaining sap at 5%.  He can run it through again, up to 4 times to get the concentration up to 8%, which is about half the volume that he started with and it is much easier than trying to boil off that much water. His evaporator is quite the system, he built the wood stove underneath the Stainless Steel evaporator pan.  As you see on the left side, a hose feeds the tray with his post processed sap and it is pretty amazing how fast it drips.  It keeps feeding the tray until the entire unit reaches the temperature, then he has a hydrometer to actually read the Specific Gravity which is a more accurate way of determining the syrup sugar content.  Once it is ready he empties the tray into 5 gallon buckets and starts all over again.  This year he is getting about 1 gallon of finished syrup for every 30 gallons of sap, which means the raw sap is pretty good this year.  In the past it's taken up to 40 gallons to make 1 gallon.  It's fun stopping by and helping him, usually you are rewarded with a special treat....a coffee cup with some brandy in it then filled with hot syrup from the evaporator.  Not good for the waistline but is is pretty good tasting.  Once the syrup is done he runs it through a special filter that clarifies it.  Most will get bottled however he takes some of it and fills a used oak bourbon barrel and lets it cure for about 8 weeks, simply amazing!  Also he will make a whipped maple spread that resembles soft butter but again, simply amazing!  In 3 weeks this will be all done with but it's sure fun being part of it.

The plan for the weekend is two fold, the Minneapolis Sports Show runs till Sunday and I look forward to attending this each year.  There is a lot to discuss and learn as things continue to change fast in the industry.  Second, this is the weekend I meet my wife's uncles and cousins to go ice fishing.  We have decided to go to Lake Wapogasset near Amery Wisconsin to try our hand and find some crappies.  I am sure we'll find a place to park ourselves at sunset to have a nice dinner together, it is always a good time.  This could be my last ice fishing adventure of the year as the weather is definitely getting warmer each day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Bass Fishing, Texas Style, Part 2

Joe's Tank, on the farm!
Last week's post described our first day of bass fishing in Texas on beautiful Lake Fork, East of Dallas.  After our day of fishing we loaded into Matt's truck and headed to Joe Stanfield's farm (or ranch) closer into Dallas, in Farmersville, Texas.  There Joe with his wife Jeanette has about 100 acres of land that has a beautiful house on it, about 38 llama's roaming around, his own grass airstrip for his plane, and a couple of ponds, however I have been corrected, they are called tanks.  No matter, I call them ponds!  The largest on on their land is about 5 - 7 acres in surface acres and is stocked with largemouth bass, crappies, and channel catfish.  Because of the amount of rain they had, it was plump full of water and like the day before, the water was pretty cloudy.  Joe has a pretty nice setup including a quite innovative setup for a guest house up on the hill overlooking the pond.  He poured a slab of concrete then had two 8 x 45 foot steel shipping containers configured to make a nice relaxing place to get away.  The were overlapped at about 25 feet, welded together then had patio doors and window installed.  The inside was spray foamed complete with a bedroom on one end of one, the
One of the few pictures of me with a bass.
bathroom on the end of the other one, and the middle was 16 feet wide so it had a sitting room, kitchen, dining area, and all the things one needed to be comfortable.  We cooked steaks for the evening, and just enjoyed the birds singing and the sunset.  Both Matt and I slept in the "guest house" as I took the bedroom and he took the couch as he was going to leave early in the morning then come back for me as he offered a ride to the APEC conference that was in San Antonio, about 5 hours away.  I woke up about 8:30, Matt had already left so Joe was going to take me fishing.  His equipment was a lot to be desired and although he had some lures, I wasn't that impressed so I decided to use a spinner bait as the water was not clear and felt something that would make some noise in the water would be good.  That was a good decision as I did catch my first bass from Shore as Joe was getting the trolling motor and battery in his small 12 foot Jon boat he keep on the pond.  The rod and reel I had to use looked like it came from Goodwill but it casted good enough.  We worked the shoreline around the pond and I suspect I caught 5 bass on the spinner bait and crappy rod/reel setup. They were all in the one to three pound range, no much different that what we caught the previous day at Lake Fork.  In fact the picture of me on the right is one I got a Lake fork, apparently my friends either didn't take any good pictures of me, or if they did I haven't got them yet!  Never the less the picture is proof that I did get something!!  You can get a good idea of how cloudy the water was and it wasn't much different at Joe's place.  I know one thing, the guide on Saturday had much better equipment.  Matt had gone home to get some stuff done and finally got back about 12:30.  With Matt in front of the Jon boat and I running Joe's new Minnkota trolling motor and battery set up, it was my time to guide him around the tank!  Fortunately I was able to find some adequate fishing line in Joe's pile of stuff and filled his Abu Garcia casting reel with enough line to allow the spool to be thumbed properly and control the backlash.  this was a huge improvement from earlier in the day when my the spool was only about a quarter full.

Matt's nice bass from Joe's Tank
Retracing our route from earlier in the day and with basically the same spinner baits, we did catch a number of bass including this wonderful picture of Matt with probably the largest one of the day.  The bass from Joe's had much more color than the ones on Saturday, I suspect the fish in Lake Fork have spent more time in deeper water than at Joe's.   Joe doesn't fish this much so Lord knows how big they actually get in this Tank, but it was a lot of fun.  Sending this to my friend, the first thing he noticed was an automatic feeder in the background.  The speculation was that Joe was feeding deer however come to find out it's worse...he's feeding the Canadian Geese that live in his tank.  Now up north here we know how messy geese can be and in a small body of water they can be a big nuisance.  I suspect that Joe's wife Jeanette likes them so there ya go!   Me, I'd definitely take that feeder down but that's just me!  The fact that there is catfish and crappies in this tank is interesting and it would have been fun to try and catch some yet time was getting short and we had to leave.  Saying goodbye at around 3 in the afternoon, it would get us into San Antonio by 8:00 that evening.  It was hard to leave Joe's place but all good things eventually come to an end, besides it was a nice drive through Dallas, Waco, Austin and finally arriving at San Antonio.  As well, Joe and Jeannette were coming down for the show anyway as Joe reps for some of the companies that were on exhibit there, apparently those two weren't totally sick of either Matt or myself!

San Antonio is a very nice city and in the first of March the temperatures were perfect.  Downtown is the Riverwalk and it is a very nice place to visit and eat, and eat we did!  It was a good chance to meet all of my colleagues in the business and get reacquainted with all of them.  My flight took me through Atlanta then on to Minneapolis and although I got in late, it worked out pretty good considering all the delays from the East Coast storms.  On Sunday my good friend Mark Applen and I went out to do some ice fishing on some nearby lakes.  The ice is still thick enough to drive but finding the fish was more challenging.  After stopping a Little Jim's in Annandale  , MN we first tried Lake John, a small lake from my past.  We were the only ones on the lake, and after about an hour and a half we only caught 3 perch about 3 inches long each.  Deciding to try something different we went to Little Pulaski in Buffalo, MN and although there were more people, the bite was simply non-existent.  Our depthfinders did mark some fish but they were pretty closed mouth and we left just before dark with nothing to show.  What's next on the calendar, I have to run back to Eau Claire this weekend, and next weekend is both the Minneapolis Sportsman Show and probably the last ice fishing trip of the year with my wife's uncle Andrew and his crew fishing the Birchwood, Wisconsin area northeast of Rice Lake, WI.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Bass Fishing Texas Style, Part 1.

Our view at the Mustang Resort.
Arriving on Friday late morning, my friends Joe Stanfield and Matt Davis picked me up at Dallas/ Fort Worth Airport where we our destination was the Mustang Resort on beautiful Lake Fork Reservoir. Our first stop was at the Bass Pro Shop in Grapevine Texas to pick up a few supplies.  Actually I just like stopping and ended up getting some socks, pants, and some terminal tackle as we don't have one of these in Minnesota.  Unfortunately BPS did purchase Cabela's and I suspect that eventually that's what they'll all turn into as Cabela's only has Bass Pro branded boats, like Tracker and I suspect some Rangers as Johnny Morris owns them as well.  After getting checked out of BPS we began an hour's journey to the Lake Fork Area.  It was quite obvious that the area has had a lot of rain the last few weeks, Joe said around 11 inches.  There was water everywhere!  As we approached the Lake there was a Lake Fork Trophy Lures company on the corner, I got the guys to stop.  It was interesting as they made their own lures there at the factory as well, they had a nice showroom and store.  I always like to get the flavor of the area, this was the perfect place for sure!  Talking to the staff, we had learned that the water clarity wasn't very good although they had started catching fish.  Leaving LFTLures we headed down the road a few miles and checked into the Mustang Resort.  Apparently this time of year is the pre-spawn period and the fish were going to be shallows, and mostly males seeking to find their bedding areas.  Lake Fork was a great trophy bass lake for years however it get's pounded pretty hard these days.  In addition the drought of a few years ago put a big strain on the fish and had a negative effect on the bass population.  Apparently the lake is coming back, it didn't matter to me as I was going open water fishing. Everywhere we went it was pretty obvious that we were going fishing so I simply told them about last weeks trip ice fishing on Mille Lacs, we drive 5 miles out onto the lake, drill a hole through 40 inches of ice then sit there and jig for fish.   The response is almost always the same....You did What???  After we got checked in and settled, our next adventure was going to a local favorite, AJ's Fish House on Lake Fork for some fried catfish.  Luckily it was coated in corn meal and quite good.  It was a buffet, just perfect for my waist, but we left quite full and got back to the motel to see the view above.  Matt pulled out a bottle of Monkey Shoulder blended scotch and between the 3 of us, we put a good hurt on the bottle.  Perfect, sitting outside with your friends in a light jacket, looking at the lake and sipping some fine scotch, doesn't get an better than this!

Our guide, Joe in the middle and Matt up front.
6:30AM came pretty fast and with the wind blowing our guide decided to trailer over to a different
marina to launch, apparently we'd be closer to where we were going to fish.  Our guide for the day was Brian Spencer, he had a very nice Legend Black Diamond bass boat with a Mercury 250 HP ProXS, 2 power poles in the back, a Minn Kota 36 volt in the front and a Humminbird Helix 12 on both front and console.  It has been a long time since I was in a bonifide bass boat, the last time was about 27 years ago with Brian Erickson, a friend of my business partner.  I was worried that this boat was goint to be cramped with 4 of us in it but that wasn't the case and it handled us pretty well.  Apparently the guide commented on how dirty the water was from all the rain.  I agreed as the visibility was less than a foot.  Our lures of choice were black Senko's rigged Wacky style.  Basically this is a Gary Yamamoto brand 5 inch salt impregnated plastic worm and it is hooked in the middle of the worm.  In this case no significant weight is needed as the Senko's naturally sink at a acceptable rate.  I have fished Smallmouth bass on Mille Lacs using Senko's rigged wacky style and as goofy as it looks. it can be quite effective.  I never fish bass much so I don't keep up on the latest trends however I did learn something quite new for me, the trick now is to use a special tool to insert an O Ring in the middle of the Senko then use the O ring to simply secure a #1/0 VMC weedless octopus hook.  The final rig was a weight the guide inserted into one end of the Senko.  Apparently he cuts his own nails as I looked and you can buy these weights already done.  The black contrasted
Matt With an Average sized Large mouth bass
the off colored water very well.  We simply worked the shallow bays looking for active fish that were checking out the spawn areas.  This meant we were fishing in less than 4 feet and the fish were not very aggressive.  Our water temperature was close to 60 degrees however, which in my world is pretty warm but geez, everyone had a coat on but me! The fish were not very aggressive as one would simply cast the worm into the lake then sort of shake it with your wrist until you feel something pick it up.  Often the line would just start heading perpendicular to your position.  We had fairly good equipment which included a 7 foot MH, fast tip casting rod, equipped with a nice Shimano low profile casting reel loaded with 14 pound fluorocarbon line.  Admittedly did pretty well for not casting a level-wind for a few months, only 1 birds nest and that came out fairly easy.  My friend Matt caught the first fish and I suspect that between the 2 of us we got 10 bass for the day.  My buddy Joe didn't do so good, I think it was the Monkey Shoulder Scotch that had him relaxing while we fished.  Lake Fork is a reservoir that is primarily a water supply for the city of Dallas.  As stated earlier, this area of Texas has had a lot of rain and the lake was full.  The comparison was to the severe drought they had a few years ago that put a real hurt on the bass populations.  The guide stated that in the summer when the temperature hits 100 everyday, the lake loses about 2 inches a day via evaporation.  Of course if you add that to any draw downs to feed Dallas, it can get pretty low.  This ear should be a great spawning year as the prime areas have plenty of water over them.  As well the Texas Fish and Game stock Florida Strain Bass in the lake, which grow to enormous bass (as compare to her in Minnesota)  The US record for Large Mouth Bass is 22 pounds 4 ounces caught in Lake Murray, Georgia and is known as the Florida strain.  We were in a Marina and they had a 25 pound bass that was found floating dead in Lake Fork and had a replica made of it, Uffda is all I can say. We stopped fishing around 12:30 and headed to the Oakridge Marina for lunch, which was pretty good.   Because I cannot eat bread I had their broiled catfish, absolutely delicious!  It was not too far from where we were fishing so it didn't take that long.  Also it was filled with other fisherman so that was kind of fun.  We fished till about 4:00, paid the guide and headed out.  It was a great experience and it might just inspire me to spend a little more time bass fishing this year.

One thing that was interesting, Brian, our guide asked me about Mille Lacs Lake.  Apparently it's
reputation for smallmouth bass had made it all the way to Texas.  Promising him if he came up, I'd take him out.  As stated earlier, I did buy some lures at the Lake Fork Trophy Tackle, in particular a bladed bass jig often referred to as a chatter bait, something seen before but never paid much attention.  The ones in the store were fairly heavy, had a rubber skirt and a Lake Fork Live Magic Shad rigged into the jig.  My thought is that this lure could be hot for smallies on the river behind the house in August.  It is heavy enough to sink quite fast in the river and apparently one retrieves it like a spinner bait.  Because crayfish and minnows make up the majority of what they eat in the river, I bought the orange tinted ones, similar to the color crank baits I always have good luck with. the problem is that it will be 5 months before we get to try them...oh well.  Before leaving for Texas, we got all of our Team Walleye hats and hooded sweatshirts on order, so that's done.  Minnesota Fishing opener is 9 weeks away and the Canadian opener is the following weekend, 10 weeks away.  There is a lot to do before then as we still have quite a bit of snow on the ground.  Temperatures are going to be in the 50's next week so that should take care of that.  Next week I will write about our second day of fishing on my friend Joe's farm.  Up north we call them ponds, down there he calls them tanks.  Either way stay tuned!