Tuesday, March 21, 2017

How long have people lived at Red Lake, Ont.?

Large pulley wheel is evidence of old gold mine from 1926 Gold Rush.

Brenda Cieplik stands on rock pile from old mine, almost covered now with trees.
Pictograph on rock in Middle Narrows was probably painted about 1,200 years ago.  Above three photos are by Brenda Cieplik

An entire broken clay pot is visible to the trained eye in this photo

This is a shard from that pot, evidence of the Woodland Period, 3,000 to 500 years ago.
Red Lake is famous for being the location of the third-largest gold rush in the world. That took place in 1926 and saw thousands of people from all parts of the globe making their way to the lake by canoe in the summer and by snowshoe and dogsled in the winter in the hopes of striking it rich. They got as close as they could by railroad, about 180 miles away at Hudson, Ont. and then struck off for Red Lake.
This was also the infancy of aviation and soon the very first floatplanes were landing at Red Lake with prospectors and provisions. In 1936 Red Lake gained the notoriety of being the busiest airport in the world! That superlative is based on the number of landings and takeoffs per day, all of them on water. It wasn't until 1948 that a road was made to Red Lake.
Little gold mines popped up all around the lake, including the west end where Bow Narrows Camp is found. A couple of hundred people worked at the west end mines and a few built homes primarily in three locations: the narrows and bays right where camp is found, Pipestone Bay and Golden Arm. There were homes and stores, a doctor and even post offices. But the big strikes happened at the other end of the lake where the town is now located. By the 1940s everyone had moved to the eastern end. Some of them took their houses with them, either by disassembling the logs and floating them in a boom or if a frame building, taking off the boards and hauling them by boat or over the ice.
Lots of people just abandoned the buildings altogether. When my family came to Bow Narrows Camp in 1961 these old buildings were still standing but were already in poor condition. The tar paper that had covered their roofs had given way a decade earlier and almost all of the boards and logs were badly rotten. It was eerie to go into these places. In a few there were still coats hung on hooks, dishes in the cupboard and even tins of dried food laying around. We never took any of these things because, as my dad said, "This still belongs to somebody and they might come back."
But in fact, they never did.
The cabins fell down and rotted. The clearings where the cabins were located eventually filled in with trees and today there isn't a sign of any buildings at all. If you searched on your hands and knees you probably couldn't find anything. Steel cans and nails turned to rust. The only thing you can find at most sites today is the odd glass jar and maybe a chunk of a shoe.
There isn't much left of the mines either. Mostly there is only the waste rock pile that came from making the underground shaft. This is just a pile of broken stones and can easily be mistaken for natural rock. It seems amazing that where there were communities fewer than 100 years ago, now there is just forest.
But we really shouldn't be surprised because communities have come and gone here for thousands of years. First Nations people have lived here since the glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago. And ironically, there is more evidence of their existence than there is of the gold rush prospectors even though those last immigrants had full benefit of what is considered modern society -- things like steel and machinery.
I suspect that last statement will raise some eyebrows. Evidence? What evidence? they will say.
It takes a trained eye to see it, I will admit, and it took me 50 years and a son with a passion for archeology to show me the light. Remnants of previous peoples are everywhere around Red Lake.
These include arrow and spear points as well as flakes from making both. There are also lots of pottery shards.
My epiphany happened two years ago when Matt and I took some time to explore an island that we had never set foot upon. Upon landing the boat, Matt picked up some point flakes. We set forth across the island and ended up detouring around a windfall area and coming back out to the lake where Matt picked up a full spear point. We then took the boat to the other side of the island where Matt made another discovery; under a piece of galvanized metal left from the gold rush era was a broken spear point from perhaps 1,000 years ago. And beneath that was a point from maybe 5,000 years ago. All of this was laying right on the surface with just some moss covering it.
"It is ubiquitous," said Matt, who has searched all around the west end of the lake. "It's everywhere."
To prove a point we just boated to any place that might have been a good place to camp, sheltered spots for winter camps and exposed places for summer. We found pottery shards in all of them.
"How many people do you think lived here?" I asked.
"I don't know but lots," he replied. "Don't forget," he cautioned, that this took place over thousands of years."
But lots of the pottery bits are from the same period, isn't that right? I asked. He agreed.
"Could there have been more people living here then than there are now?" I wondered. "In fact, could the population today be the least the lake has seen in thousands of years?"
It's not out of the range of possibility, he said.


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Friday, March 17, 2017

The deep purple falls...and stars begin to twinkle

Kim Gross photo
Mike Boyer steers for home. Lonnie Boyer photo
There is a wonderful rhythm to life at camp and one of the neatest things is what happens each evening.
One by one the fishing boats return to their docks. Their occupants get out and someone brings fish into the fish house for cleaning. The others head to their screened porches, sit down with a drink and watch another wonderful day come to an end.
The loons, like night watchmen, call back and forth to each other until everything seems to their satisfaction and they become silent.
The whole camp is eventually still, except perhaps for a few late-night card players. It is often them who, just before calling it a night, walk outside and find there are northern lights. The rest of us are already asleep, preparing for another glorious day on the water.
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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Why bother catching 200 little walleye?

Ted DeWater caught and released this nice pike last summer
The comment to the previous posting is probably something a lot of readers are asking themselves. If all you are catching are little fish, wouldn't you move to a different location? I would like to answer that. The answer is no, at least not always.
It brings up the entire question of why do we fish at all? If all you want is fish in the freezer, then for goodness sake, go to the fish market and buy some. It's far cheaper. It's far easier. And it is guaranteed. Fishing is about none of the above.
Fishing is about fun. When you catch a fish on every cast, it's fun, pure and simple. If I was given a choice of catching lots of fish or catching just a few big ones, I would take the first choice. I'm going to turn all the fish loose anyway, whether they are big or small. Long ago I learned to only keep fish if needed for the next meal. That usually means one or two small-to-medium eaters.
Certainly I can eventually grow tired of catching just small fish and move off looking for bigger prey. But I'll leave the first spot feeling thrilled, just like I will feel after hooking and releasing some big bruiser later on. It's all part of fishing.
It's all fun.
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Monday, March 13, 2017

Will 2017 be another spectacular walleye spawn?

Greg Tanko with a beautiful walleye

Bob Edwards with a dandy

Dennis Egge and Bob Edwards net another one
The walleye population on Red Lake, Ontario, has never been greater, and if we get another early ice-out it is going to increase yet again.
Early springs or at least consistently warm weather after ice-out seems to be the magic formula for walleye spawning success. That is exactly what has occurred in something like seven of the past 10 years and the result is what you see today -- so many walleye that you really never need leave the dock, at least once the water has warmed up.
There are walleyes in the weeds, off the rocks, off the mud shores, off reefs, below rapids and even, as I said, off the dock. You can catch them on jigs, backtrolling with spinner-bait rigs, front-trolling with lures like Shallow Shad Raps, casting spinners for pike and just about anything else. We caught at least two walleye last summer on Hula Poppers. That's not a misprint, Hula Poppers!
There are so many walleye now that the northern pike might be switching to a walleye-only diet. Why not? They are delicious and they're everywhere. Not a day goes by without someone reports having a pike grab a small walleye on the way to the boat. Some anglers report it happening to themselves every day. Readers of the blog will be aware of how great surface lures are working for pike now. Could these be imitating injured walleyes? Something is turning on the pike to surface baits and really the only thing that has changed is the explosion of walleye numbers.
I wrote last summer that two of our boats, fishing together, caught a total of 200 walleyes in one hour. They were in a cloud of smaller walleye and discovered they were so voracious you didn't need any bait whatsoever. They caught them on bare jigs.
One person commented that number is impossible. Well, it works out to 50 walleyes per person per hour or one walleye per person every minute and 12 seconds. How long does it take to open your bail and drop a jig to the bottom, say 12 feet below? Ten seconds, max. If a walleye grabs it right then and the fish isn't too big, how long to crank it back up. Twenty seconds? How long does it take to unhook a single-hooked jig from a walleye mouth? Five seconds. Jeez we're still only at 35 seconds. At this rate you might even have time to land a 40+inch pike that takes one of the walleyes sideways in its mouth and still catch 50 walleyes in one hour!
I would like to lay down this challenge. How many walleyes can you catch -- and prove you catch -- in one hour this summer?
I would suggest the following equipment: a hands-free Go-Pro camera to record the action and multiple spinning rods rigged with 1/8-ounce jigs fitted with 2.5-inch plastic twister tails. You can only fish with one rod at a time by law in Ontario but by having multiple rods at the ready you won't need to waste time tying on a new jig if cut off by a pike. We have quite a few guests who bring click-counters to register each fish but these are going to take time to operate and in the fishing frenzy it will be easy to forget to click it. Better to just turn on the camera and later replay it to count how many fish were landed in the hour.
For sheer numbers, which is what we're looking for, you will do the best finding shallow places stuffed with small walleye. The ones mentioned in the example above were 12-to-13 inches. Just little guys but those are the ones that you can crank back to the boat in a hurry. Finally, if the fish are hitting like nuts than why bother using live bait? In these spots they will grab virtually anything that moves, hence the plastic twister tails.
Good luck!
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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Dock buddies photographing each other

Angler Jason Pons was doing some dock fishing last year and was joined by our chocolate Lab, Cork. Jason usually cranks in a walleye every few minutes so it is pretty interesting for a dog to watch. Jason seemed to get the first shot of Cork peering into the lake to see the next walleye coming up. But then things must have slowed down, as shown in the second photo. Finally, it would appear Cork took the camera and shot a photo of Jason in the back of his boat, tied to the dock.
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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Are you still not seeing the new website?

It has come to my attention that some of our guests are still not seeing our new website which went live over a week ago.
I put the question to TJ Quesnel, our website designer and maintainer and he immediately knew the answer: you need to clean out your browser caches. The computer has stored old web pages that you have visited to make it faster to open them.
You might be able to do this simply by clicking F5 on your keyboard or you can go to this website that explains the process for the various browsers.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Boreal residents that you often see

Angler John Andrews caught on camera two of Northern Ontario's residents while fishing at Bow Narrows Camp.
His photo of the cow moose standing on the shore has a lot to say. Did you notice the cow is not alone? There is a newborn calf in the picture as well.
The light-coloured face of the moose is something only the cows have. Bulls have dark faces and muzzles.
You can see that the cow is shedding her wooly winter coat and replacing it with a sleek, darker one.
Cow moose often swim out to small islands to give birth in the spring, early-to-mid-May. This is believed to be a defense strategy against black bears which are on the prowl for moose calves at this time of year. Our guests often see the moose as well as the bears swimming to and from the islands.
John's other photo is of a raven. Anyone who spends time in the North appreciates the intelligence and toughness of this large bird. Ravens live for a long time, at least 50 years, and become exceedingly wise.
Indigenous people sometimes call them the wolf-bird because the raven seems to have a special relationship with that apex predator. They are known to yank the tail of sleeping wolves. Why? Apparently because they want the wolf to get to work and kill something so that they can scavenge the carcass. This behaviour must be learned by watching other ravens, one researcher has pointed out, because there is no margin for error. Approach the wolf from the wrong angle and you end up as the carcass.
Ravens can clearly reason. I have had them land in my boat when I have been moose hunting, find my packsack, open it and take out my lunch. They will follow fresh tracks in the snow of wolves or people.
A logger friend of ours who worked by himself once conducted this experiment. A raven would show up right at lunch time to see if Gilbert had anything to share. He would often give the bird part of his sandwich. Just for fun, Gilbert suspended his offering on a string three feet beneath a branch. He just wanted to see if the raven could hover long enough to grab it. Instead, the raven landed right on the branch and reaching down with its thick beak, grabbed the string and hooked it to a stubby branch higher on the tree. It then repeated the procedure until it had hoisted the sandwich up to where it could grab it.
One of my favourite sights in the winter is of a raven doing barrel rolls as it flies along. It cannot be anything but an expression of joy. And they seem to do it most often on days that are exceedingly bitter. It's as if the raven is saying, "Isn't this great! What a wonderful life!"
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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Speaking of fishing couples, check this one out

Click on these photos for full effect. Karri Ann Pons with a chunky 38-inch northern pike

Karri Ann with an equally impressive walleye

At the other end of the boat, Jason Pons with a beautiful pike

Jason with another big walleye

What happens when it rains? You put on your rainsuit and catch fish like this.

And like this

If it never rained there wouldn't be any rainbows. Especially not double ones
Jason and Karri Ann Pons sent along these great shots of one of their fishing trips to Bow Narrows. The photos were shot with a GoPro Camera and if you click on them I believe you can see the wonderful panorama view this camera takes.
Karri Ann's 38-inch pike was a special thrill. Jason writes, "Taken on the last cast at the last spot of the last night in camp in 2015. 1/8-ounce jig, 3-inch grub, 1/3 of a nightcrawler, 6 pound test mono, ultralight rod and reel."

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