Saturday, April 26, 2008
One fishing technique that seldom is discussed is how to properly net fish like the trophy northern pike you will encounter at Bow Narrows Camp on Red Lake.
More big fish are lost in the netting process than at any other part of the fight.
Let's examine the entire operation, from the moment you've hooked one of these behemoths which can measure 40-52 inches (18-30 pounds).
Your first indication that the pike on the end of your line is of exceptional size is usually how it fights. Smaller fish do a lot of head-shaking and make fast little runs, often showing themselves near the surface. The big bruisers will usually hang down near the bottom and will make a slow, powerful run toward deeper water. There is no head shaking, just a powerful pull on the end of your line. If you had earlier unwisely tightened your drag so that you could rapidly crank in smaller fish, this big guy will now have broken your line! You need to leave your drag set so you can pull out line with your hand fairly easily. There's no time to reset the drag once you've noticed you are now connected to a really big fish.
That first run will probably be quite short, perhaps just 10-15 yards. The fish will then stop and be guided by the pull from your rod and reel and head toward the boat. Most likely the fish doesn't even realize it is hooked. It's just "going with the flow."
It will probably come right to the boat but be so deep that you might not be able to see it. At about this point the lunker knows something is wrong and will make the decision to get the heck out of there. She (these huge fish are almost all females) will then cover 20-30 yards in about three seconds! At the end of this run she may also come to the surface and if so, she stands an excellent chance of "throwing the hook" as she whips her powerful head back and forth in the air. But there's just nothing you can do about it other than keep a tight line with your rod tip up to absorb the sudden jerks.
One thing your partner can do, however, is to start the outboard and move the boat slowly away from the shoreline, out to clear water where there are no obstructions for the fish to get wrapped around. But what usually happens is the two of you are so stunned at the sight of this powerful fish that you just hold on to see what happens next.
The fish will run deep again and may let you pull it back to the boat as before. It may even come to the surface right next to the boat, its broad back, perhaps 3-4 inches wide, sticking above the water. This is the time most net jobs are botched. The fish is almost within reach of the net, enticing your partner to reach out and scoop it up. Don't do it! This fish isn't ready yet and if you try to net it, it will dart lightning-fast at the last instant but not before a hook from your lure gets caught in the netting. One big thrash later you are left with a tangled net with a hook in it and no fish!
After a second or two of looking at you, don't be surprised if the next move the fish makes is right under the boat. If it rubs your line against the hull, Snap! goes your line. So stick your rod right in the lake with the tip below the bottom of the boat. Then carefully work your rod around the bow and now you can carry the fight into the open again.
This whole scenario might repeat itself one or two more times. And then the fish comes up alongside the boat. This time you'll notice the fish is slightly on its side -- it's tired. (It rarely happens but if you play a fish too long, to the point where it lays motionless on its side, the fish could actually die from exhaustion. So don't wait that long to net it.)
Now comes your partner's role.
He should sweep the net through the water so the net forms a bag. He needs to net the fish head-first and not come up from beneath. The instant the head of the fish hits the end of the bag or if using a rubber net, hits the rubber, he needs to lift the net while simultaneously continuing the sweeping motion. The moment the fish is in the net -- and I can't emphasize this strongly enough -- GET THE NET AND THE FISH IN THE BOAT!
The second-most-likely place to lose a fish while netting is to hold the fish overboard while it thrashes around. The netting parts or the net handle breaks or you discover that someone cut one of the mesh openings to get their hook out and it's Bye Bye!
So get the fish into the boat immediately. If the fish is too heavy for the net person to lift by himself then the angler should put down his rod and grab the net as well. He can grab it by the hoop instead of the handle, to prevent any possibility of the handle breaking.
The fish is probably going to go berserk at this point. If you unwisely left your tackle box open or lures lying on the boat seat, they are all now going to get tangled in the net as the big fish flops and thrashes on the floor of the boat.
So always put all your lures safely away because you will want to get this magnificient fish free of the net, grab a photo and put it back in the water in a couple of minutes. (See Conservation: Why the Fishing's So Good).
You will need to hold the fish by its tail and move it gently back and forth so that its gills flare. This helps it get oxygen from the water. Take your hand off the fish and see if it is able to remain upright. If so, slide your hand along its side and it should take off swimming. If not, repeat moving the fish back and forth until it has recovered and is able to swim away.
Next time you see her she will be even larger and will give you an even bigger thrill. And once you've been connected with one of these powerful, beautiful fish, you can't wait for it to happen again.
That's why it's the anglers, not the fish, that actually get "hooked."
Finally, if reading about these huge fish has you reaching for your heavyweight fishing gear, first read Lighten Up for Northern Pike.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
It may come as a surprise to at least some people to learn that women are among the very best anglers at Bow Narrows Camp. (This fact won't come as a surprise to the women, however.)
We get a lot of couples at camp and the female half of these have proven over the years that they are more than capable of catching and landing Red Lake's great sportfish: walleyes, northern pike and lake trout.
It's encouraging to see many fathers bringing their daughters as well as their sons fishing these days too. Fishing is just like any other sport: the earlier you start the better you get at it.
It's been our observation that experienced women anglers, such as the lady above, are as expert at it as are men.
Curiously though, novice female anglers seem to actually be better at fishing than novice male anglers. Articles in fishing magazines have speculated that fish are attracted to scent or even hormones left on lures by women but this seems highly unlikely since in many cases they didn't even touch the lure. It was their husbands or boyfriends who attached it. We think a more rational explanation is that women, as a group, have a couple of traits that are conducive to catching fish: they are more patient and intuitive.
An example of patience: When women or girls find a lure that catches fish, they tend to stick with that very same lure the entire week! They become expert at using that one lure. They know how to fish it in shallow water and in deep water, the best way to avoid weeds and snags, how hard to set the hook, how to cast it accurately, etc. Men and boys will tend to change their lures frequently and so don't get as good at fishing with any one of them. Again, we're talking about new anglers here or at least new to our kind of fishing. Experienced anglers, be they men or women, become experts at fishing with lots of lures.
Another example of women's patience paying off is that they tend to fish an area more thoroughly. For instance, when returning to a spot where they caught a lot of fish the previous day and then not immediately repeating that success, men are more apt to quickly want to try another location where women invariably want to stay and give the area another chance. And as often happens, the fish start to bite again.
Intuition: what makes a person cast to a spot that has no apparent structure only to discover that there are hidden boulders or logs or underwater weeds there that are harboring fish? I don't know but I do know that women are more likely to do this than are men.
Men approach fishing scientifically, X + Y = fish, where women seem to rely on their feelings: "Let's try that spot, I've got a good feeling about it."
Finally, there is such a thing as trying too hard at fishing and this problem is exclusively the domain of men. The very best anglers, men and women alike, are those who are relaxed and easy going and who are going to have a good time no matter what happens. They just enjoy the experience of fishing and the catching of fish is a bonus.
Before I finish this I must tell an actual story of a couple who came to camp for many years back in the days when it was legal to keep lake trout. (All lake trout must now be live released on Red Lake.)
Charlie and Dee were trolling for lake trout in the spring when the fish were quite shallow.
Charlie approached trout fishing with a scientific intensity. He checked water temperatures frequently so he would know at what depth the preferred 46 F water was located. Every hour or so he would lower a white cup in the water until it disappeared from sight. Reason told him that the light reflecting from the cup had travelled from the surface to the cup and then back up to his eye. This meant that the actual light penetration was double the depth of the cup. So he would calculate how much weight to place on his line so that his lure would be in the visible light range while at the same time in the preferred water temperature. While trolling he also continually pumped his rod so his lure would behave erratically, sending a "wounded minnow" message to the fish.
Dee, on the other hand, just sat cross-legged in the bow of the boat, holding her fishing rod with her legs while reading a book or looking at birds with her binoculars.
Charlie got a strike! He spat his cigar into the lake and announced, "Fish On!" But in seconds the fish got off. Charlie cursed and went back to pumping his rod again.
A minute later Dee hooked a fish and managed to bring it all the way to the boat. It was a nice trout, about 10 pounds, and they kept it.
Later at camp, Charlie asked our staff fish cleaner to cut open the trout's stomach to determine what it had been eating so he would know how best to "match the hatch."
Inside was his cigar!
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