Thursday, October 23, 2008

Highlights of the 2008 Fishing Season

The Year 2008 will go down in history as the Year of the Walleye.
We caught walleyes like crazy right up to the middle of September. Average size from late June to early August was about 22 inches. Largest walleye brought into camp was a 29-incher but there could have been larger ones released out on the water.
We also caught some huge lake trout, mostly while fishing for walleye, but the largest, reported to be a 52-incher, was caught by our anglers looking for lake trout.
Trout must be live-released on Red Lake and must also be angled using lures with single, barbless hooks, without bait. These anglers were fishing in late June and were using large bucktail jigs with the barbs pinched down when they tied into the humungous trout.
In proper conservation fashion, they didn't even bring the fish aboard, just alongside the boat where they held its tail at the transom and made a mark on the side of the boat where its head reached. They then extracted the jig from the fish's mouth and let it swim away. On reaching camp they got a tape and discovered the fish was 52 inches. That's a record for us. Our previous largest trout was 45 inches and that was tied again this summer. Some of these 40+inch trout have weighed over 40 pounds.
These latest anglers were here in September and were fishing for walleyes when the giant trout bit their walleye spinner. It was quite a feat to get the lunker into the boat using light line meant for walleyes but they did so and grabbed a photo before releasing the fish.
Anglers caught lake trout all summer while fishing for walleyes and northern pike. It's not known why these normally deepwater fish were up in the shallows but the likely reason was the water stayed cool. We had a late spring, lots of rain in the early summer, and the lake never really warmed up.
That same weather phenomena might explain why northern pike were not at their best most of the summer. We did get some 45-inchers but in general the pike weren't as abundant as usual. The "eaters" that folks brought us to clean had been eating crayfish just about the whole summer. That's unusual. They usually only eat crayfish for a couple of weeks in mid-summer. The best pike fishing came late in the year when they were back in the regular haunts and eating their usual things, like white suckers and walleyes.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Early Winter Visitors Arrive

There are small flocks of snow birds or more properly, snow buntings, in the yard at camp this morning.
These cheery medium-sized songbirds always appear just ahead of the winter snow.
Yesterday the lake was still as glass and I could see schools of fish breaking the surface in the narrows.
They were probably tulibee or lake herring which we have seen other years forming spawning "balls" in which females and males release their eggs and milt in open water and just let the eggs fall to the bottom.
All the leaves have fallen and the yard looks like it is covered in giant corn flakes.
Other than the snow birds which are migrating from the Arctic tundra to the south, about the only birds around now are bald eagles, ravens and whiskey jacks (Canada Jays).
There is a bite in the air that makes us want to cozy up to the wood stove at night.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Whew! What a month!

It's hard to believe a month has passed since my last posting.
Time seems to be flying by. Some of it is the season -- daylight hours are considerably fewer than 12 now -- and some of it is all the years I've been on the planet. Time speeds up as you get older. What once were hours are now minutes and weeks are now days.
Brenda and I have been totally occupied for the past three weeks with putting camp to bed for the winter and also with the Ministry of Natural Resources lake trout study and rehabilitation project.
Lake trout reproduction slowed to a trickle here about 20 years ago and to date, no one has a clue as to why.
A graduate biology student from the University of Manitoba may now hold the best promise for solving the riddle. Leslie Carroll and her advisors at the university have a number of experiments underway to figure out why the trout are not successfully spawning in Pipestone Bay.
She is working closely with MNR area biologist Nadine Thebeau who has been studying the problem for years and has eliminated all the likely possiblities.
In the meantime, while Leslie and Nadine continue exploring, the MNR is capturing wild lake trout from Pipestone Bay each fall, stripping them of eggs and milt and raising the eggs in a hatchery at Dorion, near Thunder Bay.
They are planting about 80,000 fingerlings back into Red Lake each year so that the population remains viable.
This year the MNR also did a lake trout assessment in which they netted, tagged and released as many trout as they could to get a population estimate. The same study has been done in the past. It was good to hear that many of the trout caught by the netters this year were untagged and that quite a lot of them were young fish. Only one might have been a stocked fish. Stocked fish have a clipped fin. The fin varies from year to year so it is easy to tell what year a fish was stocked. The fact that many young fish were caught indicates that the trout are reproducing somewhere. But the overall level of reproduction is still way below what it used to be.
Brenda and I play a support role in the study. We provide lodging and meals to the MNR staff who can number up to 12 during the several days it takes to gather the eggs (known as the "spawning") for the hatchery. I'm sure the general public would be surpised to see all the people involved in the spawning as well as the trout study. Besides Nadine and this year, Leslie, there are all sorts of MNR fish and wildlife techs, fire techs, conservation officers, supervisors and just about everybody else in the Red Lake office.
Their dedication to this task is truly impressive. They work in all sorts of weather, pulling heavy nets into their boats and, eventually, stripping the eggs and milt from the fish right here on the dock at camp.
They've pretty much got it down to a science now.
So that's what we've been doing and, oh yes, I also went moose hunting for a week. I have been hunting with my two brothers-in-law for about 25 years now. This year we got a spike bull moose which is about perfect for us. We don't look forward to carrying massive quarters of big moose any more. Besides, young moose "eat better."
Brenda and I will be pulling the plug on the season very shortly.
We're beat and we need a rest. It will be good to get home again.

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