Friday, February 27, 2009

Berkley Gulp Alive bait for Ontario northern pike?

Paul Heneise
The new Berkley Gulp Alive baits made a big splash with walleye fishermen at our camp last summer. This artificial bait which is said to be organic caught tons of walleyes for much of the season and seemed to work as good as real bait most of the time.

The favorites among our anglers were the 3-inch Gulp Alive leech and the Gulp Alive nightcrawlers.

If you aren't familiar with Gulp Alive it's the bait that comes in jars filled with a liquid that is said to soak into the baits and give them an odor that fish find attractive.

The Gulp Alive seemed to work way better than regular Gulp bait that comes in plastic pouches, not jars.

So while walleye anglers were very impressed with Gulp Alive, we wonder if other Gulp Alive baits would also work for northern pike?

Pike certainly like the soft plastic baits such as twister tails on jigs, Storm shad baits, and Sluggo worms.

I remember watching Bob Izumi on TV one time catching early season northern pike somewhere here in Northern Ontario on salt-impregnated worms in what was called Wacky Worm fishing. In this the angler uses a thick salt-impregnated worm about 5-7 inches long and hooks it once right in the middle with a single hook. The worm, which is quite heavy, is cast out and let sink to the bottom, then periodically given a twitch and a couple of cranks on the reel handle. The pull makes the worm fold and when the pressure is released straightens out again.

The salt-impregnated part of the equation would seem to appeal to a northern pike's sense of smell.

If that is the case, Gulp Alive makes a bunch of saltwater soft baits that I would think would do this even better. Gulp Alive certainly smells. It's also sticky to the touch.

I suggest someone try these baits for northern pike at camp this summer.

You might also try Berkley's Gulp Alive rigged baits, the ones that come on a jig head.

These would be cast and retrieved just like any other lure.

Gulp Alive suggests that after you've used the bait for awhile you put it back in the jar and let it "recharge" with flavor and aroma.

Early and late in the season you could fish them just as you would dead bait (frozen ciscoes).

Best locations would likely be travel corridors, entrances to bays and at the very back of bays.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What's a blog and how do you use it?

This blog now contains nearly 100 articles on how to catch fish, outdoor experiences, and much more information to do with a trip to Bow Narrows Camp and for that matter, any place in Northern Canada.
A blog is short for web log. It's an on-line account that can be added to and subtracted from at any time.
I've been writing this one for three years now and just about every posting or article I have written is still available even though only the latest 20 postings can be seen by scrolling down.
There are several ways to access the rest.
If you scroll down to the bottom of the blog you'll see a button labelled "Older Posts." Click on that and you get the next 20 postings.
Another method is to click on the various years and months under "Blog Archive" found at the far right of this page. Each month will show the titles of all the blogs for that month.
Finally, you can go to the extreme top of this page and do a search for certain subjects. It will bring up all the postings in the blog that had to do with that subject.
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Monday, February 23, 2009

Spring ice-out for Red Lake, Ontario still vague

Quillan with perch and kick-sled
It has been one of the coldest winters in recent memory and already some folks are wondering if this means there will be a later-than-normal spring ice out for Red Lake and other lakes in North Ontario.
I understand their logic. Sustained temperatures of -30 C (20 below Fahrenheit) must create thicker ice on the lakes than warmer temperatures and thicker ice must take longer to melt than thin ice. It sounds reasonable and if winter temperature was the only factor in creating ice then it would be true.
But there are actually many other factors as well. One of the most important of these is snow depth.
Snow is an excellent insulator. Up here the snow largely doesn't melt until spring. If we get a heavy snowfall early in the winter, it prevents the bitter cold from freezing the lake surface deeply. It insulates the ground as well. Many times in the coldest temperatures you can dig down through three feet of snow and find the ground is unfrozen entirely. There are even some plants growing under there.
Northwestern Ontario has in fact a good quantity of snow on the ground, at least two feet in most places and probably three feet in others.
There's so much snow on the lakes that I haven't been able to use my kick-sled to go ice fishing for the first time since I got it eight years ago. If you don't know what a kick sled is it looks like a lightweight dogsled with runners that protrude behind. You stand on one runner and push with the other leg. With almost no effort you can travel two or three times as fast as you can walk.
Usually the snow on the lake ice is packed down by wind or blown clean off and I can travel easily to my ice fishing spots. This year there's just too much snow and my sled simply plummets through.
I would say the ice thickness near our home here in Nolalu is only two feet. That's about a foot less than normal for this time of year. So there's actually less ice, not more, this winter.
The kind of ice also plays a factor in ice-out. Pure blue ice will absorb the spring sun's rays better and melt faster than reflective white slush ice. So far, this year's ice is almost perfectly blue.
But ice conditions are not the most important predictor of spring ice-out anyway.
The most important factor is spring weather. The weather from mid-March to late-April will determine when the ice will go off Northern Ontario lakes.
What's needed for early ice-outs are temperatures above freezing, lots of sunshine and some warm, rainy days.
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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Top-water lures and baits for northern pike

Big Bow Narrows pike released
There are times when northern pike will strike top-water lures and it's always a thrill to have these big gamefish come swirling and thrashing to the surface.

Usually the best conditions for using top water lures is when there is no wind and the lake's surface is like a mirror. This lets the top water bait send out ripples and wakes that alert these big predators that there is something swimming on the surface.

The most commonly used lures are the Suick, Zara Spook, buzz baits and any floating crankbait model. I've also taken pike on Hula Poppers, imitation frogs and other bass lures.

It's a slower method of fishing than casting spoons or in-line spinners because you need to "work" the bait back to the boat. This can mean switching your rod left and right and pausing on the retrieve to let the lure pop back to the surface.

You are trying to imitate a fish that is in its last throes that periodically floats to the top and then tries kicking a little more, or a small critter that is swimming for its life.

Many times the best way to trigger a strike from some behemoth lurking in the weeds is to just let the lure lay motionless on the water for several minutes, then give the bait a twitch or make it move a couple of feet.

Don't be surprised if you get more strikes than hook-ups when fishing with top-water lures.

Northern pike seem to frequently miscalculate where the lure actually is, I think because they strike the mirror image of the lure as seen from underneath the surface. Whatever the reason they often make a powerful swirl that sends the bait flying into the air.

But you do catch some too and the unexpected emergence of these enormous gamefish into our world above water is an unforgettable experience.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Whitefish lips sink ships

Red Lake whitefish
We have two species of fish that look almost identical in Red Lake. You need to tell them apart because one is good to eat and the other is not.

The two species are whitefish and tulibee.

Both are silver with large scales.

Whitefish are good to eat while tulibee are very bony and wormy as well.
The easiest way of discerning between the two is to look at the mouth. Whitefish have an overbite -- their upper lip protrudes over the lower jaw. Tulibees have lower jaws that are longer than their upper lip, just like most fish.

Both fish prefer cold water but will be near the surface during the first month of the fishing season. Some tulibee, however, will stay in shallow bays that are only 30 feet deep all season.

In the summer tulibee have a habit that makes them easy to spot on a fish finder. They are always half way to the bottom, no matter what the depth, until evening when some of them at least come to the surface to eat bugs.

Whitefish stick right to the bottom. By mid-summer they will be in 50-60 feet of water.

Other differences: tulibee are weak fighters and will almost race to the boat when hooked. They often shimmy like crazy when you lift them from the water. Whitefish are powerful fighters and will take awhile to bring in.

Tulibee lose their scales incredibly easy. After handling them you will have scales all over your hands and in the boat. Whitefish scales don't fall off.

Both fish have very delicate mouths. If you pull too hard when fighting them your hook will rip right out.

Tulibee get as large as a couple of pounds. Whitefish can weigh up to 8 pounds.

The best way to catch these fish is to use lead-head jigs either with bucktails or plastic twister tails. On Red Lake you need to pinch down the barbs on these jigs because you will also tie into some lake trout fishing like this and government regulations require you to use single hook barbless lures when fishing for trout. Use jigs that are 1/4-ounce to 1/2 ounce, depending on the depth. White is probably the best color.

Cast the jig as far as you can and either let it freefall to the bottom or let it swing on an arc on a tight line keeping your rod at right angles to feel the tiny little hits as the fish pick up the jig.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Are there other lakes to fish besides Red Lake?

Mike Chalfant portaging
Fishing on Red Lake, Ontario, is some of the best in the world for walleye and northern pike as well as lake trout.

It's a big lake but because of its layout -- sort of like a chain of lakes -- is easy to navigate. Big lakes produce lots of big fish because there is an almost endless supply of food available.

So for that reason we don't bother to portage to adjacent smaller lakes.

However, there is one lake found right on the peninsula that camp is located that many people enjoy carrying our lightweight canoe into. This is Bridget Lake and the trail to it is about 400 metres long.

The lake contains only two species of fish: northern pike and whitefish.

Incredibly this little lake is over 100 feet deep. You would think such a deep lake would harbor lake trout but there are none there. I suspect that the high rock walls around the lake prevent the wind from aerating the water and thus it has too low of oxygen content to support lake trout.

It's a beautiful walk and a beautiful lake. Portaging to it can be a fun adventure and sometimes you can get some nice northern pike there.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hook sharpeners help you catch more fish

Berkley hook sharpener
Rapala hook sharpener

Have you ever gone fishing for northern pike or walleyes and got a lot of hits but few hook-ups?

Chances are your hooks are dull.

Many lures come with hooks that are dull right out of the package. Others get dull with use.

Depending on the lure, the difference between sharp hooks and dull hooks can be dramatic.

The Johnson Silver Minnow, for instance, is tremendously better with a sharp hook. This spoon is the ultimate weedless spoon. It will come through just about anything, including trees, without getting stuck. But it only has the one single hook and if it isn't sharp you can barely catch a fish.

Always use a trailer of some sort with a Johnson too. Pork rind is about the best trailer. Trim it so it trails a few inches behind the lure. You can also use 3-4-inch plastic twister tails.

The lead-head jig is another lure that benefits greatly from sharp hooks.

I would wager that most tackle boxes do not have a hook honing stone or other type of hook sharpener in them yet these devices are as important as fish hook removers.

There are lots of fish hook sharpening products on the market. Some are just stones that you rub the hook against. They work fine. Others have batteries and do the honing for you.

If getting the stone type, make sure it has a very fine grit. You don't want to wear a lot of metal off the hook, just bring the tip to a needle point.

You know the hook is sharp when it will catch the back of your thumb nail.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

How to enjoy fishing with a bad back

Bill Baughman
Virtually everybody at some point in their lives will suffer a back injury.

That's the grim lesson I've discovered since badly injuring my back about eight years ago.

I spent the next six years in severe back pain but now, thankfully, I'm back to being pain-free nearly 100 per cent of the time. I won't bore you with how I did it but if you're interested just drop me an e-mail and I'd be more than happy to relate the actions I took that helped me.

In those six years I learned a whole bunch about how to go fishing with a bad back and I thought I would mention some of it here.

For starters, know that it can be done: you can have a bad back and still have a great time fishing. It just takes some planning and, perhaps, some modification of your habits.

I'll assume you are doing all you can at home to get your back in shape and pick up the story about the time you get into the vehicle to drive up here.

If you are like me, sitting for long periods such as when driving is a killer. So, as they used to say on Hee Haw, if it hurts when you do that then don't do that! Stop every hour and get out for a short walk and stretch. Won't that take forever to drive here then? No, it will take 5-10 minutes longer per hour than it did before. There's no rush. The fish will still be here. Just make sure you're in good shape when you arrive at the dock in Red Lake.

Before you leave home, make sure you bring any medicine you need, plus four soft-compress cold packs that can be frozen again and again. Also bring an electric heating pad and extension cord.

OK, now you're at the dock and ready to board the Lickety Split to camp. The trip to camp is going to take about 35 minutes, in good weather. If you're concerned about the boat bouncing and jarring your back then sit near the stern. There's no wave movement back there. You can also stand inside the cabin of the boat. That's usually the best option: stand and hold on to the hand rail near the back of the cabin. I've got a bad back and I'm standing at the front of the boat where it's bumpiest and I'm fine.

Once we're at camp and you've let the young whipper snappers carry the heavy luggage to the cabins, it's time to go fishing! Put two of your freezer packs in the cabin fridge freezer and take two in a small cooler with you on the boat. You might want to take a couple cans of pop or bottles of water with you in the same cooler.

Our boats all have swivel seats with padded backrests. Most people find them comfortable as is, but if it's not right for you, let us know and we'll give you some seat cushions or even change seats in the boat for you.

You will probably want to be the boat driver as you will be sitting at the stern which, again, offers the smoothest ride when going over waves. However, whether you're the driver or not, make sure to slow down when there are waves. Nobody likes to have their vertebrae compressed by a rough ride in a boat.

All of our 20 hp Honda four-stroke outboards are easy starting but we also have some electric start models that start with a push of a button. If you have a bad back, let us know in advance and we'll reserve an electric start motor for you.

As you fish, put your ice pack between your back and backrest. Stand up as often as you like. There's no danger in capsizing the boat by standing and fishing.

If you have difficulty getting out of the boat, use the spot we have where you can hold on to hand rails while stepping out. You're buddy can then take the boat over to your own dock. (With any kind of a break we might have several of these "haul-out" places next summer.)

Back at the cabin, find the chair that fits you best. If none of them does then let us know. We've got various models of chairs in the cabins and we'll find one that is comfortable for you.

If you need it, hook up the heating pad. You might also want to have a beer, or two, just to relax.

But I'm guessing I didn't need to tell you that part.

If you are coming on the American Plan, know that we recently got all new dining room chairs and purposely chose them for how comfortable they are for people with bad backs.

Finally, know you're not alone out there. In fact, you may be in the majority.

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Have you sent in your deposit yet?

It's been more than a month since all groups with reservations at camp in 2009 were sent letters asking them to confirm their reservations with deposits.
At least two-thirds of our fishermen have now done so.
If you haven't yet sent a deposit or at least contacted us, we urge you to do so immediately.
We have been holding a cabin for you on good faith and if you aren't coming then please let us know so that someone else can come fishing.
We can be reached by e-mail at
and by telephone: 807-475-7246
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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Canada's New Boater Safety Card

Bow Narrows Camp dock
Starting in September, 2009, all operators of boats in Canada will require a Pleasure Craft Operator Card. Young operators have needed them for the past several years.

At Bow Narrows Camp we have all of our guests who will operate the boat fill out a form called the safe boater's checklist that asks them to confirm they are familiar with various boating safety rules and motor operation.

This form is equivalent to a one-week boater safety card.

If guests have a similar boating competency card from the U.S. then they don't need to complete the entire form. Instead they just need to write down their boater card number.

You can obtain a Pleasure Craft Operator Card over the Internet. You can take the course on-line and also the exam. There is also a fee that must be paid.

The card you receive is good for life and means you don't need to complete the boater form at all. You just need to carry the card with you when you're out fishing. It is good for anywhere in Canada.

There are several companies offering this service. You can find them by doing an Internet search for Canada Boater Safety Card.

I see that one: is accredited by Transport Canada which is the federal department in charge of boating in Canada.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Live bait -- worms, leeches -- in Northwest Ontario

Bow Narrows Camp anglers find the best live bait for walleyes in our area of Red Lake are nightcrawlers and leeches.
Here's a list of some of the live bait dealers that sell worms or nightcrawlers by the flat (500 worms) and leeches by the pound.
Many of these dealers also carry frozen ciscoes and sucker minnows used for early spring and fall northern pike fishing.
Of course all of them carry minnows as do many other stores in the Northwest.
You can place bait orders in advance and have the bait waiting for you when you either arrive in Red Lake or pass through the towns where the bait dealers are located. All it takes to keep the bait alive are some frozen water bottles or freezer packs to keep them cool.

Red Lake

Red Lake Marine Products
(where you meet the boat to camp)

phone 807-727-2747
worms by flat, leeches by pound, minnows

TJ's Kwik Stop
(Esso service station)
Hwy. 105
phone 807-727-2752
worms by flat, leeches by pound, minnow
Ear Falls

Hwy 105 40 minutes south of Red Lake
phone 807 222-3738 

worms by flat, leeches by pound, minnow

Vermilion Bay

Bobby's Sport Shop
(Hwy 17 west of Hwy 105 corner) phone 807-227-2099 or 807-227-2695


K A Sports and Tackle
(Hughway 17 E., Petro Canada service station)

Riverside Bait and Tackle/Fast Gas
(21 Duke Ave.)

Fort Frances

The Great Bear
(On Hwy 11 between Fort Frances and Hwy 502)
phone: 807-274-2221

Rainy Lake Sports and Tackle
(Hwy 11 East, 715 Colonization Road E.
phone: 807-274-6429

Attention Northwestern Ontario bait dealers!
If you sell worms by the flat or leeches by the pound or have frozen ciscoes and sucker minnows and want a listing here, please e-mail me at or call 807-475-7246 (winter) or 807-727-2730 (summer) and I'll be happy to add you to this list.

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