Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thoroughness my favorite northern pike technique

Mepps Black FuryLen Thompson spoon

northern pike territory

Whenever I can get a chance to get away from camp for a couple of hours I like to head out northern pike fishing.

My favorite system is to cast the shoreline while being alert for any fish activity. I always position the boat so that the wind will drift me through the area I want to cast. If it's not too windy I shut off the outboard and let the wind do its thing. If it's very windy I might leave the engine turned on but in neutral, ready to reposition the boat should I drift out of position quickly.

The thing that I do that could be different from other anglers is that I continue to work an area for as long as I get any action whatsoever. For instance on my first drift through a spot I might only get a small pike or even just a strike. That's great, I figure, because it shows fish are here. So I head back upwind and drift through again, this time fishing either a little closer or a little farther out from shore or maybe trying a different lure.

I like to have two radically different lures on hand, usually a small Mepps or Blue Fox spinner in No. 3-5 and a medium-sized spoon.

In the photo above I caught a small hammer-handle pike the first time I went though this little cove on a No. 4 Mepps Black Fury spinner and had one other strike.

The next time I passed through I had another strike but no hook-up. Hmm, I thought, there are fish here but there's something not quite right with what I'm doing. It was evening and the light was starting to fade so I put on a Len Thompson No. 00 spoon, white with a fluorescent orange stripe. They should be able to see this, I thought.

I then caught six more pike in about 10 minutes, including two nice dinner fish about 25 inches long.

On another outing I kept drifting back through the same little spot for about an hour even though I was only catching miniature pike and even a perch. Although the fish were small it was pretty fast action. Finally I drifted through farther away from the shoreline and landed a nice 35-inch pike, the kind most people would like to catch.

I just find that by working an area thoroughly I develop a feel for the place. Sometimes I discover that all the fish are around a certain clump of weeds or some other structure. There may be lots of other weeds and structures around but on this day, every fish is clustered in this one little spot. And if there are little fish there are also likely to be big fish around.

If you don't keep going back to the area where you had fish action you might only get a single fish from this hot spot.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Who's watching camp over the winter?

Here's a quiz for you. What creature does the most damage to the buildings at camp after we close for the winter?






I suspect most people would pick bears as the culprits. They are certainly big and destructive. However, bears are either fast asleep by the time we leave camp in late October or are sitting beside their dens waiting for the first snow before snuggling inside. Nope, bears have actually never damaged anything at camp over the winter.

Timber wolves are right in the yard when we are away. We can tell they were here when we come in the spring by the scat they leave behind. We also find moose marbles (droppings) all over the place and that's what the wolves are looking for: moose. They couldn't care less about the buildings.

There are wolverines in the area. One was known to have ripped apart a beaver house not far from camp a few years ago and eaten all the beavers inside. But unless you had a building full of meat which we don't of course, they too aren't interested in camp.

Beavers are a good guess. They could potentially cut down trees and damage buildings and in fact have done so in the summer. But once the ice covers the lake they are restricted to their houses and forays under the ice.

Porcupines are few and far between here. Apparently they were plentiful back in the gold rush days of the 1920s but I've only ever seen one animal.

Believe it or not, the creature that does the most damage to our buildings are ruffed grouse!

That's right, the chicken-sized upland birds that are favorites with fall hunters.

They fly right through the screens on our screened porches ruining the entire panel of expensive mesh.

Sometimes almost every cabin has been hit by these feathered rockets.

Grouse are not the most agile of fliers. They take off the ground with a thunderous explosion of wings and then glide under the branches of trees to a landing on the ground. Apparently they view the porch roofs as tree branches and look right through the screen.

You would think hitting aluminum screen going 40 mph would be devastating to a 1-2-pound bird. After all the impact leaves a two-foot gash in the screen. But no, the birds almost always survive. For this reason we always leave the porch doors propped open so they can find their way back outside.

This year we are trying to reduce grouse-porch collisions by painting silhouettes of great horned owls on the screens. Staffer-artist Rosalie Tilley made the stencil and did the painting.

Amazingly you cannot see the owl image from the inside, so it doesn't obstruct your view.

Hope it works.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

There was a surprise in the sky tonight

Some old friends came by to visit tonight -- the aurora borealis or northern lights.

I had just gone outside for an armload of firewood to stave off the frost when I glanced up and saw them. They have been absent from the skies for nearly two years, apparently the result of unusually calm solar activity. Solar radiation that erupts from sunspots speeds its way to Earth and lights up the gases in the outer atmosphere. Astronomers reported this spring that the Sun had not begun its usual 11-year cycle of intense solar storms. I didn't need to hear that as I already knew we were missing our usual nighttime show.

And now it's back!

As soon as I saw the lights I reached for my pocket digital camera and took some shots.

After a little experimenting I discovered the setting for candlelight produced the best results.

I know northern lights are ephemeral at the best of times: here one minute and gone the next so I clicked away as fast as I could.

There are few indicators to predict what the lights will do but one that I've noticed is that when the lights spread all over the sky, not just in the north, it's going to be a good show.

So I ran inside, donned my floater coat, got in a boat and went across the narrows for what should be the best seat. And the lights disappeared!

Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Season nearly over for Brenda, Sam and me

The autumn leaves are finally falling and it won't be long before Brenda, Sam and I head home for the winter.

The water systems are almost completely drained, including that of our new water filtration plant and all that remains is to finish construction on the boathouse and put away equipment in their various sheds.

The only other people we've seen on the lake the last few days were Ernie and Mary Leischeid who were setting beaver traps at houses around camp yesterday. They found three houses within 400 yards of camp. We wish them success as it has seemed the aspen trees in our yard have been under attack from all sides by North America's largest rodent. We've lost many this summer even though we have placed metal fencing around the bases of these trees.

Sam and I took a quick boat ride the other day and saw this beautiful tamarack tree on a small island right around the corner from camp. Tamaracks are deciduous conifers. Their needles turn yellow and then fall off in the fall. In the summer they blend right in with the other conifers but really stand out in the fall.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tiny grouse indicative of wet summer

This little ruffed grouse that Sam and I got hunting the other day could be the result of all the wet weather we had last summer. It's about half the size that a young-of-the-year grouse should be at this point.

No doubt this grouse came from a hen that re-nested after its first or even second nest of eggs was destroyed by something, either a predator such as a fox or skunk or just by the weather. Grouse hens are able to incubate their clutch of 8-10 eggs in virtually any temperature, even below freezing, but there's nothing they can do if the nest is flooded which was certainly a possibility this summer.

Sam and I have taken four grouse this fall and this was the only young one. The rest were more than a year old. The ratio should be the other way around: lots of young birds and few old ones.

Incidentally, predators that destroy nests and cause some birds to re-nest actually help the population in the long. The reason is that almost all the birds will usually have their clutches of eggs hatch at the same time and consequently all their young will be exposed to whatever the weather happens to be at that time.

Ruffed grouse and most other upland birds will die if the weather happens to be cold and wet when they first emerge from the egg. So birds that are forced to re-nest after their eggs are destroyed by predators end up with their chicks emerging at a different time.

On the downside these birds are younger and smaller by the time winter sets in and have less chance of survival but sometimes, and perhaps this might be one of those years, they are the only new members of the population to have made it through the summer.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Beauty around every bend

Below-freezing temperatures, heavy frost and snow flurries have created beautiful scenes everywhere here.

This is what greeted us at the end of Trout Bay where Douglas Creek flows into Red Lake.

In the roller coaster weather that we have experienced this year, October is shaping up to be colder than normal with daytime highs just a few degrees above freezing and nighttime temps well below the freezing mark.

A couple of mornings ago we saw lake trout swirling on the surface in front of the lodge as they made their way back to feeding areas after spawning in Pipestone Bay.

Ministry of Natural Resources crews have told us the water temperature is just now cooling off to the preferred 10-11 C for spawning. That's about two weeks later than normal, no doubt due to the record-warm September we experienced.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Snow is on and somebody is home

My two brothers-in-law and I are hunting moose this week and we're seeing a great many impressive beaver houses around the lake.

This one is about six feet tall and has a large feedbed in front. The feedbed is composed of aspen, willow and birch and will serve as food all winter for the beavers inside. They swim through underwater tunnels from the house out to the feedbed, grab a stick and haul it back inside to eat. All of this will be under the ice of course. Incidentally, this activity of beavers moving to and fro prevents the ice from freezing deeply in the area between house and feedbed. Never walk on the ice right up to a beaver house as you are in danger of falling through, even when the ice is three feet thick on the rest of the lake.

Besides the large size and feedbed of this house, you can also tell there are many beaver inside by the melted spot on the top. This is known as the "chimney" and is caused by the body heat of the beavers inside escaping out the top of the house. The bigger the chimney the more beaver are inside. There are a bunch in this place.
Some of these houses may hold a dozen beaver and several dozen muskrats. The 'rats are believed to like the houses because they offer protection from otters (beavers would kill any otter than made the mistake of coming into the house) and the beavers seem to tolerate their smaller rodent cousins perhaps because their body heat is welcome and they don't compete for food. Muskrats eat roots of aquatic plants which they must find under the ice.
Muskrats, beavers and otters have a way of breathing under the ice that extends their distance from open holes and houses. They place their nostrils against the bottom of the ice when they exhale and their exhaled breath forms a bubble which they can then rebreath. (We only consume a portion of the oxygen in each breath. It's the same for all creatures.) They create these "filling stations" of oxygen to create under-ice travel corridors.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Trout spawning project yields fewer eggs

Despite a herculean effort by Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources staff they weren't able to gather as many lake trout eggs this fall as normal.

The water temperature never did get cold enough to bring large quantities of trout into the spawning shoals during the week-long project which ended Wednesday.

So they are sending about half of the normal amount of fertilized eggs to the Dorion fish hatchery near Thunder Bay where they will be raised to fingerling size and released back to Red Lake in a year and a half.

In this photo MNR staffer Christine Apostolov strips a female trout of eggs into a bowl held by Red Lake High School student Nicky while biologist Leslie Barnes looks on.

At the end of the day Jason, the man in the background, still had to make the 6-hour drive with the eggs to the hatchery.

The lake trout stocking project involves many MNR personnel including senior managers in addition to dedicated fish and wildlife personnel.

They pulled out all the stops this year trying to gather enough trout for the project but female trout were hard to find. They are always the last to come to the shoals in Pipestone Bay and the netters could only find one or two at a time whereas there were plenty of male trout.

This brings to a close a season that can only be called bizarre due to the weather.

The temperatures now appear to be headed to normal for this time of year. Snow is expected most of this week with lows below freezing.

The lake level is finally back to near normal high-water levels.

It won't be long before Brenda and Sam and I close camp and head home for the winter.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Lake trout spawning project is underway

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources personnel are here at camp to collect lake trout eggs to be raised in the Dorion fish hatchery and later released back to the lake.

This year the fishers are having a difficult time catching enough trout for the project due to the exceptionally warm water temperature. Trout don't come to their spawning shoals until the temperature is 10-11 C. At the start of the project a few days ago the temperature was 15 C.

It's now down to about 12 and some trout have been collected.

They are kept in underwater pens until enough of them are gathered. Then their eggs and milt will be stripped from them and the fish released back to the lake.

Here project manager Myles Perchuk brings a female lake trout to the pen.

The MNR hopes to collect about 120,000 eggs. Most of those will be raised to fingerlings in the hatchery and then brought back in a year and a half but some will also be placed in underwater incubator boxes to hatch naturally at various places around Red Lake.

For more on the lake trout project, look back through previous blog entries.

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