Friday, April 29, 2011

Man, am I hungry for some fresh fish!

boneless northern pike fillets
It's been a long, cold, hard winter and the one thing I can't wait to do when ice-out comes to Red Lake is to catch some northern pike for the skillet!
My favorite pike to eat are those 20-25 inches long. They are big enough for us to easily take out the Y-bones and their fillets are thin enough that they are done perfectly on the inside when the outside is golden brown.
If you are new to Bow Narrows Camp it may come as a surprise that we remove ALL the bones from pike fillets. They are 100 per cent boneless and absolutely delicious.
I eat a lot of fish during the summer. In fact, if I had my way, I would eat fish every day. I just don't get tired of it. Pike one day and walleyes the next.
It frustrates Brenda that I really only like it fried or in a chowder.
Brenda has a secret recipe for flouring fish. (The secret ingredient is Corn Flake Crumbs. Shh!)
But she also uses store-bought recipes that our guests leave behind, beer batters, and concoctions she just whips up at the spur of the moment and couldn't do again if she tried. Frankly, I like them all.
But I'm not a fan of baked or poached fish. Some day I'll probably have some that I like but so far, it hasn't happened.
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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Techniques to catch Red Lake's ice-out walleye

landing a fish on Red Lake, Ontario
Walleye fishing the first couple of weeks of the season this year is going to come soon after ice-out it appears.
This begs the question: what techniques should anglers try when looking for ice-out walleye?
There are two main types of places to fish first thing in the spring: 1. where walleye have spawned and 2. where the lake warms the fastest.
In both instances the walleye will be very shallow, probably six feet or less. This usually means fishermen can do the best by either anchoring or drifting and using live bait or jigs with bait.
It is difficult to troll for fish in less than six feet of water and not scare them.
Usually the best rig is to use a 1/8-ounce jig with or without a 2 1/2-inch twister tail and tipped with either a piece of worm or a minnow. The water can be too cold for leeches to have much action at this time.
If you are new to camp we will mark on a map where the fish should be.
A lot of times the walleye will be right up next to the shore in as little as three feet of water.
These will be shorelines that are protected from the wind and which get full exposure to the sunlight. No doubt the fish are in these spots because that is where the food supply is. This can be water insects that are emerging from the mud as well as baitfish.
I would suggest anchoring or drifting in these places and pitching the jig to within a few feet of shore, let it sink to the bottom and then jig it back to the boat, all the while making sure the jig falls to the bottom on each motion.
Fish move around a great deal, of course, and the places we send you are just a starting point. Look for similar habitats in other locations and try those too.
Although you might not be able to get as many walleye by trolling, this method is very effective at finding a new spot. Many people front-troll floating Rapala-type stick baits, in 3-6-inch sizes, as close to shore as they can without hitting anything with the motor. Even if you scare off some fish, there will be others which will fill in behind the boat and strike the lure. You can then work the spot back and forth by trolling or even better, switch to jigs and live bait and drift or anchor once you've got a good idea where the fish are.
Spring walleye are usually very localized. They seem to go on feeding frenzies every couple of hours and don't seem to be as light-sensitive as they are later in the season.
Another difference between spring and summer fishing is the walleye may not be on the windy shore in the spring. Rather they can often be in the calm places where the water warms the fastest. However, if the weather is hot and sunny and the water warms rapidly, the windy shore can be the favorite in the spring too.
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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Red Lake, Ontario, 2011 ice-out conditions

Even though the weather has not been balmy, the ice continues to melt on Red Lake, Ontario.
The latest report comes from the blog of Enid Carlson for Viking Outposts and Viking Island Lodge.
Her blog shows husband Hugh drilling a hole with an ice auger in front of their home at Hammel Narrows on Red Lake, Thursday, April 20. To his surprise, Hugh found there was just 15 inches of ice left and five of that was weak slush ice.
Hugh said he expected the ice to be two feet thick.
Fifteen inches isn't much ice. We might be on track for a typical ice-out after all, especially if the weather would turn warm and sunny.
The average ice-out for Red Lake is May 8.
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Friday, April 22, 2011

Wolves of the winter are hard to photograph

I had my new Bushnell trail camera set out all winter here in Nolalu, hoping to get some good photos of the timber wolves that regularly hunt deer behind our home.
My first wolf photo, Jan. 12, was the best. But I did get some others. They are shown above.

I left the time and date stamp on the pix so you could see when they were taken.

In two of the three, the wolves have obviously detected the camera. It's pretty hard to see in the daytime as it has a camouflage pattern and blends in well with the tree it is fastened to. However, at night it has infrared LEDs that glow and this frightens animals if they see it before the camera clicks.

This camera is the Bushnell Trophy Cam. It is the first camera I have had that will work in -20 C (below 0 F) temperatures which is basically what we have here all winter. It uses lithium batteries that are unaffected by temperature. However, the camera trigger is slower to respond in the bitter cold resulting in the camera sometimes clicking after the animal has gone by.

I cannot brag about the Bushnell Trophy Cam much, however, as I had to buy three before I got one that worked. There was a glitch in the other two that made them click photos continously once the camera was triggered. They would fire away until the batteries were dead.

Wolves are common in Northwestern Ontario and are most abundant in those areas where there are whitetail deer, like in Nolalu. There are few deer in the Red Lake area although there are many between there and Minnesota.

Contrary to popular belief, wolves don't "wipe out" prey species like deer.

In fact, as evidenced almost everywhere in Northwestern Ontario, they hardly make a dent in the population and actually do us all a service by selecting the weakest and smallest animals for their kills. That is one of the main reasons our deer are larger than those to the south where there are either no wolves or very few.

Human hunters have the opposite effect on deer. They always harvest the largest animals and end up promoting a deer herd that is smaller in stature and antler size.

Wolf numbers also have a maximum limit. That is because wolves are territorial and won't allow other packs in their territory.

Territories can be compressed a bit when deer are abundant and spread out when deer are scarce.

What really controls deer numbers in Northwestern Ontario is the severity of the winter. When we have winters of deep snow, the deer are unable to move around and consequently starve.

Deer aren't made for deep snow, but moose, with their extra long legs, are.

Unfortunately, deer carry a parasite called brain worm that is fatal to moose.

Once you have lots of deer, you don't have moose. And that's the situation in all of the southern portion of Northwestern Ontario, including Nolalu.

The deer are spreading northward each year, and moose are disappearing.

Red Lake is one of the last communities in Northwestern Ontario where moose are still abundant.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

We're not the only ones who can't wait for spring

garter snake, Nolalu, ON

I spotted this garter snake in Nolalu on Wednesday.

He was soaking up the meager heat from the sun in a patch of ground where the snow had melted. Poor guy.

The snow that fell last weekend is still visible in the upper part of the photo. It has not been warm! However, things are looking up. It's warm today and the nice weather is predicted to stay for at least awhile. (We're kind of hoping it stays for the rest of the summer!)

Incidentally, garter snakes are the only snakes found in Northwestern Ontario. They are harmless and do a lot of good for man by catching mice.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mares tails and mackerel scales -- storm ahead

"Mare's tails and mackerel scales make tall ships carry low sails," old seafarers used to say.

In other words, a storm is coming, one with lots of wind, so take in your sails or you might capsize.

I get a kick out of reading in the media every time a meteorologist is asked if sayings like this really do predict the weather. They almost always chuckle and say there were a lot of quaint sayings and folksy ways that people in the olden times used to predict the weather, like examining the fat around pigs' guts. Of course, today we know this is all rubbish.

I beg to differ, at least on the validity of weather sayings. Frankly, I have no experience with pig guts but it does seem unlikely they would be a good way to tell the future.

Mare's tails and mackerel scales, on the other hand, are actual weather phenomena and they really do predict the weather, just not far in advance.

The photo shows mares tails, high cirrus clouds. I don't have a photo of mackerel scales but they are small clouds arranged in a fish scale pattern.

Both mean a storm within 12 hours.

Similarly, the saying "red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning," works nearly 100 per cent of the time. And again, you are only predicting 12 hours in advance.

It's my turn to chuckle when I hear the weather forecasters talk about their own accuracy.

Some say they are right 75 per cent of the time. Does that include today's forecast? I bet it does, and frankly, they're always right on the money with today. "It's raining today." Yes, it is.

What I notice about the weather forecast reliability is that it is very accurate for the next 12 hours, just like the weather sayings are. Then it goes rapidly downhill. The forecasts for more than two days away are no more than 50 per cent. You could flip a coin and do as well.

Those forecasts for up to 14 days are utter fiction. I think they are based on statistical averages for those dates, not weather systems. I mean, where would the weather system that we get today be 14 days earlier? China?

Thanks, but I'll stick with the weather sayings.

For the bemusement of meteorologists everywhere, here are a couple more that I like and trust.

"When the dew is on the grass, rain shall never come to pass." Dew means high barometric pressure which means dry weather, even if it happens to be cloudy.

"A sudden storm is soon over." A storm that seems to come out of nowhere is almost certainly a thunderstorm which is always very local.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Scenes like this a reality again in a month or so

Bow Narrows Camp, Red Lake, Ontario
Bow Narrows angler Terry Matson sent this awesome evening photo of his son, Neil, fishing just a couple hundred yards from camp in early June a couple of years ago.

Not only is it an incredibly beautiful scene -- it could easily win a photo contest -- it also illustrates how late the sun goes down at Red Lake in June. Terry remembers the photo was taken between 9 and 10 p.m.

Even after the sun sets there is twilight for probably another 45 minutes. And at the night's darkest, say 1 a.m., if you look toward the north you can see a glow that resembles northern lights that are over the horizon. Actually, it is just the sun, barely hidden by the top of the Earth.

I'm sure I speak for everybody when I say we can't wait for summer scenes like the one above to come again. Winter has been long and hard and it isn't going away quietly. We just got eight inches of snow in Nolalu. Some places in Northwestern Ontario got a foot.

There is still three feet of ice on the lakes! Last year by this time, or at least by April 20, the ice had melted off Red Lake! We open for business May 21 this year and that is probably going to be just after ice-out. I'll go out on a limb and predict May 15 as the breakup date.

The one thing we always have going for us is the sun. Every day it stays in the sky longer and throws more heat than the day before. Even if the temperatures aren't as warm as we would like, the sun warms the water under the ice and continues the melting process.

What will a late ice-out on Red Lake, Ont., do to the fishing?

It is absolutely the best scenario for northern pike and lake trout. Our anglers who always fish the first week of the season love it when there is still some ice floating in the lake. This is when the dead bait system works wonders for huge pike. If you are booked for the first or second week of the season this year and haven't tried dead bait fishing, read up on it here in the blog. Just put "dead bait" in the little search window at the top of the blog and hit the magnifying glass symbol.

Lake trout will be right on the surface and will be voracious. Although all of our trout must be immediately released, they give you the fight of your life and are a ball to catch. Just remember that when targeting lake trout you must have lures with single, barbless hooks. This basically comes down to salmon spoons which mostly come with single hooks, and jigs. You can't use bait when fishing for lake trout in Red Lake, even dead bait, but the truth is you cannot help but hook some lakers when fishing for northern pike with dead bait. Take our advice and use 5/0 circle hooks. These always hook the fish in the corner of the mouth making it easy to release them unharmed.

Normally, a late ice-out doesn't make the best walleye fishing at first. They can still be spawning. But walleye fishing in Red Lake isn't normal right now. There is a walleye explosion happening. I expect to see our fishermen tying into lots of walleyes right from the start. Walleyes are everywhere and they will be hungry.

All we need is for that ice to melt.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Pipsissewa a beautiful forest evergreen plant

If you get out on the shores of Red Lake, Ontario, this summer, where there is a lot of rock and moss, you will notice this striking little plant.

It is called Pipsissewa or Prince's Pine. You will need to be here early in the summer to catch it flowering. However, the brilliant green, waxy leaves are evident all the time, even in the winter. It is an evergreen plant.

I always think the leaves resemble a Christmas cactus.

The name Pipsissewa comes from the Cree language and refers to how these First Nations people used it to treat bladder ailments.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Driving beside world's largest lake

Lake Superior shore
Grand Marais, Minnesota
tunnel on Hwy 61
Brenda, Sam and I came along the North Shore of Lake Superior from Duluth to Thunder Bay yesterday and as always we were awestruck by the beauty of this drive on Highway 61.

Frankly, I enjoy this drive through Minnesota even more than the longer drive around the big lake on the Ontario side, from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie. One reason is because Hwy 61 literally skirts the lake whereas Hwy. 17 on the north and eastern side is usually higher and farther back from the water.

The sky was blue but the temperature was actually right at the freezing point when we stopped along one of the many pebble beaches along Hwy. 61 on Thursday. We wanted Sam to have the chance to see a really, really big lake.

As usual we also saw a bunch of deer on the four-hour trip from Duluth to Thunder Bay.

There are two tunnels on this route and on another trip we even saw a bunch of deer perched above a tunnel entrance, munching on grass. They looked like mountain goats.

This route goes through numerous quaint little towns. The largest is Grand Marais, shown in the photo. This town is filled with unique arts and crafts shops, outdoor sports stores and great restaurants. My favorite is Sven and Ole's Pizza. There was a time when half of the cars from Thunder Bay, Ont., sported Sven and Ole's bumper stickers. The restaurant is filled with old-time cross-country ski memorabilia as well as other winter sports.

This reminds me of a story about something that happened right after 9/11.

It seems the pizza business hadn't been doing so well; so, Ole returned to the logging trade, this time near the border between Minnesota and Ontario at Grand Portage. He had been working in the bush all day and hadn't heard anything about the 9/11 events. He didn't know border security was at full alert, with jumpy armed guards given instructions to stop anyone traveling in the vicinity of the border and demand his name and reason for being there.

It was dark by the time Ole's truck came grinding out of the bush near the border crossing.

He was met by two border guards with their guns drawn.

"State your name and what you're doing here," they demanded.

"Ole. Been loggin'," he said.

So they shot him.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Replica trophy means actual trophy still out there

Bow Narrows angler Ken Conkle recently received his trophy replica of a giant lake trout he caught and released in August, 2009 (the date on his camera wasn't accurate when he took the top photo).

This beautiful laker was 42.5 inches long and weighed 35 pounds!

Ken promptly released the big fish after quickly getting its measurements and the photo.

As you can see from the second photo, his taxidermist made a beautiful replica of the fish and mounted it neatly on a piece of driftwood.

The real fish is still out there in the lake, only now it's even bigger.

Replicas are the ideal way to remember these once-in-a-lifetime moments without killing the actual fish. We want fish like this to pass its genes on to other generations.

Way to go, Ken!

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Red Lake, Ontario, ice-out unlikely to be early

With a snow pack that measured four feet most of the winter, it is unlikely that Red Lake, Ontario will see an early ice-out.
Last year the ice-out tied a record when it occurred April 20.
Northwestern Ontario had what was really a historically average winter but since climate change started happening seemed unusually cold and snowy.
The result was three feet of lake ice but also a heavy snow pack that must be melted off before the ice will begin to disappear.
Also, the white slushy ice that results from heavy snow is more reflective and is slower to melt than "blue ice" that occurs during winters with little snow.
The unknown factor is predicting ice-out is the weather over the next month.
Warm weather -- with no more snowfalls -- will hasten the procedure. Every snowfall sets it back.
The average ice-out for Red Lake is May 8. My guess is this year it won't be any earlier than that.
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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Deer and woodland caribou hope for wind

In Nolalu, whitetail deer look forward to windy days. Out on the Slate Islands in Lake Superior, woodland caribou do the same thing.

The reason is the wind will topple dead trees such as this old balsam fir which is covered in beard lichens, a favorite food for both animals.

The Slate Islands can have the densest woodland caribou population in the world, but at other times goes through massive die-offs.

The reason is the wind, or rather, the lack of it.

Lake Superior is famous for its terrific November storms. Just remember the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Those storms usually knock down a lot of old trees on the Slates which are in the northeast corner of the world's largest lake.

The woodland caribou then munch the lichens on these fallen trees the rest of the winter.

Once in awhile, however, there is a calm November and the result is the caribou starve over the winter.

Whitetail deer here on the mainland are more adaptable to other food sources and so don't usually suffer the same fate. There are no deer on the Slates.

But in winters of deep snow, wind-toppled trees are also a convenient way for deer to get nutrition without expending a lot of energy travelling.

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

It's tough being a camp dog, really tough

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