Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Single-hook Mepps work great, easy to remove

Mepps with single hooks
The treble hooks have been replaced with single siwash hooks on these Mepps Spinners used by one of our anglers and shown to me last summer.
They hook the fish just as well and are far easier to remove from the fish.
The key when replacing treble hooks on any lure is to use a much larger siwash hook. The siwash hooks have an open eye that can be closed with pliers over the spinners' wire ring.
Fish caught on a single hook are less likely to "spit the hook." They can't use their tongue, for instance, to push against the other two hooks as with a treble.
Such Mepps spinners are deadly northern pike lures on Red Lake. You can either fish them plain or dress them as shown with plastic or Gulp tails.
For walleyes you can hang live bait on the Mepps' single hook.
Incidentally, these are some great colour combinations: silver, brass, red-and-white, and black-and-white.
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Sunday, February 26, 2012

The stunning reality of keeping big fish

This tub of fish in our fish cleaning hut last summer caught my eye as just about the perfect size walleye and northern pike to keep.
The walleye are about 17 inches in length and the pike are about 26 inches. Incidentally, a 17-inch walleye will easily feed one person and a 26-inch pike will feed at least two.
Ontario fishing regulations for Zone Four, which includes Red Lake, allow anglers to only have one walleye over 18 inches in their daily or possession limit. They cannot have any pike 27.6-35.4 inches and can only have one pike larger than 35.4 inches.
If you want to ensure there are fish for the future, you should release ALL walleye over 18 inches and northern pike over 27 inches.
Why? These are the big spawners, the brood stock.
But isn't it more ethical to let the small fish go and keep fewer, bigger fish?
Nope, and here's the reason. It's just a matter of mathematics.
Let's take the example of walleye. Let's say Angler A has a conservation licence that allows him to keep two walleye, one of which could be over 18 inches. So he maximizes his legal catch by keeping one 17-inch walleye and one 26-incher. His buddy, Angler B, however, keeps two 17-inch walleye.
And to make it easy, let's say the year was 2000.
Walleye produce 26,000 eggs per pound of body weight. A 26-inch female (just about all big fish are females) will weigh about six pounds and therefore will produce 156,000 eggs.
But by the next spring, 2001, she is also an inch bigger. (Walleye grow about two inches a year until they get quite large, then slow down to about an inch, also about a pound, a year.) So in 2001, had she been released, she would have produced 182,000 eggs, 208,000 in 2002, 234,000 in 2003, 260,000 in 2004, 286,000 in 2005 and 312,000 in 2006. She is now 32 inches long, 12 pounds. That is typically about as big as walleye get although some grow larger. We have caught a few 34-inch, 14-pound walleye.
She stops getting longer but she keeps producing eggs for another four years at which point she is about 20 years old and dies of natural causes.
So, had she been released by Angler A in the year 2000, she would have produced 2,730,000 eggs by 2010.
What effect did Angler B's choice have?
His 17-inch walleye that he kept instead of a big one, would have spawned for the first time in 2001. Walleye don't spawn until they are 18 inches. But they grow about two inches a year at first so his 17 incher will have grown to 19 inches in 2001 and would weigh about 2 1/2 pounds. It would produce 67,730 eggs in 2001. In 2002 it would be 21 inches and weigh about three pounds and would produce 78,000 eggs. In 2003 it would be 23 inches and weigh 3.5 pounds and produce 91,000 eggs. In 2004 it will be 25 inches and weigh five pounds and produce 130,000 eggs. Now that she is getting older, her growth slows down to one inch a year so in 2005 she is 26 inches and six pounds and produces 156,000 eggs. Then 182,000 in 2006, 208,000 in 2007, 234,000 in 2008, 260,000 in 2009 and 286,000 in 2010.
Her total for the same 10 years is 1,692,730.
Angler A's decision to keep a big fish meant there were 1,037,270 fewer potential fish in the lake over the next decade! More than a million!

Not all eggs survive, of course, and the fertility of old fish drops a little bit in their last years, but you get the picture. Keeping big fish is just about the worst thing you can do for conservation and the future of fishing.
Incidentally, northern pike aren't nearly as prolific as walleye. They produce 9,000 eggs per pound.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Sam shows his first baseman's stretch

Sam is not allowed in the kitchen at camp and he never breaks this rule. Sometimes, however, he stretches it a bit.
As this photo clearly shows, his hind feet are securely on the carpet. So, technically, he is still in the dining room.
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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How does a Pileated Woodpecker find food?

pileated woodpecker hole
Check out a morning's work from a pileated woodpecker behind our home in Nolalu, ON.
It neatly carved out a sizeable portion of the base of a live balsam fir tree, apparently looking for carpenter ants inside. There were indeed some ant tunnels at the most interior of this excavation.
Conventional wisdom is that woodpeckers can hear the bugs moving inside the tree or under the bark. In this case, the ant tunnels were several inches inside. So, did the woodpecker hear them through all that wood?
And are carpenter ants active enough in the winter for a woodpecker to hear them crunching wood or otherwise making sound?
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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fishing, spirituality and us

"Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or alleged immaterial reality, an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the deepest values and meanings by which people live. Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop an individual's inner life; spiritual experiences includes that of connectedness with a larger reality, yielding a more comprehensive self; with other individuals or the human community; with nature or the cosmos; or with the divine realm. Spirituality is often experienced as a source of inspiration or orientation in life. It can encompass belief in immaterial realities or experiences of the immanent or transcendent nature of the world". -- Wikipedia

For most of us, fishing is a spiritual experience.

We cast our line out on the wind, the line billowing like a spider's web, the lure following an arc with our rod at one end and a small patch of water beside a lily pad at the other. In the two seconds it takes to reach its destination, we hear a gull cry overhead; we smell the smoke of a forest fire 30 miles away; we feel the boat rock beneath our feet from a wave; we feel the wind against our cheek and the spray from the wet line hitting the eye of our rod landing on our hand. Our eyes see rings from minnows ripple the surface of the lake and the lip of the lily pad flutter in the wind. We see the reflection of the lure on the water a moment before it lands with a splash, minnows and whirligig beetles scattering away from the impact.
We are aware of all that, and more, in just a blink of time.
We are not thinking of yesterday. We are not thinking of tomorrow.
We are only alive right NOW, in this moment.
And that is just the cast.

The lure sinks; we quickly reel in the slack of the line and feel the pull of the lure as it manoeuvres through the density of the water. We see the flash of the brass side of the spoon, then the white paint on the other and then the rhythm between the two. A water weed -- a musky cabbage -- is in the path of the lure! We instinctively lift our rod tip to bring the lure to the surface and swing the tip to the side, making the lure change direction and avoid the weed.
Then we drop the rod tip, slow the retrieve and the image of the lure fades into the depths.
It's our sense of feeling now that guides us; the pull on the line, the slight oscillations interpreting the wobbling of the lure down below. We intuitively know the lure is in deeper water so we slow the retrieve even more, letting the spoon be pulled by gravity nearer the bottom. We envision what it must look like down there: the alternating flash of the spoon in the water made murky by the waves striking the soil on the bottom of the lake. The weeds are sparse here. The lure is weaving like a lost minnow in a panic.
Then there is a strike! The pull on the line is immense, the drag on the reel sounds like a violin. The line is heading toward deeper water, taken there by a creature whose domain we have now joined. Weeds shoot high in the air, flipped there by our line. Water striders run across the lake's surface to get out of the way of the commotion. We reel; the fish pulls against the drag, back and forth until its muscles are tired. Our muscles are tired too but not as much as the fish's. It comes to the net and we lift it aboard.
We can see the panic in its eyes. It tries to swim again but it is now on the bottom of the boat.
Our only thought is to quickly get the hook loose and release the fish back to the water. We already have a fish to eat. No one needs to tell us it would be wrong to keep more than we need.
We feel it with our entire being.
The fish is magnificent, a sleek design that took millions of years to perfect. The mosaic of scales are covered with alternating spots. We see its lateral line that lets the fish feel movement in the water, something like a bat's sonar sees in the dark.
It flares its gill plate and we see the layers of red filaments beneath. This is how a fish can extract oxygen from its atmosphere, just like our lungs do above the surface.
The hook is loose so we lower the fish over the side of the boat and hold it upright in the water while it breathes again and takes stock of its surroundings. It waves its tail and we take it as a sign. We let go and the fish pauses a second, then flips its tail and disappears.
We feel happy and serene. We are thankful for the fish and its world -- it's our world too. We lived there for a moment and we respectfully left it as we found it.
Our self feels replenished.

According to legend, the Buddha was asked if he was a god.
"No," he said, "I am awake."

When we fish, we are awake. We are attuned to the environment, to the world, to the reverence and wonder of life.

If that isn't spirituality, I don't know what is.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Great photos, great weather, great times

Walleye on Red Lake, Ontario
Northern pike on Red Lake, Ontario
Matt Andrews holds a couple of beautiful fish for the camera of his father, John, last May while fishing at camp.
John's great photos exhibit things that make an ordinary photo into an exemplary one.
If you notice, even though it was a sunny day he used fill flash. This takes out the deep shadows on the subject such as below the bill of the cap while leaving just enough to show depth and detail.
He also took the photos along the shoreline, not out in the middle of the lake. The grasses and shoreline angle from one corner of the frame into the distance in the opposite corner. Things that go diagonally in a photograph create depth. It's also just more interesting to see the habitat where they were fishing.
The fact Matt is wearing a red shirt in the top photo is also a plus. When the subject wears a bright colour it quickly becomes the focus of your attention and just livens up a scene. The glove does the same thing in the second photo.
Matt and John were at camp the first week of the season last year and as you can see, the weather was beautiful. I don't remember exactly but normal daytime highs are about 65F in late-May.
May is our spring. Trees will just be budding out, wild flowers will be sprouting. Birds are migrating north. It's a great time to be outside. And it's also a great time to fish.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

New openings for June, July and August

If you have been waiting for an opening to come fishing at Bow Narrows Camp next summer, you should check out our Availability listing. There are several cabins now available in peak-demand times such as June, July and August.
We're in the process of making available cabins that were reserved by people last summer but which we have not been able to contact or who changed their plans and never informed us. I wrote them all letters in December, sent them e-mails if I had their e-mail addresses and left messages on their answering machines. If I still get no response, I take them out of our reservation book.
Just about everybody with reservations have now secured them with deposits. If you still haven't done so, you need to contact us by telephone immediately, even if it is just to tell us the deposits will be coming later. Call us at 807-475-7246. If we are not here, make sure you leave a message. We will absolutely check our answering machine and call you back.
You can e-mail but if you haven't heard back from us in a day or two, call as well. E-mails don't always get through. Spam filters erroneously pick them off at the Internet Service Provider, etc.
The same holds true for people wishing to make new reservations. Fill out our request form for information on the Contact/Reservations page of our website or send us a personal e-mail to If you don't get a response in a day or two, call us. Nothing is surer than talking to a real person.
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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ruffed grouse play circus acrobats

Ruffed grouse feeding in birch trees
White birch catkins
Every evening, all over Northern Ontario, this scene plays out: roly-poly ruffed grouse walk a tightwire in the tops of birch trees.
How these chunky gamebirds that weigh a couple of pounds can keep their balance on tiny little twigs high in the sky is amazing.
Even landing up there is a bit of a trick. Grouse, or partridge as they are known in Northwestern Ontario, aren't the most agile of fliers. They are more guided rockets than songbirds.
What lures them to perform their death-defying act are white birch catkins. These clumps of seeds remain on the birches until spring.
Other winter foods of the grouse are wild rose hips (seed pods), berries and seeds of just about any kind.
In the summer partridge eat lots of green leaves, like clover, bugs and just about anything, it seems.
Spruce grouse eat spruce needles! Talk about a never-ending supply of food!
Ruffed grouse only spend about 30 minutes getting their late-evening birch snack, then they plummet down into the snow -- if there's enough of it on the ground -- burrow in and spend the night where it's much warmer than above the snow.
This year there is precious little snow anywhere in Northern Ontario. So, the grouse have no choice but to fluff-up and sit on the ground or in a tree like a balsam that is a thick mass of branches.
Fortunately, it also hasn't been very cold most of this winter.
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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Don't miss Busters Barbecue in Vermilion Bay

There was a great show about Busters Barbecue in Vermilion Bay on the Food Network last week.
This restaurant is located right on Hwy 17, perhaps a mile west of the intersection with Hwy 105 or the Red Lake Road. It's near Famous Bobby's tackle shop.
Busters Barbecue is the only award-winning restaurant on the entire continent-wide TransCanada Highway, known as Hwy. 17 in Ontario.
It has won international competitions for its unique blueberry BBQ sauce for the past 10 years.
The restaurant serves Kansas City-style ribs, slow-smoked Texas-style brisket, Canadian pulled pork and southern smoked chicken.
Besides eating many mouth-watering meals in the restaurant, you can also visit their website and order their unique blueberry BBQ sauce. They also have their recipes on-line.
If you like barbecue, you better check this place out.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Lynx family pays us a visit

Canada lynx
Canada lynx
Canada lynx
Canada lynx
What a thrill this morning as I was working on some ice fishing lures at the kitchen table to see a family of at least four Canada lynx.
I fortunately had my pocket Olympus FE-340 camera within reach and started clicking away.
All the lynxes in the photos are young ones, probably three-quarters grown. They grow to about 40 inches in length and I would say these were about 30 inches. A mature lynx weights about 20 pounds.
I got a good look at three of the small cats and just had a glimpse of a fourth animal farther back in the bush. It was likely a parent as the adults and the young stick together until the young ones reach adulthood.
I've seen these lynx families a few times as they have crossed highways in Northern Ontario.
This is the first time I have ever gotten a photo!
The rear legs of lynxes seem higher than their front ones, making it look like they are going downhill.
Note the "snowshoes" they have for paws. These furry feet make them twice as good as their more southerly cousin, the bobcat, at staying on top of the snow.
Lynxes eat almost nothing but snowshoe or varying hares which sport their own snowshoe equipment.
The hares do have one advantage; they turn almost completely white in the winter. Only the tips of their ears are black.
Lynxes hunt strictly by sight; so, if the hare remains motionless its camouflage might keep it safe. It would take nerves of steel, however, to have a group of predators like this with their massive hooked claws walking within a few feet of you and not bolting.
This family was obviously hunting. They were spread out, probably 30 feet apart, and were combing the edge of the treeline, around the bases of balsam fir trees and through alders -- right where "bunnies" like to hang out.
There have been lots of hares around the last couple of years. Their numbers go in 11-year cycles, the same as do the lynx.
Actually, many things in Nature have an 11-year cycle such as extreme forest fire years. Not surprisingly, there is also an 11-year cycle to the sun. That cycle is peaking this year.
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Friday, February 3, 2012

Anglers with the "golden" touch for walleye

Larry Pons
Jason Pons
I wrote awhile back about qualities I believe are possessed by all great fishermen. They include: adaptability, releasing large fish, sharing knowledge and appreciating Nature.
The father-son team of Larry (top) and Jason Pons, both from Texas, fills the bill on all counts but is especially outstanding on the third quality, sharing of knowledge.
For years they would leave at camp an album full of snapshots like the ones above and on the back of each photo would tell where each fish was caught.
If you asked, they would tell you how they caught it, at what time of day, and anything else you wanted to know.
I've seen them invite other Bow Narrows' anglers to follow them and do just about anything to help them out.
Aren't they worried this will mean fewer fish for themselves? It wouldn't seem so. I think they are so good at catching walleye that they are always totally confident of getting them, under just about any circumstance.
They're not the only Bow Narrows group of anglers like this. There are many others. But they are certainly the best at helping other people get the knack.
Excellent walleye fishermen have what seems an almost supernatural feel for their craft, and I think that is literally what it is, a "feel." It's as if their fishing line and rods were extensions of their nerves.
Walleyes don't always whack a bait, many times they "mouth" it, or oh, so gently suck in the worm or leech. The feeling 50 feet up the line is just about lost, probably a vague sensation that the line is just a wee bit heavier. Set the hook and you're onto a walleye. Hesitate a second and there is nothing there.
And then there are times when setting the hook too early is the wrong thing to do. You must wait a second or two before the bait is in the walleye's mouth. But by three seconds, they are gone. There are infinite variations.
It's the kind of thing that comes with experience but even then also requires intuition.
I think true experts at walleye fishing aren't totally in the boat; their minds are down on the bottom of the lake. It's a Zen kind of thing.
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