Friday, November 22, 2013

Forty years and still counting

Forty years ago this month Brenda and I were married. As you can see from the above photo, taken shortly after the wedding, we haven't changed a bit!
Those were our "hippie" days. The book we are reading was about our Volkswagen Beetle.
I'll always remember making the decision to ask Brenda to marry me. I was guiding for moose hunting at the time and had worked my way through the bush to Foley Lake, south of Trout Bay. Sitting on a rock along the shoreline and contemplating the beauty and solitude of the Boreal Forest my thinking became as clear as the lake water. Although I hadn't been expecting the girl of a lifetime to come waltzing into my life, there she was, right in camp. And she was getting ready to head back to university. So I asked her if she would marry me and as luck would have it, she said yes.
Click to go back to our website
Click to see the latest on the blog

Monday, November 18, 2013

Selecting the perfect size walleye to eat

Jason Pons holds just about the perfect eating walleye
There are so many walleye of all sizes in Red Lake now that we can be quite spoiled about those we choose to keep for eating. Last summer our walleye anglers were routinely boating 100 walleye or more in a single day. With that many fish to choose from, what's the best size to keep for the table?
For starters, let's examine all the factors that go into a great meal.
How thick is the fillet?
The best cooking results come when no part of the fillet is too thick. That way all parts of the fillet will cook similarly instead of thin areas being overcooked and thick areas being undercooked.
How quick does it cook?
A thinner fillet will cook in just a minute which means it absorbs less cooking oil. Thick fillets must "boil away" in the oil longer and gather an oily flavour.
How large is it?
Unfortunately, this is where so many people go wrong. They instinctively feel that a large piece of meat indicates they were successful anglers. It's the old, "bringing home the bacon" attitude. The truth is the best-eating, best-cooking, best-flavoured fish are the smaller ones. Certainly there is a limit to how small -- there needs to be some flesh to consume afterall.
In my opinion, the absolutely best-size walleye for eating is 15-16 inches. One such fish is usually plenty to feed a single person but if you are a really big eater, keep two of this size. All parts of the fillet will cook thoroughly and quickly and taste fantastic.
If you can't find fish of this size when you are looking for lunch, choose smaller ones, not bigger. Even a 13-inch walleye provides quite a bit of food. You never want to keep a walleye over 18 inches even though the law permits you one. These fish are too big for eating and are the important spawners.
Click to go back to our website
 Click to see the latest on the blog

Friday, November 15, 2013

An unforgettable moment

I just needed to get away. A major problem for me at camp is that I am "on the job" 24 hours a day. If I'm physically on the premises, day or night, then I'm fixing things or solving problems, answering questions or planning schedules, etc. I just needed a break.
So, right after supper one evening I grabbed Sam and headed to a far-off bay where I suspected we would be alone. We were.
I went right up to the mouth of a marshy creek and cut the motor. There wasn't a breath of wind and the evening sun was just high enough to shine over the trees into this secluded spot.
I was far inside the weedline. I had driven slowly right through an expanse of aquatic vegetation to get to a "hole" in the weeds at the mouth of the creek. There was a slight current from the little creek and this had kept the spot free from weeds.
I sat there for a few minutes just soaking up the beauty of the scene. All around us were high hills of jackpine and spruce. I scanned the marsh and shoreline for a moose. Surely at least one was watching us. But if it was, it was well-hidden.
Sam had already picked up the motion of a beaver swimming to check us out. A loon was diving on the outside of the main weedbed, which is where a serious fisherman should also be fishing.
Except for a "bowl" at the mouth of the creek, the whole area looked really shallow. I opened up my tacklebox and selected one of my smallest Mepps spinners, a little #3. It was small enough that I guessed it would readily catch perch which is what I expected were pretty abundant in this spot, that and probably tiny pike.
I flicked it into the "hole" and slowly brought the little spinner back to the boat. As I watched it come in I noticed for the first time that the sunlight was exactly at the right angle to penetrate completely to the bottom. The water was so crystal clear and the light so perfect that it seemed there was no boundary between air and lake. Each aquatic plant reached upwards like a tree. It was like I was hovering above a cathedral forest.
The spinner which I had let run near the forest floor was starting its ascent to the boat. Its golden blade was buzzing along; its little bucktail hook rotating.
It was then I saw the pike. It came from left to right, silently sliding through the forest and heading right toward the spinner. It wasn't the fish I was expecting, not a brightly coloured perch or a slender little pike. It was as big as a log. I estimate it was 46 inches in length and would have weighed 22-26 pounds.
In the polarized light I could see each of its spots, its nostrils, its red-tinted fins.
The pike didn't come zipping to the spinner like it really wanted it. Rather it glided nearer out of curiosity. I instinctively jerked the lure out of the water.
"I don't want you, buddy," I said out loud. "You are WAY too big."
I meant it too. There is no way I could have boated this magnificent fish on the light tackle I was using while surrounded by weeds in all directions. It would certainly have broken my line and swam away with my spinner in its mouth, or worse, in its gills. I would never keep a fish this large anyway. Better not to risk injuring it.
The pike lay suspended for a moment at the spot where the spinner had been, then with a wave of its massive tail carried through to the weed forest on the other side of the hole. The scene, however, of the beautiful creature, the polarized light penetrating the weeds  and my little spinner shall forever stay with me.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The mind of the fisherman

Do you believe fish bite in the rain? Lonnie Boyer photo (I think)
I've been thinking a lot about the knowledge and experience I have gained over the 53 years that my family has operated Bow Narrows Camp. There are insights into fishing and fishermen that can only be realized by people in our profession. I thought I'd ruminate on a couple of these in the next few blogs.
I am sometimes asked what special talents a fishing/hunting camp operator needs. This is usually followed by, "I guess you need to be a jack-of-all-trades."
That is true but if you could train for this business, I would suggest that the first thing you do is get a PhD in psychology. It might help you deal with the frustration and bewilderment you are going to encounter.
A question I am asked on virtually every boat trip from the dock out to camp is: "So, where are they catching fish?"  My answer is usually specific and thorough. It might go like this:
"We're going to drive right past the very best spot and I'll tell you when we get there." When we do, "See that fallen tree in the water? Troll from there up to that point in 12 feet of water with spinners and worms. The colours working the best are orange in the morning and blue in the afternoon. The walleyes have been stacked in there for days now. The guys who left camp this morning told me you cannot get your spinner to the bottom in this spot without hooking a walleye. They are averaging 22-26 inches in length. The fish are going to be there until the wind changes so go there as soon as you get your license at camp."
If you think the angler will then go fish in this spot then you have never been a fishing camp operator.
There is no doubt where this fishermen is going to head as soon as he gets his boat -- the last place he caught fish when he was at camp, even if he hasn't been here in 20 years. He is going to work that place over thoroughly, even though the wind or other conditions might be wrong. In fact, he might spend several days there before coming to me mid-week and asking, "Where was that place you told us about on the boat ride into camp?"
Another question: "What are the fish biting on?"
Here's a clip-and-save bit of information: the fish always bite on the same thing! In May, June, July and August the walleyes bite on worms and leeches. In September, they bite on minnows. It never changes but it also doesn't make any difference. After I explain the above-mentioned preferences, the angler frequently adds anyway, "You know, I always fish with minnows!" So he could have stated from the outset, "I don't care what the fish are biting on, I'm going to fish with minnows."
The same thing goes with lures. Anglers have their pet lures and they are going to stick with these come hell or high water. But that doesn't stop them from asking me what I consider the best lures are for each species. Fifteen minutes into my explanation they finally 'fess up. "I find I always do best by trolling big Rapalas."
There are red flags buried in anglers' questions. For instance, "Have you ever used the walleye gullet for bait?" This means this person is only going to use walleye gullets (a v-shaped strip of flesh between the jawbone and the throat.) Do they work? EVERYTHING works, at least a bit. They don't work as well as worms or leeches but if that is the only way you fish, you know what? That is how you are going to catch every fish, thereby cementing your belief that walleye gullets are the secret lure.
Nowhere in life is it more evident that "As you believe, so shall you see," as in the sport of fishing.
This tendency is absolutely blinding.
Here is just one example: "As the water warms up, pike and walleye move to deep water." This is utter nonsense. On Red Lake, as the water warms up, the fish are more and more active. The minnows are in the shallows; so, that's where the fish are as well. They move to deeper water only when it cools off and the minnows move deeper, hunting warmer water. Most people just won't accept this explanation.
"When is the best time of day to catch walleye?" I should answer this with, "When do YOU think is the best time?" Because nothing I say is going to change this questioner's already-cemented belief. Somewhere, sometime, the human race was taught that walleye only bite in the morning and the evening. There is no point now in me telling them that probably the best time of day to catch them is from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. If I do they just look at each other with "Boy, is this guy full of it" expressions.
Then there's the big-lure, big-fish myth. This is the granddaddy of entrenched beliefs. This blog and all of our promotional literature encourages anglers to use small-to-medium sized lures for northern pike. Why? Because that is what works best. If you are now thinking, "Yeah, but I want to catch really big fish" then your blindspot is showing. I haven't spent all this time promoting smaller lures just to help you catch little fish.
Oh well, I remind myself several times a summer, I don't care how many fish you catch, only that you are having a good time. It's the experience that is important, not numbers. That's a fact. Take myself: I always prefer fishing without bait, even if it means catching fewer fish. I just love the simplicity. I find bait-fishing to be stressful.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A step up for our fishermen

New in 2013 were our dock assists which look something like swim ladders.
We built these to help our guests who have knee or other problems that make it difficult for them to get in and out of the boat.
The dock assists are positioned so that a person has something upright to hold onto for support while stepping onto the boat's bench seat and then out to the dock. Everyone said they worked great. Another innovation were handrails (not shown in this photo) that lead down to the dock ramps.
We built dock assists for all the floating docks in camp in 2013 and will work at getting them on the crib docks as well in 2014.