Sunday, January 31, 2016

You never know what might be on the line

Jeff Kinzenbaw with redhorse sucker

Rob Kinzenbaw with blue walleye
Just when you think you know what to expect while fishing in Red Lake, you latch onto something totally strange.
Mostly, you catch northern pike and walleye. Then, you reel up and think, "What the heck is this?"
In the photos above, Bow Narrows angler Jeff Kinzenbaw shows off a beautiful-if-odd redhorse sucker. You see some that are very large, like 10 pounds, but for some reason we only catch the smaller ones.
Brother Rob Kinzenbaw noticed something unusual about a nice-size walleye that he boated. It was blue rather than golden-yellow. It is, in fact, the blue-morph walleye, also called the blue walleye which is a colour variation of the species.
Walleye and perch both can show this color variation. A researcher in Wisconsin is studying this phenomenon which seems to becoming more common all over the North. See Dr. Wayne Shaefer's blog. He is with the University of Wisconsin-Washington County.
You might catch a "walleye" with a camo look to it and lacking white on the tips of its fins. That would be a sauger, actually not a walleye at all but because of its similarity in looks counts as part of your walleye limit.
And, of course, you might hook a lake trout. These can be anywhere during the first few weeks of the season when the water is cold. You'll know it's a lake trout when you wonder if you have hooked some sort of submarine. They are extremely powerful.
I mentioned perch, of course, which are all over the shallow water bays. In our family we always strive to catch the "P trifecta": pike, perch and pickerel (aka walleye). Incidentally, we have a 10-inch minimum size limit on bringing perch to the fish house for cleaning.
There's another fish that can be really perplexing and I'm going to relate an actual story from two of our fishermen to show how mysterious it can be.
These two guys were fishing in Golden Arm, a long narrow bay about four miles from camp, and had done well on walleye and pike when it was lunch time. Since they had taken bag lunches from the lodge, they just let their walleye jigs tipped with worms dangle while they munched on their sandwiches. There was a fair wind blowing the boat right down the bay. One of the rod tips started twitching and the angler dropped his sandwich and set the hook. Nothing. Then the other guy did the same thing with the same result. Perch? Probably not because they were right in the middle of the bay -- too deep for perch. They baited-up again, let their lines out, and no sooner did they resume their lunch than it happened again. So they baited-up another time. Then the whole thing happened again only this time they let the fish "take it" for a few seconds before setting the hook and they both latched onto something a lot bigger than a perch, that was for sure. They started cranking their catches in when each lost their fish. So they baited again and right away, both hooked up to fish. This time they played the fish more gently and got them all the way to the boat. When they netted them they were flabbergasted. "What the heck?"
The fish they had boated had small heads, big bodies, were covered in large silver scales, and had large fins. They also had tiny mouths.
They were whitefish!
The anglers correctly reasoned that they didn't hook the fish at first because their mouths were so small and also that by horsing-in the fish the first couple of attempts they had ripped the soft mouths and the fish had gotten away.
So there's another unusual species: whitefish.
And then there's the tulibee. It looks almost identical to the whitefish except its mouth goes straight ahead while the whitefish have a mouth that is longer on the top and shorter on the bottom, making it look like they have a nose.
Redhorse suckers aren't the only type of suckers you might run into. There is also the white sucker which is mostly silver with a darker back.
If you drop a hook and a worm around any of the dock cribs at camp you will immediately come up with a rockbass. It looks kind of like a crappie with a red eye.
The strangest fish you might encounter, however, has got to be the ling, also called about twenty other names but burbot might be the most common. It seems to be half catfish and half eel. It also has the surprising habit of wrapping around your arm when you try to remove the hooks. This scares the bejeebers out of newcomers to the species and they fling it away which is too bad because it is absolutely delicious. Tastes like lobster.
Rarest of all to catch but which occasionally make an appearance are smallmouth bass and musky.
Finally, there is a tiny fish that you might hook accidentally that isn't a fish at all but rather a minnow. It is the emerald shiner which is commonly four-to-six inches in length. I mention this because for the last few years at camp you can encounter schools of this big-water minnow that are so dense you cannot help but hook one if you cast among them.
They are currently at astonishing levels. I've seen schools that measured twenty feet in width by a half-mile in length and I have no idea how deep in the water they went. You only find them in the big bays, like Pipestone, Trout, Potato Island basin, etc. Fish love them.
Click to go back to our website
Click to see the latest on the blog

Friday, January 29, 2016

This is one incredible lake trout!

Kenny Bock of Iowa caught and released this lake trout while ice fishing on Gullrock
Iowa angler Kenny Bock was ice fishing at Wright's Wilderness Lodge on Gullrock Lake this winter when he caught and released what has got to be Red Lake-Gullrock's most-amazing lake trout.
It was Good Old RL02-4178, that is, it had been tagged by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests and its tag number was RL02-4178. It was a female and she is well known to MNRF fish and wildlife personnel.

Red Lake biologist Toby Braithwaite said they have been tracking the movements of  Number 4178 since 2012 when she and 24 other lake trout had sonic tags surgically implanted in them.

Although lake trout have always been caught by winter fishermen on Gullrock, it was generally  believed that they moved upstream to the deeper waters of Red Lake as soon as the water began to warm in the spring.
Number 4178's sonic tag has shown that she spends most of the summer in Gullrock and only begins to head west in late July. Finally, in October, she makes a sprint to Pipestone Bay to spawn and then zooms back to Gullrock covering more than 31 miles in a single day!
Red Lake trout at Dorion hatchery.
When she was tagged in 2012 she was 33.8 inches in length. Her age was also determined. Today she is over 44 years old! That is the oldest fish I have ever heard about coming from Red Lake.
 Biologist Braithwaite notes fishes' ages are determined by taking a ray from a pectoral fin (one of the fins on the side near the head) and examining it through a microscope. The ray shows rings like a tree.
Back in 2002 it was determined that Red Lake's lake trout were in jeopardy and a program was begun to restock the lake using its own fish.
Each fall the MNRF stays at Bow Narrows Camp while lake trout are caught and their eggs and milt taken before the fish are returned back to the lake. These eggs are taken to the MNRF fish hatchery in Dorion and are brought back as fingerlings 18 months later. More than 500,000 fish have now been stocked in this fashion.
There will be 85,000 yearlings and 50,000 fry released this year.
The 2015 egg collection was the largest ever and the fish researchers hope to release 178,000 yearlings in 2017.
Adult fish that are caught by the MNRF during the fall spawning project have little yellow tags attached to them, just like Number 4178. If you catch a fish with such a tag, write down the number or take a photo of it before releasing the fish.  Fishing regulations require that all lake trout must be released on the spot.
In addition, however, make a careful inspection of the fins of the fish. All of the stocked fish will be missing a fin since the hatchery personnel clip a different fin each year. You should report tag numbers either to the MNRF or to us at camp who can relay the information to Braithwaite and his fellow researchers. A report of a trout with a clipped fin would also be welcomed since it signals that the stocked fish are surviving. If you could also get a length on the fish, that would be helpful because when combined with the information on which fin was clipped, it would tell the researchers when the fish was stocked.
Braithwaite says the latest assessments show lake trout are now spawning in the Potato Island basin and the Trout Bay areas in greater abundance but seem to still be declining in Pipestone Bay.
Hatchery personnel clip fins of anesthetized trout. Toby Braithwaite photos

Click to go back to our website
Click to see the latest on the blog

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What a beautiful, wonderful winter!

Did you ever see such a smiling, happy guy? I'm even having fun clearing trails
Call me Pollyanna, but I'm finding this winter to be one the most enjoyable in decades. I don't think a day goes by when I don't say to Brenda, "We live in the very best place in the world!"
From the front window of our home in Nolalu we can see a ski hill that is 40 miles away. A week ago we saw a beautiful grey wolf or timber wolf crossing the field right in front of our house. Yesterday there were three whitetails walking down our driveway. Our birdfeeder is loaded with colourful pine grosbeaks, blue jays, redpolls, chickadees and others.
Every day I strap on the snowshoes and Cork and I wander around the mile or so of trails we have on our property or alternatively, we take to our country roads and put in three-to-four-miles of brisk walking. Saw three deer doing that yesterday too.
The temperature has mostly been terrific. It's below freezing but this is Canada, don't forget. We actually like it to be below freezing; we count on it even.
Frankly, it's too nice to come inside and I'm falling behind on all of my desk work. I just keep thinking that sooner or later it will be really cold, like -40, but it just hasn't happened. Now the days are markedly longer again.
Click to go back to our website
 Click to see the latest on the blog

Monday, January 25, 2016

Odonata always serves up humble pie

Imagine someone holding up a creature before me. It has fins and gills and there are scales covering its entire body.
"What's this?" he asks.

If I were to reply, "It's a fish," he would think I was just being a smart aleck. But I don't say that. Instead I reply, "It's a tulibee," or a redhorse sucker, or rockbass, whatever the specific species happened to be. That's because I know my local fish species.
Yet, if he held up the creature in the photos above, in most instances I would have to say, "It's a dragonfly." I'm ashamed to say that's about as specific as I could get without comparing it to my dragonfly book first and maybe even afterwards.
Part of the problem just comes from the numbers in the Order Odonata. There could be upwards to 100 species of dragonflies and 40 species of damselflies in Northwestern Ontario alone. By comparison, there are only about 20 species of fish and probably about the same number of minnows.
I really need to study dragonflies more because I think they are just the most amazing things. For starters, they are absolutely beautiful with their intricate wing patterns and neon colours. And their style of flight must be the envy of every airborne creature. They hover, make right-angle turns, and reach amazing speeds for such small bodies.
Some dragonflies hover as they hunt; some fly back and forth to a perch. Some stay strictly around the water; others will go miles inland. Some are territorial; others are communal.
But they all eat other flying insects, including the ones that like to feed on us humans.
I love the feeling of symbiosis I get when I'm mowing the grass in the summer and behind me are dozens of dragonflies, like helicopters in a scene out of Apocalypse Now, killing every mosquito and blackfly that take wing after being disturbed by the mower.
These miniature choppers are just the adult stage of the insect. They spend years underwater as swimming and crawling -- but still predatory -- bugs that look more like crickets than dragonflies. Each species emerges at a different time during the summer, goes through a type of metamorphosis something like a butterfly, and takes to the air. These adults mate and lay their eggs back in the water to start again. Some live as adults only a few weeks but others make it through the entire summer. There are even a couple of species that migrate to the U.S. south. There they deposit their eggs in the water and, when they emerge as adults, fly all the way back up here.
Although they are considered to be cold-blooded in that they lack the system to create body heat, they do in fact, get warm, up to 110 F, just by burning calories in flying. If you see a dragonfly that periodically plops into the water, it is trying to cool off.
The very name -- dragonfly -- conveys a mythical and romantic vision. They have been around for a long time, at least 300 million years. Back then they were a foot and a half long or about the size of a large duck!
So, getting back to the photos up top. What species is this? If you know, please leave a comment.
My best guess, after consulting my favourite field guide, Dragonflies of the North Woods by Kurt Mead, published by Kollath-Stensaas Publishing of Duluth, Minn., is that it is a Shadow Darner.
I'm led to that conclusion by the shape and yellow colour of the marks on its thorax as well as the blue spots on its abdomen. It's scientific name is Aeshna umbrosa.
My book says it likes to follow along streams and wooded edges and sometimes hunts in swarms. I found this one in the yard at camp last summer. It could have been part of the squadron following the mower.

Click to go back to our website
Click to see the latest on the blog

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Cork should be flagged for "encroachment"

The first thing all our dogs learn when they come to camp as puppies is that they are not allowed in the kitchen. Never. Not under any circumstances.
They learn it, they really do, but then they start pushing the limits.
Most just hung their front paws onto the kitchen tile. The bulk of their bodies was still on the carpet. If taken to court, their lawyer would probably argue that wherever the majority of the dog laid constituted his official residence.
Our old dog, Sam, took it a little further. A runner in baseball is considered to still be on the base if he is just making contact with one foot. So Sam left one foot firmly in the dining room.
Now Cork has taken this argument to what has got to be the final extreme.
Click to go back to our website
 Click to see the latest on the blog

Friday, January 22, 2016

A pike-fantastic trip with the boys

Noah and Alex Hamer on board Lickety Split are ready to catch some fish!

Heading toward the fishing spot

Here we go! Darryl Hamer with a beaut

Nothing beats sizzling fillets in the skillet at lunch

It's Mark LeSage's turn at boating a monster
Now it's time to go home
Darryl Hamer, Mark LeSage and Darryl's sons Alex and Noah had a whale of a trip to camp last summer by catching some whales of their own. They nailed the big northern pike as shown by these photos.
They were one of the groups that did very well on larger lures. I mean they caught bunches of lunkers.

Last summer was a veritable hit parade on big northern pike for just about everybody. The reason? Well, here's probably the main one: nearly everybody --including these guys -- released all of their big pike.
Pike like these are the major spawners in the lake. They also likely have the genes for fast growth and big size. Every time we release a big fish we are increasing the odds of catching another big fish.
Eat the small ones and let the big ones go. It is the new normal and is it ever working!
Nice work everybody!
 Click to go back to our website
 Click to see the latest on the blog

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A fishing trip to camp will never be cheaper

Texas angler Mike Gage tries some early morning dock fishing in 2015
If you are living in the United States, a fishing trip to Canada is not likely ever going to be less expensive than this year. In fact, it is even going to be about 20 per cent cheaper than last season. The reason is the exchange rate on American currency. It currently stands at about 40 per cent, the greatest it has been in over 13 years. A 40 per cent exchange rate is the same thing as a 40 per cent-off sale.
At Bow Narrows Camp our rates are in Canadian funds so the exchange rate is totally to the benefit of our U.S. customers. We always pay the bank rate of exchange. Last year it was approximately 20 per cent or half of what it is today. If you pay with a credit card the card company calculates the exchange automatically.
So, if you have buddies who have been sitting on the fence about whether they could afford to join your group, point out that the cost is going to be way less than expected. Incidentally, no matter what size cabin you originally booked for, check with us because it may be possible to switch you to a larger capacity cabin.
This would also be a great year to bring the grandkids or nieces and nephews.
Our Canadian guests won't be able to take advantage of any exchange but they will be able to reap the savings in travel since the price of gasoline has fallen dramatically and is predicted to decline even further. This means less expensive automobile trips and airplane tickets.
It is likely that Canadians will re-consider winter trips to the U.S. now and may opt instead for summer travel in Canada, including fishing trips.
Lower fuel prices will cut our fuel costs at camp too, however, it remains to be seen if it offsets the increased cost of food imported from the U.S. Most of the produce sold in Northwestern Ontario supermarkets comes from the U.S. and Mexico. The greater the exchange, the greater the cost. Climate change too is driving up food costs via droughts and extreme weather events.
Bow Narrows Camp boat works shoreline in the evening light

Click to go back to our website
Click to see the latest on the blog

Saturday, January 16, 2016

When to anchor for walleye fishing

Dan Ryan with a nice walleye caught last summer

Denny Koopman in 2015
If you are new to walleye fishing on Red Lake, don't read this. (see Curse).
I have seen more anglers thwarted in their pursuit of walleye by anchoring than perhaps any other mistake in technique. The problem is it restricts you to one place and on a big lake, like Red Lake which is about 30 miles in length and joins with the Gullrock waterway that is at least another 15 miles long, the "spot" is a movable feast. It shifts and flips shorelines with the wind and the temperature, baitfish preferences and insect emergence.
With all that being said, there actually is a time and place for anchoring and it is when you are dead certain where "the spot" is.
Let's say you are backtrolling a spinner and worm rig and you continually hit walleyes in exactly the same location in the trolling pattern, like at the tip of a point or off a pile of boulders in a weedbed. Probably on the second occasion you and your partner hooked up to the walleyes you had the place pegged.
If you are like most people, you continue to work the spot by trolling back and forth, even though 90 per cent of the route was unproductive.
So here is an occasion where you could anchor and flip a small jig right into the productive spot. Even still, there are a few caveats. 1. Don't anchor right in "the spot." The anchor may spook the fish. Anchor a cast-length away. 2. Don't anchor if it is too windy and the anchor might drag, again because it could scare the fish. 3. Don't anchor if you just aren't proficient fishing with a jig. I mean, you were catching fish just fine by trolling even if it was more slowly than might be possible by zeroing-in on the fish by anchoring.
Another place to anchor is when fishing downstream of rapids, again, because you know where the fish will probably be.
A definite time  to anchor on Red Lake is in the fall once the walleye have gone to deep water. The fish will school up in precise locations and to everybody's delight, actually show up as schools on fish finders. (The rest of the year we fish so shallow the fish almost never show on the screen, even while you are catching them.)
It is tricky, however, anchoring in this relatively deep water, particularly if it is windy since these places are either on the shorelines of big bays or in narrows within view of the big bays. My advice is to anchor only when the conditions allow it, like morning and evenings and just calm days.
Finally, a good time to anchor for walleye is when using slip bobbers, tiny jigs and leeches and fishing in the weeds. (See Walleye in the Weeds) Frankly, most people haven't a clue how to do this which is a pity because the edges of weedbeds are where some of the largest walleye lay. We've noticed that gargantuan walleye behave more like northern pike. They are often loners and are looking for bigger prey than the minnows the rest of the walleye feed upon.

 Click to go back to our website
 Click to see the latest on the blog