Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Boreal residents that you often see

Angler John Andrews caught on camera two of Northern Ontario's residents while fishing at Bow Narrows Camp.
His photo of the cow moose standing on the shore has a lot to say. Did you notice the cow is not alone? There is a newborn calf in the picture as well.
The light-coloured face of the moose is something only the cows have. Bulls have dark faces and muzzles.
You can see that the cow is shedding her wooly winter coat and replacing it with a sleek, darker one.
Cow moose often swim out to small islands to give birth in the spring, early-to-mid-May. This is believed to be a defense strategy against black bears which are on the prowl for moose calves at this time of year. Our guests often see the moose as well as the bears swimming to and from the islands.
John's other photo is of a raven. Anyone who spends time in the North appreciates the intelligence and toughness of this large bird. Ravens live for a long time, at least 50 years, and become exceedingly wise.
Indigenous people sometimes call them the wolf-bird because the raven seems to have a special relationship with that apex predator. They are known to yank the tail of sleeping wolves. Why? Apparently because they want the wolf to get to work and kill something so that they can scavenge the carcass. This behaviour must be learned by watching other ravens, one researcher has pointed out, because there is no margin for error. Approach the wolf from the wrong angle and you end up as the carcass.
Ravens can clearly reason. I have had them land in my boat when I have been moose hunting, find my packsack, open it and take out my lunch. They will follow fresh tracks in the snow of wolves or people.
A logger friend of ours who worked by himself once conducted this experiment. A raven would show up right at lunch time to see if Gilbert had anything to share. He would often give the bird part of his sandwich. Just for fun, Gilbert suspended his offering on a string three feet beneath a branch. He just wanted to see if the raven could hover long enough to grab it. Instead, the raven landed right on the branch and reaching down with its thick beak, grabbed the string and hooked it to a stubby branch higher on the tree. It then repeated the procedure until it had hoisted the sandwich up to where it could grab it.
One of my favourite sights in the winter is of a raven doing barrel rolls as it flies along. It cannot be anything but an expression of joy. And they seem to do it most often on days that are exceedingly bitter. It's as if the raven is saying, "Isn't this great! What a wonderful life!"
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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Speaking of fishing couples, check this one out

Click on these photos for full effect. Karri Ann Pons with a chunky 38-inch northern pike

Karri Ann with an equally impressive walleye

At the other end of the boat, Jason Pons with a beautiful pike

Jason with another big walleye

What happens when it rains? You put on your rainsuit and catch fish like this.

And like this

If it never rained there wouldn't be any rainbows. Especially not double ones
Jason and Karri Ann Pons sent along these great shots of one of their fishing trips to Bow Narrows. The photos were shot with a GoPro Camera and if you click on them I believe you can see the wonderful panorama view this camera takes.
Karri Ann's 38-inch pike was a special thrill. Jason writes, "Taken on the last cast at the last spot of the last night in camp in 2015. 1/8-ounce jig, 3-inch grub, 1/3 of a nightcrawler, 6 pound test mono, ultralight rod and reel."

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

What to do when there is thunder and lightning

Lightning strikes on the north shore of Pipestone. Click on this photo for panorama. Jane Bechtel photo
The safe thing to do is get back to camp and get inside. "When thunder roars, go indoors."
You should never be caught by surprise by thunderstorms. You can hear them coming probably for half an hour or more. At the first sound, you should check out where exactly the storm is. If it is west or south than there is a good chance you are going to be caught in it. If it is to the north, like this one in the photo, it might miss you. However, even if the storm, with its unpredictable winds and heavy rain, stays away, you are still in danger of being struck by lightning. Lightning can strike many miles away from the main part of the storm. It can even appear out of the blue sky.
So the best advice is head to camp at the first sound of thunder.
Sometimes, however, the first sign of the impending storm isn't thunder but increasing wind speed. That should also be a warning. If it has been calm (calm before the storm) and then the breeze starts to pick up, you can bet your bottom dollar there is a storm around. That would be a great time to get off the big water, before the waves build. Head to the secluded areas near camp, like the narrows or nearby bays, where you can make a quick run to camp if the building wind is followed by thunder.
But let's say you don't do that. Maybe you are tucked back in some place like Green Bay, a long narrow bay off the side of Pipestone which is protected by high ridges and where the wind is barely noticeable. Your first warning is the thunder and when you move to the bay's mouth you can see lightning striking to the west, and the waves are already more than you wished. Now what?
The best thing to do is just go back into the shelter of the bay, put on your rain gear which you should always carry in the boat, no matter what the weather. Go to the lee shore -- the one least affected by the wind -- and tie up to a small tree. Pick a spot where there aren't any exceptionally large trees that might attract lightning.
Make sure you tie the boat securely. It's your choice to either sit in the boat or get out but something to keep in mind is that thunderstorms are often accompanied by hail. If that happens you better get under some trees. If you have seat cushions, hold them over your head. You could use your PFDs too.
The actual storm is probably going to last about 30 minutes. There is no predicting how bad it is going to be so always be prepared for extremely high winds, hail, rain and lightning.
The very worst thing to do is to head back to camp right in the middle of the storm. Just wait it out. The old saying is, "A sudden storm is soon over."
Once it goes by, move to where you can see to the south and west again. There might be another storm on the horizon. If so, head back to camp before it gets any closer.
Sometimes, though, there is nothing but blue sky to be seen and you can just return to fishing right where you are.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

New website is on-line. Check it out!

The Pons group dock fishing off Cabin 8. Photo by Jane Bechtel
We've been working on a new website with our web page designer and host TJ Quesnel of DueNorth Marketing for a couple of months and it all went live a few minutes ago.
Check it all out.
Thanks to all of you who sent photos. Many of them are on the new site and the ones that aren't will probably be used right here on the blog.
It had been awhile since the website had an overhaul and was badly needed. In particular, the old site didn't display well on smart phones. The new one is supposed to be designed to be seen on a computer or a smart phone. We don't have smart phones ourselves so if you do I would appreciate hearing from you.
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Monday, February 20, 2017

Master lure maker has some new creations

Have you ever seen anything like this? The Weasel

Squirrel-hair whiskers, wooden fur

Our lure-making neighbour, Dwayne Kotala, just showed me his latest batch of hand-made wooden lures. I can see a 20-pound pike attached to just about all of them this summer!
We had contacted Dwayne about this time last spring to see if he could paint lures to look like baitfish in our lake. These were plastic lure bodies that he painted to look like emerald shiners, red-bellied daces, chubs, smelt, perch and other forage fish. Now he is making only hand-carved wooden lures. All the hardware is made of stainless so that the lures can also be used on saltwater.
I have the honour of getting the very first of what is probably the most unique surface bait I will ever use. It is called the Weasel and looks like a six-inch long brown weasel (or mouse). It has a baffle-lip that will make the floating lure jitter across the surface. It also has a genuine squirrel tail and squirrel tail whiskers!
The surface of the lure looks as though it is made of fur but is actually hard wood. I can't wait to try this on Red Lake's monster northern pike.
Six-inch perch and walleye sink a foot a second until retrieved

Primo floating lures for musky and big pike
Dwayne also has a six-inch double-jointed sinking lure in perch and walleye patterns that I predict will be gobbled up by trophy pike and walleye. These lures are weighted so that they sink one foot per second until retrieved and then wobble in a double-jointed fashion that looks incredibly like a swimming fish.
Another innovation this spring is a double-jointed version of the floating six-inch lure I caught a big pike on last fall. See Original Art Pieces and also Artist's Lures.
If you are interested in any of his lures, contact him directly at crankyfinnguy@gmail.com
He also has a blog.
All of his lures are custom-made. You can pick the style you want and then ask that it be painted in a pattern that is best for your lake. Great patterns for Red Lake include: perch, emerald shiner, red-bellied dace, smelt.
Just to make sure you understand the difference between Dwayne's lures and what you buy in Wal-Mart, each of Dwayne's lures are carved by himself, tested in a tank with weights added internally, fitted with top-of-the-line hardware like stainless lips and swivels, and given six coats of air-brushed paint or more. These things are so beautiful you feel like framing them rather than taking them fishing. There is nothing like them, literally.
Medium diver Emerald Shiner has shiny, not mirrored, sides

Paint job is fantastically detailed
If you are a serious big pike or musky angler, in particular, or if you want to give someone an outstanding gift, this is for you.
Other blogs about Dwayne's lures were Customized Lures and Oh Man!
He is only making wooden lures now and only by order. There will be quite a few of his plastic lures from last year for sale at camp this summer but none of his new wooden ones.
Assorted lures, all handmade from wood

Pumpkinseed or sunfish
Surface thrasher

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

This couple always finds the big fish

Troy Bechtel with pike and walleye (below) caught mid-July

Jane Bechtel with another great pike and walleye (below)

Bow Narrows Camp gets 400-450 guests over its normal 22-week season and with about 85 per cent of those returning year after year it is probably little surprise that a lot of these people become experts at fishing Red Lake.
The couple shown above are such anglers. Troy and Jane Bechtel seem adept at finding the fish no matter what the current weather condition happens to be. Notice, for instance, how calm the water seems to be in the first three photos. Flatwater and bright conditions are usually not the best for fishing yet here they are hoisting big pike and walleye for the camera before releasing them back to the lake.
Our camp is in many ways like a big family. When guests come the same week year after year they connect with others in camp who are doing the same thing. They share their experiences and help each other out when someone has a problem. When there is a new group in camp everyone goes out of their way to make sure they are having a good time. No matter how experienced and skilled you may be, when you come to a new lake there are techniques and tactics specific to this lake that you must learn. A few tips from someone who has fished here before quickly point you in the right direction.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

No sugar coating for this book

I have mentioned a few health-related books here in the past so I thought I would share this one with you all too.
Author Gary Taubes, in The Case Against Sugar, shows you why government diet advisors who have preached calories in -- calories-out as their mantra for half a century are missing the point. Taubes' verdict is that sugar is a drug and the entire world is addicted to it. Telling the public to use sugar in moderation is like telling them to smoke cigarettes in moderation. He traces medical research and reports that have found sugar as the common denominator in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, cancer and even Alzheimers disease. All of the above are symptoms of the same epidemic and it is confounding why sugar isn't singled out as the culprit.
It is a convincing read. If you are concerned about any of the above or just want to understand why you can't lose weight, pick up this book. Stay healthy. You can't go fishing or enjoy the outdoors if you are not.
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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Stage is set for a very early 2017 ice-out

If it was any other year I would consider it foolhardy to be speculating in mid-February about when spring ice-out was going to occur. February is usually the coldest month and greatly adds to the thickness of lake ice. But the month is half-gone now and we mostly have had very warm temperatures, much like the early part of the winter. Now the forecast for next week is for above-freezing. There is also a foot or more of snow on the lakes and that will protect it from freezing any further.
So what does this mean for 2017 ice-out?
I predict it is going to be early, possibly even set a record. The current record for Red Lake is April 20, last set in 2010. The average is May 8.
There is only 18-inches of ice or so on most lakes. That is about half the usual thickness at this time of year. With the snow already on the lakes and more snow undoubtedly to come in March, it is very unlikely the ice will get any thicker.
The unknown variable is really what late-March and April will be like. If those periods are mostly overcast and cool, than it will slow down the melt.
Right now I would guess ice-out will occur between April 20 and May 1. It could happen far earlier but I doubt if it will be any later.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

More women anglers with big fish

Barb Stevens
Here are a couple of our female anglers who landed some big fish at camp.
At top is Barb Stevens with a very impressive northern pike. The next photo is Sue Ratliff with another dandy.
Thanks to our anglers' catch-and-release ethic as well as provincial slot size regulations, big pike are more abundant than ever.
I notice that even the walleye anglers are sending us photos of giant northerns they caught by accident.
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Sue Ratliff

Thursday, February 9, 2017

What is a Poohbah of 'Pout?

A. A taciturn leader of an exalted office
B. A small yellow bear of children's book fame pronounced with a Southern accent
C. Head of the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo Lodge No 26
D. An expert at catching cod

The answer, of course is the last one, D.
What cod are we talking about? Lota lota. It is the only freshwater member of the cod family and goes by dozens of names, one of which is 'Pout, short for Eelpout. They are found in deep lakes all over North America, including Red Lake.
Here we call them Ling. They are almost dead ringers for another fish, the saltwater Ling Cod.
In Manitoba they are called Mariah. In the Great Lakes they are called Lawyers (I would like to hear the story behind that), in Minnesota, Eelpout.
We have a mounted Ling in the lodge at camp and also display the painting, shown below, which  lists just some of this mysterious fish's monikers.
They are found on the bottom, usually just below the thermocline, in some of the deepest bays.
They have been known to incite terror among unsuspecting anglers. Their eel-like body might be partly to blame but I think the main reason is they have the habit of wrapping around your arm when you try to unhook them.That plus the fact they are so slimy you can barely get a grip. Finally, their swim bladders usually come popping out of their mouths due to the pressure difference between where they were and the surface.
Anglers, usually on the hunt for lake trout, have been known to take out a knife and cut their lines rather than deal with the vile-looking Ling. And that's a pity because they are absolutely harmless. They don't even have teeth.
They are also delicious to eat. In fact, I would rate them as one of the North's best-eating deep water fish, beating out lake trout and whitefish by a mile.
Their flesh is quite different from other fish. First of all they don't have much of it. There are two "tubes" of meat on either side of the backbone. These are totally boneless and are firmer in texture than other fish.
A great way to prepare them is to cut the tube into chunks, about an inch thick. These should be sauteed in butter, perhaps with garlic, onions and red peppers, if you have them handy, for a few minutes. They taste very, very similar to scallops.
Another technique is to place the tubes whole in boiling water for a minute or two and then eat them with melted butter or seafood sauce. This is where they have earned the name Poor Man's Lobster.
Whatever you do, never deep fry them in oil like you would other fish fillets. The oil in the Ling's flesh, very likely high in omega 3s, will burn and give this fish a bad taste.
A final word about the misunderstood Ling is that they don't freeze well. Don't get me wrong, they freeze solid, but in so doing it alters the taste. Fresh ling have no fishy taste whatsoever but not so ling that have been frozen.

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Monday, February 6, 2017

What made these mysterious holes in clay bank?

Something has enlarged some of what appear to be kingfisher nesting holes
I checked out these holes in a clay bank on an island in front of Golden Arm last summer after several of our anglers reported seeing them.
I can explain the smaller holes. Kingfishers nest in clay banks and make holes just like these. So do bank swallows but they are rarer in these parts than are kingfishers.
But what about the larger ones?
My guess is that creatures have enlarged a couple of the kingfisher holes to make their own dens or nests but I'm at a loss for what those creatures were.
There are no trails from the holes down to the water so it would seem the creature and its young didn't travel that way. Neither are there trails going upwards. This would seem to rule out animals like otters, muskrats, etc.
The size of the hole is probably a clue. The holes are big enough for a woodchuck, also known as a groundhog, but it would be silly for such an animal to make a hole entrance on a vertical bank face, 15 feet above the lake. Also this island was too small to provide enough food for a woodchuck.
My best guess is that the holes might be nesting sites for merganser ducks. They are cavity nesters and mostly nest in pileated woodpecker holes in large trees; however, I have also seen them use abandoned woodchuck holes in the ground. Since these holes couldn't have been made by a woodchuck I'm surmising that maybe the ducks enlarged the kingfisher holes. I've never heard of such a thing though.
Does anybody know what actually went on here? Any ideas?
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Friday, February 3, 2017

The very best way to eat fish is at shore lunch

Matt Andrews puts a couple of fillets in the frying pan

It just takes a little grease. The fish are cooked in minutes. John Andrews photos
If it isn't already part of your tradition when you come to Bow Narrows Camp, you should think about adding a shore lunch to your trip.
Fish never taste as good cooked any place other than outside on the shoreline.
If you are on the American Plan we provide you a shorelunch box with everything needed for the fish fry: potatoes, onions, beans, coffee and tea, cookies for dessert, along with all the pans and grill. If on the Housekeeping Plan we provide the same outfit but without the food. Just about everybody also takes their fish with them too. This will be fish they brought in the previous night and had us clean for them. So all they need to do when they get to shore is gather wood for a fire, put the grease into the pan, shake the fish up in the breading we provide and use a long fork to drop the fillets in the grease when it is hot enough. Be careful on that last exercise. You don't want to burn yourself.
When you are finished, use the tea pail to ferry lots of water from the lake to drown out the campfire. Stir the coals with a stick until there no longer is any steam. You want it to be absolutely dead.

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