Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Factors that can affect Red Lake's 2014 ice-out

Everybody has their fingers crossed that the 2014 ice-out for Red Lake, Ontario, and other Northwestern Ontario lakes will take place before fishing season opens May 17. It is going to take a perfect alignment of a number of factors for that to realistically happen and apparently, the main catalyst-- warm temperatures -- isn't going to be among them. Although Red Lake is getting daytime highs above freezing, they are still far below normal and nighttime lows are still way too cold. You would be forgiven for thinking the ice will never melt but as the photos of Douglas Creek at the end of Trout Bay taken by Hugh Carlson show in the previous blog, there is a little open water showing up. How can that be?
The reason is that even though we can't quite pry Old Man Winter's bony fingers off us, other things are

Longer days

We are a month past the vernal equinox now and daylight hours significantly outnumber the dark ones. Sunlight, the giver of all life on Earth, will warm up every dark surface, regardless of the air temperature. Rocks, logs and weeds stuck in the ice will absorb the sun rays and holes will appear through the more than three-feet of existing ice.  Marshy ends of bays will melt entirely. The lake ice will break free of the shoreline, rising up so that it is higher than the water level when it froze.
Dirt and debris on the lake will melt holes down into the ice, some will go all the way through. Water will pool on the surface, turning it darker in colour and this too will warm up from the sun.
But longer days will have little effect if the sky is cloudy. So we need lots of sunny days, even if they are cold, for the sunlight factor to overcome the colder-than-normal temperatures.


Snow and ice melt far faster on warm windy days than on calm ones. The wind both blows the warm air in and carries the cold air away. In the West they have a name for this -- chinook. It is a First Nation's term and means snow-eating wind.
The good news is that the wind that blew relentlessly all winter, that created frightening wind chills, is still with us. This spring may not be as warm as normal but it is also far windier. The meager above-freezing temperatures are being multiplied by the wind, at least as far as melting snow and ice go.
There is still a couple of feet of snow on the ground but it is rotten. It would only take a couple of really warm days to finish it.
The wind also plays another role -- it actually creates a current under the ice, at least in some places. Here's how. When the wind blows it pushes down on the ice where the ice expanse is widest -- the center. This displaces the water beneath the ice away from the big sections, sending it rushing into the bays. This is most evident in long, narrow bays. But wind is seldom steady; it gusts and lays and then gusts again. So the water moves into these bays and then moves out again, back and forth. That's why there is a sandbar at the entrance to virtually every narrow bay. Think of Green Bay in Pipestone, Golden Arm, Marten Bay. The sand came from the action of the wind on the water, underneath the ice. Sediment in the water falls out every time the current reverses.
Every bush-wise snowmobiler and lake traveler knows that the ice is no good at the entrances of long bays. The back-and-forth current here makes the ice thinner and the sandbar makes the water shallower. In the spring, the sunlight will warm the water up here quickly so that these are the second places to open after the mouths of creeks that have continuous current.
Although we are still a long way from it happening, eventually it will be the wind that dashes the ice pans to bits. This will occur when the ice has melted a few feet from the shore and has room to move.

No more snow

If the lake ice is going to disappear before the season opener, we cannot have any more snowfalls like we had a few days ago. About three inches fell in Red Lake, much more in other places. A snowfall like this sets back the melting process by several days.


A warm rain really rots lake ice quickly. It will create pools on the surface that will find cracks that go all the way through. The water will pour through these, widening them and weakening the entire sheet.
Rain also sends torrents of water from land onto the lake, bringing with it dirt that absorbs sunlight.


Obviously, nothing melts snow and lake ice like warm temperatures. Even if they aren't normal, they must be above freezing, especially at night. If it freezes at night, it takes half of the next day to melt the new ice. So we still need it to warm up. We should be experiencing highs of 10 C to 15 C (about 40 F to 50 F) and lows of 0 C to 5 C (32 F to 40 F). Instead we are getting highs of 5 C to 10 C and lows of -5 to -10 C. That's not good. The weather forecasts continually predict it to warm up within a week. So far, it hasn't happened.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Scenes to warm our winter-frozen hearts!

Bay in front of Douglas Creek. 
Douglas Creek pours into Trout Bay
Hugh Carlson's  freighting system loaded with dock segments. In the background is Frank Paishk's cabin.
It hit 25 C or about 75 F in the sun in Nolalu today
Brenda and Cork enjoy the sun and disappearing snowbanks
The top three photos of spring scenes at the west end of Red Lake were sent to me today by Enid Carlson who owns Viking Island Lodge along with her husband, Hugh.
They had made a freighting snowmobile trip out to Viking Island on Douglas Lake. The two scenes of open water were at the entrance to Douglas Creek at the end of Trout Bay, a familiar place to all Bow Narrows anglers. Despite the below-normal temperatures and late-spring snowfalls, the lake is melting there pretty much as-usual. Of course, this place has a lot of current and such areas are the very first to melt. Still, it is heartening and makes us still hopeful that we will be able to get into camp by the opening of fishing season, May 17.
There is current also in the narrows in front of Bow Narrows Camp and this fact has often let us start the season on time by flying from the Chukuni River in town, usually with Viking Outposts aircraft, and landing in the narrows, even when the main part of the lake is still frozen and impassable to our cabin cruiser. In fact, that is what we did last year.
The third photo shows one of the Carlson's snowmobiles and the boat they are pulling loaded with freight. In the background is what most people know as "The Trapper's Cabin" at the eastern entrance to West Narrows, about two miles from our camp. It was built by Frank Paishk, the Ojibwa man who trapped the west end of Red Lake and who died many years ago. Frank was also one of the guides at Viking Island Lodge.
You can see more about the Carlsons' trip at Enid's blog.
The bottom two photos were taken today at our home in Nolalu which is about 300 miles southeast of Red Lake and is only 30 miles from Thunder Bay, Ontario.
The thermometer was on the sunny side of the house but still, this is pretty impressive. The warm temperature and light wind are helping melt the two feet of snow that still remains in the bush here. There may only be eight inches of snow left in the fields.
Brenda took advantage of the sunny day to "suntan" while reading her book. Our 4.5-month chocolate Lab puppy, Cork, finds the remaining snow patches perfect for eating and cooling off his tummy after dashing wildly about in what must be his expression of spring fever.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Will ice-out for Red Lake happen before fishing season?

With only one month to go before fishing season begins in Northwestern Ontario, everybody wonders if the ice will be off the lakes in time.
Well, let's put it this way: it isn't impossible. I say that despite the -20 C (0 F) temps of the last couple of days and the six inches of new snow. By next weekend the mercury is forecast to jump to normal and even above-normal for the next couple of weeks, at least for Red Lake. If that indeed does happen, the remainder of the snow and still-nearly four feet of lake ice could disappear rapidly.
Bare ground was just starting to show up when the latest snow and bitter temps hit. Let us pray it was the last gasp of Old Man Winter.
Predictions of ice-out are notoriously fickle. The only thing we can say for certain is ice-out won't be early. At the best it will be on time, and most people would probably bet it will be late.
For Red Lake, the average ice-out date is May 8. A week either side of that date would be considered normal. Fishing season begins May 17.

Recognizing a potentially dangerous situation

Calf and cow moose are frequently seen by our anglers. Larry and Jason Pons photo.
There's never any problem observing a cow moose with her calf, or calves, as long as you are at a respectful distance such as these photographers were in their boat while the moose walked along the shore.
Never, however, approach a moose and her calf on land or get between them on the water. Cows are extremely protective of their young and will almost certainly attack if they think you are a threat.
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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hopefully the lake level won't be this high

When water levels rise unexpectedly, loon nests can be flooded and the eggs lost. The high water left this loon and its nest the only visible thing on the surface a few years ago. That's not the best situation for keeping predators away. Eagles are among the predators of young loons and loon eggs.
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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Loons are the most devoted of parents

Photo by Larry or Jason Pons
No chick could have a more loving parent or as fierce a protector as a loon. The mother and father -- the sexes look alike -- dote upon their young and never leave their side until they are nearly full grown.
We are blessed on Red Lake to have pairs of loons at virtually every turn of the lake. Their voice is the true "call of the wild."
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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Red Lake 2014 ice-out countdown begins

With the arrival of April, the countdown for ice-out on Red Lake, Ontario and everywhere else in Northwestern Ontario begins.
Nothing that happened last winter will make a bit of difference. The severe cold, the deep snow -- all meaningless. What matters is the weather from here to the opening of fishing season May 17.
If temperatures are near-normal and there are the usual number of sunny days then Red Lake's ice-out should take place within a week or so of May 8.
Don Aitkin, owner of Red Lake Marine reported today that there is two feet of snow and probably 40 inches of ice. The weather forecast is for normal temps so the outlook is promising.

Bald eagles probably already finding open water

Bald eagles sit in jackpines. Photo by Charles Howard
One of the first birds to show up at rapids in creeks and rivers in the spring is the bald eagle. The fast-flowing water in these places are the first to become ice-free in the spring and will soon be stuffed with spawning suckers and walleyes, both favourite meals for the big raptors.
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Friday, March 28, 2014

How can this lever save you $950?

Motor tilt control
When our outside worker or myself is showing you your fishing boat this summer, pay particular attention to our spiel about the importance of the position of this lever on the outboard motor.
It is a critical piece of advice.
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Monday, March 24, 2014

Beauty springs from dead stumps

Doug Billings photos

Did you ever wonder how beautiful flowers grow each summer from the top of stumps around camp?
Somehow Brenda finds time to transplant them each spring and then waters them every evening. She also puts hanging baskets of flowers on many of the cabin porches.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Our chocolate brown lake trout

Joe Overman hoists a beautiful brown lake trout
Red Lake seems to have several distinct populations of lake trout. The ones in Trout Bay are a chocolate brown colour. In Pipestone Bay they are silver as they are in Big Red. The fish in Big Red seem to grow the largest. Every fish we have caught over 40 pounds has come from there.
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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How high/flood water can change habitat for years

Dead conifers turned red after being killed by high water
About five years ago the lake level was in a flood stage for most of the summer due to extreme precipitation. The lake was probably four feet higher than our normal high water mark. The resulting flooding around the shoreline killed a lot of trees. These will stay standing for awhile but eventually will topple over into the lake and create great fish habitat.
You can sometimes find huge clouds of minnows around trees in the water. And, of course, where there are minnows, there are gamefish.
I know of one angler who was casting a small Mepps spinner when he came across a newly fallen tree in the water. He promptly caught a small pike there. Then another, then another, then another. He carefully kept his boat away from the tree so as not to scare off the fish. He kept catching pike and it seemed each one got a little bigger. Finally he got a nice pike in the slot size. At that point he had caught 16 fish from the same tree. The fishing spree ended when he hung his spinner up in the tree and had to move in to get it loose.
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Monday, March 17, 2014

My preferred slip knot for tying up the boat

Here is the knot I like to use when tying boats up to the dock. It's quick to tie and unties with just a pull on the free end.
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Friday, March 14, 2014

Taking stock while doing a little dock fishing

Dee Hall tests the waters off Cabin 1's dock
Sometimes it is a good idea to start every day with 10 minutes of casting from the dock before making your fishing plans. This will give you time to notice the wind direction, air temperature and cloud activity -- all factors that might influence where you go and what you will fish for.
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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sit back and relax awhile

Fred Specht at one of the many yard swings and benches  in camp. Joe Overman photo
Listen to the waves' lullaby. Doug Billings photo
Don't forget when you are at camp this summer to just sit down and take it easy -- not fishing, not looking for anything -- just being quiet and listening to the sounds of nature.
We can hear loons calling just about all the time at camp. They have a bunch of different calls and it's fun to recognize which one you are listening to. In the evening and at night, loons seem to check in with each other all over the lake. It's as if they were night watchmen and calling, "It's 10 o'clock and all's well."
Different species of trees make different sounds in the wind. Jackpine seem to make the wind howl. Quaking aspen leaves clatter like wind chimes.
Mice rustle through the leaves. In the yard they are most likely meadow voles which never come into a cabin or cause any problems for humans. In the bush, they will most certainly be red-backed voles, an equally friendly critter.
Only at night are you likely to hear or see the destructive mouse species: whitefooted deer mice with their long tails, big ears and large eyes.
Waves lapping against the shore sing a lullaby.
Sea gulls keep in touch with each other as they patrol the shoreline.
Common terns and Bonaparte's gulls make a series of cracking calls.
Nighthawks make a snapping sound as they hunt bugs in the evening, high overhead.
At night, if it is really still, you can hear bats flapping when they make a tight turn. You can also hear nightcrawlers when they withdraw into their holes and rustle a leaf.
These are the sounds of peace and quiet.
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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Finally, Here Comes the Sun!

Well, what do you know?  The temperatures in Northwestern Ontario, including Red Lake, have returned to normal for this time of year and are supposed to stay that way for at least a week!
This means it is going to get a little above freezing in the days and go below freezing at nights but not -40!
This is exactly the conditions we need for the rest of the winter and spring to set up a normal ice-out.
Just as the Beatles said:
"Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right"

Where there's weeds, there's northern pike

Bill Baughman weighs pike with Bogagrip in weedy bay
When in doubt, head to the weeds!
That's always good advice when looking for northern pike. Although these fish are found just about everywhere, they are usually concentrated the most in weedy areas. The trick is to find where in the weeds they are -- in close to shore, at the edge, right in the middle, etc.-- and figure out a way to fish for them without hooking weeds the instant your lure hits the water.
The 1/2-ounce Johnson Silver Minnow with a three-inch plastic tail trailer is one lure that will thread right through the maze of aquatic vegetation. Always test this lure's single hook for sharpness and touch it up when necessary.
Mepps and Blue Fox spinners, #4 and #5, work well too because they move relatively slowly on the retrieve, giving you time to manoeuvre your rod so the lure slips around weed clumps.
My brother, Bill, shown in the photo, usually just uses a 1/4-ounce leadhead jig with a three-inch white plastic twister tail. Although this lure will readily catch weeds, removing them is easy because of the lure's single hook. Bill cranks this lure fast as soon as it hits the water, then lets it fall deeper as it moves away from the thickest weed growth.
He always uses a steel leader because he is pike fishing and these fish have a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth. Despite the leader, he catches a fair number of walleye on the same rig.
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Thursday, March 6, 2014

KBO, as Churchill might have said

Cork is delighted to see ground showing up through the snow at the side of the driveway
Everyone I have talked with this past week, whether they are in the U.S. Midwest or here in Northwestern Ontario, is universally sick and depressed about this long winter! It just doesn't seem like it will ever end.

When things like this happen I often think of a little-known saying of Winston Churchill. "KBO," he would say at the end of every telephone conversation. "Keep Buggering On!"  In other words, hold on, keep going. It's always darkest before the dawn.

Spring will really come and soon. In fact, there are signs of it already -- longer daylight, if nothing else. No matter what the air temperature is, solar gain is melting all the darker surfaces.

We see a lot of SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder here and right now is when it is most prevalent -- the end of winter. If you or someone you know is feeling really depressed about how winter is dragging on, don't be afraid to tell your family and friends about it. You might also want to talk to your doctor. It is a serious problem that won't get better unless you talk about it.

There are some things you can do to make yourself feel better too such as getting out of the house, visiting greenhouses or conservatories -- maybe even the mall -- or any other places with green or flowering plants. Have friends over for dinner. Go to the movies or a play. Maybe you can even take a trip to visit someone. Pick up the phone and call someone you haven't talked to for a long time.

Make up a schedule of things to do each week, even if you don't "feel" like it.

We're going to beat this winter if we just stick together.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Big Canada lynx is hanging around the house

I snapped these photos of a Canada lynx walking in our driveway out the living room windows the other day. It's the first time we've actually seen this wild cat but his tracks have been all around most of the winter.
Last year we saw several family groups of lynx but not this winter. There have only been single lynx leaving tracks.
The deep snow is meaningless to lynx and their prey, snowshoe hares. Both have Dr. Seuss-like fluffy feet that keep them up near the surface.
Lynx populations go through wild 11-year cycles, the same as do snowshoe hare. The hare population has dropped since last year but there are at least a few still around. Next year may be a different story. At the low point in their cycle you can barely find a track all winter.
Although lynx eat almost nothing but hares, they have been known to kill house cats. The way this one hangs around the house makes me wonder if he might make a grab at our new chocolate lab puppy, Cork, who is about half the size of the lynx. We never let him go outside alone, just in case.
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Monday, March 3, 2014

Story of 50-inch pike now in two magazines

I've been told that the story of Bow Narrows angler Rob Frye's catching and releasing a 50-inch northern pike last summer in Red Lake is in the February issue of MidWest Outdoors magazine as well as InFisherman.
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