Saturday, April 25, 2015

Knockout punch is coming for Red Lake's ice

We just finished a cold week here in Northwestern Ontario but luckily areas on the west and south of the region, such as Red Lake, Kenora, Fort Frances, Dryden and Thunder Bay, got mostly rain and only a dusting of snow. Northern and eastern areas were not so fortunate. Places like Big Trout Lake and Pickle Lake were buried in up to 60 cm (two feet). Ouch!
But that is all history now. The stalled low pressure weather system that brought this unseasonal weather has now finally moved off and there is nothing but good times in sight.
Weather forecasters are predicting highs in the teens C (50-60 F) for the next two weeks. Also, in just a couple of days from now, overnight lows are not supposed to go below freezing. And bright sunshine is forecast almost every day.
This should absolutely ruin the remaining ice on area lakes. That ice is only a foot or so in thickness or about one-third of what it was last winter. So there isn't much left to melt.
The lack of fresh snow means the ice will quickly turn black and absorb the sun's heat.
Incidentally, the length of daylight here is now about 16 hours. It starts getting light at 6 a.m. and is still light until 10 p.m.
I think we are still on track for the 2015 ice-out to occur the first week of May for most Northwestern Ontario lakes and around May 8 for Red Lake which is deeper than other lakes. A factor that could hasten the process is wind. No strong winds are currently in the forecast but if any do appear, they will multiply the ice destruction force, particularly toward the end. Once the ice has melted around the edges of a lake, a strong wind can make the entire sheet start to move. The momentum of the ice sheet is incredible and will smash the remaining ice against the shore. It is possible for a lake, even big ones like Red Lake, to see its entire surface clear in just a day or two under such circumstances.
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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mystery solved on "Zero Hour Bomb Co." reel

Advertisement that Mike found
No sooner did I ask readers if they knew anything about the old Zebco reel hanging in our dining room than Mike Miller sent me an e-mail. Mike is actually our closest neighbour at camp. He has the cabin that is "hidden" in the trees right across the narrows.
The reel is the Model 22, manufactured in 1953 by the Zero Hour Bomb Company which later changed its name to Zebco.
 Model 22 with thumbing brake
It was actually the second model the company produced. The first was called the Standard and looked very similar.
The Zero Hour Bomb Company started in Tulsa, OK, in 1932. It made electric bombs used in oil drilling. In 1947 a Texas watchmaker named R.D. Hull invented the world's first fishing reel guaranteed not to backlash and took his idea to Zero Hour. The first spincast reel rolled off the assembly line in 1949. The first Zebco 33, with the push-button back used today, appeared in 1954.
The company changed its name to Zebco in 1956 after a friend of President Dwight Eisenhower sent him a reel and White House security threw the parcel into a tub of water when they saw it came from Zero Hour Bomb Company.
The company came out with a redesigned Model 33 in 2004 to celebrate the reel's 50th anniversary and an all-new design for its 60th anniversary in 2014.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Things with a history in our dining room

Our dining room at camp is a treasure trove of fishing and hunting history. Take the photo above. That old chair is actually a relic of the 1926 Red Lake Gold Rush. It is made of planed lumber and held together with clinched nails.
Sitting on the chair is a hand-carved mallard decoy that came to us from my great-Uncle Bill's camp -- Rainbow Lodge on Pickerel River. It and other old decoys on display would have been used in the 1920s and '30s in the Georgian Bay area.
Finally, the three grey boxes are our shore lunch boxes that we give to guests when they cook their fish for lunch out on the rocks. They are packed fresh each time with all the ingredients and utensils needed for the feast. They might seem new by comparison but are actually over 50 years old. This is our 54th year of operation.
Not pictured but hung on all the walls are old steel fishing rods and fishing reels that we all used at one time. There are some real relics including a Zebco that has a rotary dial where the thumb push-button is these days. This reel doesn't have a drag. You played the fish by putting pressure against the rotary dial which I would guess is made of Bakelite. To cast the reel there was a tiny push button on the top that engaged a free-spool. You held pressure on the rotary dial with your thumb until your rod was in the right position, then released the dial. It was sort of like using a baitcaster.
I've never seen another like it and would be interested in knowing when it was made. Anybody know? Unfortunately I don't have a photo handy.
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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Don't leave home without these this year

Outdoors card, side-cutters, bandages, blue Deepwoods Off. And yes, that is snow this morning.
Bring your Outdoors Card!
Even if it is expired!
Say what?
Yes, even if it is expired!
We have so many people come to camp without their Outdoors Cards it is incredible, perhaps as many as half.
So what?
If you have an Outdoors Card -- even an expired one -- it means you can get your fishing licence in no time flat. We just run the card through a machine, select the licence you wish, and press the button.
If you don't bring it, then you are the person that holds up your entire group from going fishing! That is because now the licence issuer has to key-in all the data all over again. You know -- height, colour of hair and eyes, birth date, etc., etc.
If your card is expired, then the licence machine just prints you out a temporary one along with your licence. The plastic wallet-size card will come later in the mail.
And another reason to bring your card -- it costs $9.
Besides the oft-forgotten Outdoors Card, make sure you bring a set of sturdy side-cutters, another item missing from most tackle boxes. What are these for? Mostly, they are for cutting the split ring that fasten those tiny, incredibly-sharp, treble hooks on your Rapala fishing lures. You need to do this whenever one of those hooks are sunk beyond the barb into your hide.
 Remember, cut the split ring, not the hook itself, because if you make the mistake of cutting the hook, it will slip right inside your flesh. If you come back to camp with a whole treble hook dangling from you, we can remove it, quite painlessly, in about 30 seconds. If you cut the hook and it disappears into flesh, you are looking at a trip to the doctor, possibly in some distant place like Kenora where there are surgeons. Big mistake!
Are you on blood thinners? Lots of us are these days. Then make sure you bring a Ziploc-full of BandAids and a tube of ointment and put these in the bottom of your tackle box. And if you aren't on blood thinners, do the same thing. Along with the nicks and fish-tooth punctures that come from catching a lot of fish, these will come in handy for torn fingernails, minor burns and the like.
Finally, unless a miracle happens, there are going to be some bugs out there. The type of bug varies a bit with the month: May and June -- blackflies; June, July and August -- mosquitoes; July and August -- ankle biters (stable flies); September -- blackflies.
Although there are a myriad of insect repellents out there, if you bring just this one it will work for everything -- blue-top Deep Woods Sportsman Off. I repeat, BLUE Deep Woods Off. Not the green one; it will not work on ankle biters. The difference is the amount of DEET. The blue-top Off has 30%. Anything less than this is just a flavouring for when the flies bite you. ("Mmm, nice and spicy!")
If you want a longer-lasting repellent (the Deep Woods spray may only last a couple of hours on ankle-biters) bring Repel Sportsman Max which comes in a lotion form and is also 40% DEET.
It will keep the ankle-biters away all day when you wear shorts and sandals!
Do you still need reminded to bring your passport? I didn't think so.
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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Ice-out for Red Lake likely first week of May

What a difference a week makes!
We're just finishing up a wonderful week of weather here in Northwestern Ontario with very warm temperatures and strong winds. The result is the snow is gone and the ice on the lakes took a severe beating. Reports from Red Lake are that the ice is black and sick-looking. If the great weather would only hold for one more week the ice might be gone before the end of April. Unfortunately, that scenario isn't exactly in the cards.
Next week is supposed to bring day-time highs in the single digits on the Celsius scale and the nights are supposed to be below freezing. So, the big melt is going to stop for awhile. The week after next, however, is seen to bring a return of the sun and fun and my guess is that there is only a week or two after that before the ice will be finished. That would make it about the first week of May, probably right around May 8 which is the average ice-out date.
The summer-like temperatures of the past week, combined with the strong snow-eating winds, has meant most of the winter moisture went straight into the atmosphere through evaporation rather than sending stream and lake levels soaring. So things are kind of dry.
That should end this coming week. Lots of rain is forecast starting Sunday. Rain is also good for ruining lake ice but with the single-digit highs predicted, there is also a good chance some of that precipitation will turn to snow, at least flurries, but enough to whiten the ice back up. White reflects the sun and retards the melting process. So, overall, I think next week is going to put the melt into a holding pattern.
No matter, everything looks good for an on-time ice-out. After being burned with airplane costs the previous two years, we at Bow Narrows Camp aren't opening this year until the actual second week of the fishing season, May 23. It will be a real pleasure for us to get into camp a week or two before the guests and get everything running and into shape. It is utter misery for us to basically get there the same time as the guests which is what happened the last two years.
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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Unconventional walleye techniques

A loon takes a stretch by a likely-looking walleye spot. Vic Fazekas photo
Right from the start let me say that if you want to catch large numbers of walleye, and almost nothing else, than you should stick to regular walleye fishing methods like back-trolling walleye spinners laced with worms, leeches or minnows, or fish with 1/4 or 1/8 ounce jigs with the same bait attached. That is how the best walleye fishermen do it. But I'm not one of those people. I'm a northern pike fisherman who, while casting the shorelines and weedbeds for my favourite fish, notices a likely walleye spot and with no live bait whatsoever, tries a bit for walleye. And I frequently get some, maybe not as many as the dyed-in-the-wool 'eye anglers, but enough to make it interesting.
I find these fish in places that I strongly suspect normal walleye fishermen never even consider, like weedbeds and lily pads, and I always cast for them, with the same lures I'm using for pike. One of these is the quarter-ounce Beetle Spin which catches the daylights out of northern pike and does pretty darn good on the golden fish as well. It's just that I fish it differently when I think there might be walleyes at hand.
For northern pike, a Beetle Spin, or just a plain quarter-ounce jig with a three-inch or 3.5-inch twister tail should be cast to shore or through a break in the weedbed and reeled steadily back to the boat while letting the lure run about three feet down, at least after it clears the shallows. For walleye I use the exact same rig but usually cast it to a likely-looking spot, let it sink all the way to the bottom, then slowly crank it in, letting it run as deep as possible.
The trick, if there is one, is knowing what is a "likely-looking" spot.
I look for a pile of boulders among the weeds or for a place where the bottom drops off to deeper water, often signaled by the fact there is no weed growth. Sometimes I fish for walleye right in the midst of the weeds but only because I have caught walleye in this place before, probably while fishing for pike.
In the photo above, the water looks like it gets deep pretty close to the weed growth on this little island; so, it would be worth a try.
Usually I just get a walleye or two and move on but sometimes I hit the mother lode and find a cluster of fish in these spots.
I would probably do better on the walleye if I didn't fish with a steel leader but since it's northern pike that I'm really fishing the most for, I always have a leader. However, I usually make my own out of 10-pound-or-so Knot2Kinky wire which is so fine I don't think walleye pay it much attention. I also use small swivels and snap-swivels which don't shout METAL! to keen-eyed walleye.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Now is the time to sharpen your hooks

The weedless Johnson spoon needs its hook honed every day
Everybody is itching for the ice to melt on the lakes and get out there fishing, at least as soon as the season opens. Now is a good time to do something that most anglers never get around to -- sharpening your hooks.
This is especially important on spoons for northern pike. Many of these have cast hooks which aren't sharp even right out of the box. How do you know if your hooks are dull? Well, one clue is when you get strikes but not hook-ups.
The thumbnail test
It is amazing the difference once you have put a fine point on the hooks.
If there is one gizmo that most fishermen don't have, it would be a hook sharpening stone or other honing system.
The simplest is just a small stone but you can also get diamond-surfaced rods, such as the one in the top photo, and even battery-operated systems.
The Johnson Silver Minnow, with a single cast hook, needs honing every day. Other lures, such as the Dardevle probably only need touching up once a week. Of course, if you hook a rock or something like that the hooks will need sharpened again.
Straight hooks are not so good
You know a hook is at its sharpest if its point can catch on your smooth thumbnail. Some, like the Johnson, may never quite get this sharp but treble hooks usually will.
Wire hooks, like those on jigs, are very sharp and stay that way longer than cast hooks.
Another trick to help you with hook-ups on fish when using spoons is to flare the trebles outwards. Did you ever notice how an older lure that has already caught lots of fish works better than a new one? Part of that may be due to the beat-up finish to the lure but another reason is that the hooks naturally get bent outward as you remove them from many fishs' mouths.
Just use needle-nosed pliers to flare the hooks outward a bit. A real handy device for many fishing applications that works here as well is the needle-nosed Vise Grip. You can clamp it on to the shaft of the treble and then use standard pliers to grasp the hook and bent it. Unless you want to have barbless hooks, be careful not to grasp the hook on the barb, because you will flatten it.
Flared hooks are better
I find that flattening the barbs is an excellent idea on plugs like Rapalas that have more than one set of trebles. Fish never seem to get away, even with the barbs pinched. But on lures with one set of trebles and especially on single hooks like a Johnson, you better leave the barb. Otherwise the fish can wriggle off.
Pinching the barbs on plugs not only makes these lures easier to remove from fish, but also from yourself.
Something like 90 per cent of the hooks that we have removed from anglers over the years at camp have been attached to one particular lure maker -- Rapala. These hooks are so needle-sharp and tiny that you can actually drive them through your skin just by picking them up roughly.
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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Scene is set for normal ice-out on Red Lake

This spectacular shot of a loon is by Dave Myers who will be in camp opening week.
In only a month we may be watching loons again on Red Lake. Although the weather has been nippy the last few days, the forecast for the next two weeks looks wonderful with highs in the mid-teens C (50s F). That should take off the remaining snow and seriously damage the 30 inches of ice still on the lake.
We have our fingers crossed.
Ice-out was exceptionally late the previous two springs, coming near May 20. Normally the ice would be off the lake by May 8.
Late breakups are bad for spring fish spawners like walleye and northern pike. They do best with early ice-outs and then lots of warm weather. Getting a late start is also miserable for all fishing camps but especially so for remote ones like ourselves. It means none of the work we needed to do before camp opens gets done. Once fishermen are in camp we all have our hands full until things quiet down again. That often means September or even October.
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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Tricks for when the walleye turn finicky

Bass Pro XPS walleye spinner rig
No sooner does your walleye spinner trolling rig and 1/4-ounce sinker hit the bottom behind the boat than you get a walleye. So does your partner. And not far away, your buddies in another boat both connect to walleye with 1/4-ounce jigs baited with worms or leeches. And it happens again and again, for maybe an hour. Then, as if someone threw a switch, it stops. The feeding frenzy is over.
What happened?
No one really knows, but this is a common scenario: walleye hit like crazy for awhile, and then they stop. They will start again but it might take hours.
What happens to most of us is that we work the area thoroughly with exactly the same tackle, perhaps picking up a couple more fish, before we change locations and look for another frenzy.
Some fishermen, however, don't switch areas, they change how they are fishing. As a general rule, when walleye turn finicky you want to use less metal and fish slower. The fish aren't as aggressive now so you need to cater to their whims.
Instead of trolling with a metal-bladed walleye spinner, you might try just drifting with a Lindy rig that has a small float and hook. And instead of a 1/4-ounce sinker you should probably switch to a split shot. If you were jigging with the 1/4-ounce, switch to a 1/8-ounce, even a 1/16 ounce. Or even better, use a split shot and a floating jig head and just let the floater with a bit of worm or leech rest just off the bottom and wait for a fish to pick it up.
Think of it as the walleyes that were gorging on minnows (and your lures) earlier are now full and lazy, kind of like us after Thanksgiving dinner. They may be lying on the bottom doing the equivalent of watching football games on TV.  However, when someone passes a plate of snacks, well, there's room for a little bit more, just as long as they don't have to chase it.
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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Old Garant pickaroon is a real back-saver

A pile of birch I split last fall at camp. Pickaroon is on top of stump.
I just finished doing some spring firewood cutting here at Nolalu and I really missed my old Garant pickaroon that I have at camp. I have a newer model here but it doesn't hold a candle to the old one with its thin, replaceable, barbed point.
Replaceable, barbed tip is what makes this tool exceptional
If you've not had the good fortune to use such a pickaroon, it works like this: with a deft flick of the wrist, you stick the point into whatever piece of wood you need to pick up, from kindling to unsplit chunks of firewood to whole logs. You can then lift the wood into position without needing to bend all the way to the ground for it. To release the pickaroon, just give a little twist as you pull up.
When I'm splitting firewood I have the pickaroon right at hand, like in the wheelbarrow, and use it to pick up each piece of wood and put it on the block without bending.
When getting trees out of the bush I cut them into lengths and then, using the pickaroon, slide them all the way to where I want them, such as the boat. This means never picking these heavy objects up.
Here I pick up a firewood piece without bending over
My old-style pickaroon still has its original handle which is about two feet in length. It is perfect for me as I pull the logs since it lifts the end of the log off the ground with my arm fully extended, an easier method than if I had to pull with my bicep muscle because my arm was bent.
Alas, as far as I can find out, Garant was the only maker of this style of pickaroon and they no longer produce it. That company and others make a heavier model these days which doesn't have the barbed point. It also has an axe-length handle which means you must grasp it partly down the shaft when dragging logs. This is more difficult than holding it by the end as you do with the shorter handle. Its thicker head also means you can't pick up tiny things like kindling.
Old faithful will even pick up kindling
Although just about everybody calls this tool a pickaroon, technically it is a hookaroon. The real pickaroon goes back to the river drives of logs and had both a pick to push with and the hook for pulling.

You can buy the standard, smooth-point pickaroon just about everywhere that sells tree-cutting equipment like chainsaws. These models are backsavers as well, even if they aren't as refined as my old favourite.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I Didn't Get the Limit - a song

(Apologies to the Eagles’ Take it to the Limit)

All alone at the start of the weekend
Northern Lights have faded to gloom
I was thinking 'bout a walleye and a northern pike
I never knew
Now I’m looking for my tackle box
(Nobody seems to care)
I can’t find my fishing rod
(Can’t find it anywhere)
Now there’s nothing to believe in
‘Cause I threw them back, they won’t come back
I threw them all away

So leave me by the highway
And give me a sign
"I didn’t get the limit, pass me by"

I called my wife from the camp one evening
She said one thing is perfectly clear
You went with your buddies to Canada
To drink lots of beer
The head on your shoulders
It’s screwed on kinda loose
I wanted you here
You went north just like a goose
Now there’s nothing to believe in
‘Cause you threw them back, they won’t come back
You threw them all away
As you stand there by the highway
Remember my cry
If you don’t get the limit, it’s goodbye

So I walked all alone to the border
No one would give me a ride
My cooler on wheels is empty
I just want to hide
But when I cross the border
It’s going to be OK
I’ll hold my head high again
I’ll fish another day
Now there’s something to believe in
'Though I threw them back, they won’t come back
I threw them all away

‘Cause you can get the limit
Not feel like a slob
You can get the limit from Border Bob's! 

Yes, you can get the limit (falsetto: Bor-der)
You can get the limit (falsetto: Ba-hab)
You can get the limit from Border Bob's

Editor's note: Border Bob's in International Falls, Minn., has been a must-stop place for anglers coming north to Canada and then going south again, for four decades. We just learned Bob and Kathy Neuenschwander are thinking about retirement. We would like to thank them for their service to the outdoor tourism industry all these years and wish them the best of luck in their next journey. Their store sells ice, t-shirts, food, and thousands of other products, including, just as the song says, walleye fillets!
They have an e-commerce website: Border Bob's and also a new website dealing with their sale: Own Border Bob's. You can also learn more about their History.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sustainable fishing: how we practise it

My niece, Susan Baughman, let this big pike go

A conventional idea of a sustainable fishery is that it is one that is harvested at a sustainable rate, where the fish population does not decline over time because of fishing practices. -- Wikipedia

Nature is a wonderful, miraculous thing. It produces a bounty that will sustain us forever as long as we treat it with respect. This starts with taking the time to learn about its systems. The more we look, the more awestruck we become about the interconnectedness of everything.
And where do humans fit into this?
A lot of us have experienced moments of revelation about this and these have come the most often while we are fishing! As our boats move with the rhythm of the lake it dawns on us how the Sun's energy is creating the temperature changes that causes the wind that makes the waves. We see other fishers -- feathered ones like bald eagles, ospreys, ducks, loons and kingfishers; furry ones like mink, otters and bears; and tiny ones like fishing spiders and dragonfly nymphs. If we look even closer we would see crustaceans like tiny freshwater shrimp feeding on microscopic phytoplankton which feed on the Sun's energy through photosynthesis. We realize that not only are we among a group out on the lake, we are a part of it. That is the epiphany -- we are part of it, not above it, not lord and masters of it, just one of the connections on the web.
It can be a life-altering moment because, as simple and basic as this concept is, it can shatter what we have been taught to believe about our place in the universe, that we are the apex predator, that all of Nature was put here for us to conquer, even that we are the most intelligent species. It is like opening a door to another world, like seeing the night sky for the first time and finding that there isn't just one Sun out there but billions upon billions of them.
And this one too
Some people never have this moment, mainly, I think, because it makes them feel insignificant. But for those of us who do the effect is just the opposite; we are blown away that we are lucky enough to be a part of such an immense, incredible creation. And all we have to do to keep the whole Blue Marble running as it has for billions of years is to not ruin it.
For more than half a century now, we at Bow Narrows Camps have lived and breathed fishing. And by "we" I mean not just my personal family but our bigger family that includes our guests, many of whom have been coming here nearly as long as me and who know a great deal more about fishing. A lot of them could have expressed what I just did above with more elegance and clarity, and most of the rest feel similarly but keep their thoughts to themselves unless asked.
The interesting thing is that probably none of us started out this way. Our respect for the natural world grew and changed over time as we learned more about it and observed that as the human population tripled in those 50-plus years, a lot of the planet has been altered to something we don't like.
And so we cherish the still-pristine places like Red Lake and the Boreal Forest all the more and have adopted practices that will keep it healthy. When it comes to fishing that means doing it in a sustainable manner, a way that ensures it will not decline over time.
You might think that all this means is following the law -- the fishing regulations and limits. It certainly means doing that at the bare minimum. I say minimum because the fact is fishing regulations are only partly founded on biology and the rest on politics. Here's an example, for years Eastern Ontario did not have the same four walleye, four northern pike limits as Northwestern Ontario. It had a six and six limit. It also didn't have many fish. However, a vocal group of anglers in that region for at least a decade successfully prevented the lower limits needed to rebuild the fishery.
In the Northwest we not only adopted the four-fish maximum but also a no-keep slot size for northern pike and a one-over-18-inch rule for walleye. It's the same species of fish in both places but the difference was in the Northwest we are accustomed to great fishing while in the East surveys showed anglers were happy if they caught a single fish in a day! Eventually, they weren't happy and the regulations were changed.
And this one. She only kept smaller fish to eat.
The very existence of slot sizes and the one-over rule, however, point to a biological fact that anglers and many camps like ours were quick to realize. Take pike, for instance. Biologists said two thirds of the breeding population of northern pike are in the 27.5-35.4-inch slot size. So, by letting these fish go we would be ensuring that two-thirds of the breeders survived. Well, just about the remaining one-third of the breeders are those fish bigger than the slot size. Plus, since the bigger the fish, the more eggs they produce, these are the most important fish. Furthermore they very likely carry the genetics for fast growth and large size. They are the very fish we want to see more of. Consequently, we all began letting them go. We did it as individuals, as camp suggestions and as camp rules.
The very same principle is true for walleye. Let the big ones go. These fish first begin to spawn at 18 inches. So, keep and eat the ones beneath this size.
I once wrote a blog about the ramifications of keeping big walleye. See The Stunning Reality of Keeping Big Fish.
And since it is usually a story, not facts, that sway people, I also wrote Fishing on Mars.
In fact, this blog and our website are full of examples of how and why we release big fish.
Just about everybody is on board, but not all. Why do people keep big fish these days when we all know better? It could be in our genetics. Some anthropologists call it the greed gene. There could also be a competitive gene.
I often think when I see someone these days bring a big fish into camp that they are saying: "Look at me! I am the greatest! I have killed a mighty fish!"
The two genes would be satisfied. One, that by proving his prowess, the fisherman is better than  everyone else and two, he brought in a lot of meat so that the "village" won't starve.
The irony is the other anglers in camp are not impressed that this person has killed this fish, one that they might have released the year before and which now will no longer be sustaining the population. Also, the big fish was a lousy choice for a meal. It is probably at least 20 years old and has been accumulating all the heavy metals in the environment.
As I said before, it takes a story to open people's eyes and at least get them thinking about changing their minds.
When Northwestern Ontario first went to the four-fish limit, there was quite a bit of grumbling one evening in our dining room. Dave Amdahl, one of our long-time anglers, asked the group this simple question: "By a show of hands, how many of you still have fish in the freezer from last year's trip?"
The room was a sea of raised hands. Obviously, they didn't need all the fish they had taken home. No one ever said a thing about the new limits again.
At our place, the camp buys everybody a conservation fishing licence which allows them two northern pike and two walleye. Of course, they also need to follow the northern pike slot size and one-over 18-inch walleye rule. Two-thirds of our guests use this licence rather than purchasing the four-and-four full-limit Sportsman's licence. And of the two-thirds with the conservation licence, probably one-third to a half don't take any fish home. They just eat fish fresh while they are at camp. We also have perhaps a dozen anglers who never keep a single fish all week, not even for eating.
As for keeping big fish, my guess is only five per cent of our anglers keep big northern pike. It's a higher percentage for keeping big walleye, perhaps 20 per cent. Walleye anglers have been the slowest to see the light but what has happened is they are keeping smaller "big" fish. Where in the past they would have kept the biggest fish they could get, perhaps a 32-incher, now they keep a 20-incher as their "one-over."
Their reasoning is that this fish has more meat on it than the under-18 and they think they are doing the population a favour by keeping one 20-incher than, say, two 16-inchers. So their heart is in the right place but they just don't understand the system. The 20-incher was a prime breeder and would have produced perhaps 200,000 eggs before the two smaller fish even reached breeding size.
We all need to learn to leave the big fish in the lake. The part of the population that we can harvest without harm are the smaller fish beneath the spawning size. For walleye this would be the 14-18-inchers. For northern pike it would be 20-26-inchers.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring this year seems to be right on time

Bare ground is showing up in spots such as underneath trees in Nolalu this morning
On this official first day of spring, conditions in Northwestern Ontario seem to be on track for a normal thaw. Daytime highs are slightly above freezing and nighttime lows are slightly below.
Here in the Nolalu area, which is south and west of Thunder Bay, we have already lost about two-thirds of our snow.
Areas to the north, such as Red Lake,are not as advanced but the process is taking place there as well.
Everywhere in the Northwest received either a normal or below-normal snowfall last winter. That would have been two to three feet of snow. The gradual melting conditions means flooding is unlikely anywhere.
It was more or less a normal winter although February was colder than usual. This, plus the usual amount of snow, has also meant more or less normal ice thicknesses. In most areas that will have been about three feet.
Fast-flowing rivers will have started melting already but slower ones and all the lakes haven't even begun yet. First we need to get rid of the snow.
We've been blessed so far in March to have escaped the heavy snowfalls that have hit Eastern Canada and the U.S. Every new snow sets back the melting process.
Ice-out will, as always, depend on the weather from here on out. If it stays in the normal range, ice-out on Red Lake would occur in the vicinity of May 8, give or take a week. That would be a welcome start to the season for us after the past two near-record-late ice-outs.
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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Minnesota postpones boat trailer law

A law that was scheduled to come into effect July 1 and would have affected everyone crossing the border into Minnesota from other states or from Canada has been postponed. The law would have required boat owners to take a course on invasive species and get a decal for their trailer in order to travel legally through the state.
A news release says the state is waiting to see if its legislature makes changes to the law.
It states that boat owners can keep abreast of what is happening by going to this link and by signing up for e-mail updates.

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Sky-high in song at Bow Narrows Camp

Morning has broken

Afternoon delight

The thunder rolls

Goodnight, Irene
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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Made in Canada. Made in the U.S.

Eppinger spoons
In these last few decades of globalization and outsourcing of manufacturing, it is a real pleasure to find things still made in North America. And it is especially rewarding to find that many of these Canadian-and-American-made items have to do with fishing. Take Eppinger Lures, for example, the maker of the famous Dardevle which is the ultimate red-and-white and black-and-white spoons that have caught so many northern pike throughout the North. The company also has lures with specialty finishes like the ones at right with Canadian and American flags. Eppinger lures are made in Dearborn, Michigan.
 Another time-tested favourite is the Len Thompson spoon, especially this company's Five-of-Diamonds pattern. Len Thompson spoons are made in Lacombe, Alberta. 

Mepps Spinners, although the components may be made in France, are  assembled in Antigo, Wisconsin.
Plano tackle boxes, at least the hard-sided models, are made in Plano, Illinois.
It was actually the purchase of a new Plano hard box that got me thinking about the made-in-North America aspect of fishing tackle. I needed to replace a soft-sided Plano nylon case that was made in China. The bottom fell out of it in just six or seven years. By comparison I've had an Umco hard plastic tackle box for 38 years.
(I guess Umco is no longer in business.)
I don't know about you but so far I've not had any item that was made better in China than it was in Canada or the U.S. and I've had plenty that are inferior.
Fifteen or 20 years ago I bought a Sierra Designs Gore-Tex rain jacket that was made in Ontario. It was fantastic and I wore it summer and winter for four or five years. When I went to purchase a new one, I found that they were now made in China. "North America labour rates just can't compete with those overseas," I was told. I ended up buying a made-in-China model and it lasted less than two years. Oh yeah, it cost me the same as the Ontario one. The savings by going to China were strictly for the manufacturer.
Plano hard-sided tackle box
A similar situation arose last fall when one of our guests bought two inexpensive made-in-China spinning reels on his way to camp. They fell apart the very first time he used them. He didn't really have much choice, all spinning reels are now made overseas. The last to be made in the U.S. was Penn and that company moved all but its salt-water trolling reel manufacturing overseas a few years ago.
At first the Chinese-manufactured reels of all the big names were quite inexpensive and pretty good. No more. If you want a good reel you need to shell out some serious bucks.
Len Thompson
This is really just a matter of economics. If the only reason a manufacturer moves offshore is to save money, then we shouldn't be surprised that as time goes on the company takes more and more shortcuts that are less expensive, even if it means making an inferior product.
Getting back to things still made here, all of the famous Canadian lure makes are still made in Canada. These include Gibbs, Brecks, Williams, and Lindquist, the maker of the famous Canadian Wiggler.
There have been more lake trout caught on the Gibbs One-Eye Wiggler than any other spoon at Bow Narrows Camp.
All of these lures are well-made, time-tested, proven producers.
When I think of quality products, I'm reminded of the slogan of Vermont's Darn Tough Socks:
"Nobody ever outsourced anything for quality."
Their socks may be more expensive but they come with a lifetime guarantee.
Gibbs One-Eye

Canadian Wiggler
Blackbird Floats
Mepps, made in France but assembled in U.S.
Click here for a link to more American-made fishing equipment. Or here for a list of Canadian companies.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

No chicken or eggs allowed to cross the border

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has issued a ban on the importation of uncooked chicken and eggs into Canada from a bunch of U.S. states, including Minnesota.
The ban was issued after avian influenza was discovered in these states.
This will mean fishermen crossing the border into Canada from International Falls, Minn, at Fort Frances, Ont., will likely not be able to bring with them chicken or eggs, even though they may have purchased them in other non-banned states.
Here is a link to the CFIA bulletin.
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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Now we're talking! Spring may be here

Temperature at 2 p.m. today in Nolalu, 50 kilometres southwest of Thunder Bay, Ont.
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Monday, March 9, 2015

A couple of toothy eaters

Fortunately, they each got a great-size walleye for the skillet! Larry and Jason Pons.

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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Beautiful timber wolves now out in the daytime

Large wolves were out and about at 3:20 p.m. in Nolalu
For size comparison purposes, Cork in nearly same spot. He is a 70-pound Labrador.
I wrote awhile back about how I didn't fear for Cork being taken by timber wolves because he and I are always taking our walks through the bush in the daytime while the wolves operate at night.
Well, we can discard that notion now.
One of my trail cameras got these great shots of large wolves a few days ago at 3 p.m.
The funny thing was I had just been thinking how the trail cameras got photos of wolves at night but deer in the day. I guess the wolves noticed this pattern too and started working the day shift.
Cork and I found the first traces this winter of where the wolves had killed a deer. It was right where this camera was mounted and amounted to some specks of bloody ice and bits of meat.
Speaking of predator-prey relationships, I ruminated a few postings ago about the demise of Ontario's moose population and factors that could be causing that, including predation. However, an old biological maxim is that predators never eliminate their prey. They can be a limiting force, but for the most part predators keep prey populations healthy by preventing them from becoming too numerous and by killing off the sick and wounded. We don't need to worry about wolves killing all the whitetail deer or moose!
Deer are actually their own worst enemy. They are incredible breeders and must be one of the most adaptive creatures on the planet. But when their populations become dense, they get chronic wasting disease and spread the brain worm parasite to moose.
Unfortunately, humans have grown accustomed to these over-populated herds in many places and then gripe when wolves or coyotes take any, even though they are improving the population in the long run.
The wolves that we are seeing here in Nolalu are about the only check that matters on the local deer herd. Hunters take but a few each fall. I'm afraid our culture and history here are so engrained into moose hunting that we have been extremely slow to switch our efforts onto deer.
Take myself, for example. My family has always come to camp each fall to go moose hunting. We are usually successful and that single animal is all the entire bunch of us needs for meat for the winter. So when we come back to Nolalu in the fall, I don't also hunt deer, even though they are everywhere.
Hunting regulations are to blame for some of this as well. In Wildlife Management Unit 13 around Thunder Bay, including Nolalu, there is no non-resident deer hunting allowed. Many of my family members now live in other provinces and are considered non-residents.

Going back to biology basics, the maxim about predators not eliminating their prey also states that it is habitat that really controls wildlife populations. Today, we might amend this to say habitat and climate are the bottlenecks.  Two things are changing on that front here in Northwestern Ontario. As mentioned previously, climate change is giving us warmer, drier winters, and somewhat wetter summers. The other thing occurring is a great reduction in timber harvesting. Most pulp and paper mills in the province -- in all of North America, actually -- have closed. That industry has largely moved to South America. So there is less cutting of mature forests taking place. Moose -- and deer -- thrive in areas that have been recently logged because of the new growth that provides winter browse for years afterward. It has been about 10 years since the downturn in the forest business began. Regeneration in some of those last areas to be logged will be getting fairly tall by this point, which makes it not quite as good habitat.  But frankly, I don't think habitat is a major factor yet. Our growing season is so short that these old cutovers will continue to provide plenty of browse for probably another 10 years. Still, it is a factor worth mentioning, along with brain worm from deer, predation of calves by bears and wolves, and hunting.
Something to also keep in mind is that only 100 years ago this entire region was neither moose nor deer country. It was almost totally inhabited by woodland caribou. I remember reading old copies of the Port Arthur News-Chronicle or Fort William Times-Journal newspaper on microfilm that had a  story about a lone moose track that was found near Longlac, a couple of hundred miles northeast of the city. That front-page news item was in the 1920s. (Port Arthur and Fort William were amalgamated in 1970 to become present-day Thunder Bay.) It was speculated that this lone moose had been following the railway right-of-way from the east. Railroads were still relatively new at that time. The Canadian Pacific had been finished in 1882 and what was then-called the Canadian Northern Railway in 1915.
There were stories in the papers back then about people mostly hunting caribou but also whitetail deer. The deer seemed mostly to be on the big islands like Pie Island, in Thunder Bay of Lake Superior, right in front of the cities. Moose were non-existent.
Then logging would have spread far and wide on either side of the railways and also in the general vicinity of pulp and paper mills which sprouted up everywhere there was a river that could be dammed for hydro-electric power.
Timber harvesting quickly eliminated the caribou which need mature or over-mature forests and their lichens to survive the winters. At the same time it made the region fit for moose and deer which would have migrated into the region from the east, west and south.
Today woodland caribou are found only in the far North of Ontario, where logging has never occurred. There are tiny pockets of them in other spots, the most amazing of which is the Slate Islands on the northeast side of Lake Superior. There is no logging on these five small islands which encompass only 36 km2 (14 square miles) and also no predators. Currents usually keep the lake free of ice between the islands and the mainland 10 kilometers (six miles) away and wolves and bears have apparently never made the swim.
There have been recent times when the tiny islands supported 650 caribou. However, the population also routinely crashes to just 100 or so. The islands' caribou situation has been extensively studied and the reason for the precipitous declines has been found to occur when there is a lack of vicious winter storms and winds that knock down trees loaded with arboreal (tree) lichens like Old Man's Beard.
There is also a tiny herd of caribou in Woodland Caribou Wilderness Park, just west of Bow Narrows Camp. We used to see some of these animals as they migrated between the park and wintering areas north of Red Lake. The last one I saw was swimming across West Narrows, right at the Trapper's Cabin, heading to the islands that lead to the mainland by Muskrat Bay. That was probably 15 years ago.
Bits of bloody ice were all we found from a deer killed by the wolves
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