Sunday, November 16, 2014

A fishing camp faux pas

These are finely-tuned instruments
At Bow Narrows Camp we clean all our guests fish for them. We've done this for more than 40 years.
Three times a day our outside worker and frequently myself come together at the fish cleaning shack where our guests have put their fish in blue plastic tubs in a system that we have pretty much perfected over the decades. We know from how the fish are placed in the tubs whose fish they are and whether we should clean and package them to go home or take them to the guests' cabins to eat in camp.
I got to thinking this summer about how many fish I've cleaned in my life. For about eight years I was the sole fish cleaner and that was back in the days when the limits were six walleye, six northern pike and five lake trout per person. It was also in an era when virtually everybody gauged the success of their trip on whether they took home "the limit." Needless to say, a lot of fish needed to be cleaned.
Since then limits and standards have changed. Now, if you have the full limit license you can keep four walleye and four northern pike. On Red Lake, no lake trout can be kept at all while this species rebuilds their population. However, most anglers today opt for the conservation fishing license which allows them two walleye and two northern pike to take home. So there are fewer fish to clean than in the old days. But since anglers also keep some fish to eat at camp before putting some in the freezer to take home, we still clean lots of fish.
My best guess is that I personally have cleaned at least 200,000 fish and probably far more.
The entire reason we began cleaning our guests' fish in the first place is because I learned how to take out the Y-bones from northern pike. It was a technique showed to me by one of our moose guides -- Jimmy Duck -- who had himself been shown by an American fisherman at another camp.
It's a slick method which results in two fillets per fish that are 100 per cent boneless.
But the technique is as much of an art as it is a science. I have shown it to hundreds of sportsmen and women and the only ones who have ever been able to duplicate it were our own outside workers. That's because you need to clean about 10 fish within a day or two with me by your side giving you instructions, watching your knife the whole time and alerting you when you start to make mistakes. There is very little margin for error or you end up with fillets that look like lace curtains.
To accomplish the task you not only need to know where to make incisions but how to angle your knife. You need to understand fish physiology and, on yeah, the Y-bones are invisible to you.
One other thing, what you do with your non-knife hand is as important as the one holding the blade. It needs to support the fillet in a particular way that makes the cuts you make with your knife take out the bones, but not the meat surrounding them.
As you might guess, it takes a very sharp knife to accomplish this. I always use two knives, one for filleting and another for skinning. The reason is skinning dulls a blade quickly and doesn't require a razor-sharp one in the first place. Our outside workers always use two knives as well.
This means you not only need to learn how to Y-bone a pike but you also need to learn how to properly sharpen a knife. It's a process that takes about half an hour per blade, if the knife is seriously dull. Once sharp you can keep it that way by touching up the edge every few fish. So we never let our knives get very dull. In our three-times-a-day ritual, we have about one hour maximum each session to clean everyone's fish. If it takes longer than that then we aren't completing our other daily tasks like picking up the garbage, cutting firewood, filling up the gas tanks, mowing the lawn, filling the generator with fuel, etc., etc.
This is where the faux pas comes in. Every once in awhile we descend upon the fish house planning for a rapid fish cleaning session only to find someone else has used our knives. Not only did they use the filleting blade for skinning but they also didn't place one of the cleaning boards beneath it and cut right against the metal cleaning table. Our razor sharp edges now wouldn't cut warm butter and we are now going to spend two hours in the fish house, one hour sharpening our two knives and the next cleaning fish.
In my mind, this is a cultural gaffe as great as wearing your buddy's underwear.
If you lived next door to Eric Clapton would you wander into his house and play his guitar, maybe re-tune it? It's the same thing.
Our knives may not look like much but they are finely-tuned instruments and we are highly skilled artists.
People who want to clean their own fish or who decide at midnight to clean some fish for a snack are welcome to do it. Just use your own knife, that's all.
Incidentally, fish brought into the fish house after our 5:30-6:30 p.m. fish cleaning time are put on ice until the next morning. This sometimes causes concern among our anglers who think the fish might spoil, hence their taking our knives and cleaning the fish themselves.
I can absolutely guarantee that the fish will be in excellent shape when we clean them the next morning. I say this because I've seen it happen hundreds of thousands of times.
Sometimes anglers, fearing the fish will spoil, keep them on a stringer overnight at the boat or hang our burlap keep sacks in the water. Now the fish really will be spoiled.
Just do what we advise: put the fish in the tub in the fish house in the evening. The last thing I do before I go to bed each night is to cover all the fish in the tubs with wet burlap bags and a milk jug of ice. They will be exactly identical in condition the next morning.
I don't claim to be an expert on anything else but when it comes to cleaning fish, more specifically -- northern pike and walleye -- I have never met anyone who knows more about it.
You would need to have cleaned hundreds of thousands of them since you were six years old to understand what I'm talking about.
Remember the first moon landing? It was in 1969 and my dad came to get me so I could watch it on TV. I was in the fish cleaning shack at the time and probably ended up cleaning 50 or more fish that day, just like I did every day. I was 16 years old at the time and already had been cleaning fish for 10 years.
By my estimate I had already cleaned as many fish by 1969 as most anglers clean in their lifetimes, at least pike and walleye.  And that was 45 years ago and I've been at it ever since.
I've cleaned fish when I was so tired I fell asleep standing up. I've cleaned them with mosquitoes eating me alive. I've cleaned them in the dark and in below-freezing temperatures. It only takes me a minute or so per fish. At least, it does when I don't have to spend an hour sharpening my knives!

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

The one thing most fishermen forget to pack

My pocket kit I always carry in my hunting vest
Today's angler is certainly well-outfitted.
He has multiple rods and reels. He has the latest fish/depth finder. His tackle box is stuffed with every lure on the market.
So what could he possibly have forgotten?
It becomes apparent the first time he gets nicked by the razor-sharp teeth of a northern pike, or jabbed with the dorsal fin of a walleye or poked with a hook or cut with a piece of line.
He has nothing to stop the bleeding!
It seems no one carries a first-aid kit any more.
And to make matters worse, a great many of boomer-age anglers are also on blood thinners. They bleed easily and a lot from the most minor gash.
Actually, what is needed isn't the entire first-aid kit, just a bunch of bandages and a tube of antiseptic cream. These take up very little room packed in a ziploc and stored in the bottom of a tacklebox.
If you forgot the antiseptic, head to shore and find a balsam fir. (See the First-aid tree).
Virtually every fisherman is going to suffer some nicks and lacerations out there. For one thing, your hands are soft just from dipping them in the lake so often. If you patch up these wounds on the spot they never get sore and bothersome.
It's also a good idea to have one full-fledged first-aid kit back in the cabin for the entire group in case there is a more serious injury.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Old camp phone and number bite dust

For over 40 years our phone number at camp was 807-727-2730 but that has now come to an end with a final breakdown of this type of phone system.
Bell had offered and then maintained the remote microwave telephone network that several camps and individuals used in the Red Lake region. It was always a party line but over the years the system was refined so that you could not hear others' conversations; you just got a busy signal when you went to use the phone. It replaced the old walkie-talkie or CB-type of radio phone we had used in the 1960s.
Motorola made the equipment and we had several large boxes of electronics in a building we called the radio shack. The equipment has been obsolete for about a decade. We were told a few years ago that if anything ever broke again, that would be the end. Well, it broke some time in September or early October.
Fortunately, we have another telephone system at camp -- a cell phone that picks up a signal from Red Lake via an external antenna and then boosts that signal with an amplifier. It is considerably simpler than the old microwave system and has worked extremely well since we started using it a few years ago.
That phone number is 807-727-0439 and is our only summer phone number now.
However, if you want to remember only one phone number for us, remember our winter number: 807-475-7246.
It will always reach us any time since we forward calls from that number to wherever we are, including camp.
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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Last year's freeze-up caught on trail camera

The scene as we left camp in the Lickety Split, Oct. 17

Moose gets a drink from point in early November

Still some open water the day before freeze-up, Nov. 19

Ice extends all the way across narrows, Nov. 20,  and never melted until May
My brother-in-law, Ron Wink, left his trail camera set at camp last fall (2013) and it recorded nearly half of the winter before its batteries went dead in late January. In particular, it witnessed the actual freeze-up of the narrows in front of camp.
Ron had set the camera to take a photo every five minutes during daylight hours.
The sequence began when we left Oct. 17. Not much changed for a couple of weeks except for some snows that came and went. Eventually the snow just stayed.
Also ice formed and melted along the shoreline several times. Finally, in mid-November, it stayed along the shore all day and started edging toward the center. On Nov. 20, the ice reached all the way across the narrows and never melted again.
The camera also recorded temperatures and it was remarkable to see it was -40 C (or F, both scales come together at -40) in early December. That is extremely cold for so early in the winter.
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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Beavers and 'valuable lessons'

Now the beavers are cutting down our birches
My current attempt at living in harmony with North America's largest rodent -- the beaver -- is just the latest chapter in a very thick book. It's a psychological thriller full of twists and unexpected turns. Over the years we have invested hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars into this relationship with mixed results, at best.
It started with fencing our trees. Beavers had cut down virtually every quaking aspen tree within 100 feet of the water at the west end of Red Lake except for those growing in the yard at camp. Eventually, these trees around our cabins were just too great a temptation and they started disappearing at night. We put our superior human intelligence to work and placed wire fencing around every aspen near the lakeshore. We reasoned that if the beavers got out of the water and discovered the trees could not be cut down, they would not bother going farther back into the bush where we had not fenced trees. It worked!
Also, to save money, we had cut the fencing so it made a barrier that extended just two feet off the ground. When you look at beaver tree stumps, they are roughly the same height -- the height of a beaver -- and are less than two feet high. Again, our plan worked ... for awhile.
After several years, beavers somehow learned to cut above the two-foot fencing. I don't know if they were standing on each others shoulders or maybe dragging a log to the trees to stand on, but trees started vanishing in the night again. So, there was nothing else to do but take off the two-foot fencing and replace it with three-and-four-foot fencing, a process that was even-more expensive and time-consuming than before. But at least our efforts weren't in vain, at least not for several years.
I got up one morning only to find beaver stumps where trees had been, right beside the cabins! Some beaver had gone right past the fenced trees at the water to see if all the trees were protected and discovered they were not. This had to be stopped immediately or we would need to fence hundreds of trees all around the camp.
It was then that I started thinking about how beavers learn. For years they had been swimming right past the fenced trees and assumed all the trees in camp were protected. This knowledge seemed to have been passed on to new generations of beavers. Then, some smarty-pants, not listening to the advice of his elders, went inland anyway and discovered the whole story was a myth. If he taught the rest of the beavers what he learned, we were in big trouble. But what if he had a bad experience and related that to the others? We needed to teach this adventurous beaver a valuable lesson and then he would pass that message on -- stay away from this place.
I came up with the idea of electric shock. It works with domestic animals after all. Think electric fencing. Once pigs and cattle have been shocked by the fence, you can take the fence down and they still won't cross where it had been, at least so I've been told.
The beaver had left a half-cut tree near Cabin 10 and I reasoned he would be back to finish the job the next night. A 12-volt battery, I guessed, would do the job. That's what the electric fencers used.
I fashioned a grate of heavy fencing all around the tree for the beaver to stand upon and wrapped finer chicken wire around the trunk, right where the beaver would bite. I set the battery down by the tree and fastened one pole to the grate, the other to the trunk. The beaver would complete the connection, get zapped but not killed and would head off to Beaverland with the knowledge this was a bad place to cut down trees.
It took me a couple of hours to lay the trap and since it was supper time, I went into the lodge to eat.
Afterwards I moseyed on down to the cabin hoping to actually see the trap in action -- a zapped beaver fleeing to the safety of the lake and probably slapping his tail repeatedly to warn off the rest of the clan.
Instead, I found the battery flipped upside down with both poles touching the metal fencing. It was sparking furiously and this had set the dry grass in the entire yard on fire. Oh yeah, the tree was gone.

But a valuable lesson had been taught.
I learned never to do this again.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Assistants 'volunteer' to help with tree clean-up

About half of the chore of cutting down trees in the yard is dealing with the branches. They all need to be picked up and hauled to burning piles. It's a tedious task. If only I had helpers to do it. Hey! The favourite food of beavers is quaking aspen, the same species of trees I am cutting. I just cut down the trees and give the big rodents time to haul away the branches. In fact, I give them a hand by cutting the branches loose from the trunk.
My trail camera shows beavers passing by every few minutes each night. There are obviously a number of them at work. Even the kits are getting in on the action. The camera showed a kit hauling off a few tiny branches at first and then progressively taking bigger ones.
The adult beavers can carry small logs that are several inches in diameter.
The trick is going to be to allow the beavers to take the branches but not the cut-up pieces of firewood. In the past we've had them steal wood right out of firewood stacks. This year I'm stacking the wood "in-the-round" which means it will be much heavier than split pieces. That, plus the fact it will be wedged by the weight of all the pieces above will, I hope, prevent all of next fall's firewood being dragged into the lake. Each round piece of these large green poplars probably weighs 20 pounds. I'll also stack it as far away from the lake as possible.
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Sunday, October 12, 2014

What fish species spawn in the fall?

Lake trout, as mentioned in some of the last postings, spawn in the fall.  This seems odd to some  anglers and the reason is almost all of the species they normally seek are spring spawners such as walleye, northern pike and bass.
However, lake trout are not alone in their autumn ritual here on Red Lake. Other fish, most of them not targeted by fishermen much are: whitefish, tulibee and ling. All of these fall-spawning species are the deep-water fish in Red Lake.
Their reproductive strategy is in marked contrast to the spring spawners whose survival seems based on eggs developing rapidly and the young fry quickly seeking shelter from predators, all in a matter of a few weeks. The fall spawners' eggs can take months to develop and the young fish are very slow to grow. However, there also are fewer predators in the shallows under the ice. Most of the predatory fish will be in somewhat deeper water where it is warmer.
Lake trout eggs, dropped among boulders right at the shoreline, can be totally covered by ice when winter comes. Incredibly, even in these ice-bound shallow areas, there is liquid water between the cracks at the bottom of the rocks. The little trout are alive but imprisoned there until the ice melts in the spring. They then plummet to near the bottom of the lake, below the predators which are usually higher up near the thermocline.
Lake trout spawn around Oct. 1, whitefish and tulibee spawn just as the ice is forming and ling can spawn under the ice. All of these fishes' eggs just fall to the bottom. The parents don't build a nest as do some stream trout and bass.
It may seem more primitive than the warm-water fish but it is just another example of the diversity of Nature.
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Monday, October 6, 2014

Summer is over and maybe fall too

Lodge this morning

Cabin 7 and Cork
Looking across narrows

Cabin 3 and boats pulled out of water for the winter

 Boathouse. Just the Lickety Split and two fishing boats left in lake
Here's the scene this morning at camp. A couple of inches of snow have fallen and more is expected today. The temperature is only predicted to rise a couple of degrees above freezing and the long-term outlook isn't much better.
There is no one in camp this morning other than Brenda, Cork and I but the trouters are due back today after taking the weekend off. They would still like to catch a couple dozen more fish for the spawning project. It could be tough sledding (pun intended). It is no fun to be in a boat when it is snowing or after a snowfall.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what I will be doing in a few minutes. We are out of firewood and that means I will be taking one of the fishing boats down the lake and cutting down standing dead jackpine trees. I will buck them into 48-inch lengths, pile them crosswise in the boat until the load is above the gunwales and slowly motor back to camp. There I'll haul the lengths up the hill, make a neat stack in the yard and cut each into three, 16-inch pieces. These I'll split and using the wheelbarrow, haul them to the cabins that will still be used this fall and to the lodge. If there was no snow I would use the golf cart and wagon but these are useless with snow on the ground.
In bitter conditions like this we have two woodstoves burning in the lodge and can melt right through a woodpile in no time flat.
Our family arrives this weekend for a week of moose hunting. We will have three cabins plus the lodge to heat during that time. Brenda and I will be here for a week or two more, closing up. I also have Cabin 4's roof to finish. About one-third of it has been shingled.
I also have a bunch of dangerous trees to cut down, especially around Cabin 9. I got a start on this last weekend but have a bunch more to take down. These are huge, heavy, quaking aspens that easily weigh a ton each. I hate to cut them down but they are so big now and so old that they are tipping over. They are also full of pileated woodpecker holes and some of them are breaking off in high winds where the holes have been made. It's just been lucky that none has hit the cabin. These will provide firewood for next year and probably a year or two after that. I think each tree contains about a cord of wood. We use about five cords a season at camp.
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Saturday, October 4, 2014

A stroll with Cork along the camp's waterfront

Click on this photo to see it in panorama.
Red osier dogwood and wild roses make a good frame for Cork's portrait
Fall colours as seen in front of Cabin 10
Cabin 10 shoreline. How many cabins have 3.6 billion-year-old fossils in front of them? See Stromatolites

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Lake trout spawning project one of best in years

Jeff King carries trout from pens to Eagle Falls' pontoon boat

Toby Braithewaite strips eggs into bowl held by Tori Toews and Nadine Thebeau assists
Pam Dietrich tags each fish before it is released

Ministry of Natural Resources fish and wildlife personnel are all but finished with the 2014 lake trout spawning project and have had great success in gathering plenty of eggs for the hatchery.
For about two weeks now two three-person crews have been netting the lake and gathering lake trout which were kept in underwater pens off our main dock at camp. Twice the trout were stripped of eggs and milt and released back to the water. The final tally of fertilized eggs wasn't known today but it seems it would be in excess of 200,000.
Depending on egg mortality that should mean perhaps 100,000 trout fingerlings will be reared by the Dorion, Ont., fish hatchery and will be planted back into Red Lake in 18 months.
I believe this is the 12th year of the project and was one of the best in egg collecting. It seems the fish and wildlife crews captured the trout at exactly the right moment when they were ready to spawn.
It should be noted that three camps helped with the project this year. For starters, trout caught two years ago were released this spring when the MNR crews and hatchery truck drove right down to the lake at Black Bear Lodge. Those fingerlings were released by the MNR, assisted by staff and guests from Black Bear Lodge and Bow Narrows Camp, in the Potato Island basin.
For several years now the MNR has used Eagle Falls Lodge's pontoon boat as sort of a giant MASH tent to strip the eggs. It has proved ideal.
Bow Narrows has been providing meals and accommodations to the fish and wildlife crews from the beginning of the project.
The spawning program was begun 12 years ago when the trout population plummeted and it was discovered there were almost no young trout in the lake. The reason for the lack of reproduction is still a mystery; however, natural regeneration has begun again in some areas and boosted by the stocking program, the trout population is beginning to build again.
Our anglers are catching more and more trout each year now. All trout must be released immediately. Other regulations require anglers to use single barbless hooks and not to use live or dead bait.

Pontoon boat tied to our dock with underwater pens at right
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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Life lessons learned while fishing on the dock

When I was five and later, six years old, I spent my summers lying flat on my stomach on a dock very much like this one at camp. The only thing different about my dock was that there was a square hole cut right in the center. It was about three inches square, not nearly big enough to pose a threat to people walking on the deck but plenty large for a small face to peer through at the wonderful scenes below.
By pressing my face tight to the hole and sometimes throwing my jacket over my head, and with the sunlight streaming below the dock from the side, I could see perfectly all the way to the bottom of the river. It was my portal to another dimension -- the world beneath the surface.
There were life-and-death dramas taking place here every day: rock bass that ate crayfish, perch that ate minnows and sometimes, huge fish like northern pike and smallmouth bass that ate everything! Once in awhile I even saw weird fish like suckers with their tube-like mouths sucking along the bottom.
There was an entire underwater community. Mostly it was composed of rock bass. They lived in the log-and-rock cribbing that held up the dock and would stray in groups several feet away most of the time. Out in the open they would mix with dozens of smaller yellow perch. At times they were also joined by a sunfish or two.
Although it was fun just to watch what the fish were doing, it was absolutely thrilling to see them bite my hook tipped with a bit of worm. I must have caught hundreds of these tiny fish. A big one would have been six inches long. I would use a hand-line that was pressed by my face tight to the boards of the dock. As soon as I hooked a fish I would spring to a sitting position and hoist my catch up through the hole.
It was just plain fun and I never went ashore except to replenish my worm can and maybe to get a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich to take back out on the dock.
Thinking back on this chapter of my life I realize now that I learned a great deal more than just how to catch little fish.
For one thing, I learned empathy. Sometimes the rock bass or perch would have swallowed my hook so deeply that I ended up killing it to get it loose. It saddened me to see the dead or dying little fish floating beside the dock. I learned not to let the fish take the bait too long before setting the hook to prevent gravely injuring it.
Virtually all of my catch was released on the spot, of course. I probably never kept more than one "lunker" for supper. There was just no point. If I wanted a fish to eat the next day I just caught another. And so I learned a lesson in conservation: take only what you need right now.
Before long I recognized the fish below me as individuals which I named: Scarface, Stubby Fin, Beauty, Fat Lips, and so on. They were like friends.
I recognized that fish have feelings. After being hoisted into the atmosphere above the dock, a hook taken from their mouths and plopped back into the water, fish would hide. The experience had scared them and probably, their mouths hurt. They would bite again, eventually, but it might take a week.
I learned that what happened above the waterline also had an effect on the fish below. Although they were present in sunny weather, on cold, rainy days, the fish were gone.
I also learned to read the fishes' behaviour. If they disappeared when it was sunny out it wouldn't be long before I would spot a big predator like a pike.
Sometimes the fish were right below me but refused to bite. This taught me never to dismiss an area for fish just because you don't catch something the first time you try. And it taught me patience.
If the fish weren't biting, there was little I could do about it. So I would roll over on my back and use my imagination to see animals and faces in the clouds. Once in awhile I also saw an eagle or an osprey soaring so far overhead it was only a speck.
I also used these down-times to look for bait. No grasshopper or cricket was safe nor were bait items hidden from view. I rolled over every rock and log in the yard that I could lift. Underneath there were often worms and incredible, sometimes scary-looking bugs like "hundred-leggers'" and even "thousand-leggers."
The best time to get worms, of course, was at night and although I was thoroughly scared of the dark, I wanted fishing worms so badly that I would arm myself with a flashlight and go outside. Whippoorwills and great horned owls would be calling and frequently I would spook at the sound of some rustling sound and would take off in high gear for the safety of the porch, tripping over boulders on the way. Eventually it occurred to me that I was as safe outside at night as in the day.
 Although I was quite the brave adventurer, actually my Mom and Dad were nearby. As long as I was wearing my life jacket, they figured I would always be all right. And that was, in fact, the case.
Of course, this was all a long time ago but the experience of learning by doing is still something I see youngsters do here at Bow Narrows Camp on Red Lake. Not all of them have their heads plopped in front of video devices. Some have found there is an amazing world out there, not a virtual reality but a real world.

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

2014 trout spawning project underway

Merrill Collins and Toby Braithewaite bring trout to holding pens while Tori Toews ties boat
The fall weather has been beautiful, maybe too beautiful for fish project
A couple of Ministry of Natural Resources crews started last week in collecting trout for the 2014 spawning project. They catch live lake trout, keep them in underwater pens for a few days, strip them of milt and eggs and release them.
The eggs will be raised at the Dorion fish hatchery, just east of Thunder Bay. After 18 months the fingerlings will be released back into Red Lake. This past spring the fish were released in the Potato Island vicinity.
Although this year's trout capture started off promising early last week, the weather turned decidedly like summer with highs up to 25 C (mid-70s F). That turned off the cold water-loving trout and the biology crews had to work hard to get even a few trout per boat each day.
A lot of us anglers have often wished that we could have a net instead of a hook when fish get finicky. Well, this proves it wouldn't necessarily be any better.
The crews took today off but will be back tomorrow.  The 'good' news is the balmy weather is disappearing. Maybe that will bring the trout back to the spawning shoals.
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Northern lights in skies tonight

Cabin #1 is at north end of camp

Best views were toward the northeast, over the lake
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Monday, September 22, 2014

For Alice, the Vikings and ... Santa Claus?

Amanita muscaria
A beautiful and abundant mushroom that grows everywhere in the Boreal Forest, including right here at Bow Narrows Camp, is Amanita muscaria.
This mushroom is the quintessential toadstool. It is highly hallucinogenic and probably deadly as well.
It is the famed mushroom that Alice nibbled in Alice and Wonderland and then shrank in size and had such a fantastic adventure.
It is also the fungus that the Vikings ate before battle, making them fight in such an insane fury that they were called "berserkers." Research has shown that one of the active chemicals in A. muscaria prevents a person from using the part of the brain that registers fear.
A chubby, red-and-white 'shoom
Some scholars also think Amanita muscaria had a role to play in the story about Santa Claus. Although the ones I photographed above are yellow or orange in colour, they also come in bright red. And when they first pop out of the ground, they are very chubby, you could say jolly-looking. And they have those white spots. They are red and white and 'jolly.'
Then there is the part in the poem The Night Before Christmas. If you remember, Santa and his reindeer are tiny, much like Alice.
The reindeer are also a link. Reindeer, or caribou, are known to eat the mushroom and then act peculiar. They jump about like they were trying to fly.
Some animal, probably squirrels, eat the ones here in the yard. Just a nibble. Apparently that is all it takes.
If you are thinking of "tripping" on this 'shroom, you better read the following first: in some areas, A. muscaria isn't just hallucinatory, it is deadly. It is listed in mushroom books simply as poisonous.
I have never known or even heard about anyone using the fungus recreationally here in Northwestern Ontario, not even the First Nations people who seemed to have a use for every plant. There is probably a good reason for that.
There are also other Amanita species that are absolutely fatal and they look a great deal like A. muscaria. In fact, I can't swear the mushrooms I have photographed here are not those species.
My advice is to leave them alone. 
Must have been "flying" squirrels that nibbled these

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Friday, September 19, 2014

The Trapper's Cabin. Who was the Trapper?

A sentinel at the entrance to West Narrows. Photo by Jane Bechtel
He was Frank Paishk, an Ojibwe man who, I believe, was born on this exact spot along with his brother, Adam, and sister, Mary. I only knew Frank and Adam.
Frank made firewood out of a couple of old cabins on the site, using a bucksaw. He cut the logs for the current cabin from trees in Muskrat Bay and pulled them, one at a time, behind his canoe. This was in the early 1960s.
Old Bill Stupack, the man who first built Bow Narrows Camp in 1948, always called the spot the Indian Village. That, plus the fact there was originally more than one cabin here and some things my father, Don, told me makes me believe that The Trapper's Cabin was once a community. It is marked on our camp map as a historic site.
The Ojibwe people that used to live here and who guided for my father were all born at this end of the lake. Tony and Ed Paishk told us they were born on the north shore of Pipestone Bay. Joe Keesic was born on the big island in Pipestone near the entrance to the narrows. Jimmy Duck was born in Muskrat Bay.
Old Jim Paishk, I believe, was also born in Pipestone. There are graves of two children near the Trapper's Cabin, and I have been told at least one of them was the child of Old Jim.
All these people are dead now and the only surviving artifact of their existence is the Trapper's Cabin.
It is difficult to know or explain the relationship between the men we knew since it is Ojibwe tradition to refer to just about everybody outside of their immediate family as cousins. Old Jim, however, was called Uncle. He was the only carver of soapstone pipes that I ever knew.
I wish I had known these men's Anishinaabe names as these are how Ojibwe people today would remember them. Old Jim was known in town as Peepsite. That nickname came from an incident when Jim mistook his dad's black hat for a moose and shot at it with a rifle. The bullet went through the hat, right above his dad's head. It scared Jim so badly that he never shot a gun again.
Frank Paishk, the trapper, was called Haywire in town.  That was because of his oddball behaviour when he drank. He would often, as he walked down a street, mimic the motions of a bush pilot flying a floatplane. Frank had a split personality, however. Out in the bush where there was no booze he was as silent and as wise as an owl and was probably the best woodsman I ever met.
None of us who knew and cared about these men ever called them by their nicknames.
Paishk is Ojibwe for nighthawk, a seldom-seen night bird. Every couple of years I see a half dozen nighthawks flying in the evening sky and I get the feeling that the Paishks that I knew are with me again.
All of these men were trappers. That is what they did in the winter. Many of them would spend part of their winter with Frank in the Cabin. They were the last to live this lifestyle. The Trapper's Cabin is a monument to them and to all the others who used to live here.
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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Frosty morning; trout to spawn soon

Cabin #5 with frost on the roof
There was a heavy frost here last night. The lake is cooling off rapidly and it won't be long before it reaches the 10-12 C that will trigger lake trout to spawn.
Pipestone Bay, north and upstream of camp, is Red Lake's main spawning location. Yesterday and this morning I have seen lake trout swirling on the surface in the narrows in front of camp as they swim past on their way to Pipestone.
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources biology crews have started stockpiling equipment on the dock in preparation for gathering eggs from Red Lake trout, something they have been doing for 10 years now. Those eggs will be raised at the Dorion fish hatchery and be returned to the lake 18 months later.
Red Lake's trout population is slowly rebuilding after plummeting in the late 1990s.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Nice walleyes caught and released last summer

Leo Dean

Troy Dean
It was a good year for walleye in 2014.
We caught a great many in the mid-20-inch range and a horde of smaller ones. This bodes well for seasons to come.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Scenes that few anglers ever see

Mike Boyer catches the early morning sun as well as northern pike and walleye

A new day begins on Red Lake, Ontario. Photos by Lonnie Boyer
For years now Mike and Lonnie Boyer have gotten up before sunrise and been out on the water to capture surreal scenes like these.
As every excellent hunter knows, dawn is the peak time of day for seeing game. It is the same for anglers. Fish that have been sleeping all night are eager to get going again at first light.
It's also the best time for photographing animals like moose and bear, otters and mink, waterfowl and shorebirds.
If you want to experience Red Lake and the Boreal Forest at their finest, get out of that warm bed and get out on the lake when the birds first begin to call in the morning. It's easier said than done. That's why most of us photograph sunsets, not sunrises.
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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Forty-two-inch pike exacts its revenge

Scott Griffin and the pike are both smiling

Vegas ER staff patched him up AFTER viewing fish pics

Oh, man. That's got to hurt!
It ended like an Ernest Hemingway story. Scott Griffin made what was going to be his last cast of the trip when his lure was engulfed by the largest fish of the week -- a 42-inch northern pike.
There was the see-saw battle between Scott and the behemoth with the drag singing and the fisherman reeling in line. Finally, there was the landing, the photo op and the release except it wasn't exactly that easy. It never is in a Hemingway story.
The landing is where the saga took an entirely different twist.
While unhooking the pike it flopped and drove one of the free hooks deep into Scott's finger. Both fish and fisherman were then attached to the same lure. In trying to get Scott loose, the hook was cut off the treble. It then promptly disappeared into his finger tip.
Back at camp we remove lots of fish hooks from anglers every summer; however, the hook needs to be on the exterior of the skin. Since Scott was leaving for home the next day, he opted to get the necessary surgery back state-side.
I'll let his e-mail take it from here:

"I though I'd share with you the hospital ER visit I had to make once I returned to Las Vegas.  As soon as we were picked up from the airport, my girlfriend dropped my brother at the house and then she took me to the ER.  Fortunately, the ER was not busy at all, and I was seen within a few minutes.  The ER staff was amazed at what happened, but more excited at the fish that did this to me....I showed the pics.

The first procedure was a digit block (numbed my finger). A Lidocaine and Marcaine shot was administered to totally numb my finger.  Then came the fluoroscope which Methylin Blue was administered to located the hook. Next I was taken back to the ER room where the doc sliced open the finger and extracted the hook.  Two stiches were needed to close up the wound and then I was given a Tetanus shot, Keflex, and hydrocodone.  Attached are the pics from the procedure...along with the 42" Pike that had his revenge.  Hopefully it's big enough to grace the wall of the"

Aye, Scott. Your pictures made the wall. I also left copies down at the lakeshore for you-know-who!