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.


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

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.

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

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

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.

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

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Sky-high in song at Bow Narrows Camp

Morning has broken

Afternoon delight

The thunder rolls

Goodnight, Irene
Click to go back to our website
 Click to see the latest on the blog

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

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

Monday, March 9, 2015

A couple of toothy eaters

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


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

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

Saturday, March 7, 2015

We will have some drift socks to try this summer

Greg Tanko back trolls with drift sock out. Roy Windhorst photo
I have ordered a few drift socks or sea anchors to let people try out this summer.
Several of our angler groups now bring their own and everyone has loved how they slow down your troll or drift.
For trolling, tie the sock to the bow of the boat and then back troll at the slowest speed.
 The same positioning can be done for drifting. Manoeuvre the boat upwind of where you want to fish, cut the motor and toss out the drift anchor. This will also keep you bow-on to the wave direction. You can also  tie the sock amidships which will make the boat drift broadside to the wind, an even slower drift if the waves aren't too high.
Cabela's drift sock
The drift socks accomplish the same slow movement of an electric trolling motor without the hassle and weight of the electric motor and 60-pound battery. And there is nothing to re-charge! It will take remembering to bring the sock back into the boat before moving to a location.
I should note that most people find our 20-hp, electric-start Honda's troll fine, all by themselves. But some people want an ultra-slow presentation.
There is no charge for using one of the drift socks. If you would like to reserve one, just drop me an e-mail.
We also have electric trolling motors for rent. The motor and battery costs $50 per week. You can also just rent a battery to use with your own electric motor for $25.



Mike Lundy caught rare smallmouth while drifting with sock out

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

'Yadayadayada yadayadayada ... the cabin'

There was nothing like the sound of the old inboard motors back in the day. It was a throaty growl, reminiscent of a Harley Davidson. On our big 30-foot ChrisCraft, we had two of them -- straight propeller shafts each powered by a 350 Chevy, maybe the best engine ever designed, at least in my book. With a ton and a half of people and luggage aboard, the popping sound coming out of the exhaust pipes was music to my ears. Those big Chevys raised that 14,000-pound, deep-V hull up to planing in nothing flat. However, the roar, and the difficulty talking above it, could create some interesting conversations, part real, part imaginary, during the hour-plus ride to camp.

Kevin, at the front of the boat but on the opposite side from me: "Yadayadayada yadayadayada ... the cabin."
Me: "Sorry, Kevin, I didn't get that. You'll need to talk louder."
Kevin: "Yadayadayada yadayadayada ... the cabin."
Me: "Still didn't hear you. Why don't you come closer and tell me again?"
Kevin, moving half-way across the 12-foot-wide boat, but then lowering his voice proportionally: "Yadayadayada yadayadayada ... the cabin."
Me, now detecting a strong odour of whiskey and thinking Kevin must have spent a couple of hours in the Snake Pit, Red Lake Inn's bar, before boarding: "I just can't hear you. Are you asking if you are going to be in the same cabin as last year"
Kevin: "Yadayadayada yadayadayada ... the cabin."
Me: "Yes. You are in Cabin 10 again. That's your favourite, isn't it?"
Kevin: "Yadayadayada yadayadayada ... the cabin."
Me: "See, I don't know what you are saying. All I can hear is 'the cabin.' Oh, are you asking if we finished building Cabin 9? Yes, it's all done. You will have neighbours this week."
Kevin: "Yadayadayada yadayadayada ... the cabin."
Me: "How was your trip up to Red Lake? Did you see any moose along the road?"
Kevin: "Yadayadayada yadayadayada ... the cabin."
Me: "Some weather we've been having! It hasn't rained in six weeks! You will need to be careful with campfires."
Kevin: "Yadayadayada yadayadayada ... the cabin."
Me: "You can tell me all about 'the cabin' when we get to camp. Right now, let's talk about something else, OK?
Kevin: "Yadayadayada yadayadayada ... the cabin."
Me: "How's the family? Your Dad looks great. We're all fine too."
Kevin: "Yadayadayada yadayadayada ... the cabin."
Me: "Let's not talk about the cabin. OK? Don't say, 'the cabin' any more, OK?
Kevin: "Yadayadayada yadayadayada ... the cabin."
Me: "Oh Canada, our home and native land. True patriot love in all thy cabin's comm...jeez, just go sit down, OK?"
Kevin: "Yadayadayada yadayadayada ... the cabin."
Me: "Stop saying that! I can't take it any more. Just go sit down, please!"
Kevin: "Yadayadayada yadayadayada ... the cabin."
Me: "I'm warning you! I'm near the edge here. I don't want to hear about 'the cabin' again!"
Kevin: "Yadayadayada yadayadayada ... the cabin."
Me: "If you say 'the cabin' one more time, I swear I'm going to ..."
Kevin: "Yadayadayada yadayadayada ... the cabin."
Me: "That's it! I've had it! The next time you say, 'the cabin' I'm going to throw you overboard. You hear me? And then I'm going to stop the boat and back over you, and then go forward again, and then back and then forward, over and over. Those propellers will slice and dice you up into a million pieces. There won't be a chunk bigger than a pork rind! You know where we are? Right over 100 feet of water, that's where. Those million pieces will drift down until eventually every piece will hit the bottom, a hundred feet down. And you know what's waiting down there? Well, I'll tell you! A million ling cod, that's what! They're going to watch those little chunks coming down with their tiny, lifeless dolls' eyes. Ling cod don't have teeth, you know that? But they'll suck the meat off every bone, clean as a whistle. Is that what you want? Then just say it! Do it, I swear!
Kevin, hesitating, bloodshot eyes a bit wider than before. His lips start to move but then he turns and goes to the back of the boat, puts his head on a duffel bag and goes to sleep.
Click to go back to our website
 Click to see the latest on the blog

Monday, March 2, 2015

Anglers pay attention to small details

Larry or Jason Pons noticed this butterfly, possibly a Silver-Bordered Frittilary

A Tortoiseshell butterfly greeted Vic Fazekas at the cabin door
A Dragonhunter dragonfly hitched a ride on Lonnie and Mike Boyer's boat
Click to go back to our website
 Click to see the latest on the blog

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Vaginal implants and other moose study facts

While reading studies about moose this winter I came across some really fascinating techniques and findings of biologists. Right at the top of the list was a study called Moose Calf Mortality in Central Ontario (Patterson, 2013).
Other studies done decades ago in Alaska had found that black bears may be the largest predators of moose because they consumed up to half of the calves, almost immediately after the calves were born in the spring.
At Bow Narrows Camp we have seen this exact predator-prey scenario unfold many times -- cow moose swimming out to islands to give birth and then bears swimming out to the islands and then the cows and the new-born calves swimming away from the islands on the other side. It has been impossible for us to tell how many of the calves the bears actually killed and biologists anywhere in densely forested Ontario have had the same problem. In the open country of Alaska, you can spot the moose and the bears from the air. That technique just won't work here with our continuous and thick canopy of trees.
So, in the Patterson study, biologists put vaginal implant transmitters (VITs) in 99 cow moose in Algonquin Provincial Park and Wildlife Management Unit 49. The cows were also fitted with tracking collars. When a cow gave birth, the VIT was pushed out of the birth canal and it then sent a signal to the researchers that the calf had been born so that they could quickly fix a radio collar on it and track its movements. If the calf stopped moving, like when it was killed, the collar sent out a signal and the researchers could again quickly examine the remains to see what killed it. Pretty ingenious!
The study found that bears killed about the same percentage of calves in the spring as wolves do in the winter. Between them they got 28 per cent of the calves.
It also found that 20 per cent of the cows in the park gave birth to twins but outside the park that rate was just 12.5%, probably due to poorer habitat as the researchers also found malnutrition and tick mortality was four times greater in WMU 49.
There was evidence in a study done in Manitoba that black bears can have a bigger impact on moose calves in some situations. This study was done on Hecla Island in southern Lake Winnipeg. Hecla at one time had such a dense moose population it was called the Isle Royale of Canada. (Isle Royale in Lake Superior is the location of the longest-running wildlife study in the world. Just about everything known about the relationship of moose and wolves comes from that study.)
A combination of factors was believed to have contributed to a decline of Hecla Island's moose population, to just 25 individuals in the year 2000, down from 221 in 1979. But researchers believed the building of a causeway to the island was a prime factor because it gave bears better access. As far as anyone could tell, there were no bears on the island in 1979, before the causeway, and there were 20-30 bears in 1999.
Winter aerial surveys in 2000 found that there were no moose calves at all. Back in 1979, the calf/cow ratio had been 46 calves per 100 cows.
So in an experiment in 2002, researchers live-trapped and removed 12 bears from the island. That was roughly half of the bears there. The next year they found that the calf/cow ratio jumped immediately to 40/100.
The researchers also noted other studies, one in Saskatchewan where 12 bears were removed from a 90-km2 area and the ratio jumped to 80 calves/100 cows, up from 40 in a control area.
Research has also shown that the killing of moose calves by bears in the spring is mostly done by large, male bears. As one biologist pointed out, these are the same type of bear that have caused almost all of the attacks on humans. They didn't mention it but it is also the very bears that were highly sought by hunters when Ontario had a spring bear hunt. It has always been illegal in Ontario to shoot a mother bear with cubs. That was the case when we had spring bear hunting and it is still the case now that there is only fall bear hunting. However, female bears are very much smaller than the males, so hunters never wanted them anyway.
Incidentally, the Hecla Island study found the moose calf twinning rate there was 28 per cent.
Research quoted in the study speculated that predation by both bears and wolves on moose was a greater factor when moose were already at low densities. That could be particularly relevant in Ontario which is seeing its moose population plummet, mostly, it seems from brain worm parasites transmitted by whitetail deer.
I was at a moose seminar at the Northern Ontario Tourism Summit in November in Thunder Bay and asked a biologist from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests if he agreed that whitetail deer and brain worm were the largest reason moose were disappearing. He said no, he couldn't agree because moose were expanding in southern Saskatchewan and the U.S. Northeast, both places which also have good whitetail populations.
Well, the studies I found explain why that could be the case. As mentioned in the previous blog posting, brain worm goes from deer poop to gastropods -- snails and slugs -- to moose. Southern Saskatchewan is a prairie with very little rainfall. There would be very few snails and slugs there.
And in the U.S. Northeast, acid rain, both currently occurring and from the past, has made the soil too acidic for gastropods. Biologists there have stated that acid rain is likely what is saving their moose.
Meanwhile in Northern Ontario, climate change is making the summers wetter and even better for gastropods, hence the rapid transmission of brain worm from deer to moose.
Studies in Manitoba show 100 per cent of the deer there have the parasite which is harmless to them, harmless to humans, and fatal to moose. In Grand Marais, Minnesota 90 per cent of the deer were found to have brain worm. Grand Marais is very near Thunder Bay, Ont. and Wildlife Management Unit 13 which has seen some of the largest declines of moose in the province.
Advice from a game manager in Grand Marais, if you want to save the moose "hammer the deer as hard as possible."
A perplexing study done in Quebec, way back in 1978 -- before Ontario even had a selective harvest system -- found that moose calves that were orphaned had the same survival rate as those that were raised with their mothers. This flies in the face of observations and advice of Ontario's moose managers that went to great lengths in 1982 when we started our selective harvest system to explain that a calf needs its mother to teach it survival skills in the winter. Therefore hunters who had cow tags and came across a cow with a calf, should harvest the calf and let the cow go. To shoot the cow and not the calf was the same thing as killing two moose, they preached. Now, one of the options being floated by the MNRF is to do that very thing -- kill the cow and let the calves go. That's because they want to see more calves in the winter population.
What I noticed is that the Quebec study only followed 28 calves. The sample size was so small that I have a hard time believing the results. And I personally have never seen or even heard about a moose calf surviving the winter alone.
Just for comparison purposes, here are some interesting current facts on wildlife populations in Ontario and Quebec.
Ontario: deer 400,000, moose 105,000, bear 85,000-105,000, wolves 9,000.
Quebec:  deer 367,000, moose 125,000, bear 70,000, wolves 7,000.
What jumps out at me is that Ontario has more deer, fewer moose, more bears and more wolves.


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