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, not unlike 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.
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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
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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.


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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What is happening to Ontario's moose population?

Calf and cow moose, an increasingly rare sight. Photo by Jason or Larry Pons
Aerial moose surveys by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests during the last couple of years have shown a dramatic decline in the province's moose herd, to 105,000 animals, down from perhaps a high of over 120,000 a decade earlier. The actual numbers may not be accurate or even important; it's the sharp downward trend. And most alarming of all was the observation that there are very few calves in the population. So what is going on and what can we do to fix it?
The good news is the MNRF is taking the problem seriously. Last year it slashed tag numbers and this winter it is holding discussions with user groups and is floating some proposals for feedback. So far, these have been about the usual methods of management -- length of hunting season and new regulations to restrict harvest.
That's the easiest and quickest thing to do, for sure, but it doesn't address the problem of why moose are disappearing in the first place. Hunters aren't suddenly becoming better at finding and killing moose. It's something else.
Deer like these behind our house are everywhere
I've been going through as many moose studies as I could find this winter and they list many possibilities for the moose decline but the smoking gun in almost all of them is whitetail deer.
Deer are hosts for Parelaphostongylus tenuis, better known as brain worm, that is almost always harmless to them but is almost always fatal to moose.
Whitetails have taken over what was previously moose range and everywhere they go, moose end up disappearing. In Northern Minnesota the moose herd fell from 4,000 to 200 in just a few years. In Northwestern Ontario deer have advanced from the Minnesota border all the way to Ear Falls, just south of Red Lake.
Why are deer spreading so far afield? Two words: climate change. Winters are not as severe as they once were and in particular, snowfall is less. But also, summers are wetter and that means more gastropods -- snails and slugs -- which are the intermediate hosts for the brain worm parasite. Moose get infected by eating grass and weeds that have the gastropods attached to them. The parasite goes from deer poop to gastropods to moose.
Milder winters are also better for moose ticks and in some instances these ticks, which only bother moose, are so severe they cause the moose to lose all their hair and they then freeze to death.
An abundance of deer also creates an abundance of timber wolves. There are many-fold more wolves in deer country compared to areas with just moose. So even when moose escape the brain worm, more of them are picked off by wolves.
Why so few moose calves? A big reason is an abundance of large male black bears that get the calves right after they are born in the spring. These very bears were thinned out back in the '80s and '90s by spring bear hunting. But because of a political decision - not one by game managers -- spring bear hunting in Ontario was banned in 1999.
A study in Ontario showed that black bears and wolves take about an equal number of calves. Bears do it in the spring and wolves in the winter. Between them they killed about 28% of the calves. Hunters take another 16%. Put those together and you get 44%. But the aerial surveys are seeing almost none. Where are the rest? Well, it turns out that calves are especially vulnerable to brain worm.
So, what to do? It seems like a no-brainer to me to encourage hunters to harvest far more deer than they are currently doing. That will mean a major change in our hunting regulations. As it stands now, a hunter who purchases a deer licence can only shoot a buck. Experience in the U.S. has proven that buck harvest has almost no impact on deer population. Only the harvest of does will do that. It is possible for Ontario hunters to get a doe permit but they must apply for it months ahead of time. In many areas, they can also purchase additional doe permits, again, ahead of time. This process is just too cumbersome and needlessly complicated for the task at hand. We need lots of does harvested, immediately. Since most hunters would ultimately like a nice deer rack for the wall, I don't think we will encourage more deer hunters afield if we make the hunt for does only. So, I would suggest that each licence holder be entitled to multiple deer, only one of which can be a buck. And let's not make him jump through hoops to get his licence either. Anybody who buys a deer licence should get with it a buck tag and several doe tags.
Most hunters only go afield for a weekend or two. If he knew that he could shoot three deer -- one buck and two does -- then he would probably take the first doe he came across. He might then pass up does for fear of spooking a nearby buck but if the trip was nearly over, he would finally shoot another doe. If the buck tag was also good for a doe, and he never got to see a buck, he would likely take a third doe.
This change in regulations would be a gutsy move for the MNRF because it would be a relaxation of hunting laws, not a tightening of them. But it, and the return of spring bear hunting, is what is desperately needed.
Lots of deer mean lots of wolves. This one caught on same camera as deer above


Saturday, February 21, 2015

New openings in Reservation Availability

I have now made available all the cabins for 2015 that we had been holding for guests since last summer but who haven't replied to any of my letters, e-mails or telephone calls.
We've now either received deposits or have been notified that "the check is in the mail" for everybody else.
To see the entire summer, click on 2015 Reservation Availability here or at right.
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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Feathered beauty on the water


Bow Narrows angler John Andrews took these shots last spring of two pairs of common ducks on Red Lake, Ontario. The first pair are Common Mergansers and the second are Ring-necked Ducks.
The males of both species are particularly resplendent as is often the case in the bird world.
The funny thing is that after a few weeks, the males are not seen on the lake until the next year. I have no idea where they go the rest of the year.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A simple walk, next-best thing to fishing

Cork is ahead of me on trail during our daily walk
Modern life is full of stress and just about everyone gets wound up in it one way or another.
Bills, regulations, deadlines, worries, regrets. You just can't stop thinking about such matters.
This is why a fishing trip is so soul-soothing. When you are out on the lake, those things seem a million miles away and your mind and body have a chance to rejuvenate. But most people might only be able to make such a trip one or two weeks a year. What do you do the rest of the time?
Every week, it seems, there is an item in the news about the health benefits of walking -- not jogging, not running -- just walking.
Human beings, it seems to me, were made for walking. We can do it for long periods almost effortlessly. Study after study show that this simple activity keeps our bodies in really good shape.
Joints, bones, muscles, heart -- every part of us, it seems, responds positively.
But the greatest benefit of all may be to our minds. Just like our bodies need rest each night, our minds need a regular break from the multitude of thoughts and conversations that continually run through them. This is why some people meditate, to calm down their minds and give their brains a rest. It's a difficult skill for most people to master but for some reason, it seems much, much easier to do when walking. In fact, there is a discipline called walking meditation.
However, even if you knew nothing about the formalities of this practice, you just naturally do it every time you walk outdoors. It might go something like this: as you walk down a path you become alert to the songs and calls of birds; you feel with your feet the texture and contours of the ground; the wind blows against your face and you feel the sun against your skin; leaves rustle; the snow swirls and drifts; squirrels scurry up trees. Your body warms to your movement. You feel the pull of gravity as you walk uphill and the exhilaration of its release as you walk down. You become conscious of the world, of life, and how you are moving through it, how you are a part of it.
You are experiencing life in the moment, not reliving the past, not worrying about the future. It is, literally, a wonderful feeling.
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Sunday, February 8, 2015

The wonderful, mystifying world of beetles

Every once in a while you see some bug-thing happening that you would like to know more about. For a week or so last summer there were "rafts" of water bugs hanging off many of the docks in camp. I just assumed they were whirligig beetles because you see them do this sometimes -- a couple hundred of them packing together.
So, I didn't rush right out in a boat to see what these bugs last summer were. I did notice that the groups were a lot bigger than the usual whirligig rafts. Eventually, though, I did look and found they weren't whirligigs at all, nor were they water striders nor water boatmen -- all the usual suspects. They were beetles, that was for sure, but unknown to me. My insect books didn't shed any light either.
It is possible I will never see them again, for a fact. That's because there are hundreds of thousands of species of beetles, more even than plants, and much more than all the other orders of insects.
It is believed that most species of beetles are yet to be discovered. So, you really might see a particular species of beetle only once in your life, and it may be totally unknown to science.
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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Test your knowledge on Ontario fish regulations

Is this 27.5-inch pike legal to keep?
1. The northern pike above held by my nephew, Mac Baughman, is 27.5 inches as shown. Fish regs in Northwestern Ontario state there is a no-keep slot size of 27.5-35.4 inches. So is this fish the "perfect" pike, just under the slot size?
A. Absolutely!
B. No, because the tail is not being pinched which will make the fish longer and into the slot size.
C. No, because if it measures 27.5 inches, it is actually already in the slot size, albeit at the beginning.
D. Both B and C.
2. If you have a Conservation Fishing Licence (it comes free with your fishing package at Bow Narrows Camp) which has a daily and possession limit of two pike and two walleye, are you allowed to take fish home with you and if so, how many?
A.  No. You are not allowed to keep any fish.
B. Yes, you can take home two pike and two walleye.
C. Yes, you can keep one pike and one walleye to take home and one pike and one walleye to eat while you are at camp.
D. No. You can only keep fish to eat while at camp: two pike and two walleye.
3. If you have a Sportsman's Licence, which has a daily and possession limit of four northern pike and four walleye, is it OK to put your limit in the freezer to take home the first day you go fishing and then keep other fish later on to eat at camp?
A. No, because you would be over your possession limit.
B. No, because you would be over your daily limit.
C. Yes, because you would have your possession limit in the freezer and then could use your daily limit for eating at camp.
D. Yes, because you would then be assured of having your possession limit to take home and could keep other fish on the Camp Limit.
4. If you catch your daily limit of, say, two walleye on the Conservation Licence, in the morning and eat them for lunch. Could you then catch two walleye in the afternoon and put them in the freezer to take home?
A. Sure, once you eat the fish they are gone and you can start catching your limit all over again.
B. No, you would then exceed your daily limit of two fish.
C. No, you would then exceed your possession limit of two fish.
D. Yes because no one will ever know the difference.
5. How many rods can a fisherman use at one time in inland (non-Great Lakes) waters in Ontario?
A. One, during the summer
B. Two, during the winter
C. Four
D. Both A and B
6. For really big fish, such as very large northern pike and musky, is it OK to use a spring gaff instead of a landing net?
A. No because spring gaffs are illegal
B. No because these fish are more likely to get off the spring gaff than out of a landing net
C. Yes
D. Yes, provided the fish are at least 40 inches in length
7. Is it legal to throw out a minnow and bobber at the dock, tie your rod to a tree, and watch the bobber from the cabin porch while drinking a beer?
A. No because it is illegal to drink beer on your porch in Ontario
B. No because it is illegal to fish with a minnow
C. No because it is illegal to leave a rod tied to a tree
D. No because by the time you can run from the porch to the dock, the fish will be gone
8. You catch a small perch while fishing and think it would make good bait for big northern pike. Is this allowed?
A. Yes, it is how the biggest pike are taken.
B. No, perch are a gamefish and cannot be used for bait.
C. No, not if the perch was alive, but if it was dead it would be OK
D. Yes, as long as you use a circle hook and not a treble hook
9. You accidentally kill a northern pike in the slot size (27.5-35.4 inches). You didn't mean to do it; it was just an accident. Can you keep it?
A. Yes, but only to eat at camp, not to take home
B. Yes, it is an offence to throw away and therefore waste any gamefish
C. Yes, if it was an accident, you can keep it either to eat or to take home
D. No
10. Is it legal to drink beer in a boat?
A. Yes, but it must be from a Canadian brewery.
B. No
C. Not if you are the driver but it's OK for passengers
D. Yes, just don't throw the empties overboard


Answers:
1. D
2. B
3. A
4. B
5. D
6. A
7. C
8. B
9. D
10. B

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Sunday, February 1, 2015

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Last chance to confirm 2015 reservations

The organizers of all groups coming to camp this summer should have either received an e-mail or a letter from me by now. Most of these were sent out in early-to-mid-December. If you are such a person and have not heard from me, something is wrong. Maybe, we had the wrong e-mail or street address for you. You need to contact me immediately, either by e-mail: fish@bownarrows.com  or telephone: 807-475-7246. Mail is too slow at this point. It takes us about two weeks to get a letter from the U.S.
I will attempt to call all such people -- group organizers -- who haven't yet given us deposits on their trips next summer. We need to know immediately if you are still planning to come to camp because there are people waiting to take your cabin if you aren't going to use it.
If you are among those people waiting, keep an eye on the Reservation Availability the next couple of weeks. There will probably be some openings popping-up in June and July.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Broken rod evidence of small lure-big fish

Kinsey Baughman with Little Cleo that caught rod-breaking northern pike
If you look closely at the small spoon my great-niece Kinsey Baughman is holding, you will see it is a 2/5-ounce Little Cleo in silver and blue with a hammered finish. This photo was taken right after a big northern pike snapped her rod in half. She still landed the fish, the size of which I now forget.
When it comes to catching northern pike in the summer, no one does it better than my family who comes each year during our Family Week, the first week of July.
It isn't unusual for each boat to catch and release 50-100 fish in a day. How do we do it? We cast small spoons, spinners and jigs. The spoons are 2/5 to 1/3 ounce, favourite spinners are the #4 and #5 Mepps and Blue Fox, the jigs are 1/4-ounce with 3-4-inch twister tails. Sometimes these are in the form of Beetle Spins which is basically just a jig with a hair-pin spinner attached to the eye.
The small lures catch big pike and small pike. They also catch a bunch of walleye. We even get quite a few perch.
The key is that we make thousands of casts per day each. It isn't difficult when the lures are so light.
Incidentally, we have a great many people who break rods on fish each summer. In fact, we had three broken rods in one day last fall. In the latter three cases, the individuals were fishing alone and were trying to net the fish with one hand. The big pike made lightning-quick lunges beneath the boat and the rods struck the boat's gunwales.
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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Timber wolves right behind whitetail deer

9:35:56 a.m. Deer at left crossed frame in 2/5 second. Another deer is at top right


9:38:25 a.m. First timber wolf is 2 minutes, 29 seconds behind the deer

9:38:40 a.m. He leaves at left and a second wolf enters the frame

9:38:54 a.m. The third wolf appears,
This is about as close to photographing wolves in the act of killing deer as I have come here at our home in Nolalu. The deer in the first photo are flying by. This camera clicks in 2/5 of a second once it detects motion. The deer disappearing at left crossed the entire field of vision in that split second. The deer at upper right was completely gone when the shutter clicked again five seconds later.
The first wolf appears less than 2 1/2 minutes behind the deer. He isn't alone. The next one comes along 15 seconds later and the third one four seconds later still.
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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Emergency fire-starting trick

 In Northwestern Ontario you can find a great emergency fire starting material -- birch bark -- everywhere -- almost.
I was moose hunting a few years ago and got dropped off by my mates on a point so I could watch the back side of a grassy bay where moose might come to feed. It was windy, snowing and raining and turned out not to be fit for man nor beast.

In pretty short order I got chilled, despite my warm clothes and rain gear. I decided to give up on the hunting idea and just sit by a fire until I got picked up. I always carry a butane lighter in my hunting vest, able to light thousands of fires, if needed. To my chagrin, there wasn't a birch tree on the entire point and the mainland was a mass of blown-down, sopping-wet, dead balsam firs. I could not come up with anything dry to start the fire. If only I could have gotten a small flame going, branches from the dead balsam would dry out in the heat and it would have been no trick to keep the fire going. Despite all my experience in the bush, I could not get the fire to burn. I ended up doing jumping jacks for about three hours.
When I came home to Nolalu that fall I was telling my story of woe to a teacher-friend of Brenda. Harry Sitch said the exact thing happened to him moose hunting one time although in his case he had waded out into a beaver pond to retrieve a fallen moose (a far better story!) From that point on, he said, he carried an old waxed milk carton in his pack (or vest, I forget which). The carton is waterproof and when lit, burns for several minutes, enough to ignite the tinder in a campfire under any conditions.
It was a good tip. Just cut the sides of the carton in strips and fold them back and forth over the base of the carton. The whole thing collapses to about the thickness of a deck of cards. When you need it,
just fluff-up the package a bit and place it under the tinder.
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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What makes a perfect day for fishing?

This kind of weather doesn't "reflect" so well on fishing. Vic Fazekas photos

Vic Fazekas with nice fall-caught walleye. Note the chop on the water.
The old saying is: "even a bad day at fishing beats a good day at work."
When it comes to catching, however, the weather conditions are better some days than others.
Clear, windless days are great for suntanning, for swimming, for photography, for seeing deep into the water and for "just feeling great." They are also the worst for catching fish. The very best conditions are when there is a chop on the water (small waves), is overcast or is partially overcast.
I would like to coin a new saying: "The wind is your friend." It is often the factor between a spectacular fishing day and a dead or mediocre one.
Ironically, though, if you listen to many anglers talk back at camp, wind is the enemy. It prevents them from fishing the way they wanted. That's the key -- fishing THE WAY they wanted.
There is a skill to using the wind to your advantage and it starts by recognizing that there are times where you will need to change your method just because of the wind. For example, if you like to anchor and fish vertically, this is going to be out of the question on very windy days because your anchor will drag. If you have a very good anchor, such as a Danforth, that will dig in and hold you in high winds, then you are also going to need to let out four times the rope as the lake is deep. In other words, if you are fishing in 30 feet of water, a common depth when fishing Red Lake in the fall, you will need to let out 120 feet of rope for the anchor to work. You have so much line out that your boat will swing drastically from side to side, so much that you will seldom be over the spot you wanted to fish. A better decision would be to change locations where it isn't so windy or to cast or troll for northern pike until the wind drops.
Larry Pons with hefty walleye caught on overcast, choppy day.
Except for the fall, walleye fishing on Red Lake is almost always best on the windy shoreline. Why? We really haven't a clue but some possibilities are because the waves make the light dance beneath the surface and acts as camouflage for the fish as they tear into baitfish schools, or the muddied-up shoreline provides feed for schools of minnows which attracts the fish, or the minnows themselves get blown against the bank, or the wind blows all the warm water against the bank, or who knows?
Whatever the reason, you can just look at the wind direction and figure out where the walleyes will be biting the best: on the windy shore. It usually works the best to troll, usually backwards to slow you down but sometimes it is just too windy for this and you must front troll.
Something that more and more of our guests are bringing with them are drift anchors. These canvas or nylon cones are fastened to the boat and thrown overboard and significantly slow down a boat's motion. Using these it is possible to drift and jig in walleye hotspots on windy days, and also just to slow down the boat's trolling speed.
There are some days where it is just too windy to fish the windy shores. In these cases the best places to fish are usually on the protected side of islands and points. Treat the big waves like you would the current in a river; you want to fish the sides and eddies of the current. Anchor in the calm water and pitch a jig into the current (waves).
Windy days are excellent for front-trolling artificials, like Rapala's Shallow Shad Rap. You can keep adjusting your speed with the throttle handle as the wind gusts and wanes. Lots of times the fish are extremely shallow in these conditions -- even just six feet of water -- so work closely to shore.
Northern pike like windy and cloudy days too but unlike walleyes, are as apt to be on the lee side of the bays as they are on the windy side. That's why it is usually a better bet to fish for pike when it is extremely windy. You can do so in protected waters and don't have to deal with the wind so much.
As always, casting is probably the best bet although you will do well front-trolling too. Pike love the weeds and it is usually easier to cast in these spots than to troll.

A good tactic is to fish the big bays when there isn't much wind because there is more chance of a chop. Jason Pons photos.
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Sunday, January 18, 2015

What causes fish wounds and scars?

Skin is missing from top of walleye's head. Photos by Larry Pons

Every once in awhile you catch a fish with a gash in its side, a fin missing or a sore of some kind. What causes these things?
It's a dangerous world if you are a fish. There are predators everywhere: other fish, bald eagles, ospreys, otters and people. Often you can make an educated guess about what happened.
It is unusual to see skin missing from the top of a fish's head. If it had a torn lip or gill, you could surmise it was the result of a fisherman. But the wound right atop the head in the photo above makes me think this walleye had escaped from a big northern pike. The entire top of a pike's mouth is a mass of small teeth, all pointed toward the throat. When a pike catches its prey it usually first grabs it in the middle and after a period of time, lets go and grabs it head first.
Most fish swallow their prey headfirst because the fins all collapse as it goes down the throat.
Somehow, this fish may have wriggled loose from the vise-grip-like hold but lost its scales in the process.
A wound that is more frequent is the gash type on the side, shown in the bottom photo. This is most common on northern pike. In this case, the wound has healed entirely, just leaving a scar, so it could have occurred years ago. Many of these types of wounds either come from the pike thrashing in the shallows while spawning or from fighting with another fish. Northern pike become territorial once they reach a certain length, about the mid-30 inches. They will defend their bay or cove against other similar-sized fish.
Sometimes you catch very large pike -- 40 inches or bigger -- with a fresh scar on its side or back. This will most certainly be a territorial fight scar. Nothing is trying to eat a 40-inch pike!
You also see fish with a rash that encircles its body, often right behind the gills. This is the telltale wound caused by fishermen who handled the fish either with dry hands or with a very rough glove. You should always either wet your hands or better, use a wet, soft, plain cotton glove when handling fish that you intend to release. This prevents your stripping away the slime layer on the fish's skin that protects it from viral and fungal infections.
Small red holes in the skin are almost certainly bloodsucker wounds. Incidentally, bloodsuckers that get on live fish are about the size of a pea. The long lake leeches you see swimming around the shoreline only feed on dead fish.
A puncture wound on the side, especially if it is matched by a puncture on the opposite side, was likely made by bald eagles or ospreys.
Chunks of flesh missing from the face of a fish could have come from an otter. This would especially be likely if the fish was small.

Jason Pons with a nice-size pike with an old wound on its side

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

How to find more information on the blog

There are more than 800 postings on this blog, almost all of them about fishing and outdoor life in Northwestern Ontario. But if all you do is scroll down on your screen, you will just see the latest 20 items. How can you find more? There are a number of ways.
One of the best is to put a topic in the little search window at the top of the page. That will bring up 20 postings on that subject. Be aware that there are likely far more than these 20. At the bottom of the page will be a link to the next group of 20 postings. And at the bottom of that page will be another link to the next 20, etc.
Clicking on the link at the bottom of the page is also just a way to work your way backwards through time on the blog. It's been going on since 2007!
Finally, a third way to find more things on the blog is to look at the archive of postings on the right side. There will be a link to each month for this year and titles of blogs for that month. There is also a list of years. Click on the year and it brings up the months. Click on the month and it brings up the titles.
Newcomers to Bow Narrows Camp or to fishing in Northwestern Ontario can do a lot of research on equipment, lures and techniques and get a good feel for life in the Boreal Forest just by "hunting" around on the blog.
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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

This moose was bit by a wolf!

Ham string shows wolf bite. Photos by John Andrews
Bow Narrows Camp angler John Andrews sent me a CD of photos he took while at camp the first week of the season in 2014.
He had a couple of shots of moose along the Red Lake Road or Hwy 105. Upon enlarging one, I noticed the telltale wound of a wolf attack. Wolves grab onto the hindquarters of moose while they are trying to run away. Once the moose is slowed down, others may grab it by the nose or anywhere else. But sometimes the moose escapes, as happened in this case.
I've seen this exact wound before. One fall, back in the old days when we offered commercial moose hunts at Bow Narrows, our hunters got three sets of cows and calves. This was back in the days before the selective harvest and a hunter could shoot moose of any sex.
This exact wound was on the hind legs of both the cow and calf  in all three instances.
At the same time our hunters could hear wolves howling right in the middle of the day, something quite unusual.
Another moose has ragged coat, probably result of moose ticks

Water over road as a result of winter's deep snow melting
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Monday, January 12, 2015

Plenty of timber wolves around this winter

There are four wolves in this frame. One is walking away over the two wolves' heads. This scene is about 75 yards from our house in Nolalu, ON.
Everyone on our road in Nolalu is talking about all the wolves this winter. They just seem to be everywhere. Our neighbors worry about letting their little children play outside unsupervised.
We worry about Cork, our chocolate lab. He can hear the wolves howling even from inside the house.
The wolves have about cleaned-out the deer on our 65 acres. My daily walks on our trails show fresh wolf tracks every night and rarely any deer sign. I have a ton of trail camera photos of them, almost all of them taken at night. It has been like this since we got home in November.
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Saturday, January 10, 2015

What's the story with the moose skull & antlers?

This small bull moose rack which is hung on a tree by the fish house was one I got with my family a few years back. It's the size moose we are looking for: big enough to provide quite a bit of meat, but young enough to be tender. I would guess it was just a few years old.
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