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 lodge...lol"

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

Stopping greased lightning for a photo

Photographing a mink is like trying to guess where and when the next lightning bolt will appear. No sooner do you find the animal in the viewfinder than it is gone. Then it pops up somewhere else only to disappear again a split-second later.
So this great photo of a mink by Lonnie Boyer is really exceptional. It is a wonderful shot of one of Nature's truly hyperactive creatures.
Lonnie took this photo while fishing at Bow Narrows Camp in July.
Mink are the smallest aquatic member of the weasel family. They are usually seen "flowing" in and out of logs and rocks along the shoreline as they hunt mice, crayfish, fish and clams.
They are probably the least-seen of the aquatic mammals. Beavers, otters and muskrats are all more noticeable.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Berries are a sure sign of autumn

Blueberries

Currents

Blue-bead lily or Clintonia berries

Bunchberries
I took a short walk through the bush the other day and saw all of these berries in short order.
The days are cooling off now but are still in the low 20s C (70s F). The nights are gloriously cool, perfect for sleeping. We had a couple of cold, misty days last week that resulted in a lot of fires being stoked in the cabins' wood-burning stoves. I even lit one once in the lodge. Mostly I find that the addition or subtraction of clothing is all it takes to be comfortable. It's nice sometimes to put on a warm sweater and breathe the cooler-than-normal air.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Fishing Etiquette 101 - Distance Between Boats


Bow Narrows angler Troy Downs' shirt says it all
If there is one beef about other anglers that we hear from our guests, it is that someone else crowded-in on them while they were fishing.
Last week a man and woman fishing in one of our camp boats had just caught and released a nice walleye when suddenly one of the Fall Walleye Classic boats "pre-fishing" before next weekend's tournament roared right up alongside. Although such boorish behaviour is legal during the tournament (you just can't hit the other boat), it is a thoughtless, obnoxious act when it is perpetrated upon someone who is just fishing for recreation two weeks before the tournament.
Two years ago I was nearly swamped by a tournament pre-fishing boat as it did donuts at low speed around me. The boat's five occupants had their eyes glued to multiple fish-finders to see if I had revealed to them some secret honey-hole. They cared nothing about the huge wake they created or that me and my dog, Sam, were holding on for our lives.
Just like the couple, I fired up my motor and headed back to camp. This isn't what fishing is supposed to be about. I am not always so easy-going.
Once I was fishing by myself on a still evening and could hear a boat coming far off in the distance as it crossed a large bay. Eventually I heard it enter the narrows and finally turn into the long bay where I was floating, jigging quietly for walleye.  Mine was the only boat in the entire mile-long bay. The boat, which was from another camp, had two occupants. It had nearly gone by my location when I was obviously spotted. It did a 90-degree turn and, to my astonishment, stopped 15 yards away. The two anglers had just commenced to fish when I switched to a large red-and-white spoon and cast right into the middle of their boat.
"Are you nuts?" one of the red-faced anglers asked.
"Sorry. I'm just not good at SHORT casts," I thundered.
They left.
Obviously, they were driving around the lake looking for someone to fish beside, the same as the pre-fishing tournament boats did to me and to the couple.
This is rude, unacceptable behaviour.
Fishing is a meditative, spiritual exercise for most anglers. They like to be left alone. We should all respect that.
I have been asking our anglers this summer what they think the minimum distance between boats should be. The answer is 50 yards unless the other boat's occupants are someone you know.
 I would agree with a couple of caveats: unique fishing spots such as below a rapids can't be claimed by just one boat; and, during the exact day of a tournament, it is unrealistic to expect tournament anglers fishing for money to respect anything else.




Sunday, August 24, 2014

Kirchenoberstorte, more than a mouthful

Cook Sophie Kurucz just gets bored making the usual desserts and so, from time to time, tries something unusual. Enter Kirchenoberstorte, a cherry, custard, layered chocolate cake covered in whipped cream.
It was delicious, absolutely delicious, but took an entire afternoon to make. It was just too much. So strike Kirchenoberstorte from the future menu.
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Friday, August 22, 2014

Ursus americanus crosses the narrows


This black bear (Ursus americanus) was caught on camera by angler Bob Preuss today as it swam across a narrows in Red Lake near Bow Narrows Camp.
As the second photo shows, Mr. Bear lost no time getting back on dry land and out of sight.
We're still seeing about equal numbers of bears and moose. Normally moose sightings would far outnumber bear.
Although bear numbers are up and moose down all over Northwestern Ontario, there were lots of moose last summer and the scarcity of sightings this year are probably more to do with the weather than with drastic population changes.
It has been wonderfully dry which has eliminated most of the biting insects that can send moose streaming to the lake for relief. It also has been cool at night and warm-but-seldom-hot in the day. Again, moose are more inclined to stay in the shade in such weather and not come all the way out to the lake. In very hot temperatures moose will spend most of the day right in the water.
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Thursday, August 21, 2014

There are now assists on every dock

BNC staffer Brad Donovan holds assist that was pre-fabbed on shore

Assist is pushed under side stringer and lifted until bottom brace meets bottom of decking

Top brace is attached and bolted through decking to brace below.

Close-up shows bracing above and below deck

Finished product. A second assist was added to left side of dock
We succeeded in installing dock-assists on all the crib docks this summer making these handy devices available now to all guests in every cabin.
The dock-assists and dock tying rings are positioned so that when the boat is tied up, boaters can step onto a seat in the boat and, holding the uprights in each hand, pull themselves up onto the dock.
They have been universally welcomed by everyone, even those who don't have knee, hip or back problems although the latter group is who we were trying to help out.
We made them for all the floating docks last year and it took some head-scratching to invent ones for the crib docks this summer.
The photos show how we accomplished it. By bracing the assists both under the dock and from above, they are super-solid.
Although the bracing does extend onto the walkway of the dock, no one seems to stumble over them, even when the braces from assists on both sides leave only a foot or so of room in the middle.
These crib docks are four-feet wide, decked with rough-sawn, two-inch planks and with log (jackpine) stringers.
We used conventional two-inch pressure treated lumber for the assists, 5/15 lag screws for fastening the units together and 3/8-inch bolts to tie the top braces through the dock decking to the bottom bracing. The assists are also fastened to the log stringers using 5/16 lag screws.
I would estimate each assist took two hours to build and install and cost $60-$70 in materials.
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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Another day comes to a glorious end

Bow Narrows angler Dean Matzke snapped this awesome photo of a Red Lake sunset. It's worth staying out on the lake until the sun goes down each evening just to see the show.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Brothers do great on the big walleye


Nathan Manni caught and released this impressive 27.5-inch walleye (top) while his brother Josh placed a close second with a 26.5-incher.
The two boys were here two weeks ago with mom Amy, dad Scott and grandfather Tom.
As usual, they caught a ton of walleye.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Music to cook fish by

Father and son, Gary and Jeff Barg of Wisconsin, fired up their bagpipes to entertain the rest of the group who were cooking supper outdoors.
This marks only the second time the pipes have been heard in camp. Our oldest son, Matt, also plays the pipes and had them here years ago.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Excitement in the sky yesterday



This Ministry of Natural Resources water bomber made a half-dozen bombing runs on Brigitte Lake yesterday. It may just have been a practise exercise as we saw no signs of smoke.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Great summer for topwater pike fishing

Live Target Walking Frog took this nice northern pike
Zara Spook Junior also works well. Note the calm water when we use topwaters.
I've had the best time this summer using topwater lures for northern pike.
I usually only get a chance to go fishing after supper and this turns out to be the ideal time for using surface plugs. The wind is calm and the lake is usually like glass.
Although it has taken me several years to get the hang of using the Live Target Walking Frog, it is now my all-time favorite pike bait. The key, I've found, is not to use a steel leader. Instead I use a smaller snap-swivel. This change seems to have made all the difference.
You fish this lure by twitching your rod, reeling up the slack and twitching again. You can do this very rapidly, making the lure hop left and right all the way back to the boat.
Pike often come sailing completely out of the water when they strike the frog. Although they frequently miss the lure altogether, I've learned not to set the hook when I see them airborne because in some instances, they grab the bait on the way back down.
Without a doubt, I would rank the Live Target Walking Frog as the absolute best top-water bait for northern pike.
A near second, however, is the Zara Spook and Spook Junior. I've had good luck especially with the Junior, a smaller version of the Spook.
I've also caught pike this summer on Live Target's rubber frogs but they don't work nearly as well as the hard-bodied Walking Frog. As I have mentioned before, I always turn the double-hook on the rubber frogs downwards because pike virtually never get caught with up-turned hooks.
I use all these top-water baits anywhere there are weeds along the shoreline. It seems they produce the best when you pop them along very briskly.
Brad Donovan, our outside worker this summer, caught a 34-inch pike on the Walking Frog. Alas, I had forgotten my camera!
We have caught a bunch of nice pike on the Frog. In fact, it may appeal especially to larger fish.
It is such a thrill to see pike sailing through the air, doing back-flips and swirling at the topwaters that it is difficult to use conventional below-surface lures again.