Saturday, January 31, 2009

Best rain gear for Canada fishing trip

Excellent rain gear
Red Lake rainbow

The second-most important piece of equipment any angler on a Canadian fishing trip should have is excellent-quality rain gear.

The first is a proper-fitting life vest. We supply life vests as part of our fishing packages at Bow Narrows Camp but we still suggest you bring your own just because you will be more inclined to wear one that you know and like. (See Your Most Important Fishing Gear)

You need to bring your own rain gear and we strongly suggest you get the best.

Gore-Tex and similar waterproof, breathable fabrics are superior to non-breathable rain gear because you don't sweat in them. This is important because your rain gear is also your first line of defence should you encounter cold weather too. You need something to break the wind but which keeps you dry from rain, spray and sweat.

From what we've seen the ultimate in rain gear is Cabela's Guidewear. Everyone who has brought this to camp has reported it to be excellent.

Of course you need both jacket and pants.

However, Guidewear is probably also the priciest rain gear on the market. It's too expensive for me, in fact.

Here's an update from 2011. For two years now I've been wearing Cabelas DryPlus rainwear and have found it to be excellent. This is about one-half the cost of the GoreTex Guidewear.
It breathes well and is comfortable in cold weather. It is absolutely waterproof and it is tough as well. I've worn mine in the bush while cutting firewood and nothing got torn or had sticks poked through it.
I just point this out to illustrate that you can get very good rain gear for less expense if you want.

All of the breathable-fabric jackets and parkas have adjustable cuffs which helps keep water from running up your sleeves when fishing.

If for some reason you don't want the breathable fabrics then get commercial grade rainwear worn by such people as highway and utility workers. It's not cheap either.

The very last option is to buy a set of vinyl or PVC rain gear. This is better than nothing but just barely. You can expect the seat or crotch of the pants to split and the rain to run down the sleeves and in the neck. It makes you sweat inside, so if you wear it for more than an hour you will get cold.

Finally, don't forget to bring either rubber or waterproof boots. Nothing's worse than having cold, wet feet.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What is the perfect size walleye for eating?

Cieplik walleye release
When you come to Bow Narrows Camp you are going to catch a great many big walleyes.

The average walleye we caught last summer was about 22 inches and we get many 26-28 inches (6-8 pounds). These big fish are a ball to catch but are actually too big for eating.

Ontario fishing regulations permit you to keep one fish over 18 inches as part of your daily and possession limit. However, the wise thing to do, both for conservation and eating purposes, is to only keep fish smaller than this.

We shouldn't keep big walleyes because they are the ones who keep replenishing the lake. Walleyes aren't even mature until they are 18 inches long. From that point on they produce hundreds of eggs per pound. The bigger the fish, the more eggs it produces.

Big fish don't cook correctly. Their fillets are so thick that you need to overcook the outside in order to cook the interior. Even if you cut them in small strips they don't come out as well as small fish.

Also if you keep big fish you unintentionally select fish for smaller size since you remove from the population those individuals with genes for large size and fast growth. So when you keep big fish you are helping create a population of mostly small fish. And since smaller fish produce fewer eggs it also means there will be fewer fish, period.

Finally, bigger fish accumulate toxins in their bodies, just as a result of long life and being near the top of the food chain. It's the same reason health authorities recommend you only eat tuna or swordfish once in awhile but say you can eat sardines as often as you like.

So back to the original question, what is the perfect size walleye to eat? Anything from 14-18 inches. These are young fish; their fillets fry perfectly and they just plain "eat" better.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Do fish get wise to new lures?

Blaine Carpenter
There is a brand new sensational lure just about every year.

Last year it was Berkley Gulp Alive artificial leeches and worms. The year before it was the deep-diving Rapala Tail Dancer. The year before that it was the ChatterBait swimming jig.

It's still too early to tell if Gulp Alive has staying power but we've already seen the other two fade to mediocrity with Red Lake fishermen.

So what gives? How can a lure be so popular that there is a waiting list for it at tackle stores one summer and then languish on the shelves the next?

Was its desirability among anglers just due to its newness or did it really catch more fish than other lures for awhile and then its success dropped off?

It could be a bit of both.

There aren't many rules in fishing but one of them is that whatever lure you use WITH CONFIDENCE will catch fish. It makes sense that fish only bite the lure you are using. (They don't, after all, hang on to the gunwale and suggest you try something else in your tackle box!)

If you always use 'Ol Lucky, you always catch fish with it.

But that tendency to stick with the familiar doesn't explain why new lures become such hits. In fact it would work against anglers even trying something new.

Of course we're also continually on the lookout for devices that will give us ever-better fishing. Witness the continual evolution of fish finders plus electronic color-selection devices, underwater cameras and the like.

We're not averse to trying new lures, just to sticking with them for very long.

New lures that become sensations then had to be successful almost immediately.

With that said it would seem that new lures really do catch more fish, at least at first.

Of course, a few continue to work well but our experience is that most quickly lose their effectiveness. I don't know how to explain that phenomenon other than to conclude that the fish eventually become wise to them. They learn that these new baits are fakes.

And if fish can learn this with one model of lure then why don't they do the same with all lures?
It's a good question.

One reason might be that many tried-and-true lures appeal differently to fish than does the new model.

For instance, spoons and spinners, which continue to work year after year for anglers who cast for northern pike, don't look anything like a minnow or a fish. Instead they just offer a flash and a glimpse of color. Somehow that triggers a strike response in northern pike. A lot of time these lures work better than minnow imitations that are ultra realistic. It's almost as if the vagueness of the presentation given by spoons and spinners is the key to their success. Maybe the action of the lure means fish never get a good look at them.

Minnow imitations work for northern pike too, especially when trolling. But it's the new minnow imitations that seem to lose their effectiveness with time. Still there are some minnow imitators that work year after year for casters too. These would include floating and suspending models as well as some divers of Rapala, Storm, Cotton Cordell -- virtually every manufacturer.

For walleyes, the old standbys are the leadhead jig with live bait and the single-hook-single-spinner with beads also fished with live bait. With these two lures it's obvious that the main attractant is the live bait. The brightly colored leadhead might call attention to the live bait as does the spinner.

Last year many anglers used Gulp Alive instead of live bait on these two lures with great success, at least early in the season. By fall live bait worked much better. It remains to be seen this season if the fish were catching on to the Gulp or if there was some other explanation.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

More strange fish of Red Lake, Ontario

rock bass
Marge with redhorse sucker

Once in awhile Bow Narrows Camp anglers are astounded to pull in some unexpected catches.

In the bottom photo is a redhorse sucker caught by Bow Narrows Camp angler Marge Kastner. This is one of the two native sucker species in the lake, the other being the white sucker. It is a beautiful fish and can reach weights of 10 pounds or even more. They rarely bite but when they do can provide a thrilling fight as they frequently become airborne trying to dislodge the hook.

Like other suckers they are loaded with bones that pretty much make them unpalatable. The bones themselves are also especially sharp. I've heard of people who pressure canned them and this softens the bones.

The top photo shows a favorite with kids that fish around the dock -- a rock bass! These little panfish are found all over North America and usually not in great abundance anywhere.

If you can get a hook and a worm right beside the log cribbing on our docks you are certain to pull out one of these little guys. They're not good eating either but are great for kids to catch, especially because they can see the fish bite the hook!

Holding this specimen is our daughter-in-law April. That's our grandson Raven and his grandmother Gail Lowey who is holding our other grandson, Quillan.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Moose and deer 'lichen' these unique organisms

Pitted Beard and Methusaleh's Beard lichens
Moose hair lichen

One of the things I love about the outdoors is that there is no end to the stuff you can learn about it.

Take the rocks and trees for example. Did you ever pay much notice to the "plants" that grow on them?

Chances are they're lichens which are a life form unto themselves. Lichens are not one organism but are at least two and sometimes three. They're fungi that have either algae or cyanobacteria (photosynthetizing bacteria) living within them in a symbiotic relationship. The fungus protects its photosynthetic partner which then helps feed the fungus.

I first became aware of the world of lichens in the woods behind our house in Nolalu, near Thunder Bay. In the winter I would cut down dead balsam fir that are loaded with long Spanish-moss-like lichens which we always called Old Man's Beard. Whitetail deer are nuts for this stuff. I've had them rush in to start eating the lichens at the top end of the tree while I was using a chainsaw to cut up the other end.

Moose also love it as do woodland caribou.

I probably looked at Old Man's Beard for 15 years before it occurred to me that there was more than one type.

It was my good fortune this winter to get a set of great field guides for Minnesota and Northwestern Ontario. One of them is about lichens.

I would recommend these books to anyone. They are the North Woods Naturalist Series and are produced by Kollath & Sons Publishing in Duluth, MN.

Besides the book on lichens I got others on north woods spiders, dragonflies and butterflies.

I'll have all the books up at camp this summer if you want to use them.

Lichens are absolutely fascinating and unlike most outdoor subjects are available to study throughout the winter! They don't freeze, that's one of their properties.

The long stringy tree lichens are known as beard lichens and there are many varieties. One of the rarest is Methusaleh's Beard which can hang up to three feet long from the branches of spruce and balsam.

The beard lichens are perhaps the world's most sensitive organisms to air quality and sadly in many parts of the world they have disappeared. Fortunately the air is still pure here in Northwestern Ontario.

Thanks to my new books I'm able to work lichen facts into just about every conversation.

For instance I might notice someone wearing a Harris Tweed jacket at a party. "Hey, did you know that Harris Tweed used lichens to make the dye for their wool until 1972?" Actually, they never know this.

Or when noticing someone has a cut on their hand, "Many beard lichens have a natural antibiotic called usnic acid that is being studied as a treatment for infections."

It may be possible for people to eat some lichens such as the ground rock tripe varieties but according to the book, it's not easy, requiring boiling in many changes of water with wood ash. I don't recommend it. Some could even be poisonous.

Ungulates like moose, deer and caribou are able to digest it because they have four-chambered stomachs and therefore have a much more thorough digestive system.

According to the book Inuit people have learned to open the stomachs of caribou they have killed and remove digested lichens which they then are able to make fit for human consumption. That's pretty ingenious but how would you like to have been the first person to try it?

Two of the most obvious lichens at camp are the grey and green Reindeer Lichens which cover many large areas of bedrock. Many people incorrectly refer to them as moss. There's a lot of that up here too but its a dark green and usually grows on soil.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Worms and leeches usually best walleye bait

Ron Nelson
Long ago walleye anglers at Bow Narrows Camp discovered that nightcrawlers and leeches are the best live bait at the west end of Red Lake, Ontario, where camp is located.

Minnows do work, but with one possible exception they're no better than worms and leeches and a lot more bother to take care of. In fact about as many minnows die and get pitched overboard as are used for bait.

Worms and leeches, however, are very durable. Keep them cool and they'll last just about forever. But why do they work so well for our fishermen when on other lakes everyone uses minnows? In fact, minnows are even the most common bait at the other end of Red Lake.

I'm not sure but I have a hunch it has to do with the bottom of the lake.

The bottom at the west end of the lake where camp is located is mostly clay. The east end has a lot of sand.
Or maybe there's just a lot of fishermen who haven't wised up to how well worms and leeches work.

Whatever, it is our good fortune that we don't need to use minnows to catch walleyes around Bow Narrows Camp.

We advise everyone to pick up worms or leeches in town or down the highway before they come out to camp. If they need more later on I can get it for them during the mid-week supply trip.

A flat of worms (500) is a good amount for 4 fishermen. Many of our guests pick these up at bait shops along the road but you can also reserve them by calling bait shops in Vermilion Bay, Ear Falls and Red Lake.

All it takes to keep the worms alive are some freezer packs or frozen bottles of water which we have in the fish freezer at camp. Or you can keep the flat in the refrigerator. Many people bring along little insulated containers and just take out a couple of dozen worms fishing and leave the rest back on the cabin porch or fridge.

Leeches are just as easy to look after. A pound of leeches is a good amount to get for 4 fishermen. Keep them cool but also change the water in their bag every day using lake water, not chlorinated water from the tap. Leeches are quite tough on the hook and many times you can catch several walleyes on one leech. (By the same token you can break a nightcrawler into several pieces and therefore catch several fish on each 'crawler too.) Cottage cheese containers work well for taking a couple dozen leeches with you out in the boat.

The one exception to worms and leeches being the best bait can be in September when usually minnows work better.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fun with zoom video camera and bald eagle

It's amazing the videos you can get with today's modern cameras and zoom lenses.
This eagle was sitting on a tree atop the hill right across from camp. It's a bit blurry at the start but if you'll stick with it you will see the reason.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Bald eagles common sights on Red Lake, Ontario

eagle nest, Red Lake, Ontario
I'm often asked about changes that I've seen in the half-century I've lived on Red Lake.

I'm glad to say that one of them is the re-establishment of majestic bald eagles.

It was a rare thing to see a bald eagle in the 1960s. In fact I probably didn't get more than one or two sightings in a summer, and if anyone was in a position to see them it was myself. I spent just about every day on the water, fishing or guiding.

The problem with the eagles was the pesticide DDT which they accumulated in their bodies through the food chain. DDT was used by farmers down south and forest companies even up here to keep insect infestations in check. The problem was it didn't biodegrade. Eventually rain washed it into the water bodies where it was picked up by microorganisms that were eaten by larger oganisms and eventually, fish. Bald eagles ate the fish and absorbed the DDT in their bodies. It didn't kill them outright but made them produce eggs with such thin shells that they broke when the eagles tried to incubate them. It was a common story among all predatory birds and nearly led to the extinction of peregrine falcons and eagles.

DDT was banned in the early 1970s. From that point on the level of it in the environment slowly disappeared. By the 1980s we began to see eagles again and their numbers have increased ever since.

Today you can see and hear eagles virtually every time you go fishing. There are many eagle nests that we know about and probably many more that we haven't seen.

It's a thrill to watch these enormous birds fishing and fighting with each other.

Several of our guests as well as myself have witnessed eagles trying to catch loon chicks. This isn't as easy as it sounds. Loons are fierce defenders of their territories and their young.

The time I saw it happening the eagle would swoop down at the adult loon which had its chick beside it. The loon would rear up and attempt to sink its dagger-like bill right into the eagle. At the last moment the eagle would flare away but would come back and repeat the process. I don't believe it ever did get the chick.

Guests Mike and Lonnie Boyer once saw two adult loons trying to drown an eagle after it ended up in the lake trying to catch a loon chick. They said the loons kept forcing their bodies on top of the eagle as it sculled its way toward shore with its wings. Eventually the eagle was able to spring out of the lake and flew away with nothing in its talons so it appeared the loon chick escaped.

Eagles build massive nests out of sticks and keep adding to them each year. The nests and the eagle droppings end up killing the trees which here are always big quaking aspens. The trees stay standing for years until eventually they are blown over by the wind. In one instance we know where an eaglet survived the crash. The parents then fed it on the ground for the rest of the summer.

Eagles rebuild their nests the next spring usually in the same vicinity.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Use circle hook and dead bait for spring pike

Circle hook
If you are booked into camp the first couple of weeks this season, you should try some circle hooks and frozen ciscoes for northern pike fishing.

This system for catching pike is known as dead bait fishing. It works wonders for catching these huge fish early in the season when the water is very cold.

The theory behind the system is that northern pike after spawning are exhausted and go looking for fish and minnows that died over the winter and then were frozen in the ice until spring ice breakup. These dead fish fall to the bottom once the ice melts and make an easy meal.

The idea that the pike are looking for dead prey has merit because the dead bait system works far and away better than live bait at this time of year.

There are a few ways to fish with the ciscoes. Most often anglers use one-half of these 6-inch long frozen minnows. Half works better than a whole ciscoe. They put it on a 5/0 circle hook which is attached to a nine-inch steel leader and fished three feet below a bobber or float.

Another system is to not use a bobber but to sling the ciscoe (sling is the right word because if you "whip" the rod as in casting the ciscoe flies off the hook) away from the boat, let it settle to the bottom and then alternately reel in a bit and let the ciscoe sink to the bottom. You know when a fish has picked it up because your line starts going out.

A third system is to let a gentle wind move the boat along and "troll" the ciscoe. This last technique might require a sinker to keep the bait near the bottom. In the first two techniques no sinker is used.

The circle hook requires some instruction if you haven't yet used one. Unlike conventional hooks, you cannot "set the hook" when you get a bite. If you do, you will whip the hook right out of the mouth of the fish.

Instead, just reel in the line and this slower tightening results in the hook catching the fish right in the corner of its mouth. You can experiment on how fast to tighten the line but I would suggest giving it 3-5 seconds.

Upon landing the fish the hook can quickly be removed and the fish released, and you'll want to release most of the fish caught this way because they tend to all be big ones. They're a blast to catch but are too big to ethically keep to eat. Eat the fish under the slot size which is 27.5-35.5 inches. They taste better. The big ones are the prime breeders, are virtually all females and are the ones we all want to catch again and again.

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Calf moose rescue a rare event

Josh emerges with calf
Little moose revives

Our policy with wild animals is to admire and respect them but to not interfere in their lives.

So it was an exception to the rule when our son Josh rescued a drowning calf moose right at camp a couple of years ago.

We have hesitated to mention the incident because we don't want to encourage people to "rescue" what appear to be abandoned animals. In just about every instance, the ducklings or fawns or calves that we come across are not abandoned. Their mothers have just left them while they went some other place to eat or to elude predators, etc.

But what happened in these photos really was a case where the calf would have died right before our eyes if we hadn't taken action.

It happened like this: One of our guests returning to his cabin after eating lunch in the lodge in late May saw this newborn calf swimming right in front of our boathouse. We all ran outside with our cameras but also with one eye peeled for the cow moose.

You NEVER want to get near a calf moose when a cow moose is nearby because she will almost certainly kick you to death in her instinct to protect her young.

But our first glance at the calf showed that something was very wrong. It wasn't swimming horizontally in the water but was instead flailing away with its front hooves in a vertical position. And then it sank beneath the surface only to emerge a second later and continue the process.

We looked everywhere in the yard but still didn't see a cow moose.

Just then the calf sank again and this time the only thing that came to the surface were bubbles.

"Josh, get him! He's drowning!," Brenda yelled.

Josh jumped into the frigid water and emerged in a few seconds with the hapless moose.

He then swam to shore and handed the little guy to me. I kept looking over my shoulder expecting to see an irate mother coming charging from the tree line but the coast was still clear.

After a few minutes the calf started to kick and wanted to go. But we were reluctant to release him back into the lake. Josh whipped off his T-shirt and we covered the moose's eyes with it and that calmed him down.

Now what do we do? we wondered.

The angler who had first spotted the moose jumped in his boat and drove up the narrows looking for the mother. He was back in a minute saying there was a cow moose several hundred yards around the bend but coming our way.

We took the exhausted calf up to the end of camp closest to the cow and laid him down in the yard with his eyes still covered.

We then turned off the generator so the two moose could hear better should they try to call to each other. The wind was blowing from the calf towards the cow. We then withdrew a good distance and watched. After about 30 minutes, the calf suddenly stood up, shook off the T-shirt and headed into the bush in the direction of the cow.

A day later someone spotted a cow with two calves in the narrows north of camp and we began to understand what probably had happened.

Cow moose like to swim out to small islands to give birth in May as it offers them some protection from black bears who are on the prowl first thing after hibernation looking for newborn moose calves.

We think that the cow had given birth to twin calves on an island right across the narrows from camp and had swam back to our side of the narrows shortly thereafter. (It's got to be a rude introduction to life for the calves. They're born one minute and swimming for their lives in ice cold water the next.)

The distance the cow swam wasn't far, maybe 50 yards. But she must have crossed right where there is a point of land. The shoreline is too steep for the moose to get out at the point so she swam to the north side where the shoreline was more gentle. One of her calves followed her but the other went to the south, toward camp. Since one of the calves was behind her she didn't realize at first that anything was wrong.

As it turns out the entire shoreline to the south is too steep, at least for a little moose, and he must have swam back and forth along the shoreline for quite awhile looking for a place to get out. Eventually he was exhausted and just couldn't swim any more and that's when Josh dove in and saved him from an early death.
A neat postscript to this story is that the cow and her twins ended up spending the entire summer on a beach not far from camp. Many of our guests saw them sunning themselves on the sand.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Ask to be informed when reservations available

Now that New Years has passed we usually make a lot of changes to our Reservation Availability.
I have just written letters to all those people with existing reservations and asked them to confirm their reservations with deposits. It is at this time that we find that some of those reservations made last summer need to be cancelled or switched to another date.
While you can always check the Reservation Availability at right to see if a particular week is open, if there is one or two weeks you are waiting for you are best advised to e-mail us in advance. That way, I can hold the cabin for you as soon as it becomes available. I'll then e-mail to see if you still want that week.
Our e-mail address is:

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Beautiful outdoor experiences to remember

Josh Baughman and Bud
Gord Cooper

Pitcher plants

When you live in this wonderful wilderness all the time it's tempting to take the beautiful panoramas and stunning sunsets for granted. They really do, after all, happen every day.

It's often our guests who remind us how special the country really is. They see the landscape with new eyes and soak up every detail.

In these days of winter when the mercury withdraws into the thermometer while the sun visits the other end of the world I have time to mull over forgotten outdoor scenes and see them anew.

As I look over photos in my collection, I'm struck by the beauty that also exists in tiny fragments of the Boreal Forest which is also the world's largest, wrapping around the entire northern hemisphere.

Take for instance, the vertical world of a stand of identical jackpines that have all grown up simultaneously following a forest fire 60 years earlier.

That's our son, Josh, and our old black lab, Bud, walking through an area between Middle Bay and Pipestone Bay. Sunlight came through the erect trees in a strobe-like fashion as we followed a GPS course back to our boat that day.

The forest fire in 1936 that spawned this stand of trees also burned down many of the frontier gold mines that once dotted our end of Red Lake. They included the Cole Gold Mine on Pipestone and the May-Spires Mine on an island in Middle Bay.
It was the end of many people's occupations since the mines never were rebuilt but it was the start of life for these trees.

The second photo shows a micro-ecosystem near Trout Bay that my brother-in-law Gord Cooper and I came upon while moose hunting in October one time. This little seasonal lake was carpeted with carnivorous pitcher plants that grew below the deciduous conifer species called tamarack. Needles of this tree turn golden in the fall prior to dropping off for the winter.

Another interesting feature of tamaracks is that you are warned never to burn them in a woodstove because they burn so hot it can melt the metal.

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