Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A great hat is an essential piece of fishing gear

George Muckenfuss
Bow Narrows Camp angler George Muckenfuss wears a great fishing hat in this shot with a perch that attacked a Rapala its own size.

When the weather is hot and sunny it's important for fishermen to protect their noggins from not only the heat but also UV rays.

Summer sunlight is more intense in Northern Ontario than at more southern latitudes due to the fact the northern hemisphere is tipped toward the sun at this time.

A wide-brimmed hat gives better protection than does a baseball cap although even a cap is a tremendous improvement from wearing no headgear at all.

Hats do catch a lot of wind; however, and it's necessary to have a chin strap to prevent it from blowing overboard when traveling with the outboard at high speed.

George is also wearing a very comfortable model of life vest. This type leaves the shoulders free for movement and air circulation. It also has handy pockets on the front.

I have a similar model except it has mesh over the shoulders.

Headgear plus polarized sunglasses also lets a fishermen see through the glare on the lake and thus spot rocks and weeds and sometimes, fish following the lure.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Stage set for early ice-out on Red Lake, Ontario

Mourning dove, March 29, Nolalu, ON
Following the warmest winter on record it seems very likely that the ice will break up on Red Lake and all other Northwestern Ontario lakes earlier than normal this year.

The average ice-out date for Red Lake is May 8 with normals being one week earlier or later than that date. There's a good chance this year that the ice will disappear in late April.

As always, the main driving force to ice-out is spring weather and that can be very unpredictable.

However, other factors such as snow cover, color and depth of ice all point to a quick melt.

As an example of how unusual the weather has been this year, the above photo of a mourning dove was taken at our home in Nolalu on Monday, March 29. It is rare to see a dove here in the middle of summer and finding one in March is unheard of! Nolalu is 50 km southwest of Thunder Bay, Ont.

All of Northwestern Ontario lost its meagre snow cover in the middle of March when the temperatures soared to the mid-teens C for as much as two weeks. That's about 60 F. Red Lake got a couple dustings of snow after that but it wasn't enough to make any difference.

We then had two weeks of near-normal temps (below freezing at night and a little above freezing in the days). Now the temperatures are again above normal and the melting has resumed.

There was very little snow over the winter and that resulted in the creation of beautiful blue ice, the kind that absorbs the sun in the spring. Other years the ice can be white from slush and this reflects the sun.

By mid-March most of the rivers and creeks were running open and the ice had melted around the shorelines of small lakes. These conditions were about a month earlier than normal and resulted in most ice fishermen pulling their ice shacks off the lakes in a panic.

Only the most adventurous ice anglers are still going on the ice now. Shallow areas have melted significantly and any places with current are to be avoided.

Ice-out prognosticators are loath to pick too early a date as experience has proven a late-spring storm can delay the situation significantly. However, the fact is that Northwestern Ontario has had continuous warm weather since last summer and if the trend would continue for only a few more weeks we could have a record-early breakup this year.

The record ice-out for Red Lake, I believe, is April 20.
Check out Enid Carlson's (Viking Outposts and Viking Island) blog today for a great look at the deteriorating ice in Red Lake.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Watch for "blue walleye" this summer

blue tint to walleye tail
It goes unnoticed by most anglers but an increasing number of walleye (and perch) caught in Red Lake and all other lakes in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, are turning blue!

In this photo from July of last summer, Bow Narrows Camp angler Macy Lagarde holds a walleye whose tail fin and back has a blue tint.

Two researchers from the University of Wisconsin - Washington County have discovered the blue color seems to be something new. It is caused by a protein that they have called Sandercyanin.

Sander is the genus name for walleye and cyanin is Greek for blue.

The protein is created by the walleye themselves in their slime and the amount of it increases with each month of summer.

The blue tint is seen best in the dorsal and tail fins but can be anywhere on the top half of the body.

It should be noted that the blue-colored walleye are not the blue pike that became extinct from the Great Lakes. They are regular walleye whose color has changed from yellow to blue.

UWWC researchers Steve Schaefer and Wayne Schaefer say Sandercyanin acts as a sunscreen for the fish and it is possible that the blueing of the walleye is being caused by more solar radiation striking the earth from a thinning of the ozone layer due to man-made chemicals in the atmosphere.

They have also documented that the phenomenon is moving southward, into Minnesota and Michigan.

The researchers ask anglers to report catches of blue walleye to them and to send them samples of the blue slime.

Report catches by clicking on their blog Blue Walleye which also contains the latest information on the subject.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nothing beats the Johnson Silver Minnow in weeds

Johnson Silver Minnow
Ultimate weedless spoon

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Berkley Johnson Silver Minnow in this last blog dealing with great northern pike fishing spoons.

This is the ultimate weedless spoon. Nothing else even comes close.

I wrote about it probably a dozen blogs back but I'll repeat it here in this talk about great spoons.

You want two sizes in this spoon, the 1/2 oz. and the 3/4 oz.

There are three things you need to know about this spoon:

1. You must keep the weedguard turned so that it is just slightly higher than the point of the hook.

2. You must keep the single hook needle sharp. You'll need to hone it from time to time. When it is sharp it will catch on the smooth surface of your thumb nail.

3. You must put a trailer on the single hook. This lure has a fantastic wiggle to it when there is a trailer attached.

Although my favorite trailers in the past have been plastic twister tails, I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest anglers try the Berkley Gulp Alive twister tails. These have the same wiggle as the plastics but have the additional attraction of scent.

Once you have the weedguard properly adjusted, this lure will come through weeds, trees, rocks and anything else. In fact, you'll catch more weeds on the knot of your leader than you will on the lure. (You'll need to trim your knot as small as possible.)

Another advantage to the Johnson Silver Minnow is that it casts like a bullet with pinpoint accuracy. It is so aerodynamic that it is affected the least of all spoons by wind. This means you can drop it beside logs and rocks -- right where the fish are laying.

Best colors are gold, silver, red-and-white (what is it with this color pattern? It's great in everything!) and rainbow trout.

Use 2.5-inch trailers on the 1/2 oz. and 3-inch trailers on the 3/4 oz.

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Eppinger Dardevle is THE red-and-white spoon

Eppinger red-and-white Daredevle
One of the most famous and time-tested lures for northern pike is the red-and-white Dardevle made by Eppinger.

No other red-and-white spoon compares to this brand.

For northern pike fishing on Red Lake you want the 2/5, 1/2 and 3/4 oz models.

The most famous size is the 1-oz (about four inches long) but except for the first and last couple weeks of fishing, this size does not produce as many fish as do the smaller models on Red Lake.

Just like the other spoons brands mentioned in the previous blogs, Eppinger spoons are heavier for their size and so run deeper than cheap red-and-white spoons.

Although the red-and-white Dardevle is the best known color scheme, many people find the black-and-white can work even better.

Even less known are the myriad of plain metals like copper and the painted patterns like five-of-diamonds and rainbow trout but all of these can work great.

Pay close attention to your retrieving speed when using Dardevles. At the correct speed this spoon ducks and dives in a manner that entices strikes from even non-aggressive northern pike.

When casting shorelines with the 2/5 oz. model don't be surprised if you also come up with some walleye.

They really love the red-and-white color as well as the five-of-diamonds.

Sometimes all it takes to switch from northern pike to walleye fishing is to let this lure settle for a few seconds before starting the retrieve.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Little Cleo spoon a favorite for northern pike

Acme Little Cleo spoons

Another great brand of spoons is the Acme Little Cleo.

Get the 2/5 and 1/3 oz. sizes. The 2/5 in particular works great when casting for mid-season northern pike.

Best colors are plain silver, plain gold, silver and blue, silver and orange, almost any of the hammered finishes, rainbow trout, fire tiger and just about every other model.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Make sure to bring some Len Thompson spoons

Len Thompson Five of Diamonds

Len Thompson made of brass

Canadian-made Len Thompson spoons are absolutely among the very best for catching all species of fish in Red Lake, Ontario.

From left are No. 0 (5/8 oz), No. 00 (1/2 oz) and No. 6 (1/7 oz).

The first two are just the ticket for catching northern pike. The tiny little No. 6 is an oddity but I include it here for its ability to catch walleye.

The color pattern shown -- yellow with five red diamonds -- is known far and wide simply as the Five of Diamonds.

It really is great.

But then so is the nickel (silver), nickel and blue, hammered brass and orange, brass, and red-and-white.

The itty bitty spoon shown above is actually not a Five of Diamonds but a chartreuse and hot red model. We've caught walleye on the No. 6 Five of Diamonds but I'm sure this one would work as well.

What makes Len Thompsons so much better than many rival spoons is shown in the photo of the undersides. These spoons are made of thick brass. This makes them heavier for their size than a steel spoon; so, they run deeper -- down in the strike zone.

I'll mention other great spoon brands in the next few blogs.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

D.B. Dowling left his mark here in 1893

Pipestone rock at Pipestone Bay
Not far from Bow Narrows Camp is a flat rock made of soapstone where a man named D.B. Dowling of the Geological Survey of Canada carved his initials DBD and the date 1893.

His map of Red Lake and a report by Robert Bell, also of the Geological Survey, would lead to the famous 1926 Red Lake Gold Rush.

The soapstone was known as pipestone by the indigenous Ojibwa people and the bay where it is found is called Pipestone Bay. The Ojibwa used the stone to make pipes.

The first member of the Geological Survey to become interested in Red Lake, however, was a man named A.R.C. Selwyn who was exploring Lac Seul. He noted in 1872 that the Ojibwa people referred to a nearby lake as Red Paint Lake (or Red Ochre Lake). It was the place where a person could go to find red ochre which more ancient peoples had used to make pictographs on rock faces.

Red ochre is iron oxide, basically rusty iron. This indicated that the rocks at Red Lake were volcanic and sedimentary in origin and not granite like most of the Canadian Shield.

His assumption was proven correct when Bell made his survey 11 years later in 1883. Pipestone or soapstone, is a type of limestone which is definitely sedimentary.

So Dowling made his map in 1893 and by 1897 the first gold discovery was made. The big discoveries would come later until by 1926 there were thousands of prospectors combing the rocks all around the lake.

It became the world's third-largest gold strike behind the San Francisco Gold Rush and the Klondike.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Serenity and beauty found on a short kayak trip

Helena Spizarsky, a young woman who worked for us a couple of years ago, had a wonderful eye for nature and took this photo while on a solo kayak paddle from camp.

It reminds me of a Japanese painting -- stark but beautiful. We have a couple of kayaks and a couple of canoes for guests or staff to use at camp. If you want to see nature close-up, go for a paddle in the morning or evening.

If you are unfamiliar, say, with sea kayaking, just ask and we'll give you some instruction.

The staff do most of the kayaking at camp, mostly, I think, because they're young and not afraid to use some muscle power.

Sea kayaks are more stable than canoes. Once you are seated in one it is very difficult to flip it. You really have to try to make them upset.

Despite their stability, we insist everybody who uses a canoe or kayak wear a life vest.

Frankly, it should be the law for all boats, like wearing a seatbelt in a car.

The neat thing about kayaking is you can paddle right beside the shoreline, and so, see things that weren't visible from farther away where the boats must travel.

And, of course, you are silent, so you see birds and animals that would shy away from a boat with a motor.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Where are the biggest walleye caught?

On Red Lake, or at least at the west end of Red Lake where Bow Narrows Camp is located, there isn't a single answer to the question: "Where do I go to catch the largest walleye?"

There isn't, for instance, a nine-pounder bay that is between eight-pounder bay and 10-pounder bay.

Big walleye can be caught everywhere walleye are being caught.

There are a couple of minor exceptions.

The first is you probably won't find huge walleye where there are massive groups of tiny walleye. The little ones are packed together for protection. They're too small for people to eat but absolutely yummy for northern pike! Early in the season the little guys are frequently found in shallow, weedy bays where they use the weeds as cover.

There are big walleyes in the shallow weedy bays too, just not in the particular cove or weedbed where these little guys are packed.

It's not a hard-and-fast rule but the bigger ones are usually a little farther out from shore in a little deeper water and where the weeds aren't quite as dense or where there are no weeds at all.

Once walleye get to about 16 inches in length they are better able to protect themselves against marauding wolf packs of northern pike and move freely out into the open.

From that point on all the sizes of walleye swim together.

Walleye of all sizes around Bow Narrows Camp will stay in the weedy bays right until the water begins to cool down in mid-August.

Then they move out to the edges of the deeper bays where they join other walleye that seem to have been migrating there from all over the lake.

So, from opening day to late June walleyes of all sizes are mostly in the shallow weedy bays with the littlest walleye in the shallowest water.

From mid-July to mid-August there are still walleye in the shallow bays but there are also others in deeper water in the big bays and from mid-August to the end of September there are walleyes exclusively in the deeper bays.

Although the walleyes move to the area of the deep bays, they never go that deep themselves. In mid-July to mid-August they are probably 16-22 feet deep (during the same time, in the shallow weedy bays they are 8-12 feet deep).

By September when they are all in the deep bays they will be 26-30 feet deep and that's as deep as we catch them.

The nice thing about fishing late in the season is that the fish congregate in large schools and don't really move around very much. They are more predictable than at other times of the year.

The second exception to the all-walleyes-school-together rule comes at the other end of the scale -- the big end.

Even though walleye are a school fish, the really big girls (they are almost all females) can leave the group and go cruising on their own. They act more like northern pike than walleye and a lot of times are caught by anglers who are pike fishing.

Still, while some lunker walleye do this solo thing, more of them hang with the group. So the best advice is that once you locate a bunch of mixed-size walleye, keep fishing and you're bound to come up with some biggies.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

More proof that women anglers do great at camp

Kelsey with big lake trout
Big walleye

big northern pike

To my knowledge, Kelsey, shown here in photos taken last spring and Elizabeth, the lady with the knack for catching big walleye in the blog posting before this one had never fished in Canada before coming to Bow Narrows.

You would never know that looking at the fish they caught.
It just shows us that the ladies are more than capable when it comes to the sport of fishing.
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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Do women really catch fish at your camp? DUH!!

You're kidding, right?

Don't bring your wife, girlfriend, sister, mother or daughter unless you're prepared to be the netman for a lot of fish.

Not only do women catch fish here, they seem to be REALLY GOOD AT IT!

I remember mentioning to a woman one time that seeing as how her gender seemed particularly adept at catching fish, it's surprising that more of them don't take up fishing as a sport.

"That's just it," she said. "There's no challenge in it!"


Anyway, the question isn't whether women can catch fish, it's whether they will bait their own hooks. This is where we usually sort the men from the, well, women.

Imagine going walleye fishing with your buddy and when it came time to thread a nightcrawler or leech on a jig he went, "EWWW! That's gross!"

At this point he would become your ex-fishing-buddy.

But somehow, we cave when the very same remark is made by a member of the gentler sex. I suppose it gives us a chance to show how manly and brave we are by baiting the hook for her.

It depends on the family, of course. In our family the girls either baited their own hooks or they just sat in the boat like so many ornaments because the men just weren't going to do it for them. So, eventually, they all learned to get along with the worms and leeches. It was tough love, I suppose.

Every family is different but there's a practical reason why men should insist females bait their own hooks. It gives the men a chance to catch a fish of their own. Otherwise they are either baiting her hook or netting her fish or taking her picture with a fish.

Of course, it does give the man a chance to prove his prowess as a guide!


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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Are big northern pike dangerous to people?

Big Red Lake northern pike
In a word, no, but that doesn't stop people's imaginations from thinking that they are.

Northern pike never purposely try to bite you. When you net or pick up one of these magnificent fish all they want to do is get away.

The only way they know how to do this is to swim, of course, and sometimes anglers will drop a fish on the floor of the boat and the fish starts "swimming" toward them. Thus the myth that the fish was trying to "get them." It was just trying to get back in the water, that's all.

On the other hand, northern pike have a mouthful of wicked teeth and even their gills are razor sharp. So they must be handled carefully when removing fish hooks.

In just about every instance it just takes long-handled hook-removing tools. The best of these is the Baker Hookout (see Best Fish Unhooking Tools).

Grasp the fish over the top of the back near its head, being careful not to squeeze too tightly on its gill plates. Then use the Hookout or long needlenose pliers to reach in the mouth and remove the hooks.

If the fish won't open its mouth then use a set of pliers or a jaw spreader to hold it open. Your fishing partner can also help by holding the fish across the back with one hand while slipping his other hand along the jawbone from beneath and pulling the mouth open.

Never put your fingers into a pike's mouth because there is no telling when it might snap shut.

The real danger in catching pike isn't from the pike but from the lures used to catch them.

Long stick baits with three sets of treble hooks are very treacherous. All it takes is for the fish to flop while you are holding it and one of the trebles gets in your hand.

We've removed a lot of fish hooks from people over the years and 99 per cent of them were from stick baits!

Lures that have only one set of treble hooks, like spoons and spinners and even some crankbaits are very safe.
I don't believe I've ever seen someone get hooked from a lure with a single hook such as a jig, spinner bait or Johnson's Silver Minnow.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Carnivorous pitcher plant a Boreal Forest beauty

Northern Ontario pitcher plant
There are two carnivorous plants that I know about around Red Lake. The largest is the pitcher plant shown above. The other is the tiny sundew.

Pitcher plants are quite common in bogs.

There's a good article about them in this month's National Geographic. It explains that the insects that fall into the pitcher are digested for their nitrogen and phosphorus which is used by the plants to help them photosynthesize by making light-harvesting enyzmes.

Pitcher plants are not very good at photosynthesis. For one thing, they don't have much in the way of leaves (just the pitcher).

By living in a bog they get a lot of sunshine since there are no overhanging trees. But the soil there is poor in nitrogen and phosphorus. So they get it from their prey which fall into the liquid in the pitcher and are digested by enzymes created by the plant as well as by other organisms that live in the liquid.

It's a pretty interesting way of adapting.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What makes a fish bite?

Perch hit lure the same size as itself
It seems like an easy question, at first.

Fish bite because they're hungry!

But then you look at scenes like the one above and you scratch your head.

This perch wasn't trying to eat the Rapala that is the same size (and color) as itself. It just isn't possible. So why did he get hooked?

I think in this case the perch was attracted to the little rubber skirt on the last treble hook. He probably was hungry and saw the little skirt at the "tail" of the other "perch" as something to eat.

I've noticed the same thing with perch when I'm ice fishing. They will hit spoons much too big for them but which have a bit of bait on the hook. I think they are actually trying to take the bait away from the larger fish (spoon).

Either way, of course, they get hooked.

Northern pike are well known to get hooked when there is the tail of a fish hanging out their throats. They couldn't possibly swallow another thing! I think they are displaying the same behavior shown by the perch, only in this case they aren't trying to take some bit of food away from another fish, they are trying to prevent the other fish from getting the morsal or fish they just swallowed.

Northern pike, especially bigger ones, will also bite in defense of their territory. When pike get to about 35 inches or so they will claim a place to themselves and will defend it against other pike of similar size. This is why it's important when casting for pike to have your lure moving smartly through the water -- to the bigger pike the lure (fish) is acting aggressively and this triggers the strike response.

Pike will also bite just because they are opportunists.

For instance, a pike might watch a surface plug plow through the water overhead and at first pay little attention. After all, he isn't hungry and the thing making the V on the surface up there obvously isn't a fish threatening his territory. But then the thing stops! It's absolutely defenseless! This just doesn't happen every day. So the pike moseys up to within a few feet of the object and when all it does is just twitch and tremble, he can't help himself! Wham!

Walleyes, on the other hand, don't seem to do this. They really do seem to bite only because they're hungry.

This is why they can be so aggravating at times -- they just aren't hungry continuously.

They also seem to have definite feeding times and other resting times.

When the weather is constant their feeding times will fall into a pattern. I think what happens is the fish know where to find the bait fish and will swoop in and gorge for a couple of hours and then head back to their resting place to digest their meal.

Not every fish follows the pattern, of course. In between the hot times there are still some walleye biting, just not like at the peak hours.

In Red Lake during hot, sunny weather, those peak hours are frequently dawn-to-10 a.m., 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. until dark.

It's a different story during inclement weather. If it's warm and rainy the walleyes might bite continuously all day. The same goes for windy days.

Another reason fish bite is what I call, "Because he did it first!"

I've seen this with perch around the dock. The kids will be dangling bits of worm right in front of a school of perch all of which seem to be disinterested (They probably all have sore mouths from being caught and released by the kids already.) Then a new perch comes on the scene, sees the worm and swoops in for it. This triggers a response among the other members of the group who suddenly start fighting to get the worm.

I can't swear this happens with bigger fish because you can't see them as easily as a school of perch. But I do know of it happening one time with lake trout.

A couple of our fishermen could "see" with their fish finder two big lake trout hanging out on the

bottom just off a point in deep water. They tried in vain to get the two lakers to bite jigs and spoons and other lures.

(This was quite some time ago when it was legal to use bait for lake trout fishing on Red Lake.)

Finally one of the fishermen decided to use the last live sucker minnow he had been saving for pike fishing.

While his buddy kept trying to get the trout to hit a jig, this fellow lowered the sucker down 60 feet. Immediately one of the trout grabbed the sucker and when it did, the other trout hit the jig!

The act of one fish feeding set off the other one to feed as well.

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Fishing knots that everyone should know

Trilene knot

The breaking strength of any fishing line is dictated by the knots that are tied in it.

Lots of knots reduce the line strength by up to 50 per cent. The reason is the knot itself cuts the line when tension is placed on the line.

Knot knowledge became even more critical with the new braided and fusion lines like SpiderWire. These lines are so slick that some knots used for monofilament simply slip.

So with that in mind, here are some knots that work with all line types.

The first is the famous Palomar knot. This retains 100 per cent of line strength and is also easy to tie, even in windy conditions.

It's great for tying your line to a piece of terminal tackle such as a leader, a hook, or a lure.

The second knot is the Trilene knot. It's used for the same thing.

The final knot, the Reverse Albright, is used to tie mono and braided or fused lines together. There are several knots for this but this is one of the easiest ones.
Oh yes, one more thing: you should always wet your knot before pulling it together. This prevents friction from reducing the line strength.

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