Friday, December 31, 2010

Stromatolites another reason Red Lake is special

stromatolite on Red Lake, Ontario
As I understand it, the earth was created about 4.6 billion years ago.

Then, about a billion years later, the first cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae) appeared. They were single-cell organisms and the very first lifeform that could photosynthesize, that is, they could use the sun's energy to create carbon-based sugar and in the process produce oxygen. That oxygen was released to the amosphere which up to that point was mostly carbon dioxide and other gases.

The cyanobacteria became incredibly abundant, virtually covering the Earth, and over another billion years ended up creating the very atmosphere we breathe today.

They were so numerous when they existed that they created thick stringy mats that became fossils. Those fossils are called stromatolites.

There are three places in Canada where stromatolites are found. One is on Red Lake, in fact, right on the shoreline in front of Bow Narrows Camp and also other locations nearby.

The other two are Steep Rock Lake in Atikokan, Ontario, and near Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

They are also found in Australia.

This photo, which was taken just down the shore from Bow Narrows Camp, shows the stringers of fossilized algal mats.
For more on stromatolites visit this website at Queen's University in Toronto.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Check out West Red Lake Mining Museum

West Red Lake Mining Museum
map on museum sign

glacial erratic

Brian Kreviazuk
Make sure you check out the West Red Lake Mining Museum this summer.
This self-guided museum is largely finished after being under construction for several years.

It is located near the western entrance to West Narrows, only about half a mile from Bow Narrows Camp.

The log building is actually an original cabin from the 1926 Gold Rush to Red Lake which was the third-largest in the world. The cabin was formerly located at Bow Narrows Camp (our old Cabin 10) and was moved to the current site when the concept of the museum was first broached about seven years ago. Only one story of the original two-story structure was re-erected at the museum site.

The entire project was done by volunteers under the guidance of Brian Kreviazuk seen here repairing the museum's dock last fall.

The museum location was originally the home site of Bill Brown, Red Lake's first postmaster. He is buried on an island in front of the museum. If you look carefully you can see his headstone from your boat.

Back in the 1920s and '30s the west end of Red Lake was a hive of activity with many small gold mines in the area. Eventually everyone moved to the east end of the lake where the town of Red Lake is now situated. Almost none of the mines at the west end produced any gold while the ones at the east end were winners. Today the town of Red Lake boasts the world's richest gold mine, owned by GoldCorp, and there are new mines under construction.

It seems incredulous that the wilderness at the west end where Bow Narrows Camp is located was once inhabited by hundreds of gold rush pioneers. It is nothing but trees and bays and islands today. About all that remains are the rock piles from the mines and a few corners of the old log cabins.

There is also a large glacial erratic or boulder behind the museum that is a real stunner. The size of a house, it is one of the largest boulders ever discovered from the glaciers that covered this area 10,000 years ago.

As of last fall the museum contained old photographs of life in the area back in the gold rush. Photos are changed from time to time and other exhibits are planned next year as well.

There is no charge to visit the museum.

Although there is a large museum about the history of Red Lake in town, it largely ignores the mining history at the west end of the lake. The West Red Lake Mining Museum attempts to correct that oversight.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

How to prevent Gulp Alive jars from leaking

Gulp Alive lid
A lot of people have found Gulp Alive baits to work nearly as well as live bait; some say it's even better.

But everyone hates the smelly, sticky liquid that always leaks from Gulp Alive jars once they are opened.

The solution is not to take off the cardboard cover on the rim. In large baits such as Gulp leeches and Gulp worms, just make a double cross-slit across the surface of the cardboard, leaving the entire cardboard piece in place. You can just push your fingers through the cross-slits and get the bait.

In smaller baits such as these Gulp Alive waxworms which I like to use for perch ice fishing, you can cut out the inside of the cardboard leaving the cardboard over the rim. This leaves room for your fingers in the small jars to pick up the bait.

The cardboard acts as a gasket on this popular artificial bait's jars. If you take away the cardboard, the jars will leak.

Do Gulp Alive waxworms work for perch? Well, I've got to go clean a mess of perch right now and oh yes, a nice northern pike as well.
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Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas from us at Bow Narrows Camp

Brenda and Dan Baughman and Sammy dog
Brenda and I and our dog, Sam, wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Our wish is that you will all have a joyous and peaceful holiday.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The balsam fir -- call it the first aid tree

balsam fir trunk
balsam fir blisters

Growing just about everywhere in the Boreal Forest are balsam fir trees.
Visitors to Bow Narrows Camp might know these from their massive number of branches, often covered in grey arboreal lichens known collectively as Old Man's Beard. The trees also have very pointed tops.

Balsams are also a favorite Christmas Tree and are sold for this purpose everywhere.

They have a wonderful fragrance and soft, flat needles.

Something that isn't as well known is that they also provide a great wilderness first aid salve for cuts.

The trunk of the balsam, especially older trees, is covered with bumps or blisters, and in each of these blisters is a clear sap. That sap makes a first-class antiseptic salve.

Take a knife blade or even just a sharp twig and puncture the blister. You'll end up with a drop of the sticky sap clinging to your blade or twig. Spread this on a bandage and place over the wound.

I've done this countless times and, in my experience, it works wonderfully. The wound heals quickly and never even becomes sore.

I first learned of this from old Bill Stupack, the prospector-trapper who first built Bow Narrows Camp. Bill spent most of his life living alone in the bush and swore there was nothing better for treating wounds.

One bitterly cold winter he was on his trapline at Prairie Lake, about 20 miles west of Red Lake, and accidentally cut himself badly on the head with an axe. He had been swinging the axe when it struck a branch and came down right on the top of his head, creating a large gash.

It was a 40-mile snowshoe to medical help (this was before snowmobiles) so that was pretty much out of the question. So Bill ended up stitching up the cut on his own with needle and thread. Then he found a balsam and cut a slab of bark to bring back in his little log cabin. He needed to thaw out the sap before it could be used. After plastering the sewn-up gash with balsam he bandaged it and made his plans to head to town. But then the weather took a turn for the worse and he ended up staying put for a week.

When the storm finally cleared Bill decided the cut was healing up just fine and took out his stitches and stayed another couple of months trapping.

They made them tough in those days.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Never use treble hooks for bait fishing

treble hook in stomach
Ontario Fishing Network

If there is one fishing regulation I would change it would be this: I would make it illegal to use treble hooks for fishing with live or dead bait. The reason is it kills so many fish.

We still have fishermen who use treble hooks when dead bait fishing for northern pike, especially in the spring.

Most of them say they know exactly when to set the hook so that the fish doesn't swallow it and end up dead.

The photo above tells a different story. It is a pike taken on an artificial on the second day of the season and already someone had caught and lost it leaving a treble hook in its stomach and leader hanging out its mouth. This fish was doomed anyway if this angler hadn't kept it. Fortunately, it was of legal size.

How many fish are hooked in the stomach and released because they are in the slot size?

We catch quite a few pike each summer with treble hooks protruding through the walls of their stomachs. Fish with single hooks inside them are usually fine. The single hook doesn't poke a hole through the stomach lining. But with a treble two or all three of the hooks will work their way right through, eventually killing the fish.

It's all so needless. With a quick strike rig the hook can be set the instant the fish takes the bait. There is no reason to let the fish "take it" before setting the hook. That's because there are two hooks on the rig, a single hook in the front of the bait and a treble hook in the center. If the bobber goes down there is a hook in the fish's mouth-- set the hook immediately -- before the bait is swallowed.

With a circle hook you can let the fish swallow the bait a little, then slowly pick up tension on the line by reeling and as the circle hook comes sliding out of the fish's mouth, it catches it right in the very corner.

Both methods allow you to safely and humanely release the fish.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Burlap bag simply the best for keeping fish

burlap bag or keep sack
Angler Steve Wilhelm brings some fish in a burlap bag to the fish house at camp last summer.

We have used burlap bags for keeping fish for 50 years now at Bow Narrows Camp and my great-uncle Bill Baughman used them at his camp, Rainbow Lodge on Pickerel River, Ontario, for nearly as long before us. So collectively we have been using the bag system for keeping fish for nearly 100 years. And we've never seen anything that worked better -- not stringers, not mesh baskets and not livewells.

Did you ever notice how it's the simple things that work best? Well, there's nothing simpler than this.

Here's how the system works. Dip the bag (also known as a keep sack) in the lake to get it wet. Put the fish in the bag and lay it on the bottom of the boat. The evaporation of the water from the bag produces a cooling of the fish. It's the same principle of the old cowboys' blanket canteens.

You can keep fish in excellent shape this way all day. Just dip the bag back in the lake if it dries out.

Although it seems counter-intuitive, it's actually a bad idea to keep fish alive once you've decided to keep them. For one thing, keeping fish on stringers or in livewells will make them excessively slimy. This is because the mucus on their skin needs to be continually washed away by the fish's swimming forward.

A lot of the stereotypes people use about northern pike comes from the fact they kept their fish on stringers. I've seen pike kept overnight on a stringer that seemed to be encased in a mucus-gelatin. They had to be blasted with a hose and let dry in the sun for several hours before they could be cleaned.

Fish in the bag never get this way. They are clean and cold and not slimy.

Fish kept on stringers and in livewells also get water-logged. Their stomachs are full of water when we clean them and their flesh is soft. Again fish in burlap bags are not like this. Their flesh is as firm as if it had been kept on ice.

When you keep fish on a stringer you also stand a good chance of losing them. I wish I had $10 for every time someone using a stringer lost the entire stringer overboard or forgot to bring it in the boat and the propeller chopped up the fish or another fish "ate" the fish on the stringer. It's just not a good idea.

We've tried other types of bags and have found that only the burlap "potato sacks" work. Burlap is organic and is absorbent and this has something to do with it. On the downside, burlap decays quite rapidly so we must get new bags about three times a summer.

If you are new to camp, there is a supply of bags on the drying line beside the fish house. When you bring your fish to the fish house for cleaning, you can leave your bag in the cleaning bins with your cabin number and grab another bag to take back to your boat.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Studies find walk in the woods really is good for us

I really like walking in the woods, and so does Sam, our dog, and I can vouch that that there is something therapeutic about the experience.

Now medical research has proven the connection. Walking in the woods is more beneficial to our minds and bodies than just walking along the road or street or in a gym.

John Swartzenberg, MD, chair of the editorial board of the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter, reports in the December issue that "green exercise" pays big dividends.

Tests have shown people have better memory and attention when hiking in the woods compared to indoors. Hiking lowers stress, blood pressure and heart rate and improves immune functions better than does exercising at a gym.

Researchers also found a "third-day effect" where after a few days of hiking people attain a special stage of relaxation and mindfulness.

We've seen something similar with our guests at Bow Narrows Camp. It was my father, Don, who noticed that people who come fishing for just three days, rather than a week, never have a very good time. He was right. As proof of this, three-dayers almost never return to camp whereas the vast majority of week-trippers do. Once we realized what was going on we started not taking the three-day guests. After all, we want people to enjoy themselves.

Although the medical studies didn't analyze fishing trips for their benefits, I think the situation is the same. When we're off in the woods on a fishing trip we reach a state of deep relaxation. No doubt some of this is because we're out of range of cell phones and e-mails. But there's more to it than that. It really does seem to come from the fact we are physically outdoors.

After a day or two of of not hearing street noise, we become absorbed in the natural sights and sounds around us. The calls of birds and the whistling of the wind through the pines occupies our attention and our thoughts turn to what a great world this still is.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Northern pike are feasting on crayfish

O. virilis crayfish in Red Lake
Creme Lure tube

Creme lure tube

Creme lure tube

It might surprise you to know that a big part of the diet of northern pike in Red Lake is crayfish!

We find crayfish in the stomachs of a great many pike that we clean for our guests. Of course, crayfish don't digest as easily as minnows and other softer prey so they linger longer but still, there's no doubt that pike do eat this crustacean.

A careful examination of these crayfish last summer indicated they are all the native species of crayfish which is Orconectes virilis and not the invasive species O. rusticus or rusty crayfish that have gotten into a great many lakes in Wisconsin and Minnesota and other places.

It is not a good idea to use live crayfish for bait for fear of transferring invading species to new lakes. However, there is an artificial bait favored by bass fishermen that is known to imitate crayfish and that is the tube jig.

If you want to try something new next summer, bring some tube jigs in 4-5-inch size in various colors and work these around rocky shoals, points and entrances to narrows.

If you are unfamiliar with tube jigs they look like a regular jig but have a bullet-shaped head that allows a hollow plastic tube to fit over the top.

Pike are well-known to hit regular round jigs, either bucktail or with plastic twister tails.

The tube jig differs in that it is entirely covered by the tube. It's a bit slower to fall through the water and often spirals which could imitate a dying fish or swimming crayfish.

To fish a tube jig for pike, cast it out and let it sink to the bottom. Give the rod a slow jerk and let the jig fall back to the bottom while you reel in your slack line. Repeat the process until your lure is all the way back to the boat. You can also just reel the jig right in but with the occasional pause or twitch of the rod.

Crayfish like to hide in crevices of rocks and in boulder piles so those locations would be good places to try the tube jig.

Weight of the jig head makes a big difference on the jig action. Light jigs fall more slowly and so must be given more time between jigs. Try 1/8, 1/4 and 3/8-ounce sizes.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Put your Canadian tax rebate toward your deposit

If your bank refuses to cash your Canadian tax rebate check from your trip to camp last summer or is going to levy some outrageous service charge for cashing it, then just send it to us as part of your deposit for next summer's trip.

Depending on when you came to camp last year that rebate check could be as much as $55.90 if you came on the American Plan and $42.25 on the Housekeeping Plan.

The rebate was larger after July 1 last summer. It amounted to 6.5% of the cost of your trip.

The rebate was only offered to non-Canadian visitors.

We require a deposit of $100 per person to hold your reservation. If you want to include your rebate check in your deposit then just send us a personal check for the remainder of the $100.

Finally, make sure you sign the back of your rebate check. We are not able to deposit it without your signature.

You can also send us your normal $100 deposit plus your rebate check and we will put the entire total towards your trip.

As always, your deposit is fully refundable upon 60 days notice of cancellation.

We also have guests who prefer to pay for their entire trip in advance. If they need to later cancel then we refund the entire amount if they give us 60 days notice and refund all but the $100 if less than 60 days.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Do northern pike suspend? Yes, sort of.

Red Lake northern pike
I'm sure Bow Narrows angler Carl Cieplik didn't catch this beautiful northern pike by trolling over deep water. He almost certainly was casting along the shoreline and weedbeds.

But I have known of other anglers who "accidentally" caught pike, including some whoppers, by doing that very thing -- trolling lures that run just below the surface in waters that were 20-100 feet deep.

Usually these fishermen never expected to catch anything in these conditions; they were just moving from one island to another and didn't want to reel in all their line.

I don't know of anyone who caught many pike at one time doing this. Usually it's just the one.

So while its not a recommended way of fishing for pike -- just about all of them are along the shorelines or at least are on the bottom in deeper water -- it is possible.

In a way, I don't think these fish are suspended. Rather, they are cruising just below the surface.

Many times on dead calm days I've seen schools of fish, some of them pike but mostly lake trout, whitefish and tulibees, that have "pinned" a cloud of baitfish against the surface.

This phenomenon is called a "bait ball" by ocean fishermen.

There are also usually sea gulls, terns and loons taking part in the action. In fact, that is what you'll notice, all the bird activity out in the middle of the lake. They will spook when you are about a hundred yards away but you can then cut your motor and idle or paddle up to the bait ball. Usually you can catch three or four fish before either you scare everything away or you lose the location in the featureless center of the lake.

If you want to try something new when fishing at camp next summer, try trolling out in the big water on a day when the lake surface is like a mirror. Let out a lot of line, 100 feet or more, and use a shallow running stick bait such as Rapala. Try something that will stay within 12 feet of the surface.

You might just find a school of fish or big loners that are looking for bait fish that show up easily from below against the mirror surface.

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