Monday, January 31, 2011

They really should call this Sunrise Country

Sunrise at Red Lake, Ontario
Jerry Purcell of Cedar Falls, Iowa, took this fabulous shot of a sunrise last summer right in the narrows where camp is located. What a stunner!

Jerry is a friend of Bob and Rosalie Moninger who have the cabin just upstream of camp.

The photo was even used on their local television station KWWL-TV.

Northwestern Ontario, from about Ignace to the Manitoba border, is in the Sunset Country travel region. Photos like this make us wonder if it should really be called Sunrise Country.

The old adage "the early bird gets the worm" comes to mind when I see photos like this.

Most people were still snug in their beds when Jerry recorded this image.

Sunrise is a great time to get out on the lake, and not just for the scenery. This is the best time of day to see moose and bear and other wild creatures. Walleye fishing is pretty darn good at this hour too. Northern pike is usually always better as the sun gets higher.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lynx tracks one of Ontario's rarest sights

lynx track
close-up of lynx track

There was a rare sight in our front yard yesterday morning.
As I was snowblowing the driveway I discovered the tracks of a lynx.
This cat is one of the rarest animals in Ontario.
Although not endangered, lynxes are just naturally scarce.
Each animal takes a gigantic territory. If I remember my biology lessons from university, in good habitat, each lynx requires 25 square miles. In poorer conditions it might take four times that amount.
Nolalu certainly is good habitat, at least at the moment. Lynxes eat almost nothing but snowshoe hares and this "rabbit" population is currently at the peak of its 11-year cycle. You cannot walk anywhere without seeing the giant footprints of this creature which is also known as the varying hare. However, you could easily go all winter and never see a single bunny. The reason is the snowshoe hare turns white in the winter and this camouflage is just about perfect.
Although lynxes do not turn white (they are sort of a spotted gray), these cats and snowshoe hares have an identical adaptation that makes them perfectly suited for winter.
They both have large fluffy feet that keep them from sinking deeply into the snow.
In the photos this lynx sunk about six inches into a fresh powder of nearly 12 inches. In a week or so the snow will have settled and hardened and the lynx will be able to pad along silently right across the top.
I saw a lynx, probably this very one, a month or so ago when it crossed a road. At first I thought I might finally get to see the "cougar" that so many people here have seen. The animal was certainly the right color and just like everyone else, the first thing I noticed was that it didn't move like a canine or a deer. And then I thought I saw the most distinctive characteristic of a cougar -- a three-foot-long tail -- as the animal slipped into the ditch. When I drove alongside the spot where it had disappeared I was pleasantly surprised to see the animal sitting in the ditch. It was a large lynx, a cat with just a bobtail. I realized that what I had mistaken for a long tail from a distance was actually its long leg stretched behind it. I wonder now how many other "cougar" observers have made this same mistake.
I would dearly love to capture this lynx on my trail camera but that would take almost a miracle. Lynxes don't follow trails and the chances of one just walking through the bush to standing in front of my single camera are about the same as winning a lottery.
Incidentally, lynxes are not dangerous to people. Unfortunately, their cat curiousity sometimes leads to their being shot when they "walk right up" to hunters.
I had a lynx follow me for quite a distance one time at camp. I had walked to another lake where I had lifted a minnow trap and was on the way back to the boat when I saw the lynx sitting on the trail about 30 feet away. It then followed me all the way to my boat and was sitting on the shoreline watching me as I drove away.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

This angler has a keen eye for wildlife

Bow Narrows angler Doug Billings found a lot of photography subjects during his trip to camp in 2010. These are just a few of the stunning images he captured.

Our guests always amaze us with their great photographs.

Some of it is being in the right place at the right time. But it also takes knowledge of what makes a spectacular shot and usually, a lot of time getting into the right position. Finally, it means having the foresight to always carry a camera, just for times like these.

We would like thank Doug and everyone else who has emailed us their photos so that we can share them with the rest of our Bow Narrows friends and all other nature lovers and outdoorspeople.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Caribou tufting one of our cabin's wall hangings

There are some interesting things hanging on the walls of the cabins at Bow Narrows Camp.

Several cabins have antlers or animal rugs on the walls. Others have paintings (some of them originals) but others are prints.

Cabin #1 has this interesting depiction of a barren land caribou.

I wonder if many people know that the image itself is made of caribou?

This art form is called "tufting," and it is practised by First Nations people in Canada, especially those in the Far North.

The animal shape is created with actual caribou hair which is intricately sewn to the canvas on the rear side.
Click here for a great website from Nunavut, the large territory in Canada's eastern Arctic, that explains the art of tufting.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

One of the jobs to put camp away in the fall

When we close camp in the fall there are a lot of things to do. Some are pretty obvious such as pulling out the boats and winterizing the water system.

Here's one you probably wouldn't think about.

Brenda takes apart the kitchen range, kitchen griddle and range hood and cleans everything until it is spotless.

It takes a big tub for this job. We had to special order this stock watering tub from our hardware store. Brenda says it works perfectly!

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Casting strategies for catching northern pike

Hunter Baughman
Kleve Granger

Kleve Granger

Casting for northern pike is, in my opinion, the most productive method of catching these tremendous gamefish. It sounds simple -- cast an appropriate lure around the shoreline and weedbeds -- and I've written about it before (See Casting Techniques for Pike). Still, within this broad method of fishing there are "tricks" and tips that are worth passing on.

One of the first things to do is to dispel the notion that where you catch tiny northern pike, you won't catch anything larger.

The middle and bottom photos of Bow Narrows angler Kleve Granger should dispel that myth.

Kleve and his fishing buddy, my great-nephew Hunter Baughman in the top photo, have learned to keep fishing any place you catch a northern pike, of any size. One reason is that tiny pike are food for larger pike.

So the notion that there is a "hammer-handle-only bay" isn't accurate. What is sometimes true is that the shallowest end of a bay is where the tiny pike are hanging out but in slightly deeper water are bigger fish looking for little guys that stray too far from the shelter of the shallows.

A lot of times the little pike and the big bruisers are in the very same water. The little ones protect themselves by hiding in cover like weed patches and shoot out only to grab an opportune snack, like your Mepps spinner for instance.

It's a thrill when you start pulling in the small fry through the open water only to have it inhaled by a "monster pike."

As in all fishing, it pays to stay alert to how and where you are getting action. For instance, you might find that virtually all the pike are as close to the shoreline as they possibly can get. This can be inside the weedline that develops around some shores from mid-summer and later. Conversely, other times the fish might be smack dab in the center of weed patches. If they are, then casting around the edges of the weeds isn't good enough. You've got to get right in the weeds. They can also be laying in deeper water outside the weeds.

Other times the fish seem to be on rock piles or around fallen logs. Frequently the feed beds (piles of sticks) in front of beaver houses are hotspots.

If you pay attention to where you are getting the most action, then you can concentrate your time on these locations and thus catch more fish than if you were just plugging the entire shoreline. Or at least, if you are plugging a shoreline and come across the favorite habitat, you'll know to work it thoroughly before moving on.

Lure color and size can make a tremendous difference. I've seen times where a Mepps #4 or Blue Fox #4 would catch twice as many fish as a #5 and vice-versa. See Lighten Up for Northern Pike. Mostly, follow this rule: the clearer and more calm the water, the smaller and more subtle should be your lure. So, on a bright day with absolutely no wind, you might want to use a Mepps or Blue Fox #3 in black. But on a cloudy, windy day you might better use a #5 in bright orange. Of course the same holds for other lures: spoons, plugs, etc.

Speaking of the wind, it is usually the largest factor when it comes to fishing. If you can, fish where there is a chop (medium size waves). This always stirs up the fish. However, don't fish where the waves have been so strong that the water is muddied. The edge of muddy water is OK and muddy water itself is great for walleye fishing but usually is not good for pike.

I think the reason for that is because walleye can hunt with their lateral line sense while pike hunt strictly with their eyes. If the water is so murky that they can't see, then they move to someplace where they can.

Time of day is always a factor. Northern pike do not bite at night (they can't see). They usually like sunshine to the point that on a day with broken cloud cover, you'll catch pike every time the sun pokes through. Those are favorite pike days, sunshine that peaks out from between clouds and a good chop to the waves.

Finally, one other tip. As we've written in some of the above-mentioned blogs how much better pike can hit smaller lures, it cannot be emphasized enough that to use these smaller lures you will need lighter weight steel leaders. You need to watch every time you go in tackle stores for these because most stores just stock the heavyweight 30-pound variety. If you can find leaders around 18-pound with a snap big enough to connect to a pike spoon, grab them.

I often use a South Bend or RedWolf 12-pound leader for using small lures when pike fishing. These have tiny snaps that aren't the best for catching lots of pike but the light gauge wire certainly lets the lure perform flawlessly. As soon as I notice the little snap getting bent out of shape or the wire getting kinked I tie on a new leader.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Kicksled my favorite way to go ice fishing

Josh Baughman on kicksled, Whitefish Lake, Ontario
Our son, Josh, skis on a kicksled across Whitefish Lake, Ontario, on his way to an ice fishing spot.

For nearly 10 years now I have used this Nordic-invention to carry my ice fishing gear and to speed travel across the ice.

With about the same effort as walking you can propel yourself about 50% faster on the sled, say six mph. With slightly more effort you can double your speed to about eight mph. Give it everything you've got and you can reach 12-15 mph.

What you do is stand on one runner and push off with the other foot. As soon as your sled starts to slow down, you push again. When one leg gets tired, you stand on the other runner and push with the other leg.

The whole contraption is very light, something like eight pounds. The sled has a seat that can be used for carrying a kid or gear like an ice-fishing pail. I lay my auger --I have a new six-inch Nils hand auger -- from the handlebars down to the front of the sled and keep it in place with a bungee cord.

Kicksleds have metal runners, something like ice skates, that are about seven feet long. These work incredibly well on bare ice. But if there is snow, which is the usual case, you must fasten plastic skis under the runners. These are made for this purpose and just snap in place. I put my skis on 10 years ago and have never taken them off.

Kicksleds on skis do, however, require a packed surface to slide easily. Early in the winter the wind usually clears most of the snow from the ice but later on there is always eight inches or more. In these conditions I just follow a snowmobile track.

Other than whoever is accompanying me on my spare kicksled, I've never seen anyone else use a kicksled for ice fishing. That's a pity because it's a great way to travel and good exercise too.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Timber wolves begin whitetail deer hunt

timber wolf, Nolalu, Ont., 2011
whitetail deer, Nolalu, 2011

No sooner do I speculate that it's time for timber wolves to appear on the scene to go after the whitetail deer behind our house than my trail camera catches that very scenario.

These photos were taken one day apart.

The wolf is just a medium-size one. Since it carries its tail down we can figure it is not the alpha male or female in the pack.

There are five deer in the other photo. Part of one deer can be seen over the back of the one in the foreground.

These deer were not coming into a feeding station or anything like that. They were just traveling in a group along one of our snowshoe trails.

The photos were taken about 100 yards from our house. So far no wolves have come into the clearing by the house. I hope it stays that way.

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It's time for all registered guests to send deposits

Everyone who has made reservations and not yet secured them with a deposit should have now received a letter from me.
If you have not gotten your letter, you should call or e-mail because something is wrong.
We ask you to send in your $100 per person deposit as soon as possible.
You can do this by sending us a personal check covering everyone in the group or checks from each person in the group. Make the checks payable to Bow Narrows Camp and mail them to our winter address:
Bow Narrows Camp
RR 1 Old Mill Rd.
Nolalu, ON P0T 2K0
You can also call us at our winter phone number and make your deposit with a credit card.
Our winter phone number is 807-475-7246.
Deposits ensure that the people who say they are coming fishing next summer are serious about it. We advise group organizers to always get a deposit from each individual in the group rather than paying for everyone's deposit himself. In this way he knows he can count on them coming. A lot of people will say they would like to go fishing in Canada but until they ante up the $100 deposit are really just thinking wishfully.
When they don't show next summer it embarrasses the group organizer and hurts our business since we had reserved a larger-than-necessary cabin for the group and consequently lost income.
So, the lesson is, get the $100 from each person.
We would like to receive everyone's deposit before the end of January.
All deposits are fully refundable upon 60 days notice of cancellation.
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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Deer "treats" just out of reach of this buck

My trail cam captured this buck in Nolalu.

The deer have eaten virtually everything palatable to them within reach including the leaves of white cedar and Old Man's Beard lichen seen framing Sam in just about the same spot as the buck was photographed.

The snow here is about 18 inches and the deer have stopped moving in the open, preferring to stay under the conifers where the snow isn't as deep.

Any day now timber wolves will appear on the scene and will start their annual hunt.

These big canines are always a worry for us since each winter they kill dogs in the area.

Sam is excellent at staying right by the house but last year there were wolf tracks there too.

If they repeat that behavior this winter I will get a wolf licence and we'll have a few more rugs to put up in the cabins at camp.

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Beautiful sun dog in field this crisp morning

Sun Dog, Nolalu, Ont., 2011
This was the scene in front of our home in Nolalu, ON just after sunrise this morning.

The "sun dog" appeared to be right in our neighbor's field.

Sun dogs are created from light that is refracted by ice crystals in the air. You usually see them on either side of the sun when it is high in the sky. I've never seen one that appeared to be nearly on the ground before.

It was quite snappy here this morning, -20 C or -5 F.
Northwestern Ontario is experiencing what most of us would call normal winter weather this year. In Nolalu we have about 18 inches of snow on the ground. Nightime temperatures have been around -20 C and daytime -10 C or so.
Most people here enjoy such winter weather. We like to cross-country ski, snowshoe, snowmobile, down-hill ski and go ice fishing.
You just need to dress for the season. People who do find the winter an exhilarating time of the year. People who don't scurry in their tight jeans and leather jackets from the house to the car and back and thumb through catalogs for Caribbean cruises!

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Top-down method of lighting a wood fire

Here's a great way to light a fire in a wood stove that works every time yet boggles the mind. It's called the top-down method.

Start with a few medium sizes of dry, split firewood. On top of that place 12-20 finely split pieces of kindling. You can criss-cross these into a few levels.

Next roll, cornerwise, 6-9 sheets of newspaper into tubes and tie overhand knot in each tube. Place these on top of the kindling.

Light the paper knots, close the door to the stove and completely open the draft control.
Leave the draft open while the kindling flares away and only close it to half way once the kindling has begun to turn to glowing embers and the main wood has begun to burn. Leave it that way until the stove is producing sufficient heat, then close the draft to 1/4 of its opening. That's where the stove will burn most efficiently, producing the most heat value from the wood.

This system seems upside-down compared to the traditional fire-starting method which is to put crumpled paper on the bottom, kindling above that and bigger pieces of wood on the very top.

The thought was that the fire from the paper burns upward and its flames ignite the kindling whose flames go upward and light the firewood.

The problem is that once the fire is lit, frequently the weight of the firewood will compress the whole works and snuff out the flames. Or, as the kindling burns down, the firewood shifts or rolls out of the burning pile and consequently the fire goes out. This never happens with the top-down method. Also with the traditional method many people leave the stove door open a crack so the "wind" of the air coming in carries the flames from the bottom to the top. This is highly dangerous -- sparks can jump out of the stove onto the floor of the cabin, and also if the stove is left unattended it can burn extremely hot.

So the top-down method is far safer and more successful to boot.

But how can it work at all? After all, the flames of each level of components don't even touch the next level.

The reason is wood just needs to reach a certain temperature to ignite. It doesn't need to "touch" the flames. The heat of the burning newspaper, reflected against the baffle plate in the top of the stove, radiates its heat to the kindling below which ignites and burns even hotter and then does the same thing to the firewood on the bottom.

Rolling the newspaper into tubes makes the paper burn longer and tying it into knots keeps it from falling off the top of the pile.

Here's a couple other wood stove tips.

Never add wood to a stove until it has burned down to coals. Then put in several pieces of wood of varying sizes rather than all one-size. The irregular shape of the woodpile in the stove makes it burn better.

Round, unsplit wood, burns slower and longer. It makes the best wood for keeping a fire overnight.

Incidentally, when burning wood in a stove, you must let the stove "cycle" through the burning process to properly consume the wood, heat the cabin, and make the stove operate efficiently.

This means letting the fire burn down to coals each time before adding more wood.

If you keep feeding in wood every time there's an opening in the stove, the stove never gets a chance to consume the creosote produced by the inefficient first-burning of the firewood. The glass door will become blackened with such creosote. That's a clue that you aren't doing things right. When you let the stove "cycle" the glass will stay clear.

At night, put in several pieces of wood, round ones if they're available, otherwise just larger pieces and close the draft entirely, and go to bed. The temperature in the cabin will fall. That's what is supposed to happen. It should be cooler at night. You should still be warm under your blankets and the cooler cabin air is great for sleeping.

When you heat with a woodstove the temperature continually rises and falls. It isn't like you were heating with a natural gas furnace that runs on a thermostat.

Even when the draft is closed at night there is a small opening that lets the fire burn slowly. This is the only time you should allow the fire to burn so slowly and inefficiently. In the morning, there should be some glowing coals left. Rake these into a pile and put 12-20 pieces of finely split, dry kindling on the top. Open the draft and soon the kindling will be blazing. When it has mostly burned down, put larger pieces of wood on top, close the draft to half-way and the cycle starts again.

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Red Lake's walleye population is sky-high

Dan Baughman, 2010

Walleye were so numerous and aggressive on Red Lake, Ontario last summer, and for that matter, for the last several summers, that many times you could catch them virtually anywhere using any technique of fishing.

I caught and released this beautiful, chunky walleye last July while casting for northern pike in the middle of the day. It was one of several that I caught that afternoon, along with about a dozen pike.

I was using a 1/4-oz jig with a 3.5-inch salt-impregnated twister tail. I was also using a clip-on spinner on the jig turning it into a somewhat larger version of a Beetle Spin.

To catch walleye I would cast it parallel to the shore and let it sink to the bottom before retrieving it. For pike I cast it right to the shore or around weed patches. I was also using a six-inch black steel leader, something that would normally scare off walleyes.

Many members of my family caught walleye also while pike fishing that week. Most of them were using spoons like Little Cleos and spinners like Mepps and Blue Fox. No one was using bait.

While we were catching walleyes fairly handily with pike lures in shallow water in protected bays, other anglers were nailing them out in 16 feet on the edges of the deep bays.

The point is the walleye were just everywhere, at all depths, and biting virtually anything. (Of course the real walleye fishermen, using live bait like leeches and worms did far better than us pike fishermen and it is always advisable to use bait if you are targeting walleye.)

Although we normally catch almost nothing but big walleye at our western end of Red Lake, now we catch lots of small ones as well. It would seem there is a walleye population explosion.

You can easily just keep the perfect 14-16-inchers for eating now. In the past you felt guilty about bringing in a 22-incher for lunch but that was the smallest one you had caught all day.

There's still lots of 22-26 inchers out there and even some 28-30 inchers, but in addition now, there are schools of 9-18 inchers as well. In other words, there are more walleye than we have ever seen.

The reason for this bonanza isn't totally known but we have had a number of warm springs and early ice-outs in the last decade and this is known to make for spectacular walleye spawning.

Climate change here has meant ever-earlier ice-outs and perhaps, warmer water temperatures in our lake that has a great variety of water depths including some very deep, cold bays that didn't used to be so good for walleye.

At the same time the lake trout population has drastically declined. We know that is being caused by poor reproductive success and that too could be a result of climate change.

The trout seem to be coming back, however. as we are starting to catch small lakers again. (All trout must be released in Red Lake.)

However, they may have a hard time getting a foothold because, unbelievably, even their deep locations are now populated by walleye! Ministry of Natural Resources biology personnel, searching for little lake trout, have simultaneously found walleye inhabiting depths of water from 60 feet to the surface. They are just everywhere!

And the great variety in sizes means Red Lake is going to have incredible walleye fishing for many years to come!

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