Wednesday, January 29, 2014

You never really fish alone

Hi Dan,
 I know how much you like photos of the beauty that surrounds camp. The last time I was up fishing alone, I was jigging for walleye about 3 minutes from camp. It was a sunny and very calm day. Out of nowhere, this little guy flies right into my boat and doesn't want to leave. Which was fine with me, I liked the company. He initially landed on my depth finder and when I put my finger out, he'd climb aboard with no fear. He would then fly to another part of the boat, and then back by me again! We spent about 1/2 hour together before he said goodbye. As I watched him flutter slowly away, I thought to myself how beautiful this place is. I'm not sure what kind of butterfly my little friend was, but we peacefully enjoyed each others company. Just thought I'd share this.
   Jeff Barg

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Monday, January 27, 2014

How do wild animals deal with severe cold?

Chickadees spend the cold nights in woodpecker holes

Deer might be at risk this winter with both bitter cold and deep snow

Red foxes and other furbearers should be unaffected
We have now experienced nearly two months of severe winter cold here in Northwestern Ontario and I'm beginning to wonder if this long stretch of continuous bitterness will have an effect on wild animals.
We would normally say that the cold has little impact on native creatures, that they are adapted to it, but this is not a normal winter, not even a normal cold one. December was the coldest on record and when January is over, it's going to either set another record or be right there in the running. And already the long-term forecast for February is more of the same.
And those low-temperature records are only part of the story. The wind chill is far worse this year than any time I can remember. It seems four days out of every week have a wind chill warning attached to them. That means human skin can freeze in just a minute or two. It must also have a chilling effect on animals.
The one native animal that is known to suffer from a cold winter is the black bear. If the cold gets down to them in their dens they can freeze to death. These dens are typically just barely below the surface of the ground. They are just about always in the cavity left from a tree tipping over and uprooting. The bears can line this tiny little tent with leaves and branches and once they crawl inside, turn their backs to the hole. You can see their fur sticking right out.
Bears would certainly be in serious trouble this winter if it wasn't for all the snow. We have about two feet of the stuff and that should provide enough insulation to the bears down there in their dens.
Furbearing animals such as wolves, foxes, marten, fisher, etc. should also be OK. They are really built for staying warm and if it gets too bad, they too can dig down through the snow and get out of the wind.
It's the deer and moose that I think could take a hit. From the time the last leaves fall off the trees in the autumn to emerging new growth in the spring, deer and moose are in a negative nutrition state. That is, the calories they get from browsing woody twigs aren't enough to sustain them. They lose weight every day. If spring comes too late, even in a normal year, they are at risk of starvation. This year, however, they will need to be expending even more of their fat reserves just to keep warm.
For the deer, snow is usually the limiting factor. If there's too much for them to plow through, it uses up more of their fat and they are at risk. We already have two feet of the white stuff. That's enough to make life a little difficult for deer, and we usually get most of our snow in March. So the worst is still to come on that front. Between the snow and the bitter cold, I think deer could be in trouble.
Moose are less affected by snow because they are so much taller, but even these huge animals prefer winters with less snow depth. You can tell this just by where they go in the depth of winter -- often on the tops of the tallest, most-exposed hills. These would be the coldest places around because of the wind but they frequently have little or no snow. It just blows away. So the moose would seem to trade less snow for more cold.  I wonder if that's the case this year with so much bone-chilling windy weather.

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

It's time to 'fish or cut bait'

It's now been nearly a month since I wrote or e-mailed everybody with existing reservations and asked them to confirm with a deposit, or if they already had sent a deposit, go over arrival and departure times. If you haven't heard from me yet then it means we have missed you in our annual mail-out. You need to contact us by telephone or e-mail right away.
If you are a group organizer who collects deposits from the rest of the party, you should tell the other individuals that it is time to "fish or cut bait." That is, cough up a $100 deposit or you will assume they are not coming.
In a week I will start phoning everyone who I haven't heard from to see what's up. Now is the time when I need hard numbers on group size too. If a group of what was supposed to be eight ends up being six people instead, it can mean using one cabin instead of two. We have a bunch of people waiting for an opening this summer.
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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The joy and clarity of non-verbal communication

All's quiet in angler Ken Lehmann's sunrise photo

You can 'feel' your partner's body language in a boat. Sunset photo by Ken Lehmann
Another way of stating this would be: "Shut up! Just shut up!"
I once wrote a blog about why I enjoy fishing with a dog. The main reason, I said, was that the dog doesn't talk and because of that I'm better able to enjoy nature.
When we are talking or listening to another person talk, we miss all the other sounds such as fish swirling on the surface, a stick cracking from a creature on shore, owls hooting, loons calling -- there's a lot to hear out there and we're missing it all. That's why I prefer a canine fishing partner.
It would be incorrect, however, to think that the dog and I aren't communicating. We absolutely are and very clearly too. I mentioned in that previous blog that I would sometimes notice my old dog, Sam, looking intently at something. I would follow his gaze and see that he had spotted a creature, perhaps a moose. So Sam alerted me to this without saying, "Hey, Dan! Look! There's a moose standing on the shore! See that patch of weeds? Now look beyond it into the bush. See it? Huh? It's a big one, isn't it?"  I got exactly the same message without either of us saying a word and without scaring off the moose.
Sam often "told" me that he had detected animals that were out of sight. He did this by putting his nose in the air and sniffing. If he sniffed without trying to see it as well, I knew it was pretty far back in the trees. I could estimate the distance just by the strength of the wind and the effort he was putting into the sniffing. The harder he worked at it the farther away it was.
Our previous dog, Bud, once "told" me at camp that there were moose standing in Pipestone Narrows, about a mile to the north. Not only that but he indicated it was a bull and a cow! How did he do this? Well, there was a steady, but not too strong, north wind so I knew the moose were straight north of us. Bud had to "work hard" getting the scent, tilting his nose upward over and over again so I knew the moose were far off. The farthest land mass to the north is Pipestone Narrows. Beyond that are several miles of open water. What about telling me it was a cow and a bull? That was an educated guess based on Bud's communication. He did his sniffing act for a couple of days. That meant the moose weren't moving. It was late September and I knew the moose would be in the rut. A cow that is coming into heat will hold the attention of a bull (or several bulls) for days until she's ready. So it figured that there were both sexes of animals present. A single moose would have moved off within a few hours. It could have been more than one bull and cow, of course.
Incidentally, my brother-in-law, Ron, and I passed through Pipestone Narrows by boat a couple of days after Bud had first "told" us what was going on and, sure enough, we saw a cow with an enormous bull.
Bud and Sam's behaviour also indicated the species of animals they were smelling. If they growled, it was a bear and not too far away. If the hair stood up on their necks but they didn't growl, it was a bear but far off. If it was a wolf, they looked fearful and moved closer to me. They paid little attention to deer other than to watch them if they were within sight, the same thing they did with any other animal.
These are intimate forms of communication and they mean more to us than do just words. People can communicate non-verbally too, especially when they are in a boat together. That's because you not only can see their body language, you can feel it.
Let's say you are sitting at the stern, looking backwards, and you feel the boat make a sudden little jerk.
Your partner in the bow just set the hook into a fish. Without even looking you know he has tied into a big one because the drag on his reel is going out. You can tell the same thing by looking at the bend in his fishing rod.
If your partner changes lures with increasing frequency it means he is getting bored and would like to try another spot. If he checks his watch or looks up at the sun, he is thinking about lunch or supper. Maybe you can also hear his stomach growling.
If he rubs his hands or scrunches his shoulders, he's cold.
"Reading the signs" comes from being together and being observant. It creates a bond, a lasting relationship. It means so much more than does a continuous stream of talking. In fact, constant chatter can mean a person is nervous; he's not comfortable with you. He fills the "awkward silence" with just anything that pops into his head.
Non-verbal communication takes practice and it takes "being in the moment." That's what I like about it.
There is no other time except the present. The past is gone. The future doesn't exist until it happens.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

The parade of wolves goes on and on

The same camera that caught the group of four wolves (two blogs back) snapped a shot of this very large lone wolf. Then he eventually walked in front of a second camera but nearly got through the frame before it clicked.
This guy is very tall and long and boy, does he ever have a thick coat!
The wolves had been absent all winter until now here at our home in Nolalu.
It won't take them long to scatter or kill the deer that have been living on our property. Then they will move on, at least for awhile until the deer come back again.
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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Are wolves dangerous to people?

In my opinion, absolutely not, at least not in North America.
Here in Northwestern Ontario there are an abundance of timber wolves and the chances of wolf-people encounters are excellent. Despite that, I've only ever heard of a single wolf attack case.

What would happen if a person was walking on the trail shown in the photo of the last blog entry and met this pack of wolves? First of all, it is almost an impossibility that occasion would arise. The wolves would sense you from hundreds of yards away and would be GONE! They want nothing to do with humans, especially ones that show up by surprise. It can be different when the wolves become habituated to you such as when loggers operate machines every day in wolves' territory. In these cases the wolves can pay little attention to you, just as long as you are doing your normal thing and especially if you stay aboard your skidder or other machine.
Farmers everywhere see the same thing with deer -- you can drive to within a few yards of a bedded down deer but stop your tractor or get off and they take flight.
In my lifetime I have never personally known anybody who was attacked by a wolf or even remotely threatened by one. I know of no bush-wise person who has any personal safety concerns about wolves whatsoever.
Since I posted a couple of historic Bow Narrows Camp blogs a few entries ago, I'll pass on this story about my mom and dad's wolf encounter at camp. This took place in the early 1960s when they had flown into camp by ski plane one May.
My mom awoke to the sound of wolves howling close by. She looked out the window and there was a big wolf right outside.
She shook my dad awake. "Don! Don! There are wolves here in the yard!"
My dad was extremely slow to wake up in those days. You had to shake him repeatedly and even when he did get up, he wasn't totally "with it."
Dad stumbled into the kitchen and fumbled around the stove for the coffee pot which still had some left from the previous day. He poured himself a cup and after downing the stone-cold liquid, decided he needed to go to the outhouse which he proceeded to do.
On leaving the privvy it dawned on him for the first time that there were wolves howling and they were really close. Then he saw one just a dozen yards away. It just stood still looking at him for a bit and then turned and headed toward the lake.
"Wait a minute!" he thought. "What wolf just stands still looking at you?"
As the creature walked away, Dad gave a whistle. The wolf turned and looked at him and wagged its tail.
"That's not a wolf; it's a dog!" he said to himself.
The dog turned again and this time got in the lake and started swimming across the narrows. Sure enough, right on the bank on the other side was an actual pack of wolves and it was them that had been doing the howling. They wanted their buddy to come back. Wolves aren't fond of swimming.
Dad reasoned the dog had been a sled dog that got left behind somewhere and just took up with the wolf pack.
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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Trail camera catches wolf pack in Nolalu

Pack of timber wolves traveling single file down trail
One of my trail cameras here at our home in Nolalu got this dandy photo of a pack of timber wolves. There are four wolves in this photo. There are three on the trail. Only the reflection of an eye gives away the fourth wolf which is standing behind a tree on the right at the back of the group.
The photo was taken three days ago.
Nolalu is about 50 km (30 miles) southwest of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
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Friday, January 17, 2014

Morning sundog and evening grosbeak

A beautiful sundog was waiting in the sky just above a field when we arose today here in Nolalu, Ontario. Created by the refraction of light through ice crystals in the air, these colourful atmospheric phenomena are more usually seen high in the sky on either side of the sun.
The other photo shows a gaudy male evening grosbeak sitting on a white birch outside our window. The big finch was attracted by sunflower seeds in our feeder nearby.
Evening grosbeaks are one of the more uncommon visitors to our feeder. They are native to this area but just never seem to be in large numbers. More common is the wine-red pine grosbeak.
I always think of evening grosbeaks as the parrots of the Boreal Forest.
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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The camp 'telephone" back in the 1960s

Bill Stupack and my mother, Del Baughman, in the old lodge kitchen
Bow Narrows Camp's link to the outside world in the 1960s was the radio telephone, shown here in a corner cupboard in what was our first lodge, now Cabin #3. That's my mom, Del, and with his back to the camera is Bill Stupack, the goldrush pioneer who first built camp in 1948.
The phone was powered by a 12-volt battery seen sitting on the floor. Since we did not have a generator in those early days, the battery needed to be taken to town periodically for recharging.
The radio phone operated similarly to a CB radio. It's antenna consisted of a hundred-foot wire that stretched from a pole tied to the trees in front of Cabin #3 to another pole at the back of the cabin. The front pole is still there.
With this radio we could contact every other fishing and hunting camp, every geology camp, every Hudson Bay post and nursing station in Northwestern Ontario. We were all on the same channel and we all heard both sides of the conversations at these places.
To connect to a land line -- a conventional telephone -- we had to phone the radio operator in Kenora, about 120 miles to the southwest.
"Kenora, Kenora, this is Bow Narrows, over" we would say after clicking on the transmitter switch, letting the unit warm up and depressing the button on the handheld mike.
"Bow Narrows, this is Kenora. Go ahead," Ollie, the operator would reply.
"I would like to place a call to ... and we would give her the phone number. She would dial the number and patch it into the radio system.
We could only hear when we weren't transmitting so we all used radio protocol and said "over" each time we were through and waiting for a reply.
The reception was greatly affected by atmospheric conditions which could produce static that made hearing all but impossible. "Say again," was a frequent comment.
You had to be patient to get a message through. Placing a grocery order could take a half hour.
Most of the time the reception was good but often the whole system would have been nearly worthless had it not been for Ollie. She would repeat back messages that she knew might have not been understood correctly.
"Bow Narrows, I check you want a Norseman (a model of floatplane) at camp at 8 a.m. on Saturday. Is this correct? Over.)
"Roger, roger, roger," we might say through the hiss and cracking.
Sometimes we couldn't connect with Kenora but our calls could be heard by another camp and they could connect with Kenora. So we gave our message to Sarah at Trout Lake or someone else a hundred miles off in the distance and they called Kenora, gave the message to Ollie who then phoned whoever we were trying to contact.
If Ollie could not reach us with an incoming call. She would take a message and pass it on as soon as the reception was clear again.
Northern lights were the biggest disrupter. A brilliant display one night might mean we couldn't use the radio for several days.
We never could use it at night. The minute the sun went over the horizon, the reception was filled with "harmonics." We just turned off the unit at suppertime and back on at breakfast.
Everybody heard our conversations and we heard everybody else's.
The radio phone was one of the main sources of entertainment back then. Some of the most interesting conversations to listen to were those placed by far northern Hudson Bay Company trading posts when they were reporting the furs of various species of animals to the head office. For some reason they didn't want the public to know which animals they were talking about so they had a code in which they substituted the names of African animals for the ones in their posts.
It was hilarious to hear them reporting they had "55 zebras, 22 hippos and 250 wildebeests."
Sometimes the conversations were grim as when a far northern nursing station, somewhere between Red Lake and Hudson Bay, needed a plane dispatched immediately to pick up an injured or sick individual. Sometimes a doctor could be heard passing on emergency medical advice. In some of these urgent cases the message might have been relayed not just once but several times by whoever could hear it until it eventually reached Kenora.
The good, the bad and the ugly, it was all there on the radio telephone.
Once in awhile, somebody used the phone and didn't understand that others could hear his conversation. We once had a couple of young men who were working at a geology camp up in Pipestone Bay that came and used the phone every weekend. One of them insisted that everybody leave the kitchen area where the phone was located while he placed his call. Marg Cheney (now Marg McLeod, who with her husband, Dave, owns Howey Bay Resort in Red Lake) was working as our young cook-waitress that summer. After about the third time she was forced to leave the kitchen she asked the young man who he was calling. It was his girlfriend. "Don't you know that everybody in Northwestern Ontario can hear what you are saying?" she asked. I guess he didn't because he never came back after that. I think there had been some pretty steamy conversations.
One day Ollie inquired, "What happened to Romeo?"
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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fifty years ago we would be filling the icehouse now

Camp as it looked back in the early '60s
This photo dates back to 1961-67 and shows our old icehouse which was located where the fish cleaning house is situated today.
My dad, Don, would normally go out to camp in late-December or early January and put up ice for the next summer. He usually had one of our native guides help him with this. It was a difficult job and took one-to-two weeks to complete.
The process began with shoveling all the snow off the lake in front of the icehouse. There could be as much as three feet of this and they had to clear it from an area the size of a small skating rink.
Next, they had to cut up the ice into blocks. My dad had obtained an old home-made contraption for this the first year he bought camp. It consisted of a large radial saw (with no guard!) that was mounted on a large sled. The blade looked like something you would see in a lumber mill. This was connected by a belt drive to an old rickety gasoline engine, also mounted on the sled. The machine had a serious shortcoming, however. The blade was about 32 inches in diameter which meant it could only cut a maximum of half this distance or 16 inches. The problem was the lake ice could be 36 inches!
Although it couldn't cut right through the ice sheet, it could cut half way and that was still a great help. Dad would push the sled along, making a grid pattern on top of the ice. Then he and his helper would take turns cutting through the remainder of the ice thickness with a six-foot-long hand saw with a T-handle on one end. You can still see this saw today. It hangs inside the stairwell of Cabin #9.
They would cut the ice into giant cubes, usually two feet by two feet by three feet (the thickness of the lake ice). When they would cut a cube loose, they would grab it with large ice tongs and lever it up onto the lake surface, then drag it over to the ice chute which you can see in the photo leading from the  icehouse down to the lake.
Here was where the ice machine really came into its own. Across one end of the sled was a windlass that held a hundred feet of rope. This was powered by another belt driven by the same gasoline engine as the saw. You just pulled a lever to engage the windlass or another lever to operate the saw.
They would tie the sled securely to a tree on shore and run the rope through a pulley at the top of the chute and down to the ice blocks which were exceedingly heavy. In fact a 2x2x3-foot block of ice would have weighed 690 pounds! (Ice weighs 57.5 pounds per cubic foot. Water is denser and weighs 62 pounds. That's why ice floats.)
They would throw a loop over the massive ice blocks and the windlass would pull them right up the chute like they were nothing. Once the blocks were inside Dad and his helper would use the ice tongs to manoeuvre them next to each other as tightly as possible, leaving a couple of feet of space between the group of ice blocks and the log walls of the building. They would make three or four layers of these blocks. At the conclusion of each layer, they would carefully pack snow in any air space between the blocks. When finished the icehouse probably held about 125 blocks.
Just imagine the effort this job took!
And that wasn't even the end of the job. Once all the ice blocks had been stacked to within four feet of the ridge of the building, sawdust had to be shoveled from a pile outside the icehouse. Sawdust was the insulation that prevented all the ice from melting during the summer. The two-foot space around the perimeter of the ice had to be filled, with no air spaces, or the warm summer air would find its way inside and melt everything. They also had to cover the top of the ice with a couple of feet.
All that shoveling would have been a chore at any time but in the winter, the sawdust was frozen hard as a rock and had to be broken up with a rock pick before it could be shoveled. My dad said this last stage was actually the hardest part of putting up ice.
The sawdust had come out to camp from one of the sawmills in town in burlap bags. There were many hundreds of bags of it and it must have taken a lot of boatloads to get out to camp initially. It lasted a long time, however, and only had to be added to with a couple of dozen or so bags each year.
The icehouse provided all of our refrigeration back in those days because we didn't have a generator. Blocks of ice were placed in ice-boxes in the cabins daily. These looked like small refrigerators that had a freezer on top, except the "freezer" section was where you put a 16x8x8-inch block of ice. Cold air is heavy and sank down to the rest of the fridge compartment below.
Every day we had to climb into the icehouse, dig through the sawdust and break out one of those big blocks. This we scored with a hand ice saw, also now hanging in Cabin #9, and once you had a line cut a few inches across the block you could whack this with an ice chisel and the piece would sever completely through the block. We further cut this into smaller sections and using smaller ice tongs, haul it down to the lake and wash off the sawdust (here's how we lost the sawdust).
Fish were gut-and-gilled and laid right on the ice surface in the icehouse, covered with the ever-handy burlap bag, and sawdust piled on top. You could keep them about a week in this manner but not much longer. Each cabin's fish were put in a different place under the sawdust and marked with a stick.
When people left at the end of the week we would take out all their fish and fillet the entire mass of them the same morning before they got on the boat. Then we would put them in their coolers and take another ice chunk and using a hand pick, break it into shards and fill the cooler for the trip home.
We did this for six months out of every year.
The icehouse still held most of a layer of ice at the end of October. The last thing we did before leaving camp for the winter was to shovel out all the sawdust and throw away this old ice, making room for new the next winter.
All of this came to an end when we got our first diesel generator sometime about 1967.
A lot of people have nostalgic memories of the icehouse days but I'm not one of them. This was a lot -- and I mean A LOT -- of work. Thank goodness for the generator and electric freezers and refrigerators!
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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Credit cards are paying the best exchange

Two of our U.S. guests have gotten back to me with the exchange they gained by making their deposits to us by credit card in the past couple of days.
One person got an exchange rate of 7.98% and the other 7.5%. That sure beats what we can get through our bank. I reported a couple of days ago that Scotia Bank gave us only 5% exchange on U.S. checks that we deposited. Actually, that exchange yesterday had increased to 6%. But it is still nearly 2% less than you can get through your credit card.
To pay your deposit by credit card, phone us at our winter phone number: 807-475-7246. We are usually home but if not, leave a message and we will call you back.
We require a $100 per person deposit to hold reservations.We make the charge to your credit card in Canadian funds and the actual amount in U.S. funds depends on the current exchange rate. As of yesterday the actual cost would have been $92-$93.

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

U.S.-Canadian exchange rate at four-year high

We made a deposit of U.S. checks from our guests at our bank yesterday and received an exchange rate of five per cent. So anyone in that group who sent us a $100 deposit check will find their deposit has grown to $105 in Canadian funds.
We keep track of all this and when you go to pay for the rest of your package at camp you get the actual value of your deposit deducted from whatever is remaining.
The official exchange rate as stated on TV yesterday was eight per cent. That is the highest it has been in four years.
Why doesn't our bank give us the official rate? Because they charge a couple of per cent for doing the transaction. Also, the amount of money you deposit has an effect on the rate. The one stated on TV is when you are exchanging millions of dollars, not hundreds as we were doing.
There are also different rates for cash and for checks.
Credit card companies figure exchange too. I would be interested in hearing from our guests who have recently paid their deposit by credit card to see what exchange rate they received. We charged $100 Canadian per person on the card. What does your statement show in U.S. funds?
The "experts" on TV predict the exchange rate could eventually reach 10 per cent, citing improvements in the U.S. economy. I hope that happens but I've learned to be very skeptical about any forecasts on this subject.
We've had one group pay for their entire package ahead of time saying this might be as high as the exchange rate gets. You are welcome to do this too, if you want. If you must cancel later we will refund the entire amount unless the cancellation is made less than 60 days from the date of the trip. In that case we will refund everything except $100 per person which is our standard deposit policy.
If you are confused how exchange works, I'll provide a simple example.
Our packages are in Canadian funds. If you are paying in American currency, check or credit card and the exchange was five per cent than your actual cost would be five per cent less. If the final bill was $1,000 in Canadian, the cost in U.S. would be $950.
Regardless of exchange, American guests also get half of their 13% tax back through a mail-in rebate. We give you the form for this. You just need to fill it out and include your original receipt from us with it.
The exchange and the rebate put together are substantial savings. With today's exchange rate it would amount to a savings of 11.5 per cent and that could grow if the exchange rate does the same.

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Why do people go fishing? It's deep.

Sterling Ozark contemplates the sunset on Pipestone Bay. Sterling comes to Bow Narrows Camp each summer along with his grandfather Art, uncle Matt and dad Steve.
To catch fish! That would seem to be the simple answer but it is woefully incomplete. A non-fisher will quickly point out the shortcoming in this explanation with: "You could just buy fish at the store for far less than you pay catching them yourself!" That is undeniably the truth. So, yes, we fish to catch fish but there's a lot more to it.
To be with family and friends. Often that is the case. We usually fish with someone else and those times in the boat or on the cabin porch in the evening are treasured moments. You might call it "quality time" except the truth is, we are on this planet for such a short duration, it is all quality time. And then, sometimes we do fish by ourselves and we enjoy that too. So, there's more to it than just being with someone else.
To forget about our worries. Sure. Fishing is a meditative exercise. At home there are personal problems, financial crises, griefs to get through, concerns about the future. These all float away like the morning mist when you are out on the water. So do people only fish to forget? There's a lot more to it.
To test their skill against the wily fish. Really? Did you ever think you weren't as smart as a fish? There's more to it than this.
To be "at one with Nature." Nowhere is it more evident, as conservationist John Muir observed "When  you pull on anything in Nature you find the whole universe attached to it," than when you are literally pulling on a fishing line with a fish on the other end. The fish is part of the minnows and frogs and insects it eats. They all need plants and clean water and unpolluted air and warm sunshine. We are all attached, virtually one incredible organism. Bingo!

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Does a bitterly cold winter do any good?

Whitetails here in Nolalu care little about the cold but snow depth is a factor
When it is too cold to start your car or you are thawing out frozen water pipes under the house or you are shoveling snow for the umpteenth time, it's easy to feel that winter, especially a cold one like this, isn't anything but a pain in the neck. But there really is an "up side" too.
It's easiest to build a beneficial case for snow, so let's take that part of winter first. Snow is better at replenishing the water table than rain. That's because when the snow melts, which it really will do EVENTUALLY, it slowly seeps into the soil over a long period compared to the sudden gushers that come from a summer thunderstorm. The summer rain overwhelms the ground's ability to absorb it and quickly finds creeks and rivers to carry it away. So snow is good for agriculture and trees and basically all plant life. It's also good for replenishing wells.
Snow is also a good insulator. Here in Northwestern Ontario we now have about two feet of snow on the ground. If you were to dig down through that you would most likely find the ground to be unfrozen, even though we have had a bunch of -40 C (same thing as 40 below Fahrenheit) temperatures. This is beneficial to plant life and ground organisms and all types of wildlife who burrow down in the snow to stay warm. The last couple of nights we have seen a couple of ruffed grouse plummet out of the birch trees near our house right into the snow in the yard. They scrunch through it a foot or so and spend the night there. The temperature in their little igloos is probably right around the freezing mark, which is far warmer than above the snow line. Also, there is no wind chill.
The truth is, except when it comes to using automobiles, snow is quite a beautiful thing. It brightens up this dark time of year. If there is any moon at all you can see quite well by it during the winter nights. And of course snow offers sporting opportunities such as snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing and snowmobiling that just don't exist in warmer climes.
So snow is fairly easy to accept. Just look at all of it portrayed on Christmas cards.
Not so with bitter cold. Did you ever get a Christmas card showing someone throwing a potful of boiling water into the air and it turning to snow before it hit the ground? No, even though this is exactly what happens at -40.
Here is one good thing the cold does: it freezes the surface of water bodies, even the Great Lakes, and prevents them from evaporating. Winter evaporation is the main reason many of the Great Lakes have been so low in recent years.
It also can kill bugs, not the native ones who learned eons ago how to adapt, but new invasive species. An example is the Mountain Pine Beetle which has been spreading relentlessly eastward from the West Coast. Foresters have said the reason the beetle is going beyond its normal home range is that the winters in the Rocky Mountains have been so mild. Well, that's not the case this year and hopefully there are a lot of beetle-cicles out there.
The cold is also good for keeping people indoors. I'm serious. If you have a favorite park or other green space that you like to frequent but which is always plugged up with other humans, you've got the place to yourself during a cold winter.
So, thank goodness for snow and cold!
Now I'm off to snow blow the driveway again, if I can only get the snowblower to start!

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Friday, January 3, 2014

New fish regulation should be province-wide

Jason Pons hoists what would be a great-eating-size northern pike
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is implementing a new fishing regulation in Zone 5, one zone to the south of us, that I wish we had in our Zone 4 and for that matter, throughout the province of Ontario. They are eliminating the slot size for northern pike and instead, making it illegal to keep any pike over 75 cm which is 29.5 inches. So, you can keep any pike under this size. Limits remain the same: two on a conservation license and four on a full-limit license.
The MNR points out this will protect the large fish -- the trophy sizes -- while expanding a bit the sizes of smaller fish that can be kept.
This is exactly what is needed everywhere. Let the big fish go and eat the smaller ones. Big fish are the spawners and are poor eating choices. It is stupid to keep them, there's no other way to say it.
Everyone wants to catch lunker northern pike. They are a thrill like no other as they rip the line off your drag and nearly break your fishing rod. But it is absolutely senseless to keep them. When you do you are reducing the ability of  the lake to provide other northern pike. If you want to memorialize the catching of the fish with a trophy, get a replica. These fiberglass and graphite models are made to be identical to your actual fish and will last forever. The old skin mounts eventually deteriorate.
In Zone 4, where Red Lake is located, there is a slot size for pike that states no fish between 27.5 and 35.5 inches can be kept and only one larger than 35.5 can be kept.
We have always advocated that you throw back all your big fish.
By increasing the size of the smaller fish that can be kept to 29.5 inches in Zone 5, the MNR is letting anglers keep slightly larger fish while preventing them from killing the really big breeders. It will undoubtedly mean more big fish to catch and release. This is really a good idea.
At Bow Narrows we have struggled with what to do about a few of our anglers that routinely catch and kill very large pike. There are some places that simply won't allow such guests to return. The problem I have with that solution is that almost all of these people are our oldest guests. I keep hoping that our education program will some day convince all of them to change their ways. That has happened to some extent but there are still some dinosaurs out there.
Meanwhile 95 per cent of our anglers have taken the more progressive road and always throw back their big pike. Virtually all younger fishermen do this. It seems to be the proverbial problem of teaching old dogs new tricks.
If we had a regulation like the new one for Zone 5 it would be easy. There simply would be no other choice.

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A continuous improvement program

Awning roofs let us remove all glass from lodge windows in warm weather

Cabin 7 shows off its spiffy shutters and new large porch
At Bow Narrows Camp we are relentless in our program to give our guests the best in accommodations and equipment while still offering an affordable vacation.
Sometimes our efforts aren't obvious, such as when we installed a state-of-the-art water treatment plant five years ago. This system provides crystal-clear, great-tasting, safe drinking water to every faucet in camp. We believe it is the best water in the world.
A huge project, the biggest in our 53-year history, was the installation of a sewage treatment system four years ago that is light years more advanced and effective than conventional sewage treatment. Our system processes all our sewage through Eco-Flo peat moss filtration tanks before injecting it into the soil. Laboratory tests show our system is so excellent that our final effluent, before it is even put back in the ground, is nearly as pristine as the lake.
More visible to most people will be the decorative shutters we have added to all the cabins in camp. This two-year project was finished last fall.
We also constructed awning roofs to the lodge. These allow us to completely remove the glass from the dining room windows in warm weather without worrying about rain coming inside. With all the glass gone from the windows it is just like sitting in a giant screened porch and makes for a very enjoyable dining experience.
This coming season will mark the end of a three-year program to replace all the rolled roofing on buildings in camp with lifetime shingles. Only Cabins 3 and 4 remain to be done.
Then there are the remodeling projects to cabin interiors and other improvements. One such program in 2014 will see us purchasing 19 new top-of-the-line beds. We have been replacing all the beds in the cabins with the very best quality commercial-grade beds. These 19 beds will be the last of 46 in camp.
And then, as we mentioned in the previous blog, the program will shift to new boats, the first steps of which start this summer. After that? New docks to replace the crib docks, I suppose.
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