Sunday, September 28, 2014

Life lessons learned while fishing on the dock

When I was five and later, six years old, I spent my summers lying flat on my stomach on a dock very much like this one at camp. The only thing different about my dock was that there was a square hole cut right in the center. It was about three inches square, not nearly big enough to pose a threat to people walking on the deck but plenty large for a small face to peer through at the wonderful scenes below.
By pressing my face tight to the hole and sometimes throwing my jacket over my head, and with the sunlight streaming below the dock from the side, I could see perfectly all the way to the bottom of the river. It was my portal to another dimension -- the world beneath the surface.
There were life-and-death dramas taking place here every day: rock bass that ate crayfish, perch that ate minnows and sometimes, huge fish like northern pike and smallmouth bass that ate everything! Once in awhile I even saw weird fish like suckers with their tube-like mouths sucking along the bottom.
There was an entire underwater community. Mostly it was composed of rock bass. They lived in the log-and-rock cribbing that held up the dock and would stray in groups several feet away most of the time. Out in the open they would mix with dozens of smaller yellow perch. At times they were also joined by a sunfish or two.
Although it was fun just to watch what the fish were doing, it was absolutely thrilling to see them bite my hook tipped with a bit of worm. I must have caught hundreds of these tiny fish. A big one would have been six inches long. I would use a hand-line that was pressed by my face tight to the boards of the dock. As soon as I hooked a fish I would spring to a sitting position and hoist my catch up through the hole.
It was just plain fun and I never went ashore except to replenish my worm can and maybe to get a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich to take back out on the dock.
Thinking back on this chapter of my life I realize now that I learned a great deal more than just how to catch little fish.
For one thing, I learned empathy. Sometimes the rock bass or perch would have swallowed my hook so deeply that I ended up killing it to get it loose. It saddened me to see the dead or dying little fish floating beside the dock. I learned not to let the fish take the bait too long before setting the hook to prevent gravely injuring it.
Virtually all of my catch was released on the spot, of course. I probably never kept more than one "lunker" for supper. There was just no point. If I wanted a fish to eat the next day I just caught another. And so I learned a lesson in conservation: take only what you need right now.
Before long I recognized the fish below me as individuals which I named: Scarface, Stubby Fin, Beauty, Fat Lips, and so on. They were like friends.
I recognized that fish have feelings. After being hoisted into the atmosphere above the dock, a hook taken from their mouths and plopped back into the water, fish would hide. The experience had scared them and probably, their mouths hurt. They would bite again, eventually, but it might take a week.
I learned that what happened above the waterline also had an effect on the fish below. Although they were present in sunny weather, on cold, rainy days, the fish were gone.
I also learned to read the fishes' behaviour. If they disappeared when it was sunny out it wouldn't be long before I would spot a big predator like a pike.
Sometimes the fish were right below me but refused to bite. This taught me never to dismiss an area for fish just because you don't catch something the first time you try. And it taught me patience.
If the fish weren't biting, there was little I could do about it. So I would roll over on my back and use my imagination to see animals and faces in the clouds. Once in awhile I also saw an eagle or an osprey soaring so far overhead it was only a speck.
I also used these down-times to look for bait. No grasshopper or cricket was safe nor were bait items hidden from view. I rolled over every rock and log in the yard that I could lift. Underneath there were often worms and incredible, sometimes scary-looking bugs like "hundred-leggers'" and even "thousand-leggers."
The best time to get worms, of course, was at night and although I was thoroughly scared of the dark, I wanted fishing worms so badly that I would arm myself with a flashlight and go outside. Whippoorwills and great horned owls would be calling and frequently I would spook at the sound of some rustling sound and would take off in high gear for the safety of the porch, tripping over boulders on the way. Eventually it occurred to me that I was as safe outside at night as in the day.
 Although I was quite the brave adventurer, actually my Mom and Dad were nearby. As long as I was wearing my life jacket, they figured I would always be all right. And that was, in fact, the case.
Of course, this was all a long time ago but the experience of learning by doing is still something I see youngsters do here at Bow Narrows Camp on Red Lake. Not all of them have their heads plopped in front of video devices. Some have found there is an amazing world out there, not a virtual reality but a real world.

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

2014 trout spawning project underway

Merrill Collins and Toby Braithewaite bring trout to holding pens while Tori Toews ties boat
The fall weather has been beautiful, maybe too beautiful for fish project
A couple of Ministry of Natural Resources crews started last week in collecting trout for the 2014 spawning project. They catch live lake trout, keep them in underwater pens for a few days, strip them of milt and eggs and release them.
The eggs will be raised at the Dorion fish hatchery, just east of Thunder Bay. After 18 months the fingerlings will be released back into Red Lake. This past spring the fish were released in the Potato Island vicinity.
Although this year's trout capture started off promising early last week, the weather turned decidedly like summer with highs up to 25 C (mid-70s F). That turned off the cold water-loving trout and the biology crews had to work hard to get even a few trout per boat each day.
A lot of us anglers have often wished that we could have a net instead of a hook when fish get finicky. Well, this proves it wouldn't necessarily be any better.
The crews took today off but will be back tomorrow.  The 'good' news is the balmy weather is disappearing. Maybe that will bring the trout back to the spawning shoals.
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Northern lights in skies tonight

Cabin #1 is at north end of camp

Best views were toward the northeast, over the lake
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Monday, September 22, 2014

For Alice, the Vikings and ... Santa Claus?

Amanita muscaria
A beautiful and abundant mushroom that grows everywhere in the Boreal Forest, including right here at Bow Narrows Camp, is Amanita muscaria.
This mushroom is the quintessential toadstool. It is highly hallucinogenic and probably deadly as well.
It is the famed mushroom that Alice nibbled in Alice and Wonderland and then shrank in size and had such a fantastic adventure.
It is also the fungus that the Vikings ate before battle, making them fight in such an insane fury that they were called "berserkers." Research has shown that one of the active chemicals in A. muscaria prevents a person from using the part of the brain that registers fear.
A chubby, red-and-white 'shoom
Some scholars also think Amanita muscaria had a role to play in the story about Santa Claus. Although the ones I photographed above are yellow or orange in colour, they also come in bright red. And when they first pop out of the ground, they are very chubby, you could say jolly-looking. And they have those white spots. They are red and white and 'jolly.'
Then there is the part in the poem The Night Before Christmas. If you remember, Santa and his reindeer are tiny, much like Alice.
The reindeer are also a link. Reindeer, or caribou, are known to eat the mushroom and then act peculiar. They jump about like they were trying to fly.
Some animal, probably squirrels, eat the ones here in the yard. Just a nibble. Apparently that is all it takes.
If you are thinking of "tripping" on this 'shroom, you better read the following first: in some areas, A. muscaria isn't just hallucinatory, it is deadly. It is listed in mushroom books simply as poisonous.
I have never known or even heard about anyone using the fungus recreationally here in Northwestern Ontario, not even the First Nations people who seemed to have a use for every plant. There is probably a good reason for that.
There are also other Amanita species that are absolutely fatal and they look a great deal like A. muscaria. In fact, I can't swear the mushrooms I have photographed here are not those species.
My advice is to leave them alone. 
Must have been "flying" squirrels that nibbled these

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Friday, September 19, 2014

The Trapper's Cabin. Who was the Trapper?

A sentinel at the entrance to West Narrows. Photo by Jane Bechtel
He was Frank Paishk, an Ojibwe man who, I believe, was born on this exact spot along with his brother, Adam, and sister, Mary. I only knew Frank and Adam.
Frank made firewood out of a couple of old cabins on the site, using a bucksaw. He cut the logs for the current cabin from trees in Muskrat Bay and pulled them, one at a time, behind his canoe. This was in the early 1960s.
Old Bill Stupack, the man who first built Bow Narrows Camp in 1948, always called the spot the Indian Village. That, plus the fact there was originally more than one cabin here and some things my father, Don, told me makes me believe that The Trapper's Cabin was once a community. It is marked on our camp map as a historic site.
The Ojibwe people that used to live here and who guided for my father were all born at this end of the lake. Tony and Ed Paishk told us they were born on the north shore of Pipestone Bay. Joe Keesic was born on the big island in Pipestone near the entrance to the narrows. Jimmy Duck was born in Muskrat Bay.
Old Jim Paishk, I believe, was also born in Pipestone. There are graves of two children near the Trapper's Cabin, and I have been told at least one of them was the child of Old Jim.
All these people are dead now and the only surviving artifact of their existence is the Trapper's Cabin.
It is difficult to know or explain the relationship between the men we knew since it is Ojibwe tradition to refer to just about everybody outside of their immediate family as cousins. Old Jim, however, was called Uncle. He was the only carver of soapstone pipes that I ever knew.
I wish I had known these men's Anishinaabe names as these are how Ojibwe people today would remember them. Old Jim was known in town as Peepsite. That nickname came from an incident when Jim mistook his dad's black hat for a moose and shot at it with a rifle. The bullet went through the hat, right above his dad's head. It scared Jim so badly that he never shot a gun again.
Frank Paishk, the trapper, was called Haywire in town.  That was because of his oddball behaviour when he drank. He would often, as he walked down a street, mimic the motions of a bush pilot flying a floatplane. Frank had a split personality, however. Out in the bush where there was no booze he was as silent and as wise as an owl and was probably the best woodsman I ever met.
None of us who knew and cared about these men ever called them by their nicknames.
Paishk is Ojibwe for nighthawk, a seldom-seen night bird. Every couple of years I see a half dozen nighthawks flying in the evening sky and I get the feeling that the Paishks that I knew are with me again.
All of these men were trappers. That is what they did in the winter. Many of them would spend part of their winter with Frank in the Cabin. They were the last to live this lifestyle. The Trapper's Cabin is a monument to them and to all the others who used to live here.
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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Frosty morning; trout to spawn soon

Cabin #5 with frost on the roof
There was a heavy frost here last night. The lake is cooling off rapidly and it won't be long before it reaches the 10-12 C that will trigger lake trout to spawn.
Pipestone Bay, north and upstream of camp, is Red Lake's main spawning location. Yesterday and this morning I have seen lake trout swirling on the surface in the narrows in front of camp as they swim past on their way to Pipestone.
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources biology crews have started stockpiling equipment on the dock in preparation for gathering eggs from Red Lake trout, something they have been doing for 10 years now. Those eggs will be raised at the Dorion fish hatchery and be returned to the lake 18 months later.
Red Lake's trout population is slowly rebuilding after plummeting in the late 1990s.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Nice walleyes caught and released last summer

Leo Dean

Troy Dean
It was a good year for walleye in 2014.
We caught a great many in the mid-20-inch range and a horde of smaller ones. This bodes well for seasons to come.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Scenes that few anglers ever see

Mike Boyer catches the early morning sun as well as northern pike and walleye

A new day begins on Red Lake, Ontario. Photos by Lonnie Boyer
For years now Mike and Lonnie Boyer have gotten up before sunrise and been out on the water to capture surreal scenes like these.
As every excellent hunter knows, dawn is the peak time of day for seeing game. It is the same for anglers. Fish that have been sleeping all night are eager to get going again at first light.
It's also the best time for photographing animals like moose and bear, otters and mink, waterfowl and shorebirds.
If you want to experience Red Lake and the Boreal Forest at their finest, get out of that warm bed and get out on the lake when the birds first begin to call in the morning. It's easier said than done. That's why most of us photograph sunsets, not sunrises.
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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Forty-two-inch pike exacts its revenge

Scott Griffin and the pike are both smiling

Vegas ER staff patched him up AFTER viewing fish pics

Oh, man. That's got to hurt!
It ended like an Ernest Hemingway story. Scott Griffin made what was going to be his last cast of the trip when his lure was engulfed by the largest fish of the week -- a 42-inch northern pike.
There was the see-saw battle between Scott and the behemoth with the drag singing and the fisherman reeling in line. Finally, there was the landing, the photo op and the release except it wasn't exactly that easy. It never is in a Hemingway story.
The landing is where the saga took an entirely different twist.
While unhooking the pike it flopped and drove one of the free hooks deep into Scott's finger. Both fish and fisherman were then attached to the same lure. In trying to get Scott loose, the hook was cut off the treble. It then promptly disappeared into his finger tip.
Back at camp we remove lots of fish hooks from anglers every summer; however, the hook needs to be on the exterior of the skin. Since Scott was leaving for home the next day, he opted to get the necessary surgery back state-side.
I'll let his e-mail take it from here:

"I though I'd share with you the hospital ER visit I had to make once I returned to Las Vegas.  As soon as we were picked up from the airport, my girlfriend dropped my brother at the house and then she took me to the ER.  Fortunately, the ER was not busy at all, and I was seen within a few minutes.  The ER staff was amazed at what happened, but more excited at the fish that did this to me....I showed the pics.

The first procedure was a digit block (numbed my finger). A Lidocaine and Marcaine shot was administered to totally numb my finger.  Then came the fluoroscope which Methylin Blue was administered to located the hook. Next I was taken back to the ER room where the doc sliced open the finger and extracted the hook.  Two stiches were needed to close up the wound and then I was given a Tetanus shot, Keflex, and hydrocodone.  Attached are the pics from the procedure...along with the 42" Pike that had his revenge.  Hopefully it's big enough to grace the wall of the"

Aye, Scott. Your pictures made the wall. I also left copies down at the lakeshore for you-know-who!