Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Stay calm. Be brave. Wait for the signs!

CBC Radio once had a great comedy show called The Dead Dog Cafe featuring all First Nations actors.
At the end of each episode the characters would sign off with, "Stay Calm. Be Brave. Wait for the Signs!"
That's what we all must do now as we impatiently look at the ice still out on the lakes.
The photos above are also of signs, ones that hang in our lodge.
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Monday, March 28, 2016

Red Lake 2016 ice-out could be near normal

Scenes like this at camp are probably still at least a month away
Hopes for a record-early ice-out are sagging with the current spate of below-normal temperatures that we are getting in Northwestern Ontario.
The mild El Nino winter had created only 20 inches of ice or less on the lakes. That was about half of the normal amount. This had been weighed down by early snowfalls that turned the entire sheet into a slushy mess.
Most of the winter saw very warm temperatures, even above-freezing ones in early to mid-March. It looked like the ice might disappear off the lakes by early April. But that has all gone by the wayside now.
Lots of the daytime highs in the forecast are in the negative digits, even negative double digits. We have gotten even more snow and that will insulate the ice from melting whenever it does warm up.
It's always the spring weather that determines time of ice-out and right now the spring weather sucks.
My guess? Ice-out won't come before May. Average ice-out on Red Lake is May 8 with norms one week either side of that. So, it is looking more and more like a normal ice-out.
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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Artist painting lures to match Red Lake minnows

This poster of Red Lake's bait fish hangs in our dining room
It is astonishing how few of today's lure patterns actually mimic the baitfish in Red Lake, Ontario.
Let's just name a few: fire tiger, pumpkinseed, bass, rainbow trout. There are many other patterns that don't have a name because they don't resemble anything. They are bright, neon colours with stripes painted here and there and maybe a big spot right in the middle. When was the last time you saw a Red Lake minnow that was fluorescent orange, chartreuse or pink?
Most of these lures, however, really do catch fish. But what would happen if you used a lure that looked just like the minnows that the fish are actually feeding upon? Does it make a difference?
Fly fishermen are pretty convinced that it does. When they observe fish feeding upon a certain insect, they try to "match the hatch." They never find that they can catch fish even better if they offer them something they've never seen before. "Man, wait until these trout see a mayfly in fire tiger!"
We have asked one of our neighbours in Nolalu who is an artist to paint 50 lures to resemble the baitfish of Red Lake. He can get the plastic lure bodies in all of the favourite styles used by brand-name manufacturers, from floaters with small lips, to L-shaped lips and larger lips for deep divers. He will paint 10 each in five different styles.
Incredibly, considering the time it will take to paint each lure, he is selling these to us for just $10 a piece, at least on this first batch. A complete set of five will cost $50.
If you want to reserve a set, let me know by e-mail ( and I will set them aside for you. If more than 10 people do this, I might be able to get him to make more at the same price before the season begins.
It will really be interesting to see how well they work. His lures are going to mimic the minnows in the top photo: daces and shiners.
The one lure pattern from lure manufacturers that works pretty well is the perch. Just about every lure company has this and it is used by all our anglers with good success.
But here's an interesting tidbit of information. Walleye don't eat perch except for tiny ones, maybe just one inch long. Many of our anglers who have brought underwater cameras have videos of big walleyes and six-inch perch swimming harmoniously side-by-side. When we clean our guests' walleye we never find perch in their stomachs.
Kind of makes you wonder why you are trolling a perch-pattern lure for walleye, doesn't it?
(Update, April 28, 2016, contact artist Dwayne Kotala at CrankyFinnGuy.)
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Sunday, March 20, 2016

What happens when line gets in the prop?

Braided fishing line on outside of propeller

More line caught in line-winder inside the prop
Let us know whenever fishing line accidentally gets caught in the propeller and we will clear it for you.
Even if you clear the line wrapped on the outside of the prop, there is usually more inside where you can't reach.
The first photo above shows braided fishing line wrapped on the outside of the prop. Then the second shot shows the actual "line-winder" bushing on the prop shaft once the prop has been removed.
We replace nut and cotter pin system
We learned a long time ago from Dave Green, mechanic at Red Lake Marine Products where we buy our engines, to replace the original prop retaining nut and cotter pin with a lock nut. This lets us remove the prop in seconds with a socket. The lock nut works for smaller horsepower engines such as our 20s and 25s but wouldn't be appropriate for really big engines.
If you were to operate most outboards for long periods with line in the prop, the line can get past the line-winder and go inside the lower unit. As soon as it gets beyond the line-winder it will wreck the seal around the shaft and let all the oil out of the lower unit. This will ruin the gears there.
Lock nut lets us remove prop quickly
Our Honda 20s have such an excellent line-winding system that I actually have never seen this happen. It was a real problem with other manufacturers' engines.
Anyway, if you do get line in your propeller, let us know the next time you are in camp and we will remove it. It's no big deal.
Don't try removing the prop out on the water. The chances of dropping something in the lake are excellent. Better if we do it at the dock.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why is my boat slower than my buddy's?

Damaged prop at top compared to new prop on bottom

Edge of blade has been ground away by striking a rock
This is a question we sometimes get at camp. There are two likely reasons for this: 1. something to do with the propeller and 2. the weight inside the boat. Most often it is the first.
If there is just one weed caught on the prop (or the leg) of the outboard, the drag it creates will slow down the boat significantly. So, that is one possibility -- something is caught on the motor. The other big likelihood is the prop itself is damaged.
There is nothing as contentious in dealing with anglers as when it comes to damaged props. The problem doesn't come from badly wrecked props -- it's obvious to everyone when the prop blades are folded back or missing entirely -- but rather ones that have minor damage like the one in the photo above. Any alteration to an edge of any of the blades will create a decrease in performance (i.e. speed). This change may not even be noticed by the driver unless he has been tracking his speed with a GPS. It might just be one or two mph difference. No big deal, right?
Maybe not to him, but the next person who drives the boat will complain to us that his boat is slower than his friend's. There is no remedy other than to replace the prop with a new one.
How did the prop get damaged in the first place?  It struck something. In the case above it clipped a rock. You can tell that by the way the aluminum has been ground away. But even if the prop hit something softer, like wood, it will still likely be ruined. In that case the edge will be flattened or bent but all the aluminum will still be there. Either way it won't perform like it did before.
Striking an object can also damage the rubber hub in the center of the prop. This surrounds the brass bushing which fits onto the prop shaft. This damage isn't obvious to anyone other than an expert. But the result is the prop wobbles in its rotation since it no longer is aligned properly on the shaft. This causes the engine to shake when driven at higher speeds and, again, decreases speed.
The rubber hub on modern engines has taken the place of the old shear pin. Younger readers will have no idea what a shear pin is but up until maybe the 1990s propellers on smaller outboards had short brass pins inside that connected them to the prop shaft. If the prop struck anything the soft metal in the pin broke and the prop shaft spun freely. This lessened the chance that the prop shaft and the expensive gears inside would be damaged. Today the rubber hub does exactly the same thing.
There is a sign on all our boats that states: "The Operator is Responsible for any Damage." Everyone who signs our Weekly Boat Rental Agreement, which also doubles as a one-week boat operator's licence required of all persons operating a boat in Canada, agrees to pay for damage to the boat and motor.
Propellers for the 20 hp Hondas cost $100 Cdn. At least they did last year. The 25 Honda props are more expensive.
"But it's just barely damaged! Couldn't you just file it straight again or get someone else to fix it rather than replacing it with a brand new prop?"
A prop blade cannot be filed without changing its balance which will cause the engine to shake.
We can send the propeller to a repair shop where the blades can be welded and shaped again and that labour-intensive procedure will cost 3/4 as much as a new prop and can take weeks or months to be returned. More importantly though, the rubber hub inside cannot be repaired to original specifications. So we can pay $75 to repair a prop only to later throw it in the garbage anyway. That's why we just replace the damaged prop with a new one.
 "But isn't it impossible to run the motor and not hit things?"
The best way to answer that is to note that we have guests who frequently damage props, sometimes wreck lower units and even break oil pans (the worst thing) and other guests who have never hit anything. I think this illustrates that it is the habits of the operator that are usually responsible.
We advise everyone to motor slowly toward the center of the lake until they are 100 feet off shore before opening up the engine. Within 100 feet of shore there are rocks and deadheads (logs with one end floating, the other at the bottom) galore. Red Lake is about as hazard-free a lake as you will ever find. The few "surprise" rocks at our end of the lake I mark with white bleach jugs. They are also all marked on our camp map.
The most common reasons anyone strikes an object is that they "open-up" the engine from near-shore and travel right alongside the shore for a ways, or they take a "shortcut" across the end of a point. Points always continue underwater.
Another reason is they simply aren't looking where they are going and run right over a reef that is actually above the waterline. This ends up not only wrecking the outboard but always damages the boat as well. The operator also must be vigilant for floating logs and sticks. You need to always look where you are going and for things floating on the water ahead of you.
But whatever the reason, it is important that you know we don't think less of you for damaging a prop or a lower unit or anything else. Compost happens. Just pay for the new prop, or the repairs, and away you go.
Minor damage to a prop, like the one shown above, usually comes from going to shore to get a lure snagged on the bottom or in a tree. The way to avoid this possibility is to put the engine in shallow drive before going to shore. You do this by lifting the engine until it clicks into the shallow drive position. Once you are free of the snag and have backed away from the shore you need to throw the leg position lever the other direction, lift the leg until it is out of shallow drive and let it fall all the way down to normal drive position. Then throw the lever back to the position that lets it tip forward.
We always advise not to lock down the leg of the outboard to prevent major damage when striking objects. See Lever.
Our outside worker or myself will go over all of this when we do our boat and motor orientation with you each time you come to camp.
Is it inevitable that eventually everyone will strike something? The answer is probably yes if you spend enough time on the water, however that could mean just once or twice in a lifetime. It certainly doesn't mean hitting something every time you are at camp. If you follow good habits as described above you are almost guaranteed never to hit anything.
Here are a couple of other tips on how to avoid hidden hazards. 1. Give every island a wide berth. 2. Always take the largest opening between islands. 3. Stay centered in the travel corridor 4. Expect sunken deadheads anywhere you see above-water deadheads.
Finally, there is the second common reason why one boat is slower than the other and that is because one boat weighs more. Everything inside the boat contributes to this weight: people, gear, batteries, liquids.
There are two other possibilities. One is the motor running position is not correct. This should never change since we set all the motors for the correct position. Boats travel the fastest when the outboard leg angle is set so that the craft runs parallel to the surface of the lake. It is a common myth that they go faster if the bow is lifted very high leaving just the stern to make contact. That may be true with very large horsepower craft, like bass boats. It is false when dealing with fishing boats. Sometimes people have "monkeyed" with the leg setting and we might not have noticed when re-outfitting the boat for you.
Finally, it is rare, but maybe there is something wrong with the gears in the outboard's lower unit. This could be the case where someone, sometime, clunked a rock with the motor locked down but the only visible damage was a broken prop. This is a once-in-a-decade kind of occurrence. Normally an accident of this nature will also have broken the skeg (the lowest portion of the leg, beneath the prop) and when getting this repaired the mechanic will have checked the gears as well. We wouldn't charge the current operator of the boat for the damage, of course.
It is interesting to see how other camps deal with the damaged prop issue. I always check this out with other camp operators when we are at our annual NOTO convention in the fall. Most are exactly like us, the operator pays for the damage. Some have various types of "insurance" which everybody must buy. This usually works out to be the same as the cost of a new prop! So, for us, rather than make everybody pay for a prop regardless if they damage one, we think it is fairer to just make those who commit the damage pay.
To put the whole issue in perspective, in an entire summer we may only need to charge a dozen people for prop damage, perhaps one or two for lower unit damage and one for a broken oil pan. That's a pretty good record considering the number of people who go through camp in a summer.
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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Hang in there

Electric hoist takes work out of outboard changes

Rechargeable winch is used to put outboard onto motor rack
One of the best ideas we ever had at camp was to install this electric hoist at the boathouse. It takes all of the grunt work out of outboard motor changes.
Four-stroke outboards, like our Honda 20s, are especially difficult to put on or take off by hand. The bulbous power head makes it impossible to get a handhold in the right position. It's a snap with the the hoist, however. The motors weigh a little shy of 100 pounds each.
The electric hoist is suspended from a barn door track. Once the outboard is lifted, we just slide it back over the dock and then lower it. The motor isn't difficult to "walk" along the dock from an upright position.
Once inside the motor shed, I use a battery-powered winch to lift the outboard onto our motor stand. The battery winch is rechargeable and is so portable I use it for everything all around camp -- tipping boats over by myself onto the ground for winter, winching leaning trees that I am cutting down, pulling boat ramps up for the winter -- all sorts of things.
These two devices are sure back-savers.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

This is how it all started

Bow Narrows angler Terry Matson found this old classified ad in a 1969 issue of Sports Afield.
Don and Dell were my parents. My dad ran this and similar classified ads in all the outdoor magazines: Sports Afield, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life starting in 1961.
I love the address given: Bow Narrows Camps, Red Lake, NW Ontario. We had a post office box back then, the same as today - Box 217 -- but if you just addressed an envelope Bow Narrows Camps, Red Lake, Ontario, it would find its way no problem.
That little 3/4-inch, one-column ad ended up bringing all our guests. That plus word-of-mouth. One group told another group who told another group, etc. The same thing happened with families. Dads brought their kids and when there were grandkids, brought them. We now even have grandkids bringing their kids!
I'll always remember another company who had a little classified ad in the magazines back then. It seemed to be some sort of sporting goods company. Maybe you've heard of it -- Cabelas! Just like us it was founded in 1961.
Incidentally, you might wonder why our business was pluralized -- Camps. That was because we also had fly-in outpost camps back then. My dad decided to give up the outpost camps in the 1970s and concentrate on the base camp which is the one we have today.

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Monday, March 7, 2016

The time is right for a transition

Bow Narrows angler Jim Tegtmeier with Brenda and me at the boathouse in 2015. Jim has been to camp something like 75 times! There have been about 20,000 guests at camp in my family's 56-year history. Many of them have come for 20 years or longer.

This will be Brenda’s and my 25th year operating Bow Narrows Camp. We also worked at camp as a couple while we were attending university for six years when my dad owned it. And before even that, I grew up there and worked as a guide from the time I was just nine years old until I was 18, and Brenda worked two years at the camp before we were married. In addition, we also had other careers, Brenda as a teacher and me as a journalist.
A funny thing has happened over those years – we’ve gotten older!
Working and living at Bow Narrows Camp might possibly be the best job in the world. Our guests are like family and everyone is having a great time. We spend a lot of time outdoors and the summer weather is fabulous. We’re blessed with an outstanding fishery and our boat-in ability gives us the best of all worlds – unspoiled remote wilderness without the high cost of operation that fly-in camps must endure.
But it is also a physical job and one that is getting to be too much for our near-65-year-old bodies. It is time for a transition, time to let someone else take over. We’ve been preparing for this event for several years now. If Brenda and I are ever going to have a retirement and do the things other people do in the summer, we need to sell the camp, but we want to do it in a way that turns over the operation seamlessly to the next owners so that our customers continue to enjoy the tradition of fishing at Bow Narrows.
Years ago we met Brian Dykstra, an agent with Royal LePage Realty. Brian is a former camp owner and has played important roles in Northern Ontario tourism for the past three decades. He specializes in selling camps and lodges and knows more about the outdoor tourism business than anyone we’ve met. He has a genuine passion for it and, in particular, has the talent of matching the right new owners with the right camp so that everyone is successful and the business continues to thrive.
Bow Narrows Camp is now listed with Brian at All inquiries and information about the sale should be made to him, not us. Right until the moment we sell, we’ve got our hands full just running the place.
The time is right to make this transition, not only for us but for our customers. Everyone wants to see Bow Narrows Camp continue just as it has for the past 56 years. It is one of Northwestern Ontario’s finest fishing camps. Our history has been one of relentless upgrading and improvements, and any new owner will find a thoroughly up-to-date and modern facility.
Brenda and I intend to stay in the area and build a cabin on property we own on the other side of the narrows. Once that is done who knows, we might even spend the summers fishing!
Selling a business like this can take a while, years even. That is why we are starting now. In the meantime it is full steam ahead, just like always. We will continue improving everything, updating our boats and motors and remodeling cabins. We just don’t know any other way to do it.
At some point, however, there will be new owners and these people will bring a new vitality to the operation. We will support them every way we can so that they will have as wonderful a life at Bow Narrows Camp as we have had.
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Friday, March 4, 2016

How is climate change affecting the North's fish?

Trout Bay in early evening, smoked-in from a fire in the Northwest Territories, 1,000 miles away. Increased numbers of forest fires all over the North could be one reason the lake isn't getting much warmer since the smoke dims the sun's rays.
The farther north you go, the greater the effects of climate change. There's not so much if you live in southern Ohio, more if you live in northern Wisconsin and much more if you live here in Northern Ontario.
In particular the winters, with the occasional exception, start later, end sooner and aren't as cold as they were in the past.
Earlier ice-outs and later freeze-ups are probably having the biggest impact on northern fish populations, both good and bad. Until the milder winters get so warm there is no ice at all, they probably aren't changing the fish much. With the exception of stream species, like speckled or brook trout, I don't think it matters to fish if the lake ice is one foot thick or three feet. What matters is the lakes are frozen and they still are.
Earlier ice-outs could be responsible for the explosion of walleye in places like Red Lake. The sooner the lake is free of ice the sooner the fish can spawn. They then have a jump on the growing season -- the summer -- and should grow bigger and be in better shape when winter finally arrives.
Once the water cools off in the fall, the walleye go to deeper water and I don't think the late freeze-ups have much effect since the fish have been in their winter locations since mid-September anyway.
Late freeze-ups, however, do have a detrimental effect on fall-spawning species like lake trout. Lake trout are looking for 12 C water around the first week of October for spawning. If it is too warm, they don't spawn but rather re-absorb their eggs. We've seen this happen quite a few times in the 10+years the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has been conducting their lake trout project at Bow Narrows.
If the water doesn't cool off to 12 C within a few days of  Oct. 6, the females give up and leave.
Red Lake's trout have a problem in successfully regenerating and this could be one of the reasons.
Another possibility is there might be is a naturally-occurring element that is inert at cold temperatures but is reactive at warmer ones. Lake trout eggs are about the most-sensitive things on the planet. The fish are hardy but not the eggs. So eggs spawned on rocks containing some element such as manganese could develop normally if the water temperature was, say 10 C, but croak if it is 11 C or warmer.
Researchers at the Experimental Lakes Area, near Kenora, reported this fall that climate change was harming lake trout populations there simply by warming up the lakes in the summers. The trouts' preferred temperature range just above the thermocline is getting narrower and narrower.
Only part of the increased lake temperature came from warmer summers; in fact, those summer highs haven't changed much. What has raised the water temperatures more was the runoff following the extreme rain events that are occurring everywhere. Those gullywashers send sediment into the lake, darkening it, and the sun then warms the darker-coloured water. Earlier ice-outs and late freeze-ups also played a role in water temperature.
The lakes they were studying were small and especially vulnerable to such an effect. I don't think Red Lake's average water temperatures have changed much at all. It has lots of very deep bays where only the surface ever gets warm. Our daytime highs have pretty much stayed normal over the years although part of that reason could be that the sun is sometimes dimmed by smoke from forest fires. Most of these fires are far, far away, like 1,000 miles or more, in places like Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories. Those places are having an increase in numbers of fires due to climate change. In Northwestern Ontario the summers haven't been drier than normal and therefore the number of local fires, almost all of which are started by lightning, has stayed relatively normal. The exception could be the Far North of Ontario, nearer Hudson Bay. There seem to be more fires than ever up there but that smoke goes east, not south.
It's hard for me to figure how northern pike are being affected by climate change. About six or seven years ago we had a record-early ice-out in mid-April and Brenda and I and Ben, our outside worker, went into camp soon after. Ben and I checked places like Douglas Creek to see if the walleye were spawning and it appeared they had, in fact, already finished. That would have been several weeks earlier than normal.
Northern pike, however, didn't even start to spawn until the first week of May and then continued to nearly May 20, just like they always do.
So, if there is a benefit to spawning early, the pike weren't taking advantage of it while the walleyes were.
More walleye in the lake, however, is a bonanza for pike since they provide a large school prey. If you're a 45-inch pike you get tired of fooling around with six-inch perch. Foot-long walleyes are pretty much what you are looking for.
The population of really big pike seems to be increasing every year and the walleye bonanza could be partly the reason. Conservation techniques such as releasing big pike by anglers are also responsible, no doubt.
My observation is there are far more walleye in Red Lake than in the past, about the same number of pike but more big ones, and fewer lake trout. So what I described above could be the reason or partly the reason for what I'm seeing.

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