Monday, October 31, 2016

The lone man in the canoe

Brenda and I saw something last week that made me flash back more than 50 years.
A lone man came paddling a canoe by the camp.
It is the time of year that makes this scene remarkable. We see people paddling canoes, usually groups of them, all summer as they journey to Woodland Caribou Wilderness Park, just beyond Trout Bay and Pipestone Bay. Most of them are on their way to Lake Winnipeg, far to the west. Nobody, however, starts such a trip in late October. Freeze-up, especially on smaller lakes, could happen at any time.
It was seeing the canoe at this time of year and a couple other things that twigged me back to the early 1960s.
The paddler appeared to be an older man, perhaps in his 50s. He paddled from the stern of the craft with the easy natural stroke of a First Nations man. In one continuous motion he propelled the canoe forward and corrected his course without stopping to use the paddle as a rudder. The course correction was simply made by putting side pressure on the paddle as it was being lifted for the next stroke. The canoe moved along several miles an hour and there was no doubt by the effortless way the man paddled that he could cover a great distance by nightfall.
In the bow of his canoe were two canvas packs, one of them with an axe handle sticking out. That was all he had. The man was wearing an ordinary fall jacket, unzipped, a flannel shirt and green work pants.
It's been a long time since I've seen such a sight.
When we first came to Red Lake and Bow Narrows Camp in 1961, a lot of Anishinaabe or Ojibwe people passed by camp in their canoes on their way to their winter traplines. There would be women, men and little kids and everybody, including the smallest child, had a paddle. In the case of the little kids, the paddles were usually fashioned from a board.
As the canoes came silently by camp I would race down to the dock and pass along my parents' invitation for everybody to come up to the lodge for some tea and a snack. We knew most of the men since the camp employed lots of them as guides for fishing and moose hunting. If they hadn't worked for us that year my mom and dad would ask where they had been and other questions about what they had been doing. If we didn't know them my mom usually would ask if they were related to people we did know. And, of course, we asked where they were going. They were all destined for cabins on their traplines on the Bloodvein River system, anywhere between Pipestone Bay and Manitoba.
They would probably snowshoe out at Christmas to sell their furs, they would say, and then come back by canoe six months later in the spring.
We would look at the two canvas packs in their canoe. "Are you sure you have enough food?" we would ask.
"Oh, yes," they would laugh.
In the packs would be a bag of flour, some salt, tea, baking powder and a little sugar. If they had any firearm at all it would just be a single-shot .22. That was it. That was all that stood between them and starvation and even freezing to death in the brutally cold Canadian winter, or so we thought.
The truth was these Anishinaabe people were, in fact, well-prepared but they were outfitted with skills and knowledge rather than consumer goods.
Food and clothing are everywhere if you know where to look and how to prepare them, and after living by their wits for thousands of years the Anishinaabe were masters at it. They had a use for every plant, every creature. To them, the Boreal Forest wasn't a formidable wilderness, it was a supermarket, pharmacy and clothing store. If you know what you're doing, you can even eat the trees! The inner bark of lots of trees can be scraped and made into a flour, or at least so I've read.
When we saw the same people paddling in the other direction as the ice melted in May, we were always struck by how marvelous they looked. It was as if they had spent the winter at some health spa. Everybody was in robust health. Their spirits were high and they laughed at every opportunity.
These people hadn't just survived the Canadian winter; they had thrived.
It occurs to me now that what we were seeing was a migration of people, one where they traveled to one place for the summer and the winter for another. It had been going on for thousands of years. Before there was the town of Red Lake, the Anishinaabe would come to big lakes like Red Lake to escape the summer bugs, catch fish, and trade. In the fall, they would head to smaller waters where they would harvest wild rice, hunt and trap.
By the end of the 1960s, that way of life stopped forever, unless that lone paddler was intent on reviving it.
Click to go back to our website
Click to see the latest on the blog

Monday, October 24, 2016

You know the Ciepliks were here when you see this

Debi Cesario



The Ciepliks were in camp this summer and once again found the big fish.
Everyone loves their YouTube videos too. A link to those can be found at the right under Favorites.
I gave a ride to a nice couple from another camp this summer and they surprised me by asking if the Cieplik girls were in camp that week because they hoped to meet them on the lake after reading about them and seeing their photos and videos on the blog.
Sure enough their paths crossed a couple of days later.
Brenda Cieplik and her sister Debi Cesario like to compete against Brenda's husband, Carl, and their son, Tommy. The title for biggest fish seems to flip from team to team each year. They cover a lot of water, make thousands of casts and catch and release a ton of big fish, including big walleye.
For more on this extraordinary fishing family, including their "secret" lure, do a search for Cieplik in the little search window at the top of the blog. Make sure you hit Older Posts at the bottom of each list because there are many entries and something to be learned from each.
Click to go back to our website
 Click to see the latest on the blog

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Alfred E. Neumans of the bird world

A grape-sized brain with no frontal lobe whatsoever
Smart as a partridge.
Did you ever hear that expression? No, never. In fact, "smart" and "partridge" don't even belong in the same sentence.
You do hear them referred to as feathered rockets, and that metaphor is fairly appropriate.
Like a rocket, partridge, aka ruffed grouse, "blast off." They leave the earth with a thunderous explosion of beating wings, usually right at your feet, the shock and sound of which must certainly have arrested some human hearts over the years. Also like rockets, partridge use up all of their fuel in short order and then rely on their stubby wings to make subtle course corrections.
It is this method of flight that gets the partridge into trouble here at camp. That, plus the fact that the partridge has a brain the size of a grape and, apparently, none of it composed of frontal lobe, the part which, in humans at least, would let them consider the consequences of their actions. It's as if they are perpetually stuck in a risky, adolescent stage of life.
They are also pretty fast fliers, reaching speeds of up to 50 mph before they exhaust their energy and go into a glide. That speed, and the fact they weigh about a pound, is more than enough force to do serious damage to windows and porch screens. If you remember your high school physics, f = ma.
At Bow Narrows we also have another factor to consider -- elevation. Across the narrows is a hill, Mike's Mountain we call it. If a partridge launches himself from the top and heads toward camp he is really whistling when he reaches our side. Not good for a bird who has no hesitation to fly through little spaces between branches just guessing that there is nothing to hit out of view.
We all hold our breaths when we see a partridge crossing the channel. Sometimes we project the bird's flight path and realize to our horror that when he launched from the mountain top, 250 yards away, he selected for his landing site not the expansive lawn in front of the camp, not the cabin roofs or even the spaces between the cabins -- none of those obvious places. Instead he set his sights on a tiny "opening" beneath the cabin eaves, something you and I and the rest of the world call a window.
"No, no, no, NOOOO!" we shriek as the brown bullet heads toward the six-paned feature. "Pull-up! Abort! Abort!"
Sure,  the bird sees the reflection in the glass and thinks it is an opening but at some point he also must see the white sash dividers. They are just 10 x 12 inches apart.
"I'm pretty sure I can make it," says the partridge. He tugs at the straps of his tiny goggles, folds his wings and hits the pane dead center in an explosion of glass and feathers and cries of "Oh, the humanity!" from onlookers.
A minute later his head reappears perched atop a scrawny neck now missing a lot of its feathers.
"Did you see that? he asks. "That was AWESOME!"
Then he glances at the porch screen next to the window. "Next time I bet I could take that entire thing out!"

Click to go back to our website
Click to see the latest on the blog

Friday, October 14, 2016

Long-range weather forecast is coming true

A skiff of snow that soon melts has been a common sight
Smoke on the water. The lake is giving up its heat to the colder air
No one feels like sitting on Ed Gross's bench in this weather
Cabin 10's spiffy new deck
Weather forecasters predicted this fall that this region of the country was going to get an early winter. So far it looks like they were right.
For a couple of weeks now the daytime high has been in the single digits C and nighttime has been right around 0 or freezing. Those temperatures aren't unheard of; it's just the duration of such weather. More typically we have cold temps, then warm temps, then back to cold.
It also has been exceedingly wet. If it isn't raining, it's snowing.
This weather pattern is typical of a fall after an El Nino winter which we had last year. No matter, it is still gloomy and makes it difficult for us to get anything done at camp. I've had to forego a couple of projects I was hoping to complete this fall. It was just too wet.
We did manage to accomplish a bit of building throughout the summer, however. We built a new floating dock for Cabin 10 with a nice ramp that took the place of the steps and crib dock there.
We also built a deck on Cabin 10 with a side set of stairs that makes it easier to access this building.
I also succeeded in putting new flooring in Cabin 7. Unfortunately it is too damp out to get paint to dry, even inside, so we will need to finish painting this next spring. We did get two rooms painted before the wet weather arrived.
Now it is time to pull the plug on the season. We're going to button-up everything for the winter and get out as soon as possible, perhaps within a week.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Suddenly there are 66,000 more trout in Trout Bay

Brenda and me with fingerlings in Trout Bay

Trout make trip in oxygen-filled bags
Yearling lake trout

High school co-op student Raven Lawson cuts open bag

The water boils with released tiny lakers

An MNRF boat releases more trout in the distance

The boats take off from Black Bear Lodge's dock in Slay's Bay

The hatchery truck at Black Bear Lodge

Project biologist Jenn Neilson and student Raven Lawson at end of the day

Brenda and I got to help the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry stock 66,000 lake trout in Trout Bay this afternoon. We were especially excited about this because it marks the first time in the 15-year trout project that fish have been planted in Trout Bay and only the second time that hatchery trout have been released at the west end of Red Lake. In 2014 45,000 trout were also released in the Potato Island basin.
Most of the trout project has concentrated on trying to establish trout populations at the east end of Red Lake. Trout once inhabited all areas of the lake and largely disappeared from the east many decades ago. When the trout population problem was discovered in about 2000, trout mostly existed at the west end in places like Potato Island basin, Trout Bay and especially in Pipestone Bay.
Although trout thrived in Pipestone, they had a problem reproducing there and so began the efforts to entice them to spawn elsewhere as well as to just replenish the population overall.
The fish stocked today started out as eggs that were taken from West End trout last fall in the trout project. They were raised at the Dorion fish hatchery, near Thunder Bay, and brought back now a year later. Many more will be returned next spring as 18-month-old fingerlings. There were just too many fish from 2015's egg collection to raise them all to full size. That's why the 66,000 were brought back early.
A hatchery tank truck brought the yearlings to Black Bear Lodge where two MNRF boats and our Lickety Split took them in air-filled bags and in open tubs to Trout Bay for release. Each boat made about six trips and the whole process took about three hours.
It wasn't the best weather for the dozen or so humans involved. The temperature was 1 C or just above freezing; it was windy and snow flurries and sleet were falling. However, from the trout's point of view, it was beautiful. The cold temperature meant the fingerlings consumed less oxygen in their bags and tubs and should result in most all of the 66,000 surviving after they were released to the depths of Trout Bay.
A couple of hundred thousand more trout will be planted next spring as a result of the massive egg collection in 2015. No final decision has been made on where they will go but Pipestone Bay is a possibility. One problem would be how to get them there. It is a long a boat trip from Black Bear's location on the southern side of Potato Island basin but perhaps not too much farther than Trout Bay. It would be ideal if the hatchery truck could drive to Pipestone via the Mount Jamie Mine landing road, near Grassy Bay, but that access is often in questionable shape. There are so many trout to be planted next spring that is likely they will go to several locations around the lake.
Our anglers caught the first hatchery-raised trout this summer. A 23-inch fish, caught near Potato Island, would have been planted four years ago at the east end of the lake. We also caught a half dozen 14-inch fish from the 2014 stocking right at Potato Island.
I'm often asked if I think trout fishing will return to catch and keep instead of catch and release as it has been for the past 15 years. Undoubtedly it will. I see an explosion of lake trout numbers in about five years. That will come from all the hundreds of thousands of fish stocked through the egg collection project but also all the natural regeneration that is taking place today.
Trout are reproducing in good numbers in the Potato Island basin and Trout Bay. The stockings in these two places should see sustainable populations probably in about a decade, perhaps sooner.
Meanwhile, it is possible the stockings at the eastern end of the lake will take hold and trout will start spawning there too.
Finally, although it isn't known why eggs spawned in Pipestone Bay are unsuccessful it is also known that occasionally they do make it and adult fish thrive in the bay like nowhere else. If the overall trout population there is given a boost through the stockings then these sporadic successful spawning years will add to the lake's population.
Pipestone remains an enigma but researchers may eventually solve what is happening there. They will have more time for study once Dorion brood stock, raised from Pipestone eggs, begin supplying eggs right from the hatchery. That will start to happen in 2018. The extraordinary effort the MNRF has put toward the wild egg collection over the past 15 years can then slow down and there will be more time for analyzing the Pipestone problem again.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Trout egg collection completed for another year

Jamie Robinson lifts trout from underwater pen

Nadine Thebeau strips eggs into bowl held by Devin Turner

Jen Smikalow prepares fertilized eggs for shipment

All hands on deck of Eagle Falls large pontoon boat

Female trout, left, and male trout await handling

Volunteer Danny Collette takes trout from Natalie Blekkenhorst

Tori Toews prepares tag as co-op student Raven Lawson records info

Louise Collins takes sample from trout
Fish from Pipestone and non-Pipestone areas were kept separate
It was near-freezing on collection day but was cozy inside the lodge

Jenn Neilson, Kristi Anderson and Natalie Blekkenhorst were last to leave Friday
Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry personnel just finished their annual lake trout egg collection and it was tough sledding for the project this year. The problem was the water was too warm to bring many trout to the spawning shoals. Nevertheless, the biologists, fish and wildlife technicians, conservation officers, foresters, firefighters, other MNRF employees and even high school co-op students managed to gather thousands of trout eggs. These were fertilized and sent to the MNRF fish hatchery in Dorion, Ont., and will be returned to the lake in 18 months as fingerlings. After stripping the trout of eggs and milt the fish were returned to Red Lake.
The 'trouters' stay at our camp for about two weeks while the project is ongoing and use Eagle Falls Lodge's large covered pontoon boat as a workshop.
Trout that are netted off shoals on the west end of Red Lake are kept in large underwater pens tied to our dock until collection day when the eggs are taken. There were three collection days during the two-week period.
The last two days finally saw the temperature plummet to normal. It was 3 C and along with the 30-50 km-h winds (18-30 mph) made the air feel below freezing. No one complained even though they fought large waves as they pulled in their nets and raced back to camp in their open boats to put the trout in the holding pens.
Incredibly, this was the 15th year of the lake trout project. It started in 2002 when 50 divers came to camp in mid-October. So much has been learned about Red Lake's lake trout since then that it would fill a book.
Here's just one example: Pipestone Bay trout spawn first, then the fish in other bays downstream progressively follow suit.
The trout restoration project was launched when it was discovered there were very few lakers left in the lake and none of them was a young fish. In subsequent years it was found that lake trout eggs were mostly unsuccessful in Pipestone but developed normally just about everywhere else. The reason for that has never been found but a possibility is just the geology of the bay. Some of the minerals there could be harmful to trout eggs under some conditions such as slightly warmer temperatures as part of climate change.
Lake trout fishing has been restricted to catch-and-release only for the past 15 years and because of that and the stocking program, trout are now reproducing again in other bays such as Trout Bay and the Potato Island basin. This year marked the first time our anglers caught (and released) some of the stocked fish. They can be told by a missing fin, the location of which and the length of the fish identifies when and where the fish were planted. Not only did our anglers catch the fin-clipped fish this year but so did anglers at Black Bear Lodge and residents of the town of Red Lake.
Even the MNRF trouters got a clipped fin fish this fall.
We can expect to see even more stocked fish in a couple of years at Bow Narrows. So many eggs were gathered in 2015 that the hatchery cannot raise them all to full 18-month fingerling size; so, next week 60,000 yearlings will be brought through Black Bear Lodge to the west end of Red Lake and released in Trout Bay. The remainder will be stocked next spring as usual.
They will probably start showing up in the catch in a couple of years, just as the ones stocked off Potato Island did this summer. They were stocked two years ago.
It has been a long haul for the MNRF trout project workers and it is heartening to see all their hard work finally paying off. They deserve all the credit in the world for their determination and perseverance.

Click to go back to our website
Click to see the latest on the blog

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

2017 Availability is up and running

If you click on the 2017 Reservation Availability button on the right side of this page, you can see when cabins are available for the entire season next year.
We have added a few weeks next year to the list, such as July 1-8, when we are normally closed for a family reunion. Another week when we don't normally take guests is Aug. 26 to Sept. 2. We will advise anyone wishing to come that week this year that there is a professional walleye tournament on Sept. 2 and 3 and to be prepared for lots of powerful boats "pre-fishing" a week ahead. Finally, we will be open Sept. 23-30 next year whereas we were not in 2016. Late-season northern pike fishermen, in particular, might be interested in those final couple of September weeks.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Each lure is an original art piece

Wooden lures made by Dwayne Kotala

Incredible design and paintwork. Every lure is unique.

Plastic lures are each air-brushed by hand

Steve Merritt, Dwayne's stepson, was our outside worker
39-inch pike I caught yesterday on Kotala wooden lure

Wooden lure top shows bite marks of 39-ncher. Bottom lure got 34-incher

Mike's Mountain, across from camp, as I came back from fishing last night
We didn't get many reports on how our artist neighbour's lures worked this summer but I've got one from fishing yesterday evening. Holy cow! In one hour I caught a 39-inch northern pike, a 34-incher and a 38-incher.
Dwayne Kotala had painted sets of five lures before the season to mimic the actual baitfish in Red Lake and Northwestern Ontario.
We took about 40 orders and handed them out over the summer. Dwayne also sent up a bunch of other lures that we sold in our little store at camp. Part way through the summer he also began making wooden lures and some of our customers ordered a couple of those. It was the largest of the wooden lures I used to get the 39-inch pike and one of the mid-size plastic ones that got me the 34 incher. The 38-inch pike I actually got on my favourite surface bait, the Live Target Walking Frog.
I believe the main reason most people haven't commented about the lures they bought is because fishing this summer was so good they didn't try anything other than their 'old faithfuls.'
We did have one lady who used Dwayne's version of the Shallow Shad Rap in a red-bellied dace pattern and reported she caught 50 walleyes and several pike, including a 38-incher. She and her husband's only suggestion was to offer it in the next larger size, about three inches rather than the 2.5 -inch one Dwayne had painted. The bigger one dives a couple of feet deeper, they said and they should know because the Rapala Shallow Shad Rap is the only lure they use.
Now here are my own observations. I didn't get out fishing much this summer but when I did I tried to use Dwayne's lures.  The paintwork on the plastic lures is extremely durable. Unlike big-name brands, the surface on the Kotala plastic lures is basically unmarred by fish teeth.
Dwayne, you need to put larger, heavier hooks on your bigger lures, such as the wooden one above. I switched to bigger hooks on the plastic lure shown. The bigger hooks result in more hook-ups, are easier to remove from the fish and aren't bent when mashed down by alligator-like mouths.
The male red-bellied dace pattern worked extremely well. So did the tiger-stripe pattern of the second lure in the photo above. Incidentally, that second lure has an action I've never seen before. It took me awhile to get used to it. The lure must be retrieved slower than normal and when done so it dives to about five feet. It has a really great wiggle but the most seductive thing is it periodically turns on its side on the retrieve, like an injured baitfish. I also had to "doctor" the lure a bit to get the retrieve I wanted. I flattened the eye where you attach the leader so it was an oval shape, rather than round, and bent the whole eye downwards a little bit. You can do the same thing with any crank bait, including Rapalas.
I knew the big wooden lure was a winner the first time I cast one off the dock. Although this lure looks like it would only be good as a jerk bait, it actually has a wonderful wobbling, rolling motion when it is brought back on a steady retrieve and runs 2-3 feet deep. A Suick, probably the most famous musky and big pike lure, is just a coloured stick by comparison. If you are a dedicated big fish angler, you definitely want the Kotala lure in your tackle box. It is like nothing you've ever seen.
The lure measures 6.5 inches and has a nice weight for casting, much easier than a Suick. You can also fish it like a jerk bait, jerking it under and then letting it float back up but I found the following system works even better -- reel steadily for a half-dozen turns and then stop reeling. The lure actually rolls seductively back and forth as it floats up.
Although we will have lots of the various model $12 Cdn. plastic lures for sale next summer at camp, you need to contact Dwayne personally for any of the wooden ones. That's because I personally took every one he sent us home with me to use as Christmas gifts and for myself.
The big wooden lure sells for $35 Cdn. If that sounds expensive, think of what you are actually getting, a one-of-a-kind lure that is made just for you. You can ask Dwayne to make it any pattern you like.
It is the same as having a gunsmith personally make you a shotgun that fits like a glove or a one-of-a-kind fishing rod or a commissioned wooden duck decoy that will sit in a glass case.
In fact, that is what one of our guests said when I showed him my collection of Kotala wooden lures.
"If it was me, I would put those behind glass on the wall," he said.
Dwayne's e-mail is and his blog address is: