Tuesday, April 25, 2017

How to reach us by telephone

The camp's winter phone number is now Brian and Joanne's: 316-308-3190.
Call that number until we get into camp next week at which time the usual camp number: 807-727-0439 will be in operation for the summer.
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Red Lake escapes big storm, Howey Bay opens

Dock this morning at Red Lake Marine on Howey Bay. Sherry McCoy photo
Northwestern Ontario did get walloped by a late-spring snowfall last night but it almost completely missed Red Lake. The heaviest snow fell in the Dryden vicinity.
Although the temperatures were below freezing, high winds did a number on the ice in Howey Bay, smashing the ice pan there to bits. The word this morning was that ice in the Forestry Stretch was still intact. There is more wind today, however, and that may get the big sheet moving and disintegrating. Although temps the rest of the week are supposed to be frigid, a return to warm weather on the weekend should see the lake empty of ice by May 1.
Here in Nolalu we are expecting an extended period of freezing rain starting tonight. The lakes in this area are almost all clear of ice.
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Monday, April 24, 2017

It's snowing and we're all a little grumpy about it

Cork doesn't look any too pleased as he lays on his sand pile in the yard
Just when we had a perfect spring going on, Old Man Winter had to come stomping in and wreck everything! Red Lake could get a few inches of snow tonight. Areas to the south could get many times that amount. To make matters worse the temperature is below freezing and isn't supposed to creep up until next weekend. Darn!
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Friday, April 21, 2017

Ice-out near for most Northwestern Ontario lakes

Red Lake ice is disintegrating at Howey Bay. Photo taken Tuesday.

Two of the six moose we saw on Hwy 105 Wednesday.
We just got back to our home in Nolalu after a quick trip to Red Lake. The ice on Red Lake looks sick and ready to go. You might think it could disappear within days but the forecast is for cold weather and that will probably slow down ice-out a bit. My guess is that it will break up before May 1.
Eagle Lake was in even worse shape. Not only was it black but there were open leads through the giant ice pans. The ice in Thunder Lake at Dryden was about the same.
We've been wondering what to do with the blog now that Brian and Joanne have taken over the reins to camp. They want to continue a blog or maybe a video-log (vlog) that will keep everyone informed about what is going on at camp. So, our latest plan is for me to continue writing this blog and they will start another. Both will be accessible through the camp's website. This would let people access things like the how-to articles that appeared on this blog over the years while also providing current information on what's happening at camp and letting folks know about new fishing tips and techniques. It might take a little while to get all this going.
My blog will deal mostly with nature, wildlife and history. The Spillars blog will have the best fishing information as well as other timely things.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A new chapter begins for Bow Narrows Camp!

Brenda and I have the honour of announcing new owners for Bow Narrows Camp. They are Brian and Joanne Spillar of Wichita, Kansas!
Brian and Joanne take over operation of the camp immediately and will soon be heading to Red Lake for the 2017 season opener.
We couldn’t have found better folks to take over the reins. Brian is a long-time angler at Bow Narrows and of Red Lake. He and Joanne bring with them an array of skills and backgrounds that will not only continue the Bow Narrows tradition but bring a new vitality to it. Most importantly, they are friendly, down-to-earth people with a passion for customer service and the outdoors.
We will support them in every way we can so that they and their children will have as wonderful a life at Bow Narrows as we did. You can read all about Brian and Joanne in their biographies below. We are sure you are going to find them to be a lot of fun.
Brenda and I now enter retirement. We are not leaving Red Lake, however, as we expect to build a personal cabin on the lake in 2018. This summer we plan to finish our home in Nolalu. Brenda has her sights set on gardening and I will finally turn to writing that book.
To our guests and employees over the years, almost all of whom became our good friends, we would like to note that in the Ojibwe culture there is no word for goodbye. They believe that once you have met someone, you carry them with you forever. That is the way we feel too.
See you on the lake!
Dan and Brenda

And now, meet the new owners of Bow Narrows Camp!

Hi Folks, I'm Brian

Brian Spillar
I have always been fascinated with the outdoors. As a kid I was always catching living things in a home-made contraption to be placed in a glass jar or a box. Once my subjects were confined, I could study them and then let them go. Later, there were aquariums, terrariums, and many hours at the library reading.  I once caught a small largemouth and put him in my large tank so I could study how he took bait and hookless lures. I would journey to all local ponds and forest preserve lakes that I could reach on my bike. No one else in my family shared my fascination yet my parents would take me to Wisconsin for a week each year. My dad would row me around for hours while I fished. Ultimately, I pursued a degree in Zoology/Wildlife and Fisheries Management, but my course was ultimately altered with another degree. My career path lead me to technical assignments in the defense, natural gas, oil and independent consulting industries in numerous engineering positions. But my fascination and respect for living things never faded.  I first came to Red Lake in June 1978 as part of a high school trip supported by our anglers club. It felt like a different planet. Over the years, my attachment for this wonderful place and familiar faces grew. As life got more challenging, there was always a constant: "The Trip,” which I made by myself for the vast majority of the time. Year by year, the attachment evolved to a love for my sanctuary.  For the last 19 years, I have been a regular guest of Dan and Brenda and can say these have been my best with their home becoming my home for a week each year. What a testament to their family's 56 years of dedication to us guests. The 7th of March, 2016 was my last day at work in the corporate arena, the result of my employer’s business venture not panning out. Those of you who follow the blog might note that this is the day Dan and Brenda posted that the camp was for sale. I was stunned! So for the second time in my life, I popped a life-changing question to Joanne, and she said yes.

And I'm Joanne
Joanne Spillar
Growing up in a large family on a northern-Illinois farm, my childhood was grounded in homecooked meals. One of eight children, I saw my mother, who was an excellent cook, prepare a lot of food to keep up with all of those hungry appetites. Add to that a yearly extended-family vacation up north with 50 or more relatives, many extended-family holidays, and you have a big focus on tradition and delicious food. Some of my best family memories involve a daily fish-fry potluck meal amidst northwoods fishing and fun on the lake. I spent two weeks of every childhood-summer with my family, aunts and uncles, cousins and cousins’ kids and even my cousins’ grandkids. I feel thankful to have had that. One of my favorite things to do is to collect and share recipes, and I continuously add to my personal cookbook as well as having published several family cookbooks. Today, in addition to homeschooling our children and taking care of family and home, I cook nearly all of our family’s meals from scratch to get the best-quality, best-tasting food for everyone. I see Bow Narrows as an extension of that and look forward to cooking for each and every guest that comes to fish and unwind at the camp. Like Dan and Brenda before us, our family looks forward to welcoming
you as guests in our home, and I can’t wait to satisfy that just-off-the-lake hunger that comes from a day of fishing! Together, we are truly honored for the opportunity to continue the Bow Narrows tradition and camp vibe that has been such an important part of the lives of many. We can't see what could be any better than this and can hardly wait to welcome each and everyone of you to our home, your camp.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Measures we can take for the future of fishing

In the slot size and too big to keep anyway. Back you go. Lonnie Boyer photo
"The future of fishing is in your hands."

No slogan could be more true. Each time we catch a fish, what we do next is going to make all the difference in the world.
  • Handle it gently. Wet your hands or even better, wear a wet glove so as not to remove the protective coating on the fish's skin. Remove the hook quickly and place the fish gently back in the water rather than dropping or throwing it back. Support it on your open hand, if necessary, to keep it upright while it gets its bearings. 
  • Only keep northern pike beneath the slot size. Ontario regulations require all northern pike between 27.5 and 35.4 inches to be released. The reason is that this size group represents 2/3 of the spawners. However, just about all of the remaining spawners and the most critical ones to boot are those fish larger than 35.4 inches. The biggest fish produce the most eggs, period. It is absolutely senseless to keep them, especially when you consider they are also the worst fish to eat. They are the oldest and have bio-accumulated whatever heavy metals are in the environment. Such things are everywhere, even here.
  • Only keep walleye beneath 18 inches. Ontario regulations allow you to keep one walleye larger than 18 inches but it is as senseless to keep them as it is for northern pike. Walleye begin to spawn at 18 inches. The bigger the fish, the more eggs it produces, period.
  • Never cull fish. Culling is the act of trading a fish kept on a stringer or in a livewell for another. Studies have shown that fish kept in containment and then released often die later from shock. Culling is the act that so epitomizes greed to me. It is one of the reasons we provide burlap keep-sacks in our boats. Make a decision which fish to keep, put it in the wet bag and leave the bag in the bottom of the boat.
  • Get a trophy replica rather than a skin-mount. If you want to commemorate the catching of a big fish,  taxidermists today can create a fiberglass or carbon-fiber replica that is the exact size and image of your fish. Take a photo of the fish, measure its length and if possible, its girth, and release the fish. The replica will look better than the skin mount and will last forever whereas the skin mount will eventually deteriorate. The very best way to honour a big fish is to photograph it in the boat before you release it. This will have all the context of the occasion such as the background, the weather, equipment in the boat, etc. Here's where a GoPro camera mounted on, say the bow, would be invaluable. It could give you the entire event on video and would also show your fishing partner. You can make a still photo from the video and frame that for the office if you would like.
  • Keep only the fish you need to eat. Let each person be fulfilled by catching his own fish. We are not doing anyone a favour by bringing into camp more fish than we can eat on the presumption that others are not going to be as good at catching fish as us.
If we all follow these practices there will continue to be great fishing, not only for us but for our sons and daughters, our grandkids and even their grandkids. Or we can take home full coolers for awhile and then complain for the rest of our lives how good the fishing used to be.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2017 ice-out in a week for some lakes

Brenda and Cork at Whitefish Lake today, April 12

The ice has melted free of the shore
I took the photos above this evening at Whitefish Lake, near our home here in Nolalu. There is extensive melting on the south side of this popular fishing lake. My guess is there will be no ice here at all within a week.
Whitefish is a large lake but shallow and therefore one of the first to thaw in the Thunder Bay area of Northwestern Ontario.
We also had a report from Red Lake that there is enough open water below the bridge on Chukuni River for Viking Outposts to move one of their floatplanes from the ice to the river.
All indications are for the ice to be gone in Red Lake within a couple of weeks.
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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pipestone Bay in July, nothing like it!

Click on this photo for full panorama
Could there be anything finer than boating across Pipestone Bay on a gorgeous day in July?
I don't think so.
Bow Narrows angler Jane Bechtel took this photo. She captured almost the same scene during a thunderstorm.
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Beautiful spring melt is happening

Northwestern Ontario is experiencing a beautiful spring. We've had some really warm days and even some nights above freezing but mostly the temperatures are around the seasonal normals which are about 8 to 10 C in the days and -2 to -5 C at night. This has led to a very controlled spring melt instead of the flooding that can occur if it gets too warm too fast.
Rivers and creeks are free of ice and small lakes are melted around the edge. There is lots of ice yet on the big lakes but there are large black spots on the surface that absorb all the sunlight we have been getting. This makes the ice melt all the faster.
We have been blessed to have not gotten any snow or even significant rain at all for nearly a month. The frost has gone out of the ground in the open and things are drying up nicely. The snow is gone from all but the shadiest spots. We've also had a lot of windy days which are good both for drying but also for opening up lakes. The wind pushes down on the ice in big open areas and this squishes the water under the ice into bays on the side. When the wind drops the water rushes back out of the bays again. This back and forth current wears the ice away in the bay mouths. These are always the first to be clear and their patches of open water absorb the sun's heat and help warm the lake.
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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Should we all be using barbless hooks?

I got a great e-mail after the last posting on how to remove hooks from your own skin. It was so succinct it could have been written by Henry David Thoreau himself.
Go barbless.
So, are barbless hooks easier to remove from your hide? Absolutely. In fact, if you had a truly barbless hook it would withdraw as easily as a needle. Unfortunately none of our lures come with an option of being fitted with barbless hooks. They all have barbed hooks and if you want to make them "barbless" you can squish down the barb with needle-nose pliers. That is what most people mean when they refer to barbless hooks. This leaves a bump on the hook that makes it slightly more difficult to take out but it is hardly noticeable. You can still pull out the hook just with your fingers; no string method or pliers are needed.
Should you then pinch-down all your barbs? Just before we say yes, we need to re-think why barbs are on hooks in the first place. They are there to keep the hook from coming out of the fish's mouth. Theoretically, if you keep a tight line when playing a fish it should keep the hook from just falling out. In practice, at least in my experience, this isn't always the reality, and it very much depends on how many hooks are attached to the lure. The fewer the hooks, the more likely the fish will "spit" the lure.
It is pretty easy for a walleye to get off a jig with a barbless single hook, for instance. It is less likely to get off a spinner like a Mepps with one barbless treble hook and it almost never happens with a lure like a Shallow Shad Rap with two sets of barbless treble hooks.
Now let's look at the lures that most often get stuck in people's hands. They are nearly always lures with two sets of treble hooks. The hooks get caught in the angler as he or she grasps the fish to remove the lure from the fish. The fish flops and the free set of trebles get stuck in the angler.
If a person has a lure with one treble hook caught in him it usually came from the backcast of his buddy. This is how people get hooked in the head, back, etc.
The only jig with its single hook that I ever had to remove from a person came from the angler leaving tension on his line as he reached for a walleye in the net. Just as he stooped over to grab the fish it flopped, the hook came loose and flew up and stuck the poor guy right in the nose.
Here's my recommendation: pinch down the barbs on any lure with two sets of treble hooks. I would think twice about doing it on single-treble lures, like Dardevles or Mepps. And I would never do it on single-hook lures like jigs or Johnson Silver Minnows.
I would appreciate hearing your comments and experiences. Just click on the Comments link below.
Incidentally, just in case you haven't ever heard Thoreau's comment on brevity referred to above, he once said his motto for life was "Simplify, simplify" to which a contemporary of his, Ralph Waldo Emerson, said "one 'simplify' would have sufficed."
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Thursday, April 6, 2017

What to do when you get a hook in yourself

Whoops! Now what? John Andrews photo
Bow Narrows angler John Andrews thoughtfully took this photo one time when he accidentally got a hook in the back of his hand. It was thoughtful because most people are just in a rush to get the hook out and don't document how to do it for others.
At camp I've probably removed hooks from a hundred people over the years and I don't believe anyone, including onlookers, thought to film the procedure. In just about every case the hook can be removed using what is called the string method. This takes about one second and is so non-invasive that the next day most people aren't sure where the hook even had been.
So let's look at what you should do once you find a hook stuck in you. There are three main things to remember.
Any questions so far? If you are wondering if you should cut the offending hook off the treble the answer is no, don't do that. But only one hook is caught in you so shouldn't you cut that one loose from the other two. NO!
Why am I being such a stickler on this point? Because if you do cut the single offending hook off the treble than what I said above about painlessly and instantly removing the hook goes right out the window. Now you have created a situation that is going to be difficult at best and possibly an expensive trip to the surgeon in some distant city at worst.
Even though it's redundant, let me make sure we are crystal clear about what I am talking about.
A treble is the entire piece of metal that has three individual hooks attached to it. In 99.99 per cent of the times that you are accidentally hooked, only one of those three hooks is stuck in you. The other two hooks are just sticking harmlessly up in the air. Whatever you do, don't cut that one hook off the stem holding the other two hooks.
Instead cut the split ring that holds the entire treble to the lure or if there is no split ring, cut the eye of the treble itself. You can then come back to camp to get the hook taken out. If you know how to do the string method you can get one of your buddies to help and do it right there in the boat.
Here's how the string-method works: A loop of strong string is placed around the offending hook. The loop is crossed and the other end is around the helper's wrist. This just lets him get a good grip on the string. The shank of the treble is pressed down to the skin. The helper gives a sharp tug parallel to the skin. This motion makes the rounded outside portion of the hook stretch the little hole in the skin made by the hook and the barb comes through that opening before the hole closes. The hook comes out with almost no resistance. It's all over in a split-second and all that's left is a tiny hole that you can patch with a Band-Aid and some ointment. Doctors advise that if you haven't had a recent tetanus shot to get one as soon as you return home from your trip.
The alternative scenario: you cut the single hook off the treble. Without the stem of the treble it is impossible to use the easy string method. In most instances the best thing to do is try and imitate the same motion as when using the string but instead using needle nose pliers. In other words, roll the remaining portion of the hook as if you were pushing down on the stem and then make a quick tug parallel to the skin. The hook comes out, just not as cleanly as with the string.
Finally, and this is a last resort, the piece of a hook can be rotated to push the point back through the skin. Skin is about as elastic as rubber and what will happen when you try pushing the point through is the skin just stretches. A little trick here is to hold down the skin with a bottle cork and turn the hook into it. The push-through technique is twice as invasive as pulling the hook back out through the single hole that it entered. It also means pushing the hook through more flesh.
There is a big danger when pushing-through a hook and that is you might lose the little bit of hook gripped by the needle nose pliers and the hook simply disappears into the flesh. The exact same thing will happen if you cut the single hook off the treble very close to the skin. Once the hook has disappeared there is nothing to do but seek medical help. If the hook is in the fingers or palm side of the hand, which is usually the case, a normal MD won't cut it out for fear of damaging nerves. That means a trip to a surgeon and you might need to travel to a larger city to find one.
Therefore, the number one rule when you get hooked: DO NOT CUT THE HOOK OFF THE TREBLE!
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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Bird in the hand one of the first in the bush

This hummingbird got caught on Cabin 9's porch and was rescued. John Andrews photo
Quick now, what do hummingbirds eat?
Flower nectar of course. Right ?
Why then do the hummingbirds return to Northwestern Ontario in May, before the flowers bloom?
I happened to witness the answer to this riddle one time while camping with the family out on Sleeping Giant Provincial Park in Lake Superior.
A yellow-bellied sapsucker, which like the hummingbird, migrates to and from the region with the seasons, drilled a hole in a white birch tree right near our tent. Since it was spring the sap was flowing fine. After sampling the sap he flew on to another tree and did the same thing. Right about then a hummingbird showed up at the first hole and took a drink of the sap. When the sapsucker moved to yet another tree the hummingbird moved to the second tree. They went through the whole forest like this, returning in about an hour to the first tree and starting all over.
Birch sap isn't as sweet as maple but it does have some sugar content as shown by the fact you can make syrup from it.
The only hummingbird species in Northwestern Ontario is the ruby-throated. We have four feeders hanging on the lodge at camp and these are fed upon heavily during the warm summer months.
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