Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Bees in the Shack

One of my favorite winter destinations in Manitoba is the Whiteshell Provincial Park in our eastern region. With a plethora of lakes to fish and species to target, one could never get bored. We found ourselves out that way braving the cold recently in search of tulibee and were rewarded with a day of stellar action and trophy class fish.

The sky was dark and littered with stars and the roads were bare and empty. It was 3:30 in the morning and we were on our way northeast for a day of fishing. Along the way we were treated to a beautiful moon rise as well as some faint northern lights and although the wake up was early, it already seemed worth it. After a cold start with the snowmobiles, we were on our way to our predetermined spot and were the first anglers out on the lake.

The first hour of daylight provided us with steady action. The small offerings tied to our lines were not easily refused at first and the fights that followed on the ultra lite rod and 4 lbs test line were treasured. The biggest bee to the ice came out at 19 inches and the smallest was around 15. A few were retained for meals and the smoker but many more were released to fight another day. While the weather wasn't ideal for running and gunning and seeking out other species, we had put ourselves in a productive area and did not need to change location all day. The bite slowed down over the lunch hour and into the afternoon but we were still lucky enough to mark plenty of fish and entice a few of them to bite.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

It has begun!

November 19th marked our first day on the ice for the 2017/18 ice fishing season and what a start it was... We made it to the edge of the frozen lake with tons of time before daybreak, loaded our sled with gear and began to hike out. We found varying ice thickness ranging from 5 to 12 inches and were fishing with 45 minutes to go before sunrise. It was a quiet and chilly morning with no one in sight and fishing line was icing up within minutes. My beard was well on its way to a beardcicle so after missing a few bites and marking some good fish we decided this was as good a spot as any to set up shop.

The shack was up, heater running and our one tip up each were placed within sight and walking distance. It was time to jig in comfort and keep an eye on the flags, it was good to be back on the hard water again! Jays first fish on the ice was a snot rocket of a juvenile pike and I then proceeded to miss a few more bites due to my drag loosening with the warmth of the shack. After fixing that up, it was game on! My first three fish of the ice season were some nice eater sized walleye as a small school moved through and a few of them could not resist my spoon and minnow.

About 90 minutes after sunrise the flags slowly began to trip. The first two fish dropped the bait after the initial take but the third time was the charm. As I felt weight and heaved up, the fish was hooked and it didn't feel like a pike. There was no real run and after some head shakes and twists, up came a nice burbot! Tasty!! We wondered if the previous two fish could have been burbot as not a lot of line was taken. While checking the tip ups for bait and chipping out the holes Jay was able to trigger a few bites on the tip ups as well. This was some excellent positive reinforcement for frequent bait checks and hole clearing.

The pike action picked up over lunch followed by more walleye, a few of which had some nasty dermal sarcoma. The pike came on both tip ups and jigging rods, with the biggest being a little over 30 inches. Things slowed down for the afternoon and though we desired to stick it out for the "evening bite" we packed it in with 2 hours to go before sunset. Food for the table, a few good marks and ample space for exploration all sparked desires for a return trip, that I hope won't be too far off.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Thanksfishing Weekend Part 2

We awoke to more wind than anyone would desire to fish in and throughout the day it would blow a steady 40 - 70 kmh. These winds were to continue for the duration of our trip but we were determined to make the best of it. Most spots we tried were a bust in the Duck Mountains and it was down right miserable when fishing out in the open. Luckily the scenery is stellar this time of year and between it and some wildlife sightings it slightly made up for the poor fishing conditions.

We finished our day on the same lakes we started at the previous evening with mixed results. My first cast of a faithful spoon produced a rainbow trout over 20 inches in length and near it's adipose fin was a green tag covered in algae with number 087 on it. It was one of the "Markosky" rainbows stocked this spring! A different strain than the hatchery rainbows that grow faster and larger than their counterpart. A few browns and bows were landed with a spectacularly coloured male brown trout being a highlight of the trip.

Our last full day of fishing was again windy and cold. My wife and I tried a few different lakes in the morning both losing a tiger trout at Twin Lakes and missing a brown trout at another lake near by. She spent the afternoon at the motel, while I met up with a good fishing bud. He proceeded to put on a clinic landing a few browns and rainbows of reputable size, out-fishing me 5-2 with the fly rod. If it wasn't so windy, I had planned for a lesson or two and my first dabble in fly fishing. However the thought of a steady stream of doomed casting attempts in 50 kmh winds didn't appeal to me. I have tons of respect for Justin's skills, knowledge and ability when it comes to fly fishing and can't wait for the time and better conditions to get a lesson or two from him.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Thanksfishing Weekend Part 1

Another year and another trip to the Duck Mountains area of Manitoba has passed. My wife and I were two of the many Canadians on the road over a busy holiday weekend, although we weren't travelling to see family. The sun was shining and wind minimal as we drove the four plus hours northwest through the rolling hills and along side the last of the crops getting harvested. Autumn had arrived and with it come hungry trout....

We arrived at our accommodations for the weekend with a few hours to spare before dark and wasted little time unpacking so as to get to the waters edge as soon as possible. Rainbow and brown trout would be our target for the first session with the two closest lakes being known for cranking out trophies of both. This is due in part to the efforts of many parties, through stocking, aeration, regulation and promotion.

The weather warm and leaves falling all around us, we were greeted with a bit of a foul stench coming from the water which was slightly concerning. The aeration was running as well which I found weird as that is usually only activated in winter. Before we could rig our rods and cast out, we saw two reputable sized trout breach within casting distance. The water was smelly, but at least we knew there were fish around. My first hit came after roughly ten casts of a small Len Thompson spoon and fairly close to shore I might add. Breaching almost instantaneously in the shallow water, it thrashed and dug down only to breach again and shake the hook. It was a brown trout and looked over two feet in length and I was furious as I had it in my head that the fish I just lost was clearly not going to bite again.

My wife was able to bring the first fish of the trip to shore and I got it in our over-sized net with ease. This net makes an excellent "live well" for hook extraction and being able to keep the fish in the water before pictures. A rainbow trout measuring out over 20 inches in length sat in our net and we agreed against pictures as it seemed lethargic and tired from the battle. After a good bit of recuperation it swam off slowly, which is not how trout usually release this time of year.

Shortly after releasing the rainbow I hooked into a decent brown trout that put my gear and I through the gauntlet. It smacked my spoon close to shore like the previous one and peeled off towards the weeds only to rocket out of the water and change course. It was doing everything in it's power to shake the hook loose and I was maintaining tension as best I could. The battle continued with a few more heart stopping breaches and once it was near shore and got sight of the net, off it went again, charging to the depths. It looked a little smaller than the one I lost but still well over 20 inches and after another run, I had her in the net. She measured out at 23 inches and was clearly well fed.

With 2 hours of sunlight to go, we fished on, with many bites and takes missed and a few more trout landed. My wife caught some more feisty rainbow trout and I was able to bring another female brown trout to shore over 20 inches in length. She fought as furiously as the previous one and although light conditions were not ideal for photos, her colours were beautiful. Our first session was a success however the weather was about to change, surely leading to tougher fishing conditions. With two and a half more days to fish, we weren't deterred and formulated a plan to scout around some other lakes the next day.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Zebra Mussels in the Red River

It comes with little shock or surprise... inevitable really, sooner or later they were going to show up in the Canadian stretch of the Red River. In fact, I think they were "officially" found in 2013, or at least their larvae were. Zebra mussels have been all over the local news through the last few years, though they have been in North America since at least the mid 80's.  They are an invasive mussel that poses a major threat to aquatic ecosystems and infrastructure and they are slowly taking hold in a few bodies of water in Manitoba. This summer some popular beaches along Lake Winnipeg have had masses of these mussels wash to shore after big wind events and recently I came across a few dozen along the Red River.

We were shore fishing a stretch of the southern Red River the other day when I noticed a two centimeter mussel attached to a rock. After closer inspection there were a few more of varying sizes. None of our native mussels or clams are able to attach themselves to rocks and I immediately knew what they were. The river is more than a few feet down from its average level and with the bite slow at our location I began to scour the rocks in the area. I quickly found more Zebra Mussel shells, each one was dried out and the sizes varied. This rocky stretch of the river appeared to have a small population of adult zebra mussels and I dreaded to think how many more could be on the rocks beneath the water.

I changed my focus to the rocks at the waterline and began to notice live zebra mussels. They were surprisingly well attached to the rocks but with some prying and twisting I was able to carefully remove and then kill them. Eradication impossible and efforts futile I know although I still felt the need to hunt out and destroy as many of these little mussels as I could at our fishing spot. (how can you tell the fishing wasn't to hot at this spot)

In the end we did find a few different species of fish willing to bite our baits, channel catfish, goldeye and freshwater drum were all landed however none were really picture worthy.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

2017 Catfish Masters Cup In The Books

The 2017 Catfish Masters Cup has come and gone and so has passed my first taste of competitive angling. We had planned to enter the inaugural year, but circumstances didn't allow for it and we were determined that wouldn't be the case for the second year. The tournament is a one day, two person team, catch, measure, photo and release format with each catfish over 34 inches qualifying with a 10 fish total, running from 8 AM to 4 PM. Measurement and action shots of each qualifying fish get sent by text to the organizer and a confirmation is then received via text.

We did some pre-fishing the day before the tournament (cut off time 4 pm) and it was awful! After over 16 spots tried and soaking a multitude of different baits we were able to land two catfish over 34 inches. Water levels were low, temperatures high and there was minimal surface activity. Our confidence and outlook for the next day took a serious hit. With the Red River a two hour drive from home we don't fish it as much as many who entered, but when we do fish it, we are usually rewarded with good numbers and ample trophies, sadly this was not the case. After the rules meeting it was clear the bite was going to be tough and through conversation with other anglers and looking around at the many clad in fishing jerseys and guide shirts, the competition was starting to look fierce.

Saturday was a new day and my partner and I both went in to it as positively as we could. With a revamped strategy and lots of spots in mind, we were going to give it our best effort and not give up. Plenty of bait, ice, fluids and snacks were packed in two coolers, as the weather forecast was calling for a high of 34C. Boats were launched and inspected and slowly one by one the stretch of river around the docks at Selkirk park was filling up. Anticipation was building as we tied some back up rigs waiting for the 8 am trickle start. As the minutes counted and the trickle start began we waited for #17 and off we went heading south bouncing over a dozen other boats wakes. 

We worked the shallows, main channel, drop offs, holes, flats, bends, pockets, you name it we tried it, moving every 15 minutes or so if we wouldn't get a bite. As each hour passed without a bite, the days outlook was looking worse. Out of all the boats fishing within sight, only one of them had caught two fish. After about our tenth move Jay missed a bite within five minutes of tossing out his bait. This was more than we could say for the previous 3.5 hours and things were possibly starting to look up. Over the next 100 minutes we were able to bring over 10 catfish to the boat with 5 of them qualifying. All our work and effort was finally starting to pay off! Our morale was suddenly sky high and the roller coaster ride that is tournament fishing was providing more excitement and emotion than we had bargained for. The bite scaled back for our last 90 minutes of fishing with a handful missed and sadly a couple fish were also able to spit or shake the hook, which rarely happens when we fish for cats. With enough time to make it to the launch for cut off we were on our way, but it was a moral victory not heading back with a big zero.

After chatting with some of the teams while loading and packing up the boat, it became clear that it was tough all around. Some boats came back with none landed over 34 inches and others with one or two, we also heard of at least two teams that did better than us. At the awards banquet it became clear we were in the money and after 6th through 10th were awarded, fifth to first were called and fifth was where we stood. 1st through 3rd were all guides for the same business that spend hundreds of hours on the river each season and with the kind of bite that seemed to be going on and the caliber of competition, we were definitely happy with our finish. 

The what ifs? and emotions of tournament fishing are many and what's done is done and in the books. The tourney for sure has room for improvements and maybe with a few volunteers and more sponsors it can grow and even entice anglers from further away. (I sure hope so) I would encourage folks who think they know the red river and love hammering catfish to give this one a chance. Would I do it over again? Hell Yea! Will we sign up for next year? I sure hope so!
Side note....
I would also like to thank Red Bull as it gave our captain wings.