Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Lake to Table: Rainbow Trout

Fishing has become more than just a pass time for my wife and I, it has really become a passion, the same can be said about cooking.  Food at its most basic level is survival, but it can also be memories, enjoyment, learning and so many other things.  We mostly practice C&R when fishing, but occasionally we will take a few fish home for the table, whether it be badly hooked with a poor chance of survival, or a species we enjoy as a treat.

The Rainbow Trout is a colourfull, feisty and tasty fish, it is pursued by a variety of anglers for those reasons and many more.  Typically they cruise around when hungry, sometimes in good numbers, looking for anything they can get in their mouths.  Other days they are sitting on the bottom resting with full bellies not interested in anything you throw at them.  I've caught them in fall with a slip bobber and a small jig with worms or plastics, whatever the body of water permits.  We have fished for them in winter as well with similar success.  Fun to fight, a beauty to look at and delicious when prepared correctly.

We had the pleasure of targeting some rainbows early in December, it was a great day out with 6
inches of ice, just a little below zero and some hungry trout below us.  We went to where we last
caught them in fall and began to drill some holes and find depths.  Light action rods with 4 lbs line and small jig heads with assorted baits was our plan of attack.  We were using one line each because when the trout hit they take it fast and if you aren't quick they can get hooked badly in a heart beat.

Not owning a flasher yet, we started letting the jig fall all the way to the bottom and then working our way back up, slowly jigging and dead sticking one foot areas at a time until we got some bites,  most of which were 1 -2 feet off the bottom.  Once the trout depth was zoned in on, we had a pretty good morning.    Most of the fish caught that day were hitting the bait on the drop down quite aggressively.  At one point when I would catch one, my wife would drop a jig down the same hole while I was taking the hook out of the fish and BAM fish on, it worked with our friend trying it out as well.  All but one fish came out of the same hole, and my wife and I were both able to catch our limit with many others released as well.

Anyone that has caught a rainbow before knows that they are very resilient fighters and can tear all over the place down there.  Some days they are smacking your offering on the way down, others they need a very still bait to induce a strike.  Sometimes less is more when jigging for them.  When fighting one, once you have reeled it just under the ice, keep tension on and when their face is in the middle of the hole, either grab the body as it just breaches the water or "chub" it out and away from the hole.  This is one species I have taken to getting up and looking down in the hole once I've set the hook, it has increased my success.

Back at it a few weeks later, the ice was thicker and day a little colder.  After hauling our gear to our spot, we punched some holes in a few shack formations and set up shop.  It wasn't long before my wife had a nice rainbow iced fit for the frying pan.  It was a slower day than our first outing, overcast skies, ten below zero with a foot of ice and some snow cover.  The fish didn't seem as hungry as a few weeks ago although scented plastics and frozen minnows were both producing well, we kept our presentations small in hopes of targeting eaters and not trophies.  After a great day on the ice it was time to head home and enjoy a meal with friends and family.

On another outing we were humbled with a skunk stripe for all involved, there were lots of variables
that day that may not have been in our favour, but a day out fishing is better than a day stuck at home
or work.  When we do keep fish to eat, we like to try our best to minimise waist.  Fish head soup and
caviar are just a few examples of our efforts to do so.  We also like to do our best to learn from our
catch, I've been known to cut open a stomach or two when cleaning to see what they were feasting on.  

Trout are great scaled, gutted and steamed whole or pan fried, here are some fairly easy step by step recipes.  I cannot take credit for the recipes below, but have tried them and enjoyed them immensely.

                                         Steamed Trout

Prep time: Depends on how fast you can scale fish
Cook time 25-35 minutes
    trout,salt and pepper, soy sauce, cooking wine
    ginger, green onion, cilantro and bacon

1.  Catch some trout.
2   Scale, gut and cut out the gills of the trout.  Saving any roe sacks for caviar or bait.  Also take some time to cut along the side of the spine so the fish will lay butterflied on the baking sheet.  
3   Cut up 2 green onions in 1 inch pieces, a few slices of ginger cut into strips and a small handful of cilantro.
4   Cut up a few slices of any kind of bacon, we used home made having just slaughtered some pigs.
5   Line baking sheet with aluminium foil and pour a small amount of soy sauce and cooking wine over it.  Place half of the green onions, ginger, bacon and cilantro where the fish will lay.
6   Rub inside and outside of the fish with a pinch of salt and some freshly cracked black pepper.  Place on aluminium foil lined baking sheet
7   Pour some more soy sauce and cooking wine over the fish and add remaining green onions, ginger, bacon and cilantro, then cover with tinfoil and put in a 350 degree oven for 25 - 35 minutes depending on size.
8   Remove from oven and enjoy!  The skeleton should pull right out, the rib cage on the cut side should peel off easily as well and don't forget to try the cheeks and collars.

The taste of this fish is accented and enhanced with these ingredients and not overpowered when done well.  If fish head on makes folks at the table squirmy, this recipe works just fine with out them.  (heads or folks you decide) The above recipe works nicely with walleye and salmon as well and can be done on the barbecue.

After cleaning a trout and finding some roe sacs, I did some research on making caviar which turns out isn't that tough and totally worth the effort. I've enjoyed it on crackers with cream cheese, with fish and on home made sushi.  I usually like to store it in the fridge and use it up within 7 days, it freezes well in little jars and has been great a few months later.  There are tons of people that spend a lot of money on caviar and it really does make for a tasty treat for special occasions or packed along for a snack on your next ice fishing trip.

Prep Time: 60 minutes
    trout eggs
    1/3 cup kosher salt or pickling salt
    4 cups cold water

1   Mix the salt and water until the salt is all dissolved. Get a large bowl of ice water ready.
2   Soak the roe sacs for 20 minutes in the salt water in the fridge.
3   Get the faucet running with water just about as hot as you can take it, roughly 100-120 degrees. Lay a fine-meshed sieve in the sink.
4   Lift one of the egg sacs out and  run it under the hot water, gently shifting it back and forth between your hands. The membrane will
    contract and the eggs will fall out into the colander. Take your time and be gentle here. Repeat with the other skein.
5   When all the eggs are in the colander, dunk the eggs in the bowl of ice water for 5 minutes, then return the eggs to the salt water brine.
6   Rest in the fridge for another 15-20 minutes. Any longer and they will be very salty.
7   Gently pour out the water and let the eggs drain in the sieve for 15 minutes.
8   Pour into a clean glass jar and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks, but they will lose quality over time.

Waste not, want not, we do our best to respect the land we fish on, the fish we release and the fish we eat.

Redemption on the Red 29/12/12

Redemption on the Red 29/12/12

Early morning after the full moon, we were headed to the Red River north of Lockport.  My wife and I were making our first attempt at ice fishing the red and after a great trip in the fall, we were excited to be heading back.  The weather had been consistently cloudy with similar temperatures for a few days, but that looked to be changing, none the less this was our chance for a day of greenbacks, sauger and what ever else the river was going to surprise us with.

We met up near Lockport with some forum members and friends and made our way north up highway 204 to CIL road.  After heading down the hill to the area before the river bank, we got out of our vehicles to asses the situation.  There were permies as far as the eye could see in either direction.  We saw an area free of shacks and decided to head for it.  Smoke already rising from some of the shack chimneys, the sound of augers and snowmobile engines revving in the distance, we drilled some test holes and found 15 feet consistently and decided to claim our spot and give things a go.

Shelters set up, heaters going, flashers in place, we had our hooks baited and down the holes in no
time.  The sun wasn't even up, and my reel started to act up and the line began to fray everywhere,
not a good start.  I began to hand bomb the line in, and I felt a bit of a tug and twist and up  came
a sauger, first fish, no skunk, things could be worse.  Although in a fit of rage I cut the jig head off my wifes second rod and not my screwed up one.   Sorry!!!

We were mostly using knuckleball jig heads of different colours, baited with 2 salted minnows, some with spinners some without.  We also spent some time playing around with rattle baits and some spoons as well.   After finding out our new reels weren't performing the way we had hoped, we decided to just use one rod each between my wife and I, and set up a tip up with a 6 inch herring.

The bite was a lot of fun from just before sunrise until about 9 30 am, then it slowed down a bit.  My wife and I were getting some small sauger and walleye, TommyV and his girlfriend were catching some sauger as well.  On our west side the guys were getting some nice marks with Fisher45 landing a fat 26.5 inch greenback and another angler in our group icing a 27.5 incher fishing blind.  This got the adrenaline flowing throughout the group.  With some marks showing frequently on the flasher, we kept  at it.

The bite really slowed down after 10 30 as the weather began to change. Between the seven of us about 30 fish had been iced so far.  Most fish were on the bottom, and not easily enticed. There were some mid level cruisers as well that were showing up on the newly acquired Humminbird 55.  This unit was already proving its worth with the fun it had provided and visual representation of the action below.  A few bigger feeling fish were lost on the way up with another one snapping the line of a fellow angler while the fish dragged and bumped under the ice. 

Right when we were thinking about moving a mile away to an area we fished in fall, I decided to spend few more minutes jigging. It wasn't long before a huge mark slowly began to rise up from the bottom on the flasher, my heart rate increased as it swam up past my jig.  I slowly followed it up to around 12 feet and it stared for at least a minute and then slammed the jig hard. I set the hook and started to reel in and it spit the hook.  A few curses as i let the jig float back down which is a technique by the way (just YouTube river monsters curse fish) and BAM fish on again, my heart raced on as whatever was below had a lot of power and half way up it went on a decent run. I was thinking pike or catfish and did my best to keep my cool. 

After losing a nice sized pike by the boat this fall I was looking for redemption of any sort and this was it, I could not lose this one.  Another run or two with some drag adjustments and i got it near the hole where we saw its head.  It looked like a nice sized pike and when it saw us, off it went again, FLAG!!!  My wife, who I had informed would have to shove her hand down there and grab this fish was now over about to retrieve the flag.  We were quite excited at this point, was it the same pike eating the herring while it fought, was there another one near by whose hunger was stirred?  She began to retrieve and fealt nothing, the line was bit.  Lesson learned use leaders on tip ups.  During the fight and the flag going off I was forced to call for Fisher45 to assist in getting the fish out of the hole.  I did not want to lose another pike and wasn't calling anyone over up untill now as to not embarass myself if I did lose it.  Fisher45 came over calmly to grab the fish out of the hole when the time came, a few more runs and there it was my personal best pike at 37.5 inches, caught on medium ice rod with 8lb line and a jig head with two minnows.

Fisher45 got the hook out, while we got the camera ready for some quick pictures, (not the greatest but we kept it in the shack).  A moment of unexplainable joy passed and off it went back down the hole to feast and fight another day.  It might not be a master angler but it was a great fight and will be an awesome memory for a long time to come. 

The bite got fairly dull after 1 pm and a lot of folks with permies were leaving.  Not living near the red, we decided to stick it out as long as we could.  The action never really reached the same point as the morning fun, a few more saugers for the afternoon and some real nice marks and missed hooksets.  It was at that point we threw almost everything we had at them.  A few lookers on the flasher and some obvious bait moving through, but the beasts were done for the day, at least with our group they were.  Between us there were easily 50 fish iced and a good time had by all with a few personal bests.

We were off the ice by 5 pm, but trapped at the bottom area because of a few trucks and a trailer having some trouble on the hill.  A tow truck was helping out so this gave us some time to go over the days events as we warmed up in the car.  Each trip out no matter what the season, or body of water, there is always a good time to be had.  Friends, fishing and the great outdoors, you really can't ask for much more.  After a while the trucks were on their way and the path out was moving again lucky for me my car made it up ... the second try.

Thanks to everyone that came along that day, I look forward to a trip like that again.

First Red River Greenbacks 10/13/2012

First Red River Greenback Trip. 10/13/2012

It all started with a phone call saying we were going to the Red River for a chance at the fall greenback run.  Not living near the river meant leaving early, 3:30 am early. That wasn't going to be a problem, as this was going to be the first trip on the Red in a boat for the wife and I both.  We are mostly shore anglers, so to say we were excited was an understatement.  Friday came and all I could think about was our trip the next day. 
We got our gear ready, a few rods and reels, lots of food, warm clothes, even spent some time catching creek chubs, salting and refrigerating them for our secret weapon.  We went over our list so we could load up the car and head out to meet the crew at 3:30.  Sleep didn't come easy, I didn't get to bed until about 12:30 and don't think I slept much. Visions of greenbacks and the possibilities the Red offers this time of year flooded my subconscious...

There goes the alarm, 2:45.  Butts dragged out of bed and car loaded, we left to meet the crew.  After a stop for coffee and a little over 2 hours of driving, we made it to our destination, Selkirk park.  Admission paid and we were off to the loading zone to prep the boat and load the gear.  We were one of the first few out on the river with just a slit of moonlight available.  Looking back at the line up of headlamps and trailers leading to the dock, we were all glad we got there when we did.  Up to speed
and we were heading south, with time to spare we made it to our first spot somewhere past the Miracle Mile.

The aurora borealis were an awesome green and shining in the west, we took this as a good sign, so by the light of our head lamps we baited up.  We began to jig using 1/8th to 3/8ths jigheads with salted minnows, it wasn't long before my wife got a sauger and the 2 others with us as well, but not me I had to feed the fish for a while. With daylight breaking the bite picked up, after about a dozen were landed I was worried I was doing something wrong.  I tried double hooking the minnows instead of just through the lip and boom game on, first sauger around 15.5 inches, at least I wasn't skunked.  The action took off with many double and triple headers, some dinky sauger, some eater sauger, none over 18 inches though. After around the 40th sauger we headed to a new spot to drift and jig some more.

We called the next spot Seagull Rock, the sauger action was heavy and everyone was having a great time.  We were drifting along covering some different depths and humps, after about the 75th sauger between us, my wife gets a good bite and says "um, um, um, I think this is a good one, we're gonna need the net".  Our skipper got the net ready, a little more fight and there it was my wifes first greenback, cheers all around.  It was a plump and colourfull 26 inches, measurements taken, quick pictures and released.  Those greens
really can have a nice colour and unless you have an awesome camera, pictures do them no

We caught some more saugers and repeated the drift and wouldn't you know around the same spot, I get a good hit and the fish below goes for a bit of a run.  My heart starts to race and a brief fight ensues, "um i think were gonna need the net" slips out of my mouth and a nice 34 - 36 inch girthy pike reaches the surface near the boat.  I know they come way bigger than that but I had never seen one this fat.  Our skipper got the net to the water and one look of that net, the pike wanted nothing of it.  Off it went on a run I was not prepared for, only for me to not have the drag set properly and boom, without a leader the line was bit and the beast was gone.  My heart sunk, instantly reviewing what I could have done differently in my mind, but happy at the same time that we saw it clearly and knew what it was.  Some more drifting and jigging until about 12:30, when our skipper and fourth crew member both caught a nice greenback each over 22 inches and under 26, a solid five and a half hours of action so far. 

I read a reply on a Red River post on MFF recently saying that the sauger are there to keep
you interested in between greenbacks, that person was bang on.   We were finding the fish in 12 to 20 FOW, using chartreuse, pink and black jig heads (greens only on pink). We had used 5 of 10 tubs of minnows so far, so we decided to go for a cruise back to the dock so I could grab the creek chubs that I had left in the cooler, sorry crew.  There were tons of boats out on our way back to the dock and by the looks of things, lots of folks catching.  The shore anglers were plentiful as well, I couldn't believe how many people were out enjoying the beautiful fall day.  After a quick walk to get more bait, wish i could've ran but my sea legs wouldn't allow it, back in the boat and we headed north on the prowl for more greenbacks.

Past the group at Sugar Island we tried a couple spots but the wind wasn't pleasant, my wife and I could have dressed better.  Not as much action on the finder and way less visible bait.  A few sauger caught and we decided to head back south to Seagull Rock, less wind and a lot more bites. Drifting and jigging the fish had moved to 15 - 20 FOW, we were using the other 5 tubs of minnows, some creek chubs, and some gulp products, all were producing well.  We caught a bunch more sauger jigging off the bottom and around the same spot where our bigger greenback was caught and the pike lost, our fourth crew member gets a 13.5 inch black crappie, and our skipper gets his first burbot, just a baby.  It was a nice surprise and something different, it's always good to see multiple species, I will take numbers and variety over a few fish caught.  A few more greenbacks boated (mine was the smallest) and tons of sauger, 2 goldeye as well.  We watched the sun slowly crawling to the west as we continued to fish on, and as it lowered behind the treeline we made our last drift.  Some more sauger and the sun was gone.  The bite was awesome all day, there really wasn't a dull moment.  Our time to leave had come and we headed back to the dock to load up and head home. 

We didn't follow the crowds, and we probably could've caught more greens if we did, I don't know. But what we did was have fun, enjoy the weather and company while finding our own spots.  Sure when folks saw we were catching a lot of fish we got closed in on a bit, but hey that's part of fishing a seasonal trend in a great fishery.  We spent around 13 hours on the water, caught upwards of 400 fish between the four of us, maybe more, we quit counting after around 100 were caught long before lunch.  We didn't land any masters this trip, there were many bites missed and fish lost on the way up, you obviously can't catch them all.  The thirst for more was there as we recollected the days events and excitement on the long drive home, while imagining what future trips on the Red River could offer.  It was very easily one of our best days fishing this
year and I can't express how thankful I am for the opportunity to be out on the Red like that.