Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A Guided Musky Adventure

Our week long vacation in October had arrived again, this time mother nature had some less than favourable weather in mind. A couple of last minute cancellations had freed up a few spots for Musky Guide Andrew Klassen on Lake of the Woods in northwestern Ontario ( http://www.andrewklassen.com/ ), and I decided to book a day with him as sort of a surprise birthday present to my wife. We have both dreamed of catching a musky and a guided trip seemed like something we could afford a few years down the road. However with the down payment retained from the original client, I jumped on the opportunity to book this guide whom I had heard so many good things about.

We left our cabin at West Hawk Lake on the morning of the full moon around 7 with the temperatures hovering around 0 degrees. The last few days had brought snow/rain and winds from 30 - 70 kmh, the winds were supposed to die down but the precipitation risk remained. A quick stop at a gas station at Clearwater Bay for our one day fishing license and we were off to the agreed upon boat launch to meet up for 8.

After some introductions and hand shakes we transferred our food and extra layers to the boat and slowly made out way out of the marina. We went over the game plan for the day and as we cleared the no wake zone, we hunkered down and barreled off to our first location. Lake of the Woods is a giant body of water, and my wife has been known to get sea sick once or twice, we let Andrew know this and he took the least bumpy path he could. Through out the whole trip she did not get nauseous once.

Passing cabins of all shapes and sizes as well as the many beautiful islands made the boat ride to our first spot quite enjoyable, plenty of sight seeing if you will. We noticed at least a dozen eagles on the way as well. Once at our spot, we were provided with our rods and lures (10 - 14 inch Cisco and whitefish imitations for starters) and instructed on the use of the reel and how much line to let out for the troll. He let us know that he would have a line out as well and if a fish struck it, it would be passed off to my wife or I, common practice with most guides apparently. She thought it best if opportunity arose for me to have the first crack at it.

Andrew tied on something different to his line as is usually the case to see if the musky are honing in on a different presentation and we started our troll at roughly 4 mph. In less than 10 seconds he called out "fish on", I quickly reeled in a bit and set down my rod to grab the one being passed to me. Keeping the line tight I could feel some head shakes on the end of the line. I was surprised at the ease of the fight and the almost complete control I had over this fish. My heart was racing with the thought of my first musky this quickly into the trip dead centre in my mind. It became clear near the boat it was a pike roughly 37 inches or so and into the giant cradle it went. It wasn't my longest pike, but I am confident it was my heaviest.

A good start right off the hop, but we were hoping for muskies. We reset and continued to troll covering different depths and structure with all but a bump for 90 minutes or so after the first fish. After a quick break on a sandy beach near a pair of golden eagles, we were off to our next spot. We continued to troll and my wife got a bite on her lure and began reeling it in. Once near the boat it was revealed to be another pike, this one around 30 inches or so who surprisingly enough unhooked itself before Andrew had a chance to try. It hit a bait a third the size of its entire body!!

Through out the day the conversations were plentiful, a lot of knowledge was shared and retained. Andrew really provides so much more than just a fishing trip, stories exchanged and breaks on very beautiful small islands when asked for. The how and why of muskies over all different open water scenarios was discussed. After trying a good handful of locations with little success, he read my mind and took us back to the spot we started the day at. It was a rocky point that held fish near by and directly on it, and we were both confident that another few passes had to yield something.

It was at this point my wife and I were starting to doubt we would hook into one, but Andrew stayed optimistic. I knew we were targeting big fish on big water and it isn't a numbers game but more of a time spent and ground covered one. Hiring a guide for this kind of fishing can really put the odds in your favor though. As we passed a fox on the rocky shoreline he called out "fish on, it's a good one" and it was Kats turn to fight whatever was on the other end of the line. I reeled in as fast as I could and stayed clear out of the way, the cradle takes up most of the front of the boat and when it is being moved around you need your space.With the fish in sight, Andrew called out "We have our first Musky", and I wont lie I felt weak in the legs. He scooped it up in the net and began working on getting the hook out boat side, fish still in the water. I was so happy for my wife and she was pretty ecstatic, too nervous to hold the fish she posed for a few with Andrew holding her first Musky. Quickly back in the water it needed little time for revival and shot off with vigor.

High Fives were exchanged all around and we got back to trolling to hopefully hunt down another one. After the lure Andrew was using was getting the most bites, he attached it to Kats line and tried something else. She hooked into two more pike while we trolled on, one equaling her personal best in length but clearly beating it in weight as these fish were putting on the feed bag.

We eventually left the most productive spot of the day to head back closer to Kenora, trolling at a few stops along the way but nothing to show for it. On our final troll of the day Kat hooked into something that wasn't putting up much of a fight. Another ambitious smaller pike we thought as after one head shake it sort of gave up and quit fighting. But low and behold it ended up being her second ever Musky, a tad smaller but a musky none the less.

It was our first time hiring a guide and we don't regret it. It was honestly worth every penny! We cannot say enough good things about Andrew as well! We hope to hire him again one day and I would recommend anyone interested in Musky fishing to do the same.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Thanksgiving on the Red River Pt 2

This was it, our last chance for some fish before hitting the dock. The sun was nearing the treeline as as we baited our hooks and drifted up to where we wanted to anchor . Through out the day our anchor would take hold only to let go occasionally when a boat would roar by kicking up waves. We would have been better off with a 2 anchor system i think. This happened again and we slowly drifted off spot, so it was decided we would try a controlled drift and bring in the anchor.

Not far down stream I felt something slam my jig and shiner and I set the hook. I called out "fish on" but whatever I hooked into didn't really tug to much. It was then that Frodo called out "fish on" as well. I could feel what I hooked into move and it became clear we both hooked into the same fish. He let out some slack line as my line and rod were getting tugged upstream under the boat. After a few seconds his line came free and I figured I was snagged up. One careful lift of my fishing rod to see if that was the case and it was clear I wasn't. I felt a head shake or two and line began to peel off my reel. Everyone else in the boat reeled up and it was then that the fight really took off.

I seemed to have very little control over this fish off the hop, it would head where it wanted to when it wanted to and hug bottom easily. Every time I would gain a bit of line, the fish would take it back. It didn't feel like a walleye, and as my heart raced I wondered what it was. A catfish? A sturgeon perhaps? Maybe a REALLY big walleye. The options go on when you are fishing this historical river and after about five very tense minutes, I finally got the fish to the surface. It was a channel catfish and off it charged for another run.

My Fenwick medium action HMG was holding up to the fight, not the typical rod I would use for catfishing. After a few close calls with the line near the propeller, the catfish was scooped up by Jay and in the boat for some pictures and measurements. 36 inches long and a new personal best. It was very cold to the touch and surprisingly enough it cooperated for pictures quite nicely. Its head was gargantuan with a serious over bite and a nose like hump above its upper lip. With a moment or two of revival boat side it gave a good kick with its tail and headed back to the depths.

The fight, the fish and the release were all very special to me, this cat was 3.25 inches longer than my personal best and very heavy.  I have lost more brutes fishing from shore than I would care to admit, snagging up in rocks or logs mostly and I credit a lot of the successful catch to Jays boat control. It wasn't the target species, but the saving grace on a very windy day on the Red River.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Thanksgiving on the Red River Pt 1

With the boat packed up the night before, we left town around a quarter after three in the morning. The moon shone bright above creating silhouettes of the windbreaks and power lines as we drove northeast. About 30 minutes into our drive we noticed a large patch of green northern lights that could have been quite spectacular if the moon wasn't so bright. On a trip to the same destination a few years back we were greeted with the northern lights dancing above the boat launch, we took this as a good sign.

Our goal was to get to the Red River at Selkirk, long before the flock of eager anglers with their boats in tow. The target species was Walleye. With the wind from the south already blowing 30 kmh we made good time and were the first through the gate and off to the staging area before the docks. The wind had been from the north for over a week and had changed to  the south the two previous days. Rain or shine, wind or no wind this was our one yearly trip here and we were going to give it our all. Since we were so early, we had agreed that we would take the opportunity to putter along south watching the electronics as we went looking for fish and possible structure.

As the sun began to rise we fished a few different spots, the current was fairly strong most places so we sought out current edges and seams as well as outer bends in the river. If I was a fish in this river, I definitely wouldn't be spending too much time in the strong current if I didn't have to.  There were surface breaches all around us early on, some big some small, some subtle and some full "Shamu". We were seeing fish on the electronics at almost every spot we tried and early on it looked like a Bald Eagle had spotted some as well. We all watched on as it circled above the river a few hundred feet away and began to swoop down to smash the water. It missed what it was after on the first attempt or possibly wounded it and was quickly dive bombing its prey again but with success this time. Off it flew with a 10 to 12 inch Walleye or Sauger in its claws. With how dirty this water is we all suspected it was dead and floating already.

I have a lot of confidence in flasher jigs and that was what I was starting out with, missing a few bites over the first 90 minutes or so. I tried different weights from 1/4 ounce to 1/2 ounce, hook shank size and colours. Not a lot of success was being had, in fact only a few small Sauger and walleye as well as Stonecats were landed by Jay and my wife so we decided to push north up the river as far as the marsh if we had to.

The vast majority of boats that would usually take up a lot of the community hot spots near Selkirk seemed to be up here or possibly off at Pine Falls. As we looked around however it seemed not very many were catching fish. A few bullheads and a Goldeye hit the rig Jay was using and I knew the Walleye wouldn't be far behind. After a few pounds of my jig on the muddy bottom, I let it pause for the blade to do its magic and BAM! Fish on! A few small runs and pulls under the boat and up it came into the net, a nice 23 inch greenback. I prefer the 15 to 18 inch range for eating so this one was destined to go back and fight another day.

With a few more Bullheads caught and the wind kicking up small whitecaps as it gusted over 50 kmh we decided to head into Netley Creek and see if there were any fish that might want to bite. All we found there was colder water and a LOT of traffic, folks seeking refuge out of the wind and others heading off to hunt for waterfowl. We were bouncing around in the boat as much as we were on the river, so we decided to look elsewhere for spots hopefully out of the wind along the way back to Selkirk. With very little luck at any spot we tried, somewhere around the bridge to nowhere we thought we would push all the way to the locks and see what things were like there.

Small Sauger were being caught by a few folks on shore with most of them putting each one in a white pail to keep. The limit is 4 and it was obvious in the 30 minutes we fished there that many people were keeping way more than their limit. It is frustrating to watch and even more frustrating knowing our Conservation Officers lack the funding and numbers that they truly need to protect our provinces resources. At this point we had been on the water for roughly 11 hours with very slow action and a lot of area covered. We thought we would stop by a favorite area of hours on the way back to the dock to fish a little longer and boy oh boy am I glad we did.

To be continued ....

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Personal Best Stonecat

While cat fishing the Red River a few weeks back one aggressive Stonecat somehow inhaled my head on shrimp offering. Most anglers look at these as nuisance fish, and when they are pecking at your bait as you wait for a catfish they certainly can be. However I was impressed with this one as it was 9.5 inches and a very nice specimen.


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Sunny Day Smallies

The dog days of summer were dragging on  and the heat had been constant, barely getting below 20 degrees at night. After getting a taste of Smallmouth Bass fishing recently, it was time for another trip.  The nearest lakes with smallies are a 2 to 3 hour drive away so it was a very early start. The moon was full and the Perseid meteor showers were on their last few days, we passed many young of the year foxes prowling the highway shoulders as well as a few owls. As we got close to our destination we witnessed over the course of 20 minutes, what I believe was four pieces of space junk burn up in the atmosphere and sparkle downward.

Being fairly new to bass fishing I lacked the confidence I typically have going in to a day of fishing, that all changed after my first cast. A light tap at the end of my line and I set the hook only to have the fish instantly torpedo out of the water and shake it. A few more casts of my four inch tube and another bite, the fish didn't feel to heavy and I got it to shore with ease, a nice 12 incher quickly released.  Frodo had one hit and a miss on the top water lure he was trying and it seemed the tube was getting more action so he tied on a 3 inch tube and cast out to an almost instant hit. The battle was on and I reeled in to be net boy, the fish made a few acrobatic leaps out of the water and he kept the line tight. After a few short runs it was in the net, in my opinion it was the nicest coloured of the day and measured out at 16.5 inches.

We tried many lures throughout the morning but it seemed that the bass were holding to the bottom and finesse jigging tubes or swim baits was the ticket. There was the occasional take of a top water lure but sadly no reel hook ups. I've gotta say that the feeling of a bass on the line is second to none, I hooked into, fought and eventually lost one that felt like a log. Slowly zigging and zagging along the bottom going where ever it wanted to, it suddenly burst out of the water when I least expected it and spit the hook. It looked like the grandma to the 16-17 inchers we were landing. It was clear I needed all the practice I could get fighting these feisty smallies.

After about 2 hours, the bite seemed to die off, before moving to a new shore spot I tied on a power bait swim bait and tried bouncing it along the bottom for a few casts. After my third retrieve something slammed the lure at full force and I drove the hook home. It peeled off like a pike on a run, and that's exactly what Frodo thought it was, I thought differently however and as it breached a few feet out of the water we saw it was a smallie. Many more gut wrenching runs and a few more leaps and it was near the net only to tear off on one final charge and head shaking leap. To my relief we finally got it in the net and it measured out at 17.5 inches, my new personal best. Without another bite for 30 minutes we decided to move on and try other spots.

We spent a couple hours throwing everything in the tackle box at them only getting a few bites each. We worked a rocky shoreline finding 3 to 12 inchers with one bigger smallmouth cruising the shallows, we were spotted long before it was I'm sure. We also fished some weedy bays as well without any luck. The mid day heat was getting to me and I took to dipping my hat in the water providing a few short minutes of cool. With a lack of action at all the spots we tried, we decided to head back to our original spot and hope for the best.

Earlier in the day I had mentioned that the only thing that could make the day better would be one over 18 inches. Wouldn't you know the last fish of the day would be just that. Frodo had spent a lot of time working different top water lures and after countless casts he had a huge splash of a take and a solid hook up. After an impressive fight and two passes at the net it was landed 19.75 inches of brute bass. The biggest I had seen in person, it motivated us to fish on and that we did. Alas another hour of fishing and not a bite, with over 2 hours of driving home and some things to take care of that evening we were reluctantly on our way. The long drive home we contemplated what the evening bite might have been like and when we could get back next.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Personal Best Bluegill

A week of wicked rain and surprisingly successful fishing had come and gone and a state of emergency had been called in the province due to the rains and flooding. However it looked like the clouds were on there way else where and the sun was finally going to shine. A trip to one of the few lakes in our province that has bluegills had been in the making for a while, and the day had finally come. We arrived at our location, launched the boat and got right to fishing some nearby docks to see if we could pull any fish out from under or beside them.

On proper tackle, the bluegills fight is truly a blast, when hooked their death spirals and feisty head shakes give you a run for your money as well as the constant change in direction and running to thick cover. Targeting them and successfully landing them is more challenging than you would think. The overall numbers on the day weren't the greatest, but none landed were under eight inches and a few other species were caught as well (northern pike, bullhead and perch).

Every spot we tried we were able to hook into a few fish some of the highlights being;

                                                         a very plump nine incher
                                                      my personal best at 10.5 inches
                                                         a very colorful 10 incher
                                       a small flurry of dinky perch was something different

Monday, 16 June 2014

A Weekend to Remember Pt 2

A change of scenery brought a change of species and here are a few highlight pics.

Stunning colours on Frodos Big Mouth

My wife tired from catching so many fish can barely hold this 30 inch carp up.

These two shots are the last fish of the day, what a way to end it.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

A Weekend to Remember Part 1

With three free days and the need to get away for a while, my wife and I planned a few fishing trips a good distance from home. The first was to the Whitemud River in hopes of catching some monster sized Fresh Water Drum. We invited a friend along for the day trip who was also interested in the pursuit and possibility of beating his personal best.

After a drive that truly felt longer than it was ( I could hear my childhood self ask constantly "are we there yet?", we had finally made it to a river I had wanted to fish for a few years now. Folks I knew had fished it before and had done pretty well with steady action and almost always a handful of trophies landed. We couldn't get our lines in the water fast enough. It was a very peaceful morning, clear blue skies with a slight breeze, a dozen pelicans and a few pairs of snow geese flying by over head. I played net boy for the first little while as my wife and Frodo were hammering the drum, they each got one over 24 inches before I could get a line in the water. After about forty five minutes had passed, a few more people showed up to fish the small one hundred foot section of shore we had found and luckily they all seemed decent.

The bites were constant and a lot of the smaller ones were hammering the offerings, we each tried different methods; casting and drifting jigs along the bottom tipped with night crawlers or minnows, bottom rigs, slip float drifting and casting cranks and spoons. A good portion of the landed drum would croak when being handled and released, we then noticed that we could hear some croaking in the water near by.

While casting a Len Thompson 5 of Diamonds, I hooked into and began fighting a really heavy fish, the weight on the end of the line felt like nothing else I had felt so far. After a bit of a fight and a huge head shake, my 17 lbs line snapped and the fish and lure were gone. I tied on another spoon in hopes of another big fish and continued casting with out a bite for over fifteen minutes. I had made up my mind to change lures and on the last cast I got a hit. It didn't feel as heavy, but fought with a lot of strength, going on multiple runs before we saw it. Eventually it showed itself to be a roughly two foot channel cat with the treble of the spoon clearly in its mouth.

It was nearing 11 a.m. and between the three of us we had landed well over 100 drum. A lot of the 8 to 20 inchers were caught on night crawlers or minnows, but we wanted the bigger ones and kept trying different lures and bait combos. I was casting and retrieving a 3 inch Trigger X minnow when I finally had another chance at a monster fresh water drum. The strike from the fish was light but I knew it happened and set the hook, the fish took a big run off the hop. The line peeling off my reel let my wife know to reel in and get the net. After getting the upper hand in the battle and the fish close enough to shore it was clear she was well over 24 inches. I did my best to keep cool and got it within netting range and like a pro, my wife scooped her up. It measured out at 28 inches on the nose and was my personal best, we took a few photos and after a brief revival in the shallows, she was on her way. I couldn't have been happier!

The bite began to slow down around lunch time and we began contemplating making a move. As we debated our options something took Frodos bait and he set the hook. It was clear right off the bat that whatever he was fighting was a good size and I reeled in and hustled over with the net. After a few good runs and a missed netting attempt we got her to shore. The thing was just huge, 29.5 inches, droopy tired eyes and shoulders that would give a walleye the same size a run for its money. He had toppled his personal best from earlier in the day by 2 inches and I'm sure a few pounds. The two guys fishing near by shared in the celebration as we snapped a few pics and sent her back.

After another hour of fishing and a couple handfuls of drum we decided to pack up and try a different spot.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Creek Chubbing

While fishing a few different spots on the local creek recently I came across a fairly nice creek chub that hit my worm chunk. I find fishing for the small stuff is a good and cheap way to get my fix when the urge to wet a line takes hold. In my books this one is a trophy even if it is just a lowly minnow, it was clearly the king or queen of its little stretch of creek.

Some are big and some are small, none the less on ultra light tackle it's always a blast catching them. Occasionally schools are a lot smarter than others and seem to communicate with each other upon release some days. This makes getting from pool to pool looking for more biters a pain in the butt, adventure and fun all rolled up in one. Often we will come across, turtles, frogs, snakes, deer, beavers and waterfowl making it all the more enjoyable, however I could do without the mosquitoes and wood ticks. 

Creek Chubs make great bait for pike on a quick strike rig under a float, or as cut bait on a circle hook for catfish, however I recommend selective harvest, as a population can get fished out in a hurry.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

May Long Weekend 2014

The weekend arrived and my fishing plans were not set in stone. It was 10:30 pm Friday before it was established that my wife and I would hit the river early the next morning, hoping for some suckers and whatever else might be warming up to bite. After a quick drive to one of our favorite spots, we noticed a vehicle had beat us there and the people had occupied our preferred shore spot. Luckily we knew each other and there was room for two more anglers. It turned out they were there looking for master angler suckers as well.

Before much was even said between us, my wife got a hit and reeled in a nice 18.5 inch White Sucker, we took a few pics and sent her back to fight another day. Not bad catching a trophy for your first fish of the day even if it is considered a "rough fish". We were casting out to the currents edge and getting steady bites from 16 - 21.5 inch White Suckers while the two anglers 10 feet down from us were casting out deeper and landing 15-18 inch Redhorse Suckers. My wife began putting on a clinic landing 5 suckers in the time we would land one or two, she was really having a blast as some of these fish had some nice weight and shoulders for their size.

As the morning wore on a few Northern Pike were landed and released when we tried using minnows instead of worms, as well as a nice eater walleye retained for the evenings supper. Looking across the river a few deer were spotted grazing on newly budding plants and a kingfisher was nailing small fish in the slack water past some rapids. The occasional wildlife sightings were drawing my attention away from fishing as well as the sound of rushing water and lack of sleep from the night before. The action started to slow down around lunch time and come 1 o'clock we decided to pack up. Before we could get started on our clean up, we both got a hit and the bite kicked in for a good hour, sucker after sucker slamming our worms down below. With responsibilities at home and a pair of Golden Eagles soaring over head we decided to pack it in and call it a day, content with the days events.

After a nap and a bite to eat, I was itching to fish a little bit more and met up with a friend to do some creek chubbing. We took to the local creek and hit a few of our favorite spots landing countless creek chubs from 2.5 to 8 inches, we also came across about 8 painted turtles and a beaver. We fished right up until dark and thought it would be in our best interests to head to a great carp/sucker spot a few hours away the next day. But before rest, we needed to hunt for some more night crawlers as the days fishing took a serious hit on our supplies.

Conditions were prime at our night crawler location and we got about 120 in 45 minutes, they are sold locally for $5 a dozen so that's a lot of money saved. It is almost as fun as fishing ... almost.

Part 2 : A Spoon Chuckers Paradise

After another night of around 5 hours of sleep, it was on the road with behemoth carp and suckers on our minds. As usual the conversation on the way up was filled with past fishing stories of the place we were heading and goals for the open water season. Frodo had expressed desire in catching a Quillback Sucker this open water season and we wondered if this might be his day. As we reached our spot, wouldn't you know there was already a few people there fishing, what a coincidence. Upon closer inspection it was a good friend of mines father whom I had fished with before taking his son and daughter out, not bad at all.

After a quick conversation and a hand shake, I got to rigging up and wetting a line. The wind was cool and sky overcast, light precipitation appeared to be on it's way, although not called for in the forecast. Frodo and I both missed a few very subtle bites right off the hop and then he got a take, rod bent over and hook set, Frodo had a fish on putting up a bit of a fight. I reeled in quickly and got the net ready, after a brief battle up came a Quillback Sucker, no word of a lie, the fish we had talked about on the drive up hunted down his worm below and committed. We were completely ecstatic as we snapped a few pictures and sent it on its way. That got the blood flowing on this cool morning and we were itching for more.

The next few bites came as bite offs, it quickly became apparent that there were a few toothy creatures with an appetite prowling around. We were here for whatever was going to bite, however pike definitely weren't on our minds when we prepared for the trip. Most of my pike gear was at home with only a handful of cranks and spoons in my tackle this day, and very few steel leaders. It was now becoming obvious that we were a few weeks early for the prime carp bite, none the less we kept on trying with very minimal success. Still too cold.

With the spot getting a little crowded, we decided to check for another possible place to fish, it was a bit of a hike, and halfway in we could hear the water rushing. I knew by the sound of it that we wouldn't be able to fish that spot but we pushed on for the scenery and what we might find. With a little more walking around and no feasible spots to fish we agreed to head back to where we started the day, Frodo targeting carp and I would start chucking spoons.

We got back to the original spot and began fishing again, it was almost 11 am by that point and we had only landed four fish. First cast of my Len Thompson Five of diamonds and I had a fish on, thrashing head shakes and a run for cover and it was on it's way to shore and my net. I repeated this process landing about 7 pike in 10 casts. I sent Frodo a text with the results, and he let me know he was seeing and spooking some big fish in the shallows where he was trying for carp. I noticed him making his way back after that in a bit of a hurry, it turned out he came across a very angry skunk, luckily he got out of there with out getting sprayed.

Frodo wasn't too interested in the pike fishing, he wanted a tank carp or rare sucker species, but there comes a time when you gotta bite the bullet and fish for what's biting, and that was the pike. We took what lures and leaders we had and began to hammer the Northerns, they ranged from 16 to 35 inches in size, all of them skinny and spawned out. No one would believe the numbers we caught and released when telling them unless they were there, it truly became the best day of pike fishing either of us had ever had as far as numbers and steady action. We were getting so many hits the paint was chipping off our lures, my fire tiger Rebel minnow was covered in spots, cuts and nicks and Frodos cheap crank bait had lost half its paint job revealing a different colour of lure beneath it. We lost some lures to bite offs and ended up retaining a few that were in no shape to release, they really were biting with such voracity. There wasn't a lure we tried that didn't catch at least a few fish, it was definitely a reactionary bait kind of day.

As the day warmed to the mid afternoon sun we still were anything but bored with the fishing, however I had suffered a serious tooth wound on my right thumb. Luckily Frodo didn't mind helping with getting the hook out of some of my fish while my bleeding subsided, I couldn't thank him enough. The action was so heavy that he ended up taking a few breaks to enjoy some bird watching. It was very difficult to leave, we had both lost a couple heavier feeling fish and it was motivating to keep casting with a small chance at another. We fished on until about 7:45 in the evening, If I hadn't been up for as long as I had been and if the drive home wasn't as tiring, we would have stayed longer. We had exhausted our tackle boxes and could not have been happier with how the day turned out despite the small fortune in lost lures.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Opening Day 2014

It could not have come fast enough and the weather could not have been better. Open water season in Manitoba had finally come and we were ready to get out there and see what might bite. We met up at our usual rendezvous location and headed off to a local river for sunrise. On our way we passed a few white tail deer and some turkeys in the ditches, everything was very grey and bleak, with the grass still dead and trees barely budding.

The thermometer on my dashboard display showed 3 Celsius as we got to our first spot. We unloaded some of our gear and noticed a group of young folks fishing with multiple lines across the river from us, they didn't seem to be catching much and were attempting to get a fire going. My wife and I set up below some rapids, while Jay and Frodo fished up stream. It felt great to be casting again. First fish of the day would go to my wife as she landed a 15 inch walleye, her first fish since her last outing, seven months ago. Shortly after that Jay hooked into something with a little more fight landing a catfish around the 24 inch mark followed by another one and then a goldeye. With the sun creeping higher and temperatures warming, I hooked into and landed an eater walleye.

Six fish between four people in two hours, it was better than getting skunked but we were wanting more. We decided to make a move to a different spot on the same river, giving up scenery and wildlife for hopefully better action. As we left, a flock of pelicans were riding the thermals at the valleys edge and some cormorants landed where we were just fishing, presumably about to do the same.

Once back in cell phone service we called some friends letting them know of our success and the warming temperatures. We were assured they would catch us at our next spot as soon as time permitted. After a quick drive to our second spot, it became clear after talking with some conservation officers doing their rounds, that the suckers were biting . We grabbed the last two available shore spots and got to work, pitching jigs tipped with crawlers under floats, as well as trying bottom rigs. It was still early in the day and finally warming up a bit, when my wife noticed a 30+ inch pike basking in the shallows that was easily spooked.

So many of the people around us were casting and retrieving pickerel rigs, which is really a pet peeve of mine as its not how they are supposed to be used. A few times they would cast into the current over our lines and get snagged up with us on the retrieve, after the third time I promised my wife if it happened again I would be throwing their gear in the river. Luckily before it did, the culprits had run out of bait and were packing up to leave. We quickly packed our gear and claimed the vacant spot, so our crew could spread out and keep other groups as far away as possible.

The action was sure to pick up as the day progressed and sure enough between the 6 of us fishing shallow and deep covering different baits we began hooking into some pre spawn white and redhorse suckers.  The suns rays were strong and there was just enough breeze to keep most of the newly emerging bugs away. We were down to our base layers of clothes and it felt great to be in a t shirt outside again. Looking around at the other groups, most folks were having success, but all we could see were suckers being landed and nothing else. We ended up keeping some suckers for catfish bait and to do some canning which I will write about in another post and with the need to get them cleaned and frozen we decided to head home around 3 in the afternoon.

Over 50 fish landed between us and 6 different species made for one heck of an opening day!!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Amphibians and Reptiles Along the Way

As the ice and snow melt and spring slowly shows its face, so do the creatures that have spent the last months in brumation, hiding out of the elements.  This past spring, my wife caught her first channel catfish, a 32 inch pre-spawn female on a small river.  An hour later she hooked on to something a lot bigger.  Whatever it was, bit the bait and bit down hard.  It hugged on to the river bed and barely budged, the only reason we knew it wasn't a snag was because it fought back.  It didn't go on line spooling runs, but there were definite thrashing movements at times with the fishing rod bent and bobbing.  Her arms were already tired from the cat fight, and she knew that what ever was on the end of the line was not coming in easy, so reluctantly I took over reeling in.

After quite a fight  we could finally see a large shell breach the surface, a little more fight and the turtle showed its face.  We were shocked, its head was the size of a soft ball, hissing and snapping it had claws like eagles talons, there was no way we were getting it on shore or getting the hook out.  No matter how hard I tried, it just kept getting within a meter of shore and charging back down below, we had no choice but to cut the line after a long battle.

That night once home, I read through our copy of "The Amphibians and Reptiles of Manitoba" by William Preston.  I learned a bit about snapping turtles along with some history and then went online to find more information.  I came across http://www.naturenorth.com/Herps/Manitoba_Herps_Atlas.html# , a great website with basic info to help you learn the differences and subtleties of amphibians and reptiles in Manitoba.  It includes an interactive database, where submissions of sightings can be compiled by anyone (they are reviewed by a biologist), using a data entry form or spreadsheet depending on level of involvement or number of sightings.  The information is then compiled and presented in Google fusion tables.

Keeping track of reptiles and amphibians isn't high on the list of priorities in the province and this database is a great step in the right direction.  A lot of amphibians and reptiles can be key indicator species and crucial parts of different animals' diets.  We all know things change over time, wildlife populations fluctuate, the known range of an animal may change or expand, new species may even enter the province. This is a great way for anyone interested in reptiles and amphibians or the outdoors to help build the body of data on these creatures.  Repeated sightings in the same area are okay as well, especially first of the season and last of the season.  More than anything they need more reports from the northern regions of our province, so residents or vacationers please keep that in mind. 

I began logging my sightings no matter where I was, out fishing, hiking, working.  Whenever a frog hopped across my path or a snake slithered by, I would do my best to catch it or at least photograph it.  I would make note of weather, date and time, where it was, how many and move on.  It became a fun addition to being outdoors and took minimal effort.  When kids would be bored or restless out fishing I would take them for walks looking for frogs and snakes, or searching the logs and boulders for turtles basking in the sun.  It was quite enjoyable sharing what I had learned, although there is still plenty more to learn as has been pointed out before.

Throughout the summer, we came across a few snapping turtles on the end of our line, some even biting through the hooks.  Always a fun fight but not a targeted species.  We saw western painted turtles basking on rocks on multiple occasions, toads near the shoreline in the morning warmth, snakes in all kinds of places and frogs almost everywhere we went.  At one of our usual fishing spots where we have been known to dangle our feet in the water on hot days, one of our friends was doing so and no longer than a minute after taking his feet out, a very large snapping turtle came up for air right where his feet were.  We don't dangle our feet in the water much any more as I know of two people that have lost a digit or two to large snapping turtles.  We have even lost two fish we were keeping for supper on a stringer to a snapping turtle.

Some Common Snapping Turtle facts
     -It is Manitoba's largest reptile.
     -The largest common snapping turtle on record is 35 kg.
     -They are omnivores, eating most anything they can snap on, even small birds and mammals.
     -The average lifespan in the wild is 30 years, some will make it past 50.
     -Mating occurs around 18 or 19 years of age.
     -They are most threatened in the juvenile stage.
     -Once mature there are very few, if any, predators.

A great spring time activity for folks of all ages and abilities is a trip to the Narcisse Snake Pits, roughly an hour north of Winnipeg in the Interlake region.  It is the winter home to tens of thousands of red-sided garter snakes.  A very accessible area with crushed gravel paths that take you right to some limestone bedrock dens (the closest being 300 meters from parking) where in late April to mid-May the snakes emerge and mate, forming large balls.  When mating completes the snakes disperse ,heading for marshes, ditches and many other spots to hunt and give birth.

Sunny and warm days are best, with ideal viewing times being late morning to afternoon.  There is no fee for entrance to the park and interpreters are on site until the end of May long weekend.  Make sure to bring water, hats and sunscreen as shade is minimal and the water on site is only suitable for washing   There can be great birding and spring flowers to see as well.  You can handle snakes that you may come across as long as you are gentle with them, keeping in mind a snake may bite if you try to pick it up.  Don't get mad.  They are just defending themselves,  are not poisonous and have very tiny teeth that rarely break skin.  If you pick up a snake there is a really good chance it may poop on you, another method of defense. The smell can hang around for quite some time, so keep that in mind before you or your kids pick up any snakes.

Some Red-Sided Garter Snake facts
     -Females are typically larger than males of all year classes.
     -This species can grow to over one meter in length.
     -The chances of a snake reaching 12 years of age are less than 1 in 5,000.
     -The females likely breed every other year after at least 3 years of age.
     -Narcisse WMA has the largest concentration of snakes in the world!
     -The four principal threats to snakes are chemical pollution, commercial trade, destruction of habitat by humans and periodic natural catastrophes.

There's always a slim chance when fishing that you're going to pull out a surprise.  Ours lead to a wealth of knowledge and a fun pass time.  Wherever we are in the province, when we spot a reptile or amphibian we take note and are glad we can contribute to people powered science and research.