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.