Thursday, 5 November 2015

Red River Eyes (Green)

The weather called for a high of 9 degrees, minimal precipitation and cloudy all day with the wind changing direction a few times but staying under 15kmh. Comfortable enough if you are dressed for it and lucky for us the meteorologist was right. Not ideal conditions but also not horrible. We had lines in the water 30 minutes before sun up and there were surface breaches all around us with many marks on the depth finder. The first few fish landed were Sauger and Goldeye along with two heavy fish lost and the sun hadn't even cracked the horizon.

With tons of options and spots to try we agreed that when and if the bite slowed down we would just move a few hundred feet within the general area and anchor again. Most folks just pick their spot and stay put until they are done for the day but we had baseline expectations and were willing to hunt for a better bite if needed. We had varied success at each spot we tried and it was clear on the fish finder screen that there were fish of all sizes on the move. Often I would call out a mark and at what depth on the screen and no sooner than my sentence being finished would there be a fish on the end of someones line.

We were there for the Greenbacks and were all able to catch our limits of 14 -18 inch eaters as well as releasing many more with 7 over 20 inches but none over 28. We also had a few bonus large Channel Catfish landed, dozens of Goldeye, a handful of Mooneye and copious amounts of Sauger. An exciting action packed 11 hours on the water saw us go through just over 5 tubs of minnows and despite the success it left me wanting more as the Red River sometimes will.

The Walleye made for great eats providing a few good meals to share with friends and family. I prefer to eat fish I catch fresh, only freezing when absolutely necessary.  One was cleaned and kept whole to steam with cooking wine, soy sauce, ginger and green onions and the rest were fileted.  I cooked up the cheeks in butter, salt, pepper and garlic as a tasty chefs treat while frying the majority of the filets in beer batter with friends. We were able to get a good feed of fish tacos and battered collars as well with what was left.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Late Season Eyes (Gold)

A family emergency has kept me from fishing as much as I would like lately but thankfully I was able to sneak away to clear my mind and wet a line for a few hours the other afternoon. It was a gorgeous day out for this time of the year and I decided to see if a friend would have a few hours to hit up a shoreline and soak some bait. It didn't take much convincing and in under an hour we were at the waters edge.
The wind was low and the water calm and murky reflecting the opposing shorelines scenery like a painting. I missed the first three bites and had a hunch they were Goldeye and after the next tap of a bite I set the hook and got it to shore. 14 inches on the button and back it went to join the feeding school. We were essentially fishing a small hole at the end of a mudflat on the edge of the river channel and a 1.5 ounce weight would hold our rig to the bottom with ease. When bottom rigging with bait on the river it is usually a multi species day however the first 6 fish we landed and released were all Goldeye.
The banks of the river were muddy but the flurry of bites and pauses in action were enough motivation to move around and try to stay on the school. With minimal gear and seemingly hungry fish we would move from spot to spot hammering Goldeye on small hooks fished off the bottom. Eventually a small Channel Catfish was landed as well as a one eyed Sauger but besides that it was Goldeye after Goldeye. As the moon began to rise and the sun began to set we landed a few Mooneye as well.

It is almost inevitable when fishing for Goldeye that a few will not be releasable and they make for excellent smoked fish and by the time our session was done we had a nice batch ready to be cleaned and frozen for the smoker. The stomach contents of the Goldeye we did retain were full of mostly what I think are backswimmers, hundreds of them. It was simple fishing, but exactly what I needed and I can't wait to brine the fish up and spend an afternoon engulfed in the sweet smell of smoldering apple and oak wood.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

A Jewel of a Lake

It was a spur of the moment trip to a small lake far away, over many hills and through scenic valleys passing plenty of other fishable lakes and rivers along the way. Our destination had been chosen however and for a good reason, if we played our cards right there was a real chance at a trophy brown or rainbow. A few hours into our drive up late in the evening we spotted a bull moose near the road and stopped to watch for a few minutes. Within three kilometers of driving off we spotted the female he could have been potentially following. (the one pictured above was on our drive home, the quality in the pic isn't there however) Our moose populations are in trouble and it was a real pleasure to see them. The wind had been pushing from the north for most of the drive mellowing out by nightfall and after four and a half hours of driving we were at our motel. Looking up the sky was void of clouds, stars shone bright and a tiny sliver of moon crept towards the west.

We were awake early with more than enough time to get to our shore spot and were greeted with calm water and temperatures a few degrees below zero. Brrrr! I began by casting a small spoon in hopes of a big brown trout and quickly found out just how thick the weeds were near shore. This would limit our available techniques but we were not discouraged. As daylight slowly showed itself the trout began to occasionally breach and it was instantly evident the size of some of them. We knew they were there and it was prime time, now we just needed one to strike.

It was clear the thick weeds would pose an added challenge but within 30 minutes of our start my wife had the first rainbow of the day on the end of her line. It immediately peeled off to deeper water as she tightened the drag and began taking line back. This fish was strong and smart breaching the water fully many times and thrashing its head before getting close to the weed line where it dug in deep. She was sure she had lost the fish but I told her to keep fighting it and sure enough through the weeds and to the net came a beauty 22 inch bow. After an easy side of the mouth hook removal and a few pictures it released with minimal revival needed. Success early on made the chilly temperatures and hassle of removing the ice from the rod guides a simple challenge to overcome. The iced up guides would pass soon enough as the day warmed.

As the day got brighter, how thick these weeds really were became very evident as the water was crystal clear. I decided to try and walk the shore looking for a less weedy area and just as I found one, my wife whistled the indication of a fish on and back I ran to net it. This one fought harder and when it broke the surface it was easily bigger than the last one, sadly with the second breach it was able to shake the hook. The frustration was evident but we had plenty of time for redemption so we moved over to the next spot where the weeds were not quite as thick and continued to fish. Already having found something they would hit, we were full of confidence and within the hour my wife hooked, fought, landed and released a plump 24 inch Rainbow. She was really showing me how it's done as all I had so far was one visible follow from a nice Brown and a missed bite.

The wind picked up as lunchtime rolled around and a group of fly fisherman showed up fully geared for the region. Some of them ended up being a little louder than I would think is warranted on such a small lake and I couldn't help but think that some two way radios could have benefited them. With the wind and added noise it seemed the bite went from all out slamming the offering to peckish nibbles and subtle tastes within the afternoon. We always try to do our best staying quiet when fishing in general, when pursuing trout from shore it seems even more important. My wife landed and released what I would consider an eater sized rainbow in the middle of the afternoon but the action was not stellar until 2 hours before dark. It was a long wait but well worth it.

With a pair of big browns cruising the shallows in front of us clearly not interested in anything we offered, (follows are exciting though) I went back to my floating paste set up and had a very subtle take within 30 seconds of casting out. I set the hook and the fight was on, the rod was bent right over with the weight and strength of the trout on it's run and all I could think about was please don't shake it. After a few leaps and bulldogging runs through the weeds we had it to shore and in the net. It measured out at 22.25 inches and shot off on the release before we could snap a good in the water shot. Time on our day was running out and I hooked into but lost one more trout before it became to dark to fish.

The wind stayed consistent through the night and the following morning we tried a few spots from shore with minimal success. I hooked into and again lost a pair of trout, they aren't dumb and most have surely been caught at least once. The bites we were getting were very hesitant and around lunch with a long drive home ahead of us, we decided to head on. We took our time on the drive exploring a few familiar trout lakes on the way as well as scouting about a dozen potential fishing spots I had found on maps with varied success.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Surprise on a Cat Trip

The nights are cooling off and fall is on its way, the days of warm and comfortable fishing have almost passed. The weekend was looking warm and we knew the catfish were still biting so we decided to head out bright and early to claim a spot and see what we could catch. We made it to the shore of the Red River just as the sun was breaking the horizon. Mist covered at least half of the river and there were surface breaches all over the place. We couldn't get our lines in the water fast enough.

This first spot has a bit of a honey hole downstream within casting distance from shore, so typically whoever is on the left is going to have the best luck. My wife seemed to unknowingly claim that spot and cast out a chunk of fresh cut bait and waited for a bite. I tossed a frog out into the main channel, while Frodo used a chunk of frozen goldeye. There was a chill in the morning air and bite detection was initially a problem for my wife. Within twenty minutes she had missed a few good bites and takes so after reeling in and checking bait she wanted 10 minutes to warm up. I hadn't a nibble on the frog so I reeled up and cast her bait out, in under a minute I had a solid slam and set the hook. 
The fish at the end of the line felt good and right off the hop went on a drag peeling run before changing direction and heading towards shore. Frantically reeling in the slack line I felt the weight again and the give and take continued. Once near shore Frodo was ready with the net and in one scoop it was landed. The 7/0 Gamakatsu octopus hook came out of the side of its mouth with ease and the fish measured out at 35 inches on the nose, released with plenty of vigor after a few pictures.

The bite was nothing to write home about with a lot of tentative nibbles on our baits and very few aggressive slams or takes. After about an hour we decided that if nothing exciting happened in the next 30 minutes we would head off to another spot. I was in the middle of reminiscing a previous trip on this stretch of river when I had a tap tap on the end of my line. I slammed the hook home and the fight was on, right off the hop there were some head shakes and a small run downstream. I figured it was a 2 foot cat, so no one was in a hurry to get the net. The closer I got it to shore the more the head shakes continued and once my swivel was visible above the water the thrashing head was clearly a walleye. "Get that in the net!" None of us were expecting a walleye on cat gear and after measuring it I realized it was my personal best at 27 inches. I could only have imagined the fight on medium gear.

We agreed to 30 more minutes at this spot and my wife and I continued targeting catfish while Frodo changed over to lighter gear to see what other species might bite. He ended up pulling in a few goldeye and a freshwater drum while my wife and I missed a few tentative bites. We were averaging 2 fish an hour and decided it was still early enough to try a new spot before most others would be out fishing. After a quick drive, our next spot produced about the same with a 33 inch catfish being the biggest there. (pictured below)
After some talking over the plan for the rest of our available time we decided to prospect a few potential spots. 60 minutes soaking bait at two spots produced good numbers of bullheads and small catfish but we were looking for the bigguns. So off we went to scout some more... In fall you could stake out your favorite spot, build a fire to stay warm and wait it out for the fish to come to you. Some days that is what I like to do, others I like to "run and gun" ice fishing style and seek out "greener pastures". Either way staying warm is a priority and lucky for us by mid afternoon it was quite warm with a good wind from the south.

At our last stop of the day my wife was finally able to hook into a good kitty. We had never fished this area before and it was definitely reassuring. Each spot we tried produced a few different species and some nice early fall Red River scenery. As the cat bite dies down the walleye bite should heat up!!

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

September Cats

After a break in fishing for some family time out east I was able to shake the rust off and wet a line for a few hours last weekend and ended up with a few Goldeye that weren't releasable. These would make good bait for catfish so after some frog hunting and catching a few of our secret weapons during the week, we were set to head up to Selkirk where we could launch the boat and attempt to hammer some cats.

We were greeted with morning thundershowers at home and by the time we got to the river it had dissipated significantly, so off we went up river towards Lockport. Along the way we saw many bald and golden eagles as you usually will along with a pair of osprey and a few hundred pelicans and cormorants. Our first spot smelled of laundry detergent, Winnipeg had been drenched with heavy rains twice in a few days and with that I'm sure sewers backed up. We each sent out a different bait to try out and waited for a bite. It was slow going with a few landed over the first hour, so we pulled up the anchor and headed off to scout out potential spots.
Our game plan was run and gun, give an area that looked promising on the depth finder a 30 minute soak and if no bites move on. As it turned out every spot we tried for the rest of the day would produce 4 to 10 cats within 30 - 60 minutes. We landed over 40 catfish with only 3 under 30 inches, and me personally 12 over 34 with the biggest being a new personal best 36.5 inches!

We ended up finding the most productive areas to be downstream of drainage ditches and creeks that were flowing heavily with run off. The cats were on the prowl picking off anything that would wash their way. One of the kitties we caught belched the most foul odor imaginable, another regurgitated some seagull feathers and one was even caught with a circle hook from a previous battle in the side of its mouth. It is clear every time we fish up there that it isn't the cats first rodeo once hooked. On this day many would make it to the surface and death roll, shaking their heads or out right breach the water and slap their tails down like a humpback whale. One of the big ones was successful in shaking the hook but the frustration was minimal as the action was so hot.

Sometimes the cats are stacked up by the locks and other times you need to be mobile and try many areas, I find it more rewarding and a little more scenic finding spots away from the locks. The river is full of history going back long before the fur traders and I often find myself thinking about those times and what the fishing may have been like with the gear and technology of today. Subtle changes in bottom composition can lead to a fury of action and we found a few holes and pockets that showed marks stacked up and proceeded to fish them pulling out a handful of trophies each time.

We ended up off the water at dusk knowing the bite would continue on but the long drive home was ahead of us. I was more than satisfied with the day, my arms and back ached (some of the cats I could barely lift after the fight) and my mind raced, thinking about our future trips later in fall for the greenback run .....

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Channel Cats on the Red River

The term world class fishing gets thrown around a lot, in Manitoba I would say we have quite a few world class fisheries. A few examples being; Lake Winnipeg in winter provides a serious chance at multiple Walleye over 28 inches in one day, many pot hole lakes in the Duck Mountains can give you a trout of a life time and then there is the Red River. Prime Walleye fishing in fall, great carp fishing in spring and to top it all off the catfishing can be superb from season opener until almost October. The Lockport area on the Red River (a few kms south of Selkirk) probably has the largest concentration of big Channel Catfish in the world. We know catfish can travel far distances and are all over the river, but if you want a chance at multiple cats over 30 inches this is the place for you. The shorelines can be packed and at times the current almost unfishable but from a boat your chances of hooking and landing a big kitty greatly increase.

It's been hot, rainy, windy and smoky with extreme weather warnings more often than not this summer. We had been planning a trip for catfish for a while now and we almost had enough bait. The preferred bait of choice for cats can change throughout the seasons (or day) so we always like to go prepared. Goldeye and suckers were caught earlier in the week, shrimp bought from the store, a few boilies baked by Frodo and bright and early the morning of the trip we caught some creek chubs. We aimed to fish from noon to midnight from the boat and a rodeo going on at the Selkirk Park meant the park staying open all night instead of closing at 11, so besides a thunderstorm or running out of bait nothing could stop us.

After about 2 hours of driving and $25 each in an envelope for the biggest fish by the end of the day, we were at Selkirk Park just after lunch. We quickly prepped the boat for launching and were on the water. We decided to try and find a few spots that might hold some fish on our way down to the Lockport area so we cruised south from the launch at a slow pace keeping an eye on the fish finder screen looking for structure and marks. We eventually came up to a hole that seemed to be holding a few fish after a mudflat so we decided to anchor up and give it a shot. I began with a slip rig but found the current a little strong and it was quickly evident that a 3 way rig would be a better choice especially after Jay landed the first fish at 35.75 inches long. It was a slow start but a good one!

Each spot we stopped at produced one or 2 cats within 30 minutes or so but we were looking for better numbers and hopefully even bigger kitties. So we decided to try our luck near the locks and work our way back down river if needed. The current was even stronger here and we were able to anchor up near a slight transition from 14 to 17 feet. The water around Lockport is so full of debris that you really cant see much on your fish finder except the depth, but the breaches everywhere let you know there are still fish around. Within two minutes of wetting a line Frodo had a fish on running straight to heavy current and peeling line off his reel.

Our strategy when someone had a fish on was to reel in as quickly as possible to get all lines out of the way and one person focus on netting while the other not fighting a fish helps to stabilize the weight in the boat especially if other boats rip by. Fighting these big brutes is tough enough but when you add the strong current and wake of a boat passing by things can get agonizing. We were fishing a current seam and the cats would head to the stronger current as soon as they realized they were hooked.  After about 4 minutes of fight the fish was in the net and Frodo on the board with a 34 incher. I couldn't get my bait back out there fast enough and it wasn't long after my weight settled when a catfish absolutely slammed my creek chub.

The fish stormed down stream with line peeling off on a huge run, after carefully tightening the drag I began trying to win some line back when the fish began to charge back upstream. Reeling as fast as I could I soon felt the weight of the fish again and so began a tug of war of sorts trying to get it up near the boat. Once near the surface it thrashed and rolled ( I would lose my biggest of the day later on with the fish doing this) and did it's best to shake the hook, but the 7/0 octopus hook wasn't going anywhere. After another ninety seconds or so of grueling lifts and pulls it was finally in the net.

We were able to land nine catfish at this spot from 31 to 35 inches all putting up remarkable fights and really testing our tackle. A few fish were lost and one broke off, we were using 30 lbs mono line and leaders and we were really shocked to see that happen. ( I plan on using braid next time and a flouro leader both of higher pound test )  Once the bite had noticeably slowed down we would pull up anchor and reposition ourselves near by and try again. This paid off each time with the bite picking up and steady action right off the hop. After a grueling ten minute fight I was able to bring aboard a 36 incher and biggest fish of the day so far. Each time it was near the boat it would storm off with pure power as if this wasn't its first rodeo. I was exhausted after that fight and took a ten minute breather during which Frodo landed another nice one.

Part of what makes this catfishing world class up around Lockport is Manitoba's regulations regarding catfish. None over 24 inches can be kept so the bigger ones are protected, and there is a good chance most big channels in the area have had a hook in their mouths in the past. There have also been tagging programs with a few different organizations and some channel catfish tagged at Lockport have been caught many hundreds of kilometers away from where they were tagged. The evening was growing near and a light rain was upon us, but we weren't deterred. As long as the lightening in the distance stayed far enough away we were going to keep at it and that we did. Fish after fish to the boat we were starting to agree that we would just stay until they quit biting or we ran out of bait. As dusk was getting near Frodo hooked into something big that he could barely move and after a few minutes it broke off. Frustration was evident as we had all lost one or two nice ones but we were learning and hammering fish so it never lasted for long. The smile below is evident of how quickly the disappointment of the one that got away can fade.

As darkness crept in the bite picked up even more and Frodo managed to beat my 36 incher by a quarter of an inch putting him in top spot for the purse. He was also outfishing us I might add. (I can only hope he was as sore as I was the next day) It turned out there was a festival going on in Lockport and sometime after it was dark some professional fireworks started going off. Jay commented that this was probably going to kill the bite and before he could finish that sentence he had a fish on. Fireworks rocketed off in the background as he fought another brute, a celebration of all the days success went on long after it was landed, measured, photographed and released. The loud bangs did not deter the cats as they continued to bite for another hour and a half. We stayed well past midnight and had an adventurous ride back down the river to the launch in the darkness. Satisfied, exhausted and hungry, already thinking of the next trip back to the Red River of the North and its trophy Catfish fishery.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

A Day of Big Fish

Our day out for big fish could not have gone better. We showed a friend what it was like to battle with carp on the end of a line. Subtle takes, long runs for cover and pure strength. He found out as many others who fish for carp, that they are one of the hardest fighting fish in our province. After a slow start to the day he had his first carp to shore and he quickly found out what he was up against. A few reputable carp in and I had a new personal best at 33.75 inches. (pictured below) The fight was excellent and the smile on my face said it all.
Little did I know that a mere 90 minutes later I would beat my best carp again but this one at 35 inches. It took almost 15 minutes to land and the first glimpse of it I got, I knew it would be a new best if I could get it to shore. I could only imagine how fat it might have been pre spawn!

As time passed I changed my tactics to focus on the Bigmouth Buffalo we were occasionally seeing near the surface. A few nice specimens were landed with a new personal best pictured directly below and two others that were nice sized beneath it. All heavy and healthy, tough fighting creatures!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

A Personal Best and Some Lampreys

I recently took a friend out to put him on some goldeye and help him get the hang of feeling bites and reeling in fish. We had plans to target some larger species the next day so this was to be the warm up. My first cast landed me a new personal best goldeye at 16.5 inches. It was a good fight and heavier than any other goldeye we would catch this day. Many fish were landed including a surprise walleye around lunch and a catfish that were both retained to eat along with a limit of 10 goldeye that were not releasable for one reason or another. Some of them would just absolutely hammer the worm piece and swallow it instantly. With six solid hours of fishing under our belt along with 6 species landed, we were on our way as the after church crowds began to hit the shore.

Once home and cleaning fish, my friend noticed what he thought were leeches in the gills of the catfish. Upon closer inspection we found them to be a species of lamprey in the juvenile phase. It was a pretty neat find and a few drops of tap water made two of them quite lively. I have caught a white sucker in the past that had a lamprey on its head only to shake off at shore. The scar was a perfect circle even displaying teeth marks. It was quite interesting to be able to have a look at a few in person no matter how small they were.

Our next day of fishing would far surpass anyone's expectations and I will write about it soon.

Friday, 19 June 2015

21 Hours of Fishing Part 2

At first it sounded like hail the rain was pouring so hard. The sky was lit up all around us with lightning firing off every few seconds. A storm of biblical proportions and all I could think about was hoping the bass would be biting in a few hours and that I could maybe get some more rest. Awake again fifteen minutes before the alarm and it was clear we wouldn't be launching the boat just yet. Another hour passed and the rain began to recede becoming almost suitable to fish in. While Jay prepped the boat I couldn't help but fish the dock, missing a bite on my first cast only to get a solid hook up on the second one. A nice 16 inch Smallmouth made it to shore and the expectations for the day were instantly raised. If one would bite after a storm like that, we were all sure we could get some others to do the same.

The rain was peppering the waters surface and wind kicking up some small chop as we headed to our first planned spot. It was slightly sheltered from the winds current direction and looked a little bassy. The plan was to each use different lures to try and figure out what would work best and hopefully land some sow smallies. After a few casts the first one hit and made it to the boat. Frodo the Bass Slayer, as he was soon to be named boated the first one over 18 inches of the day. I followed up with a bite off, the Pike seemed to have followed me over from the previous day but I wasn't deterred. The weeds in this bay were so thick and essentially made top water lures the best option and after a few feisty pike to the boat we decided to head on to another shore line.

Over a few trips smallie fishing I have lost more bass than I would care to admit. Manitoba has a barbless hook regulation and Bass are notorious for shaking that hook. Line would go slack and time would slow as a brute would breach the surface thrashing its head trying to shake the hook. Rarely was I able to maintain a tight line from shore when this would happen, half the time losing a fish. I took to burying my rod tip in the water when I would have a bass on whenever a shore spot would permit and carrying this tactic to the kayak and boat. A lot of the time it would prevent a good amount of out of water leaps and lead to more "bulldogging" to the bottom by the bass. I credit this partially to my level of success this day.

Patches of blue sky to the west and the bass were biting, we had brought a few to the boat at this point and I was able to finally land one of many over 18 inches of the day. After countless trips, hook sets, breaches and shakes I had finally done it. I was filled with joy and knew there were many more hours in the day to try for more. We fished on continuing to try different lures and techniques changing up if no bites were had after a dozen or so casts. I was able to get a few hits on the new Shadow Raps but no hook ups as I tend to favor finesse jigging over retrieve cranks, they obviously get less practice. But that will continue to change as my techniques evolve.

The wind really couldn't make up its mind changing directions frequently throughout the day. This opened up new sheltered areas to fish and provided light chop on others. All in all we mostly kept chucking what the fish seemed to want to bite. No one checked the time until around noon, at that point we all thought it was closer to supper and were stoked there were many more hours to fish. As the sun finally broke through the fishing only picked up with the bass seeming to get even more aggressive. Plenty of top water strikes and hook ups for Frodo made the day even more exciting as I would slowly pitch and jig while watching his lifelike lure.

Time passed so slowly as the sun crept along making the days fishing even more enjoyable. We started in many layers of clothing and raingear and ended the day in t shirts. Many bites were missed and fish lost however one thing I did pick up on was slowing down after a missed bite and waiting for a second chance from an already interested fish. That second chance was given more often than not and the fight was on. For their size, Smallmouth Bass are some of the toughest fighting fish our province has to offer and we were loving the action they provided.

As the evening came we knew it was getting near our departure time so we hit the two most productive spots of the day once more. My last fish ended up being a personal best 19.5 inches and I was truly content with the days events. The numbers were unbelievable, weather unpredictable and a trip that far exceeded our expectations was in the books.