Sunday, June 23, 2013

Canada Notes 2013

Each year our annual Canadian fishing trip is marked by a distinctive event, person or place the bro and I will recall and refer to in later years. It could be some other idiots in the camp, those strangers who do something stupid, display rude behavior or simply act like fools. While that's rare it has happened.

It could be a very memorable fish, a new spot that produces great results, an unusual on water encounter or someone who came with us who had never been on a Canadian fishing trip before. This year it was a person. A friend of the bro came along and made his mark of our 2013 trip.

PJ has been fishing before but much like it was for most guys, it may have been with dad when he was young or with his kids when they were young and they managed to catch a few bluegills at a public forest preserve pond or such. He doesn't even own any fishing tackle.

But he does own a fine little digital camera and spent time in the Navy onboard an aircraft carrier as a photographer making images of planes landing and taking off. Those images were used by the officers and flight crews to observe and evaluate nuances of takeoff and landing and record mishaps to determine the cause. So it's no surprise he knows his way with a camera and took a ton of photos on the trip.

Arriving in camp the first thing PJ did was whip out the camera. He took photos of the lodge interior, the bragging board, the surroundings, the lodge owner, the camp dog and soon tried to gather up everyone for a group photo. Nice try on that request because all were scattered, unpacking and rigging up the equipment. Plenty of time for a group photo later on. He did take a lot of landscape and nature photos. The frameless photos here were taken by PJ and published with his permission.

PJ's wife is a corporate travel planner/consultant so he has spent much of his leisure time at five star resorts and spas around the globe. Spending time fishing in the north woods and staying in a cabin with a group of good ol' boys? None. An entirely new experience was in store for him. This may provide some good entertainment I thought. It did.

Early on he began to complain about the accommodations. "It's so cold in here, it's too hot in here, the closet is tiny, the internet is sooo slow, etc, etc.," on and on. Finally I had to explain to him that he was in the bush. This was not a five star resort. There is no hot tub, no French-milled hand soap, no gourmet buffet, no beach and no bartender would bringing us umbrelly drinks. There is no masseuse, nobody will clip your toenails, turn down your bed and leave little mint chocolates on your pillow. He was fine after that.

On the trip there PJ explained to me that his expectations of catching fish were tempered due to his lack of experience. I told him that was nonsense and predicted he would do as well as us more experienced regulars if not better due to three reasons.

One, we would be on a body of water that holds a ton of fish with many being very large, some potential record size. Second, we knew exactly where the big fish would be dining on their prey during their seasonal movements. Third, PJ was a newbie and if the past is any indication, the newbies that come along with us always seem to do very well. If for no other reason than they usually have no idea what they are doing. Call it the dumb luck wild card.

On the first day out we were back trolling for walleye along a pine topped nearly vertical rock on and island reaching about 30' up out of the water. We heard some screeching. I knew it was a bald eagle but could not locate which tree it was in. This went on until we noticed a large eagle flying toward us along the shore from the south. As it neared I noticed it was carrying a fish in its talons.

(Click to enlarge and the eaglet can be seen eating a fish breakfast in the nest near the trunk of the tree)

In front of our eyes the adult bald eagle landed in a tree top delivering breakfast to its young eaglet less than forty yards away. While in its nest PJ got off a few shots. It was the eaglet that was screeching, guiding mama to the breakfast table.

Sights such as this are not unusual if you spend a lot of time in the north woods. PJ was awestruck having never seen anything like it. Bald eagles are as common as robins on Lake of the Woods.

Another predictable habit I observed (and the same is true for all newbies) was when we were resting in the cabin PJ would be down at the dock casting a bait. This is not wasted time since many nice fish have been taken that way. We veterans are jaded and fishing can wait until after a rest period and maybe a cocktail. New guys cannot get enough fishing time.

On the first day out we went to a spot known to give up all species and some big ones too. Matheson Bay is large, weedy and shallow but it has some drop offs into deeper water with an outcropping of rocks and boulders off the main lake. It's a prime location and we always seem to do very well there on all species. We began by dropping our walleye rigs. Using spinning reels and light rods with 8 lb. (or lighter) test line we tie on a mono leader with a small fluorescent spinning blade ahead of a hook. The hook is tipped with a live minnow, all behind a lead weight to get the rig on the bottom. These we make ourselves. After rigging up we slowly back trolled to present the spinning blade bait. A walleye or two bit, we landed them and motored on. Then it happened.

Soon PJ hooked something that he knew was bigger than the first few small walleye and we did too. It began to take some line and this fish bent the rod hard. I knew right away this was something good so I quickly reeled my line in and began to coach PJ. It could be a big pike because of the way it pulled. Walleye usually shake when they pull but this one bulldogged and darted. After explaining to him to let the rod do the work and to hold the tip high so it could act as a shock absorber. Then it became obvious the tackle he was using would be no match for this one. We all offered our advice. His drag was set too tight so the bro leaned over and loosened it up slightly, careful no to loosen it too much allowing the line to go slack as PJ held on. This worked and the fish began to peel off more line relieving pressure on the light rod. Then I coached PJ to reel only when the fish allowed him some slack. When the fish finally came close to the boat and about two feet under water I knew immediately by the color that it was a muskie of respectable size. It quickly disappeared and took line with it. It went down and around back and forth and even under the boat to the other side.

The muskie is related to the northern pike but unlike pike they can grow to huge proportions in these waters and some up to and beyond 60" is not out of the realm. But even one this size is not easy to hook let alone land especially on this light tackle. While this transpired all I could think of was what would go wrong. The main concern being the sharp teeth that could bite through the light line or the line being snapped by placing too much pressure on the fighting fish.

Soon I had to jump on the front end trolling motor to keep the boat clear of the shoreline rocks so the bro took over helping coach PJ and net the muskie. Just a guess but it must have taken at least fifteen minutes to boat that muskie.

Well, PJ did an outstanding job. Few experienced anglers are able to accomplish what he did with a small hook, light spinning tackle and line. After about fifteen minutes of hanging on we managed to net and boat the muskie for some photos. Once it was in we measured it at 44". A respectable size muskie for sure but not a trophy. This fish was caught out of season and even in season one must be over 54" in length to keep. In season most get tossed back since the taxidermy cost is high and a muskie of that size is not a very good meal.

When PJ's adrenaline wore off fatigue sat in. He began speaking in tongues. Then the tourette's reflex kicked in - he would suddenly burst out in loud profanities without warning. I have seen this before and it has on occasion happened to me.

Not at all unusual for most lucky fishermen once a battle like that is over. After one day PJ had the experience of a lifetime for many fishermen and memories to relay to others for years to come. From that moment on PJ was officially in the club.

The rest of the trip went very well for PJ. He managed to catch as much as anyone else and had a great time, thanking us over and over. Even being older than I, PJ was acting like and enjoying life as a kid again.

We joked that after being exposed to us for a week PJ's wife would not recognize him as the same person. To see someone having the time of his life on a good old boy northwoods fishing trip for the very first time was a pleasure in itself.

Looks as if we corrupted another one. Mission accomplished.


Carl from Chicago said...

Fantastic pictures per usual in particular the Bald Eagle, fish and I like the turtle.

Dan from Madison said...

Great writeup.