Number 1 Fall, 1995
It's been a busy summer with the distractions of making a living, fastball, and community recreation activities so I haven't done much fishing. But I'm not complaining! I put in a good bit of time in the winter and discovered that fishing just makes more work for me. I consistently catch these trophy fish which are always so beautiful that I have to save the odd one for mounting. For example, my ice-fishing produced an 8 lb. pickerel, an 8 lb. lake trout, and an 11 lb. pike. Then, when everyone else was catching those half-pound walleye in Nipissing this Spring, I latched onto a 5-pounder. That's the truth! Just ask my friend, Jeff Sheffield, who was there and couldn't believe how anyone could catch and release fish so fast. Guess what? I saved that 5 lb. fish for eating and mounting. More bloody work!
What I really want to tell you about is my return to an older, gentler method of fishing this past summer. Last summer I cut a very long alder and dried it for a year in the woodshed. I strengthened it by winding some red thread around the tip. On the butt end I carved a few notches for winding the excess braided nylon line and setting the hook for storage. My terminal tackle consisted of a tear-shaped light-weight cork bobber, a split shot or two, a small hook and a piece of worm. I parked myself in a lawnchair beside a hole in the North River, lit up a cigar (a licorice one of course) and waited. I was fishing without any expensive graphite rod, Shimano reel or SpiderWire fusion line. I didn't need a boat and motor with fish-finder, navigational system, down-rigger or Auditory Sonix unit. But hey--I caught fish. And it was fun.
I tried this on about three occasions and always caught at least a dozen fish. Some of them were what you'd call minnows but I figure you have to catch some of them to attract the larger ones. Some of those minnows can be as large as 10" long, like the big and rather colourful horny-headed creek chub that I caught. One evening I caught five different species of fish, which I identified as the creek shiner, pearl dace, creek chub, sculpin, and speckled trout. On another occasion my bobber took a terrific dive, disappeared, and the line really tightened. I grabbed the butt of the pole out of the holder (a hole in the clay of the river bank) and started to play the fish. That old alder pole had great action. I felt every tug from that fish as I slowly lifted the tip of my pole and brought it closer to shore. There was none of this excited reefing of the pole and trying to swing the fish quickly onto shore. No--I let it tire first and then gently lifted it on to the bank. It was a beautiful 10" rainbow trout, my sixth species of fish.
After catching each fish I wet my hands to prevent removing the protective slime and gently placed them into my "live well", a clean 5 gallon plastic bucket full of river water. This allowed me to see if they were injured from swallowing the hook and should be kept for eating. The rainbow trout and a couple of speckles wound up being placed in the micro-wave along with some butter and lemon for a tasty breakfast. Most of the fish were kept in the live well until I finished fishing and were then returned to the water in good shape.
I hope to return to the river bank with my fishin' pole before the trout season ends this fall. It was nice to be able to catch a few fish in the North River after some very discouraging outings a few years ago when the discarded automobile tires were much more plentiful than the fish. It made me wonder if there was more than tires going into the river. The tires are still there but the water seems to be healthier. Where do all those tires come from, anyway?
Number 2 Winter, 1995
I want to pass on a classical Musky story from this past summer before moving to more seasonal topics. Bernie Boulet of Balsam Creek was out fishing on Lake Nipissing with a jig and worm when a small walleye grabbed the trailer or stinger hook. Just as the fish was being landed, this huge Musky comes out of the depths, grabs the walleye, and tears it off the hook. But not before hooking itself on the main jig hook. The walleye escaped to have another chance to enter the food chain, and Bernie had the fight of an angler's life on his hands. After a lengthy battle the fish was landed successfully, measured 45 inches and weighed about 25 pounds. He was fishing with only 8-pound test line! Many Muskys have been lost on much heavier line. That's an experience to remember and I'm hoping to see that mounted trophy with a smaller walleye in its mouth to tell the story.
But hey, it's that magical time of the year. Time to go ice-fishing! Time to set that old (or new) ice-fishing shack out on a probable spot or just go hiking or snow-mobiling back to some smaller lake, light a shoreline fire, cut some holes and try one's luck.
Many years ago I inherited my shack from my grandfather- and father-in law. It was already a bit of an antique since it had been used for many years out on Lake Simcoe before I pulled it out of storage. It was small, old and perfect for my use. I could pull it out by toboggan from my home near Lake Nipissing where I used it for five successive seasons in the late '70's. I often fished by candlelight, sitting on my broad-loomed floor, listening to the stereo FM station, sipping Metaxa (a health drink), while the little wood stove provided plenty of heat and I jigged for ling cod (I once caught seven around midnight).
However, my usual rig was a tip- up that was only used inside the shack. It was a stick with line attached that was carefully balanced on a support. Terminal tackle consisted of a pickerel rig with two larger minnows and a whitefish spreader on the bottom with small shiners attached to the tiny hooks. If you closely watched this rig you knew what type of fish was biting. When whitefish bit they lifted the small minnows off the bottom and the tip-up teetered up and backwards. Pike and ling cod would pull it down and forwards. However it was necessary to keep a careful eye on the tip-up since it wasn't attached to anything and could disappear down the hole when a larger fish took the bait and you didn't grab it fast enough. And that leads me to an incredible but true story.
I had also inherited one tip-up line which had great sentimental value from my grandfather-in-law before he died. It was just a carved cedar stick with heavy monofilament line and a means of balancing it on a support. At the end of March I had removed my shack but was still going out and using the same holes to fish. I was using the inside tip-up outside (Big Mistake!). A snowmobiler came over to chat, I glanced away from my line momentarily and looked back in time to see it suddenly disappear down the hole. I was most upset. I hated losing that special line and a big fish. That night I dreamt of a 25 lb pike running around in Lake Nipissing that should have been mine. The next morning I was ready to give at least a hundred dollars to be able to retrieve that line and fish. A week later, I was able to get back out to my fishing holes and was jigging with a large lure. I hooked on to something very solid and could detect a faint vibration on my line. After much coaxing I managed to pull in and grab a piece of heavy monofilament line. My heart nearly stopped! It was attached to something at each end and one was a fish. I found out which part of the line was attached to the fish and slowly pulled it in. It felt heavy but wasn't my imagined 25 lb pike. It was the largest ling cod I have ever caught(about 10-12 lbs). I was disappointed at not having a big pike, but I had a fish and thought I was on the verge of retrieving my grandfather's line. However, the other end of the line was firmly lodged on bottom and would not budge. I finally pulled with my full weight and the 25 lb line snapped. It was a sad moment as I realized that the lost line had more significance than the fish.
Several weeks later, the April sun was very warm, the ice was melting fast, and I decided to go out and try for perch or whitefish. I had to jump over open water near shore to get on the ice and walked out to search for my holes. I spotted a dark speck in the distance which looked like a piece of firewood left on the ice. As I approached the object my heart stopped. It was shaped like the cedar stick and line I had lost. Indeed, I had found my lost line. It had somehow become dislodged from the bottom of the lake and floated up into the hole. God's truth. I love ice-fishing.
Until next time, happy angling.
Number 3 Spring, 1996
In my last column I said I loved ice-fishing, but this season my old shack sat in the yard until January 26th. I have never started so late. I could blame it on the lack of ice or preoccupation about getting the bills paid, but something tells me it had more to do with feeling old and losing some enthusiasm. I wished that my youngest brother or my son were around to get me going. However my nephew Ryan was visiting from Victoria, B.C. and wanted to go fishing. That stirred me to action, and started one of my most memorable seasons.
Some fishermen (or women) go for the proven hot spots. They follow the crowd. They usually catch fish. On Lake Nipissing they head for Deepwater Point, the Islands, or the perch hole. I tend to shun the crowd and look for more isolated spots where I work hard at attracting the fish and may catch little or may get lucky. This winter I set my shack out 525 paces off the North Bay shoreline in 13 feet of water where nobody was fishing. The first day was luckier than I expected with a mess of perch, a couple of small pike and even one rare walleye. I found out quickly that the fishing was not always going to be as good as the first day promised and I would have to work on my holes. I tried to get out on a fairly regular basis even if only for a couple of late afternoon hours. I had one hole some distance from the shack where I dumped a variety of fish guts every time I went out. This always included the salted remains of the fish I had cleaned from the previous outing and other assorted leftovers from my taxidermy shop. Inside my shack I had two holes. I would crush up perch egg sacs and drop them into one hole, along with an assortment of other items including boiled rice, Kraft Dinner, bits of leftover salted minnows, and my secret concoction, "Mumbo Jumbo Mash". In the other hole I threw down lots of crushed egg shells. By reducing most of the light coming into the shack, I could usually see the bottom of that hole, and the fish that were around. When visibility was good, this was quite an adventure! I often saw herring swimming about and set myself the goal of catching them. I never found a way of catching lots but, with patience, consistently caught a few and plan to pickle, smoke, or can this under-utilized species. It was a very humbling experience to see all those fish down there and offer them a smorgasbord of possible baits and lures, but not be able to entice them to bite.
One day when looking down the hole at the herring I saw a larger fish come by. It might have been a 5-8 lb whitefish or walleye. After that, I saw a head, then the middle portion of a long body, and then a tail section go by. Unmistakably a pike. It looked big, maybe 10-15 lbs or more. I also saw some smaller pike but they wouldn't bite on my offerings. On a number of occasions, I used large live or dead minnows in the hopes of attracting that big pike I am always after. But the only pike caught were on the small jigs tipped with minnows that worked well for the perch and herring.
In the last week of the season I tried again to catch a pike using a dead smelt lying on the bottom. I was finally lucky and landed a beautifully coloured 4½ lb pike. Later that day, Jonathan Pitt and his dad came out to try for a few perch, herring, or whatever else might be around. I proudly showed my catch and pointed them towards what I thought would be a couple of lucky holes to use. His father didn't think the holes could be that lucky or I would be using them myself. Jonathan took my suggestion, however, and started jigging with a medium-size spoon tipped with a small shiner minnow. I was peering down the hole in my shack trying to see what was happening on the bottom and catching a few perch. I heard a yell from Jonathan and ran out of the shack to see him straining to reel in a large fish on the small ice-fishing rod and spinning reel with 8 lb test line. His dad and I offered ongoing encouragement and suggestions like letting it run and not letting the line catch the edge of the hole. He became so tired at one point that he wanted someone else to take over, but he was discouraged from giving up. The longer he fought that fish, the bigger it seemed to be. After about 15 minutes, it came near the bottom of the hole for the last time and was skilfully brought up through the hole and onto the ice. It was monstrous! I could not believe it. I still don't believe it. Jonathan had caught my fish! I had enticed that pike into the ecosystem I had created; I had studied that fish swimming under the water; I had suffered the frustrations of being so close but not able to trigger a strike. Jonathan hadn't been ice-fishing in ten years. He was just a 16-year old kid enjoying his March break. That fish was over 41" long, had a girth of 20½", and weighed 20¼ lbs. I'm happy for him. I swear I am. I just want to know what I have to do to get my chance!
Until next time, happy angling.
Number 4 Summer, 1996
Going fishing always involves more than catching fish. It allows us to experience the sights, sounds and smells of nature. We get some exercise. It is an opportunity to develop and build lifelong relationships.
One of my first fishing buddies was my youngest brother, Billy. I remember taking him to 20-Minute Lake when he was only four years old and letting him help me catch a large sucker on hook and worm. I still have a photo of him excitedly holding up the big fish. We continued to fish on many occasions as we grew older and I am pretty sure that both of us learned many lessons that had nothing to do with fishing. We continue to go fishing almost every time that one of us travels between Alberta and Ontario, but it is never often enough.
Throughout my teen years, I often went fishing with boys a bit younger than I. I would have been just as happy with the company of boys my age, but most of them seemed more interested in fixing broken cars or chasing girls. I enjoyed the companionship of my younger pals, and passing on a few tips about fishing and life. Once in a while the tables were turned and I was taken fishing by an older person. That usually meant that I didnít have to walk, cycle, or hitchhike to a fishing spot but rode in a pickup truck instead. This didnít happen too often but I clearly remember the times spent fishing with two men from my community. It made me feel pretty important and special to be taken fishing by an older person.
After my son Eric was born, he was introduced to fishing rather early. I remember him losing his baby bottle over the edge of my Sportspal canoe as we paddled around the edge of a lake in Sudbury looking for pike. We have shared so many fishing experiences together that Iím sure neither of us could remember them all. One of the earliest was when he was four years old and accompanied a friend and me in my canoe on the St. Lawrence River. There were huge carp breaking the surface in about 4-5 feet of water but they couldnít be caught. We tipped the canoe in the excitement and both adults took a surprise dip in the shallow bay but Eric managed to stay in the boat. I caught a 3-foot long eel that day and my son caught his first fish. His 6-inch perch was kept and mounted and has survived as a memento for over 20 years. Since that time weíve fished for everything in Lake Nipissing, speckles in the North River, carp and catfish in the Rideau Canal, steelhead and cutthroat trout in B.C. rivers and creeks, and salmon and shark in the Pacific Ocean. His largest fish (mounted of course) is a 14-pound pike caught in a frozen bay off the Ottawa River. We still fish together whenever one of us travels between Redbridge and Ottawa, but it is never often enough.
As my son grew older and wasnít always available, I started taking my nephews and nieces fishing. My nephew, Nathan, was always eager; we have great memories of canoe-camping trips together and he has a nice smallmouth bass mounted which he caught on one of our trips. It may not be a complete coincidence that he is now studying forestry, working his summers at provincial parks, and thinking about getting a bush pilotís license. I hope to meet him at Grundy Lake Provincial Park this summer, and let him take me fishing for a weekend.
This past winter I met a nice young fellow of nine years who wanted to go ice-fishing. He doesnít have a father around very often, and really enjoyed the adventure of fishing out at my ice-shack. He caught the first walleye of the season, screamed when he pulled up a respectable pike, and swears he lost a huge sturgeon or monster fish. This spring, he out-fished me for walleye on our first outing and was very excited on another occasion when we caught and released some large sheephead. Heís a good fishing buddy and Iím sure heís learning a few things about fishing. I suspect heís also feeling a bit more important and special with some adult male attention.
So--going fishing always involves more than catching fish. If you have the chance, take your son or daughter out fishing. If thatís not possible, maybe your nephew or niece might like to go. And donít forget the neighboursí child, who may have no one to take him/her fishing, and might have the time of their life catching a mess of perch, rock bass, or sunfish, and come home feeling a lot better about themselves. And remember, you can never do it often enough.
Until next time, happy angling.
Number 5 Fall, 1996
Iíve always enjoyed going up to Temiscaming, Quebec to fish off the dam on the Ottawa River. This past summer I took my niece, Tess, who was visiting from Alberta and had never stepped on Quebec soil or seen the "mighty Ottawa". We had very good luck using live minnows and caught some yellow pickerel and some sauger, a smaller cousin to the pickerel, or walleye. I had never caught one before and was thrilled to catch a new species. I took some reference photos and saved the biggest one (15 inches) for mounting. They were delicious to eat and I returned on another occasion to catch my limit of walleye and sauger.
The opportunity to catch unusual species of fish is one of the reasons I have always enjoyed going to the Temiscaming dam. Some of the fish I have caught there for the first time include sturgeon, mooneye, blue walleye, redfin sucker, longnose sucker and the recently caught sauger. I expect that there are more species of fish in the Ottawa River than any other body of water in Ontario.
However, there are several other reasons why I am magnetically drawn to that Temiscaming dam. I began going up there as a teen to fish for pike and walleye which provided some diversion from always getting my limit of speckled trout in the local creeks and river. I often hitchhiked there and once rode my bicycle (a distance of 25 miles). Going up to the dam was an exercise in being independent and experiencing some freedom. Also, there has always been a unique mixture of sights and sounds there. The water roars over the dam producing a monotonous blanket of sound that muffles all other noises and leaves you feeling relaxed. The huge pulp and paper mill sits on the Quebec side of the river with all its smoke stacks, many buildings, huge mountains of saw dust and (at night) the surreal display of lights. There is usually a faint smell of sulphur in the air. However, I think the main reason I am so drawn to the dam has to do with a big fish.
When I was about 16, I went up to the dam to fish with two brothers, Larry and Brian Fulsom. We planned to fish through the night. We caught a few walleye in the evening and spent some time flirting with local girls walking across the bridge. Just as it was getting dark, Brian hooked onto a fish that was very large. His drag was set properly on his spinning reel and the fish was able to strip off line as it ran. It seemed to enter the fast current and run down river for many yards. Just when we thought it would strip all the line off the reel, it would turn and run back up river. This happened repeatedly and we decided that it had to be a big sturgeon. Brianís arms became very tired after battling this fish for about half an hour and he turned the rod over to his brother. Larry eventually tired as well and they took turns after that. We had no net so one of us ran over to a local bait dealer and borrowed a three-foot long gaff to hook and land the fish. After about 1½ hours the fish was coming in closer. Although I hadnít been allowed to play the fish I was elected to gaff and land it. I had to crawl over the protective fence, and position myself on a narrow cement ledge which was about five feet above the water swirling in the strong back currents. With just one leg on the ledge and one hand holding onto the fence, I could barely reach the water surface with the end of the gaff. I imagined hooking that fish and being pulled into the whirlpool below and never returning! Finally, the fish broke the surface of the water and we saw it for the first time. We were awe-struck with its size. It had to be at least five feet long and seemed about 10-12 inches across its head. I made one lunge with the gaff and succeeded in hitting it on the side of its head. It dove and the line broke. We were all in a state of shock for some time. I think I was glad to be on dry ground and not being swept down the Ottawa River to a watery grave. Brian must have sat on the river bank for twenty minutes saying nothing, staring into the ground. We (I?) had lost a fish weighing 40-50 pounds.
There is probably some kind of lesson to be derived from this story. Perhaps it tells us to always bring along the proper equipment needed to land a big fish. Maybe it is unwise to fish at night when you canít see what you are doing. Or--if you arenít going to give me a turn playing a big fish, donít ask me to land it for you!
Until next time, happy angling.