Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Backyard Bug Pics

This past weekend I took one of my cameras into the back yard to see if I could spot some interesting bugs to photograph.  Not a lot going on, the butterflies really like our Butterfly Bushes, but they aren't blooming yet.
I spotted these around a milkweed plant that is in bloom.  (Click photos to see larger versions.)

I know...this one is a bottle fly. Not too exciting, right?  But the shiny green IS sort of interesting.  Looks like the lenses of ultra-cool mirrored sunglasses maybe.

Monday, June 27, 2011

More Nungesser Lake 2011 trip pictures...

Jay, Jeff, David (me), and Chris
Sure, our Canada trip is about FISHING.  But more goes into it than just fishing.
First...there's the packing for the trip.  We all know we gotta travel as light as possible...take just the necessities.  Necessities include:
-Food for 1 week (dinners to be supplemented with fresh Walleyes!)
-Clothes for 1 week
-All our fishing rods, reels, tackle, cameras and other gear
-Toiletries...hey we aren't total barbarians!

We've got the food nailed down pretty good after so many trips.  Jay started us out the first year with what food items we all thought we needed for the week.  We've changed/added/deleted some items each year.  We haven't run out of food yet!
We generally eat a light breakfast (cereal or PopTarts...but occasionally eggs/bacon).  A lot of people go back to camp for lunch, but we stay out all day.  We could do shore lunches and cook our catch...but its a lot of extra junk we'd have to take out each day in our boats, so we save our fish for dinner.  For our lunches,we make meat & cheese sandwiches, or PB&J, and also take some pop, water, and a variety of snacks out in the boats each day.  Some of the snacks include meat sticks and cookies that Chris makes for us.  Both are AWESOME!!

Dinner is the highlight....when we finally get to eat the fresh walleye we've caught that day.  We don't keep any to bring back home at the end of the trip...we just enjoy it while we are there.  We also keep ONLY what we know we will eat for that meal.  Nothing is wasted.  Last year we determined that 3 fillets per person for dinner was good.  For some reason, this year we pared that down to 2 fillets (1 fish), and even went from keeping 17"-18" fish to keeping 15"-16" fish.  Maybe the reason we ate less fish this trip was because we had plenty of food/snacks in our boats during the day while fishing, and snacked some more before we got around to cooking dinner?  Or maybe in past years we didn't catch as many 17"+ walleyes as we did this trip, so we kept smaller fish and could eat more of it?  There's a lot of meat on a 17" walleye!

Fortunately, the hired help at the camp clean/fillet our fish when we come back to camp in the early evenings.  And this year, at least on of the helpers was even cutting out most of the "Y-bones", which was nice.  Still, there often were a few bones remaining in the fillets, and some loose scales on them.  I HATE picking fish bones out of my mouth when eating fish.  So, I do my best to make sure our fillets are bone- and scale-free.

  When the fish is ready, we usually trade-off nights on our method-of-preparation/cooking.  We'll batter and deep-fat-fry; seaon, wrap in foil with onions and basically broil it on the grill; or using a lighter coating of batter and fry.  Whichever way its cooked, its is ALWAYS delicious!

 After the fish is done, Chris (our grill- and fry-master) will cook us up some sort of frozen 'taters in the deep-fat curly fries, or cottage fries, or "crispy crowns"....Its SO unhealthy and yummy!
Jeff is either going "gangsta" on us....or he's calling for a DOUBLE helping of the 'taters!
We sure didn't leave the dinner table still hungry!

 Another VERY important "food" consideration is....what Canadian beers should we enjoy?  This year's bottled selection included Sleeman's Variety Pack (Original Draught, Light, Cream Ale, and Honey Brown Lager), Molson Canadian, Alexander Keith's IPA, and Moosehead.  Grain and hops...vegetable matter.  So...having a beer is like drinking a V-8, right?
 So what's the camp like?  It serves its purpose.  As you can see from the cooking pictures above, the cabin we got this year was the smallest cabin we've been in so far, but we made it work pretty well.  Below is a picture of the area from the end of one of the docks:
 And below is a picture looking towards the docks/fish house from the porch of our cabin:

 I enjoy a cigar now and then while fishing...or for keeping the bugs away when back at camp.
Below was a windy day, which I overcame by assuming a "fetal position" in the front of the boat.  Hey, I got that cigar lit!!

Speaking of bugs...all things considered we've had it pretty good over the years.  Each night is a little different, and sometimes the mosquitos or black flies or "no-see-ums" can be pretty bad.  One insect that doesn't bite or try to fly up you nose (usually), is the good ol' Mayfly:

I know at the beginning of this post I said our trips really ARE about the fishing...and I did take some fish pictures to show colors or teeth. These are what my companions called the "artsy shots".
Yellow Perch:

 Northern Pike:


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nungesser Lake, Ontario - 6/10 thru 6/16/2011

Nungesser Lake is a fair-sized lake northeast of Red Lake, Ontario, Canada, that is best known for producing large Northern Pike.  It also has some really nice walleyes if you can find them.

Every other year since 2001, I've been fishing Nungesser Lake for a week with 3 other guys (Jay, Jeff and Chris).  2011 is our 6th trip to the lake.  The first 4 trips we fished in late July/early August.  At that time of year, the fish are typically 20 feet deep.  The past 2 trips have been in mid-June.  This early in the year, many fish are in 3 feet to 7 feet of water.

Its roughly a 13-hour road trip from central Iowa.  I'm not a fan of road trips.  But we usually see some interesting wildlife.  In the past we've seen moose, otter, and woodland caribou... but we did not see any this year.  During our road trip and while at the lake, we saw a solitary bear near the road, a mother bear with 2 cubs, deer, eagles, fox, osprey, loons, beaver, various ducks I was unable to identify, grouse, bats, and a porcupine (a first for me).  Our last night in camp, we watched a good-sized bear in our camp rummaging through our neighbor's belongings they had left outside overnight.  It was about 60 feet away from us.  We were watching out our screened window (at 3:30am), and the bear would look our way every time we whispered.  A loud  burst of flatulence from Chris spooked the bear and it then left camp.

Although I caught my first fly-rod Walleye a week or two ago in Iowa, one of my main goals at Nungesser Lake this year was to catch some more Walleyes on fly-fishing gear.  I used spinning gear for most of the trip, but I did manage to catch 5 Walleyes on fly-fishing gear this trip on a variety of fly patterns.  Its a really good fight!
Fly-Fishing for Walleyes!

With much forbearance from Jay, and also some from Jeff, I was also able to add both Yellow Perch and Northern Pike to my list of species I've caught on fly-fishing gear. Both guys were uncanny in their ability to duck my flailing casts. I did manage to hit myself in the back of the head with a heavy Clouser Deep Minnow pattern on one such cast. OUCH!
10" Yellow Perch on Fly Rod

Northern Pike on Fly Rod
Here's some of the patterns that caught fish.  The Springbrook Wunder microjig at the top caught the Yellow Perch.  The 4" Ward Bean's Jointed Minnow at the bottom caught the Pike.  The others caught walleyes.

Below is the day-by-day fishing results:
Friday, June 10, we arrived in camp. We are allowed to fish from the docks that day, but can't take the boats out until Saturday. I caught 3 Walleyes off the dock (one on a fly rod), the biggest was 20.5". I also landed 2 Northern Pike, the biggest was 30".  I left the camera in the cabin.
Saturday, June 11. Chris and I had a decent day. It was slow in the morning, when we fished a spot that produced well for us 2 years ago. We then fished an area where a creek dumped into the lake. The water was mostly 5' deep, but active fish were there. On the day, I caught 3 Pike, the biggest was a good fish of 37.5".

37.5" Northern Pike

I also caught 20 Walleyes, the biggest being 21.75". Reef Runner Cicada's worked well on the Walleyes in this area. Oh...and I caught a tree or branch that measured something like 20'. It was longer than our boat! I hooked it under water, and pulled and pulled trying to break the 10lb test Fireline....and ended up breaking the tree! You could hear it crack under water, then I pulled in the 20' section.
Here's some of Chris's fish:

Sunday, June 12. Chris and I had a good morning, fishing near that same creek, but this time we found the fish on an adjacent 6' to 13' drop-off. 3" Big Hammer swimbaits on 1/4 oz. jigheads caught the most fish. The afternoon was really slow, and we picked up just a few fish in other spots. I caught 18 Walleyes on the day. My biggest measured 19".

Here's another nice Walleye Chris caught:

Monday, June 13. This was an interesting weather day. It started out Windy. Jay took us to a weedy bay that typically holds some Pike. I connected with a Northern Pike on my first cast! It was slow going, though. We moved out to an adjacent point where the wind was pushing water at a pretty good clip past the shoreline. We caught a couple Walleyes and some mid-sized Pike here. A #4 Mepps bucktail spinner worked well for me, and Cicada blade baits caught a couple, as I recall. Jay was using 4" Big Hammer swimbaits. The wind died as a light rain hit the scene. In the afternoon, we fished a 4' to 21' drop-off and connected with a fair number of smaller Walleyes (12"-15"). I tallied 17 Walleyes (up to 17.75") and 8 Northern Pike (3 were right around 27.5" each). Most of my Walleyes hit a white 3" Berkley PowerBait Ripple Shad on a 1/8oz jighead.

Here is Jay with some of his nicer fish:

Tuesday, June 14. Jay and I fished a few different areas, and found a bunch of fish on a point that had wind and currents coming from 2 directions. It was fast fishing for Walleyes for awhile. I pretty much stayed with the 3" Ripple Shad, while Jay was chucking the 4" Big Hammers. Eventually, the Walleyes seemed to stop hitting, and we caught a number of Pike. Then that bite died. The rest of the day was pretty slow, so I had Jay take me to a large beaver dam, where I set about catching Yellow Perch with a fly rod. By days end, I had tallied 6 Yellow Perch (up to 10"), 27 Walleyes (biggest was just over 22"), and 3 small Northern Pike.

Jay with a Walleye caught on a Big Hammer Swimbait:

I believe this Walleye caught by Jay was the biggest of the week....a dandy 24.75" fish:

Wednesday, June 15. Jeff and I tried a few spots in North Bay with only a few fish to show. We then went to a spot we had confidence we'd find fish in, and did pretty well for the remainder of the day. I ended up with 36 Walleyes (biggest was 22.75"), 1 Pike, and 1 Perch. The Ripple Shad caught most of my fish.

Jeff with a nice Pike:

Perch are aggressive! This little fella attacked a #5 Mepps!!
Thursday, June 16.  Our last day of fishing for this trip.  We (ok, I) didn't want to waste any time....we returned to the area we caught fish the previous day.  Fishing ebbed and flowed throughout the day, but it was mostly good for Walleyes.  We moved a little bit but stayed in the same general area.  We also fished an area that had some good "cabbage" weeds.  A large Pike followed my #4 Mepps by the boat, then disappeared.  I remarked to Jeff that maybe it would show up on our stringer (since we had had several instances today (and on previous days this trip) of Northerns trying to eat the Walleyes on our stringer.  Within a few minutes, it did go after our stringer.  I grabbed the net and missed it the first time, but it refused to release the Walleye.  I netted in on the 2nd try, and Jeff helped me haul it into the boat.  It was a chunky Pike that measured 41.5", estimated weight right around 20lbs.

I tallied 1 Perch, 4 Pike, and 46 Walleyes (biggest measured 24") for the day.  The Ripple Shad was my best producer for the Walleyes again.

Jeff with a good Walleye:

At one point I made Jeff laugh so hard he was forced to eject a mouthful of strawberry pop over the side of the boat.  Good times!

Another great trip to Nungesser Lake in Ontario, Canada!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Diamond Lake, Iowa - 6/1/2011

Diamond Lake is a 98-acre "electric motor only" man-made lake right next door to a slightly larger high-traffic recreational lake, Lake Ponderosa, both just west of the town of Montezuma, Iowa.

I thought I had heard reports from the previous year that there were large bluegills in Diamond Lake.  Memory being what it is, I may have misremembered the name of the lake. The IDNR website says the lake has a population of Redear Sunfish, which I've been wanting to catch.  A friend at the IDNR said he had heard there were nice crappies in the lake too.

I took the day off work, and it turned out to be about the nicest weather conditions one could ask for!  I took my kayak and 2 fly rods and got on the lake around 9:45am.  I crossed the lake and searched the shoreline shallows for evidence of bluegill spawning beds.  Found them right away.

I caught bluegills on foam Gurgler topwaters and yellow Boa Yarn Leeches.  I caught a few crappies too, as I worked my way down the shoreline.

I reached a shallow bay and saw a HUGE tail fin waving from the water, and then saw the back of the HUGE Grass Carp!  I'm somewhat obsessed with these creatures.  I've only caught 3 of them so far, but they are a lot of fun when you can get them to strike your offerings.  Bad thing (for me) is that they are extremely wary and picky creatures.  They will take nymphs and streamers, but not nearly enough for my liking. After all, they are vegetarians who normally dine on aquatic lake plants.  I've heard from more than one source that they seem to like white Woolly Bugger fly patterns.  I don't think I was carrying any of those, so I put on a white Boa Yarn Leech.  I spent some time casting to these creatures, but had no takers.  Probably a good thing, I'm sure they would have snapped my line in seconds...but then again it would have been very interesting to be taken on a kayaker's "sleigh ride" by one of these big beasts!

I eventually made my way to the dam.  It had some taller grass and weeds along the edge of the water, but beyond that was mown grass.  I figured it would give me a better vantage point to spot fish and it was easy to walk along and cast, so I beached the kayak and fished from shore for awhile.  Almost right away I spotted some really nice Largemouth Bass hanging near nests.  Well, one was definitely on the nest, and the other 2 or 3 were just hanging around.  I didn't have all the patterns I would have liked to try in this situation, but I tried large topwaters, a bunny-strip leech (5-incher), a hard-hackle rubber worm, a Clouser Deep Minnow, EP Minnow, a large Woolly Bugger...absolutely NOTHING got anything more than "a look".

I gave up and moved on, but there wasn't much else going on along the section of dam I walked.  Back to the kayak!  I decided to try the upper end of the arm of the lake across from the boat ramp.  I could see a culvert under a road there, and it looked like a little water was flowing through it.  On my way there, I noticed a Loon on the lake.  Loons are awesome birds that we encounter a lot when fishing in Canada.  Sometimes they are extremely friendly and will swim around our boat and beg for fish like a dog begging for a treat.  This one kept its distance.

As I was heading towards the culvert, I passed an overhanging tree with some branches in the water that had a dozen or so small Common Carp sitting completely still beneath it.  Then I passed a small stick poking above the surface that had a crappie hiding beneath it.  Next, I steered slightly around a clump of "gunk" floating on the surface that turned out to be a large sleeping snapping turtle.  He spooked when I got next to him...I think I could have grabbed his tail I was so close!

Its amazing how stealthy kayaks can be and how close you can get to fish and other creatures.  I have a paddle for emergencies or for backing up, but I have a Hobie Outback with the Mirage Drive propulsion system.  You basically pedal the thing almost like a reclining bicycle, and there are fins beneath the kayak that make it go forward...quietly.  There is a rudder at the rear of the kayak whose direction you control with a lever near your left hand.  Otherwise...its hands-free operation.

I made it to the culvert, and could see the bluegills swarming where the water was dumping into the lake.  I caught a handful of bluegills here, plus a chunky 13" bass.  The drawback of this kayak is, without grabbing the paddle, you can't just "stop" when you want to, but rather you glide until wind or water friction stops you.  I ended up getting too close to the culvert and the remaining bluegills scattered.

I headed halfway or more back down this arm of the lake and decided since I didn't catch any Redear Sunfish by fishing the shallow spawning areas, I would fish the deeper weedline in 4 to 7 feet of water and see if I could use a black microjig and strike indicator to get the fly near the bottom where Redears might be foraging for snails.  Each time the strike indicator would jiggle or dive, I would set the hook and hope it was a Redear.  But each time it was another Bluegill.  They were fun, but the biggest one I caught all day was probably 8", and most were smaller at 6.5"-7.5".

As I was drifting and the action slowed, I would check the electronic fishfinder/depthfinder.  It showed some interesting minor humps and small pieces of structure in one area.  Down went the indicator.  I set the hook and felt a decent fish on the line.  I brought it to the surface and...WALLEYE!  I'd been wanting to catch a walleye on fly gear, and figured I had a good chance to do so when I go to Canada in a couple weeks.  But here it was!  I didn't have a net, and didn't want to lift it into the boat because it might throw the hook.  I had it out of the water, and my hand around it at one point, but in the end it thrashed, squirmed and escaped the torturous procedure of being photographed.  It was probably 13.5" long.  I later learned they had been stocked "experimentally" into the lake.

It was mid-afternoon by now and I had brought water along, but no food ( I knew I forgot SOMETHING). I decided to call it a day and headed for the boat ramp.  I was happy to have caught the walleye, but disappointed I didn't catch a Redear Sunfish.  I got everything loaded back into/onto the car, and decided to fish the rip-rap along the shoreline for a bit.  I put on my version of a Rubberlegs pattern, unweighted.  First cast...Redear Sunfish!  It was a 7.5" female, with a belly full of eggs:

I was thrilled, and hopeful that continued fishing along the shoreline would result in more Redears!  But, that was the only one I caught.  I did catch a few Green Sunfish.  I debated photographing one that had a beautiful electric pinkish-orange edge to its belly and fins, but didn't. This one had interesting "Tiger Stripes" that I could see in the water even before I hooked it:

I also caught bunch more of the smallish Bluegills, and about another dozen or more Crappies.  The Crappies were all 8"-10", but small.

I had switched from the Rubberlegs to a Dragonfly Nymph pattern with beadchain eyes at some point, and continued to catch crappies and bluegills.  At one point I got a solid strike and then the fish started swimming directly away from me, taking line.  Nice fish!  I was being extra careful to fight this fish...I didn't want to lose it!  It was a really nice bass!  I know this, because it came to the surface, shook its head, and spit the fly back at me.  Shucks.  I've lost a quite a few large bass this year from them throwing the flies!  I guess that's how they get big...avoiding capture.  It was fun anyway.

So, my take on Diamond Lake is this:
Its a really nice lake with lots of fish.  Right now, the bluegill and crappie populations are high, but the size isn't large.  Check back from year-to-year...Crappie populations and sizes are generally very cyclical.  This lake is tons of fun to fly-fish, and it would be an excellent place to stalk large Grass Carp from a canoe, kayak, float tube, or other quiet non-motorized watercraft.  Lots of limestone rip-rapped shorelines offer good structure for fish and a good substrate for many of their food items like crayfish, snails, and aquatic nymphs.  Since this is my first trip to the lake, I can't say how much the fish utilize this shallow structure following the spawning season.  There's fair numbers of bass here, and some really nice ones if someone wants to target them.  There's some good camping areas around the lake for people wanting to "overnight".  With all these crappies and bluegills, this would be a GREAT place to take kids fishing.  There were 2 boats on the entire lake when I got there in the morning, which eventually left.  After 4pm, 2 bass boats showed up.  I liked that this lake didn't have much boat traffic.

I'm not particularly prone to requiring LARGE FISH to enjoy a day of fishing, but I think this lake has some big fish potential, especially if you go after Grass Carp or Largemouth Bass.   I enjoy fish of all sizes and types.  All things considered, I give Diamond Lake a top-notch rating.