Southern Ontario Brook Trout

Brook trout hold a place of reverence among many anglers for their colour, fighting ability, and taste.  For some anglers like my dad they have attained a place of reverence among the freshwater species of our province.  As a lad, I can recall growing up listening to him tell stories about fishing for these colourful creatures in the local streams around the outskirts of Bancroft.  By his account they were plentiful, sensitive, yet easy to catch (if you knew how), and a  source of a great number of fond memories.  Personally, I can recall some of our camping trips to Algonquin park where my dad would pull our station wagon over and disappear down the side of the embankment, only to return with a few of these little creatures.  Pan-fried brook trout over a campstove was my first real taste of wild food, and very likely one of the sparks that ignited my passion for fishing for these delicious fish.

Times change, populations grow, and land gets developed.  In turn our, impact to the environment (at least locally in Ontario) sent the population of brook trout into somewhat of a nose dive in many areas.  In the back of my mind I knew that development and things like agricultural run off can effect the water quality of small streams.  But this effect really didn’t hit me hard until my dad reported back after a return visit to some of those streams a few years ago.  I’m told he only caught a single trout for the whole trip.  Sadly I felt like the days of bountiful brook trout were lost.

My best days fishing brook trout have been in the middle of Algonquin park, and in Gaspésie, Quebec.  Fish were plentiful on both trips, however, in each case I had to work extremely hard, and sometimes travel for days, to find the places of historic abundance.  Anytime I tried to catch them locally, I always ended up with an empty basket. After these local trips, my view of brook trout fishing was fairly pessimistic.  My conclusion: good easy local brook trout fishing just didn’t exist any more in southern Ontario.

My pessimistic view changed during a grouse hunting/fishing trip this past fall, after having some unexpected success with the square tails in a not to distant location.  Our goal was grouse, but we ended up pulling several brook trout out of the lakes on the way.  Still uncertain about the fishing, I planned to return one day to fully explore the area.   I reported my success to my uncle who was intrigued and suggested we do a winter trip.  I got to work right away scouring the MNR fish online tool to scout the area, and contacted cottages in the area to secure accommodations.  When the dust settled we had planned a three day trip planned for the area that was not too far for any of us to drive.  I could tell you where we went, but in my experience, half the fun is finding these locations out for yourself.  Fish Online

Day 1 arrived on January 18th, and we met at our rental cottage and prepared the snow mobiles and gear for a days run into the woods.  Although we got off to a late morning start we were still hopefull.  Afterall, there were five of us, two snowmobiles, an array of fishing rods and tackle.  We could cover a lot of ground with that set up.

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We started the trip on the lake where I had some success the previous fall and spread out along the shoreline.  There was at least 12″ of ice wherever we drilled with a max of 14″ in some places.  Simple live bait rigs with gads were the ticket and within the first 30 minutes, I had 3 fish on the ice.  Another two were iced among the remaining members of our group and the fish kept biting.  We ended the day with a respectable 10 fish iced, about the same lost at the hole, and countless more missed hits.  Tired yet happy, we returned to our cottage for a celebratory beverage.

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Fresh fish on ice!

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We beat the sun up on the second day and started our trek back into some of the more remote lakes.  The ride in was several kilometers and things got pretty hairy with three dudes on the back of a snowmobile.  Half way in the three man machine was working a bit hard so we moved one of the guys to a towed sled.  We resumed our trek and made it to the lakes.  Thankfully I was the navigator on this trip which secured me a permanent position on one of the cushioned seats.

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One of the gents with his first brook trout ever through the ice.

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Fishing was tough on the second day, and we worked real hard moving around the lake to try and locate fish.  Our efforts paid off and we racked up another 6 fish on the day, with the majority of them being bigger than the previous day.  Shallow wood seemed to work well for us as well as rock points.  Just like that, another satisfying, albeit hard, day was behind us.

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Having satisfied ourselves on brookies over the first two days, we decided to switch things up on the third day and target a different lake that was stocked with splake.  For those who don’t know, these fish are hybrids between a lake trout and a brook trout.  This presents some added complexity to fishing for them as they have been known to behave like both species whenever the mood strikes them.  With this knowledge in our minds, we varied our presentations with a mix of setlines and a couple jigging presentations in deeper water.  As luck would have it, the splake were feeling brookish on the third day and while exploring the area with a depth finder, I looked back to see that my Gad had disappeared.  Not sure what to expect, I began pulling up my line and eventually pulled my gad right out of the hole.  Seconds later I felt a familiar tug and I set the hook on a beautiful 5lb splake.  I eased the tank up from bottom and attempted to remove the line from the gad so I could use my rod.   Murphy’s law kicked in and the line snapped.  I was left with a gad was in one hand and business end of the line n the other.  With no more time to be gentle, I hauled the fish up and grabbed the fluorocarbon leader.  The fish crested the hole and I took a breath.

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Aside from the interesting fight, I also noted the deep gold colour of the belly of this fish.  Most of the splake I have caught in the past were distinctly silvery, however this one seemded to lean towards its brook trout genes.  I’m guessing the lake may have something to do with the colour.

This splake happened to be my largest of the species to date.

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We visited one more small lake and added a few more brookies to our tally.  All said and done, we caught about 22 brookies and one big splake between 5 of us over the course of 2 and a half days.

Its not the big numbers I used to hear my dad talk about, but its definitely respectable for the size of the lakes we were on and for where we were fishing.  Catching that splake also made the trip real special.

Stocked lakes.  They are out there and are stocked for a reason, so go fish them!  There are so many reasons to target these lakes like the more you target stocked lakes, the less your focussing on natural strains of fish, which preserves the genetic diversity of our province.  Also, part of your license fees go to stocking these lakes so why not reap some of the rewards from a program you help fund.

Cheers from the ice,

Albert

 

 

 

Public Land Hunting and Fishing

Public lands are tough.  Fishing and hunting opportunities and often limited due to over use and too much competition.  Or are they?

We decided to figure this out for our selves last weekend.  Dave and I loaded up the car with the canoe, our shotguns and fishing rods and headed north of Kington to the north Frontenac parklands.  Snow had fallen in the Kingston area the day before however it had melted in the city proper.  This was not the case as we approached Parham on highway 38.  Snow had began to accumulate and it as obvious the plow had made its rounds on the roads to the north.

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The snow was a surprise although not altogether unwelcome.  Prints would be fresh and our quarry (grouse) would be more visible.  We continued on in anticipation, admiring the fresh blanket of white and the quaint architecture of small town Ontario.

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We arrived to our destination, parked the car at the trail head and began our hike.  We intended to camp that evening but decided it would be better to get on the trail early and worry about our camp later in the day.  With our hopes high we began our trek with guns loaded and eyes peeled into the mysterious Frontenac Parklands.

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The parklands have long been on our list of properties to visit.  These parklands constitute a large area north of highway 7 from Lanark county west to highway 41.  These lands are a prime example of the Canadian shield where rock outcrops and plutons are common.  Topography is highly variable and the forests contain a rich variety of conifers and deciduous trees.

These lands are also home to some pretty exquisite looking lakes containing all manner of finned creatures.  One of the more prominent of these being the brook trout.  With this knowledge in our heads, we were sure to pack our spinning rigs and so after several kilometers of hiking we stopped at one such lake rumoured to contain these desirable creatures.  To be clear, many of these lakes are put and take, as in they are stocked by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.  We tied on a couple of small silver spinner baits (panther martins and mepps to be exact) and took a cast into the pristine waters.

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After a few casts Dave sounded off that he had a hit, and a follow and another hit.  Seconds later he had a fish squirming on the bank and our impressions of the area grew.  Minutes later I felt a familiar tug and set the hook on a chunky little brooky.

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These creatures are impressive, for their fight, but also for their colour.  Nothing looks quite like a brook trout sporting some colour on its belly.

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After a couple fish from the first lake, we moved on in search of another quarry: grouse.  We walked for some time taking in the scenery and covering alot of ground however no grouse were seen.  The curse of public land seemed to be on us.  Although I’m not one to put much stock in the metaphysical, the curse seemed as real as the ATV tire tracks we followed along the path.

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We continued to hike along the path for several kilometers, and remained grouseless.    Discouraged we decided to change our tactic by taking a smaller path into the bush.  The path began to petered out into nothing until we ended up hiking in old logging cuts.  With all the small bushes and conifers around we were sure we would scare up a grouse.  Approximately 16 kilometres later, many of which were off the beaten path in the woods, we sluggishly stumbled upon one bird.  One bird which, we were not even close to being ready for.  It seemed we had our answer to the public land question.  We did however manage to get a couple more brook trout for the pan from another little lake, which rounded out are dinner nicely.

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We visited several different lakes in the area and drank in as much of the scenery as we could in one and a half days.  Regardless of how much this place gets hit by other hunters and trail riders, it hasn’t detracted from it’s beauty.

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It also hasn’t detracted from the deer population which seems to be thriving despite the numerous tree stands we encountered.

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North Frontenac is gem.  Its an amazing amount of land generally close to Kingston.   Although it receives a lot of pressure, it remains a great destination for many other activities.  The area boasts several campsites and lots of room to roam free on or off trail.  Bring a topo map, compass and enjoy!

Cheers from the wild

Albert

 

White Water Canoeing on the Madawaska

This blog could be accused of focussing too much on the Hunting and Fishing aspects of Southern Ontario and I would be hard pressed to refute the accusation.  I mean they are my two favourite past times, which explains why they often make their way to the forefront of this blog.

However I do occasonally get a chance to step outside of my cofort zone and try something new and exciting.  Last weekend was such an occasion as I was invited to a bachelor party which included a white water canoeing component.

The trip took place on the lower portion of the Madawaska starting at the Paddlers coop in Palmer Rapids and finishing some 41 kms in Griffith.  The route took us through the Lower Madawaska River Provincial Park and over several sets of rapids.

The trip started following an early morning of fishing on a small back lake I frequented in my youth.  We camped at the Paddlers Co-op for the night and awaited the remaining 3 members of our group to arrive.  For those who have never been, the Paddlers coop is a great location to get your learn on when it comes to white water.  The facility is a non-for profit organization owned and run by paddlers who really enjoy what they do.  Its also a great place to get outfitted for the river if you don’t have your own gear (https://paddlerco-op.ca/). It’s funny, I’ve spent a ton of time in the Bancroft area as a kid and had no idea a gem like the paddlers Coop existed.

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DSC_0152(ii)Everyone who has ever camped at bon echo or head up highway 41 knows the Kaladar General Store.  There aren’t a whole lot of options for gas in the area and the KGS is a great spot for fuel and odds and ends you may need for your outdoor adventures.

DSC_0161 (ii)Typical foggy morning landscapes from the Bancroft area.

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The first day started with a leisurely paddle from the Paddler Coop.  There are several flat stretches right off the hop just downriver from the Coop.

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Aumonds Rapids (shown above) was the very first set we encountered, and my very first set as a newly minted white water canoeist.  Although it was only a class I in low water, it seemed huge to a newbie.  We did scout this rapid, which in hind sight was probably more for my benefit than safety.  Glad the guys eased me into these things!

But lets not down play the importance of scouting when canoeing whitewater.  Scouting is a vital component of white water canoeing in order to stay safe.  Scouting allows the paddler to assess the level of difficulty of each rapid set and allows for the development of a game plan prior to entering the set.  Rocks can be game enders and since they can be difficult to see from the low angle of a canoe, scouting is critical.  If I haven’t already sold you on it consider this:  Water conditions can vary greatly from season to season or even between rain events and rapids can change drastically over time.

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(View of snake rapids above)

Fishing on the trip was dominated by 1-2 lb smallmouth bass.  They seemed to be everywhere in the river and very hungry.  They also made a delicious addition to our evening meals.

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To be honest, I was pretty terrified of running some of these rapids.  Most were Class I to II however there were some class III rapids, which on paper seems beyond my confidence level.  Good thing the other gents on the trip were pros and more than willing to teach me the ropes.

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(Nailed it!)

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(Above: Dave crushing Rifle Chute)

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White water canoeing has inherent risks, and spilling can be a frequent occurrence.  Thankfully the Madawaska is a fairly forgiving river in the sense that most rapids are followed by slow moving pools which easily accommodates spilled paddlers.  Swimming to shore from these pools is usually fairly quick and easy to do.

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(The author hitting split rock rapids)

River features like rapids and specific rocks often come with weird and quirky names.  Some seem to have no meaning at all, while others are aptly named.  We encountered one such feature ( a rock) in Raquette Rapids dubbed “The Canopener”.  This rock is located immediately down stream of the rapids that canoes often get pinned against, leaving them “open” the current. According to the locals, it can be nearly impossible to remove the canoes from the rocks during high water.

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The addiction to white-water grew over the trip and by the end, I was eagerly anticipating the next set.  Definitely a trip I would do again.

Cheers from the rapids,

Albert

 

Bay of Quinte 2016

Southern Ontario is still in the grip of a drought.  Water levels are extremely low and the temperatures seem to stay above 30 almost every day.  Typically I would say these conditions do not bode well for fishing.  However chances to fish with my family are few and far between so we didn’t let that dissuade us this weekend.

We started the day off at the launch in Deseronto and took a quick trip down Long Reach.  we did a little scouting in some deep water and tried a few favourite spots.  The day started off with a bang as the first cast immediately landed a chunky largemouth in a favourite hole of mine.  Not the species we were looking for but a fish is a fish.

We moved on to a different area and played around fishing in varying depths of water ranging from 11 to 25 FOW.  Fishing was slow following the first largemouth and we decided to leave our first stop and head to a shoal not to far away.

The area seemed pretty crowded so we slowly approached so as to avoid interfering with other boats.  We trolled the outer edges of the shoal for a while until the crowd thinned and we were able to move in a bit closer.  Suddenly the bite turned on and the fishing heated up.  The first fish we landed was a decent fresh water drum caught on a spinner bait.  The fish put up a good fight with a few good drag peeling runs.  Sheepshead may have a bad reputation for being ugly and smelly, but man are they fun to catch.

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We continued to fluctuate our depths, make a gradual approach to the shoal as we did each pass.  We seemed to find the sweet spot as we  started to catch the odd smaller walleye mixed with perch and white bass.  Action steadily increased over the course of an hour and a half until finally we started get a few stronger hits.  One of those hits turned into a chunky 3+ lb walleye for my brother.  As a bonus, this was the first Walleye he has caught since we were kids (some 20+ years ago)!

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The four of us ended up caching 10 walleye in total on top of the countless perch and white bass which made for a very action packed morning.  Finally around 11:20 we decided we would do one more pass over one of the most productive area which happened to be right beside the shoal in 14 FOW.

Of course the last ditch effort paid off as my dad announced to the group he had hooked up, and of course it had to be the biggest fish of the day.  That’s just how fishing goes.  My dads claims of “this is a big one” were confirmed as the drag on his older real started to scream with strain.  The fish was making some impressive runs and didn’t seem to want to give up.  As I hung over the side of the boat with the net in hand, it seemed like the fish would never make it to the surface.   Finally my Dad wrestled the fish into the awaiting net.  What a tank too, a healthy 4.25 lb walleye.  Bigger than the other fish we caught which we guessed were in the 1lb range.  To make matters even better, the fish was caught on an old south bend spinner bait that was handed down to Dad from his father and that looked like it was 300 years old.  The fish was nice but the excitement on his face was nicer.

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The day was done and we returned home with a full live well of fish.  We don’t always keep fish, in fact we rarely do, but in this instance the fish looked too appetizing to pass up.

I’m glad the heat didn’t effect the walleye bite too much.  I’m also glad we caught fish.  I’m most glad that my brother made his triumphant return to catching walleye.

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I find it strangely fitting that we all got shown up by Dad.  It puts things in perspective a bit.  Maybe we have all the gear, a big boat, new rods, etc.  But regardless of all that, days like today teach us that nothing is more valuable on the water than experience.  Oh, and maybe that 300 year old south bend spinner that seemed to work so well.  Now excuse me while I go spend a few hours scouring antique lure sites…..

Cheers from the Lake,

Albert

Loughborough Buckets

Travelling is great, especially when you get a chance to experience the majesty and greatness of a country like Canada.  This was exactly how we felt during our recent trip to Alberta.  Alberta is a beautiful place.  Very different from Ontario.  However, part way through the trip I started feeling like something was missing.  This feeling got progressively worse as the trip neared its end and after a few days I realized what the issue was.  It was early July and I had only been fishing bass once.  My fingers weren’t sore from lipping too many bass.  I wasn’t sporting a racoon tan from endless hours pounding the slop with minimal sunscreen.  It was as if my body was rejecting this cushy non hardcore existence.

Thankfully Im happy to report the withdrawal symptoms are over as I made it out yesterday to the back lakes here in Ontario. Loughborough Lake to be specific.  I even managed to time my inaugural trip back on the water to coincide with the Friday before a long weekend!  Just before things turn into a zoo on the lake.

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Thankfully the bass gods recognized the sorry, bassless state I was in and decided to play ball.  We hooked into a large number of fish, many of which were 3 + lbs with a few pushing 5.  Even managed to hook a decent size smallmouth on the eastern portion of the lake, which If you know the lake, isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence.  Didn’t get a whole lot of pictures, which can attest to the quality of fishing we had, but here is a shot of one of the average sized largies we hauled in.

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It was a great day on the water and my hunger for bass fishing has been sated, at least until this afternoon.

Cheers form the lake,

Albert

Bass Opener Derby 2016

Bass opener is here once again, and so is our annual bass derby.  Unfortunately my regular partner, and former tournament winner, Dave was unable to attend due to some family commitments so my uncle took the opportunity and filled his spot.  We spent the evening before the tournament catching up with the group and loosing money to Jay at cards.  You would think I wouldn’t be happy about this, however I was ecstatic.. Why? historically anyone who wins a cards usually doesn’t win the derby.  A few crumpled 20’s or the big 1K pot?  easy decision!  Finally my uncle and I had enough so we headed to bed to rest up for the following day’s fish.

Daybreak arrived and we made our way to the launch.  Just like clock work we were greeted by the usual early risers from our group who were rearing to go.  We awaited the stroke of 6 am and broke the stillness of the lake with the roar of our engines.  Each blasting off in a hopeful hurry to make it to there spot.

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Little did the other fisherman know I had a secret weapon…. a lucky picture made by my wife and daughter.  I’m certain this had something to do with my success.

 

 

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Fishing was hard right off the get go.  It seemed the big bass hadn’t woke up yet and we fought to get an early morning bag.  Fish came off of shoals that were scattered around the lake and from some weedlines scattered around the shores.  Luckily we found an edge that seemed untouched and we proceeded to pull a nice 3+ lb fish from a pocket.

 

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The morning ended with my bag sitting near the top. it seemed I was on the right track but lots of folks were close behind.  It seemed that I wasn’t the only one  who had managed to scrape together a decent bag.  One of the gents even found a nice 4lb 4oz greenback which had him right near the top.

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We scarfed down lunch in haste anxious to see if we could upgrade our first two fish.  This was tough to do after the lake had seen an onslaught of boats in the early morning.  Thankfully I managed to eak out a gew more ounces on my bag but it wouldn’t b enough to hold the day.  Jay, who previously landed the big 4+ fish had found some other and ended the day wth a solid 7 lb 5 ox bag for two fish.  Sitting in third, my high 5 lb bag didn’t seem like it had much of chance. Regardless, on a small lake like this, all it takes is one big fish or two decent ones to change the game.

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And so the evening came and went and the morning of the Sunday  arrived.  We had from 6 till 12 to add another two fish to our limits.  Frustrated I wasn’t sure where to start.  Typically the first day is always the best and the second day can see the bass shut right down.  I needed two good fish and fast and I had no idea where to begin.

So we did what we did on the first day, we worked our favourite shoal and the adjacent bay in hopes of finding some more fish.  I’m not one to return to a fished spot in the same tourney but I learned something during this tourney.  If your spot is adjacent to big water and has some attractive structure, its likely several groups of fish use the area which means you can return multiple times.  So this si what we did, right up to 15 minutes before the end of the tourney when I caught a decent 3lb 11ozer right fro the spot we first began in.  Now I had 7lbs 5oz to add to my total.

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This would put me at 13lb 3oz for four fish which for such a small lake is pretty damn good. In fact, it turned out to be the largest bag ever recorded on the trophy for 4 fish!  I’m telling you it had something to do with the lucky fish picture my daughter drew for me.  Note to self, have her draw one for  every tournament I do.

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And so the tournament was over and the trophy will stay in Kingston one more year.

Thanks to Gab and Fatima for hosting such a great event.  You guys are great hosts.  Thanks to my uncle for making the trek down to take part in the fun.  Special acknowledgement to Jay for the big fish of the tourney.  I’ve got a feeling that next year could be your year, all you have to do is loose the poker on purpose!  Oh and somehow get my daughter to draw you a fish picture!

 

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Cheers from the lake,

Albert

A Day of Firsts

Pike season has been open in southern Ontario for about two weeks.  Unfortunately due to a busy schedule, I was not able to take part until this past weekend when an opportunity presented itself and I found myself with a free Saturday morning.  As I was planning this first foray into pike for 2016 and I was trying to decide who to put in the passenger seat of my boat, and my thoughts drifted back to a missed opportunity to fish with a fellow volunteer name Rich.  Rich volunteers with me on a local professional association s executive and had shown interest in my stories during our meetings.  He always seemed and in seemed keen to experience the local outdoor scene here in Kingston and when he confessed he had never been fishing I absolutely had to get him out.  Fast forward to a year later and we were packing his newly purchased tackle in my boat and heading off to my favourite local Lake.

I could see a measured excitement was brewing in Rich’s eyes as I talked through some strategy and told some stories of past trips on the way to the lake.  I’m sure he didn’t quite believe my fish tales of 30+ fish in a day.  I’m sure, to him  it seemed like I was embellishing, or just telling “fish tales”.  I mean everyone knows fisherman tell tall tales right?  I could see all that change as I hooked the first pike of the day within in mere minutes of stopping to fish.  After I had gotten a decent pike slim slick going on my hands from boating the first few fish, Rich seemed to be chomping at the bit to get a turn.  As it happens, Rich is a fast learner and soon had his chance.

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Rich’s rod bent over as a pike smacked a spinner bait I had loaned him.  Nothing catches spring pike like a spinner bait! Following a decent battle, with lots of runs, Rich had his first pike.  Ten minutes or less into the trip!  I could attempt to explain the feeling I had watching him beam as he held his first pike.  or I could try to capture the moment in an eloquent paragraph filled with grandiose adjectives, but I’m sure I couldn’t begin to do it justice.  Instead, I’ll let the picture below do the talking.

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OK, so the fish weren’t giants, and yes we could have targeted bigger ones, but I had a different tactic in mind.   Nothing turns people off of fishing more than long days of catching no fish, as can be the case with larger pick.  So as this was Rich’s first trip, I was shooting for quantity.

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We finished the day with about 11 pike, lots of follows, a couple out of season bass (that were promptly released) and a bunch of smaller panfish.  But the real win of the day wasn’t the fish, it was being able to witness Rich catch his very first fish.

It makes me think back to my youth when my uncle used to take me fishing.  I often wondered why he always went ot of his way to put me onto fish. He always set me up with the best equipment, put me in the best spots, let me have the best side of the boat.  He seemed to always have me on the weed edge side while we were trolling, or made up a flimsy excuse about how I had to watch both rods in their holders while we trolled because he had to steer.  Always gave me first crack at any hit.  I always wondered how he could stand to give up catching fish.  Now I think I know.

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Rich, thanks for joining me on such a great day and mostly thanks for letting me be part of your first fishing experience.  Of all the trips and experiences I’ve had on that particular lake (and they are many), this one will definitely rank amongst the most memorable.

Now just in case you actually started thinking I was an honest fisherman, I’ll leave you with this picture.

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I don’t always hold my fish out from my body during pictures to make the seem bigger, but when I do, I do it as a witty way of ending a blog post.

Cheers from the wild.

Albert