Winter is on its last legs here in South Eastern Ontario and the foraging season is steadily approaching. Unfortunately there isn’t ton to do outdoors if your a hunter or fisherman and many regard this transition time as down time from their busy outdoors schedules. For me, it just means I have more time to contemplate the numerous projects id like to tackle.
One of those projects happens to be tapping trees to make maple syrup. I’ve always wanted to make my own syrup, but without land with mature trees it can be a tall order. About the only opportunity I have for tapping is a giant Norway Maple in my front yard., but I was never sure you could even tap these trees. Well the curiosity built and after a quick google I learned you can in fact tap these purple behemoths. And according to some, the sap is actually quite good.
So I borrowed a couple taps and proceeded to tap old purple. Fortunately for me, the Crimson King does just fine for syrup production, albeit a bit slower than a sugar maple. Not to mention the sap tastes great!
(The sap immediately began to flow as soon as I inserted the tap).
Now all that is left is to collect enough to make it worth boiling into syrup!
Winter has finally begun here in southern Ontario. Our temperatures have finally dropped into the negative teens, although only for a couple days, according to the weather network. Still I’m optimistic for competent Ice, hopefully by mid to late January.
So to pass the time, I decided to add a few more resource links to the blog.
The first is a website called Flash Earth, which displays images obtained by NASA. This website provides daily aerial imagery for the planet. The scale isn’t great but it should give you a general idea of where Ice has begin to form and when things have begun to thaw in the spring. WARNING, there is no real way to tell if any Ice is safe from just looking at aerial imagery. Practice good Ice safety and pay close attention to local warnings and ice reports. More detailed ice conditions may be available on the various fishing forums found on the internet.
The second is an App/website called Accuweather. Accuweather offers hyper local weather reports which go as far as predicting precipitation down to the minute it will occur with an two hour window into the future. Although this level of accuracy and precision is hard to attain, the app seems to be accurate for my location so far. Added features include reporting conditions from your location (which no doubt increases the accuracy of the app) and access to radar images. Overall a worth while app for the outdoorsperson or anyone for that matter.
Normally Leek season is well underway by the end of April here in Southern Ontario. This year though, we have had unseasonably cold temperatures and lots of late snows. This can put the start of leak season in question. In an effort to try and determine at what stage the leeks were at, I decided to take a trip to a friends farm in search of these pungent edibles. Ever curious, my young daughter decided she wanted to come along with Da Da to see what all the fuss was about. Armed with her favourite hat and a garden trowel we took the drive out to the farm and set out to explore.
Our first foray into the woods found a large patch of trout lilies. Although not what we were looking for, trout lilies are considered edible by some, albeit slightly emetic if consumed in large quantities.
We picked a few bunches for a small salad.
Our trip continued to a different section of woods. One that contained hardwood trees and southern exposure. Sure enough, these characteristics, coupled with soft, dark, and rich loamy soil makes for an almost sure bet for finding Leeks.
Of course Lorelei had to take a turn at digging.
Then she got tired and decided to take a break on a nearby rock to watch Dada pick a few more.
As a reminder, foragers should only harvest a few stalks from each cluster to preserve the colony for future harvests. These plants take a while to replenish so they are very susceptible to overharvesting. Be conservative now to ensure a life time of picking in the future.
Lots of other interesting spring plant life to see including spring beauties and mushroom life.
So for all those wondering what is up with the Leeks this year, they are out but its still early. Some have yet to reach their full size. Give it another week or two and things will really be underway.
I am approaching the last of the venison from my first deer, taken last season. With just a few packages of chops, a couple packages of burger, and two steaks left, I am trying to make the most of it. With all the of possible recipes floating around in my head, I found it hard to decide what to do next. Thankfully the time constraints of a busy life have forced me to make the practical decision and I settled on something that can easily prepared on a weeknight. Which recipe won out in the end? The answer is a classic pan seared steak, paired with home fries and braised spinach. Maybe just a few wild blackberries added for a garnish and give the dish an extra wild element to the dish. Venison steak embodies the flavour of the venison at its most basic level. No frills, no gimics. Just pure, honest to goodness venny taste. You will need: Venison steaks (back strap, hind or front quarter steaks, or even tenderloin if you so choose)
Montreal Steak Spice
Oil or Butter
The recipe begins with trimming off the excess fat from the steaks and by coating them in the Montreal steak spice. The steak spice is optional, and can be substituted for salt and pepper. I like to dry my venison with a paper towel and let it rest in the spices for a few minutes prior to cooking. Drying is key to an even cooking throughout and a good brown on the exterior while maintaining a medium to medium rare coking.
While the venison is drying I cubed the potatoes (the skin can be left on if desired). Just like venison, you will get a better cooking and a crispier exterior if you dry the potatoes in a towel or paper towel. Coat the potatoes in salt pepper or any other favourite homefry spice. As an alternative, I like to use a dry rub meant for ribs to give them an extra kick http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/rib-dry-rub-recipe.html . Another favourite is a simple Olive oil, rosemary and kosher salt coating. Both add an extra pezazz to the potatoe. Once seasoned, the potatoes go in to an oiled pan which has been brought to medium heat. They are fried until golden brown and to the point where the potatoes can be easily penetrated with a fork. When the potatoes are nearly done, I heat up a separate pan to medium heat and add oil or butter. Following that I add the steaks and cook to the appropriate cooking. A couple tips:
2) try to minimize the number of times you flip the steaks. The steaks always seem to retain their moisture better when you limit it to one or two flips.
The last component of the meal was braised spinach. I melted a bit of butter in a pan and added some minced garlic. Once soft, I add the spinach and a splash of lemon juice to the pan. Cover and cook until soft. Remember, the spinach will cook a bit even after removed from the heat so avoid the initial over cooking. Extravagant meals may be great when time allows, but if your like me, your busy lifestyle demands a more practical approach throughout the week. But that doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice quality or taste, or the use of venison for that matter. A quick pan seared venison steak fits the bill on all accounts and still allows for fancier interpretations if desired.
Most of us don’t even consider Provincial Parks when we think of places to hunt. Myself included. Then a couple years back I was asked to join a winter camping trip with a group of friends to a provincial park north of Peterborough and I was surprised when one of the guys mentioned he was brining along a firearm. Of course I was skeptical at first but after some extensive research I was surprised to find out that many provincial parks in Ontario allow hunting.
I feel I should immediately clarify to avoid confusion and misunderstanding, Hunting is only permitted in a select few parks, so please don’t head into the care camping heart of Algonquin or Bon Echo decked out in camo with your with your favourite 12 gauge. You will scare a lot of people, piss off the park warden and get into heaps of legal trouble.
To elaborate, most parks that allow hunting are non operational and have hunting built into their management policies and landuse. It is very important to be 100% clear on this if you plan to participate in hunting on these lands. How do you find this info out? Well there are several sources, one being the MNR crown landuse atlas website https://www.ontario.ca/environment-and-energy/crown-land-use-policy-atlas . Check the info section on each park parcel using the “Get Land Use Information” tool. Each of these parcels should have a report available in PDF in either French or English. The permitted uses will either be clearly listed or will reference a ministry land use policy. Another way would be to head to http://www.ontario.ca/environment-and-energy/provincial-park-management-direction and find your park of interest from the list. Once found, take a read at its management policy and confirm the permitted uses.
Since my first hunt on that winter camping trip I have often considered travelling back to one of these parks to hunt. Finally, about a week ago, I found some time and a friend and I headed out to for a quick morning hike and hunt in one of these non-operation parks. Our target was small game and conditions couldn’t have been better with crisp temperatures in the early morning, broken by some sun warming approaching noon.
Ice had already claimed most of the smaller lakes and a light skiff of snow covered the ground. Quite the perfect setting for observing tracks!
The trip was very refreshing and served to provide us with some welcomed weekend exercise. Interestingly enough, it was obvious we were not the only ones hunting as we came across a mineral lick and a crossbow bolt just off the path.
The hunt itself went very well if three birds being flushed with a moderate amount of effort. Of the three we even managed to harvest one (pictured below).
We had a great time exploring a new area and observing some pretty interesting geologic formations found in the park. However, as enjoyable as it was, the concept of conservation was never too far from our minds.
Fundamentally, these areas are put in place to conserve a specific feature, be it geologic, protected animal, plant, or features of cultural importance. Because of this intent, I firmly believe that conservation should be the underlying guideline for all uses in these areas. And although hunting in these areas can be a great experience, it is important for us as hunters to remember that we share them with other people and wildlife. Being public places, they can be susceptible to over hunting, accidents and can be the site for disputes between hunters and non-hunters. Respect and practicing safe, legal, hunting practises are the key concepts here.
Remember, these areas are there for the enjoyment of all, not just one.
As winter arrives here in southern Ontario, It seems my appetite shifts towards the hearty side of the food spectrum. And lets face it, nothing says hearty like Salisbury steak. Since I have an abundance of venison this year, and I am on a tear cooking venison, I decided to take a proverbially kick at the venison Salisbury steak can. This was to be a big change from the meat pies and sausages I typically make with ground venison.
Salisbury steak is a moniker most people recognize but may not really know what it is. So what is it? Salisbury Steak is a traditional meal heralding from the united states, and created by Dr. J. H. Salisbury. This meal gained in popularity throughout the USA as it was seen as a more affordable alternative to expensive traditional steak cuts. This meal, or meals like it are popular around the world, having equivalents in countries like Japan (ハンバーグ – hanbāgu), Russia(котлета рубленая – kotleta rublenaya), South Korea(햄버그 스테이크 – hambeogeu seuteikeu) and the UK (grill steaks) as well as many others.
Salisubury steak recipes are plentiful and can vary widely. This dish can be made with beef, pork, venison or any combination of the three. Accompanying sauces can also vary widely from beef broth based, to cream to tomato based (all of which taste delicious).
My recipe includes the following:
3 strips of bacon
1lb of venison (or equivalent)
2 table spoons of breadcrumbs or ground butter crackers
2 teaspoons of thyme
a pinch of savoury
a dash of salt and pepper
one small yellow onion
mushrooms (button works or chanterelles for the foragers out there)
1 cup of beef base and water
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
extra water if to desired consistency
water and cornstarch solution to desired consistency.
I start by frying the bacon strips to a crisp redish brown. Removed the bacon, chop, and set aside. Save some of the bacon fat in the pan for future use. This will add another layer of taste complexity to your dish while not over powering it with bacon deliciousness.
Mix together the 1lb of ground venison, 2 table spoons of breadcrumbs, 2 teaspoons of thyme, pinch of savoury, salt, pepper and the egg. If the mixture is too moist, feel free to add a bit more breadcrumbs.
Shape into small patties or “steaks” for a more traditional feel. Heck, you could turn them into miniature deer shapes if you really felt like it.
At this point I reheat my bacon drippings and place the steaks into the hot pan for a few minutes on each side. The goal is to obtain a golden brown sear. Once browned, removed from the pan and set aside.
Next, sharpen up your knife and chop up the mushrooms and onion. Some people slice the onion into rings for aesthetic value, me, I’m all about the taste, so I chop or mince. Why? more surface area = more flavour.
Add the onion and mushroom to the pan and sauté until lightly cooked. Add the cup of beef broth, 1 tsp of W sauce and simmer on medium heat. freely add salt and pepper to taste here and once your ready add the steaks and cover. Cook for about 10 mins.
Once cooked through, I remove the steaks and add to a plate (with whatever side you desire) and I finish the sauce with the cornstarch and water mixture. If you haven’t thickened a sauce this way before, remember to constantly stir and add little bits at a time to prevent clumping or over thickening.
Finally, assemble, top with bacon bits, and viola your done.
It may not be the most pretty dish in the world but it certainly it packs a punch in the taste department. Not to mention it is as comfortable as comfort food gets. Besides who said comfort food needed to look good?
Cheers from my Kitchen
Please feel free to comment and suggest any venison dishes you would like to see me take for a test drive here. I am open to cooking anything!
Once again, National fishing week is upon us here in Southern Ontario (July 5- 13). For those of us hardcore anglers, its just another excuse to get out on the water to chase our lunker dreams. But what about those people who rarely fish, or for that matter, have never fished? Well this week is for you. Twice a year (once in February and again in July) periods of licence free fishing for Canadian residences are allowed. That means you can grab a rod with no license and fish to your hearts content. What a great way to try fishing with no upfront licensing fees!
For those of you who are avid anglers, consider asking a non-fisher or a youth out for a fish. Help the rest of the world see just what all the fuss is about when it comes to fishing. We are all ambassadors of our sport and the more people on the water = the more interest in protecting our fisheries.
As for me, my plans will include taking out some relatives for some exciting bass action. Heres hoping we can get a rod bend or two in!
Its finally here. The day bass fishermen revere as holy. The day where we trade in our walleye and pike gear for braided line and wacky rigs to hit the slop with fervor. Precluded by restless sleeps and early morning Timmies runs, the story plays out much the same across the province. All types of people in all manner of water craft from questionable tinner to decked out bass boat share the same dream of bagging a bassquatch on opening morning.
But its not just this dream that drives us to hit the water with such religious like fervor. No, Bass Opener is steeped in tradition here in Southern Ontario. Tradition that is centred around family and friends. For some, its their only chance to re-unite for a fish with their long lost uncle jimmy. For others, the day is set aside specifically for parent child bonding. For me, I had little to no tradition for this day other than getting out as soon as possible to maximize my bass fishing season. I had no loyalty to one lake and roamed from year to year trying my hand a new water constantly. That all changed though when a fellow fisherman friend invited me to a local tournament on Collins Lake three years ago. With such great hosts, quality participants and amazing Portuguese food, I had finally found a tradition worth partaking in. Fast forward three years later and I am still taking part in this amazing event, made so not by the fishing, but by the quality individuals who take part.
The beginning of this year played out much like the past three. We all met at Gabriel and Fatima’s house the Friday before opener for a few pints and to catch up with one another. Not to mention a little friendly trash talk to keep the spirit of competition alive. The meet and greet was followed by restless sleep for all and an early morning at the launch.
Unfortunately for us this year, there was a lot of traffic on the lake as another tournament was taking place. This put a lot of pressure on the fish and made it even tougher for us. The silver lining was that, the first day was gorgeous and the conditions were optimal for bass fishing.
The tournament itself has a really interesting structure. Fishing occurs over the course of 2 mornings and one afternoon. Fisherman can weigh in two fish after the first morning and have the oppourtunity to upgrade or cull these fish during the first afternoon. The second morning gives each angler a chance for two more additional fish. The great part about this structure is that livewells aren’t crammed with 4 fish and the fish don’t have to spend a whole day in a hot livewell.
Fishing started off at a slow and steady pace. Dave (the former champion) and I had two decent fish each in the live well with multiple culling opportunities. Although the bass fishing was turning out much better than the last year, the more exciting catches were incidental off species. Dave seemed to have a knack for hooking into large versions of anything that couldn’t be weighed in!
The opening morning blew by quickly and the first weigh-ins of the tournament were upon us.
Quite a few decent fish were weighed in, including Dominic’s surprise 3.0 lb small mouth. Those of you who fish Collins on the regular know smallmouth are a rare occurrence on this lake, and a 3 lb smally is even rarer still.
The end of the first day saw Jay with a healthy bag of fish and in contention for a top three finish.
Fortunately for me, the bass gods were smiling on me during the first morning and I managed to weigh in two of the fish above for a combined weigh of 5lbs 5oz. Not a huge number, but then again, Collins is not a huge lake.
Pretty much everyone had something to weigh in by the end of the first day and there was a group of 4 or 5 who seemed to be battling for a shot at first. The fact that the difference between 1st and 3rd was only 3 oz says it all. Everything was riding on the second day and that was a nerve racking concept considering the second day has historically been very slow for fishing in this tournament. Anxiously we completed the day and headed to Gabe and Fatima’s for a little socializing and alot of well needed relaxation. Sleep is a hard commodity to come by during these tournaments, even more so this year with so many people gunning of the top spot. Not to mention a cohort of anglers ranking just behind 3rd who had good solid weights putting them in a good position to catapult to first should they land a lunker. Considering my personal best LM was from Collins and weighed in at just over 6 lbs, I know better than most how very real a possibility this is.
Dave and I hit the water the next day thinking we would start on the shoal we fished on day one. Considering it was immediately next to some deep water we speculated that fish would come back up to the shallows during the evening. Although it was good for some undersized bass on Day 2, we were left with no viable fish in our well and had to make a snap decision to keep trying shoals or to maybe try cranking the flats. In the end I wanted one more crack at another shoal that has always produced and so pulled up the electric and gunned over. This was possibly the decision that made the tournament for us as we quickly located and hooked up with some meaty largemouths. An hour or so later and Dave has a 4 -5 lb bag he would later weigh in and I had a solid 3lber with a little 1lb kicker. Now Dave was looking good to jump from 4th to the top.
With the shoal fished out, we probed a few more shallow spots and some lake edges catching a couple more mediocre fish. Our last trick in the book was fishing some large flat areas that had tall weeds with empty pockets scattered throughout. The flats turned out to be the perfect mid morning location and we began hooking into some very decent fish. Thankfully I was able to cull out my 1lber for a nice fish just under 3 lbs. This brought my total up to 11 lbs 5oz but there was no telling what the other anglers would drum up.
Had to get my fish inspected by the resident comedian in our group (above). Thanks for the Laughs Joe!
Sure enough, the lunker factor played a role in the tournament as Fatima (one of the tournament hosts) brought two giants up to the scales. Combined with here 2.4lbs from the day before, these giant fish catapulted her into the top three in no time flat. Possibly the most impressive fish of the tournament was her 3lb 15oz smallmouth bass. Good Job Fatima!!
When the dust settled my 4 decent fish managed to maintain the lead, Dave jumped from 4th to second with his catch from Day 2 and Fatima came from behind to steal 3rd place. The competition was fierce and the fishing was top notch which made for lots of fun and some great memories.
Group shot (below)
Collins Lake always surprises me. It is such a small body of water that receives an enormous amount of fishing pressure, yet it still manages to produce some quality fish and in good numbers. Not to mention the odd smallmouth!
Weighs and numbers from the last two years seemed a bit stunted when compared to the lake’s past glory. This thought was a bit depressing.
However, after this year’s success I am left with an overwhelming sense of optimism for the lake. Again surprised by the lakes tenacity as a fishery, I am confident trophies will still be available when my kids take up the torch. Still, future success on this lake is dependant upon catch and release efforts, proper care of the fish when kept in a livewell and an over all attitude of conservation. If you fish this lake, or any lake, please do you part to maintain the health of those big buckets. Your not only keeping these fish healthy, your keeping the tradition of bass fishing in Ontario healthy as well!
Summer is nearly here in Southern Ontario and bass season approaches at a frighten pace. One week for crying out loud!
Only way to beat the stress of prepping for such a holy occasion is to break out the boat and relax with a little fast paced Pike fishing (my kind of relaxations). And that’s exactly what I felt like doing this dreary Friday afternoon.
With an eye on the sky and my mind on Pike, I slipped away from work in the early afternoon and headed home to hook up the boat. Pike was on the menu and the word on the street was Sydenham was hot this time of year. The plot thickened as one of my readers, Frank from Pennsylvania, had contacted me about a trip he was doing in the area and was interested in the pike fishing we have around here. Having spent time on Loughborough and Collins already, he was looking for a change of water and Sydenham fit the bill perfectly. The locals had reportedly informed him Sydenham is one of the best places to chase around these toothy critters.
With our destination set, we made the quick drive and met near the boat launch, which is located down town Sydenham, right behind the public school. After a quick introduction, we loaded our gear into the green machine and tore away from the launch. The afternoon found us fishing the south west part of eel bay to start, just past the old train bridge. It didn’t take long for Frank to tie into a decent 4.5 – 5lb pike. the fish was caught by pitching a large spinner bait into the weeds over 5 to 9 FOW with a vigorous retrieval. Nice Fish Frank!
Pike are slimy, slippery, toothy little buggers, but I wouldn’t trade them for a world! Luckily, we didn’t have to, because the bite was on in a big way and there were plenty to go around.
Pitching and trolling throughout eel bay, we kept hooking up with fish. At times it felt like we couldn’t keep our lures in the water for longer than 30 seconds.
Surprisingly enough, only 3 of the 17 fish caught were hammer handles (i am referring to small pike which resemble a hammer’s handle!). Numbers weren’t as high as we have seen them in the past, but I attribute this to the size vs numbers cycle I have observed in our area. It seems pike populations grow in pulses with tons of small fish for a couple years, followed by reduced numbers, but an increase in size for the following few years. Based on todays performance, id say we are on the upswing of the size portion of the cycle. From my experience I can also infer that our fishing success had a lot to do with timing. We hit the water immediately after 3 days of rain which in my opinion is the perfect time to catch pike. Moral of the story: Don’t be afraid to get wet because the gators certainly arent!
As always, I finish the post with some sort of plug for the local lake or area I am writing about; 17 decent sized pike in the span of 3 hours on a beauty of a lake, I don’t think a plug is really needed…………
After the trip up to the French River I felt like chasing some more Gold around, and one of the best places to do that in Southern Ontario is the Bay of Quinte. So I loaded up the Green Machine and hopped on the 401 headed towards Deseronto.
The morning crisp and pristine and the roads were vacant. In my opinion, one of the best parts of fishing is the calmness and serenity you get to experience when you get up at 5 am and hit the road towards your destination. Nothing quite like it. Not only does the early bird get the worm, but also a nice sunrise to boot!
With the sun at may back I was on my way.
on the way to the water I stopped and picked up my Dad and Brother. Both were eager to get out on the water to try to search for the elusive eyes.
We started off fishing 9 to 14 FOW at the Mouth of the Napanee River to no avail. Plenty of boats in this area and we were feeling a bit crowded. With that we left and head down long reach to the Hogs back and Further on to Hay Bay.
Aside from perch, we weren’t having much luck until my brother connects with a hefty fish on one of our troll lines. Using a crank bait, he was sure it was a healthy Walleye. No such luck though as he quickly found out when a decent largemouth came towards the boat. My brother worked diligently to de-hook while snapped a couple shots and the fish was released. We promptly left the area and headed south down long reach.
We made it to a favourite spot of mine where I had caught my personal best last year and proceeded with another troll line. Sure enough, the spot lived up to its reputation and produced this somewhat elongated Walleye. Still a nice fish by any standards.
My spot produced a few more strikes and a fairly hefty pike that was about 30″ in length.
Mid day approached and we decided we had all gotten enough sun for one day, so we packed up and boated back to the launch.
The numbers were huge but the trip was still enjoyable.