Another Bird!

After little to no hunting last week, Jordan, Dave and I snuck out this morning at 4:30 am for a little pre-work turkey action.  This would be the first hunt with all three of us since opener, and we had high hopes for an elusive Tom we had been calling all of last week.

We entered into the woods through an area that was opposite where we had been hunting.  Dave and Jordan set up next to a swamp and a field, while I took to the edge of a young soybean field around the corner and next to the same swamp.  Both spots looked great.

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The morning kicked off to a great start as three different birds in three separate locations started to gobble.  The gobbling continued for some time until two of the gobbles slowly died and was replaced by three distinct birds right behind me.  To make matters even more exciting, the gobbles seemed to be getting closer.  Nothing makes a heart pump like a group of approaching turkeys mid season!

Suddenly, the roar of shotgun blast erupted from behind me and the calling promptly ceased.  After shaking off what I’m sure was a mild heart attack,  I frantically checked my phone and learned that Jordan had bagged a nice Jake. His very first Gobbler.

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Way to go buddy!  Sad to have missed being in the stand next to you for the experience but I’m sure there will be many more!

Your up Dave!

 

First Turkey

For many, the purpose of hunting has always been to source out local, organic, natural meat that explores unique flavours not found in domesticated animals.  Still a good number more are attracted to the potential cost savings on meat if you source it out yourself. I have always stood with a foot in each of these camps.  Forever looking for a deal that’s big in taste, while tryin to achieve it on the cheap with my discount, mass produced firearms and inexpensive army surplus camo.  You can be sure I calculate the $/lb cost of all animals I harvest.

So when I did the math on wild turkies I was left scratching my head. A $30 tag gets you 9 – 15 lbs of dressed meat.  That’s a far cry from 100-200 lbs for a 50$ deer tag, and a fair bit more than a butterball.   Based on this math, wild turkeys weren’t even on the menu.

Regardless, I am interested in experiencing all that our local outdoors has to offer, which eventually led me complete the specialized turkey course required for Ontario turkey hunters.  For many years my attentions were on bigger game and the license went unused.  But after a unseasonable warm and disappointing ice fishing season, I was getting stir crazy and needed a reason to get out.  So when a member of my deer group started talking turkey, visions of smoked wild gobblers began dancing in my head, and I started listening.

So here we are, a week into my first legit season of turkey hunting and I can honestly say am a changed man.

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Scouting

After much discussion, and an agreement to commit as much time to the hunt as was needed to harvest a bird, we arrived on the Sunday before opener.  Our plan was to scout the woods in areas where turkeys had been seen before to hopefully locate a group of birds.  According to my friend and most articles I’ve read, finding birds before setting up is crucial.  You can set up the nicest decoys and be the best caller in the world, but that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if there are no birds in your woods.

So the scouting continued.  I’ll admit I was still pretty hapless at this point, with no real clue as to what to even look for on our scouting trip.  Thankfully, my fellow deer hunter Jordan had grown up around turkey hunting his whole life and right away took us to some spots where the birds usually roosted.  Signs of scratched earth abounded and like many other species, water, food and shelter were key components to these areas.

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We started before daybreak and walked towards our chosen blinds. Unfortunately on our way to our blinds, we walked right under a group of birds that were roosted in the trees, not seeing hem until it was too late.  For those non turkey hunters, this is one of the surest ways to get “busted”.  The turkeys spot you, sometimes before you spot them,  and there is no chance in hell you’ll be able to call them in.  Lesson learned:  Use a locator call to find where they are roosting before you go stumbling through the woods.  Jordan reassured me that the first day was often a bust, but there was valuable intel to be gained, as every bust brought you one step closer to dialing in on the birds.

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Day 2: we took a break.

Day 3: We approached the same area in hopes that the birds had roosted in the same place. unfortunately they hadn’t.  Fortunately for us they had roosted about 100 yards in another direction!  We crept through some scrubby apple trees and crawled up to the edge of a ridge.  Immediately we heard a male gobble, so we set up our decoys 20-30 yards away, sat back to back at the base of a cedar tree, and commenced a series of Kee Kee calls on the Quaker boy box call.  Lesson learned, if you spot them in one place, there is a good chance they wont go too far away, even after being bumped.

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I wasn’t really prepared for things to escalate as quickly as they did.  Within minutes of sitting down the birds had descended from the trees and were making their way to us.  We could tell by the volume of the gobbler the turkeys were getting closer, driven mad by the expert calling skills of my buddy Jordan.  We got a visual on the tom with two hens within 15 minutes of calling.  I can honestly say this led to one of the fastest pulse of my life.  If that wasn’t enough, we heard what all turkey hunters dream of, a competing gobble from another tom that was approaching from another direction.  Things were red hot and my eyes kept darting from the birds we had spotted to the hidden gobbler.  I stilled my heart, slowly raised my Remington 870 while the birds were out of sight, and waited for them to reappear.

The first hen popped out from behind a shrub, followed by a second, followed by a respectable adult male bird. I kept waiting waited for the other Tom who was fast approaching to see if he would appear for a possible double header.  The bird strutted to the clearing towards our hen decoys.

Then the first bird saw me. Then I fired. And then, the second tom headed for the hills.

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Just like that, we had a text book turkey hunt that took no more than 30 minutes.  I. Was. Ecstatic.

Contributors to my success? a damn good caller as a partner, and not moving a bloody muscle.

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My first bird turned out to be a young adult male weighing in at 19lbs fresh and 12lbs fully cleaned. He had a 3″ beard (which isn’t very big) and smaller spurs. Regardless, the bird was my first and my family will feast.

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Day 4, We set up in another location to give the hot spot a rest and almost immediately had a gobbler and a hen answer our calls.  Unfortunately the gobbler didn’t seem to be able to make it to us and we never laid eyes on him.  Lesson learned: locate your birds and choose a setup location that doesn’t have too many obstructions that can’t be navigated by a riled up tom (like a big swamp or well built fences.

Day 5, we decided to try the hot spot again and set up in the same place.  Once again, we immediately had a gobble from the same spot where the first tom had come from.  The call backs went on for a good 1.5 hours.  At times it seemed the Tom was headed in our direction, and then he would head away, and back, and away… repeat for 1.5 hours.  We managed to call in a hen and what looked like a small Jake but no shots were taken.  Still that’s a lot of action for one morning.

So here we are in the second week the night before the first hunt of the week and Im mulling over why ive changed my mind on turkey hunting.  Here’s what I have come up with:

  • For starters, turkey hunting can be some of the most intense action packed and engaging hunting possible In Ontario.
  • Next, the birds are fabulous table fare
  • Each hunt takes a lot less time than sitting in a blind for deer.  Heck my hunts were completed each morning before work and I wasn’t even late!
  • They are sharp birds with a keen sense of hearing and excellent eyesight making them difficult prey.  I do love a challenge.
  • They are a part of our provinces history having been extirpated by unregulated market hunting and habitat loss, and reintroduced to very successful levels.
  • They offer an opportunity to take part in one of the most sustainable hunts in our province and to contribute financially to preserving the provinces natural heritage.  Every dollar you spend on a tag goes to support the MNR and their management of while turkeys and other conservation initiatives.

The whole experience has taught me that life isn’t always about dollars and cents, and pounds per dollar.  Sometimes spending a bit more for something you enjoy is worth it.  Especially wen those extra dollars get you a month long season full of adrenaline packed days, delicious meat, and most importantly, a contribution to preserving the natural beauty and health of our province’s flora and fauna.

The real question here should be why the heck aren’t you hunting turkey?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amherst Island – A Beacon of Biodiversity

Kingston and the surrounding area is full of amazing places to see, things to do and animals to encounter.  We are bordered by Lake Ontario to the southwest, The St. Lawrence to the Southeast, broad shield forests to the north, and lots of unique wetlands in between.  Each with its own diverse, and unique ecosystem home to a huge number of interesting creatures.  One such place that deserves specific mention is Amherst Island.  Located just a short ferry ride to the southwest of Kingston, Amherst Island is sandwiched between its bigger brother Wolfe Island and Prince Edward County.  The island is famous as stop for numerous birds on their migration routes.  Not to mention a large number of resident species from all corners of the animal kingdom.   I recently had an opportunity to this unique place for work and was reminded of just how amazing the Island is.

The day started with an encounter with a groundhog in our office driveway.  Not a resident of Amherst, and not a particularly unique species, but worth a mention due to the specimens especially vibrant red fur.

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I loaded my work gear while the curious rodent silently looked on and made my way to the Ferry Dock where another photo op waited.  While waiting for the ferry I had the chance to get my lense on a number of diving ducks that had gathered near the dock and along the4 shore.  Lots of interesting diving ducks frequent the waters in our area during the spring and late fall.  A couple examples I encountered on this trip were several groups of Golden Eyes, Buffleheads, Long Tailed Ducks and Common Mergansers.  The odd Mallard and flock of Canadian Geese were also spotted but I missed pictures of them.

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There also seemed to be several loons and cormorants poking about in the straight between Amherst and the mainland.

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Once I made it to the island I completed my work and took a brief drive along Front Road which follows the North shore of the island. Once again the Island offered up more impressive photo ops of various species including a Kestrel, Flicker, and an injured Garter snake (possibly a Redsided garter).  These of course were in additional to numerous flocks of diving ducks and common bird species like bluejays, mourning doves and the like that were encountered.

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I was pleased with the plethora of animals to be seen on and around the Island.  This visit only added to the number of species I usually see during my semi annual visits which typically include including deer, fox, coyotes and numerous song birds and birds of prey.

With a peaked interest, I decided to ask a local land owner, who I was meeting with that day, about his wildlife experiences on the Island.  Specifically about various topics like predator levels and predation on his farm, deer populations (which i’m told are booming) and interesting species he has encountered.  Strangely enough, he noted that a flock of Turkeys had made their way to his farm in the winter for food.  According to him,  this is the first time he has seen these birds on the island (and he had been living there since before 1979).

We talked a bit more about his farm and other areas to visit on the island and he suggested visiting the famous Owl woods, located near the eastern edge of the island.  Sadly, my time on the island ran out and I begrudgingly returned to the ferry with a , sad to be leaving such a beautifully rich place.

More information on the Island can be found at http://www.amherstisland.on.ca/

A fairly in depth look at birding opportunities on the Island can be found at http://kingstonfieldnaturalists.org/birding/amherst_island.pdf

Wild Duck au Poivre

Wild ducks are versatile things when it comes to the culinary world.  They make great stews, are great cured, can be pan seared on their own, and go great with a number of taste profiles and sauces.  In my opinion, there are very few individuals who understand this more than one of my favourite chefs, Hank Shaw. So whenever I am looking to try a new recipe, his website (http://honest-food.net/) is one of the very first places I look.  With inspirations from a number of international cuisines and cultures, you are guaranteed to find something interesting on his website. And if my endorsement isn’t enough to get you to try it out, consider this: The guy wrote a friggen book on cooking waterfowl titled “Duck, Duck, Goose”.  If that doesn’t give him a serious amount of street cred, I don’t know what will (Duck Duck Goose).

And so I found myself with a couple plump and delicious looking mallard breasts the other day after a hunt (Mid-Season Waterfowl) and a desire to try something interesting with them. After a brief consultation with you guessed it, the duke of duck cooking, Hank Shaw, and his handy dandy website I settled on a classic French dish, Steak au Poivre.  Or what I’ve come to call Wild Duck au Poivre. Recipe

I wont take away from Hank’s great, comprehensive instructions, so go check out his website if you want to know how to make this tasty number.

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I did make a few adjustments, mostly to accommodate the ingredients I had on hand.  Instead of porcini and bitter greens I substituted in some nice German Feldsalat which my inlaws grew late into fall.  I added a bit of a dill vinaigrette just to spice it up a bit.

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Next I decided to roast some potatoes I had grown this year in m y backyard garden.

The recipe for the potatoes is as follows:

peel and cut potatoes into coarse cubes.  Lay in a pan and cover with water, a dash of salt and a dash of chicken stock.  Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until the water boils.  At which point let them simmer for around 5 minutes.  Once the potatoes start to soften, remove and Drain.  Rough up the potatoes in a strainer, coat with flour and seasonings (chives, salt and pepper), and fry in hot oil until the edges brown.  throw back in the oven at bake until crisp.

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Everything tastes better when cooked in butter.

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Voila, Wild Duck au Poivre!

 

Cheers from the kitchen,

Albert

 

Deer Season 2015

Well Deer season has arrived and with it, plenty of opportunity for me to get out shooting.  Unfortunately the only shooting I was able to do was with my trusty Nikon.  Cue the dry, pitiful laughter.

This is a far cry from the banner year I had last year but a hunter can’t get lucky all the time.  Well, Unless your my friend (lets call him Big J) that is.  J seems to somehow put himself in the right place at the right time so he can harvest a deer almost every year.  Just like clock work, he managed to harvest a nice 6 point buck, the only deer our group was able harvest.

Im sure lots of factors played a part in our groups lack of success.  Maybe it was the 18 degree Celscius weather or maybe it was due to the lack of drawn doe tags in our group.  Either way, a week without a shot at a legal deer gives you lots of time to think.

Thankfully there was lots of other critters and some great scenery around to observe.  There is nothing like experience nature from the stillness of a deer watch.  If your good at it, the animals wont even know your there.

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All was not lost though.  Despite not shooting any deer I was still able to find a nice shed antler which served as a pretty sweet consolation prize.

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The only buck of the week.  A nice 6 pointer with its brow tines broken off.  Good Job Big J!

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Cheers from the field,

Albert

Pre Deer Season Contemplations

Its October 26 on a Monday, a week before the opening day of deer season in south eastern Ontario and here I sit, anxiously awaiting for the week to pass.  Sitting at my laptop, I can’t think of a single thing to do aside from scour the internet in search of pictures of big bucks or to Oogle the aerial imagery for the property I will be hunting in a week.  As if either task could provide any more insight to me than the 100 hours or so I’ve already spent or could somehow make the week disappear quicker.

Restless would be a good descriptor of my current condition, anxious too, but definitely restless.   Restlessness that will only be worsened by the score of photos making the internet rounds from all those lucky SOBs who archery hunt and by the numerous trail cam pictures that seem to be attracted to my Facebook feed like a hunter to an outdoors store.  Its a steady build up all weeklong, finally reaching its peak the night before opener making the prospect of sleep a cruel joke.  I tell you, the whole thing is enough to drive any sane person crazy.  But I guess that’s a good thing in a way.  After all you have to be crazy to don the customary camo and blaze orange at an hour that is ridiculously earlier than necessary just to sit in your car at a parking lot that serves as a meeting point only to wait for the normal deer hunters to arrive at a more civilized hour, all the while trying to sip a hot drink with shaky hands and sleep deprived nerves.

Funny though, I’m usually not alone in that parking lot spilling my coffee and hovering over my gear like a mother over her new born.  I’m not just talking about my buddy whom I usually pick up either.  In fact, if someone had the inclination to get up that early and walk by the decidedly rural location where we hunt, they would likely see a cluster of red taillights breaking the early morning darkness.  They would likely see the occasional blaze orange vest and ghostly outline of a hunter illuminated by the taillights as he checked his gear.  They would see the miniscule dot of light from two to or three of my fellow hunters cigarettes as they rhythmically jumped from waist height to mouth height in a desperate attempt to pass the time.  Intrigued, they might even move closer to hear the chit chat between us about our regular lives, or maybe the anxious rattle of the dogs in their cages where they sit mounted on the back of an old pickup. They would hear the jokes and hear us exchange stories like they we were long lost brothers all the while watching the last few “normal” folks arrive….late.

In our specific case, some of these members of our crew are brothers.  In fact, most of the members are related making me the interloper who had only met them for the first time last year on opening day.  As intimidating as that sounds, not knowing them didn’t seem to matter all that much.  It didn’t matter when, the stranger to the group (me), broke our cold streak and took down the first deer of the season, and my first deer ever.  They were more than happy to lend several sets of very experienced hands to extract the animal from the bush and to assist with the hard work that followed.   They seemed delighted to share the hard earned knowledge they accumulated over a lifetime of hunting.  Happier still, were they to provide a squelchy chorus of congratulations over the two way radio for the hunter who had broke the cold streak that season and who had claimed a nice 8 point for his first.  No matter where each had come from, these folks were brothers in arms and it showed.  Fellow hunters in search of the same 14 point dream that draws each of us to wake up each year at ungodly hours in pursuit.  Fellow hunters who would be just as happy for a brother to bag a buck as they would be if they were the ones to pull the trigger. Well maybe not just as happy, but damn close.

But why do we do it? Simple.  Its eloquent and honourable (at least in our group), yet visceral and primal.  Its a truly real experience in an increasingly more digital world.  Its totally analog and soaked in history and tradition.  An experience worthy of kings and accessible by the lowliest poor schmuck.  And above all else, the outcome tastes fantastic in just about any dish imaginable.

In case you weren’t counting down for some strange reason, it’s only 6 days, 23 hours, 9 minutes away….

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Cheers from my desk,

Albert

Bass Opener 2015 – Collins Lake Derby V4.0

Another bass opener has arrived and along with it, the annual bass derby on Collins Lake.  This year attendance was a bit low due to some health issues among the group, however we still managed to put a group together and proceed with the tournament.

As is typical, our tourney started with a meet and greet on the Friday evening with some sociables and poker.  For some of us it is the one time in the year we get to see the group and there are always lots of stories to be told.  Its always difficult to call an end to the night before festivities since its always such a great time and the quality of sleep a fisherman can expect the night before the opener is almost not worth the while.  But hey, its bass opener and some would argue being sleep deprived only makes that first bass of the year that much sweeter.

The tourney itself has an interesting structure; competitors may weigh in two fish after the first morning and may cull them in the following afternoon.  Two more fish may be weighed in after the next morning, at which point weights are tallied.  As easy as four fish sounds, separating the weigh ins by days  makes it infinitely harder.  Mostly because on a small lake like Collins, Every weed bed gets hit hard on the first day, leaving shy and skittish fish for the second.

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The weather ended up being a bit cold in the morning with some nifty fog which made for cool looking blast off. Eventually the sun burned off the fog and the fishing began.  Fishing started off fairly well and several decent fish were caught off shallow weedbeds and shoals using senkos and swim baits.  As most bass fisherman do, we slowly moved around the lake fishing weed beds.  Eventually we arrived near a bed located immediately adjacent to deeper water.  Once there we started connecting with much larger fish, with some in the 3lb + range.  Immediately I thought of the old saying “Big water = Big fish”.  We worked the deeper edge of the weedbed with a variety of tactics we managed to cull a few of our fish before deciding to move on to try a few other hot spots.  The morning wrapped up and we finished with a two fish bag weighing 6lb 8oz for me and 4lb 12oz bag for Dave.  The afternoon was mediocre at best with nothing bigger than a 2lber caught.  We were in the running but there were lots of folks coming in close to us with one gent in the lead by 1lb.

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The next day was a bit tougher since the shallows had been hit pretty hard the day before.  The shallows were ice cold and we were forced to change up our methods to deeper water tactics.  We did manage to fill each of our remaining two spots and our final bags ended up at 11lb 13oz for me and 9lb 9oz for dave.   Great bags to be sure but not enough to take the win.  We ended up coming 7 oz short behind the gent who culled up on the first day.   Interestingly enough he culled up with one of the elusive smallmouth bass that inhabit the lake that weighed 4lbs 4 oz.  Catching these fish is like winning the lottery; it rarely happens, and the pay off is usually big.   All said and done the gent weighed in a four fish bag totaling 12lb 4oz.

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(Above: The tourney winner with his 4lb 4oz bronzeback, being assisted by “Captain” Joe, the tourneys resident joker)

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(Below: Dave and I even managed a double header with two decent largies)

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(Above: The author with a couple of chunky hogs from the first day)

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(Above: Jay holding a decent 3lb 14oz on the left)

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(Above: the second half of my bag – not as impressive but solid fish weighing 2lb 14oz and 2lb 7oz)

In addition to some great bass fishing, we also tied into some very respectable pike and a ton of other species ranging from pan fish to an incidental bullhead.

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(After a year of custody, I was obliged to give up the trophy to the next winner)

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(The top three finishers)

Another year, another great tournament with some exceptional bass fishing.   Not to mention some stellar competition with some big pushes by several anglers right at the end of the tourney.  This tourney truly was a nail-biter right up to the end.  Collins Lake certainly produced once again for everyone with quite a number of decent sized fish.  Out of all those fish caught, I’m proud to say all except one was released to swim another day.  What about the lone mortality? I understand, he promptly became dinner.

Cheers from the lake

Albert

Collins Lake Pike

Having been away overseas for the first two weeks of the Walleye and Pike opener in Ontario has left me anxious to get the old Green Machine out for some action.  Having finally found some time this past Friday afternoon I was faced with the big decision on where to fish.  Ive got a long list of lakes to try out including spending more time on Lake Ontario, however, what I really needed was a sure thing for some Pike action.  Really just something to scratch the fishing itch and to start the season off with a bang.   In my opinion the best way to achieve this is too hit up the closet thing we have in the area to a sure thing for pike: Collins Lake.

So a couple of guys from the office and I loaded up the boat and made our way to Collins in search of some Esox Lucius.  Immediately upon our arrival we were met by a few critters.

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After relocating the turtle to a safer location and letting the Geese get their chicks away from the boat ramp, we launched old Greenie and immediately started a troll line.  The north section of Collins is essentially a large basin with depths pushing 30 FOW.  The north has so pretty decent drop offs that line the edge of the basin that have healthy weed beds along the slope all the way up to near the shore.  These are perfect conditions for trolling crank baits and spoons and after a few moments, our game plan paid off.

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Many of the pike were caught in the 10 FOW range although the bigger beasts seemed to be a bit deeper.  We worked this method all the way up an edge of the lake unitl a natural pinch point and cut across to a flat weedy bay.  The bays are typically where I would start at the beginning of the season followed by troll lines along drop offs closer to summer but we were so anxious this time around we couldn’t wait.

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We pitched around in the flat bay with crank baits, angled spinners and inline buck-tail spinners with a decent success rate.  The action was good on the cast and the troll so we continued to meander around the lake using both tactics.  The great thing about Collins is that it is such a eutrophic lake, you can pretty much catch pike anywhere in the lake.  I admit there are hot spots like around the lake edges and basin rims, but really there is forage and weeds everywhere so long drift lines or troll lines through open sections can also pay off.

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there is a lot of talk from folks about how fishing for pike gets better as the sun goes down.  This is likely due to the natural advantage these predatory fish enjoy in low light conditions.  While this old piece of fisherman’s advice may be true sometimes, I think its important to not neglect the mid day and early afternoon bite.  Heck don’t neglect any time of day, as fishing for Pike during these times can be just as good.  For those interested in reading up on Pike activity and their feeding patterns in a little more detail, check out this study by Beaumont et al conducted in the UK. http://www.fao.org/3/a-y5999e/y5999e23.pdf 

 

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All in all, a good, albeit late, start to my pike fishing season.  Once again Collins you didn’t disappoint!

Cheers from the lake,

Albert

 

Leek Season 2015 has begun in Southern Ont.

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.

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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.

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We picked a few bunches for a small salad.

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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.

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Of course Lorelei had to take a turn at digging.

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Then she got tired and decided to take a break on a nearby rock to watch Dada pick a few more.

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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.

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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.

Cheers from the Wild,

Albert