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

 

 

 

Deer Season 2016

(Trigger Warning: I hunt, this blog includes posts on hunting, as such this post contains pictures of harvested deer.  Please avoid if this is unsettling to you.) 

Sometimes things just work out.  I mean there are lots of times where life throws you curveballs and nothing works (cough, last years deer season), but then there are the times where things just click and all feels right with the world.

I had a feeling that the 2016 deer season was just such a time.  It was a new  year ripe with possibilities, and despite a poor success rate in 2015, I remained more optimistic than ever.  With a warm winter at our backs, a good recruitment of fawns expected, and an unheard-of three doe tags in our collective pockets, visions of many tagged deer danced in my mind.  This was a pretty great way to feel hiking out to a deer stand at the beginning of the season.

Some hunters talk about conjuring deer from an internal sense of desire, other people talk about positivity bearing fruit.  Heck maybe it all comes down to the great Ju-Ju, and how many times you rub the rack of antlers over the camps fireplace before you start the day.  Call it what you want, but what ever it was I had it on the first day.  About 10 minutes after sitting down, a good sized doe cantered out from the corner of a nearby field right into my field of vision and the sights of my Tikka .270.  I whistled to stop her as she ran, took my shot, and just like that, our group had our first deer down for the year.  Sometimes things just work out!

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Having harvested a deer on the first day, left me with a strange feeling.  All my past experiences with deer season usually involved several days of little to no action right off the bat.  This inactivity equates to build up in anxiety, and anticipation.  One that is gradual and goes unnoticed but usually culminates with a rush of adrenaline once a deer is actually harvested late in the season.  This is not the case for the punctual deer shot right off the bat.  This deer comes with a strange lack of excitement, and a sense of relief.  Knowing that the first deer is down and that the group will have venison for the winter is as relieving as it gets.  Although not as exciting, harvesting the first deer so quickly sure makes it easier to sit in the stand for the rest of the week.  Maybe its not so complicated, maybe its just the ramblings of a successful hunter who has spent too much time in a back up stand.

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But enough rambling, lets talk about the season.  Generally, as deer seasons go, this one sits firmly in my top 5.  Heck, my top 2 for that matter.  Its takes second place for the number of deer I personally harvested, and first place for the level of success we as a group had.  With an average of one deer per day, and six in total, the season was action packed an hard to beat.  Not to mention the quality of the deer just seemed to get better and better as the week carried on.

dsc_0794-iidsc_0789-iiThe first three deer were does, filling our coveted doe tags and forcing us to take amore buck centric mind set.  This was tough to do with the number of does that just kept presenting themselves to us.  Luckily Jordan managed a shot at a tricky buck who was trying to sneak by in a marshy area.  Buck one was down and day three was over.

Day four started off with a low key run on a property that was divided into two sections.  We ran the first area with no sightings of live deer but plenty of deer sign for the seeing.  Following the unsuccessful initial run, we moved to the second adjacent property, thinking that perhaps the buck whose sign we were seeing could be present.  As luck would have it, he was, and as I trucked on into the farthest stand I heard the sound off a rifle from one of our group.  Eric had been laying in wait at a pinch point within the property in anticipation that something may be pushed as we travelled to our stands.  This would be our second buck and the biggest I had yet to see in my relatively short time as a deer hunter.

(Eric hadn’t harvested a buck in a while, so it was nice to see him have success with such a beast of an animal) 

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This deer was healthy, and Eric was beaming.  According to the group, It had been a few years since something this big had come out of the woods.  Big, but not the end of the story.

Day five arrived, and it was my turn to dog the bush.  My previous dogging experience had been limited to a small section of woods as a way to ease me into the game.  Having already harvested a deer, and having fresh young legs made me a prime candidate to run the dogs a couple times.  So the group set me up on a larger stretch of bush, followed by a smaller tighter bush.  At the time, I wasn’t too impressed with the prickly ash present on the first property.  Who would be.  But contemplating the whole experience I’ve realized this is a part of deer hunting and you have to put the work in to reap the rewards.  Apparently I put a whole lot of work in, because the reward on the second run was pretty epic.   I was quick to note that due to my success, I may actually be the best dogger to ever enter those woods.  That claim was short lived as the group started mulling over the concept of having me dog on a full time basis.  Back to being average!

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A few minutes into the run I dogged a small section of swampy woods located next to the roadway.  Apparently the deer had been using this as a throughway to get across the street to the adjacent cornfields.  I must have some innate knack for dogging as I inadvertently managed to send a bruiser of a buck back towards the other hunters in their stands.  This big boy was the last and biggest of the week.  Bigger than Eric’s the day before, and bigger than anything I had ever seen in person.  A true southern Ontario giant.

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(There was no way we were carrying this guy out of the bush.  As is, it took a few of the lads to lift this beast onto the four wheeler.)

 

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The veterans in the group immediately started into a conversation about whether or not this was the biggest ever deer taken on the property.   The veterans measured the buck with there aged discerning eyes and mentally compared this trophy against the bucks of old.  To my surprise and amazement, this buck didn’t even break the top 5.  As unbelievable as it sounds, bigger bucks had been taken on the properties we hunted.  And in the groups opinion, bigger bucks would be had in the future.  Regardless of this, the one thing the whole group agreed upon was that the past years had been very tough and this year had been a return to past glories.  I was left confounded, feeling like as much as I had seen in my past 5-6 years of deer hunting, I had yet to even scratch the surface…

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(The reality of the situation became very apparent when the three bucks were stacked up side by side.)

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(the author with the larger than life buck harvested by the youngest of our group)

We did a last run Saturday morning, albeit half heartedly.  With the success we had it was unlikely that the group would actually shoot another deer.  I think deep down we all know when its time to call it a day.  Besides, with six deer hanging, we had a long day of work ahead of us.

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This was a year for the history books, and a year to fill freezers with prized venison.  I’m left with a sense of satisfaction that comes with having a full freezer.  This can often be accompanied by a sense of loss, or depletion, a feeling that we had ransacked the woods and left things in shambles.  This was not the case this year.  My view remained positive as the number of predators seen was way down, the number of deer seen was way up, and better still, the number of deer seen that we didn’t harvest far outweighed the number we shot.  It seems we are in an upswing of the deer cycle in this part of 67.  The sentimental part of me feels like I’m living the soon to be good old days.  And when I’m old and grey, sitting on my porch telling stories of my life gone by to semi interested relatives, this week will likely be one of those stories.

 

 

Beginners Guide to Backcountry

At a glance, back country trips can seem mystical and awe inspiring.  Photos of your friends or “favourite blogger”… cough.. retracing the steps of explorers and voyageurs long since gone can be mesmerizing.  The concept of becoming “one with nature” on these trips, is not only mystical and romantic, but quintessentially Canadian.  After all, our country was built on hardy folks who had an unhealthy penchant for spending most of their lives in the backwoods.  Unfortunately when it comes time to actually plan one, the weight of the task can leave you feeling inadequate and unconfident.  Especially if these sorts of trips weren’t part of your youth.

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So how do you go about planning and actually executing one of these trips? I’m sure there are many folks out there who are infinitely more qualified to answer this question, but I’d like to weigh on with a beginners/intermediate’s point of view on the subject.  Here is what I have learned.

Have a Good Plan

Decide how much time you want to spend on a trip. Decide where in the province, country, or even world you want to go. Once you have answered these questions narrow down your search to a specific route.  In Canada, Canadian Canoe Roots  would be your best option.  Alternatively you could look up Trails.com  for trails in the states.  Once you have narrowed it down to a specific route, get your hands on  a map of your route showing the path, portages, portage distances, and topography.  I’m a big fan of Jeff’s maps http://jeffsmap.com/ .  They guy has seen a good portion of the parks in Ontario and has lots of handy notes on his maps.  Not to mention they are fairly current, and best of all made available through donations.  Thanks Jeff!

If your still deciding on what route to take consider your level of physical fitness when selecting a trip that’s right for you.  Consider choosing a trp that is well travelled if your new.  There may be others present should you get into a bit of trouble.

Don’t be a hero and don’t bite off more than you can chew.  A two day trip may not sound as epic as a week long excursion, but its definitely easier and safer. Every year lots of people decide to head into the woods with very little gear or food expecting things to just work out.  News flash, they wont, unless you prepare for it.

Choose Experienced Trip Mates

Personally, I prefer learning by doing and by seeing.  So it worked out when I was invited on my first trip by some seriously experienced trekkers.  I got to learn the ropes with minimal risk to myself.  I recommend this method of grafting yourself onto a trip.  I bet there is nothing worse that being in the middle of a trek running out of food and having no idea how your going to get back and no one to ask for help.

Plan Your Meals

Understand what your dietary needs are and pack accordingly.  Its important to watch your weight here though, and I don’t mean your waistline.  I’m taking weight of your pack.  Bringing a case of beer and fresh steaks may work for a 2 day canoe in trip where you don’t mind packing it in, but that wont really fly on a long haul 7 day trip with numerous portages.  Your not going to want to haul that crap in or haul the remaining garbage out. Consider meals that are light and full of calories like wraps and peanut butter or oatmeal.  Dried meats are a favourite as well.  Basically anything that doesn’t require refrigeration and is light.  Remember, its not the food that usually weighs a lot, its the water present in your food.  Try to avoid bringing meals that contain lots of water and rely more on things like pasta, rice, or oatmeal.  They have a high calorie/weight ratio.

Water

Consider how you will get your water.  A couple Nalgene bottles wont cut it for a long haul trip.  Bring a water filter designed to remove all the lovely bacteria and parasites or use purification tablets/drops.  Simply boiling your water wont save you from a severe case of “beaver fever”.  Oh and avoid drawing water from swampy boggy areas or from near shore.  These areas can be teaming with parasites.  If in an emergency you need to drink untreated water, get it from a fast moving stream or from the middle of a deep cold lake.

Gear

Gear needs are tied directly to the trip you plan to take.  You’ll need at least: a compass, your map (preferably in a water proof case), fire starting equip, pack, sleeping bag, therma-rest or sleeping pad, water filtration or purification equip, minimal cooking gear (preferably pots that fit within one another), a stove or way to cook (something light is great like a whisperlite or similar), life jacket (if canoeing), and assortment of medication (ibuprofen, Benadryl, antihistamines, personal meds).  A bit of rope and a good knife are never bad things to bring along.  Try to minimize gear and reduce redundancies.  Discuss equipment with your group to avoid duplicating gear.  No need to haul 6 camp stoves in when one will do the trick.

Resist the urge to bring along your favourite axe, clunky propane BBQ, or other gear that has no direct use on trip.  Believe me, you’ll only make the mistake of over packing once, especially if you have a few long portages to deal with.

Maintain a dry set of clothes, but don’t bring the whole wardrobe.  Accept that you wont have a fresh set of clothes to wear each day unless you pack them in.  I keep one set of dry clothes for camp and one for the hard day of paddling and hiking.

Organization

Reduce clutter and loose items. Make sure you reduce items that need to be carried in your hands or that are loose.  This makes for easy portages and minimizes lost items.  You will tire quickly of having to pick up a ton of crap each time you move.  Also, one pack containing all your gear is easer to pick out of the water than a mess of gear if you capsize.  As a plus, your pack will likely float minimizing loss of equipment!

Read Trip Reports

Although you may be hoping to experience your very own Lewis and Clark moment once you are in the woods, its likely someone else has been there before.  Use resources such as myccr.ca folks on that sit have piles of information for the new adventurer.  Don’t forget to use Google and read posts like those you may find on your favourite outdoor blog based in Southern Ontario “wink, wink”.  If there is a problem with a trip, someone somewhere is likely to mention it.

Weather

Be prepared for it or plan around it.  Remember as nice as a light rain shower is in the summer, the same rain can be deadly if your travelling in cold temperatures.  Staying dry is key when the mercury drops.

Stay off the water during thunderstorms or in high winds. Likewise, learn your route and constantly be looking to landmarks that indicate where you are. Stay alert!  you don’t want to be the person who misses the portage only to head into a class 5 rapid un-expectantly.

Well that’s my two cents.  I’m not a pro by any stretch, but hopefully this information will help you make some good decisions up front about your trip.  If I can leave you with one thought its this: don’t be intimidated.  This may seem like a lot of things to think about when tripping, but you’ll learn quick.  Start small, be eager to learn and humbly take advice for more experienced trippers.

Lastly, and above all else, enjoy the experience.

Cheers from somewhere in the middle of nowhere,

Albert

Ontario Craft Beer, Cheese, Liquor, and Food

The Wilderness across Ontario is my favourite thing to write about.  But a close second would have to be the province itself.  The area is rich in diversity and is currently nurturing a healthy “farm to table / locavore” movement.  For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m talking about artisanal meats, cheeses, food, beer and liquor made locally with local ingredients, fostering local economic benefits.  I could go on here touting the benefits of supporting this way of life but really, what’s more beneficial than eating and drinking something that a fellow Ontarian has poured their life into?  In my mind, its a no brainer.

So how do you set about finding all these hole in the wall places? I’m sure many of you may have a favourite craft beer you like or perhaps you’ve stumbled upon a some amazing cheese that’s made in the farmhouse down the road.  That’s great.  Now imagine having access to each and everyone of these places across southern Ontario.

Actually better yet, don’t imagine.  This ability already exists in website form.  Check out the following link and discover the taste of Ontario.

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0645/5925/files/DiscoveryRoutes_2016_Full_insert.pdf?16132010561433434178

Cheers

Albert

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Physalis – Ground Cherries

During some recent field work north of Toronto I stumbled across the strangest looking plant in a fairly wild section of public lands.  The bright orange colour of the fruiting bodies drew me in immediately and forced an impromptu googling session.  I was familiar with ground cherries but never any this vibrant.

Here is what I found:

Physalis alkekengi (bladder cherry, Chinese lantern,[2] Japanese-lantern,[3] strawberry groundcherry,[4] or winter cherry It is easily identifiable by the large, bright orange to red papery covering over its fruit, which resembles paper lanterns. It grows naturally in the region covering southern Europe to south Asia and Japan. It is a herbaceous perennial plant growing to 40–60 cm tall, with spirally arranged leaves 6–12 cm long and 4–9 cm broad. The flowers are white, with a five-lobed corolla 10–15 mm across, with an inflated basal calyx which matures into the papery orange fruit covering, 4–5 cm long and broad.

Peterson’s field guide reports these to be edible when ripe but offers a warning that unripe berries and the leaves are poisonous. 

Although the specific species I found is a non native plant, some species are native to the Americas such as the Smooth ground-cherry (Physalis virginiana Mill. var. subglabrata (Mackenz. and Bush) U.T. Waterfall) and clammy ground-cherry (Physalis heterophylla Nees).

Here are a couple shots of my find

Cheers from the wild,

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