Big Lake (O) Bachelor Party

Bachelor Parties.  A time in a persons life where they celebrate the single lifestyle one last time before they take the plunge into marriage.  For many this means bars, strip clubs, drinking, maybe even gambling.  However recennt trends seem to be leaning towards trips that are somewhat more memorable.  Canoe trips into the wild, summiting a mountain, renting heavy equipment and going to town in a field for a weekend.  It seems sharing a mutually enjoyable and memorable experience is the new thing.

I recently found myself taking part in the planning of a bachelor party for a good friend, and felt the need to come up with an experience that was memorable, surprising and exciting all rolled into one.  The groom (Jamie) had recently discovered his love for fishing which naturally led me towards the idea of a fishing charter.  With the salmon and trout season still in full swing on Lake O, my choice was almost predetermined.  After convincing the other BP attendees that getting up at 3:00 am was a good idea, we booked the charter with Joe from Salmon Tracker Charters and set about thinking of a way to get the groom to the boat.

The day of party arrived, and the goom and I made our way towards Ajax under some pretty solid false pretenses and directed him towards Frenchman Bay Marina where he conveniently bumped into his father, brother, and two close friends.  All waiting in the parking lot with a tied look in their eyes and a cooler full of snacks.

We met on C Dock and boarded a beautiful boat that comfortably seated six plus the captain.  Joe as courteous and knowledgeable and quickly familiarized us with the boat and the days itinerary.  Joe came highly recommended by my Uncle, who guided on Lake O for salmon and trout for many years.  In my opinion, if my uncle recommends you, that means you have some serious street cred in the fishing community.

Joe’s boat was perfect for 6 blokes looking to score some big fish, and Joes prowess as a captain would live up to the luxury of his boat. Joe had two games plans, stick close for staging king salmon, or go deep for cohos and Rainbows.  After consulting with some other captains and learning that fishing was lean near shore, Joe chose option B and took us several kms out into the blue waters of Lake Ontario.

The first fish hit quick and was ceremoniously reeled in by the groom.  Not a big fish, but the little shaker made up for it by its sheer presence and determination on the line. Catching anything right off the bat, no matter the size will put a smile on your face.

We decided to take turns and chose a batting ordered that favoured those who had not fished in several years.  That said, Jamie’s Dad, Dennis, was next up to bat,  and what a swing he took!  The battle was on and it became clear early on that what ever was on the other end of Dennis’s line wasn’t tiny.  In fact, it ended up being a beautiful 18lb rainbow trout.  Quite the trophy for someone who hadn’t fished in over 10 years.

Next up was Jamie’s brother Mike who landed another respectable rainbow which led to another happy fisherman.

As much as we were bucking the normal customs of typical Bachelor Parties, we felt obligated to include a few traditions, such as the customary Cuban Cigar

The battle continued and action remained steady.  Time for old Davey T to step up and take a turn.

Next up was Justin.  At first, the fish didn’t want to play ball for Justin as several were lost at or close to the boat.  Finally however, a small King decided to commit and made Justin’s Day.  Unfortunately the little guy took some battle damage which made him a prime candidate for the cooler.  Perfect size for a meal.

The author even got to take a turn.  After loosing what we think was a monster to a broken line (no seriously, I promise it was huge!!!), I managed to boat a respectable rainbow trout.  Surprisingly enough, this guy was my biggest rainbow so far. Actually come to think of it, it was my only wild rainbow I have ever caught!

Overall we boated about 7 fish and lost another 10 or so.  Enough to keep us busy and quite the days work for a group of gents who got up at 3:30 to drive from Kingston.  The experience was memorable for everyone, Most of all for the groom.  He obviously had no idea what was in store for him which made the day that much more memorable.

The bachelor party continued with food and drink in downtown Toronto where great times were had by all.

Congratulations on your upcoming marriage Jamie.  All the best to you and your bride for the future.

Cheers from the boat,

Albert

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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Bass Opener Derby 2016

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Cheers from the lake,

Albert

One Eyed Bandit

Got out to a new property for a turkey hunt this morning.  We recently gained access from the owners for turkey hunting on the property, although we previously had access for deer.  With the amount of turkeys seen during deer season, we knew there had to be birds and are glad to have access.  Gotta say the property owners we deal with are generous folks allowing us to access such a paradise for hunting.  We greatly appreciate their generosity.

We began once again at 5 am, and sat along the edge of a corn field which we knew to be a throughway.  After the first few calls we had a couple gobblers respond but nothing seemed to be moving towards us.  We repositioned within a row of pines next to another field to the north near a gobbler we heard.  Unfortunately the only takers we had were a hen and a curious one eyed racoon.  Pretty neat to see the racoon get right up close to our decoys to inspect them.

Its amazing the things you see in the blind.

Cheers from the wild,

Albert

 

 

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?