Perch and Walleye opening season is a month away. I for one can’t wait…
In the meantime, please take the time to sign the OFAH’s petition to end the waste of tax payer funds that is the long gun registry. Sign petition here.
Perch and Walleye opening season is a month away. I for one can’t wait…
In the meantime, please take the time to sign the OFAH’s petition to end the waste of tax payer funds that is the long gun registry. Sign petition here.
Hunting was a little slower this year, and my two-year buck streak has come to an end. A few of the regular guys in my group weren’t able to make it out and the weather was less than ideal. When using the technique of “pushing (or dogging) bushes”, (which simply put is using half of the group to walk through the bush in order to “push” the deer towards the other half waiting in ambush) you have to eliminate the distance between the “pushers” or the deer easily find their way between them back to safety. And believe me they are very good at sliding between pushers very quietly. In addition to this numbers problem the temperature actually increased as the week went on and by the final day we were in T-shirts and working up a sweat. Ideal conditions are as cold as possible yet we were looking at 17-20 degrees Celsius by mid-day for the better part of the week. Not only is this non-conducive to enticing deer movement because it pushes the rut back a few weeks, but it’s very uncomfortable for the type of hunting we do which involves walking through many Kilometres of thick bush. I was told by some of the local, more experienced hunters in the area that deer were moving almost exclusively come night-fall, and when it comes to deer hunting, at least the hunting I’m accustomed to, the animal needs to come to you. I can tell you that I noticed much fewer tracks, scrapes and other fresh signs than I’m used to seeing. What the reason is seems to be a combination of us being to few hunters in the group, bad weather conditions during the hunting week and a considerable winter kill of deer during the particularly difficult winter conditions of 07-08. There were fewer tags available this year which leads one to speculate that the ice cover and heavy snowfall last year took their toll on the deer populations of Southern Ontario. Keep in mind that I am merely relating what I’ve been hearing locally. I am by no means a deer expert. Factual reasons for the lower harvest of deer in WMU 65 this year may be entirely different. Despite all of this, as does every hunt, this one had its fair share of memorable moments and time well spent.
Take for example day 3 of the week. It started off promisingly enough with Pat and I seeing a monster buck standing in an empty field about 100 yards from us as we turned a corner. As luck would have it both of us weren’t quite ready and never got in a position to shoot before he took off. It sure had us pumped though. However after only two pushes and a few very small deer pushed most of the guys had to leave for the day and morale was getting low. The two of us who had the rest of the day to ourselves decided to stick around and find spots to sit in for the afternoon hoping deer would move in close enough for a shot. I chose a fence-line location between the open field in which I had seen the buck earlier that day and a thick bush composed of a mixture of hardwood and cedar in the higher grounds and a lower swampy area. My buddy Ray decided to head uphill into the open hardwood where he could see well into the bush. As I sat there peacefully juggling thoughts I started to hear ruffling leaves inside the edge of the bush but I couldn’t see what was there. If any of you reading this have hunted before you know this puts you on your toes in a hurry. I slowly grabbed my shotgun and stared towards where the sound emanated from ready to fire. But much to my surprise a wild turkey hen came out into the meadow followed by about 5 or 6 more birds. I sat there without moving wishing I had my camera on me for the next 30 minutes or so. The birds had no idea I was there. One of them kept creeping in closer and closer to where I was sitting until I could clearly see the purple glow in its neck feathers. They really are beautiful birds. I had never seen one that close up and have only seen them on a few sparse occasions in my lifetime. I felt truly privileged to be able to savour a rare moment with such an elusive bird. As I mentioned, I unfortunately didn’t have my camera on me that day, (and I probably would have scared it off trying to get a picture anyway) but I took this shot of the turkeys crossing the field the next morning. The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and the MNR have truly done some great work in the restoration of Southern Ontario populations of this once almost eradicated native bird. If you are interested in reading more about the ongoing history of this success story this link would be a good place to start; Wild Turkey Management Plan for Ontario
I sat there mesmorized by the sight of a wild turkey roughly 20 feet from me when I was brought back to reality by a group of hunters who started pushing the bush two lots down from where we were towards the west. They barked and yelped and whistled as they made there way south through the dense growth of small Birch. The turkeys took off in a hurry back to the safety of their cedary home and I turned 180 degrees to face the direction of the commotion hoping that deer would get pushed to my location. I waited about two minutes and heard a single gun shot up the hill where Ray was. He then let me know on the radio that he had a deer down. I found out later that Ray had fallen fast asleep sitting against the base of a large tree and that three small bucks running by had awakened him. He had no idea about the other hunters, the noise, the whistling until I mentionned it well after his deer was down because he was, well, passed out. We got a pretty good chuckle out of it. The small buck was far from a monster but after three empty handed days we were both happy to at least have one deer down.
A few days later I managed to get this decent doe (see picture at the top) as she ran away from pushers on a different property. There were more deer in there at the time but they turned back on the pushers and evaded capture as they often do when there are to few hunters in the group.
That was about the best the week had to offer deer-wise this year and that’s just fine by me. Although a big buck would have been nice I certainlly fully appreciated the time off work, scenery, fresh air and time to think. Sometimes it’s nice to realize that fishing and hunting is really all about spending time in the outdoors and getting to know yourself and those around you in a different light. For me spending time outside offers us a sort of primal return to our origins and the opportunity to discover our local environment up close. It’s also tons of fun and always an adventure. As I’ve said upon returning home from many an empty handed fishing day, it sure beats staying in and watching fishing shows. I’ll leave you with a view from a treestand I had on the last sunset of the week.
Until next time, stay outside. Jigger.
It’s been quite warm over the last week, but alas, not warm enough for tubing behind a boat, unless of course you enjoy a swim in 42ºF water. However, it is warm enough to get out after some fat fall smallies with 3″ tube jigs providing you dress for it. I’ve always heard and read that late fall fishing is often the best the year has to offer. On Sunday I witnessed first-hand why that is the case and also learned why I sometimes struggled to find fish in the fall in years passed; which is mainly because I am trained to look too deep. When water cools off in the fall, fish will move shallow to feed. This is particularly true if you can find a shallow area where the water clarity isn’t too high, which can be easier said than done in our zebra mussel infested waters. We caught all our fish that morning in under 14 feet of water. Many were caught in about 6-9 feet of water, including 3 walleyes.
I was lucky enough to receive an invite from tournament fisherman Simon Lavictoire on board his 20′ 2007 Nitro powered by a 225 Merc Optimax, which he is looking to sell incidentally. It’s a dual console bass boat, 20’9″ length, 98″ beam with two huge casting decks in the front and rear and about 90hrs of use. It’s fully loaded with an 80lb-thrust bow-mount trolling motor, two GPS sonars and is in mint condition. If anyone is interested in the boat simply leave a comment and I’ll get you in touch with Simon.
Simon fishes the Renegade Circuit and Quebec Bass Masters Tour and, as he says, when he gets involved with something he goes in full-steam. The man is equipped with a seemingly endless arsenal of rods, reels and tackle. The boat ride in itself was an intense enough experience. The bonus was the many limits of smallmouth and 3 walleye we put in the boat in a few short hours on that crisp sunny morning. What impressed me most was the average size of the fish. I have never seen so many big smallmouth in such a short time period. I also have never seen that many large fish concentrated so tightly in a specific feeding area. I’ve seen schools of 25-30 fish while snorkelling but most of the fish were between 2 and 3 pounds. These were monsters. I would say the average fish was in the 3-pound range with many over 4 and a couple pushing 5 if not slightly over 5 pounds; and boy were they in the mood. At one point I could barely set the net down as Simon kept repeating “there’s another one”; boating about 8 or 9 fish on consecutive casts. You can tell he’s a tournament fisherman when you barely have time to grab your rod while he’s catching, unhooking and releasing fish like the Flash.
The areas we focussed on were flats composed of a mixture of small rubble, sand and isolated tall weed patches near the main seaway channel. The water was surprisingly murky (coffee coloured) and the fish were quite shallow, at least by my standards. They were packed in that area fairly tightly and they were on the feed. We presumed they were targeting gobies, which are now plentiful in the area.
The Round Goby – Image courtesy of www.utm.utoronto.ca
The Round Goby was first introduced to North America in the 80s after, as is the case for many other invasive species, being transported to the Niagara River by ballast water of European ships. They have since spread to the entire St-Lawrence River system and Great Lakes with potentially negative impacts on native fish species such as predation on fray and eggs of walleye and other game fish. Gobies also feed on Zebra Mussels which contain high concentrations of contaminants. The concern is that these will accumulate in higher and higher concentrations as they move up the food chain to fish like walleye and bass who now feed on gobies, a phenomenon known as bioaccumulation. Although it is still too early to tell exactly what kind of impact they will have, it is also believed they are reducing numbers of other small, native, bottom-dwelling species. If you’d like to find out more about these small, feisty invaders visit the OFAH’s Invading Species Awareness Program.
If you’ve ever seen gobies swim you’ll know that a 3″ tube jig slowly dragged on bottom will mimic them perfectly. Based on my observations while snorkelling, I’ve found gobies to be an extremely bottom-oriented fish that often lies motionless using its natural camouflage as cover until a predator (or a snorkeler) gets too close. They are rather difficult to spot on the bottom when they aren’t moving. In fact you probably won’t notice them while snorkelling unless you get up close to the bottom. It’s then that you notice just how many of them there are. They are literally everywhere. I’ve caught them in 80feet of water and have seen them in 3feet of water. When we pull spinners on huge, deep flats in August they steal bait and are a constant nuisance. When ambushed, they dart off in short but vigorous bursts yet rarely move more than 3 to 5feet away only to resume their immobile position flat on the bottom.
I’ve never seen gobies up-close in 42ºF water, but I have to assume that they, as do other fish, slow down considerably in colder water. With all of this taken into consideration, we found out pretty quickly that what worked best that day was a “do-nothing” technique; quite literally. We made short casts and let the jig sit on bottom, with an occasional slow drag back to the boat. Most of the fish I caught hit the jig while it sat motionless on the bottom. The drag would get the fish’s attention, but it was the slow movement of the tentacles on the jig that really did the damage on those big smallies.
Bass weren’t the only predators lurking on those flats that morning. The more I fish the more I realize all game-fish are often found within the same general areas at a given time. I was bit off by a pike or musky and we also put 3 walleye in the boat. Believe it or not, I caught my very first tube-jig walleye that day, barely moving the jig along bottom. I’ve caught walleye on 3” twister tails and grubs or minnow imitations many times, but strangely enough never on a tube. Simon caught and released this decent one which gave him a pretty good fight. We also kept two smaller ‘eyes for dinner.
So if you want to try catching these huge fall smallmouth, put on your favourite tuque, grab a few tube jigs and give it a try. Spinning tackle with medium action rods worked really well. I used a 6’1” Quantum PT Tour Edition Medium action rod as I like the shorter rods for jigging while Simon used a slightly longer Quantum rod. Both our reels were spooled with no-stretch braided lines with fluorocarbon leaders. This provided maximum sensitivity because the bites are often very subtle.
Don’t be afraid to look in shallow water, especially murky or stained shallow water. As the thermocline dissipates and the water temp evens out from surface to bottom, the larger specimens of predatory species will move in to specific areas to feed. If I can provide any advice from that day it’s that if you think you’re moving your tube jig too slowly, move it even slower. The fish were keying in on the baits as they sat on bottom. Another thing to keep in mind is that the bite can be fast and furious one minute and quite sluggish the next, as we found out that day when the bite suddenly stopped. The fish were on for about 2hrs and then the bite tapered off. While it lasted however, it was the most intense bass fishing experience I’ve had and I can guarantee I’m now sold on dragging late fall tubes for monster smallies.
Stay outside! Jigger.
Hey folks, hope you all had a wonderful, and fishful summer. I apologize for the lack of updates. My camera got wet back on a trip in July and I was without it until about two weeks ago. The walleye fishing slowed in the Lancaster area by about mid-July so most of my limits were caught upstream above the dam. I did have a chance to get out for bass a few times but the old Sea Nymph is making it more and more difficult to focus on fishing. The trolling motor finally gave up and I ended up having to paddle my way in tight to bass spots. Not ideal although it did put a few nice fish in the boat including a monster smallmouth in the 5lbs range. I have therefore decided to sell my boat and am presently getting a feel of the market for new boats. I’ve narrowed it down to two choices: The Lund Predator 1810 or the Lund Pro-Guide Tiller 1825. I like the slightly wider and longer hull of the Pro-Guide and the fact that it’s a tiller because you save so much space in the boat not having a console, but the Predator comes with an 110HP Merc instead of the 90HP one on the Pro-Guide. It’s also a bit more affordable than the Pro-Guide. All things considered however you are talking about two serious boats. I fished in my friend Mike’s Rebel SX all year and I can only imagine what the extra two feet will provide in terms of fishability and ability to handle the big water that is Lake St-Francis. Next season should be a fun one. If anyone has an opinion or suggestions about these two models I’d love to hear it.
In the meantime I’m gearing up for my yearly week off in November to hunt the numerous and beautiful whitetail deer in the area. I’m not sure I’ll top last year’s success (see post entitled “A Moment I Will Not Soon Forget) but I am anxiously anticipating spending a week in the outdoors and getting away from work for a while. The fall is truly the prettiest season if you are dressed properly and you get out there. Its sights and smells are both picturesque and invigorating.
Waterfowl season is well underway now. I have been fortunate enough to be able to get out for 3 weekends now and we’ve limited out each time. It is getting more and more difficult to draw in the geese as the season progresses, but with a bit of patience and persistence we are able to bag our 5 per stamp in a couple of hours. I am by no means a goose calling expert but I’m learning each year. Here is a short video of the final approach of a small flock I shot back on opening day. I apologize for the shaky finish as I was tempted to grab my gun at the last minute but decided to keep recording instead.
We got out to our field that day at about 5:30, giving us plenty of time to set up the decoys and get ready. There were a few corn rows left standing providing an ideal ambush point. The farmers and hunters have a good relationship when it comes to goose hunting in the area. Geese give farmers headaches and they are more than happy to allow hunters on their land. From a hunter’s perspective, we truly appreciate this. That’s why it is critical to make sure to leave the field as you found it. Don’t drive out to your spot unless you’ve received the farmer’s permission and always pick up empty shells and anything else you brought out there with you. Practicing good ethics while hunting is essential in maintaining this relationship and is beneficial to all hunters in the long run. The geese started flying at 6:24am and by 7:10am we had our limit of 20 geese, or 5 per hunter.
If you look closely you’ll see a black lab in that last picture. That’s Asia, Mike’s dog. So far she’s a bit better at running around frantically than at retrieving geese but Mike is well on his way to having her become an excellent hunting dog. She does retrieve ducks already and has retrieved geese in training. Here’s an example of how Mike trains her taken a little later that morning. I really get a kick of watching her jump in the water.
If you are out of ideas as to what to do with goose meat, I suggest you take them over to Stephane Levac’s butcher shop up in Dalhousie. He has a huge variety of sausage flavours to choose from and take it from me they are fantastic. They are also quite affordable. One thing he does ask is that you take good care in ensuring all pellets are removed from the breasts. The best way I’ve found to do this is to soak them in brine for a few hours before giving them a final rinse. I enjoy goose meat on it’s own as well. It lends itself well to strong marinades and slower cooking processes. However if you treat it like beef it will be very tough.
So far so good for the fall season. I’ll let you all know how the deer season turned out.
Feel free to send me pics and stories as some of you have been doing this summer. I really enjoy sharing hunting and fishing stories so drop me an email and comment. I know the comment approval process is a bit annoying but I have to do this or I get spammed like you wouldn’t believe.
Cheers and stay outside! Jigger
Like all good things eventually do, the early season tributary river walleye run on Lake St-Francis has come to an end. Based on what I’ve gathered from people around the area it has been a successful year with decent fish caught daily. Personally this has been one of my best early seasons in terms of quantity and quality of fish.
Locating fish in the spring is fairly easy on Lake St-Francis. The fish are shallow and somewhat predictable. I’m no biologist but it seems to me the big female walleye linger on in the shallows longer than the males do. I tend to find you have a good chance at 5+ pound fish if you push the limits of fishing the shallows. You will likely see numbers of fish decrease but the ones you do catch shallow later in the spring going into early summer will be bigger. Keep in mind here the only ways I am able to differenciate a male or female walleye are size (females are larger) and the texture of their belly (you can tell it housed egg sacks). I am certainly not claiming to state this as fact, but rather sharing my personal observation. I tend to thing the females stay back longer. Perhaps someone can confirm this.
During the post-spawning period the fish are feeding trying to re-gain energy spent spawning. This is when you have a good chance at catching some of the system’s better walleye by targeting the shallows providing you have decent cover (rock or submerged wood are best), flowing water and ideally feeder rivers or creeks nearby. However when the water starts to warm over that 68°-70°F mark the walleye spread out into the main lake basins and become much more difficult to find and to catch. Around June 20th we started off looking for fish in the “in-between areas”. I know where walleye spend the majority of the summer months and where they spawn. Based on that I have found areas on the map where they would be likely to stage temporarily in between spring and summer. This period can be tricky. I tend to look for spots where the water is about 65°-68°F that offer the same cover as the spawning area. In this case, a large shelf close to a deep basin, fed by a creek with good running water and loaded with perch and other forage. There is also plenty of newly green vegetation there, coontail in particular. I’ve caught plenty of pike in this spot in the past during the early season and I figured the weeds were still low enough so that we could get away trolling crankbaits in about 12-14 feet of water. We didn’t find walleye that day but I’m not convinced they weren’t there because we did catch this reasonable musky and my very first Freshwater Drum. Both these species tend to be found in the same areas as walleye.
I’ll take a minute to talk about this fish you see in the video below for a second. Freshwater Drum are a really cool fish. There is something exotic about them; like catching a mix between a redfish or snook on shallow ocean flats, until you snap out of it and realize you’re in Ontario. Other than rare mentions you don’t often read or hear about them, but I have seen them roam the shallows while snorkelling before; particularly just before dark. I’ve also spoken with people who have caught them on jigs in deep water. Freshwater Phil , a regular to this site and Lake St-Francis, tells me their flesh is similar in taste to that of a walleye but that they have a different bone structure and are difficult to fillet. This is probably why they aren’t a very popular game fish. Which is too bad because they sure are fun to catch and it would be interesting to try and target them. But that’s for another time. If you want to find out a little more about them there is a decent write-up about them on wikipedia here.
A few minutes after we released the Drum Mike’s rod bent in half when a young musky was fooled by a fast moving crankbait ripping through the top of the coontails. I’ve noticed that if you find areas where walleye are holding, chances are muskies aren’t too far away. This isn’t a monster by any means but it makes you wonder about the odd bite-offs we get trolling the shallows for walleye every year. I can’t stand leaving a Rapala in a fish’s mouth but there really isn’t much you can do about it because using a leader would all but nil your chances at fooling walleye.
Speaking of Walleye…
I took Monday off on the weekend so I had 4 days to focus on fishing. I loaded up on leeches, minnows and night crawlers and decided to start by targeting deeper fish. I know walleye in the St-Lawrence system will hold very deep in the summer months, especially now that the water is so clear. On Saturday and Sunday the water was still quite cool so I focussed on the first drop-offs in about 35 to 45 feet of water. I’m guessing the weather, strong winds and high gas prices kept the cottagers and sea-doers at bay this weekend because for the most part it felt like we were alone on the water, even on Canada Day with the weather being near perfect for marine activities. Our first day was spent exploring a summer staging area. A few other boats were out there looking for walleye in 50-60 feet of water but the strong east wind really made things rocky. The East wind is deadly on the Lancaster flats area because of a vast opening of water towards Valleyfield to the East. The waves have many kilometres to travel before they reach you so they end up being massive during East winds. Just ask Mike about his experience in the 4-foot swells on Saturday morning. Let’s just say his breakfast was a waste in a hurry. Seeing as Mike didn’t feel so hot we reluctantly and prematurally headed back in empty-handed on the morning of day 1.
That night the wind shifted to the west so I took off on the lake alone after dinner. I located a few huge rock piles that really stirred up the current and focussed on them. I started off jigging 3″ grubs to find active fish and it didn’t take long before I had my first walleye of the weekend on. I lost him at the boat and then had another one grab the twister tail on the grub and rip it off. I also hooked into a few smallmouth including this beauty 18 incher but by that time it was getting pretty dark so I headed in feeling confident that I would find walleye in the morning. This picture is a little strange because I had to set the timer on the camera and it ended up blinding itself out.
Now that I knew where to go, it didn’t take long until we were onto fish on the morning of day 2, and for the remainder of the weekend.
We had the perfect conditions, overcast, walleye-chop and very aggressive fish. I had them concentrated on a rock pile in about 35 feet of water and they were spitting up minnows like crazy. In a matter of 2 hours we boated 8 fish and most were above 2 and a half pounds with two bruisers mixed in. There is nothing like the feeling of a walleye digging for bottom in deep water. These guys were released to fight another day and they gave us one heck of a good time.
The key to getting these big walleyes was definitely good boat control. You need to adapt to the conditions you’re faced with. For example, consider wind direction and speed, and focus on how this will move your boat. The direction of the wind determines your drift route while the speed of the wind will help you choose the best presentation. You don’t want to be fighting the wind constantly with the trolling motor so try and use it to your advantage. The wind is a strong ally to walleye fishermen when used to one’s advantage. You also need to be ready to change your approach at a moment’s notice when there is a change in conditions. For example, a 1/4 ounce jig might be perfect in windless or low-wind conditions, but when that breeze picks up you’ll likely have trouble finding bottom with it so you need to go to something heavier. Complacency is the enemy. The worse thing you can do is assume that if something worked well for you in the past that it will work every time you’re out there. The best thing to do is try a variety of techniques. When you find something that works, rince and repeat until you’ve spooked the fish or they moved out. I’ve caught walleye anchored while throwing light jigs down the current into a deep pocket. I’ve caught them pulling crankbaits against the flow on channel edges, vertical jigging on rock piles, you name it. The key is finding what works that day, at that particular moment because sometimes things will change dramatically in only a few short hours. I also don’t waste my time in a spot if there is nothing there. Keep moving and watch the conditions so you can match your presentation to what mother nature is throwing at you.
The overcast, windy conditions were perfect but they didn’t last. That night after dinner Mike and Amélie wanted to go out so we hopped into Mike’s Lund towards areas where we had caught fish in the morning. The wind had changed and a cold front moved through. The fish weren’t in that same location anymore buy had moved upstream about half a mile. The bigger fish were harder to catch but after a few adaptations in our presentation we did put Amélie onto her first walleye much to her husband Mike’s content. After a few fish about this size were swimming in the livewell we headed in for a bit of filleting and a cold beer. Rough times I tell you.
On the final day of the weekend I headed out with Pat. He ended up being more of a spectator this time around for a reason which eluded us both. He simply couldn’t catch a fish even though he was using the exact same rig I was. As for me, the morning went very well with 5 fish boated and it was the perfect way to end a perfect weekend. At about 11am we headed in for some lunch on a crystal clear, dead calm lake. Later that afternoon when the sun was a its peak we made our way to our favourite underwater island for some snorkelling to end the day, and a fantastic weekend.
Give these deep eyes a try. They won’t disappoint you.