Monday, June 23, 2008

Anticipation builds

My mind took a turn toward the largemouth bass on Saturday when I strolled the shore of Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. I was carrying my camera and setting up a shot of a wedding party with Lake Harriet in the background.

I took just a brief moment to scan the now-weedy waters and think of upcoming bass-fishing trips. I have never fished Harriet, but spend a good deal of time on three neighboring lakes -- Calhoun, Lake of the Isles and Cedar. Harriet intrigues me and I would really like to try it this summer. It has muskies and walleyes and some people say it has some nice bass in it.

I intend to find out first hand. One positive thing is it doesn't seem to get much pressure for bass. That's always a good thing and generally makes a lake appealing to me. Also, the lake seems a lot like Calhoun in terms of depth, water quality and weed growth. It is infested with eurasian watermilfoil, just like Calhoun and the others. Although some folks, especially sailing enthusiasts and swimmers, consider milfoil a curse, it's actually great for bass. As many anglers know, bass love cover, especially weeds, and milfoil offers plenty of it. Therefore, you can often find lots of bass in milfoil, especially bigger ones.

That said, it is also well documented that milfoil can be very difficult and frustrating to fish. I have found this to be true, but with the right tackle and technique, milfoil can be cracked. I have caught nice bass on the city lakes, all the way up to 21 inches. All were caught in and around milfoil. Yes, the fishing can be tedious and, often, a slower and deeper presentation is most effective. Yet, the rewards can be great. I look forward to a great summer of fishing bass. As strange as this sounds, my favorite and best time to fish for bass is July and August. The fish are deeper, but they bite better and more consistently than many people realize.

Just ask the tournament pros. Years ago, some told me they bring in their heaviest catches in July and August. I remember a two-day tournament in late July on Lake Minnetonka when a pair of bass anglers won with about 70 pounds. For some people, that's a summer's worth. The interesting thing is, some of the other teams came in with a total weight of more than 60 pounds. That doesn't sound like dog days to me!

Here's the best part -- because of the outboard motor ban on the city lakes and the belief by many that the fishing slows in July and August, I often have some of the spots I fish, if not the whole lake, to myself. That's hard to beat. I often have a big grin on my face when I land a nice bass and look around to see no other fishing boats in sight. Usually, the ones I do see are manned by muskie anglers, which is just fine with me. In fact, I do hook and occasionally land a muskie while fishing for bass. So much the better.

As of right now, I'm planning on my annual Fourth-of-July outing with my friend Dave. It's an annual tradition that we both look forward to. Dave shares my passion for bass and he really likes to find new spots and try new techniques for bass. We talked yesterday and are making our plans for the Fourth. If we go nice and early, we won't have trouble finding a parking spot, which is one problem you can run into on Calhoun, especially on weekends and holidays. There is only street parking near the boat landing and the spots can fill up fast. That's why I often go on weekdays, when the parking is usually easier.

Now that the weather is finally heating up, the bass soon will establish their summer patterns, which involves moving out to the deeper weedlines. They'll stay there all summer and well into the fall. I'll tie on jigs and plastics and have at it. I can't wait 'til my first bite -- and first bass aerial show -- of the summer!

Monday, June 16, 2008

An interesting vacation

Our family got to spend last week at a lake near Bemidji. The good news: The lake was beautiful, it held some nice crappies that we caught and cooked, and my new boat worked splendidly.

The bad news: The weather was stormy and volatile all week, with lots of rain, high winds and cold temperatures. Get this: The high last Wednesday was only 49 degrees! Hard to believe it was that cold in the middle of June. But, that's the kind of year it has been.

Amazingly, despite the cold, the mosquitoes were out in full force. In fact, they were abundant and ravenous. And, try as we might, we couldn't keep them from infiltrating the cabin. So, by week's end, we all were sporting welts aplenty.

Yet, there was much to be grateful for. And, I led our family in a short "gratitude" session on the drive back home. I feel it is important to cultivate the virtue of gratitude. So, I instructed every member of our family to say aloud things he/she is thankful for. It's a good thing to do. And, it can help us keep a balanced perspective.

I, for one, am grateful for the wonderful couple, Bill and Margaret, who let us use the cabin in exchange for some photography services. They stayed later than they wanted to on the day we arrived to make sure we knew how everything worked and where to find things that we needed. And, Bill came up the night before we left and helped me load my boat onto the trailer the next day. The heavy rains had left the steep gravel loading ramp soft and our minivan does not have four-wheel drive. So, I was worried about being able to drive back up the ramp with the boat on the trailer. Bill and his son, John, came to the rescue with a four-wheel drive vehicle and some muscle to get the boat on the trailer and up the ramp.

Bill also has a nice fish-cleaning station set up on the back end of the garage. It features a nice, tall table, which meant I didn't have to bend over and get a sore back from cleaning the crappies I caught. And, best of all, there were not one but two electric fillet knives at my disposal. I have been curious about them and have seen others use them with great success. I had been wanting to try one and, last week, I got my chance.

I'm happy to report that the Mister Twister electric fillet knife performed magnificently. It was easy to use and fast. Someone had told me previously that it takes a while to learn how to use it and that I should plan on ruining a few fish during the learning process. In this case, I botched only two of 21 crappies on the first try and zero of six on the second. Pretty good "filleting" average, I would say.

Upon returning home, I did the natural thing: Put that knife on my Father's Day list. And, my wife, Julie, happily obliged. But, I'm not sure, at this point, if it means I will get permission to go on more fishing trips. For now, I'll stick closer to home.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Humbling experience

I was all set to take my family on my new boat's maiden voyage yesterday. After a busy spring of turkey hunting, I was turning my thoughts to the fishing season.

The planned destination was Turtle Lake in Shoreview, but a packed boat landing and parking lot made a change of venue necessary. So, we journeyed farther west in Interstate 694 and pulled in to Lake Owasso. It was less crowded there and I was able to launch the boat within minutes.

I jumped in with my oldest son, Joe, and turned the key to start up the motor. The groaning sound indicated the battery power was too low. So, the cruise across the lake would have to wait. Then, I decided to try out the bow-mount electric trolling motor. Bad news there, too. The foot pedal was seriously out of adjustment, which made steering difficult.

So, I packed it in, loaded the boat back on the trailer and went home. End of trip. Unfortunately, on top of that, I reacted very poorly to the mechanical problems and set a poor example in front of my wife and children.

As I reflected and prayed about the episode later that day, I knew I needed to ask everyone's forgiveness for my bad attitude and expression thereof. The great thing about kids is they're very willing to forgive, especially when they know you're sincere about your penitence, which I was.

The good news is, I'm already working on the remedies for the boat problems. I've got a battery on the charger that I bought last year and know is still good. Also, I called MinnKota and got information on how to adjust the foot pedal on the electric trolling motor. And, I hope to take the boat out later this week to make sure everything's in good working order. After all, our family is going on a week-long vacation up north at the end of the week and I would like to have full confidence that the boat will function like it should.

I also hope and pray to have God's blessings on all of us, and the boat, too. And, I think another worthwhile task this week would be to find out the patron saint of boaters.