Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dwindling supply

I got some unsettling news earlier this week: The bait that I used to catch the largest bass of my life July 20, weighing 5 pounds, 11 ounces, is no longer being made.

It's called a Ribbontail worm and it was manufactured by Berkley. Not only did I use it to catch a 21-inch bass and two 19-inchers on that wonderful day on the water, but my son, Andy, caught the biggest bass of his life on the same bait the following week. His lunker bass was slightly longer than 20 inches and weighed 5 pounds, 2 ounces.

After making this startling discovery, I did two things: 1. I called Berkley and got on the phone with a high-ranking manager, Ron Kliegl, who, interestingly, was part of the group of people who made the decision to stop making the Ribbontail; and, 2. I went on an all-out search to find more. I was down to my last package and really wanted to keep using them for a long time.

I was able to find one package at a local store. It was the third store I tried and it had exactly one package left, so I bought it. I also found some on Berkley's website and ordered several more packages, which have been shipped and should land on my doorstep in a few days.

So, I think I'm set for now. This supply should carry me through the end of this fishing season. It's next year and beyond that I am worried about. Maybe I'm being too paranoid. After all, Berkley still makes its standard Powerworm. And, aren't they close enough to the Ribbontail that they will catch fish just as effectively?

Maybe. But, the bass have spoken and said they like the Ribbontail, so I'm not inclined to change this offering. And, at least for a little while, I won't have to. But, unless I am able to convince the company to start making them again -- which I tried to do by pleading with Ron on the phone and sending him a follow-up e-mail -- I will have to find a suitable equivalent. I'm not convinced the Powerworms are close enough to lure the big bass into biting, but I truly hope the fish will prove me wrong.

In the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy fishing the Ribbontails I have left and count my blessings that a few of them still reside in my tackle box.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Deja vu

After hearing about my successful bass outing on the Minneapolis City lakes last Sunday, my son, Andy, wanted to go out and experience it for himself. He likes bass fishing just like I do and was eager to get out on the water.

So, we went yesterday, hoping the big fish were still on the weedlines and willing to bite. They were. Each of us landed a 20-inch bass. Mine weighed 5 pounds, 4 ounces and his weighed 5 pounds, 2 ounces. Interestingly, his fish was about 1/4 to 1/2 inch longer than mine. Mine was exactly 20 inches and his was slightly longer.

The best part for me was being able to share the experience with him and watch him catch his biggest bass ever. He caught a 21-incher four years ago, but it was lean and weighed about 4 3/4 pounds.

His fish yesterday definitely was fatter. In fact, the fish are running heavier than I have ever seen. Usually, they are a bit lean in July. They are just coming off the spawn and are starting to fatten up. Strange thing is, the spawn happened later this year because of the unusually cold spring and early summer. Obviously, the fish are in great shape.

I'm looking forward to getting back out on the city lakes, but first, I will go to Lake of the Woods next week with the winner of this year's youth fishing essay contest, Cody Lensing of Shoreview. He and his father will be joining me for three days at Adrian's Resort. Hopefully, the weather will be good and the walleyes cooperative.

Friday, July 25, 2008


I made a trip to the taxidermist earlier this week. After some deliberation, I decided to mount the 21-inch bass I caught on Sunday. It's the biggest bass I have ever caught, weighing 5 pounds, 11 ounces on my digital scale. It also was a very nice-looking fish with no oddities or damage to its skin or fins.

I called my friend Steve and he recommended a place called Minnesota Valley Taxidermy in Burnsville. The owner, Jack Cudd, has done several mounts for Steve that he's been very happy with. And, Steve recently caught a 30-inch walleye that he's going to bring to Jack.

When I called Jack, I discovered that he does lots of fish mounts, including bass. In fact, he did the mount of the state record bass (8 pounds, 15 ounces) caught by Mark Raveling on Oct. 3, 2005. I saw the picture of the finished mount and that got me pumped about my fish.

Fortunately, my fish was in excellent condition and Jack said that will help ensure a colorful and lifelike mount. I tried to be conscientious about handling the fish carefully and getting it into the freezer right away when I got home. Jack said proper field care of fish is very important to the quality of the finished mount.

He said the number one thing anglers should do is try to preserve the skin color of the fish. Fish, especially walleyes and trout, can lose skin color fast, even before they die. He recommends killing a fish right after landing it, smearing borax on the skin, putting it in a plastic bag and then putting it on ice. Once you're ashore, put it in the freezer as soon as possible.

If you've done all of this correctly, there's no hurry to take the fish to a taxidermist. Jack says the fish will remain in good condition for a long time -- up to two years. The important thing is to prevent the skin from fading because lost color is hard to replace, even with paint.

In my case, the skin color was nice and dark like it should be, even though I didn't use borax. Jack said bass don't fade as quickly as walleyes and trout, which is why I was able to get away with not using borax.

While talking to Jack, I also learned that taxidermists are very good at knowing the true length and weight of fish. He said lots of people bring in 19-inch bass thinking they weigh more than 5 pounds. But, a 19-inch bass generally weighs about 4 pounds.

That jives with what I have seen. I weighed one of the 19-inchers I caught on Sunday and the scale read exactly 4 pounds. That's why I'm so proud of the 21-inch fish -- it's a legitimate 5-pound-plus bass. I've been waiting a long time for a fish this big and I look forward to getting the mount back. In the meantime, I'll start trying for a 22-incher!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Big bass bonanza

Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by the largemouth bass. I think I was first hooked when I watched the late Curt Gowdy's weekly fishing program, the American Sportsman. He often would fish for bass in Florida and usually tied into some big ones.

I've been trying to do the same here in Minnesota. Specifically, I wanted to catch a fish over 20 inches and weighing more than 5 pounds. Within the last few years, I have reached the 20-inch mark twice, but neither fish weighed 5 pounds. One of those fish came from Lake Calhoun last summer.

Over the last few years, I have done a lot of bass fishing on the Minneapolis City lakes -- Calhoun, Lake of the Isles and Cedar. I know these lakes have the size fish I am looking for and I figured it was just a matter of time before I tied into one.

That time came on Sunday. I had specifically picked this day because it came the day after a busy six-week stretch of photographing weddings every weekend. I shot one both on Friday and Saturday and decided to reward myself with fishing on Sunday.

The alarm went off at 7 a.m. and I was tired, so I fell back asleep. I woke up again about 8:15 and was leaning toward staying in bed. Then, I looked out the window and saw bright sunshine. Something inside me said I needed to get out on the water, so I did.

It was a beautiful day and the city lakes were bursting with people in kayaks, canoes and on the beaches. The fishing was slow at first and I wondered if all of the human traffic was playing a role. Then, around 11:30 or 12, I started catching fish. My first bass of the day was a plump 17-incher that inhaled my plastic worm. That was a good sign. I figured I would catch more and I was right. Within an hour, I caught an 18-incher, then a 19-incher.

At about 2 or 2:30, I moved to another area and was going to fish two spots that had produced in the past. On the first one, I popped a 21-incher that weighed 5 pounds, 11 ounces on my digital scale (in photo, on the right). Then, just a short while later, I caught my second 19-incher of the day (in photo, on the left). Even though the fish were going, I quit fishing and headed in so I could make 5 p.m. Mass at Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul. I wanted to give thanks to the Lord for the nice fish He gave me.

The good news is, there is lots of summer left. On these lakes, the fishing gets really good later in July and all through August and into September. And, I'll be there to try and catch them. I'd be happy to land some more big fish, but I'm thankful just to have the opportunity to enjoy beautiful weather and good fishing. Thanks be to God!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Five-star service

Good service can be hard to find in this day and age. Sometimes, it's tough enough to speak to a live human being on the phone, let alone get the results you're hoping for.

That's why I'd like to pass along an outstanding example of customer service I had this week. It came at a place called the Motor Clinic in Bloomington, a factory-authorized service center for MinnKota electric trolling motors. Back in February, I bought a reconditioned MinnKota Maxxum bow-mount trolling motor for the Crestliner fishing boat I had recently purchased.

I worked with one of the shop's technicians, a guy named Terry Nordby. He's been at it a long time and really knows his stuff. When I described my boat and the type of fishing I do, he recommended the Maxxum with 80-pound thrust. He did the wiring of the motor for my boat and got it ready to go. There was some question about the shaft length and whether I might need a longer shaft. But, Terry said not to worry. "I'll take care of you," he reassured me.

Starting last week, he did. First, he helped me diagnose a problem with the battery wiring. There was a bad fuse on one of the wires and it blew while I was running the motor on Lake Calhoun. Terry said to replace all of the fuses with breakers. I did and the problem went away.

Next, I discovered that the shaft was, in fact, too short. When I put my two oldest boys in the back, the front of the boat came up and the prop of the electric motor was barely under the surface. So, I called Terry and he said to come down to the shop to exchange this motor for another one with a longer shaft.

So, I came in on Wednesday and he pulled out another Maxxum with a 62-inch shaft, the longest one available for that motor. He did the wiring, mounted the quick-release plate and even helped me slide the motor onto my bow. He got it all done in about three hours, even though he was very busy with lots of other work.

When I thanked him at the end, he merely smiled and said, "I told you I'd take care of you."

He did, indeed, and I called one of the shop managers and told him the story, then wrote a letter to the company president, Steve Baumann. I'm sure Terry's not looking for recognition, but I think service like this should be acknowledged. Thanks to Terry, I look forward to enjoying the rest of the fishing season.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Storm damage

When I heard that last week's storm went through Goodhue County and included a tornado touchdown, I took notice. Our family hunts there for both deer and wild turkey, so I went on-line for more details of the storm's path of destruction.

It turns out the tornado touchdown occurred three miles east of the small town of Vasa, which is located a few miles south and west of Red Wing. I looked on a map and discovered that two farms where we hunt were located three miles east of Vasa. I have gotten to know one of the landowners very well, so I e-mailed him to ask about damage on his farm.

Sure enough, the storm hit his farm and did some damage to both the house and barn. In addition, the crops may be a total loss, depending on what the insurance adjustor said. I felt bad for him, but he seemed to be in good spirits. He is a very devout Christian and I know he will rely on the Lord to get him through. He has a regular job that he works and rents out the land to someone who grows crops on it, so I think he will be OK financially.

I feel for those farmers who aren't so fortunate. It's too bad the much-needed July rain brought damaging winds with it. It's hard to know what good can come out of something like this, but God's word says it clearly in St. Paul's letter to the Romans: "All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his decree."

This is a verse that should comfort anyone dealing with tragedies such as this. At the same time, the "good" that God brings often is not evident when such an event occurs. That's where faith comes in. I must admit, I fall short in that department. And, that is exactly why I often pray a prayer that is found elsewhere in Scripture:

"I believe, Lord, help my unbelief."

Monday, July 7, 2008

The agony of defeat

I was so close I could taste it. It was my annual Fourth-of-July fishing outing with my good friend, Dave Altman. We were on Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis at 7:30 a.m. the morning of the Fourth. The weather was gorgeous and we caught bass on the first spot we tried that day.

The fish seemed to be active, so I suggested heading across the lake to a spot where we had caught fish before. In fact, I caught my two biggest bass last year on that spot -- a 20-incher and a 19 1/2-incher. I was pumped for tangling with some big fish.

I turned my new electric trolling motor up to full power and headed for the spot. We were almost within casting range when the motor died. This created a huge dilemma -- the lake does not allow the use of outboard motors and we had neither a backup electric motor (I left it at home) nor any oars.

So, we were stranded. There was only a slight breeze and we would have to wait a long time for the boat to drift into shore. Then, we would have to walk the boat along the shore and across a channel to the boat landing.

Finally, I decided to try to reach the Minneapolis Police Department so I could get permission to start up my outboard motor and get back to the landing. I dialed 911 and got transfered to the Minneapolis Park Police, who gave me permission to use the outboard.

Thus, the fishing trip ended soon after it had begun. I went home very disappointed. It's not easy getting both good weather and good fishing on the same day. Not only that, Dave and I didn't get the time on the water together that we both enjoy and look forward to every year. We've had some memorable trips on the Fourth and this outing could have ranked up with the best, based on the way it started.

Because no repair shops or hardware stores were open on the Fourth, I had to wait until Saturday to start diagnosing the problem. I ended up taking the boat and motor to the Motor Clinic in Bloomington, the MinnKota electric trolling motor factory-authorized repair shop where I had bought the motor in February. It was a reconditioned Maxxum 80-pound thrust bow-mount trolling motor and I was able to have the repair technician who sold me the motor take a look at it.

I took the motor off the boat and brought it into the shop. Terry, the technician, plugged it in and tried it. To my surprise, the motor worked fine. We then went outside and Terry examined my 24-volt battery system and said one of the fuses looked blown. He wasn't able to pull it out because the plastic housing had melted and deformed. He suggested that I buy circuit breakers to replace the fuses, which I did. I will try to install them and, hopefully, get the motor back up and running. After all, there are lots of bass out there waiting to be caught.

If I can get this motor problem fixed, I will call Dave back to get out on the water again. He is a model of patience and he helped calm me down on the water when the motor quit. I'm grateful to have strong Christian and Catholic friends like him. May God grant us another opportunity to chase bass together on Lake Calhoun!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Staying sharp

On a bass fishing outing yesterday, I watched painfully as my fishing companion for the day lost several nice bass. After this happened, I decided to check his hook to see how sharp it was. The fish were hitting our plastic worms aggressively and engulfing them. Usually, when this happens, you end up hooking almost every fish.

When I checked his hook, I found the problem -- it was dull. Very dull, in fact. So, he pulled out a small sharpening device and put the edge back on the hook.

It's one of the little things that makes a big difference in the number of fish people catch. I studied the issue about 10 or 15 years ago and even saw microscopic photos of hook points in a book about fishing that "drove the point home." I have been meticulous about hook sharpness ever since, even to the point of buying a $40 sharpening device.

I'm pleased with the results I have gotten with this tool, but you can buy a sharpener for a few dollars and get good results. And, it takes only seconds to file your hook point. Or, if you don't want to go to the bother of sharpening, you can buy hooks that are sharp right out of the package. Gamakatsu hooks are among the best and I have used them for years with great results. Not only is the hook point extremely sharp, but I can catch quite a few fish on it before it starts to get dull.

The bad news is you cannot resharpen the hook once it gets dull. And, these hooks are a little spendy. But, how do you weigh that against being able to hook and land a big fish. I use Gamakatsu plastic worm hooks and I am after big bass. I want to know that, when a 20-inch or bigger fish hits my offering, I'll be able to get it into the boat. As fish get older and bigger, their mouths get tougher, so a sharp hook is even more important when you're after bigger fish.

With lots of fishing left this summer -- not to mention fall -- now's the time to get your hooks sharp.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Over the limit

I recently read about a fisherman who was caught with 45 walleyes over the limit on Lake of the Woods. Every time I hear about cases like this, I get angry.

I thought about it on Saturday, when my wife, four kids and I were returning from a two-hour volunteer shift at Feed My Starving Children, an organization that sends food to hungry children in third-world countries. It was against this backdrop that I pondered the case.

On the one hand, taking this many fish from a lake so large doesn't seem like such a big deal. If there's a lake that can handle this kind of harvest, it's Lake of the Woods, which may hold more walleyes than any other lake in Minnesota.

On the other hand, when you consider the thousands of children around the world who are starving and often don't get even one nutritious meal a day, keeping this many fish seems like pure gluttony.

In fact, I believe it is. We live in a time when an ever-increasing number of people are harvesting fish and game from our woods and waters. Therefore, it is crucial to the continued health of our natural resources to follow the laws and exercise self-control when it comes to how much we take home.

Case in point: A recent half-day trip to Upper Red Lake. While on vacation near Bemidji, I took the family to Upper Red Lake to try and catch some walleyes. We caught walleyes all right, but couldn't seem to find any outside the protected slot of 17-26 inches. We caught only a few shorter than 17 inches, but I felt they were too small to keep. So, we left the lake at sunset with no walleyes.

Yes, we were all disappointed. But, I had the satisfaction of knowing that I followed the laws and taught my wife and kids to do the same. That's more important than keeping fish, especially illegal ones. And, if everyone practices this kind of conservation, we will help make sure our children and grandchildren have lots of fish to catch. I, for one, want to leave that kind of outdoors legacy.