Friday, June 26, 2009

Bishop's summer message

I ran across a very interesting video the other day. It is a message by Bishop Richard Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville, Tenn. He addresses the youth of the diocese and offers tips for what to do during their summer vacation.

I really liked it. He was warm, personable and very encouraging, and I believe he will engage the young people of his diocese and draw them closer to God and their Catholic faith.

Rather than try to summarize his remarks, I will simply recommend that people watch it. Here's the web address: Once you get on the home page of the Diocese of Knoxville, the link to Bishop Stika's message is on the right-hand side of the page.

Generally, I like it when bishops and archbishops make videos. I think it can be a great tool to reach Catholics in a diocese and a great way to help people get to know their bishop.

Archbishop John Nienstedt has done that in this archdiocese and I have really enjoyed watching the videos he has made. In fact, I hope he does more. He is an excellent speaker and homilist and I think he comes across very well in a video. I'd be very curious to hear what his reaction to Bishop Stika's video would be.

Perhaps, I can persuade Archbishop Nienstedt to produce a fishing video someday, and then I can help him with the task.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Father's Day banquet

Father's Day was different this year, but enjoyable nonetheless. For the first time, my Dad, Ray, had to be admitted to a health care facility due to some complications and weakness. He is under observation and the medical staff is trying to help him regain strength so he can return home.

So, two of my brothers and I decided to take the Father's Day party to him. I made one of my top wild-game recipes -- wild turkey/wild rice casserole -- and brought it over as the main course. All of us were able to enjoy it, including Dad. I like to think that this is one of the noblest uses for wild game and I think even ardent animal-rights activists would have a hard time finding fault with our attempt to give Dad a home-cooked meal for Father's Day.

Dad was in good spirits, although he still seems weak. We're all hoping and praying he can regain his strength soon and come home. Yet, at age 87, we know there is no guarantee of a full recovery. All we can do is spend time with him and enjoy him as he is.

As it turns out, that is a very easy thing to do. My Dad always has had a great sense of humor and I'm happy to say that it still is fully intact. He even made a joke about turkeys and flapped his arms for emphasis.

We loved it. In fact, this was proof that there was nothing dark or dreary about this Father's Day celebration, despite the thick clouds and intermittent rain that fell during our party. May God grant us many more family get-togethers as fun as this one.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Walleye bonanza!

Every once in a while, a fishing or hunting trip goes as well as I had hoped it would. This week was one of those times.

I took my wife, Julie, and our four kids to Upper Red Lake on Tuesday for three days of walleye fishing. The day before we got there, the protected slot had changed, going from 17-26 inches to 20-26 inches. Three inches may not sound like much of a difference, but it is huge. Anyone who has fished the lake will tell you that there are lots and lots of fish in the 17-20-inch range. And, it can be agonizing to have to release dozens of them in the search for keepers under 17 inches.

We were blessed with the ability to keep four fish each up to 20 inches. For our family of six, that's 24 walleyes! Based on the reports I was getting before we left, bringing home our limit of 24 was a realistic goal.

I'm thrilled to say that is exactly what happened. The fish bit well enough for us to catch a limit to bring home, plus enough for a fish fry while we were there. We reached our limit of 24 by the end of the second day, then had a fish fry that evening in our cabin owned by Bear Paw Guides. Particularly satisfying for me was taking my wife, Julie, out earlier that evening along with my son, Joe.

How's this for perfect timing -- Julie bought her fishing license at 6 p.m. and was catching walleyes within an hour. Then, Julie, Joe and I came in with our three-person limit of 12 by 9 p.m.

One very nice amenity on Upper Red is the fish-cleaning service offered at West Wind Resort by a staff member named Paul. He does a fabulous job and only charges $1 per fish. In my book, it's money well spent. Not only that, he gave us some great advice on where to fish. We followed it and it paid off handsomely.

Basically, he recommended traveling farther away from the public landing at the mouth of the Tamarac River to get away from the crowds. Many people fish within a quarter mile from the mouth of the river. In fact, that area has gotten fished heavily ever since the slot limit changed on Monday. There are estimates of more than 100 boats covering that shoreline on Monday. Among several who offered that number were a DNR game warden and Steve Brasel, owner of Bear Paw Guides.

Looks like a lot of people were paying close attention to the change in the slot. I suspect the lake will continue to get pounded until the fishing slows. The fish are shallow and close to shore now because the water is cooler than normal, but they eventually will move deeper and farther out. They may even move out of the eastern portion of the lake that non-Indians are allowed to fish.

Fortunately, I don't have to worry about that. I have lots of walleye in the freezer that should last for months. I carefully take care of the fillets, vacuum sealing them so they will last much longer in the freezer. I spent quite a while working on that last night and today, but it was well worth the effort.

What really made me smile was seeing such hefty fillets that I'm not used to handling from fish caught on Upper Red. I would say most of the fish we ended up keeping were between 17 and 20 inches. A few went 19 inches or more.

Some people are leery of keeping fish close to the upper limit of keeping size, but I take great care to use the proper measuring tool and the proper technique, so I am very sure of the correct measurment of the fish I catch. When a fish is longer than 19 inches, I am even more careful. In fact, I ended up having to release a beautiful 21-incher that I caught on a crankbait.

At the time, I was a little bummed out, but, in the end, things worked out very well. The third morning of our trip, in particular, was excellent in terms of the size of fish we caught. We needed six fish to replace the ones we had eaten the night before, so I had to take someone with me to get them. My son, Andy, was the only one willing to get up early, so he and I went out at 8 a.m.

Within an hour, we had our six fish and ended up staying a little longer to fish for fun. All six fish were longer than the previous slot of 17 inches and two of them stretched to 19 inches or more. Andy and I were all smiles when we pulled up anchor and headed back in around 9:45.

I thank the state DNR for relaxing the slot and, most importantly, I thank God for providing us with the opportunity to go on this trip and for blessing us with an abundance of walleye!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fishing tournament results

The first Bishop's Cup and Family Fishing Tournament is in the books and it was a success in several ways.

A total of 17 teams participated in the event, which took place Saturday, June 13 on Lake of the Woods in Muskeg Bay near Warroad. Bishop Michael Hoeppner of the Diocese of Crookston served as the host and his prayers for good weather were answered with sunshine and a high of around 70 degrees.

And, the fish were in a cooperative mood, with plenty of  fish to go around. The winning team weighed four fish that totaled 13.35 pounds (teams of up to four people were allowed to weigh up to four fish). The winners, David Steen, Brad Visser and Gary Visser were from St. Joseph in Ada and they also caught the biggest fish of the tournament, which weighed more than 8 pounds.

"It was fantastic," said Jean LaJesse, stewardship manager for the diocese who helped organize the tournament. "Everybody had a good time... All 17 (teams) weighed in. Everybody caught fish. They all came in with four. It was wonderful."

The plans are already set for next year. The second annual Bishop's Cup will be held June 12, 2010 in Detroit Lakes and Holy Rosary in Detroit Lakes will serve as the host.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Time to get out on the water

I recently read that this week is national Boating and Fishing Week. With warmer weather finally arriving to make it feel like June, now's the time to head to your favorite fishing spot.

I'm planning to go to a nearby lake this week to take my boat out for the first time. I want to make sure it's in ship shape for my trip to Upper Red Lake next week with my wife, Julie, and four kids. It ran well last summer after I worked out a few bugs. Then, I winterized it according to the directions provided by Hannay's Marine.

So, I'm optimistic that everything will work smoothly. Still, if I can take the boat out now for some testing, I'll have time to fix anything that might be wrong. There's nothing worse than having a boat that doesn't work when you're at a lake where the fish are biting. And, on Upper Red these days, if you can just get out on the lake, you'll probably catch fish. During the early part of the summer when the walleyes are shallow and hungry, fishing doesn't get much easier.

And, that is precisely why I chose this lake as a place to bring my kids. I'm hoping my 7-year-old daughter, Claire, will catch her first walleye on this trip. But, first, I have to help her overcome her fear of boats. I took her out last year with my wife and the trip ended only about 100 yards from the dock. I opened the livewell to show her and she panicked when she saw water flowing in it. She thought the boat was sinking and there was no convincing her otherwise. So, back to shore we went. I'm hoping she'll do better this time.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Upper Red here we come

I'm eagerly awaiting a unique fishing opportunity that is coming up next week. It will take place on Upper Red Lake, which has become one of the top places to catch walleyes in Minnesota.

Ever since the lake reopened to walleye fishing in 2006, it has been amazingly easy to catch walleyes in May and June. The major problem has been trying to find keeper fish outside of the protected slot of 17-26 inches. Also, there was a two-fish limit to start out with that was changed to three last year and four this year.

Things change next Monday, June 15. Because of the abundant walleye population and the relatively low harvest, the state DNR has decided to relax the slot. Starting on that date, the new slot will be 20-26 inches. So, all of those nice walleyes in the 18- and 19-inch range will become legal for shore lunch.

For days, I've been thinking about going up there next week with my family. And, this morning, I took action. I called Bear Paw Guides in Waskish and booked a cabin that sleeps eight. It just happened to be available next Tuesday and Wednesday. So, I jumped on it. I had stayed there a year-and-a-half ago on an ice fishing trip and had a positive experience, and I felt very comfortable going back for this trip.

I talked to the owner of the resort, Steve Brasel, and he said the fishing has been phenomenal again this year, like it has ever since the lake reopened to walleye fishing. Even better, the cool weather this spring has kept the water temperature down and the fish shallow. So, there are lots of fish in the shallows right now and he expects them to stay there at least through the end of this month, and probably into July.

I can't wait. With my family of six, we will be able to bring home 24 walleyes, not to mention fish we will cook while we're there. In my mind, that's more than worth the price of a fishing license. Two of my sons are old enough to have to buy their own licenses. But, compared to some of the nonresident hunting tags we have purchased in recent years, the price is small -- only $18.

As Steve mentioned, the only factor will be weather, specifically, wind. A strong wind from the north, northwest or west will make the east side of the lake that non-Indians are allowed to travel next to impossible to fish. I'm going to start praying now for calm winds on the days of our trip. Warmer temperatures would help, too. I looked at the weather forecast for the area and the mercury is supposed to climb later this week.

Lookout, walleyes, here we come!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

An important letter

I dropped an envelope in the mail this week that will help a friend fulfill his wish.

John Nesheim lost both of his feet to frostbite in January and has been working through the process of dealing with the amputations and learning how to use his new prosthetic feet. He has told me on more than one occasion that he wants to deer hunt this fall. It's one of his favorite outdoor activities and one he dearly wants to keep doing.

The letter I sent will make that possible. It was an application for a special hunt put on by the United Foundation for Disabled Archers (UFFDA) in Park Rapids in early October. Because he is a first-time applicant, all John has to do is join UFFDA and he will be selected to go on this hunt.

Because this organization caters to disabled hunters, they will take good care of John. He will have a guide to go out with him and he will hunt on private land reserved for the hunters who get picked to go.

I'm very thankful for organizations like this. I was willing to try to put together a hunt for John, which I still might do. But, it's nice to have something already set up and established, something that's designed for people like John. I think he'll have a great time on this hunt. He'll also be able to bring his wife, Maureen. So, it will be a family affair.

As of right now, I'm planning on going, too, to take pictures and possibly write a story. It should  be fun. John is already excited about this opportunity and it gives him something to look forward to. And, it will be good motivation for him to become proficient at using a crossbow.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Cold fish

I went up to Lake of the Woods for a couple of days of fishing last week. The complete results of my trip will be disclosed in my upcoming outdoors column for the month of June.

What I can say now is I encountered an unseasonably cold and late spring up on Warroad. While we reached a high temperature of 97 almost two weeks ago, the northern part of the state stayed in the 50s. Seems hard to believe there could be a 40-degree difference between north and south, but it has been like that all spring. Consequently, the lakes up north are a lot colder than their southern counterparts.

When my two fishing companions and I hit the water last Wednesday, the water temperature was 51 degrees. So, the fish were just moving in toward their shallow spawning sites. After struggling to catch fish, we eventually switched to the method I employ in the fall -- anchoring and fishing with a jig and minnow.

Actually, this method works throughout the open-water fishing season, but seems to be much more effective than other methods in early spring and late fall. In a normal year, the walleyes would be moving back out of the shallows after the spawn by now and the smaller males would be biting aggressively. Usually, those fish can be caught trolling with spinners and live bait. We tried that and caught a few fish, but the action was slow overall. That prompted me to switch to the jigging method.

Fish in this cold water are sluggish and require a very slow presentation to get them to bite. It looks like we are having our second consecutive extremely late spring. The good news is, the fishing should be good for a good chunk of the month of June.

Speaking of June, there's something coming up that serious walleye anglers won't want to miss. On Monday, June 15, the protected slot limit for walleyes on Upper Red Lake relaxes. It goes from the current 17-26 inches to 20-26 inches with a four-fish limit. Starting June 15, anglers will now be able to keep all of those beautiful walleyes from 17 to 19 inches that seem to be so abundant in the lake. I'm hoping to get up there once the slot limit changes.