Thursday, July 30, 2009

Off and running

On July 4, I began my campaign to get healthy. I kicked it off with a 3-mile walk near my St. Paul home. It felt good to get my body moving and I pondered the possibility of running this route someday.

That day came sooner than I thought -- Tuesday of this week. I didn't set out to walk the entire three miles. Up until then, I had been walking it six times a week, with a few running intervals thrown in.

Just two blocks into the walk, I decided to start jogging. I was just planning on going a few blocks, but I ended up going the whole way. It felt great. Then, I did it again today.

Two 3-mile runs in a week is way more than I would have predicted for the first month of my exercise program. Granted, the jog was slow, but it was a jog, nonetheless. I'm hoping the regular exercise plus some dietary changes will trim my bulging midsection and help me gain more energy. Plus, it will get me in shape for our Montana hunting trip in November.

I pray I can keep up this regimen. It has been more than 10 years since I have run this far. Who knows? Maybe I can add a mile or two over the next few months.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Right place, right time

I ventured over to Lake Calhoun last night, this time without my fishing boat. I was there to take engagement photos of a wonderful Christian couple, Sean and Julia, who have hired me to shoot their wedding.

They met at Lake Calhoun, so it was a natural place to take the photos. A day earlier, weather forecasters were predicting rain, but the evening was dry and sunny. We went to the west side of the lake and found some really neats spots for photos. Then, at the end, we decided to go to the lakeshore and get a few pictures with the water in the background.

As I positioned them on the grass, I noticed a beautiful white cloud in the sky behind them. And, it was lit up nicely by the setting sun. As I spent several minutes shooting, some nice color appeared in the sky and was reflected in the water.

It was about perfect. I snapped some photos in the waning moments of this beautiful light and ended up with the type of dramatic photos I would not have predicted. God is so good to have given me this gift. And, Sean and Julia recognized this blessing as well.

I remarked that it would very hard, if not impossible, to see something like this and not be convinced that there is a God. The experience made me wish that a group I had seen at Lake Cahlhoun the day before had been able to see this sunset. About eight or 10 men and women in their 20s were gathered near the boat landing wearing black t-shirts that said "Religion is a lie."

I would have really liked to have watched this sunset with them and then had a conversation with them about God. Not sure I would have persuaded them to believe in Him, but I sure could have made a compelling case.

No matter. I am content to experience the joy of this special gift from the Lord. I'm sure scenes just like this must have inspired the words of the psalmist.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Different lake, same result

I decided to take advantage of a beautiful day yesterday and I headed over to Lake Calhoun to try for some bass. After not doing well on Cedar Lake, I decided to give Calhoun a shot.

Because it's bigger and deeper, it's usually colder and takes longer to warm up than Cedar. That means the bass typically spawn later and settle into their summer patterns later. For this reason, I always try Cedar earlier in the summer, then switch over to Calhoun in August.

I was hoping the fish would be active, but the results were about the same as on Cedar. I caught a few bass, with the biggest measuring 17 inches -- not at all what I'm used to on this lake.

I sent out some e-mails to some expert anglers that I know and they all agree that this is a very abnormal year. One of them has done a lot of bass fishing this summer and has done very well, but he said the fish are scattered and he really has had to work for them. He catches some shallow and some deep, but is not getting the numbers of fish deep that he normally does.

To be honest, I have had such consistent success over the years fishing deep that I rarely visit the shallows at this time of year. Guess it's time to try, although the city lakes are choked with eurasian milfoil shallow and it won't be easy to get a lure to the fish if they're in the thick stuff.

The good news is, this is a severe departure from the norm and it probably won't happen again next year. On the other hand, we still have the entire month of August left, so maybe a deepwater pattern will develop yet. I sure hope so!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Walleye in the strangest of places

I got out on one of my favorite bass lakes yesterday -- Cedar Lake in Minneapolis. It's on the chain of lakes that includes Calhoun and Lake of the Isles.

I took my oldest son, Joe, and we were hoping for some good bass action. Two previous trips had been slow, but it was a nice day and we were on a warming trend, which has been rare in the month of July.

We had a tough time getting through the channel going from Lake of the Isles to Cedar because of the low water this year. At one point, Joe got out and pushed the boat through a shallow spot.

Once on Cedar, I went to a small point and made a cast to the weedline. I felt a few taps, then set the hook. After a short battle, the fish came up -- a walleye!

I have been fishing Cedar for several years and never caught a walleye. It was about 13 inches long and I dropped it into the livewell. Walleyes this size always taste good. We continued working our way around the lake pitching plastic worms for bass. The only takers were small bass and one decent-sized northern. The biggest bass of the day was only about 13 inches long.

That's not what I'm used to on this lake. In fact, just three weeks ago, my friend, Dave Altman, and I each landed an 18 1/2-incher. I'm not sure what's going on. Usually, by this time of the summer, the bass are set up on the deep weedlines and willing to bite plastic worms.

Not this  year. The best theory I can come up with is the cold weather we've had this month has thrown them off their summer pattern. In a normal year, temperatures have been in the 80s consistently for several weeks, with a few 90s thrown in. I'm not sure we're going to see that anytime soon -- or at all this summer.

Does this mean the usual summer pattern won't exist this year? I sure hope not. One thing I do know is I probably won't go back to Cedar this year. It's really tough getting through that channel and the results are definitely not worth the struggle. I may try Calhoun in the next few weeks, but I'm not sure things will be any different there. It's a deeper and colder lake than Cedar, so I don't know if there are any fish on the deep weedlines there, either.

Maybe I should switch over to walleyes. All the reports I have heard about walleyes this year have been good. And, I had success on Upper Red Lake with my family last month. I'm planning on fishing a lake in the Brainerd area in early August. It has both walleyes and bass and I think I'll try to target both and see which one is biting.

If it ends up being walleyes, I won't complain. More fish for the frying pan is a good thing!

Monday, July 20, 2009

An exotic hunt

My son, Joe, returned Saturday from his week in Del Rio, Texas, at a youth hunting camp that he won from Safari Club International. He really enjoyed the experience and was able to harvest one of the exotic animals on the 10,000-acre Indianhead Ranch.

He was able to bring home meat from an axis deer that he shot on the last morning he could hunt. There were lots of animals on the ranch, but they were spread out and difficult to locate. Plus, he was only able to shoot what is known as a management buck, meaning something that is mature in age but not considered to have big enough antlers to be considered a trophy.

Still, the deer had a nice set of tall antlers that Joe is having the ranch mount for him. For me, the best part is the meat. Joe had eaten axis deer while he was there and found out how good it tastes.

The rest of our family made that discovery Saturday night when I decided to grill the tenderloins. They were absolutely delicious. There was no gamey taste whatsoever. Tonight, we are making an axis deer roast in the crock pot and I'm sure that will taste great, too.

As good as that deer is on the table, I doubt that I will go down and hunt them anytime soon. It's very expensive to hunt at this ranch and others like it -- several thousand dollars, depending on which species you hunt and what kind of trophy you end up harvesting. It would make a good once-in-a-lifetime hunt, though. If I could get an axis deer or something that tastes as good, I'd sure consider it.

When Joe was there, they mentioned the possibility of having him come down next year and be a counselor at the youth camp. He's very excited about this. I think it would be a great opportunity and he could learn a lot while he's there. We'll have to see how that works out next summer. He will have just graduated from high school, so he will be making plans for college. Perhaps, this can fit in. In the meantime, we have more good meals of axis deer ahead!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Time to fire up the frying pan

With lots of fresh-caught walleye in the freezer, I decided it was time for a fish fry. So, yesterday, I invited my parents, Ray and Eunice, over for some pan-fried walleye.

My Dad has been struggling with some health issues the last couple of months, so I thought it would be a good time to serve him one of his favorite dishes. I went over and picked up both Mom and Dad and brought them back over to my house.

It was a splendid affair and it was clear they both enjoyed the meal. My Mom has lots of food allergies and this is one thing she can eat. As we ate the fish, she shared something about Dad that I never knew -- he wouldn't touch walleye or any other fish until about five years after they got married. At that time, Catholics had to go meatless every Friday, so Mom cooked fish on many of those occasions, while Dad ate grilled cheese, even though he had caught a lot of the fish that Mom cooked.

Boy, things have sure changed. Dad loves fish now and said several times last night that he ate too much. That's fine by me. We ended up eating everything I had thawed out, so it was perfect. The good news is, I have lots more walleye left, so there will be many fish fries ahead!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Off to Texas

My son, Joe, woke me up at 5 a.m. today. I was expecting it. He needed a ride to the airport for a flight to Dallas. He'll spend two days with my brother, Mark, who lives there, then he'll go on to Del Rio for a week at a summer camp at Indianhead Ranch.

He won the trip to Indianhead by placing first in the senior division of an essay contest put on by Safari Club International. He worked hard on his essay during the Christmas break and thought he had a shot at winning.

Turns out, he was right. I'm very proud of him and excited for his adventure at Indianhead. He'll learn more about conservation during the camp, plus he'll get a chance to go on a hunt for an exotic species. Along the way, he'll also learn camping and survival skills, and get ATV training. It sounds like an action-packed week.

I wish more teens could have this kind of experience. It sure beats video and computer games.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bass chase is on!

Although the bass opener was more than a month ago, my largemouth season officially began on Friday, July 3. It was the day of my annual Fourth of July weekend outing with my good friend, Dave Altman.

We have gone every year on or near the Fourth of July for a number of years and we kept that tradition alive on Friday. The morning started on Lake Calhoun and switched to nearby Cedar Lake in the afternoon. It was a beautiful day and we were hoping the bass were into their summer patterns, which involves hanging out on the weedlines.

There definitely were small fish active in deeper water, but the bigger fish hadn't yet congregated in their summer haunts. The weedgrowth was very prolific on both lakes and it won't be long before the lunkers start hanging out on the edges. We caught a few fish in the 12- to 14-inch range on Calhoun, then headed north to the channel that would take us to Lake of the Isles. From there, we went through another channel to get to Cedar.

That last leg turned out to be a lot tougher than I would have ever imagined. First, because of the lack of rainfall, the channel is much lower than usual -- only about a foot in some spots. Second, a large tree fell across the channel, leaving only a small opening on one side to get a boat through. We actually had to get out of the boat and pull it past the tree. The only boats that can still get through easily are canoes and kayaks, which explains why we didn't see any other fishing boats on Cedar.

In fact, Dave thinks the channel will be impossible for fishing boats to get through before long. He may be right, which would be a real shame. For sure, the large, eurasian watermilfoil harvesting boats cannot get through, which means the weeds are a lot thicker than normal.

Usually, by now, the harvesters have cut a layer of the fast-growing weed and created clear spots on the lake. Now, the milfoil is heavy everywhere, forming thick mats on the surface anywhere the water is shallow.

That can be a daunting sight for anyone who likes to fish for bass, which often live in shallow water. But, I have learned that largemouths love heavy weed growth and actually thrive in it. I have heard bass experts say this and I believe it. It's just that the thick growth is challenging for anglers.

Fortunately, Dave and I are used to fishing in these kinds of weeds and are used to fishing on Calhoun and Cedar. After staying at it for a while on Cedar, we each connected with one nice bass apiece. Both were 18 1/2 inches long, but Dave's was a lot fatter than mine. I think his probably weighed close to 4 pounds, which is a nice bass on any lake in Minnesota.

One thing about Dave that really impresses me is how skilled a fisherman he is. As I work my boat along the outside edge of weeds, he knows right where to cast and usually puts his cast right on the money. Thus, I am never surprised when he catches fish. In fact, he outfished me on this day, as he has done on many other occasions.

That is just fine with me. I was happy to see his face light up when he hooked his nice bass and fought it for several minutes. When we saw it was a nice one, I grabbed the landing net.

Actually, I have found that 18- to 19-inch bass are usually the strongest fighters, so I really like catching fish that size. I have caught bigger, but they don't necessarily give you a better battle. What they will do is stay down near the bottom longer, which makes them feel heavier. That is certainly a feeling I like -- setting the hook and having the rod double over as the fish sits stubbornly on the bottom.

That feeling should come soon enough. I plan on revisiting these two lakes over the rest of the summer. I sure hope I can get through the channel to Cedar. I believe some big fish await.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Smile at ordination

I had the honor of photographing the ordination of Bishop Lee Piché on Monday at the Cathedral. It was a grand affair, as I knew it would be, full of pomp and circumstance. There were lots of things and people to photograph and I was busy from start to finish.

One light moment came when I had a brief exchange with Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston. He thanked me for sending a CD of photos with him and his 26-inch walleye that he caught during our fishing trip to Lake of the Woods at the end of May. It's his biggest walleye ever and he was glad to have a picture of it.

I really enjoyed the trip, and seeing Bishop Hoeppner reminded me of how much fun it was. He has fished off and on over the years, but his schedule doesn't give him much time for it. He relies on a member of his staff to supply him with fresh fish throughout the summer. His favorite is panfish.

I sure hope I get the chance to fish with him again. His Bishop's Cup and Family Fishing Tournament on Lake of the Woods June 13 was a success and he plans on putting on another tournament next year elsewhere in the diocese. It would be fun to come up and fish it, but I don't do much walleye fishing, so I'm not sure what kind of a chance I would have to win or even do well. Now, bass, that's another story.

I plan on starting my bass fishing in earnest this Friday, July 3. It's a holiday and I will follow my annual tradition of going out with my good friend, Dave Altman, which we do every year around the Fourth of July. I greatly look forward to that outing, and Dave and I usually do well. Last year, however, I had a problem with my electric trolling motor, so we had to cut our trip short. I have since resolved that problem and anticipate no trouble this year. And, with the warm spell we had last week, the bass should be in their summer pattern.

I can't wait!