Thursday, 25 August 2016

Thunder Bay

I posted this story as an Expedition on Roughfish.com as well

I've been going to school up in Thunder Bay for 3 years now, but never brought up all my fishing gear. I'd tried to make due with a travel rod and a pair of legs. The best I'd managed was a few dinky rainbows the fall of 2015, which gave me a lot of confidence in the area. I'd given up fishing here for the most part. This year was going to be different, since I was going to spend 4 months during the summer before my 8 months of school. I couldn't pass up the fishing opportunity. So, I stuffed my reel and as much fishing gear as I could into the plane and headed out to Thunder Bay. I bought a Rapala Scout Rod once I'd landed since I didn't want to pay for oversized luggage. My biggest challenge would be finding fishing spots, since I have no vehicle (or friends who fish with vehicles), I would need to walk. Another challenge was the coldwater trout streams which I have come to love. The fast flowing freezing water was a completely new environment for me, and it took a little getting used to.

My first target was the longnose sucker, I saw them listed in my ontario fish book and thought I'd give them a shot. So I went to the local tackle shop, bought a $30 rod, since I didn't want to risk my normal rod (I brought my reel up). I asked the fishing shop about where to find longnose suckers and naturally they had never heard of them, but apparently the stream that runs through my school has tons of suckers, including the red-finned suckers. I had a lead. The next day, I headed out to the McIntyre River to get a sucker, lots of spots were packed with anglers since it was the tail end of the Steelhead Run, so I gave them some space, talked to a few and tried going downstream where the suckers were. It was not hard to find them as the suckers were stacked on top on each other in the strong rapids. I couldn't get the bait down to them without snagging and lost a ton of hooks, worms and tackle. I kept going downstream until I found a slower moving spot. I spooked a group of 5-6 suckers when I approached the bank, and I couldn't coax them to bite. I figured I would be more stealthy on my way back. Everywhere downstream was packed with suckers and they looked like they had a red-stripe from the stained water. This turned out to be an optical illusion and the stripes were very white. Anyways, I snagged a few times, went to the slow spot and finally hooked up with and landed a sucker. It was a White Sucker, not a longnose. So I tried again and snagged one this time, also a white sucker. I later found out that the Current River and the Kaministiqua are dominated by longnose suckers so I will need to give them a shot next spring (Update and spoiler, the current river is dominated by white suckers as well, also caught around 30 more white suckers from the McInyre).

My roommate ended up coming back for the summer as well, so we made a number of trips to the McIntyre to catch suckers and caught a ton (I only got 3, my friend got around 15). This time we were armed with slinky rigs and rarely snagged. Below are some pictures of the McIntyre and the suckers, I also got a surprise steelhead which was pretty cool. I only included one picture of my roommates fish because they were much bigger than mine, and there were more of them. We took home one of his average sized suckers to try eating, ended up being 22' long. I melted the plastic tongs deep frying the fish, I may not live that down.



Some of the beautiful scenery 



One of the larger suckers with full spawning colours

Lake Superior steelhead that has been hanging around the streams for a while,
hence the darker colours and not the usual chrome

After giving up on the longnose suckers, my roommate spent a month in the arctic, and all the suckers were gone from the McIntyre. During this time, I managed to lose a brook trout on shore and never got another one amongst the endless onslaught of baby rainbows. I needed to find a new fishing spot. I tried further downstream of the river, but I was largely unsuccessful. I needed to be able to travel further. Luckily my landlord had a bunch of beaten up bikes in the shed, I was able to get a hold of two of them. My campus has a bike shed that provides the materials needed to fix up bikes as long as you do the work yourself. So I fixed up a pair of bikes, that were in way worse shape than I expected. I now had a mode of transportation. I gave the larger of the two fixed bikes to my roommate. Both were still in pretty rough shape.

I knew that there is an invasive species, Ruffe, that are only found in the Thunder Bay area, in Ontario. The Kaministiqua has had a "healthy" population of them since the 1980s. This is just a short bike ride away. The bike ride was fantastic, there are a lot of really nice bike trails through most of Thunder Bay, and there is a particularly nice trail that runs most of the way to the Kaministiqua. I was a little concerned about this spot as we approached it, because there was a very distinct pine tree smell from the pulp mill just upstream. Undeterred by the prospect of fishing immediately downstream a pulp and paper mill we fished onwards. Despite the industry on the river, the provincial eating guide states that you can eat a lot of fish from the Kaministiqua each month, so the water is still fairly clean. The boat launch we fished also had a info bulletin on Lake Sturgeon and what to do if you happen to catch one. Sturgeon are out of season all year for most of Ontario and you can get into trouble for merely targeting them. Over the course of the summer we saw tons of sturgeon jumping, but never caught any or saw one caught, though most of the regulars at the spot have caught them while targeting walleye, another target of mine. The warmwater fishing was familiar to me so this spot was easy to adapt to.

My first trip to the Kam resulted in a few rock bass (didn't expect them), perch and two ruffe. I also saw someone catch a walleye, so I was excited for a chance to catch one, I'd always thought they were very tricky to catch from shore.
Species 28: Ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernua) I did not move to Thunder Bay just to catch this fish I swear


I had heard rumours that you catch a dozen ruffe for every perch here, but I only ended up catching 3 ruffe all year, and more perch than I can count (so some number bigger than 6). I kept getting a really small but distinct low pull on my line, but whenever I set the hook I would end up with nothing, and a missing worm, this was a tad frustrating, so I was determined to catch the culprit.

The next trip was a lot more interesting, I was with my roommate this time, who barely survived his trip to the arctic, and we each managed to catch 2 walleye apiece, though we put them back because we were scared of the pulp mill. This is a shameful first for me, literally everyone I know regularly fishes for walleye and catches tons of them with ease (or so they claim). Walleye became a fairly regular catch and we took a few home after checking the regulations, they are delicious and I definitely want to get better at catching them, preferably from a different spot though.
Species #29: Walleye (Sander vitreus) They grow bigger

Later that day, I'd been keeping my line more taut than I usually do, and trying to set the hook on the first bite, which was working wonders, I wasn't missing as much as normal. Then I got the slow pull again, but I didn't set the hook, I waited until I felt the weight again and set the hook more enthusiastically than I should have. This fish actually put up a bit of fight! It wasn't a struggle but it was nice to know my drag still worked, I was worried about it after almost a month of not using it. It turned out to be a battle-scared shorthead redhorse. The gash it had on its side looked like it went right to the bone but was completely scared over. What a trooper, must have tried making friends with the abundant pike in the area, or tried kissing a rudder.

Species 30: Shorthead Redhorse (Moxostoma macrolepidotum) who says suckers aren't pretty

The mountain in the background is Mount Mckay, its way higher up than it looks. There is a nice trail that goes up to the top of it, it may be more of a cardio exercise than a relaxing trip. But the view on top is pretty amazing, and also terrifying, you can look straight down 1000 ft if you would like, I did and felt my stomach relocate so I will never do that again. There is also a bald eagle that is on the other side of the river every time we fish here, it occasionally comes by close enough to get a good look at it.

The next target was brook trout, I was really looking forwards to planning a trip for brook trout for a few years now. I figured that I live so close to the brook trout (Coaster Brookie) promised land (Nipigon) that I needed to get one while I am up here. There was a place just outside of town that apparently had quite a few brookies. Now unfortunately Nipigon is a few hours drive away and bike riding that would not be wise without a few days to spare (and much better bikes). I had to settle for a short trip to the outskirts of town.

Now the bike ride itself was much more difficult than I anticipated, because it was almost exclusively uphill. I may have thought my heart would stop more than once. It was certainly an eye opener to how out of shape I was. The scenery more than made up for the effort however. A good chunk of the trail ran alongside McVickers creek, which is a beautiful trout stream, that unfortunately does not have many brook trout in it, in town at least.  Some pictures of our destination. A place dominated by anglers during the early summer when the current is too strong for swimmers, then once the water slows down its largely overtaken by swimmers. 

We started fishing the big deep pool where I quickly hooked up with a tiny but spirited fish. I thought it was another dink rainbow and was about to toss it back without really looking at it but it turned out to be a Lake Chub! I also caught a few pearl dace further downstream the following year. 
Species 31: Lake Chub (Couesius plumbeus) terrible photo

Non-terrible photos?




I caught a dog leash, yes in the water


We then made our way upstream, fishing each of the pools between the waterfalls along the way, without any luck. After a while I switched my slinky rig and hook positions, so my hook would slide freely up my line and keep it from snagging on the bottom. Then I put a bobber stop about 3 ft up from it to keep my bait close to the bottom but so it didn't just slide up to the surface. This surprisingly worked as I cast into the main channel towards the top of the rapids and got a big hit which I promptly missed, can't make things too easy. A few minutes later I got another hit, and this time it stayed on. It was a brook trout! The hard work of the trip had paid off. We stayed for a bit so my roommate could catch one, but there was no luck and we called it quits an hour or so later. We celebrated at the local ice cream shack with some superb milkshakes and burgers yummy! We needed the calories after nearly dying from exhaustion on the short bike ride to the spot. 

Species # 32 Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)! One of my favourite species
I only managed one more this year

Merla Mae's in Thunder Bay is a must stop if you are in the area.

The last noteworthy trip was to Kakabeka, the second largest waterfall in Ontario. Having spent most of my life a stone's throw from Niagara falls (the biggest waterfall in Ontario), One could imagine that this would not seem as impressive. This is not the case at all. This particular waterfall has a totally different feel about it. It is hard to separate Niagara falls from all the development around it. This doesn't take away from Niagara in any way, but the feel to Kakabeka is more genuine, aside from the trails, lookouts and the bridge going right over it, the Kakabeka falls themselves seem wild and untamed. In short, both waterfalls are absolutely stunning and have completely different feels to them. I couldn't get the whole falls in the picture, but you can get an idea from the depth of the gorge.

We went further upstream to fish, and I got the target of the trip, Northern pike! Also got a couple smallmouth. My roommate landed a walleye. 

Species #33 Northern Pike (Esoc lucius): I know how to hold thee guys now
What the pike eat



Also here is a picture of a Lynx! Saw two of them while doing my Thesis work. Photo is courtesy of my roommate.







Thursday, 5 November 2015

2015

This is the Coles notes version because this was another year of sporadic fishing. Also caught a bunch of farmed trout, out of a trout farm, yes I caught fish out of a farm. I also had a hunt for a Grass Pickerel. Grass Pickerel are the smallest members of the pike family and apparently they are common in the creek by my house that I get all the bowfin out of. After losing one about 1ft from shore I decided to research. I pulled all the papers I could find on the surrounding waterbodies and found another creek with a good population. Two days before I went up for school I missed hookups with 2, then managed to lose one on the bank. I tried to flip it on shore and got to watch in slow motion as it rolled down the bank and back into the water once the hook came loose. I went back the next day, caught one on the second cast and went home happier than I should have been after catching a 4 inch fish. After the Grass Pickerel I figured I could catch anything.

The year started off with some hornyhead chubs at my friends spot. Then we went to my spot and caught suckers, which I didn't even know were in there. Then I got a striped shiner. You can tell them apart from common shiner by looking at the dorsal lines. If they converge its a striped, if the lines are parallel then it is a common. I found this out after catching the first one, so I needed to go back and catch another. The second trip to my Dad's nostalgia spots yielded some white crappie and black bullheads. Then some farmed rainbows.

Species 20: Hornyhead chub (Nocomis biguttatus), unexpected catch
Species 21:  White sucker(Catastomus commersonii), not a common fish in Niagara
Species 22: Striped Shiner ( Luxilus chrysocephalus)

You can see the stripes converge on the back if you look closely and tilt your head to one side. (might need to zoom a bit)
Species 23: White Crappie (Pomoxis annularis) not going to mention how many trips and ticks I collected trying to get one of these


Species 24: Black Bullhead (Ameiurus melas) they are cute
Species 25: Rainbow Trout (Onchorhynchus mykiss) It was a stocked pond and it still took me a few hours to get one

While going after the Grass Pickerel I found  a stream that had a population of them in it. I threw my smallest spinner in hopes of getting one and missed two hookups by a fallen tree. I retied with a small chunk of nightcrawler and ended up catching a bunch of golden shiners and pumpkinseeds. 
Species #26: Golden Shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas) They count


Then I managed to snag my tiny spinner and was not able to recover it. I tried a new spot on the same creek and this time used some gulp minnows. After catching several tiny bullheads I finally got the fish I was after, the Grass Pickerel. Unfortunately, I had the bright idea to try and flip it on shore with barbless hooks. The fish flew off and returned to its home before I could take its picture. I returned the next day to the same spot and caught it without difficulty.
Species #27: Grass Pickerel (Esox americanus vermiculatus) yes I spent most of this summer trying to catch a fish this size, hence the name of the blog 



Tuesday, 4 November 2014

2014

This year was rather uneventful. I upgraded some of the fish sizes, and started to get an idea of how difficult chasing some species was going to be. During these years I was at school during from fall to spring and rarely fished during this time. I had a few trips in the fall and winter targeting trout and got skunked every trip. .

My major achievement this year was learning how to catch carp. I spent most of my summer chasing them, and to this day they remain one of my favourite species to target. I used a bolt rig set-up that allowed the carp to hook themselves in the corner of the mouth. I used this rig in my local creek with good success and also managed a few carp out of a few other spots. You can see that my terrible handling progressively gets better as the year goes on.

The highlight of the carp trips was on a nostalgia trip with my dad. We drove a few hours to where my dad grew up as a kid, and there was a park there with a creek and a pond. A bunch of families were fishing on the deeper side of the pond for bass and panfish. We set up in the shallower area on the other side and targeted carp. Every time a carp ran we had families walking by stop and watch (most were there to fish as well). The last (and largest one) took my rod into the water since I forgot to reset my drag. A kid and his dad were walking by with a little spider man rod. The kid asked my 100 questions while reeling the fish in. So I got him to help me let it go. It was a blast and I really do hope I made his day.





Some carps the last two were from my dads nostalgia trip





After the carp fishing we tried a spot that used to hold a population of inland rainbow trout. This was no longer the case as the water was very warm and silty. It did hold some stonecats though so that is a new species. Afterwards we tried a trout farm that did not actually have trout, but it did hold a lot of bass and sunfish.


Species #16 Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)- yes I am well aware it took a few years to catch a fish it should have taken two minutes no need to rub it in

 Species #17 Green Sunfish (Lepomi cyanellus)- Also aware this should have taken 2 minutes

Species #18 Stonecat (Noturus flavus)- The largest member of the madtom family, also has venomous spines, do not step on


Species #19 Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens) my first picture wont load for some reason, so this is a random one from Thunder Bay. My first one had a severe case of black spot


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The one that didn't get away

     We had an awesome trip in Virginia. We stayed in a nice little cabin on a campsite, and spent 3 days touring around all the sites of Virgina. The most notable for me was the Luray Caverns, the way the stalagmites and stalactites loomed around a eve that has stood the tests of time was astounding. It almost made rocks seem interesting. We also stopped by a Mexican food restaurant, and I got to try chimichangas for the first time. The deep fried delicacy was so incredible I will remember it for a very long time, like 2 years later at the very least.

     We had booked a charter the last day of our trip, and were taught a very important lesson. Plan a backup day. The charter was booked for a night fishing trip on the Potomac River. During the day we visited Arlington National Cemetery and somehow got lost in the Pentagon parking lot. The weather was beautiful all day, but it had other idea when night came around.

     Three storm fronts from different directions hit us at different times. Our charter guide was hoping to reschedule as the weather was awful ad even if we could get out the bite would be slow. Since we were leaving that day, rescheduling wasn't possible so we tried to wait it out. The rain finally let up, we got out on the water and boom, storm from another direction, so we headed back and checked the weather network. Sure enough three storm fronts. The last one didn't have any lightning so when the torrential rain from storm 2 ended we headed out.

     We set the lines out in the middle of the Potomac and began waiting. After quite a while the first rod folded over. My dad got it and after a short fight, landed a 15lb Blue Catfish. After another long period of time the second rod folded over and my brother got this one. This fish was substantially bigger. My dad helped my brother with the rod as he was having a hard time controlling the fish. A back and forth struggle ensued and after quite some time, my brother landed a 35ish lb Catfish (turned out to be 30lb). We didn't get anything for the next hour and I was a little worried that there wouldn't be anymore interested.

     My little brother took this time to start ruthlessly mocking me, my dad, and the charter guide. "What's the biggest fish you caught? Mine was 35lbs!" It was pretty funny at least he was clever with his bragging. I was really just glad that he was enjoying himself, since he doesn't normally like coming on fishing trips. I couldn't imagine how upset he would be if he was the one left out. So I figured the little amount of torment would be well worth having him join us on a few more trips. I also figured karma would kick in and I would get to catch something.

     Karma eventually did kick in as a rod started dancing. I grabbed it almost the second in folded over and started reeling. I was not ready for the power of this fish. It took a lot of effort to lift the rod to reel in line, and I had noodle arms (I may or may not still have noodle arms, that is a subject of discussion for a later time). It was slow going at first as the fish would take long powerful runs every time I started to gain on it. Eventually it started swimming at the boat. I needed to reel in as fast as I possibly could to keep any tension on the line. It saw the boat and decided to head the other way, but by now it was too late. It was tired and I was able to steer it into the net.

Species #15 Blue Catfish (Ictalurus Furcatus): You can tell it apart from a channel catfish by its anal fin
straight is a blue, curved is a channel. You can also see the noodle arms
     A big thanks goes out to our incredible guide for sticking it out for us. We will definitely be planning a rain date the next time we go on a charter.  
 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Wacky Whilrpool

     My dad did some scouting, and found a very hidden part of the same waterbody that housed the bowfin from earlier in the year. This part of the swamp was completely different though. It was where the cold water from the canal mixed in with the warm water from the swamp creating a very unique blend of qualities. The water was bright blue, almost the colour of antifreeze. The middle had a huge chunk of scum algae that would spin with the whirlpool at the center. The water looked very clear, and not particularly deep, however I was mistaken, it was very deep as I would find out the following year where you could see the bottom.There was a thick school of Bluntnose minnows in the shallows that would ruthlessly attack anything in the water. I would end up snagging a few of them, just retrieving my lure. Another thing to note about this spot, was a terrible chemical spill in the 70s, left most of this water body horribly contaminated with PCBs.

     Despite its surreal and uninhabitable appearance, the spot had some hot action. The second my spinner hit the water, I got crushed by a Largemouth Bass, then my dad got one, and me another. I am certain that I would end up catching these same Bass the following 2 years, as they stayed in the exact same spots, just got bigger as the years went on.

This picture sums up the spot quite well. The bass would get a bit bigger

     After the bass bite died down, we switched to worms and started getting into some panfish. I had one pull much harder than I expected and caught this.
A Chunk Green Sunfish x Bluegill. Hybrids do not count as either species
     Then I got the first photo of a rock bass. There were a lot of them in this spot
Species #14- Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris)- Easily identified by their red eye 
     My dad and I only ended up catching a bunch of sunfish after this. Despite catching many Bluegills, I never photographed one. So I could not count it at this point. Eventually the bite stopped completely. Then we saw a massive bowfin cruising around the shallows. I tried freelining a worm to it, but it saw me, and just kept moving along. 
     Suddenly a bunch of strange fish started pouring in from out of nowhere. They looked like gizzard shad (which are not listed as being in this water body in any of the creel surveys). Nothing I did would get any interest, and they only seemed interested in the scum algae. It was a bewildering experience to be able to see tons of fish and none of them interested in your bait. I later found out that they are strictly vegetarians and very difficult to catch, though people do manage to catch them on green lures. 

Friday, 23 August 2013

Running out of time for 2013

     After the carp experience I was determined to try fishing for carp again. Unfortunately I had no clue what I was doing, and just ended up putting corn on the hook and hoping for the best. I had a few small taps and set the hook into this thing
 Species #10 Spotfin Shiner (Cyprinella spiloptera): I didn't identify this thing for 2 years, This one is not only 
member of a tiny species, it is a juvenile spotfin shiner.

     I spent the rest of the summer catching more bowfin and largemouth bass. I also managed to get a few surprises that I didn't even know were in the creek. The first was the carp I wanted to get a picture of. I initially thought is was a Goldfish just based on its size. It is not a Goldfish. This was helpful as it helped me find a spot to try fishing for carp, especially a low pressured area where I could get away with a sloppy rig. 

Species #11 Common Carp (Cypinus carpio): I swear the other ones were bigger... honestly

     The other interesting fish I managed to catch here was a beautiful invasive fish from Europe. They aren't too common (or so I thought, I have caught plenty since) in Ontario, so catching one was pretty cool
Species #12 Rudd (Scardinius erythrophthalmus): a beautiful fish far from home
     And here are some other cool pictures of rudd from later years.




     I was going to go on vacation to Virginia with my dad and brother for the last week of summer before I headed off for my first year of university. Before we went, we wanted to get one last fishing trip close to home (we would go in Virginia). We decided to try fishing a large hydroelectric dam, I had gotten a goby there earlier this year, but the spot terrified me. The water flows incredibly fast and there are massive rocks that litter the entire bottom. It is also very deep. This trip was a different story however. The dam was turned off for repairs of some kind and the entire bottom was filled with carp, hundreds of carp. We only had lures and worms and the water was crystal clear, they spooked very easily. The resident smallmouth were not so skittish though, and I got a new species
Species #13 Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu): They have smaller mouths than
Largemouth Bass. Largemouth also have a dark-black horizontal line





     I actually managed to hook a larger one closer to the dam. I reeled it to shore, and then had a problem. I had to reel it vertical about 5 feet up onto the rocks I was standing on. I didn't have a net with me. I was also using barbless hooks. Being very careful I grabbed m line and lifted it by hand up to where I could grab its lip. It shook and put my hook into my hand. I dropped it (thankfully it was off or I would have a nice mark) and had a hook in my hand. Thankfully it slid out as easily as it went in, although I recieved a fair bit of ridicule from my dad (and deservedly so.)

     To make matters worse, my dad goes and pulls out a shorthead redhorse. I have been wanting to catch a shorthead redhorse since I started this crazy hunt. my dad tells me where he caught it and moves over to my smallmouth spot. I catch another smallmouth... and my dad gets another shorthead redhorse. Then he catches a golden redhorse. The good news is that I now know of a spot to catch redhorse suckers, the bad news is that as of 2015, this has not happened yet. 

     This was one of the best trips I had ever had up to this point. I ended up catching 8 smallmouth and losing 3, and my dad caught a bunch of smallmouth and redhorses. I'd always thought that a real angler needs to be able to catch bass, and now I had caught both types. None were particularly large, in fact, many would not even consider them to be big enough to be called small, but I certainly felt like I had accomplished something.