January 29, 2020

Lake Champlain Crappie Fishing

The weatherman was announcing a balmy positive 5C last Wednesday, meaning I definitely had to get out on the ice! We decided on heading down to the very south end of Lake Champlain where my friend Rowan (Connecticut Fly Angler) had caught some White Crappie a couple years ago. I have very few reasonable ice targets left within a 3 hour radius and the White Crappie is one of them, the other being Round Whitefish which are only rarely caught in one lake in Vermont.

Rowan's friend's White Crappie

Thus, we made the drive south across the border, knowing we would probably have to do a lot of searching to find any fish at this new spot. Upon arriving, we quickly realized the holes we wanted to fish weren't frozen because of the crazy warm winter we've been having. We fished off a pier for a little bit but didn't get any bites, and then headed out on the ice.

In the distance, we spotted a bunch of cones on the ice so went to investigate. Turns out, someone had attempted bringing a camper trailer on the soft ice and paid the price by sending it to the bottom of the lake. On the plus said, it was located in a nice deeper hole and I figured it could make for some good structure.

Unfortunately, fishing around the trailer didn't really pay off and we only caught a couple small Pumpkinseed after a couple of hours. Having given up on the deeper water, we started making our way back to the access to fish another area entirely. On the way, I saw the outline of a Crappie-shaped fish frozen in the ice. I dug it out and, after a quick dorsal spine count, realized it was the target species! We excitedly drilled a bunch of fresh holes in the vicinity to start searching for fish.

Dead White Crappie

Soon enough, we realized that the spot was beautifully located on a weed edge, and I started seeing marks on the graph. The first fish that came to hand was a pretty decent P-seed:


The marks seemed to disappear after that first fish so we started drilling more holes until we had essentially turned the area into Swiss cheese. It took a while, but, as the sun started to dip closer to the horizon, the marks started showing up again. My friend kicked off the evening bite with a nice Largemouth! Not to be outdone, I pulled up a decent chunk shortly after :)

Then, the Crappie started rolling in. The marks were fast and furious; they crushed the jigs almost as quick as we could get them down. My heartbeat rose with every Crappie that came to the hole, only to be disappointed each time upon noticing the lack of a White Crappie's characteristic stripes. Nevertheless, they were still really nice fish and I was having a ton of fun with them. We also both caught a couple more Largies between all the Pomoxis fun.

Black Crappie

As the sun got even closer to the horizon, the Crappie seemed to move off and were replaced by Bluegill. The 'gills were somehow even more aggressive than the Crappie and I must've caught almost 20 in a row from 2 holes until it really started getting dark. They weren't huge, but some of the nicer ones approached the 8" mark.

A small Bluegill

Determined to put in my best effort to catch the target White Crappie, I kept weeding through the Sunfish in hopes that one more Crappie might show up. Eventually, soon before we had to head back to the car, I hooked into something that felt like it was from the desired genus. As it neared the hole, I saw it was indeed a Crappie... another Black Crappie.

Black Crappie

As it got darker we had to call it and ended the day White Crappie-less. That being said, it was still a great day and we caught a slew of slab Crappie, some nice Largemouth, and bonus Sunfish to keep the action hot.

January 23, 2020

Outaouais Winter Camping Adventure

Alex and I have tried winter camping once before, with a pretty moderate amount of success. We spent one night in my ice shelter on the Saguenay Fjord. While we did make it through the night that time, it started raining and I got dangerously cold. We actually ended up squeezing into a dry bag to stay warm. That was a couple years ago, and last weekend we felt ready enough to give an overnight stay a second attempt.

There has been this lake on my mind for many seasons now. It's about 2.5hrs away from home and 5km (all uphill) from the nearest road. We decided to make it the destination for our second attempt at winter camping.

Ready for adventure!

We woke up at 8:00, and got to our parking spot by noon. The hike to the secret lake started with a short bushwhack down to a lake we would have to cross to continue on our path. The bushwhack was a bit tight in places but it was all downhill and the snow was packed enough to make for an easy descent.

A bit of bushwhacking.

Once we hit the lake crossing, we quickly realized that we were going to be in for a lot of work because of the weight of our pack and sled. We are not backpackers so we didn't exactly have lightweight gear lol. Indeed, we were bringing my ice shelter, 20lbs of propane, a full cot, sleeping gear, etc. Despite this, we made it across the lake with relatively few issues.

Lake crossing to the trailhead.

The real tough part lay ahead, about 3km of old logging road all uphill to the lake. Travel was slow with the weight of our gear pulling us back. We even ended up sharing the weight of the sled and switching between carrying the pack, on top of taking breaks every 100m or so.

We needed breaks every 5min or so...
Alex with the full extent of our kit

It ended up taking almost 3hrs to reach the lake. Not actually that long, but I promise it feels a lot longer when you're slowly slogging straight uphill with what felt like over 100lbs of gear. It was a huge relief to put our feet on flat, solid ice!

Alex took a break on the ice while I started scouting out the lake for a place to set up camp. We settled for a sheltered spot by some trees that wasn't too far from our access point. Alex was getting chilled after resting so we made short work of setting up the shelter.

Camp is set up!

We ended the day with a classy 3 course meal of canned soup, steak, and Uncle Ben's rice. We then set up our sleeping gear, got in bed, and realized it was only 6:30! Apparently winter makes for long nights when you're camping haha. We did eventually fall asleep after setting alarms throughout the night to check on ourselves in case of CO; extra protection on top of our CO detector.

The next morning we rose to a beautiful fresh snowfall! It had blanketed the trail as well as our shelter which now featured some crazy condensation icicles.

The morning after... check out that condensation!

We also rose to some good and bad news. The good news was that we had burned about half our propane so the sled would be lighter, the bad news was that the fresh snow made travel even more difficult. I realized this within 1 minute after packing up camp as we made our way back to the access point. We had a short amount (800m) of uphill to do before starting the long descent to our car, but the snow made it take a full hour! Partway up, I heard a snowmobile in the distance. Moments later, I heard it again but much closer and told Alex to jump out of the trail when I realized what was happening. We made it just before they flew by! It was a close encounter but I was overjoyed when I realized they had packed down our trail. The rest of they way out was quite pleasant but we were still happy once we got back to the car and headed home :)

January 07, 2020

Creatures of the Night: Burbot Smackdown

So my buddy Carl finally convinced me to go out chasing some Walleye the other day. I actually hadn't targeted them in a few years so it was about time, especially since one of my goals is to eventually catch a 28 incher. I haven't been going out of my way for one, but I'll take it if it ever shows up! Anyway, we headed east from Montreal to an area we had fished many years prior in hopes of finding some decent fish.

We showed up at the spot around 1:00 and fished for a few hours without getting a single bite, and marking very few fish on our graphs. Finally, as the sun slowly started to set, I had a fish shoot up off the bottom and hit my jig! Finally got my first fish of the new year :)

Not long after, another small-ish Walleye shot off the bottom and hammered my jig. The evening bite was on! These weren't big fish by any means, but that's kinda the name of the game around Montreal. Soon after, another fish came up in similar fashion and, after a short fight, I iced the second species of the day: a Sauger.

Now it really starts to get interesting. The sun had basically completely set but the marks kept coming on the graph. I hooked up and noticed a different fight on my jigging rod, with more head shakes than the previous few fish. As it turns out, the roughfish that many fishermen dislike (hate is a strong word lol) seem to have followed me. The fish that came out the hole was one of my favourite wintertime targets: a Burbot. I came here for classic gamefish but I was catching roughfish!

The bite continued that way until we got tired and called it quits. Most of the fish were about the same size so I didn't bother to take any other photos. Also, the bites were coming so fast that I didn't want to waste time with photos! We caught about a dozen Burbot that evening.

The bite was so good that Carl and I decided to return the following day, this time with Alex. We had to wait for Alex to finish work but figured we could make it just in time as the sun was setting, mission impossible style. Alex had never caught a Burbot before so I was really hoping she could get her lifer. As it turns out, that didn't take long. In fact, she caught one probably within 5 minutes of sending her bait down.

After that fish, the bite seemingly died. I was relieved she got her fish but was getting worried that they wouldn't show up for some reason. Apparently, all we had to do was wait. Once it got darker, the fish started moving in. They were weren't shooting up like the day prior but were still happy to take a deadstick or lightly-jigged presentation. I'll spare you the details, but we ended with 13 Burbot and 1 Walleye in a few hours. I also caught one that was slightly larger than the others, but still not the 10lb beast I've been looking for.

Needless to say, it was a late, but pretty epic, start to the ice season!

January 01, 2020

2019 Reflections & 2020 Resolutions

A new year is upon us, meaning it's time to set our goals for 2020 and reflect on 2019's accomplishments. In 2019 I didn't set many New Year's resolutions, only to catch 2 new QC species and to keep track of how many types of fish I caught over the year (not just lifers).

2020 Resolutions:
In 2020 I only have 1 fishing goal: to catch 1 new QC species. There are so few left (only 7), that they are getting extremely difficult to come by. I have some plans to target Round Whitefish through the ice in January, but I may end up having to travel a little ways south to search for Grass Carp. Who knows, maybe I'll get desperate and fly out west for Cutthroat Trout and Spoonhead Sculpin or drive way up north for a Fourhorn Sculpin. Catching 2 new ones would blow my expectations and help me towards my goal of catching them all before I turn 30.

EDIT: I thought about it a bit more, and changed my fishing goals slightly to ones I think should make for a more interesting season. I still want to catch 1 new QC species, but I'd also like the challenge of at least trying for a few of the others. Yup, this year I want to target Round Whitefish, Cutthroat Trout, Spoonhead Sculpin, Deepwater Sculpin, and Grass Carp at least once each. Copper Redhorse and Fourhorn Sculpin are the only two I don't expect to target because the former is protected throughout its range and the latter is only found in the Arctic Ocean, which I don't plan to visit this year.

Most likely Suspect #1 (Roughfish.com)
Most likely Suspect #2 (Connecticut Fly Angler)

I guess I kinda lied about the 1 fishing goal, I would also like to explore the remaining parts of the Richelieu River that I have yet to fish so I can produce a sort of fishing guide for the river. I plan on doing a Richelieu River campaign to accomplish this, and recording all of my catches in scientific fashion.

The real big goal for 2020 isn't related to my fishing life, but rather to "real" life. But we can keep that boring stuff off of this blog ;)

2019 Reflections:
I managed to smash my goal of 2 QC lifers and ended up with 5, 4 of them on hook and line! Almost all of them were top targets of mine and some were totally unexpected. First, in May, I scooped up an American Brook Lamprey that was swimming by while I was trout fishing. It was pretty cool to see a non-parasitic lamprey in person.

Next, in June, I spent some time fishing with a buddy from school and hooked into my first ever River Redhorse! I even caught a couple more in the following days and each one surprised me with the power of their runs.

In July, Alex and I went on a short road trip to Connecticut where we met up with Rowan of Connecticut Fly Angler. He was kind enough to guide us on one of his home waters and put me onto my lifer Redfin Pickerel, a species I had been chasing since this whole lifelisting quest began.

In September, I headed to a spot where a friend had caught Eastern Silvery Minnows in years prior, but where I had always been unsuccessful. Something about the Fall weather changed all that and I found a nearby spot filled with the target Hybognathus.

Finally, and possibly one of my most difficult catches ever, is the Atlantic Sturgeon I caught while on a weekend trip with Alex in New Brunswick. We dragged the boat all the way to the Maritimes knowing that they existed, but that catching one would be extremely unlikely. Unexpectedly, I hooked up with one before even getting all of our rigs tied!

I was also able to successfully keep up with my goal of keeping track of each species I caught throughout 2019. As a result, I know that I landed 104 different types of fish on hook and line in one year, with just about half of them (51) being lifers!

I hadn't set any non-fishing related resolutions for 2019, but it turned out to be a pretty big year in that domain as well. Alex and I celebrated our 5-year anniversary, I was able to temporarily work at my dream job doing shift work in the arctic, and I finally graduated university! I have some equally big (or maybe bigger) goals for 2020 so I'm excited to see what the new year has in store for me.

Alex and I
Iron Ring Ceremony!