Starting The Open Water Season With A Crappie Night

Now that the ice has melted, the flooding has subsided, and the temperatures are warming up, it is time to hit the open water in search of crappie!

After a day of spring cleaning we decided to get out for an hour and test the evening bite. We had been promising the dogs that they would get out fishing soon, and yesterday was finally the day that they could climb in the car after watching the fishing gear get loaded into the trunk. Jack, our Australian Shepherd, was ecstatic. Nothing makes him happier than seeing fish.

sunset

Water makes everything better, including sunsets.

crappie fishing

Our fishing spot for the evening. This pond is always a good bet for crappie.

Our gear for the evening were medium action rods with slip floats, and Berkley Micro Power Nymphs on jigheads. Everyone has their go-to baits, and the Power Nymphs are almost always the bait we start with when crappie fishing.

As we set-up our rods, Molly got tired of chasing Jack and decided to go for a swim. How that dog could stand being in the water right now is beyond me. She had been swimming in our marsh just before we left the house. Casting around Molly, and being careful not to get my line tangled up with her, I realized I was pretty rusty. My casting accuracy was off, and the distance was terrible.

We worked around the pond and settled into our favorite spot. It’s an area where the water gets deep quickly, and the weed edge is easy to cast to. Since this pond was flooded just last weekend, and the water level remained high, we were only guessing at where the fish may be holding.

A few casts in, Darrell hooked into the first crappie of the open water season, a decent little fish. I continued to work a different area until he caught a second fish, then my desire to feel weight on my line took over, and I became a spot mooch. Casting 10 feet away from the bank, and reeling in perpendicular to the shoreline, I finally saw my float disappear and I set the hook. Yay! Unfortunately, it turned out to be a small largemouth bass that was out of season. A quick release followed and I got back to searching for crappie.

crappie

First fish of the open water season!

crappie

This look is what you get when you tell Darrell he needs to smile! Second crappie of the season.

The floats were dancing all over the place as rock bass nibbled at the lures, with Darrell managing to reel one in. My float danced and then once more it disappeared under the water. This time I was rewarded with my species of choice, a crappie. I managed to lose yet another crappie, then played with some rock bass nibblers before calling it a night.

crappie

My first crappie of the season.

It turned out to be a great evening fish with the hour we had at the pond. Jack was thrilled to kiss some fish before we put them back in the water, and Molly just enjoyed sitting at my side while I continued to search for fish. It feels wonderful to be casting again, and I’m looking forward to more fishing trips than we’ve been able to fit in lately. Now that school is over, there should be more time for us to hit the water. It should be a great season!

First Boat Outing Of The Year

Last Saturday was a perfect spring day weather-wise. The sun was shining, the temperature was warm, and the winds were calm. Since we were already going to be in Burlington to volunteer with Trout Unlimited Canada, it seemed like a no-brainer to take the boat, drive the remaining distance to Lake Ontario, and have our first open water day of fishing this year.

boat

Ah, I love seeing Luma ready to go for a day on the water.

Luma, as I call our boat, got some upgrades this winter, including a new electric motor, a custom battery box, and a new seat for the driver (usually Darrell). I refused to put a seat up front because it would interfere with my ability to lay down and have a nap.

We launched out of Bronte Harbour in the early afternoon, wearing our floater suits and Baffin Titan boots to keep warm. The motor started up without a problem and I can’t describe how good it felt to let the boat run and get some wind on my face.

lake ontario

Darrell was pretty excited to be in the boat.

lake ontario

It was so warm to start that I ditched the hat and had to open my floater suit.

lake ontario

Getting setup.

fishing

I have missed this sight!

We setup up after a short run and put lines out on planer boards, as well as one on a downrigger. We ran several different lures in a variety of colours, changed depths, and changed the spread, but nothing wanted to bite. We didn’t even mark much. That was okay though, for the first day out. Our main goal was to test both of the motors, and just get on the water.

Dodging debris was the name of the game and we kept our eyes peeled for the next log that could cause us some problems. Ducks, cormorants, terns…birds were everywhere out there, and not always eager to move out of the way. At one point a gull came for a closer look at the rod that was standing up tall in a rod holder. He was disappointed when there proved to be no food.

The new Minn Kota Endura Max 50lb thrust motor is a huge upgrade on the old electric motor, and provided plenty of power for our little boat. Even headed into a strong breeze it was able to push us along effortlessly. I can’t wait to use it on the electric-only lakes.

Despite having a short period of time on the water, and despite catching no fish, it was fantastic to be on the open water once again, and left both of us feeling refreshed. I can’t wait to get the boat out again this weekend. It was far too long of a winter.

Party Time At Lowville Park

This past Saturday was the day when spring officially begins in my books – the first volunteer work day of the season. For the second year in a row, this celebration took place at Lowville Park in Burlington, Ontario, on a perfect spring day. Sunglasses were needed as we gathered around Trout Unlimited Canada’s Beth Anne Fischer, project biologist for the Bronte Creek Watershed Renewal Program, and got direction for the day.

bronte creek

Oh Bronte Creek, I’m so happy to see you again!

The Bronte Creek Watershed Renewal Program is a large scale project that was chosen as one of five projects Trout Unlimited Canada wanted to initiate across Canada. An impressive amount of stream restoration has occurred in this park, improving the water quality, the quality of fish habitat, and the overall ecosystem function. From man-made riffles to narrowing of the stream and bank stabilization, this stretch of Bronte Creek has been transformed into a much healthier stream than in the past. The best measure of the improvement in this creek was the first documented sightings of brook trout in 55 years. Brook trout are sensitive, coldwater fish. They are often seen to be an indicator of water quality, and certainly water temperature, as they cannot survive in warm streams. To have this native species return to this stretch of river is a major accomplishment.

The first work day of the year in Lowville Park is usually a garbage clean-up. However, the park is well-maintained by city staff, and visitors seem to be conscientious about litter, so there is less to pick up in this park than most others along Bronte Creek. In addition to cleaning up litter, we were asked to record wildlife observations, something that is right up my alley.

Setting out in small groups, Darrell and I worked along the back of the park with another volunteer. While chatting about fishing, the beautiful weather, and what a nice way we chose to spend a Saturday, we headed downstream, with occasional stops to look at the river.

One of my favorite things about returning to Lowville Park is to see how the previous years work has progressed. In 2012 I helped to plant several trees and shrubs, most of which are doing very well, although some are missing altogether. That is to be expected with most plantings. Some of the plants will die, some will break when ice storms cause larger trees to fall on them, and some get removed by people who do not appreciate the ecological service the plants provide. Last spring, we did some live staking, which involved taking cuttings from willows and dogwoods prior to leafing out, and sticking them in the ground. This is an effective and inexpensive way of increasing riparian vegetation and stabilizing the riverbank. I was eager to see how well the cuttings had taken, and I was thrilled to see them thriving in each of the locations we had worked in.

bronte creek

The cuttings have taken root and grown substantially from when they were placed in the ground last spring. You can see how they help to fight erosion by stabilizing the soil and breaking up the water flow.

bronte creek

Here’s Darrell standing next to some cuttings for scale. The cuttings were just over a foot long originally, and about 60% of them was pushed into the ground.

bronte creek

They really are doing well.

When you stop to listen and observe, you realize that Lowville Park really is a hive of activity. We heard sparrows, starlings, crows, robins, white-breasted nuthatches, black-capped chickadees, northern flickers, and more birds that I couldn’t identify. While wandering along the bank of the river, two turkey vultures took up posts in trees on the other side of the water. The breadth of their wingspan always impresses me, and I stood there for a few minutes watching as they took flight, and three other turkey vultures joined them. In a warmer area an eastern gartersnake was sunning itself and moved just in time for me to avoid stepping on it. Squirrels were running from tree to tree, stopping long enough to chirp at me for watching before they raced on. Every creature in the park seemed to be enjoying the morning.

This winter’s ice storm had a major impact on the trees in the park, as evidenced by the downed limbs, twisted trunks, and mangled messes we came across. I was fascinated by one tree that had twisted near the bottom of its trunk, right where you could see some evidence of rot. It was a shame to see the tree stretched out across the grass.

lowville park

The torsion this tree experienced was impressive.

lowville park

Ice storm damage was extensive.

Looking for fish. Despite the high water, we were able to find some spawning rainbow trout.

Looking for fish. Despite the high water, we were able to find some spawning rainbow trout.

Our final garbage haul was fairly small, but what we did find showed the possibility of one heck of a party at Lowville Park. Beer bottles, fireworks, propane canisters (the small ones used for camp stoves), a flip-flop, used condoms, and more. Several of this items were in a tucked away area behind a mound of dirt. I guess there are several ways to enjoy the park.

Sadly, this is the final year of work in Lowville Park. I say sadly because I’ve really enjoyed going to Lowville for work days, but the fact is, this part of the project has been a resounding success. Trout Unlimited Canada will be posting educational signs within the park this year, but the focus now shifts to the stretch of Bronte Creek running through Courtcliffe Park in Carlisle.

This new project is called "Brook Trout Want To Come Home".

This new project is called “Brook Trout Want To Come Home”.

The Brook Trout Want To Come Home project in Courtcliffe Park, is looking to restore this reach of Bronte Creek that has been altered by human activity, making the area unfit for the native brook trout. Judging by their success in Lowville Park, I am confident in the amazing work that TUC will be able to complete at this location. They have already raised $122,000 for the project, but need another $6,000. For a contribution of $20, donors will receive an adorable stuffed brook trout. You know there was no way I could pass up an offer like that!

trout unlimited canada

Beth Anne from TUC processed our donation using the reliable (and old) credit card swiper. I haven’t seen one of those in years! We all had a good laugh about it.

Courtcliffe Park

A bucket of brook trout! There were a few other species mixed in there as well. I had to pick up a bass in addition to the brook trout.

It was yet another wonderful outing with TUC, and a great visit to Lowville Park. If you are in the area and have some free time, I encourage you to help out at upcoming Bronte Creek work days in Courtcliffe Park. It is one of the best ways to spend a Saturday morning.

For more information about the Bronte Creek Watershed Renewal Program, and for information on how to donate, check out the program’s website at brontecreekrenewal.blogspot.ca.

The Mighty Grand River

Having lived near the Grand River for the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to witness her awesome power. She can deceive you, offering slow, meandering water over large flats that provide a calm place to set up and cast, but she can change her mood in a flash, and you had better be careful. With the Shand Dam controlling flows out of Belwood Lake on the Upper Grand, a wise person always checks the flows and dam discharge before hitting the water.

This past winter brought snowfall amounts that we haven’t witnessed in several years. Not even two weeks ago there were still seven-foot snowbanks in Grand Valley, the upper reach of the Grand River. Warm temperatures and rain have caused the snow to melt, and unleashed the fury of the Grand. By this past weekend there was flooding in several locations along the river, and the locals couldn’t help but head to the water and witness the power. It was incredible to see.

Bissell Dam

Looking down from the top of the Bissell Dam.

Drimmie Dam

At the Drimmie Dam in Elora.

Grand River

I’ve never seen white water like this in Elora.

Grand River

The pictures do not do justice to how high the spray was.

Grand River

Erosion in action.

Grand River

This is outside of Inverhaugh at the 8th Line bridge. Normally there are two very distinct channels of the river – the main one, which would be at the very back of this picture, and a slower side channel. There’s normally a lot of land visible here. Good example of why floodplains should be left alone.

Grand River

At the same bridge. You can see that the parking lot is under water. Several people were there to see the flooding. Even a police officer driving by had to stop in awe. None of us had ever seen this area under so much water.

Grand River

Heading to West Montrose we stopped at this old wood bridge, a popular fishing area in the summer. The water was over the road on the far side of the bridge, and the field was fully submersed.

Grand River

This picture was taken on April 14, 2014, a day after the previous pictures. You can see that the water continues to be high in Elora.

Grand River

Another picture from April 14, 2014. Unfortunately, it won’t take much before the businesses start to flood.

With trout opener less than two weeks away, one has to wonder what sort of shape the Grand will be in for opening day. But more importantly, one has to hope that the water starts to recede before anymore damage is done to homes near the river. Water is such an impressive force.