Changing Gear For Changing Seasons

As usual, I feel blindsided by the change in weather from fall to winter. Only a couple of weeks ago I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt while working in the field and complaining that my insulated boots were too warm. Now I can’t seem to wear enough layers. The temperatures have been so cool that ice is starting to form on many waterbodies, although safe ice appears to be a long way off.

This is the time of year where Darrell and I find ourselves in a sort of limbo when it comes to fishing. Some types of fishing are through for the year, while others are only just getting started. We tend to hit the water less during this transition, and spend some more time organizing our fishing gear.

reels

Removing reels and backing off their drag will help keep them in good shape for seasons to come.

The first thing we had to do with the changing seasons was to admit that the big boat would not see water again this year. Not having heated storage means that she needs to be properly winterized by flushing the water out of the motor using antifreeze. No one wants to find a crack in their motor due to ice formation when they head out in the spring. While it’s always a great idea to leave this task to the professionals, being on a tight budget meant we were giving it a go ourselves. We’ll know how well we did next spring. If you need to perform this task, there are many helpful tutorials on YouTube.

Our 12ft tinny is kept in running shape much longer than the big boat. If we take her out using the gas motor, we make sure to run the gas out at the end of the trip, then we put the motor inside. The only other thing we do after the water freezes is to flip the boat upside down so she doesn’t collect snow, water, and ice.

Once the open water season is done, we remove the reels from each rod and back off their drag. Backing off the drag will prolong the life of the drag spring and keeps your reels going for many seasons. The rods get inspected for any potential problems, then get put in a safe area where they can’t be tripped over before the next season.

Now is the time we get the ice hut out, open it up to air out, clean it up, and look for anything needing repairs. A quick check of the zippers and seats while out in the yard can save us from freezing on the ice.

Ice rods get pulled out of storage, reels get attached, and decisions are made about new line for each rod. We may change the type of line on a particular setup if we didn’t like the feel of it during the previous season. This is also a great time to review what you have, consider your plans for the upcoming season, and pick up additional gear if required.

The changing seasons mean a lot of work with safety gear. The boat safety kits come inside, the life jackets get hung in a closet, and the ice safety gear gets inspected and placed in a tote.

If you like to fish throughout the year, chances are good that you will find yourself changing gear. It’s always a good idea to take a few days and get things looked after properly so your gear will be ready for the following year.

Now bring on the ice!

Join Project FeederWatch And Help The Birds

The black-capped chickadees dart between the spruce trees and the feeders, downy woodpeckers cling to the suet cages, and white-breasted nuthatches scale down the tree trunk head first. These are just some of the sights I witness every day at my bird feeders, and they fill me with delight as I look out the window. The woodpeckers even let me walk right by them on my way to the horses.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to those that know my love for animals, but feeding the wild birds is an activity I truly enjoy. Watching them interact, seeing how fast they can empty a feeder, and trying to identify every little winged-wonder passing through is a great way for me to relax.

feederwatch

The Project FeederWatch kit.

This year I have decided to put my bird watching to good use and signed up for Project FeederWatch, a joint program operated by Bird Studies Canada and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Project FeederWatch runs from November to April. Participants count the birds they see at their feeders (or in the vicinity) and submit observations either online or through the mail. These observations help scientists understand and track winter bird populations.

One of the great things about this program is that you can decide the amount of time you wish to commit to it. Going away for a few weeks? Not a problem. Want to watch for over an hour on your count days? Great! Only have five minutes? That’s perfect.

This program is ideal for everyone from the novice bird watcher to the experienced ones. To participate, you need to be a member of Bird Studies Canada (it cost me $35) and indicate your desire to be in the program. You will then be sent a kit with detailed instructions on the program, how to make and record observations, information on choosing feeders and seed, tips for identifying birds, and a full colour poster of the most common birds observed in your region.

I’m really excited about putting my observations to good use and helping science. If you already feed birds over the winter, or have considered setting up some feeders, please think about joining Project FeederWatch. The more participants, the better it will be for the birds!

Surveying The Credit For Spawning Brookies

Brook trout are some of the most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen. With their green, red and orange colours becoming even more brilliant during the spawn, they are truly a sight to behold. However, they are also some of the most secretive fish to hide in our coldwater streams, taking cover and blending into the river bottom so that people passing by often fail to notice them.

Due to their secretive nature, I was not anticipating to see many fish when we embarked on a Credit Valley Conservation Spawning Survey this morning along the Credit River, but luck would prove otherwise.

credit river

The Credit River

The morning dawned with gusty winds and cool temperatures. By 9AM, a large group of volunteers had gathered in a parking lot to pull on waders, grab polarized glasses, and await instructions. Some of the volunteers were anglers, some were members of groups such as Izaak Walton and Trout Unlimited, and some were coming out for the first time to see what a spawning survey entailed. We broke into four smaller groups, each taking a stretch of the Upper Credit, looking for evidence of spawning brook trout.

Eager for new water and a nice walk, Darrell and I chose to visit a stretch further away. This portion of the river had some incredible natural features and reinforced my love for the Credit.

We were lucky enough to be working with Jon Clayton, an aquatic biologist at CVC, and as always, I enjoyed his passion for fish and being able to learn from him during the survey.

Spawning surveys are a fantastic activity for anyone from the novice to the experienced surveyor. All they require is a willingness to observe, and a willingness to wade in the river when necessary. The point of the survey is to look for redds, the ‘nest’ that fish create for their eggs. Usually, this area will be lighter than the surrounding riverbed, with sediment and debris removed, as the fish will have ‘excavated’ the area with their tails. When spotting a possible redd, groups will come to a consensus on what category they believe it is. A Category 1 redd is one where you have seen fish on it and there is no doubt that it is anything but a redd. A Category 2 redd is one that you feel strongly is a redd, but you don’t see fish on it. A Category 3 redd is one that looks borderline. It looks like there is a clearing, but it could possibly be from other disturbances such vegetation being uprooted, and other animals being in the area. Sightings of redds and fish are marked on a map.

We started out with the usual Category 3 sightings. Areas that looked like possible redds, but not enough for any of us to be certain. Beavers were extremely active in the area – piles of sticks, downed trees, and paths were evident nearly everywhere. This caused a degree of uncertainty in our redd assessments.

I assumed the day was going to involve several Category 2 and 3 redds, but while crossing the stream, something wonderful happened – Darrell’s Fishdar went off. I have yet to encounter anyone with the ability to spot fish as easily as Darrell does. Every little movement catches his eye, and he spots fish where others don’t. What a lucky happening for us. In a pool in the middle of the river, in an area lacking a colour difference or anything that would indicate an obvious redd, Darrell happened to notice a few brook trout.

As we stood in the river and watched, more fish became apparent, and their bright spawning colours were fantastic. One of the bigger fish was actively guarding his area, with many others swimming in and out. Here were several actively spawning brook trout, and we almost missed it. In the end we counted at least 15 brookies. The three of us stood in the river and watched for several minutes. I could have easily sat on the bank and watched the action for hours. Fish are fascinating.

Eventually, we forced ourselves to continue on. Now we had a good reminder of what to look for. Since brook trout spawn close to groundwater upwellings, there are often many redds and fish in suitable areas. In fact, their spawning area can look like one giant redd.

We continued on with several more possible redd sightings. While we tried to stay out of the water, it was often an easier route than walking the banks. Cedars lined the river and provided a lovely aroma. Where we found springs, we often found redds.

Wading up river, we came across another stretch of Category 1 redds with several brookies on them. We stopped to admire them once again. It always feels like a privilege to see these fish, no matter what time of the year.

In no time at all, we reached the end of our stretch and headed back to the parking lot. A morning spent talking fish, observing fish, and wandering along a beautiful river, is pretty much the ideal way to spend your time.

The information collected today is helpful for the conservation authority to compare the fish population over time, and locate important spawning areas. Spawning surveys are also a great way to spend some time outdoors, visit new water, and meet like-minded people. Maybe you will even spot some beautiful brookies.

If you would like to attend a spawning survey, Credit Valley Conservation holds a couple of them each fall. There is another survey next weekend (November 1st) in the Forks of the Credit area. For more information, or to register, click here.

Geocaching Is For The Dogs

While spending time on the water is always our preference, the dogs would often prefer to go for a walk. Today we decided to give the dogs what they wanted, but incorporated a bit of geocaching to keep it interesting for us.

Darrell and I decided to grab a few geocaches we had missed in the past along the Guelph-Elora Trail, or “GET”. There are approximately 40 caches along this trail and we grab a few each time we go to this area for a walk or a bike ride. We had several of the caches for two concessions of the trail, but were missing nine.

Molly, Darrell, and Jack.

Molly, Darrell, and Jack.

The trail travels along a hydro corridor and the first thing we noticed was that it had recently been cleared. The brush had been knocked back along the trail and around each tower. While making for a nice walk, I wondered if any of the caches may have been impacted.

Only two minutes into the trek, we both realized that wearing gloves and toques would have been a good idea. It was chilly! The dogs didn’t seem to notice the chill as they raced from one side of the path to the other, following scent trails and pulling at the ends of their leashes. Jake usually travels in a straight path, but Molly is all over the place. The setter in her comes out loud and clear on a walk.

Generally speaking, Darrell is a better geocache finder, and he found our first couple quite quickly. Despite wet feet, clinging branches, and slippery slopes, he seemed quite happy to grab each cache. We signed the logbooks, traded some items, and logged our finds online from the trail.

geocaching

A larger geocache container. Caches of this size usually have items that you can trade for. One of the caches today actually had a fishing lure in it (a spoon). I would have loved to take it, but I didn’t have anything to leave in its place.

geocache

Time to sign the logbook.

geocache

The smaller the geocache, the trickier it is to find. This one was hidden in a pretty neat place. I only found it because I thought it was weird for a wire to be sticking out of that spot.

On my old phone, I had paid for and downloaded the Geocaching app. The app worked well and I was planning to download it on my new LG G3, but I found a free app, c:geo, that looked just as good. This was my first test of the new app and I have to say that I loved it. It was easy to use and navigated well. For what I need in a geocaching app, this one fits the bill. I highly recommend this app for Android users (I do not know if it’s available for iOS).

Two of the geocaches stumped us for more minutes than I care to admit. We looked around in quite a broad area before I was able to find them. I’ll admit that I was proud to be the one to find them, not Darrell. What stumped us was that both of these caches were hidden in slightly different locales than the other ones. The dogs seemed to think we were crazy for walking back and forth in one area so many times, but they enjoyed gathering new smells.

A couple of geocaches had narrow misses from the recent clear-cutting of the trail. Both were hidden in trees that had lost several branches. We didn’t stop to check on the caches we had found previously, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one was missing.

trail

Bridge out! It’s hard to tell in this picture, but there used to be a bridge connecting the trail. If you want to cross now, you’re best to wait for the summer when it’s dry.

The colours make autumn so enjoyable.

The colours make autumn so enjoyable.

Jack enjoyed watching the birds that we flushed from the shrubs. He notices every little noise and stops to have a look. The gobbling turkeys at a farm near one geocache location were almost too much for him. I enjoyed looking at the reds, oranges, and yellows of the surrounding vegetation.

We called it a day after collecting the nine missing caches. The dogs were happy to jump back in the car and head home after all that fresh air and exploration. Geocaching is an excellent way for all of us to get outside and have some fun.