What Lies Below is a six-year project that is about to be launched. It’s a documentary that features my guide dog and I meeting with people who live by and from the water as we cross Canada from coast-to-coast-to-coast. With the website now live emails are coming in, so here are my answers on how I managed to bring this documentary from an idea to an actual film competing in the 2016 Planet in Focus Film Festival in Toronto this October, an which was chosen as the closing film. Watch the trailer at www.whatliesbelow.ca.
It may be the case that Canada’s capital Ottawa has one of the least developed and inaccessible shorelines anywhere in the world, but that doesn’t deter people from fishing. In spite of the limited shoreline access, we anglers still manage to partake in their sport in sight of Canada’s federal legislators and public service mandarins.
No Doubt, fishing with friends after work is a great way to end the day. Spring fishing for catfish off Victoria Island behind Ottawa’s Parliament Hill is one of many urban fishing options the city of Ottawa offers. These cats can reach upwards of five kilos. Bring a lawn chair, some heavy 2-3 oz. weights, size 1/0 non-offset circle hooks, a stout rod and some worms. Tie your rig so the line can slide freely through the weight by putting the weight ahead of a swivel, then attach your hook to the swivel using a 12-inch section of heavy 20lb mono. Set your rod in a holder and slack off the drag. When a catfish takes, simply tighten the line and the circle hook will take care of the rest. No need for a hook set.
The fishing is best around sundown. However, the comradery is always good no matter whether the fish are biting or not.
You can spend a lot and fly in to some remote wilderness resort, or you can just pull out your grandparent’s old fishing rod from the back of the closet. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive.
Lee Willbanks is the official River Keeper for the Upper St. Lawrence and is working hard to have the River removed from the list of top ten most endangered rivers. Implementation of the International Joint Committee’s 2014 plan for the St. Lawrence is all that’s needed. Listen as Lawrence and Lee talk about what happened to the aquatic habitat on the river and what it will take to bring it back.
Working to protect the St-Lawrence River, one of America’s most Endangered Rivers
You often hear rumours about anglers who go fishing in spring and catch a hundred Crappy. The first thing we all ask, is where? Early ice-out conditions can be like fishing through the ice. The fish seem to be no where until finally you find them, and then they are in numbers that boggle the mind. Go back two weeks later, and it’s a totally different story. So why are Crappy so hard to find, and what explains their split personality?
Getting the boat out of storage or wetting a new boat for the first time is an exciting start to any angler’s year. Taking the boat for a shake-down cruise in April goes hand-in-hand with searching for spring Crappy. It’s a good fit because finding crappy can take a lot of running about. No doubt, lot’s has been said and written on where to look, but in the end, it comes down to a process of elimination. Once you find them though, its knowledge for life – they seem to be creatures of habit. It’s why everyone is so tight lipped about where to look.
Northern shorelines in the backs of bays over bottom that is black, or at the mouths of in-flowing streams or rivers are features that are often identified as places to look. Of course, timing is another important factor as nothing turns Crappy on more than direct sun, and the lack of sun can just as quickly shut these little big-mouths down. The problem seems to arise when so many of the seemingly likely spots don’t seem to hold fish. It’s often just the one spot, but which one.
Water temperatures between 40 and 50 F could be considered pre-spawn. Crappy, like most all fish, are still experiencing a slow metabolism and have minimal appetites. They will bite, but prefer slow moving or stationary meals of smaller proportions. Float fishing is the answer because fish need to study their meal first, and they are probably in fairly shallow water. This is also the time of year that Crappy are taking the bite while moving up in the water column, which means the line grows slack when they bite, and doesn’t jerk or tighten. Round bobbers hardly move, but a stick bobber might tip over on to its side. Personally, I use the smallest float that will suspend my bait, cast out, and then reel in as slow as possible, setting the hook when tension is detected.
Later, when water temps warm up to between 55 and 70, Crappy come alive. They become just as difficult to find, but more aggressive when you do. Small 1/16 oz. jigs with 2” to 3” tubes or grubs work well, as do tiny spinners or jigs rigged with blades. A cast and retrieve is all that’s needed. Northern Pike might also be feeding post-spawn, so Crappy will be using cover like wood in the water or early growth weeds to avoid being eaten. Prepare to be bitten off.
A third technique that works on less than cooperative Crappy is a mini drop shot rig. I personally use 4lb braded Power Pro line, a tiny 6mm swivel, and 3-feet of 4lb floral line as a leader. A #6 extra wide gap hook from EagleClaw and a 1/16 oz. tungsten weight from Ultra Tungsten completes the rig. Fish the line a bit slack, and take your time setting the hook. Setting the hook after solid resistance is detected is sufficient and will avoid needlessly pulling the bait out of strike range before the Crappy has properly engulfed the bait.
Last, I never make it a point to count the number of fish caught. I don’t want to fall into that numbers game, and would rather catch some, enjoy the bite for a while, and then get back to cruising the lake to look for more areas where the Crappy are holding up. I always pinch the barb on my hooks as Crappy have paper-thin mouths and there’s no point tearing them a new hole every time I catch and release a fish. If I intend to keep a few for dinner that night, I release the biggest ones, thinking these are the primary breeding females, and keep just enough of the average size males to feed the family.
So, slow fish fast fish, it really comes down to the water temperature in the end. It has nothing to do with their astrological sign. Same fish, totally different experience. Try them both ways and enjoy your first days out on the boat in the new year.
Located in Long Bay off the coast of Los Angeles California, the Aquarium of the Pacific is ideally located to conduct research on whale behaviour. Their research has determined that ships entering and departing from one of the U.S.’s busiest ports pass directly through a preferred feeding area for whales. Moby Dick is no match for these colossal conveyors of the sea which are arriving at port with whales impaled on their bows.
Thanks to the St. Lawrence River Institute on Environmental Science for hosting folks from the Upper St. Lawrence River Keeper so they could offer volunteer river keeper training to the over 40 people that, like me, showed up to receive their training.
The Great Lakes Water Quality Board just conducted the largest survey of citizens about the lakes and there’s unanimous agreement that we need to safeguard the water and it’s aquatic life. Listen as Dr. de Loe, Canada’s Co-Chair on this important International Joint Commission Board, speaks with Lawrence about his plans to work himself out of a job by making fish from the Great Lakes completely safe to eat. First though, we all need to understand that the Great Lakes represent a largely non-renewable yet significant portion of the world’s fresh water.
Eighty-five percent of respondents believe protecting the Great Lakes is highly important, according to one of the largest surveys ever conducted on public perception of the world’s largest freshwater system. The International Joint Commission (IJC) sponsored the survey, which was completed by its Great Lakes Water Quality Board in late 2015 and is summarized in the report released today.
A 24-hour rain delay didn’t stop 48 members of the 12th Ottawa Girl Guides ranging in age from 5-16 from taking part in a shoreline fishing event I organized with the support of the Ottawa Valley South Bass Masters. The girls were equipped with rods, floats and tiny jigs, and were taught the fishing basics by 12 fellow Bass Master club members.
The bite was hot and it didn’t take long to go through Five boxes of 18 large worms. All manner of panfish were caught and released along with a half-dozen or so catfish. It may have lasted 1.5 hours , but plenty long enough for each and every girl to catch fish — many a half dozen or so each.
I led a short Q/A session at the end that was quite lively with the girls sharing their experiences and observations. Club members Tony and Julie Morin organized a prize table that included five rod-reel combos, three tackle packs and a bunch of hats. Each girl also left with a pack of miniature tube jigs and an original Eagle Claw cork float.
Thanks go out to the Ottawa Bass Masters for making this event a success, and to the Dows Lake Pavilion for the use of their shoreline and discounted parking passes.
Think about how much water spills over Niagara Falls. Add in a couple dozen more rivers and that will give you an idea of the volume of water flowing down the St. Lawrence River. Now, ask yourself if you would ever consider ice fishing on the Niagara? The answers probably no, but guide Todd Beckstead has made it his business to safely take ice anglers out on to the frozen St. Lawrence.
Whether you prefer your water soft or hard, there’s no shortage of opportunity to catch all manner of species on the St. Lawrence River. How the day unfolds can be just as interesting, including opportunities for fishing together with your friends for jumbo Perch, spreading out to jig over fast moving deep water for monster Walleye, and everything in between. Known for its excellent Large-mouth, Small-mouth, Pike, Walleye, Musky, catfish and Carp, the St. Lawrence River from the Thousand Islands on east to Montreal has been producing record sizes and numbers of fish for decades.
The river was expanded when the St. Lawrence Seaway was developed in the 1960s that saw the installation of a series of dams and locks to facilitate the passage of large ocean-going ships. This deepening and broadening of the river has resulted in its now possessing dual personalities. There’s the fast-flowing current along its deep channel that ranges from 10 to well over 50 meters in depth, and then there are the numerous broad flats hosting a mix of sandy bottoms and weed beds complete with shoals that extend from land for hundreds of meters. Throw in a network of submerged roadbeds and building foundations, and it all adds up to wide-ranging habitat supporting an even greater variety of aquatic life. While it’s true many of the animals that call the St. Lawrence home are relatively new-comers, (invasive), thanks to tougher environmental regulations and a significant reduction in industrial activities along its shorelines, the native species are managing a comeback. The escalating quality of fishing has not gone unnoticed as made evident by the increasing number of local, national and international fishing competitions now staged annually along both its Canadian and U.S. banks.
We caught up with Todd Beckstead exchanging news with the owners at “Bite Me Bait and Tackle” in Morrisburg. While the store may be a relative new-comer, this well stocked fishing store offers a surprisingly wide range of equipment and bait. Todd is intimately connected to the pulse of the St. Lawrence, and while his passion may be fishing, his three-part guiding philosophy is founded on ensuring clients are safe and secure, everyone is having a good time, and fish are being caught.
The bulk of our day was spent fishing for jumbo Yellow Perch. This is the type of fishing that actually gets better the closer you fish together. With four of us comfortably arranged in a Frabill Thermal Headquarters 4-6 person pop-up shelter and four good-sized holes drilled, it wasn’t long before Todd had called over the first Perch of the day.
Fish whisperer is one term that could easily be applied to Todd. Nothing humans can hear above the ice, but made startlingly evident time-and-time-again as Todd dropped down a large five cm long rattle bait to attract the Perch. Within seconds no fewer than six Perch would be clustered around the bait five-meters below taking turns launching attacks on this unknown potential food source. Having triggered their feeding instinct, Todd would quickly retrieve the bait resulting in the Perch dispersing to seek alternatives. The rest of us would simply twitch and hold still small offerings of two cm long minnows or live maggots on size 12 1/32 oz. jigs. Within seconds of the dinner bell’s ringing coming to an end, double and often triple headers would result.
Thanks to countless Zebra Mussels the water of the St. Lawrence is almost crystal clear making it easy to witness directly the different ways Perch strike. Some Perch choose just to watch, while others cautiously taste the minnow or maggot to satisfy their curiosity. And then there are those who rush in to slam your bait. Twitching is usually all that’s needed to trigger the strike, but occasionally letting the bait rest on bottom does the job.
Sonar and colour video displays are not essential kit. Use shorter rods and seating that keeps you positioned erect so you can easily observe what’s taking place through the hole at your feet. The dark interior of the Frabill and the natural light that was penetrating the surrounding 20 cm of solid ice made viewing the scene below almost magical. The way our four 10” holes were positioned, it also made it possible to observe the action taking place beneath your neighbours. Real life gaming with four players – doesn’t get better than that!
Perch seem to roam ceaselessly. Whether to stay warm or two seek out schools of silver shiners and Big Eye that make up their regional diet, one need not wait long for perch to appear below. Prolonged spells of extreme cold will slow down their metabolism and activity levels; conversely, a stretch of milder weather will trigger intense action.
Marauding Pike weighing upwards of 10 kilos can quickly send Perch fleeing for the shelter of near-by weeds. That’s when you hope the large 20 cm long Sucker minnows rigged on tip-ups come into play. Placed well away from our Frabill shelter, the tip-ups provided a welcome break from sitting hunched over holes.
My BlueTipz Bluetooth wireless strike indicator worked flawlessly in alerting me to incursions from Pike. A small light-weight transmitter clipped to the flag of my Frabill XX tip-up instantly triggers an app on my smartphone to notify me that the flag is up. The warning will sound for a minute before turning off and automatically re-setting.
Twice I was sent scrambling. The first time my sucker was relatively unharmed but Pikeless. A bleeding wound to the Sucker’s back resulted in a scent trail. Less than 30 minutes later I was back running for my tip-up and hand-lining around 30 meters of line. Two good runs later I lost the brute at the hole. We did manage to make visual contact with the Northern just as she spat the sucker though, and Todd estimated its size at between three to four kilos. Good fun never-the-less and what I like to think of as a quick-and-easy hook release at the hole. More importantly however, is the lack of a visual photographic record that would have otherwise prevented me from expanding on this particular epic battle in future.
A second quick release scenario I managed to execute in broad view of my fishing companions was a sizable catfish that shook off and slid back down the hole. Todd came close to attempting a recapture by hand, but thought twice given the kitty’s stingers that would have no doubt found flesh. I’m guessing that after the Pike incident, he was on to my ways and wanted to ensure that this time there was a photographic record.
Lots of Perch and a few monsters to boot. Good times were had by all as we hunkered down and enjoyed the warmth of the roomy insulated shelter made toasty with two small heaters in spite of the sunless, frosty and breezy conditions. However, 3: p.m. came and it was time to pack up and prepare for round two of this two-part day.
Everything went back into the trucks, and out came several tiny sleds, a couple buckets, minimal tackle, rods and a manual auger for round two. We headed out by foot beyond the bay and on to the recently frozen main channel of the St. Lawrence to try our hand at intercepting a school or two of monster Walleye as they executed their evening patrol.
The ice was crystal clear making it possible to look straight through and see perfectly the depth and bottom structure below. After positioning ourselves using a series of complex geometric calculations, as well as the conveniently placed marker buoys, we drilled our holes in the 15 or so centimeters of clear ice.
We brought with us no shelters to protect ourselves from the 30-kph winds out of the east as erecting and anchoring anything on the glare ice would have taken about as long to accomplish as we intended to stay. The evening bite here lasts about 90 minutes, and is attempted over 15 meters of water in a five kph current.
Offerings that are a minimum of ½ oz. in weight are essential to execute a vertical presentation. Multiple hooks and numerous smaller minnows are recommended to avoid having to reel up and re-bait during a very short window of opportunity. If they manage to get one of your minnows, you know you still got a few more down there to work with.
Fishing together in a single shelter is also not an option due to the current’s effect on the lines and the size of fish being pursued. It’s imperative to spread out to avoid tangles that could easily end everyone’s chance to ice trophy Walleyes.
Keeping our back to the wind was the only way of preventing frostbite to our face and hands. Todd cautioned however, that the instant that contact was made with a fish we move to the up-stream side of the hole to allow the easterly current of the St. Lawrence to do the work of tiring the Walleye and to facilitate fish extraction through the ice. Walleye here can range upwards of eight kilos.
“Winds from the east, fish bite least”, was our undoing that day. The minus 35 degree wind chill made things slightly uncomfortable and may have influenced our decision to head back to shore fishless slightly before 5:30 p.m. — the end to our window of opportunity. After a day of non-stop fish captures, a punishingly cold fishless couple hours out in the open wasn’t the end of the world. It does however; make me anxious to return to the River to finish what I started. Caution will be taken however, as the Fast moving water like the main channel of the St. Lawrence isn’t somewhere I would want to venture without the expertise of a seasoned guide. Wouldn’t want my fishing trip of a lifetime to turn into the last trip of my life.
To get a hold of Todd Beckstead to arrange your own adventure, try the following:
Tel: 613-643-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
When weather conditions are right and the bite is assured, I gather around my family and begin the up-hill struggle of convincing them just how much fun they would have if they went with me ice fishing. Not always an easy sell. Remembrances of prior frigidly cold fishless days always seem to get rekindled, and before long the family on mass is preparing to have me committed for even daring to raise the possibility of their re-living such experiences.
I’ll be the first to admit that convincing skeptics to try again what they already judge to be wasted and even potentially dangerous time on the ice is no mean feat. But, throw a heated ice shack into the equation, and its possible to melt even the most frosty opposition.
Thanks to my good buddy Yannick Loranger from Ottawa River Guided Fishing, a toasty shack set over top bountiful waters was on order for the day, and he delivered. Walleye, Sauger, Perch and Pike all made an appearance over the course of the evening.
Kids moved in and out of the heated shelter freely and took advantage of fishing opportunities both indoors and out. Mom and elder teenage sister were kept toasty by the gynormous propane heater while catching their own flurry of fish.
When quitting time rolled around there were even some who wanted to stay the night. (I have to admit that sleeping in one of Yannick’s mega cabins was my idea.) In the end though, logic trumped passion, and dad and kids were loaded into the truck for the 45-minute drive back into the city.
My hope is that memories of these good times will push far to the back past memories of less favorable outings, so when March roles around we can do it all over again under the spring sun. Hey, part of being a parent and angler is exposing one’s family to the positive benefits of fishing, even if some less positive aspects are involved. I always say that if nothing challenging happens, it’s not an adventure.