Wednesday, 2 April 2014

So This is Spring...

Waking up yesterday in Northwestern Ontario, you couldn't help but ask yourself - is this Mother Nature playing an April Fools trick on us? However, when you stepped outside into the foot-and-a-half of fresh snow, it was obvious that this was no trick. Within 24 hours we received about 18 inches of snow. Most highways were closed, many businesses in the area were closed, and all of the schools were shut down. A "snow day" on April 1st... who would have thought.

Dryden Ontario
The view from my front door, Dryden, ON.
This past winter has been one for the books. We've had record-breaking cold temperatures and the most snow we've seen in years. We now have over 5 feet of snow in some areas and 4 feet of ice on the lakes. We need everyone to cross their fingers and toes and hope for warm temperatures this month, along with rain and wind to knock down this snow and get the ice off the lakes.

After a busy day of shovelling yesterday, it is nice to see the sun shining today. The temperature is only expected to rise to the freezing mark, but hopefully the sun will be strong enough to do some melting. According to the calendar, we are now well into our second week of spring. I thought I would take this time to look back on this past winter and hopefully put it behind us. So far I have mostly focussed the blog on our adventures to Kapikik, but there has been lots more keeping us busy over the winter months.

Most people assume that the winter season is "down-time" for the Clark's, but that is definitely not the case. My parents like to keep busy all year round! Minnow harvesting still needs to be done, the two stores (Eagle Junction and Sunset Baits) are open all winter, and we still have guests in camp. Then of course there are the sports shows in the States, bait fishery meetings in Toronto, marketing work, bookkeeping, correspondence with guests, maintenance on all the cabins, and work to be done in the shop such as building minnow traps and furniture.

Chicago Sport Show
Minnow Traps
As far as the minnow business goes, we are not as busy in the winter as we are in the summer because we are not supplying the tourist camps. In the winter, we supply our own two stores as well as a handful of others. This winter, the demand for minnows has been low due to the poor weather conditions.  There are less people fishing due to the snow, slush, and cold temperatures. Less demand for minnows has been a blessing in disguise because trapping them this winter has not been an easy task.

In the summertime, all minnow harvesting is done by airplane. In the winter it is done by snowmobile. My Dad and Chris trailer the snowmobiles and travel as far as they can by truck, then break trail on snowmobile to the minnow lakes. Getting to the lake is half the battle. The machines get stuck countless times in the deep snow, they sometimes have to cut down trees to clear the trails, and usually one snowmobile will end up breaking down. Once they get to the lake, in order to set or check one trap, they must drill six holes with an ice auger to make an opening large enough for a trap to fit through. It takes the full length of the auger plus the extension to get through the ice this year. They usually set about 15 traps in one lake. To make things more difficult, many lakes have not been producing this winter due to low oxygen levels from the heavy amounts of snow and ice.

With the conditions being so bad, Dad has been avoiding harvesting one of his best minnow lakes because the only way to get there is by airplane. In order to meet the demand, he had to fly there the other day. Since he goes by himself, he must always be prepared for a very long day and possibly an overnight stay in the airplane because if he gets stuck in the slush, he won't be getting home anytime soon. In the past he's had to pack a trail with snowshoes and let it freeze overnight to get the plane moving again. Luckily he didn't have to do that this time, but he did get stuck. He was able to dig himself out and get home at a decent hour with a good catch of minnows. Everyday of minnow trapping for these guys is quite the adventure. I wish I had the time to write about each trip they make because there is always a good story.

We also supply the minnows (for free) to our fisherman in camp. We've had quite a few parties staying with us this winter. Despite the amount of snow and slush, they have been fishing the entire chain of lakes and of course, spending lots of time in the shacks in front of camp. They've caught and released some massive trout further down the chain, and some huge walleyes in front of camp. They've been keeping the smaller ones for dinner that they mostly catch in the shack. The two pictures below were taken a few weeks ago right out in front of K.C.'s Landing Resort.

trophy walleye fishing clark's resorts
Trophy Walleye caught & released at K.C.'s
walleye fishing ontario, ice fishing
Trophy Walleye caught & released at K.C.'s
And of course, I have to mention a little bit about the cabin on Kapikik. I haven't written about it since our trip by winter road. Since then, the guys have made many trips by airplane hauling supplies. Two weeks ago, my Dad, Grampa, and I stayed overnight at the cabin and finished off the rest of the pine, varnished the entire cabin, and finished all of the trim. My Dad went by himself the following weekend and started laying the laminate flooring. Dad and Chris are on there way there right now to stay overnight and finish off the flooring. Next, the kitchen cabinets will go in, and the panelling will go up on the bedroom walls. When the conditions improve, the brand new boats will be taken in by snowmobile. It is truly amazing how far that cabin has come along since February 1st, when we made our first trip. With all of the challenges we've faced, its incredible that we've been able to stay on schedule with the progress.

Kapikik Lake Outpost
Pine & Flooring done at Kapikik
My parents and I just got back from the Minneapolis Northwest Sport Show, our last sport show of the season. We had a great time, enjoyed the warm weather, and talked to lots of people. The question that almost everyone asked was if the ice will be out in time for opener. Looking outside right now at the 5 feet of snow on the ground and knowing that there is still 4 feet of ice on the lake, it is easy to assume that it won't be. However, it is honestly far too early to tell just yet. A lot can happen during the month of April and we can assure you that through our Facebook page and our blog, we will keep everyone posted on the weather and ice conditions. In the spring, my Dad is the last person that flies in the area on skis and now that we are into April, he will be flying almost every day. By the end of the month, we should be able to give you all a good idea of when the ice will be out. Lets hope for the best!

Until next time,


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