The last few days have been all about food, fun, friends, and fish. We met a few friends up on Basswood Lake and have spent the last three days netting whitefish. Each fall the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) opens a whitefish netting for several weeks on Basswood Lake and a series other lakes in the Boundary Waters. The season opened on Monday, so we set out 3 nets on opening day. Amy and I had never been whitefish netting before, so we were excited to try something new. The reward has been scrumptious whitefish dinners as well as some extra fish for our friends to take home when they leave tomorrow.
In the fall when the lakes turn over, the whitefish move into shallow water to spawn. We have watched the lake temperatures change over the last month. Then over the course of several days last week we noticed that the thermocline was gone in the lakes we tested and the temperature was almost exactly the same from the surface all the way down to 15 meters below the surface which is as deep as we can test with our probe.
Cold water is denser and heavier than warm water, so the cold water settles to the bottom of the lake. A thermocline is a sharp change in water temperature. It is basically a layer of warm water and layer of cold water sandwiched together.
The DNR waits until the lakes have turned over before opening the Whitefish netting season to help reduce the the chance of catching gamefish, or other unwanted species in whitefish nets. Northern pike, walleye, bass, or other gamefish must be released if you catch them in your net by accident.
Our friends showed us how to search for sandy spots in shallow water to set our nets. The whitefish gather in these shallow, sandy areas to spawn. We spent a lot of time paddling around in shallow water looking for sand patches to try. Once the nets were set, it was time to relax, eat, and socialize. Our friends brought a second heated tent so we have plenty of room for our party of 7 to spread out, dry our clothing, warm up, and relax. Today has been cold and rainy and a stiff breeze blew across Basswood causing waves, which made checking the nets a little more difficult. Plunging your hands into the 38 degree water and working to untangle 3 pounds of squirming whitefish from the net can be a challenge. We took turns warming our hands and working to pull fish from the net. Yesterday we harvested 9 whitefish and today we harvest 7 whitefish.
Our friends think that its still a little early because most of the whitefish that we are netting are males. They think the males are starting to swim around looking for the females, but that most of the females have not moved onto the spawning beds yet. We are happy with the number of fish we have been netting, its plenty for us to have a few good meals and have some fish for everyone to take home. Whether we are fishing with a net or a fishing rod, we are always careful to catch only what we can use, because keeping a healthy fish population is important. We are just excited to try something that we have heard about for many years, but never been able to try. We have encountered many local people checking nets during our expeditions in Canada as well as in the Amazon.
I know know that is it cold, hard work, but it is also rewarding and something I hope to do again. Who knows, maybe it will become an annual tradition. This time of year gathering food for the cold months ahead just seems like the natural thing to do. What types of food can you harvest near your home during this time of year?
More than anything we are enjoying visiting with our friends, spending a few days camping in the same place, and eating lots of good food. Our friends brought in a big supply of food for us, which included a lot of treats. We normally eat oatmeal or granola for breakfast everyday, but we have been eating bacon, eggs, and bagels for breakfast every morning. Plus, our friends brought in lots of potatoes, turnips, and other veggies that they grew in their garden, and lots of food that have not been on our menu for the past 36 days.
Almost all the leaves are gone now, and even the tamaracks have mostly lost their needles. The tamarack needles that remain are brown and have lost their golden hue. All of the marsh grasses are brown and it really feels like fall is beginning the slow transition to winter. A few days ago we woke up to a frosty landscape and found skim ice in a protected marsh are the end of our first portage. The sun’s rays light up the ice-rimmed grasses and we paddled through the frosty marsh grasses marveling at the beauty. Now a few days later, a cold rain and winds are showing us another one of fall’s many modes.
We are looking forward to our first significant snow fall, skim ice, and frosty mornings. We have spent very little time in the Boundary Waters in November. In some ways I think it may be the most uncomfortable month to be in the Wilderness because the conditions are often cold, wet, and windy. We don’t really know what to expect, which makes it exciting and a little scary.
You may be wondering what we did to celebrate Halloween. Well, we didn’t go trick or treating, but be did bake a chocolate cake as a special treat!
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