Friday, May 29, 2009

Salmon Eyesight - Measuring Color Levels and Range Underwater

Like we mentioned a few weeks ago, alot of our experiments and "fun stuff" we do on the river in between fish is to figure out what colors the fish can see - especially down DEEP (30 feet or more).

This will give us the advantage of picking the best lure combination, that other anglers don't have - like the one shown here.

We've collected video using underwater cameras, digital cameras in cases, and even vacuum-sealing cameras, like this! The goal is to measure the actual color at various levels, with different water clarity - when the Columbia is running brown, or green.

We have other experiements putting lights and LEDs on our lures, too - so we need to know how far the colors are visible down deep. It isn't enough to know how much color from sunlight is visible.

Here is the camera ready to head to the bottom. When we collect the video, we can use Photoshop or other applications to compare the pixel color values, compared to video at the surface.

Here is another circuit we rigged up to measure the actual amount of color detected as we get deeper underwater - both from sunlight reaching down into the water, or from a spotlight under our boat (never heard of that one, huh?) or from LEDs on the lures or dropline. The circuit here measures the green, blue, and red light levels, displays them, and records them into memory for use on the PC later.

Its all about getting the data to ultimately get the fish in the boat! ... and to keep us from getting too bored when the science fails us. Here's some video looking at the different colors on a Simon/Wobbler down to only 6 feet of depth. Not much visible to the naked eye... but what about Ultraviolet light??? Stay tuned!

Taste of Summer - Fresh Clams

One of our last trips out to the ocean, there was a low tide, and as we walked I pointed out to the kids the 'button' holes that indicated clams down in the sand. "You have to dig and dig fast between the water and that hole, and you'll get a clam!" I told the kids.

A couple of them tried it half-heartedly, and of course they didn't get anything. "yeah right" they all exclaimed - Dad was pulling a fast one. So, being the fastest clam-digger ever to come out of Allegan County, Michigan, I had to show them. Finding a nice size 'button' hole, I dug quickly and smoothly into the cool, damp sand - bare handed I might add. In a few short strokes, I was up to my elbow, and pulled out a nice, large razor clam!

Well, I barely had time to rinse it off in the surf and look up to find the kids had scurried everywhere and were fast at digging! It took the boys alittle longer to catch on, but eventually they all got one! They didn't want to stop digging, but my pocket could only hold so many. Besides, we only had two licenses with us and I wasn't sure what the limit was.

I told them all that clams don't taste good, but they didn't believe me and had to try for themselves. Darn. Next time we'll all be sure to have a license, and then I'll get more than just a taste!

Add Audio or Voice to your Fish Alarm (or other projects)

I purchased a bucket of these pens off ebay for about $0.35 each. They let you record about 25 seconds of sound, and then play it back. The kids love them and wander the house making 'noises' and playing it back over and over and over and over...
I've taken some of the pens, easily soldered wires to the "playback" button inside the pen, and removed the pen (ink) part. As you can see in the picture, a simple bolt fits right into the threading for the pen insert - and the bolt can be used to attach the unit to the fish alarm frame. Easy and cheap! The playback wires are triggered by the fish alarm sensor button, and play a pre-recorded message... "Bert! Bert! Your getting bit!". Its pretty loud, too, without adding an amplifier. Problem is, my bare-footed fishing buddy may require a mild electric shock to roust him from his slumber...

Remote Video Monitoring - Boosting your X10 Video Transmittor

In our battle to keep crows and pheasants out of our garden, we've taken things to a new level. A large apple tree obscures a view of the garden from our bedroom window - we can hear them crows calling from the trees, but can't see if they are on the ground.

A few years ago I modified a cheap wireless video camera ( to boost the power and extend the battery life. Now we can put the camera in the garden, and monitor the garden with my head still on the pillow from bed using my TV and remote control! And, the cameras have night vision for deer!

The cameras typically use 4 'AA' batteries and last about 2-3 hours of video. So... instead I took a cheap 6V waterproof flashlight, simply removed the bulb and drilled a small hole on the side of the lense (not in the glass!) and wired the camera power to the 6V of the flashlight. A power jack in the side of the flashlight makes a quick connection, too!

Pushing the flashlight button powers on the camera, and it will last about 14 hours. I just place the flashlight where I can see the garden and the rest is easy.

Now, if you've been paying attention over the last few weeks of blog postings, you might see where this hack and the airsoft gun hack could have fun potential... right? How about mounting the video camera to the scope of the airsoft gun - to see where the airsoft is aimed at. Power the airsoft trigger puller from the same flashlight, and we could remotely defend our garden. Now to come up with a simple movable base for moving the gun around...

Don't Miss That Fish! - Make Your Own Fish Alarm

Picture this... its late August, the sun is out, your out on the river and the fishing is alittle slow... so... you put the time to good use and take a snooze. But wait - you don't want to miss a fish!

So you could keep a pinky on the fishing pole to wake you from your bliss...

Or, like this guy, you could use an even more sensitive detector - your BARE FOOT !!! Ha! Now that is fishing at its finest!

There are nice fishing alarms you can buy, too, but in today's tight economy, we can make our own!

I've got a pile of cheap, LOUD alarms for a dollar each. And they are LOUD! Great to toss into the kids rooms on a late Saturday morning to rouse the troops to battle!

One of these is our alarm for the fish strike detector - easy to pop the case, and solder to simple wires to the reed switch inside. Also, use the solder iron to open a small hole for the wires to exit.

There is a cool, flexible-but-strong fluid tubing called "locline" used for moving fluids in CNC machines, etc. that we will use for our movable sensor bar. Here, I've gorilla-glued some locline to the alarm, and have inserted a push-button in the other end that will detect the fishing rod movement. The locline is ~$8 per foot on ebay, and 3 pushbuttons cost $3 at Radio Shack.

Here is a simple prototype I rigged to test the system. Note that the wires exit the alarm, and I have a nut attaching the locline to the frame. A 3" spring steel clamp ($1.50 each from will attach the alarm to our fishing pole holder.

Here is the prototype being tested - note how easily (and firmly) the spring clamp holds the alarm to the rod holder. Works pretty good for a proto!

Here is a final design - a simple framing bracket ($0.20 at Ace) with a 3/8" hole drilled and nut to attach the locline to the bracket.

Now we've attached 2 different style spring clamps to the bracket. I'd recommend using vinyl-coated springs for longer life around salt-water.

Here is a 3rd design with the alarm itself attached to the frame. Note another style of spring clamp - this one is the best one (for our Fish-On and Scottie rod holders) and its vinyl-coated. Also note that we've glued a plastic bracket to the sensor button on the end of the locline - to give us better detection.

Here's the final design! We painted the alarm black for stealth-mode - the fish will never see it now!

Keep in mind what side of the rod holder you want the alarm on when you mount it to the frame. If you use a long enough locline, it won't matter.

Position the sensor button on the side of the rod the strike will pull the rod the most. One thing we found - the alarm batteries corrode in a month or 2 from the humidity on the river.

Other than that, our batteries lasted more than 6 months. You can buy a $50 or $60 unit, or you can make one of these for about $15, and its fun with the kids. Now... back to that nap...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Garden Update - Replanting and the Appearance of Fruit!

As mentioned before, the crows did a number on our early corn, so we've replanted 6 more rows. Nice thing is that since we were so early this year getting the garden in, we still have plenty of time getting this last planting into the ground. The nice sunny, hot May weather is also a blessing!

Most of the blossoms are gone, and this week most of the early fruit has appeared! Yeah! All the snow this winter seemed to hammer the strawberries, but they are going strong and vigorous now! Trying to grow inside the shop, even.

You can see here we have ALOT of baby berries. Time to guard against slugs, and put the bird netting out.

Last year we planted a Nectarine tree, and this year it seems we have a few fruit trying to come on. Hurray! I'm curious to see how Nectarines do on this side of the Cascade Mountains... stay tuned.

The cherries are coming on strong, too - about the size of a dime.

The apples are slower to come on, but they are there! So far it looks like another bumper year, so long as the weather, etc hold.

We are alittle disappointed that most of the cherries have NOT developed. I'm not sure if it is the couple of cold days we had, or what, but most of the early cherries are dropping off, and you can see they never really started to grow. Hmmmm...

All of the rasberries and Triple Crown Blackberries are starting to blossom. The canes and bushes are growing and spreading rapidly. We've put in new end-posts, and need to get wiring up to contain and support it all. Makes me hungry!

Boating - Easy Emergency Ladder

I had a small length of roap, and the kids and I decided that if I ever fell overboard, or while swimming we might need some help getting up onto the swim-step on the boat.

As you can see, a couple simple pieces of scrap wood (to make it easier on the barefeet) and the rope quickly became a ladder. This is a quick, easy design that is also much cheaper and smaller to stow away than buying a fold-out ladder.

A loop knot on top over a grommet, and the two steps reach deep enough for us to get a 'leg up' onto the swimstep.

When I'm fishing solo in the boat, I will hook it up (when I remember) just in case I should need to get myself back on-board!

Fish Fry - Enjoying Fresh Sturgeon from the Weekend

We've all enjoyed the pictures, video, and storytelling from the weekend when our son got his first 'keeper' sturgeon. Last night we feasted on fresh fish! Easy to make - we cube the meat up, and soak it in a fry batter. Our favorite batter is "Pride of the West".

We use 2 deep fryers - one can't keep up with the demand of a hungry family. Even the boy who caught the fish (who never has tried sturgeon with us before) tried it this time, and loved it! Darn, another kid to eat it up. Oh well, if he keeps catching them, that will help.

The fried fish is delicious. Definitely our favorite 'white meat.' The kids even like it better than our BBQ'ed salmon fillets! Talk about spoiled kids...

The Garden Battlefield - Keeping Out the Crows!

The crows completely wasted our first planting of corn - only a dozen or so small corn are left, after the black bandits pulled up the small plants and ate off the remainder of the corn seed. Last year it was a rooster Pheasant who came and scratched out all our seeds to eat. This year, we tried an owl decoy. The crows quickly made friends with him, and ate the corn beneath his benevolent gaze... the owl didn't work!

Yesterday, as we replanted 6 more rows of corn, we put up a bunch of shiny, tinsel-like wrapping ribbon all over the garden.

We also strung up several long ribbons across the entire garden.

This morning, early at sunrise, we heard the flock of crows loudly calling from the trees. I sleepily checked the garden (shotgun in hand) and was pleased to see NONE of them were in the garden! They didn't approach the garden, so apparently it seems the tinsel is working... ! We'll keep you updated...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Boating - Solo Hogline Anchor Release

Fishing the Willamette or Columbia Rivers often require you to get in a "hog-line". Now is the time - in between Spring and Fall Salmon runs, to PRACTICE anchoring your boat in a hog-line. Ever year we watch (and photograph) guys trying it for the first time. Boats have collided, sunk, and made enemies quickly. So practice first!

Sometimes I am fishing from a hog-line solo... when the kids are in school, etc. My friend gave me this tip last year and it worked like a champ. When you are the only one in the boat, and you get a fish on, you can't run to the front of the boat to throw the anchor rope out and drift with the fish. So, by simply attaching a metal ring to the anchor rope, above the anchor bouy, I was able to let go of the anchor from the back of my boat while I fought the fish. I simply tied off a shorter length of rope (shown in red) at the front of the boat, ran this rope through the metal ring on the anchor line, and then tied off the end of the red rope to the back end of the boat. When I untied the backend, the red rope slipped through the anchor ring, releasing the boat for me to chase the fish. Easy! Note: make sure the red rope is short enough it will NOT reach into your propellor or jet intake after you boat the fish!

Another hog-line tip... when a bigger boat blows its horn 5 times at you, GET OUT OF THE WAY! If you look close at the photo, there is a boat almost touching the big one - just below the "HANJIN" on the side of the cargo ship.
The sheriff wrote dozens of tickets this day - a very expensive, and dangerous ticket to get.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day - Bike Riding at Fort Stevens

The beautiful weather and long weekend convinced us to load-em-up and head to the coast. Fort Stevens is a beautiful campus with alot of bike trails and things to see.

First stop is always the water and the beach. Good thing the water was cold, or the puddle-jumping little ones would have never left!

The old wreck of the Peter Iredale is nearly gone. Still enough to attract all the little ones to climb on it and play.

We had to triple-team the 2 year old to keep him out of the water... and even then, he still got COMPLETELY soaked!

On to the bikes - the Scotch Broom was in full, glorious bloom. The weather was warm but not hit, and the trails were empty! We expected more of a crowd, but didn't see many people, and the campgrounds only looked 40% full.

The gun batteries were a fun break from the bikes, to explore and talk about the men and women in our history who sacrificed and worked for the freedom we enjoy. Even at our worst, we are the greatest nation in the world, and when we are at our best, we can bless all other people on the earth.

We rode about 13 miles in the day - the trails are nice and flat, so the riding was easy. We could have ridden more, but the kids found the swimming beach at CouffinBury Lake, and they revolted! Water, sand, and sun... oh, and Mom's sandwiches for lunch! I wasn't going to get any more miles out of these guys!

By the time we loaded up the troop carrier (Mean Green), everyone was exhausted, sandy, and shivering. Mom pulled out gooy cookies, and we made the long dash back to base. Mission accomplished.

Bike Repair #8 - The Duct-Tape Tire Patch

Monday morning we decided to spend Memorial Day out at Fort Stevens on the coast - riding bikes. A quick inventory of flat tires and derailed chains found a severly worn-out tire on a little girl's bike... apparently big brother has had fun leaving skid-marks all over the driveway, at the expense of the tire. It was down to the inner tube in several places.

So, in true NorthWest fashion, we came up with a quick fix - we'd patch the tire and protect the inner tube with duct tape!
5 minutes and we had quickly wrapped 3 layers of tape around the inner tube, tested it, and re-installed the wheel.

Here's the finished tire. We rode more than 12 miles on it out at Fort Stevens, without a care. She wasn't even careful! Its still holding are, and looks great. We'll see how long it will last!
Big brother is wondering if it will leave a shiny silver skid-mark on the driveway...

Campout - Multnomah Channel

We had so much fun last year circumnavigating Sauvie's Island, that we did it again this May, too. We started out in Scappoose Bay, and motored out to the Columbia River.

It is about 45 minutes from St Helens to Kelly Point on the Willamette River - the wind was up and the river was choppy, so we had to go slower.

Alot of people were out on the river taking advantage of the breezy afternoon, kite-surfing. We had to stop and watch for awhile.

Fishing Friday night was actually very slow - only two bites... but one of them was a keeper! Here's a happy 10 year old - he's smiling in the picture, but was complaining about how tired his arms and back were!
His 15 minutes of hard work paid off - with a nice 46" keeper! (51" from nose to tip-of-the-tail). Its almost bigger than he is.
After fishing, we motored up into the mouth of Multnomah Channel, and after what seemed like forever (most of the channel is No Wake Zone, because of the floating houses) we made it to Hadley's Landing. Alas, it was full! The campground was empty, except for the crowds letting their little dogs use the bushes, but there was nowhere for our little boat to park!
We found a spot to park the boat, and slept in the boat that night. Just enough room for the 4 of us to stretch out. Very nice way to sleep! The water was calm, the air was cool and fresh, and the bugs stayed on shore.
Sunrise broke and we were all up early to fish some more. The tide was off, and a bad upriver wind hampered the fishing on the Willamette again, so after only a couple of "shakers", we motored the length of the channel back to Scappoose Bay. We did fish the 'birdhouse', Coon Island, and 'Boise' fishing holes, but no action at any of these.
A great trip, and alot of fun. The weather was awesome! These "Huck Finn" camping trips on the river are our favorites - it is easy, just like "car camping" at a normal campground, but no crowds (all the yacht'ers stay in their boats with their wine and cheese) and beautiful on the river. Always something to fish for, too!
Here is a great video of our 'cabin boy' fighting his fish - hope you enjoy!