Weather: breezy, 60’s the entire week, no rain
Moon Phase: Full Moon
Location: Minnesota Boundary Waters
Species Caught: Smallmouth, Pike, Lake Trout, Walleye, Rock Bass
Bait: Smallmouth and Rock Bass – drop-shot, Pike, Walleye, Lake Trout – rapalas, crankbaits
Who Went: John, Joe, Isaac, MeI was lucky enough to travel to Minnesota to fish The Boundary Waters Canoe Area from June 11-18. This is an area made up of thousands of lakes crossing over into Canada from Minnesota. My buddy John’s uncle lives nearby in Wisconsin and had all the gear packed and loaded when he picked us up at the Minneapolis Airport. We couldn’t have done this trip without him and his canoes and gear. Here's how it all went down…
Day 1 (Saturday) - Arrived in Minneapolis around 2 p.m. where we met up with John’s Uncle Joe and his 12 year old son Isaac. Loaded our gear into their trailblazer with the canoes on a trailer behind us and hit the road heading due north towards Canada. A few hours later we were in Duluth.Duluth is a really cool little town that sits right on Lake Superior. It’s a really pretty area with rolling hills covered in pines and aspen and a lake the size of an ocean. For the next 135 miles we drove north along the shoreline of Lake Superior and WOW! It really is a freshwater ocean. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous throughout the drive, and I even spotted a black bear hanging out along the road. We finally arrived in Grand Marais which is the last town with any services before heading into the boundary waters. We ate pizza at Sven and Ole’s to get one last hot meal before a week of dehydrated dinners and Carnation Instant Breakfast. Across the street from the pizza shop was this encouraging looking store with a big walleye sticking out the side.We reached our lodge at the boundary waters around 8:00 p.m., and walked down to Lake Saganaga and made a few casts. I snagged a turtle for my first catch of the trip, but the picture didn't turn out. Nothing else was caught, so we got our gear ready and went to bed early.
Day 2 (Sunday) – Woke up early to all you can eat pancakes and then loaded into a transport boat that took us with all our gear across Lake Saganaga to what they call American Point.There are no motor boats allowed west of this point so we were on our own with gear and canoes for the next 6 days. The transport boat was set to pick us up at 5:00 p.m. on Friday.
We loaded the canoes with all our gear, got out the map, and headed due west into a great big wilderness of Canadian Shield rock and crystal clear lakes.We hit the rowing hard the first day traveling 7 miles on water and approximately ½ mile on land where we had to portage all our gear and canoes over what they call monument portage. It wasn't easy, with uphill terrain for about a ¼ mile, but we made it through to the other side and launched the canoes onto Otter Track Lake.Otter Track was supposed to be the best fishing lake on our designated route and as hard as the rowing and portaging was, we decided that we had to make a choice… row hard every day to finish the designed loop that we planned with the guide at the lodge, or set up a base camp at Otter Track Lake and make it a fishing trip instead of a canoeing trip… I think you all know what we decided to do! We found one of the designated camp sites and set up camp at Otter Track Lake where we spent the next 4 days fishing.We got a little fishing in that evening, but the long travel took most of our day. I caught one small lake trout in Lake Saganaga as I trolled a rapala on our journey to Otter Track, but that was the only fish caught on our 7 ½ mile journey. At Otter Track we found a small cove across from camp where we got about an hour of fishing in the first night. I caught a few small pike and John landed some nice smallmouth in the 3-4 pound range. Little did we know that the smallmouth fishing was just heating up!
Day 3 (Monday) – We hit the water early and traveled in the canoe across the lake to the Canadian side. Otter Track Lake is divided by the border of U.S.A and Canada. We found out later that we were not supposed to be fishing in Canada, but too little to late as we spent half our trip in Canadian waters… oops! That morning the pike were going nuts and we had them following every lure we threw. We caught 3 or 4 of them, but they were all small under 30-inches.We started getting into smallmouth quite often and I was amazed at the size. Everyone seemed to be a carbon copy 3 pound smallmouth with a few going 4 pounds.If we would have known that the pike fishing was going to completely shut off after the first day we would have continued to pursue them, but we figured it would be that way the entire trip and they almost got annoying the first day. The canoe fishing was starting to wear on my back and butt, so we headed back to camp to rest for a couple hours.
That evening we hit it hard again from the canoe and instantly got into some awesome smallmouth up close to shore. They were picky buggers though and wouldn’t touch a curly tailed grub or crankbaits, but would hammer topwater baits or a robo worm on a drop-shot rig. We figured it out quickly and went solely to the topwater. It was a blast while it lasted, but we only had one topwater bait each and it wasn’t long before a nice smallie snapped John’s line ending his topwater action. Soon after John lost his, I made the dumbest cast of my life and my topwater bait became a tree ornament high up in a big pine where we couldn’t get it. It was a total bummer because topwater is one of the most exciting ways to catch bass, but nothing we could do, they were both gone. The drop-shot became our best tactic for bass the rest of the trip.
Day 4 (Tuesday) – We finally figured out that fishing from a canoe was not much fun and wore on the body pretty quick. It doesn’t help when you got a 330 pound dude in the back weighing it down and making it pretty unstable the whole time (sorry John), but it wasn’t a big deal because we came up with a sweet idea that made the whole trip! Shore fishing! We picked a good looking point across the lake and took our cooking and fishing gear and beached the canoes.We fished from shore all day and caught tons of bass. We kept five good smallmouths to eat and had fish tacos for lunch that were absolutely amazing!The smallmouth fishing continued to be unreal and we caught multiple bass in the 3-4 pound range. The bass were on their beds spawning and it made it really fun for sight fishing. The water was super clear down to about 20 feet so seeing them was easy. We would walk the shoreline and look for the biggest bass and cast right on top of them and their bed. It was instant action and as soon as you let the fish go they would swim right back to protect their bed and we would harass and catch them a second time. Funny thing was they never would fall for it a third time, instead they would start tail slapping your bait away from the bed. I caught the biggest smallmouth of my life at 4 pounds and I caught her twice! She had just spawned so she didn’t have as much weight as you would expect and was kind of skinny, but her length and depth was huge! Below are two pictures of the same bass caught a half hour apart.Later on that evening we started throwing rapalas into deeper water hoping to hook up with a walleye or big pike and Joe soon caught the first walleye of the trip with this nice 20+ inch walleye.I set Isaac up with the drop-shot rig and he was in seventh heaven and kept telling me how he was going to be the coolest kid in Rice Lake, Wisconsin when his friends saw his new fishing technique. It was pretty cool helping a 12 year old kid master the drop-shot technique and watching him consistently land 4 pound smallmouth.Isaac was quite the kid and you can tell he has grown up in the back country with his dad and knew his way around camp. He filleted all our fish, and tried to kill every living animal he ever laid his eyes on. You gotta love 12 year old boys! He tried to murder our camp host (squirrel) the whole trip but never did succeed. Here is a picture of him trying to burn the squirrel out of his hole so he could stab him with the filet knife!He also harassed a loon that tried attacking me after getting to close to her nest. I took a photo of the bird as she came after me trying to protect her nest.I was scared to death of this big bird, but Isaac crawled over to her nest and as the loon was biting a stick he was waving at it, he would pet her with his other hand. I’ve got to hand it to you Isaac, you got some brass ones! That evening was just like the rest with beautiful calm water and an amazing sunset.
Day 5 (Wednesday) – We picked out a different point with shore access and made another day of it. We continued to pummel big smallies and had another shoreline lunch with fish fried in a flour and seasoning salt concoction that I brought. The fish lunches were one of the highlights of the trip. There is nothing like eating fresh fish straight from your hook and into the frying pan.This time we cooked up 8 or 9 bass and pigged out big time! It was an all you can eat fish buffet and it was pretty tasty, but it wore out of the big fella and shortly after lunch this is how I found him...That evening we fished a little deeper again in hopes of catching a walleye and just like the night before Joe landed another nice one.I was still blanked for walleye at this point and everyone was sick of hearing me whine about it, but the truth is, that’s why I traveled 2,000 miles to Minnesota was to catch these elusive fish.
Day 6 (Thursday) – Joe and I woke up early and each took out a canoe on our own. I worked the entire shoreline with jigs tipped with leeches trying to entice a walleye, but it never happened. I did catch a rock bass which was a new species to add to my list. They are small and don’t get very big and almost have the same look as a bluegill. It's always fun catching new species of fish.I put on a pike bait and had a follow on my first cast, but didn’t see another one the rest of the morning. I met up with Joe on the Canadian side of the lake and we found a rocky outcrop that produced 5 nice smallmouths for that day’s lunch. We headed back to camp and Isaac filleted them for us and we enjoyed yet another good lunch eating fish tacos. This day was very calm and overcast and the only day we had with no wind.We decided that instead of chancing a strong headwind on our journey back to American Point the next day, we would make the long haul back that afternoon with calm water and camp near our pick-up spot where we were meeting them the following day. It ended up being a good idea because a storm moved in and we would have had a strong headwind the next day.
We slowly made the journey back over monument portage and 7 miles of rowing only stopping if we saw something that looked fishy, or to take a picture of the beautiful scenery.We did stop at a lake named Swamp Lake, which was really shallow, but filled with small pike. I caught a few before we continued on to American Point.We found a great camp spot at American Point and set up camp for the night. John and I headed out in the canoe for some evening fishing and found a cove filled with more hammer handle pike in the 18- 25 inch range. We caught a few along with a couple smallmouths, but that was it.
Day 7 (Friday) – We woke up early and hit the water for one last morning of fishing. We fished pike bay once again and they were everywhere, but none with any size. We caught a few before burning out on catching little pike. There weren’t many other areas to fish at American Point so we went back to camp and slowly started packing gear. We met up with Voyageur Outfitters at 5 and they loaded our canoes and gear and we headed back to the lodge. We unloaded our gear and ate a big old bacon cheeseburger out on the patio of the lodge. After 5 days of dehydrated food it seemed like the best burger I’ve ever had! I pressed the locals for some walleye information, still not giving up hope that I might catch a walleye before I left Minnesota and I got some great inside information on where to go. Everybody reluctantly loaded into the truck to satisfy my walleye quest and we headed down to the supposed honey hole with a couple hours left of daylight to catch me a walleye. The area was tough fishing from shore, with limited access and ticks everywhere, making it hard to concentrate on fishing. Needless to say I left Minnesota with a walleye skunk smell on my hands! It was a tough one to swallow.
Day 8 (Saturday) – Got up early at the lodge and put a dent in the all you can eat pancakes. Hit the road stopping in Duluth to ship our rods back to Utah and ate some lunch. Then we headed straight to the airport in Minneapolis where John about got arrested for leaving his Leatherman in his carryon bag. He had to leave it at the Minnesota Airport. After one layover in Denver we arrived in Utah at 11:30 p.m. and the rest is history.
Conclusion: One of the most fun fishing trips I’ve ever had. Joe and Isaac are awesome dudes and John had us rolling on the ground every minute with his witty sense of humor. He knows every line to every movie I could think of and can recite them perfectly. I felt like I watched the movie “The Edge” and didn’t even need to have a TV there to do it… "We luuuuure him Charles!" He fell out of the canoe once, and ripped his only three pairs of pants by the second day (picture below).Because he tore all three pairs of pants and fell out of the canoe soaking his only long sleeve hoodie, he was forced to wear his last T-shirt with his long johns over the top for most of the trip. It was quite the sight and looked like he was wearing a dress (see below). Definitely a trip I will never forget!