On most days we hook onto the boat with plans for a day on the water. It might be with friends, family or even solo but the ultimate goal is to have a relaxing good time along with some finny critters tugging on the line. The end result may be a meal or simply a personal satisfaction in knowing you caught and next watched that big one swim away. For me it also included fishing for cash but often the end result was spending plenty and a tired trip home. Well if you’d like to make a memory to last a lifetime I’d like to offer some insight into how you can do just that!
It’s certainly not real difficult but will require some advance planning. It’s also not super expensive but know too that people travel from long distances even across the globe for the experience and it’s sitting just north of us waiting to be had. It begins with a drive up near the Canadian border to a small town whose storied history has deep roots in the mining industry, Ely, Minnesota. You can but you really won’t need to pull a boat up either. Here’s where the planning comes in with a call to a local Ely outfitter. Help can be had with a call to the Ely Chamber of Commerce too. You’ll need to apply for a permit because your destination is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Options are a day trip or a multi-day experience. I’ve only made a few day trips in but some overnights are extremely appealing. Next is tackle prep. Used to being in my boat this was difficult but getting what I thought I’d need into 1 Ranger tackle bag is possible but be sure to bring an extra spool of line. I always fish 6 lb P-Line and needed some extra due to angler “over-shots” and “loops!” First time of the year ya know! Also bring only 1 or 2 rods ‘n reels with open face spinning being a great choice. Why? Simply put it’s because there’s just not that much room in the canoe. The BWCA is an extremely large area offering diverse experiences but the fishing was our choice.
At 6 am Steve Kleist, a retired teacher with extensive BWCA experience picked me up from the Grand Ely Lodge. Used to launching from a trailer at the access we lifted the boat from the rack above his truck, packed our stuff and headed out. Some lakes allow motors, at least these did so with 9.9 horses for power, two portages and two hours of travel we got to Basswood Lake. Steve’s tackle consisted of a small plastic box with a half dozen jigs, a couple spoons and a couple top water plugs. Oh yea we had one more thing I’m not used to – a minnow bucket with a bunch of fatheads and shiners. Our first and only walleye stop was some slack water below a falls with rushing water above and to the side. We both tied on jigs tipped with minnows dropping them to the bottom. Steve’s skill with a paddle was obvious as he maneuvered the canoe as though he was using a foot-controlled Minn-Kota instead of the paddle. Didn’t take long for the first fish as Steve set the hook hard. I missed the first 3 but once I got into more of the Mike Kurre style of hook setting we were both catching fish. About an hour later Steve commented that “unless I’ve mistakenly taken my 18 hook stringer we’ve got 1 to go!” The next 2 or 3 fish were too big to be keepers as were a number before along with some too small but with the 12th hook filled Steve again said “how bout some smallies now?” If the truth be known I could have stayed and caught walleyes all day long but he knew bass were really what I was all about so we made a change. Along the way we stopped on a flat part of shoreline to clean the fish. The stringer acted like a bulky rudder off the canoe so it had to go. Another angler had the same idea from the skeletons left behind. With skins attached Steve packed the fillets into a collapsible Styrofoam cooler and broke an athletic cold pack to keep them cold. What a great idea!
Next a quiet rocky shoreline thinking the water should be warmer with the sunny sky above. A number of bait offerings later it seemed the Rapala Husky Jerk would be a bait of choice. It was a “jerk, jerk, jerk, stop” retrieve that produced. Nice smallies in the 3-4+ pound class and a bunch of them. Each was also prespawn but had the typical crabby smallmouth attitude and great fun to catch.
Around the next point was a marshy area with some dead weeds from the year before. Turtles sunning themselves on floating logs along with an occasional duck noisily scolding us as we invaded their nesting turf was just a small part of the scenery. The same bait on the same 6 lb line suddenly produced a Jaws-like V in the water. With rod doubled and line slicing the water like a hot knife in butter the fight was on. Again Steve had complete control as the fish pulled the bow back and forth. This would be the largest of the 5 or 6 before. As it came to the surface I said to Steve “I don’t think my hand will fit across the back of his head – any suggestions?” There was only silence as a reply! Options rolled through my thoughts. If we do boat this thing it’s gonna be a mess. If I try to grab him a head shake could put 2 trebles in my hand – a bad thing! Cut the line? Then I noticed the tired fish had only one hook in his jaw as Steve reached for his Leatherman. “That’s a Big fish” was all he said reaching over the side. The next thing was this big Northern Pike, the biggest of my lifetime was slowly swimming away! Together we guessed it was somewhere between 15 and 20 pounds. Wow what a fish and more importantly what a day! With a 2 hour trip back in front of us we decided to call it a day and headed out.
I hope these pictures will give you some idea of the day but more importantly I sincerely hope you will use our experience as incentive to make a memory of your own beginning in Ely!
I for one absolutely can’t wait to go back!
A special thanks to Steve Kleist for both his friendship and affording me a unique experience and also Linda Fryer, recently retired Executive Director of the Ely Chamber of Commerce for making our trips possible!
This is one memory I will cherish forever! Make plans and Make a Memory of your very own in Ely!