After spending the last number of days on the water and now land-locked if only for
the next day I decided to give some thought to a daily approach that seems to
be very normal in my world or at least in my boat. It really began last Saturday afternoon when arriving at a small lake with a friend. I’ve fished the lake before but this was the first time this year. It’s really quite small, surrounded by trees with a few cabins and crystal clear water. As we drifted away from the launch the rods started coming out of the locker. Each had a different offering for the fish in the attempt to put together the daily puzzle of what will work on this day. One had a Sumpn Sumpn swim jig, another a mushroom jig with 4” worm, another a small Texas rig, a tube bait, a small crank bait, a small round-headed Sumpn Sumpn skirted jig with a Zoom craw as a trailer and a topwater frog on braided line with heavy action rod. Basically a pile of rods to choose from. MinnKota down and our search
began. Zig sagging from shallow to deep we began poking into the cabbage weed, under the trees, to the deep weed edge and beyond. About 30 minutes later we came to an underwater point clearly marked on the Humminbird Lakemaster chip. Wayne was the first to announce
“Here’s one!” After a considerable struggle with 6 lb P-Line on spinning tackle the fish came into the boat. A nice one too about 3 pounds. When releasing it he looked at me and said
“the worm was just sitting on the bottom when he picked it up!” “Well try it again” I said. My favorite tube bait wasn’t doing much except for a couple pecks as he leaned back on the rod again eventually landing another nice fish. Switching rods we continued around the deep edge of that point. I tried various baits with little success but the worm kept workin’. We also noticed the north side of the point had more activity. So the plan was made. I switched to a pumpkin 4” Berkley worm on a 1/8th oz mushroom jig too not leaving that point. About 3 hours later we had boated about 15 really nice fish from these light-biting fish while mostly
dead-sticking on the deep edge of that one point.
Day 2 brought morning rain with a misty cloudy afternoon. Another lake, larger than the first with lots of structure. The DNR’s Lake Finder web program indicated a healthy population of smallies so with the rain coming down we fired up the Contour Elite program on the computer still waiting in the cabin. When plugging in the smallmouth species, summer, clouds in the late morning/afternoon times red highlighted areas on the lakemap suggested areas to begin the next puzzle assembly. With the software generated GPS coordinates loaded into the 998 we pulled on rain gear and launched into the lake. Earlier this year I had looked for the ccess two different times unable to find it but persistence does pay off and it was indeed there. Again a new lake. Rods again stacked on the deck but gone was the frog and added was a shallow running crank bait and a perch-colored Zara Spook. The clouds, rain and calm winds
prompted the choices. The first spot was the tip of a point with steep drop into 35 feet of water. Picking up the little crankbait my first cast yielded about a 2 lb smallie. Hmmm! A couple casts later parallel to the drop over about 25 feet of water the small bait produced again on the retrieve pause. This time a dandy! As it jumped, dove and thrashed around we
laughed, ooed and ohhhd! It was really fun! Before releasing it we checked –21” of gorgeous fish. Wayne picked the spook and we talked about how to walk it. A few minutes later he connected- another smallie! So up one side and down the other we worked
that point. Mist turned to real rain but the bite was on so no complaints. Largemouth deeper in the weeds, smallies over deep water and closer to the edge provided almost constant action. No plastics or jigs today!
Day 3 found us back on the same lake but under sunny skies. The topwater worked again early as we positioned ourselves off tips of points. The same was true for the little crankbait but as the sun heated up so did the swim jig. It was chartreuse tipped with a similar colored Zoom Fat Albert trailer. The key to fishing the swim jig is letting the fish eat the bait then a sweeping hook set. By mid-afternoon we guessed the number of boated fish was around 30 so again a good day but each was a puzzle a bit different than the one before.
On day 4 I set out alone as Wayne had to head home. Planning to go to a totally new lake again I spent some time on Contour Elite the night before getting some idea of a beginning spot. Idling over areas with Side Imaging I picked some areas. Under sunny skies with a SW
wind I looked both shallow and deep. From the pile of rods I tied on both shallow and deep cranks, Texas-rigged craws, tubes and topwater. Nothing! Next an underwater point
that looked to have an inside turn with steep drop into 30+ feet of water. Picking up the small rubber skirted jig tipped with a Zoom Speed Craw a cast to shallower water then dragging it down the edge produced. A hookset with braided line and stiff rod worked but not the species I thought. This was a northern in the 5-7 lb class. After 5 more along that deep 30’ edge I decided it was time to go back and take the dogs swimming.
So with the pile of rods back in the locker the day ended but a great few days on the water. One of the pike came back with me too. With the Y bones removed it proved to be a tasty supper with enough for the neighbors across the road too. I’ll be back on the same lake tomorrow too trying to figure it out a bit better.
Next time you head to the lake make use of your own “pile of rods” to begin putting
together the daily puzzle of where, what and how! It’s really why I love to fish! Sometimes though that puzzle is just too tough but then there will be tomorrow and a new one to work on!
Recently while talking about the “Take A Kid Fishing” weekend during the Fan Outdoors
broadcast emotions almost got the better of me. The topic is of significant importance on both a very personal and professional level. The personal part has to do with my love of the outdoors including the fact that as a parent it was extremely important to share and teach my sons, Erik and Chad about the outdoor world much the same as my own father did. The process is by no means difficult but it does require a purposeful approach in the parenting process. On the professional level it became very clear that for too many kids the outdoor experience of fishing or hunting is not widely shared or taught.
As a young adult, at my dad’s urging and following his lead I became a volunteer MN
Firearm Safety Instructor teaching classes for more than 30 years. These classes were filled with personal stories coupled with conservation, ethics and the importance of firearm safey. Sharing a love of fishing began within a career in public education taking place over a span of 20 years. With the help of colleagues and fishing friends we allowed thousands of young people to experience a day on the water in boats with adult mentors . It was while remembering some of those kids and their stories that my emotions almost got the best of me. Thanks too for Bob St.Pierre bailing me out because finding words at that moment was
Now as I sit in the cabin looking out at the lake during yet another rainy day it’s easy to
reflect back on some of those times. The biggest parent mistake I almost made was while on Lake Minnetonka with a very young Erik. We had driven to the lake, launched and began fishing but my intent was misplaced as we got on a weedline and began a bass search. He soon became bored with the deep water probing announcing he wanted to go home. Raising my voice my reply was “we’re not leaving yet so just sit down!” Quietly he sat down and began to cry. It was like a “hey stupid” hammer that hit me as this duhhhh moment rang home. With an “I’m sorry buddy” we packed up and went home. The note to self read “if
you’re taking a child fishing keep that as the only focus in the day!” That was a parenting lesson I’ve never forgotten and a mistake never made again! Now the tables have turned and it’s me that suggests to them that it might be time to head home.
Today it’s very quiet here but for the pattering of rain on the roof. Both dogs are sound asleep at least for the moment. But as I stand and turn 360 degrees there are so many memories in every direction. Memories filled with family and friends. Fishing, hunting, water skiing, campfires and overnights. That same oil burner is warming the cabin right now in exactly the same way it did so many years ago. The same 12’ Crestliner sits on a
trailer in the green shed too. A boat I learned to fish in and the same boat both boys also first explored Sauk Lake. Learning to drive that little boat and eventually going alone was a big deal-I know because I did it too.
Most of my family from that era are gone now and the cabin has become ours. The memories will live on and here comes the lesson. This grand experience we call the “outdoors” is still here! I’ve spent a lot of years teaching young minds and helping them be better prepared for
their tomorrow but the greatest treasures in my life are family. Both boys have developed a deep love and profound respect for the outdoor experiences. In that I am very proud!
How about you? Don’t miss the opportunity when it comes around. I promise you won’t regret it.
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!