Category: Fishing

Recap: 2018 Winter Lake Trout Season on the Gunflint Trail

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It feels a little strange to write a recap on the winter lake trout fishing season when Gunflint Trail lakes are still covered with more than two feet of ice and the entire Great Lakes region is seized in Snowpocalypse 2018. During this very long winter, lake trout season proved a very welcome diversion. Usually lake trout season’s start at the end of December correlates with when winter is really starting to sink its teeth into the Northland and by the time the season closes at the end of March, the lakes’ snow cover has often completely melted off. But this year, the season started in what felt like deep winter and ended in what still felt like deep winter, so the fact that we couldn’t ice fish for lake trout either now or in early December feels especially arbitrary. 

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If you follow any of our social media (Facebook or Instagram) this winter, you know we take ice fishing pretty seriously. We don’t have much time in the summer to get out fishing, so we like to make the most of it during the hard water season. Primarily, we target lake trout for no real reason other than that’s what we’ve always done. 
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Andy does his best to get out fishing at least once a week in the winter and usually gets out more often than that. So when a quick gander at our Facebook and Instagram feeds might make it look like we enjoy endless ice fishing success, the reality’s more like that quip about Carnegie Hall.

New York City pedestrian: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Answer: Practice, practice, practice.

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Behind each smiling photo of someone holding out a beautiful lake trout, there are literally hours of waiting by the hole, debates on whether to move or switch baits, eating snacks, and jigging off minnows. 

 
Ada Sag Lake trout

Some of us are more patient than others. I collected a grand total of one fish photo this winter. Andy on the other hand . . . 

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Of course, sometimes the fish at the end of the line isn’t what you expect. Usually you can tell if you’ve hooked a northern pike, but some surprises this season included a burbot aka eelpout aka lawyer fish (pictured above) and even a smallmouth bass! 

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Getting out in the early part of the winter lake trout season can be tough. The temps are usually pretty cold and it’s often windy. This year proved no exception to that rule with long stretches of days where the highs were below zero. However, the low snow totals this winter made it easy to get out on area lakes once the temps warmed up a bit and from late January through the end of March, ice fishing was an at least weekly occurrence.  

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We don’t have any real tips for winter lake trout fishing success other than to be patient, take note of what seems to work for your group, and be willing to try new lakes and fishing spots from year to year. Andy invested in a couple new Haat Rods for this season and those paired with white tube jigs (the hot bait for this year)  and his trusty MarCum landed countless trout. 

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Check out our winter report page for a full recap of Winter 2017/18. 

Did you get out fishing this winter? 

The Best Ice Fishing Lakes for Kids on the Gunflint Trail

Seagull 2017 ice fishing march

Ice fishing can be a hard sell for even the most devoted warm weather anglers. But here on the Gunflint Trail, ice fishing is a way of life and we can’t imagine not spending some (okay, a lot of) time each winter staring down a hole in the ice, hoping a fish will bite. 

Although you can ice fish many different species, we primarily target lake trout and each winter, we field questions about where people should take themselves and/or their kids on their first Gunflint Trail lake trout ice fishing day trip. 

Over time, we’ve developed three criteria we feel lakes should meet to be considered for a first-timer lake trout ice fishing expedition, especially when kids are coming along: 

Moss Lake Gunflint Trail Grand Marais

1) Easy to get to

We think the focus on anyone’s first ice fishing adventure should be on fishing, not on a three-mile slog across windblown lakes to reach the “best” fishing spot, or picking your way down a steep portage trying not to slip or spill the minnow bucket (and you know, if you go down the steep portage, you’re going to have to go back up it at the end of the day . . .). The sooner you can get lines in the water and a rod in your kid’s hand, the more likely they’ll maintain the enthusiasm they had for this ice fishing expedition when you headed out the door in the morning. 
2) Close to the car

This goes hand and hand in with point #1, but it’s an important enough point to deserve its own bullet point. If things go south and someone stages a mutiny at some point in the day, it’s nice to have a fairly short trip back to your vehicle. On the other hand, if the fishing is really fabulous and everyone’s having the time of their lives, not having a long haul back to the car means you can stay out on the lake a little longer at the end of the day. And in the advent that something got forgotten in the car or even back in the cabin, it’s nice to have that not automatically mean the end of the entire trip. 

3) High rate of success 

You know the quip, “the fishing was good, but the catching wasn’t.” While we’ve all been skunked, a day spent ice fishing with nothing to show for your labors is not what you want on someone’s first trip. When it comes to ice fishing with kids, we think quantity is better than quality. For that reason, we usually recommend lakes with young (and aggressive) lake trout populations, rather than lakes known for large, but consequently more finicky, trout. We think for kids catching something, anything, is better than fishing for hours in hopes of catching “the big one.” Regardless of the fish’s size, it’s just plain exciting to catch fish and let us not forget that the whole point is to have fun. 

So . . . you might be wondering, what lakes on the Gunflint Trail actually meet this criteria? 

Daniels Lake in Winter in the Boundary Waters We call it the “Moss-Duncan-Daniels” trifecta. All three lakes are accessed off the Hungry Jack Lake Road, in the mid-trail area of the Gunflint Trail. We usually recommend that people start out on Moss, since there’s a parking area right off the Hungry Jack Rd and it’s only a 1/3 mile hike on a packed trail to reach the lake. It’s known for its large population of small lake trout (average weight is 1.1 lbs) and tends to have a high rate of angler success.

Even better, if fishing is slow, it’s easy to pack up and portage into Duncan Lake. The fishing will probably be slower on Duncan, but the portage from Moss to Duncan is scenic and a fun adventure to break up the fishing, if need be. Alternatively, you can shake things up by driving the mile down the Hungry Jack Lake Rd road to the West Bearskin public access. From there, hike across West Bearskin and portage in Daniels Lake, which is also known for a large population of smaller trout. 

Other tips for successful ice fishing with kids: 

Keep everybody warm. Make sure everyone’s bundled up as warmly as possible and be sure to throw in extra socks and mittens in case anyone’s hands or feet get wet. (Here are our tips for what to wear in the winter in the Boundary Waters.) Remember that ice fishing is sedentary by nature; if your kid protests the extra sweater, remind them that they’re not going to sledding; they’re literally going to be standing outside for hours on end. Even the warmest day of ice fishing can turn chilly if the wind picks up. If you don’t own one, figure out a way to borrow or rent a shelter and space heater so people can escape from the elements and thaw out fingers and toes. 

Give everyone a job. There are a lot of things kids can’t do when it comes to ice fishing, especially when you’re setting up. They probably can’t drill holes or bait their own lines. Avoid apathetic young ice anglers,by teaching them how to use the fish finder to check lake depth. Or have them scoop the ice out of the holes or let them scoop up the minnows when you bait their hooks. 

Throw in the UNO cards. If you’re planning an all-day ice fishing adventure, you can bank on having some slow time. When the bite cools down, but no one’s ready to throw in the towel just yet, it’s nice to have something non-fishing related to keep people distracted until a tip-up goes up. The more fun you can make that first ice fishing trip, the more likely you’ll have kids asking about “next time.” 

Try the strategy of pairing. No one can guarantee a successful day of ice fishing, but you can pair your trip with a predictably enjoyable event. I’m not saying you have to go to Trail Center at the end of your ice fishing adventure, but it is right there when you’re turning onto the Gunflint Trail from the Hungry Jack Road . . .

Have you gone ice fishing with kids? What are your tips for first-timers? 

 

How to Ice Fish in the Boundary Waters

IMG_7846We spend most of our free time in the first three months of each year ice fishing for lake trout. Because our business keeps us busy all summer long, in any given year, we spend considerably more time fishing in “hard water” conditions than we do on open water.

Boundary Waters Ice Fishing Lake Trout Tip up rod catch

Ice fishing can seem a little daunting. For one thing, it can be downright chilly and people are sometimes apprehensive to invest in the specific gear needed for ice fishing. But while you might have to work a little harder to succeed at ice fishing, that just makes the experience all the more rewarding. The specialized gear needed is limited to a few rods, ice scoops, and augers. Best of all, ice fishing is a great excuse to spend sometime outdoors in the winter months, even if you come home empty handed.

Throughout the year, we hear a lot of questions from those curious about trying their hand at ice fishing. What’s your favorite lure? What’s the best hand auger? Why don’t you use a sled to haul your gear? To answer all those questions and more, Andy put together this ice fishing gear video tutorial.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to make a list of all the gear Andy mentions in the video.  Just use our printable ice fishing packing list as an easy reference point when you pack for your next ice fishing adventure in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Ice Fishing PACKING LIST

Here’s one of the lures highlighted in the video:
Best Lake Trout Ice Fishing Lure

The DNR’s Lake Finder website is a great resource to guide you in choosing a Gunflint Trail lake to ice fish on. You can always give us a shout at 218-388-2221 for lake recommendations too.

Good luck anglers!

 

What’s Winter Doing on the Gunflint Trail?

The Gunflint Trail hasn’t been exempt from the unseasonably warm weather that’s swept across the Midwest the past couple weeks. This weekend, temperatures soared to the 50s on the upper Gunflint Trail and that leaves us in a strange limbo season: not quite winter, but definitely not quite spring either. Until we hear winter’s final death knell, we’re planning to wring as much winter recreation as we can out of this fleeting season. We’ll just be wearing sunscreen and sunglasses a little more often than we’ve been in the last couple months.

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Winter campers are still heading out into the Boundary Waters. One group this past weekend landed 17 lake trout on Tuscarora Lake and also caught a brook trout as they passed through Missing Link Lake.

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We fished Seagull Lake on Friday and while we weren’t quite as successful as the Tuscarora group, we did manage to get a couple lake trout on the ice.

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The snow layer has melted off the lakes’ surfaces, which makes travel across the lakes very easy. It’s nice not to hassle with snowshoes, although you’ll want those if you’re traveling through the woods since the snow is a little punchy off of packed trails. (If you’re a cross country skier, Bearskin Lodge is reporting “surprisingly good” ski conditions.) We’re planning to take advantage of the smooth sailing this week to get some ice fishing in on the western end of Seagull Lake. A couple evening cookouts on Missing Link are on the docket too.

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No doubt it will be an earlier ice out than we’ve had the last couple springs, but we believe the lakes will be safe to traverse at least until lake trout season closes on March 31st. The cool down (and grey skies) predicted for this week should help maintain the ice, so barring a string of 70 degree days, we will not be beating 2012’s record ice out dates this year.

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We drilled a hole in Round Lake yesterday (Sunday, March 13) and found 21 inches of ice. There’s about 4 inches of slush on top, with about 17 inches of ice underneath.

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Until the ice is off the lakes, we wish you Bon Hiver!

Oh, These Maple Sugar Days

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A couple years ago, somewhat inadvertently, I wrote a series of articles about Minnesota maple syrup producers. I’m no maple syrup expert, but I do always remember that when temperatures climb above freezing in the day and then fall back below freezing at night, that’s when maple sap starts flowing through the tree trunks and maple syrup producers start firing up their big evaporators. Now each spring when the sun shines high and bright in the sky and snow starts drip, drip, dripping off the pine branches and packed trails grow slick and smooth, I crave waffles. I’ve come to think of these days as “maple sugar” days, especially since this is when the hot sun melts the snow into a texture similar to granulated sugar.

February Sunshine on Tuscarora Portage BWCA

We’re not quite at the 2016 maple sap run just yet (it’s currently -3ºF), but like the rest of the state, we had quite the “maple sugar” day on Saturday. I took one look out the window on Saturday morning at the brilliant blue sky and decided two things: 1) I was done taking a Vitamin D supplement until November and 2) It was a good day for adventure.

McKenzie Tuscarora map BWCAW

We jumped on the bandwagon and headed into Tuscarora Lake. Starting on Wednesday, we watched group after group head across Round Lake for the Missing Link portage. By the time Saturday morning rolled around, there were about 10 groups camping or fishing on Tuscarora. I guess we’re all pretty good at reading weather forecasts.

Tuscarora Boundary Waters portage Gunflint Trail winter ice fishing

All the tree stumps were wearing “snow hats” on the hike in on the 426 rod Tuscarora portage. By the time we came back, most of this snow had slipped off.

Tuscarora Lake end of 426 rod portage

We were hoping to meet up with a couple friends camping on the west end of Tuscarora among the islands. We couldn’t spot them at first, so we started ice fishing on the edge of the north bay. I got a bite and lost my minnow, but that was it for action, so we packed up and set off to search for Mark and Dave again.

Ice fishing Marcum fish finder and NILS ice auger Tuscarora Lake Boundary Waters

We finally spotted them along the south shoreline east of the Owl Portage. They really blended into their surroundings with their white anoraks on!

Eastern BWCAW ice fishing and winter camping

Because it was so busy on Tuscarora Lake, U.S. Forest Service wilderness rangers were out making contact with winter campers. They want to make sure that campers are filling out permits and also talk about responsible firewood gathering and fire making during the winter. We really appreciate all the work these folks do so the wilderness can be enjoyed by everyone.

U.S. Forest Service wilderness ranger winter camper check

Although Dave and Andy’s fish finders showed a pretty impressive underwater drop off, fishing was remarkably slow. Apparently the fish were as confused by what was going on with the barometer and thermometer as we were.

Ice fishing on Tuscarora Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Even if the fish were feeling shy, it sure was a pretty spot to hang out for an hour or so. The cliffs behind us was busy making snowballs by itself as the sunshine melted snow at the top of the cliff which then rolled down the side of the cliffs to the lake ice.
Snow cliffs on Tuscarora Lake BWCAW Tuscarora Lake cliff lichen Tuscarora Lake Boundary Waters winter Gunflint Trail

By the time we hiked out, the temperature was 42 degrees in the shade. Our sunburned faces attest that we got more than our fair share of Vitamin D. The perfect maple sugar day!