The Best Ice Fishing Lakes for Kids on the Gunflint Trail

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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? 

 

The Northwoods Tenets of Hygge

How’s your winter going so far? Super full of hygge yet? No? Don’t worry, we can help. 

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If you’re not sure what hygge (pronounced “hoo-gah”) is, I think Deb Perelman said it best, when she called hygge, “Danish coziness that’s having a moment.”  (For the record, we wrote about hygge here first in early 2016 in a curiously “on point” blog post.)

These days, it seems you can’t log into social media without running into a hygge reference or article. Entire books are being published on the concept of celebrating the coziness that can only be found in the dark winter months and here in northeastern Minnesota, we’ve taken hygge to such extremes that we even have a festival centered around hygge next month. 

With all the hygge buzz, I’ve been hesitant to revisit the subject – I mean, what could I possibly add to the now near feverish hype? But when I read the New York Times‘ list of “5 Cheap(ish) Things to Help You Have a Very Hygge Winter” last month, I realized I might have a slight corner of hygge as a born and bred northern Minnesotan.  Not to pick bones with the New York Times but the list left me . .  . cold, and not just because the article promised a list of five things yet only managed to deliver four. Tsk-tsk. (Case in point about my disconnect with the article: believe it or not, this spring will mark the completion of my 33rd winter spent in what can only be described as hygge bliss despite the fact that I do not – and perhaps never will – own a dog bed.) 

So I got thinking . . . If I were to recommend five cheap(ish) things for “a very hygge winter” what would they be?

1. Outdoor Adventure

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The purpose of hygge is to embrace winter and you can’t very well do that if you’re just gazing at it through a picture window with your fingers wrapped around a hot mug of cocoa. No, to truly hygge, you’ve got to get out in the swirling snow and subzero temperatures for a brisk hike, snowshoe, or ski, or maybe even some ice fishing on the next lake over. You could make a snowman, go sledding, or make snow angels. It really doesn’t matter what you do outside as long as it gets the heart rate up and brings out the color in your cheeks. For me, the most hygge moments are when the sun’s setting on a winter’s day when you’re settling back into the house after several hours outside. Inside is especially cozy when you know just how biting the wind is.

Also, on the cheap(ish) scale, it doesn’t get much cheaper than free fresh air. 

2. Crockpot 

I’m not saying the NYT article was a complete hot mess. I do agree with author Michelle Dozois’s recommendation of a dutch oven for your hygge-y purposes, but like the true Midwesterner I am, I take that dutch oven and I raise you a crockpot. After you’ve completed step one of my hygge recommendations, you’re probably famished and the thought of someone asking “what’s for supper” is just plain exhausting (and annoying). That’s why it’s best to have dinner already bubbling away in the crockpot when you return home. Whatever you make in the crockpot, it get extra hygge points if it pairs well with noodles or mashed potatoes. (And I bet it will.) 

3. Fake pants 

One of the great joys of returning home from winter adventure and stripping off your multiple layers of outerwear is the excuse to spend the rest of your waking hours wearing leggings, pajama pants, or otherwise “fake” pants. 

Not sure if you’re wearing fake pants? Look at your waist. If your pants are held up by anything other than elastic or a drawstring, you’re not wearing fake pants. Head back to your closet and try again. Now, doesn’t that feel better? 

4. A really good book 

If you get home from your outdoor adventure right around sunset, you’ll probably have a little time before supper’s ready. (For me, hygge primetime is approximately 4:30 – 5:15 p.m.) That’s when it’s time to settle in with a blanket, beverage of choice, and a book. If you want some wilderness-inspired reads, you can check our “Best of Camp Reads,” but I should say that for ideal hygge conditions, the book should be one that compels you to read more, more, more. Let go of those notions about what you “ought” to be reading (that list of 101 must-read classics can wait) and focus on finding a real page-turner. 

5. A nice smelling home 

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If you’re successful with step two of these hygge tips, your crockpot might already be filling your home with a delicious aroma. (Huzzah!) With the world frozen solid, we can forget how unstimulated our sense of smell is during winter. For that reason, a nice smelling house in wintertime seems especially cozy. It not hard to achieve: mull some wine, burn a scented candle, diffuse some essential oils, bake bread or cookies, or just simmer a pot of water on the stove with a sprig of rosemary and a couple slices of lemon in it for a 1/2 hour or so. (This last suggest also pumps some often much needed humidity in your home.)  

What are your tenets of hygge? 

A Few Winter Updates

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, winter came very early to the Gunflint Trail this year. Our last canoe group got off the water less than a week before our first snowstorm of the year and that first snowfall didn’t go anywhere; we’ve had continuous snow cover on the Gunflint Trail since October 26. That means we’re already in our second month of producing weekly winter weather updates.

Here’s this week’s edition:

You can view the rest of our winter report for the season on the winter report page or subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Now that it’s officially December, we figured you might be joining us in our winter-y, holiday-focused state of mind. In that vein, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that the Gift Shop Mini-Mart is open for business, offering a variety of Tuscarora/Boundary Waters themed stocking stuffers and apparel.

If you or a loved one has some camping equipment on your Christmas lists, we also have a handful of #3 Quetico Superior portage packs left (these sold really quickly, so buy now if you want to snag a couple) and are also selling off our older ALPS Mountaineering 20 degree sleeping bags on the bottom of our used canoes page

Here’s to a month of days that are merry and bright! 

The Best of Camp Reads: Edition One

On our canoe trip packing checklist, we list a “good book” as a camping essential and judging by how depleted the Paddlers’ Library in the Dining Hall was in midsummer, many of you agree.

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(Don’t worry, the shelves are looking a lot fuller these days, thanks to a delivery of books from the local Library Friends’ annual used book sale.)

As we watched all those books disappear this summer, we thought, “hey, you guys like reading . . . AND you like canoe trips, so maybe you’d enjoy some book recommendations about outdoor adventures.” With the lengthening nights, most of us are hanging up our lifejackets and picking up books, so hopefully these reading suggestions will help get you through the winter evenings until next summer’s paddling season.   


Pre/Early Readers 

Three Days on a River

Three Days in a Red Canoe on a River, by Vera B. Williams

While this book definitely isn’t about a Boundary Waters trip (on day three, the group paddles through a town), I don’t know of a children’s book that does a better job of introducing overnight canoe camping to young children. Williams – who also authored the award-winning, A Chair for My Mother, along with other children’s literature classics – captures the excitement of picking up a canoe, plotting out a route on the maps, and discovering the perfect campsite. However, she also doesn’t shy away from some of the challenges of canoe camping, such as paddling through inclement weather and the real consequences of standing up in a moving canoe. The book’s sweet illustrations will charm readers of all ages. This book might just be the ticket to ease an apprehensive young camper’s worries about or pique interest in an upcoming canoe trip. 


Young Readers 

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Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

If you do have an apprehensive young camper, maybe don’t opt for Hatchet as read-aloud material before your next BWCAW trip. This “worst case scenario” young adult novel set deep in the Canadian bush follows Brian, a young teenager and sole survivor of a float plane crash. With little else than a hatchet, Brian proceeds to not only survive, but thrive in the deep wilderness, answering the question of many young visitors to the Boundary Waters and Quetico: what would it be like to live out here all by yourself? In the name of full disclosure, I will admit read this book when I was the target age for this book, somewhere between the ages of  8 – 12, and never reread it. At the time, I found the book fascinating, but realize now that Paulsen’s descriptions of a 13-year-old’s survival skills are probably pretty unrealistic. Paulsen’s subsequent sequels to Hatchet aren’t good, but if you’re willing to suspend disbelief, Hatchet is an enjoyable wilderness read. 


Adult Readers

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Canoeing with the Cree, by Eric Sevareid 

The inspiration for many a canoe trip to Hudson Bay, Sevareid’s Canoeing with the Cree is perhaps the first great modern canoe trip memoir. In 1930, fresh out of high school, Sevareid and a friend embarked on a canoe trip from Minneapolis to York Factory, Ontario, Canada on Hudson Bay. Sevareid went on to be a notable war correspondent for CBS during World War II, and it’s easy to wonder if the grit he needed to be a successful war reporter stemmed from that four month, 2000+ mile canoe journey he took as a young man. Since its publication in 1935, Canoeing with the Cree has never gone out of print and in those 80+ years, at least two other books (and countless blog posts!) have been written about copy-cat canoe journeys. 

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Distant Fires, by Scott D. Anderson  

Perhaps the best known Canoeing with the Cree copycat journey is that taken by Scott D. Anderson in 1987, which he tells in his memoir, Distant Fires. While not an exact copy of Sevareid’s route (as a Duluth native, Anderson opted to start his journey in his hometown, effectively cutting about 500 miles from the route), Distant Fires is noted for its humor as it recounts the adventures of two college aged men sometimes working with, sometime working against Mother Nature on their three-month adventure. Sadly, Anderson died in 1999 at just 33 years of age, making Distant Fires a solemn reminder of how important it is to seize canoe trip opportunities in youth. 

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A Contemplative Paddler’s Fireside Companion, by Timothy McDonnell

McDonnell’s A Contemplative Paddler’s Fireside Companion offers an alternative to epic canoe trip memoirs like those produced by Sevareid and Anderson. Rather than recounting a single canoe trip odyssey, A Contemplative Paddler’s Fireside Companion is a collection of essays drawn from McDonnell’s cumulative experiences of canoeing and kayaking in the wilds of Canada and the upper Midwest. Forget the “veni, vidi, vici” bravado that can come with some wilderness memoirs. In this thoughtful tome, McDonnell get at the spiritual “why” of wilderness experience. And if the last name looks familiar, yes, we do refer to Timothy McDonnell more commonly as “Uncle Tim” around these parts. 

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The Necessity of Empty Places, by Paul Gruchow  

Andy recommends the work of Minnesota native Paul Gruchow, particular The Necessity of Empty Places in which Gruchow discusses the intrinsic value of the United States’ many wilderness landscapes. “If there is any cure this side of the grave,” Gruchow writes, “I am certain that it lies in the balm of nature.” If you’re looking for a more canoe trip focused read, Gruchow also authored Boundary Waters: The Grace of the Wild.   

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Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

Like it or not, it’s pretty hard to find a wilderness book with a female protagonist. While you’ve no doubt heard of Cheryl Strayed at some point in the last five years, if your only exposure to her is in passing pop culture references (I’m looking at you Gilmore Girls) or the Reese Witherspoon movie, I’d urge you to experience the actual book. Essentially a coming of age memoir, Strayed dabbles in many subjects in Wild including drug use, twenty-something career/life drift, and divorce at a young age, with the central theme being her coming to terms with the sudden loss of her mother to cancer at the very end of Strayed’s tumultuous childhood. For a book centered on a solo hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail, Wild is surprisingly focused on human interaction. Yet, it still captures the essence of a wilderness camping trip, from the tedium of camp food to the profound impact passing encounters with other individuals on the trail can have. 

We’re curious: What are your favorite canoe trip/wilderness books? 

The Most Important Piece of Camping Gear You Can Pack

There’s one thing we think should be in everyone’s pack.

If you don’t have it, you might have to end your trip early.

You might even put yourself in a life-threatening situation.

At best, if you need it and you don’t have it, you’ll be mighty uncomfortable.

Like it or not, you’ll be happiest if you invest a bit of money in it. 

Hopefully, you won’t need it at all; but trust us, it’s worth the extra weight.

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Yeah, it’s rain gear. 

While I often quip that a good attitude is the best thing you can bring on a canoe trip, rain gear is the actual physical item that it’s truly foolish to leave the canoe landing without. Boundary Waters weather is notably capricious and no matter how often you study the forecast before departure, there’s no guarantee that even the best weather pattern will hold for the entirety of your trip, even if you’re just doing a day trip. 

When we say you need rain gear, we’re talking about two specific pieces of apparel: a rain jacket with a hood and rain pants. Unless you like paddling around with a lap full of water, ponchos are for ballparks, not the Boundary Waters. 

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Remember, a rain jacket is just half of your rain gear formula. We see a lot of people heading into the woods with only a rain jacket. While the no-rain pants rain gear solution might work well for running errands on rainy days, just wearing a rain jacket is in many ways worse than not wearing any rain gear at all. A rain jacket funnels water onto your thighs, eventually drenching your bottom half until you’re far wetter than if you’d foregone rain gear all together. Whatever you do, don’t pair just a rain jacket with cotton pants; if you do, you’ll be wringing pints of rainwater out of your pants at the end of the day. 

Your rain gear needs depend on which season you visit the Boundary Waters in. In spring and fall, when the average temperature is the 50s and 60s, you’ll want a heavy duty set of rain gear. While we tend to associate hypothermia with winter’s extreme lows, in actuality, hypothermia could set in after just a couple hours of being wet and underdressed in 60 degree weather. In the shoulder seasons, a pair of rain gear bib overalls will prevent “gapping” between your rain pants and rain jacket when you’re sitting in the canoe or in camp. In the summer, you can get away with a lighter weight pair set of rain gear. Frogg Toggs are a great budget-friendly, albeit not super durable, rain gear solution. However, if you plan to make canoe tripping a habit, you’ll be the happiest if you spend a little more money on a set of rain gear from a reputable outdoors company that fits you well and that allows you a full range of motion.  

Remember, cold can kill, regardless of if the calendar says January or July. Older adults and young children are the most susceptible to hypothermia, so make sure everyone in your group has a set of waterproof gear that fits them well. In the case of older and/or hand-me-down rain gear, be sure to test out its waterproof qualities before you start your trip. There’s nothing worse than assuming your rain gear is waterproof only to discover that your shoulders are absolutely drenched after two minutes of torrential rain on day one of your trip. The next time you’re washing your car in the driveway, have your kids put on their rain gear and give them a good spray with the hose. Not only will you be in the running for “most fun parent of the year,” you’ll also know whether you need to scout out new rain gear before your next outdoor adventure. 

When everyone in your group has great rain gear, you might find that you don’t mind rainy days one bit. Rainy days are great travel days, because covering ground and seeing new sights is a more rewarding way to spend a dreary, drizzly day then huddled under the tarp, playing endless game of cribbage, hoping for the rain to stop. Rain transforms the Boundary Waters into a dewy fairyland that’s a joy to explore . . . when you’re warm and dry. 

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Whether or not to pack rain gear should never be a question. Always place your rain gear at the top of your pack, just under the top flap and on top of the pack liner so you can easily grab it when the far horizon starts to darken with rain clouds. In one of life’s little paradoxes, if you don’t pack rain gear; it will rain. If you do pack rain gear, you just might be in for beautiful, cloudless days your entire trip.