Category: Fishing

Fishing trips, tricks, and reports from the Gunflint Trail, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and Quetico Provincial Park. Check out our tips on fishing in the BWCA.

How To Take Your Girlfriend Ice Fishing

First things first, let’s just clear the air by stating that the following blog post is not exclusively about taking your girlfriend ice fishing. It’s about taking your girlfriend, boyfriend, best friend, or any other slightly reluctant adult ice fishing for the first time. We were simply inspired by the recent video on Jay Siemens’ Youtube channel about “What NOT to do when you take your girlfriend ice fishing.” This is not a gender specific post. Whew! Moving on . . . . 

As a girlfriend who has been taken ice fishing, I have a little insight on this subject. I went ice fishing a grand total of once as a child (it was cold, we caught one fish) and it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that ice fishing became a regular winter activity for me. Since I wasn’t raised by anglers, I’m not sure I could have really explained what a tip-up was on that first “grown-up” ice fishing trip, so the ball was firmly in the court of the person taking me ice fishing to show me it was an experience worth repeating. Luckily, Andy was up to the challenge, and while I might not always be the most cheerful ice fishing companion (see photo below), for the last decade, I’ve accompanied Andy ice fishing on a fairly regular basis.  

If you’re looking to turn your BFF into an IFFF – that’s short for “Ice Fishing Friend Forever – here are our best tips to get them enjoying ice fishing so that they’re actually willing to go ice fishing with you again (and again and again): 

Action, action, action 

The tips we go over in last year’s “The Best Ice Fishing Lakes for Kids” post are as applicable to adult first-timers as they are to kids. For that first ice fishing trip with your would-be IFFF, you want to choose a lake that you’re confident can deliver fast results. We know you’re excited to take your significant other out fishing, but now’s not the time to take them out to that one lake you need to bushwhack into that you’ve heard good things about but you’ve never actually fished. Take them to a lake you know well and to a spot that consistently delivers. 

Don’t abuse their good nature

Here’s a scenario for you. Let’s say your significant other is really into running. You’ve watched them lace up their shoes religiously every other day, you’ve cheered them on at countless 5ks, and now they’re training for their first marathon. You’ve never run a mile, but you’re inspired. You mention in passing that you’d like to go running with them some time. They take you up on your offer and invite you along on their next run. Now are you more likely to going running with them a second time if they A) take you out on a five-mile tempo run with no water breaks or if they B) take you on a leisurely run/walk option around a couple blocks?   

If your partner announces that they’d like to go ice fishing with you sometime, YAY! Now wield your power carefully. While you might suddenly have visions of that snowmobile-in ice fishing trip in Manitoba you’ve been dreaming of finally becoming a reality, now is not the time to start planning a multi-day ice fishing expedition. Nope, now is the time to carve out a couple hours on a sunny afternoon for a low-key, low-pressure first-time ice fishing trip. You want your partner saying, “hey that was pretty fun, when can we go again?” not “Can we go home now?” 

There is such a thing as too much helpful advice 

One of the best things you can do is rig up your partner’s rod with whatever tackle and bait you think works best for where you’re fishing and then letting them have at it. Maybe their jigging technique makes you cringe. Maybe you’re 100% sure they’re not dropping their line deep enough. Be conservative in how much advice you volunteer and don’t feel the need to coach them through every step. Sure, they might lose a couple fish on their way up to the hole before they totally get how to set the hook and keep tension on the line, but if they care, they will learn. If they don’t care, they’re not listening to you anyway, so save your breath. Let them ask the questions that will help them become better anglers and be okay with the fact that their techniques might differ from yours. Your way or the highway is not a good approach to ice fishing . . . or your relationship. 

Fun vs. fish

Remember, they’re not going to come with you again if they don’t have any fun, so you might have to let go of a little fishing hubris. Don’t get caught up in fishing ultimatums that you might hold yourself to if you were fishing alone. This is not the time to declare “we never pack up until a full half hour after sunset” or “nobody goes anywhere until one of us catches a 10 lb trout.” Maybe you never keep fish, but your fishing partner is pretty keen to take the fish they just landed home for dinner. Let them! It’s supposed to be fun.  

Consider latrine proximity 

While this is a gender specific tip, there’s no getting around the fact that toileting in the woods is more of an ordeal for women, especially when bundled up for winter weather. If you happen to be a male taking a female ice fishing off the Gunflint Trail for the first time, it’s a nice gesture to select a fishing area that’s close to a Boundary Waters campsite so they can use the latrine if they prefer.

Choose your date carefully 

You might be anxious to get out ice fishing as soon as the ice is safe, but if you’re looking to cultivate an IFFF, you might consider waiting to take that first ice fishing trip together until mid to late March. Along the Gunflint Trail, late March is the best time to go ice fishing because the longer, sunnier days knock down the snow and slush to make for easy lake travel and after the long winter, ice fishing in sunny 40 degree weather feels downright tropical and fantastic. Besides, nothing builds anticipation like having one great ice fishing trip in late March and then not being able to go again for another nine months.

Bring snacks and extra warm clothing 

If this is the first time your partner has gone ice fishing, they might not know what kind of outdoor clothing they need to be comfortable ice fishing, or they just straight up might not own the right clothing. To avoid your partner getting literal cold feet, throw in some hand and feet warmers, an extra jacket or vest, a balaclava, and an extra pair of mittens. A hot thermos of coffee or hot cocoa to share is a good way to warm up and pass the slow time when the fish aren’t biting. Don’t forget some snacks!  

Recap: 2018 Winter Lake Trout Season on the Gunflint Trail


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. 

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. 

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.


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 . . . 


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! 


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.  


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. 


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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