Fishing the Boundary Waters, Quetico, and Gunflint Trail

2012 Jung Supper! Anglers around the world love fishing the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness, Quetico Provincial Park, and the Gunflint Trail region of northeastern Minnesota. The Boundary Waters’ countless lakes provide endless fishing opportunities. We help guests get the most out of fishing in this unique wilderness setting with world class fisheries of lake trout, northern pike, smallmouth bass, and walleye. Prepare for your next BWCAW fishing trip with the information below, or call us anytime with your fishing questions.

MN License and Regulations

Minnesota-dnr-logo-SmallThe Minnesota Department of Natural Resources requires all anglers to have a valid MN fishing license on their person whenever fishing Minnesota waters. We recommend buying your fishing licenses online before your trip or at any MN gas station on your way to Tuscarora. When purchasing a MN fishing license, MN residents must provide a valid MN driver’s license. Out of state visitors must provide their social security number.  

BWCA Fishing

Fishing and the Boundary Waters go hand in hand.  It is hard to resist the urge to toss a line in when paddling on the crystal clear lakes found here.  Packing in a rod and tackle is well worth the hassle when fishing lakes that see very little fishing pressure.  The Boundary Waters have a lot of lakes to choose from when selecting your next trip.  Give us a call and we can help tailor a trip towards the fish you are hoping to catch.  A little research on your own can help make your trip successful as well.  Below are some resources worth a look.

Fishing on Round Lake

2014 Sherman (1)

Tuscarora Lodge is located on Round Lake which is a wonderful little fishing lake.   Catch walleye, smallmouth bass and northern pike all from our dock! Ask any of our regular cabin guests and they will tell you, fishing Round Lake can be done for 30 years or more with out losing its thrill.  Located in the Superior National Forest, Round Lake has direct access to the BWCA through two entry points.  Tuscarora has motorized fishing boats and canoes available for our cabin guests to rent.  As we are the only private property on the lake, our fishing boats are typically the only ones on the water.  The quiet nature of our lake makes fishing from your canoe another great option.

Fishing the Gunflint Trail

DSCN0044The Gunflint Trail is surrounded by lakes inside and outside the BWCA where motorists and canoeists are both welcome to try their luck.  Lakes and rivers close to Tuscarora that do not require portaging include Saganaga Lake, Seagull Lake, Gull Lake, Gull River, Gunflint Lake, Cross River, Loon Lake,  and Iron Lake.  Cabin guests are more than welcome to borrow a car kit, strap a canoe onto their car, and go fishing!

Canada – Minnesota Border Waters

What is the deal with fishing on lakes that cross the Canada-Minnesota border? Both the Minnesota DNR and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources agree on the same thing; stay on your side of the line!

Anglers who have a Minnesota resident or nonresident license may fish only the Minnesota portion of Canada’s border waters.  The MN DNR seasons and regulations concerning border waters apply to specific lakes which are listed in regulations books.  Daily and possession limits are the same unless otherwise noted.  Whenever you are fishing a lake that is new to you, be sure to check out the newest Minnesota Fishing Regulations booklets available in our office or online.  CANADA–MINNESOTA Regulations per the MN DNR include;

  • One line per angler is allowed, except two lines may be used when ice fishing.
  • Saganaga Narrows is closed to fishing April 1-May 22, 2015.
  • Saganaga Falls (Granite River mouth) and the channel between Little Gunflint and Little North lakes are closed to fishing April 1-May 31, 2015.
  • While in Minnesota, anglers may not possess more than a Minnesota limit of fish from Canada-Minnesota border waters. Fish from Canadian inland waters may be possessed in Minnesota in excess of the Minnesota limit only if the angler has proof—such as lodging receipts or verification through U.S. Customs—that the fish were taken from inland Canadian waters.
  • Dressed sauger count as walleye.

The Ontario MNR’s International Border Water Regulations covers all of Quetico Provincial Park.  Northwestern Ontario – United States Border Waters Regulations for Non-Canadian Resident Anglers states that there are regulations in the border waters area that affect the number of walleye, sauger and lake trout that non-Canadian residents can catch and retain in one day and the total number that can be possessed at any time which can be found in the regulations book. For all other species, non-Canadian residents should refer to seasons and catch and possession limits for Zone 5, including the exceptions to the regulations.  Please check online for current limits and regulations and be sure to talk with a ranger when picking up your permits for specific information.

Ontario and Quetico Fishing

Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada is a true wilderness fishing experience!  With a fraction of the guests the BWCA receives each year, fishing pressure is so low it is practically non-existent!  The opportunities to find a sweet little fishing hole all for your own are staggering.  With small intimate lakes to huge sprawling bodies home to all four of the major sports species, Quetico is a fishing paradise.

Ontario Licenses and Regulations

OntarioMNR-badgeFishing in Quetico Provincial Park requires a fishing license from Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources which consists of two parts –

  • an Outdoor Card
  • a fishing licenses tag

Both must be purchased online before the start of your trip.  Non-Canadians 18 years of age and older are required to have a current Outdoors Card and appropriate fishing licenses.  Non-Canadians under the age of 18 do not have to have a fishing license if accompanied by an adult with a fishing license.  Please see the Ontario fishing regulations link below for more information.

Ontario fishing regulations are different than Minnesota regulations so be sure to read them carefully.  Two rules to pay special attention to –

  • Live and organic bait are prohibited. – Consider using scented soft baits that mimic live/organic bait.  Varieties of Gulp by Berkley have proven to be mighty successful.
  • All fishing hooks must be barbless. – Pack in a good strong net, pinch down the barbs and sharpen all your hooks and this rule will not cause any problems.

Fishing the Quetico

Trip Quetico Solo 2013 034With a little preparation, fishing Quetico Provincial park can be a fishing trip of a life time!  Please give us a call to let us help you find the best route for the fishing you would like to experience.  A little research goes a long way toward a successful fishing trip.  Please see some of the links below to get you started.

Basic Tackle Box and Supplies

A tackle box for a fishing trip in the BWCA or Quetico will be refined with every trip.  Overall, the most important thing to remember is “pack it in – pack it out”!  Everything you bring with you will be carried over every portage so weight and bulk are big factors.  Refine your list to the essentials.  After your trip make notes of what you pack too little or to0 much of for your next trip.  Here are some suggestions to get you started.

  • Fishing Rod & Reel – We recommend a 6′ to 8′ medium weight rod with a reel that you are comfortable using.  Take it for a few test casts before packing to make sure everything is in good working order.
  • Fishing Line – We recommend 6 lb to 8 lb monofilament.  Restring your reel with new line at least once a year depending on usage.  This is the best way to limit line breakage due to UV damage and age which reduces line elasticity and strength.  It’s not a bad idea to restring and fill your reel all the way up before a long trip so you can be confident you have enough to reach those deep lakers!
  • Fishing CrocodileExtra Reel – Pack an extra reel with line, especially for longer trips.  It is easy enough to improvise a rod out there, not so much with a reel.
  • Fillet knife – Sharpen it up before you leave and make sure it has a good sheath.
  • Pocket knife/Nail clippers – Invaluable on any camping trip, a pocket knife or small multi-tool will help with switching up lures.   Consider finding a pair with a wire cutter as well to remove embedded hooks from the fish and from hands.  Nail clippers are also a safe and effective alternative for cutting line (no sharp points to drop!).
  • Forceps/Pliers – Helps grab on to and remove hooks from those toothy predators!
  • Stringer – A nice light 6′ poly stringer will not take up much room and will keep your catch safe.
  • Minnow Bucket/Leech Locker – if you are planning on fishing with live bait, make sure you pack the appropriate container to keep your bait alive as long as possible.
  • Net – One sturdy medium sized net per canoe makes landing fish less stressful on the fish being released.
  • Map – A high quality map with lake depths such as Fisher or McKenzie.  Get out a Sharpie and mark up the map with all the research you have done.  Bring that marker along and add to it while you are out there.
  • Polarized sunglasses – Polarized lenses help reduce glare allowing you to see into the water to find beds, sunken structures and fish.
  • Hat & sunscreen – Time on the water fishing means a lot of sunshine!
  • Gloves – Gloves are helpful when dealing with toothy fish such as northerns.
  • Tackle Box – Pick out a small tackle box, about the size of a cigar box, and that is it.  You don’t want to haul in all your fishing supplies with you on every portage!  Keep it down to a small tackle box and focus on your specific tackle needs to reduce weight and waste.


Artificial Lures and Tackle

Now to fill that small tackle box!  Take along enough of the basics (leaders, swivels, hooks, etc.) then add to it the specialty items needed for what you are hoping to catch.  Take a look at our fish pages (walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike, lake trout) to give you an idea of what each species prefers.  Many lures will work on multiple species.

  • steel leaders
  • snap swivels
  • slip bobbers and stops
  • weights/sinkers – assorted sizes and weights
  • hooks – assorted sizes for live bait or soft artificial baits
  • jigs heads – assorted colors and sizes (1/8, 1/4, 3/8 oz)
  • crank baits
  • spinners
  • top water baits
  • spoons

When selecting your tackle, pack an assortment of colors.  Recommended colors may work, but if the fishing is slow, switching things up can be just the trick.  General rules to keep in mind when selecting lures include –

  • chartreuse in spring / white in summer
  • light lures for bright days / darker lures for cloudy days
  • mimic natural food sources

Tuscarora does have a selection of tackle and fishing gear in our Trading Post.  While it is always advisable to sort and organize your tackle box at home before starting your trip, our Trading Post can fill in anything forgotten at the last minute or to pick up your next lucky lure!

Live Bait

Depending on the season and what you are fishing for, live bait can be just the ticket to catch your next trophy fish.  Be sure to know all live bait regulations for the area you are planning on fishing (no live/organic bait allowed in Quetico).  Please make sure that you pack any unused live bait out with you and dispose of it properly in a garbage can.  Do not release any live bait back “into the wild”.  Diseases and invasive species can quickly ruin this pristine fishing paradise.  Typically leeches work well in the spring and summer while minnows are a better choice in the fall.

Tuscarora sells leeches during the summer months.  Please call ahead for availability and quantities.  If you are looking for something other than leeches (minnows, night crawlers, etc.) stop at one of the following live bait shops in Grand Marais before heading up the Gunflint Trail.  It doesn’t hurt to call ahead for availability!

Live bait is a bit of a hassle to portage but it can be worth the effort.  For leeches, a good Leech Locker or similar container makes transporting easy.  Be sure to keep leeches cool in the shade and change water frequently.  Minnows take a bit more care and more frequent water changes to keep them squirming.  Remember to keep these guys as cool as possible as well.  If caring for live bait sounds like too much work, there are always other options such as salted, frozen or freeze dried which can also prove successful.

Fish Species

2014 Colbert Mavis Brookie

The wilderness of the Quetico and BWCA are home to four major sport species of fish –

Get to know a little about each of these fish with the links above.  Some people choose to concentrate on one type of fish during their trip.  Others target the Grand Slam of at least one fish from each of the big four.  Keep in mind, not every lake out there holds all four species.  Give us a call when planning your trip and we can help you target the best lakes for what you are hoping to catch. It pays to spend a little time researching the fish you want to catch ahead of time.

Brook trout and rainbow trout can also be found in the BWCA in very specific lakes.  These fish tend to prefer the smaller, rockier lakes with good flow.  While brook trout are native to Minnesota, rainbow trout were introduce in the 1800s.  A list of stream trout lakes can be found below.  Tuscarora and the Gunflint Trail are located in Cook County neighboring Lake County.

Any time you are fishing on a designated trout lake or if you are actively fishing for any species of trout on any lake, a trout stamp is required on your fishing license.

Fishing Seasons

Fishing seasons in the north country vary greatly from year to year.  When the ice leaves in the spring can range from mid April to mid May.  The fishing opener in Minnesota for walleye is generally the kickoff for the angling season which falls on the second Saturday in May.  The walleye opener for Ontario is generally the week after that.  Below is a very general breakdown of the fishing seasons and what is active during each.  Keep in mind that each year is different and the timing of spawns can be quite different.  Give us a call anytime to see how the fishing is progressing!

Can’t wait for the ice to go out so you can get an early jump on the angling season?  Neither can we!  Watch our blog in the spring for updates on when the ice on Round Lake is going out.  Watch the ice out dates progress across Minnesota with the DNR link below.  Remember that Quetico is even further to the north so ice out dates will lag a little behind Round Lake.

Spring – May and June.  This is the time of year when water temps are colder and the bugs are thicker.  Lake trout are the hot topic in early May.  June is all about the smallmouth spawn and walleye fishing.  June is the month that is probably the best all around for those who want to focus their canoe trips on fishing.

  • Lake Trout are high and hungry.  May is the best time of the year to catch a lake trout right along the shoreline.  During the spring, lakers typically can be found in 10 to 40 feet of water.
  • Walleye are spawning early, soon after ice out, after which they can be a bit sluggish.  As soon as late May and into June rolls around, walleye action is fantastic.
  • Smallmouth bass spawn sometime in June which is when the bass fishing really begins.  The topwater bass action this time of year cannot be beat!
  • Northern pike are spawning as soon as the ice clears out which leaves them hungry and in the shallows this time of year.

Summer – July and August.  The summer months typically see a little more fishing pressure but the trade off is a trip that can keep everyone in the group happy, regardless of their fishing interest!  Smallmouth and pike action continue to be a lot of fun during the summer.  As the water temps increase during the summer, the walleye and lake trout action slows.

  • Smallmouth bass continue to be active but will be hitting less topwater lures as they are spending more time lurking around 10 feet of water or more depending on water temps.
  • Northern pike fishing continues to be great but the bigger pike will be found a little deeper as they try to keep cool.
  • Walleye are seeking out cooler water which pushes them anywhere from 15 to 40 feet deep.  The hotter the water temps, the more sluggish the walleye will become but with a little patience, walleye is still definitely on the menu in summer.
  • Lake trout are delving deeper this time of year looking for the cold they prefer which sometimes pushes them below 40+ feet.  While it is still possible to catch a laker in the summer, it takes the right tools and knowleage.

Fall – September and October.  Fall is a beautiful time of the year to fish canoe country.  Fall lasts through November until the lakes freeze up, however September and October are the best months for a trip.  Less people and cooling water temps can make for some decent fishing.

  • Smallmouth bass top water action picks up again in the fall as the fish begin seeking out warmer water temps closer to the surface. Be sure to check current regulations for seasons and dates when fishing for smallmouth in the fall.
  • Northern pike fishing picks up as the fish start to feed heavily in preparation for winter.
  • Lake trout begin to come back up into the shallows as water temps drop. Remember that lake trout season closes on September 30th to protect them during their spawn.
  • Walleye begin to move to shallower water but can continue to be finicky.

Ice Fishing

IMG_0934Ice fishing?  You betcha!  With plenty of fresh white snow and thick ice, the ice fishing potential is only limited by how far you are willing to go!  Tuscarora Lodge has three cabins open all winter long that are perfect for an ice fishing base camp.  Stay with us and ice fish on Round Lake, Seagull Lake, Duncan Lake or Gunflint Lake all right off the Gunflint Trail.  Grab your cross country skis or snowshoes and trek out to Missing Link Lake or Tuscarora Lake to pull a lake trout or brook trout through the ice.

If you are planing on an ice fishing trip, make sure your fishing license and trout stamps are valid!  Check on ice fishing seasons and regulations inside and outside the BWCA which are different.  Be sure to ask about current ice conditions, slush, and what lakes are hot.  As always, be careful out there on the lakes.