Tagged: Tuscarora Lake

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!

Cold Water and Hot Fishing

If you have not heard yet, the ice is finally out on all the lakes near us, even big Sag to the north.  It was a little challenging for a while there to get back to the good lake trout lakes like Tuscarora and Gillis.  For eager lake trout fishers that were willing to sit on smaller lakes and wait for the ice to go out, the reward was some good fishing and a lot of adventure.

2013.05.20 Vogt

Mike Vogt and his guys found out first hand what ice out trout fishing is like.  They found the “glacier” on the Missing Link portage (which is still there by the way, but receding)!  They spent a little time on Missing Link waiting for the ice to go out on Tuscarora.  Strong spring winds kept them close to shore for a while.    Eventually their patience was rewarded with some beautiful northerns and lakers, even enough to eat!


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This is actually the first time I’ve ever seen Mike in a hat that is not a baseball cap.    Can you tell what a likeable guy he is?  I can hear him laughing right through that picture.   It is not a leave-no-trace kind of laugh, it is a leave-you-laughing kind of laugh.

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Suddenly it is Memorial Day weekend .  The lakes are ice free, the temps are rising , the sun is out, and the fish are waiting!  Come on up and share your fishing pictures with us!

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Ice Fishing to Tuscarora

Cousins Daniel and Joe were done with their hockey seasons.  We thought…QUICK!  Time to go fishing.  A person never knows when it’s time for hockey to start up again, and that is the truth about that sport.  I’m glad that they love it, and there’re all kinds of things about sports and teams that are valuable and worthy.  Hockey is a unique beast, and I’ll go anywhere gladly to cheer him on, but let’s just say I’m not missing the way it smells.
 Anyhow, this particular Saturday, the lake trout were calling.  They never call me as loudly as they call Danny, but there was one that was taunting me. (Darn it).   My brother Mike joined us too, and he kept saying  “well, I never really expect to catch fish in the winter,”  and I kept thinking…..this is a really long way to go if we’re not expecting to catch fish.
To hike into Tuscarora…..snowshoe, ski, haul….is somewhere between 8 and 10 miles.  In the morning, when we’re packed up and ready to go, we like to say…maybe it’s a little more than six miles.  At sundown, when I limp back in the door, I like to think it’s more like 10.   It’s a day, that’s for sure.
Joe is sold on winter hiking over summer portaging, and –I think I might be with him on that. I honestly like summer portaging quite a bit, but the Tuscarora portage on this particular winter day was pure bliss.
It was a great photo-shoot on Tuscarora, we thought…hey,  no problem, we made it!  The sun came out…but actually it was the longest stretch from the portage to our favorite spot.   Daniel  plowed ahead with the sled, breaking trail for a good chunk of it this time.  And I trudged along chanting in my own head about Sam McGee, from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.  Why he left his home in the south to roam round the pole, God only knows.   He was always cold, but that land of gold seemed to hold him in its spell.  Though he’d often say in his homely way that he’d sooner live in hell. ….
Tuscarora had about a dozen people on it, which at first seemed like a ripoff to travel all that way, and join in the party, but in the end,  no one occupied in our spot at the ledge so, it was rather cheerful to have them across the lake—and hear an occasional yelp when maybe somebody was catching something.
So here’s the secret, when a person stops trudging, a person has perspired, and a person is sort of wet, she gets cold fast.  So, the trick is to drill holes sooner than later, and then change the base layer.  Yep, change the entire base layer.  I’m here to tell you, it’s painful, but the only option.
And then after all that, and after I traded my ski boots for my beloved toasty Neos, I stood by the hole and sloooooowly  lifted the pole up, and lowerd the pole down.   Moving the minnows sooooo slow.    Just the right speed, up…………..and down……..up……………….and down…reel a little, try  a new depth….up………………..and down………….up………and down………..then, I start chanting in my head again.

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;

And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.

He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;

And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

Up…….and down……………up……..and down…….FISH ON!!!!    Or…in my case…..Hey!   HEY!!!!  I have a fish. YOU GUYS  I HAVE A FISH!!!  So much for outfitter cool.  The boys came running over, and the ice rebounded just a little sloshing a little water up all the holes.  So much for sophomore cool.   We were peering in the dark hole, still reeling, and they’re telling me how to reel, faster, slower, set the hook, don’t jerk it—finally I just handed the pole to Daniel.  But shoot……the line slacked a little in the handoff, and I lost that fish.  ARG!  Snap.  Cannot believe I let him get away.  I STILL can’t believe it got away from me.  What was I thinking???  Darn it.   We had plenty of fish for dinner, but I’m still snapping about that one that got away..
Funny how that FISH ON gets everybody’s adrenaline going, so we switched up a few holes, and we all hurried up to stand by the holes again….up….and down, up……………..aand up.
They caught some,  lost a few, lots of action, Denali supervised.  Mike caught a few that he didn’t really expect to catch in the winter,  we hauled it all back, and shuffled through a fish dinner…..unbelievably tasty, it’s true.  Something about fresh, cold, water trout—well, we had to smile before our heads dropped.  I had one dream that I was 90 years old, and was a really good sport about it.  Everyone thought it remarkable, how I could get around so cheerfully with all that arthritis.   I was THAT sore, in my dream, in my bed, in my sleep.  Had to be 10 miles….
Good day, good guys.  It doesn’t escape me (or my brother Mike)…that our roles in these cousin adventures are fleeting.  I look forward to the stories that Joe will retell—it’s a gift he has, to make it almost better than life.   And I’m grateful for freezeframes that make up my the movies of my memories.  It was a good one.
But darn it.  I still can’t believe I lost that one.