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Walleye Fishing Spring 2020

Fishing Walleye Spring 2020 by Tim Stouffer

For a couple of weekends in a row we’ve gone out fishing for walleye close to Ely in the late afternoon leading into evening. Usually this time of year, jigging with minnows or leeches is a go-to formula. The trick is finding them during constant air and water temperature fluctuations and sunlight and barometer changes. They always seem to be most mobile in the Spring and less likely to stack up anywhere and stay very long. I chalk it up to both their predatory nature and their particular avoidance of light in favor of shadow.

Generally I prefer the versatility of nightcrawlers and so I got some along with rainbow minnows.

Last weekend we set our anchor off an island where we could see the rocks dropping off sharply and found the bottom around 17 to 20 feet.  We got hits off the minnows nearly immediately two different ways, neither of which was really a traditional jigging method. Usually you lift the jig and let it drop, leave it for a bit and repeat, picking up bites during or after the drop. In this case, we picked up most our bites either during the retrieve or when returning back to our rod after leaving it to sink to bottom while netting a fish for someone else. These “dead pickups” as I call them are particularly fun. We chased them in this style for a while that day and got enough to have a fantastic dinner. We even picked up a Northern that I made Pike Dip out of.

Northern Pike Dip upper left, homemade Tarter sauce middle, Walleye fried in panko and flour and yellow mustard egg coating upper right, homestyle potatoes bottom.
Ritz crackers too. YUM.

Pike Dip Recipe: Sauté the pike in butter salt pepper and garlic powder. Afterwards let it chill. When cold pick out any “Y” bones left and break up by hand. Chop up celery and yellow onion. I did five stalks and one small onion and four tablespoons of pickle relish for a small/medium fish. Mix all together with a couple of big spoons of mayo. Add black pepper salt garlic powder and a little crushed red pepper if you like and chill. Goes great on a hearty cracker or if you like a rich sandwich like tuna salad on toasted bread. NOTE: Curry powder or Cumin adds another layer of flavor if you back off the garlic.

A week later we returned to the same spot after a couple of nights where we experienced frost advisories overnight and a day where we rose above eighty degrees. That’s northern Minnesota for you, weather in constant flux. We tried near the island from before. On the rocky shoreline a young muskrat was scurrying back and forth in the sun. He was too quick to get a picture of and I simultaneously had a bite. It lead to nothing as did the next hour and so we moved to the nearby shoreline away from the island and began to fish much shallower, casting into the shoreline and retrieving the jigs with rainbow minnows again and nightcrawlers. We got equal hits on both, nearly always on the retrieve from 4 feet to 9 or 10 feet deep. Besides the walleye I picked up a nice sized perch and we released  two feisty Northern Pike. We were joined quickly by a Bald Eagle and some noisy gulls. A pair of loons evidently had this spot on their mental maps as well, because as dinner time for us came and went, they outpaced us in their catch and enjoyed their regular meal time.

The slow and steady breeze seems to wear you out on the water in a calm and somehow refreshing way. Have you noticed that. A good kind of tired after a few hours on the water? The vocalizations of the Eagle, the gulls and the Loons surrounded us. I wished that I’d been able to hear the muskrat or to have been able to watch him for more than a few seconds. His oiled coat had glistened a dark reddish brown in the sunlight as he flitted between blueberry shrubs and undergrowth. I wondered if he frequented the island or if he was just exploring.

Everything slows down out on a lake. The concentration on what you can and cannot feel at the end of your line, what it might be and how long to wait before setting the hook is a new constant after a long winter of walking on water. The sense of touch associated with the rise and fall of slow waves, of current pushing you, takes time to rediscover. The warmth of the sun and the comfort of the sound of the wind blowing through the pines doesn’t require any such adjustment. When you feel those, you are caressed by peace. You embrace them like silence, so different from our everyday noise, so full of comfort is the soundtrack of the woods around.

Gull blends into the trees and looks like a gap in them at first. Eagle keeps watch.

I didn’t take a temperature of the water. It seems cold but warming daily as is normal for late May. I’d jump in and go swimming. Most people not from here would prefer to wait a couple of weeks. The blackflies are still doing their thing to benefit the blueberries and the mosquitoes weren’t bad until it was time to go home. Normal. As I sat in my backyard an hour or so later cleaning fish, their were scores of huge honey bees droning away as they fed on the newly blossomed crab apple and cherry trees in my yard. I’ve never seen so many before. They also buzzed about the dandelions and found our tiny Lilly of the Valley buds. 

Jen holding two of her favorite catches. Look at that smile!

It sounded like the promise of Summer to come, outside in the yard in Ely. It was Spring in all of its glorious rebirth. Rising.

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Solo Fishing

By Taylor Ham

Paddling from a solo canoe is something that I have become very comfortable with. I’ve spent the last five summers paddling them when I can’t find anyone to go with. My favorite solo canoe to paddle is the NorthStar Magic. They are very lightweight, easy to portage and for someone with good balance, stable enough. After a very dreadful morning of listening to current events going on in the twin cities my heart ached and I needed to go somewhere to be alone. 

I portaged to South Kawishiwi in hopes to catch some small mouth bass. I have caught some pretty decent ones there before, so I thought I’d try again. The spot I was thinking of was very easy to reach and wouldn’t take too much time at all. I saw the perfect rocky shoreline with a few downed trees and I casted in. First cast and I had a fish on! How exciting to find a fish just like that! I fished that shoreline and caught two more bass and two small pike. I decided to keep moving to the original spot I had planned to go to. I found a nice rocky bay and I casted in, the lure barely hit the water before I had a 15in bass on. 

solo fishing by canoe with Taylor Ham

It’s a new skill I’m learning, managing a canoe specifically a solo with a fish on. If you aren’t anchored in it can be seconds before you’re blown somewhere dangerous. This small mouth had put up a good fight and was flying out of the water before I got it in the boat. I stayed in this spot and only caught a small pike and decided to move on. It was getting late and I needed to get back to town for work, so I started to paddle back. 

I saw a bay that I couldn’t pass up, so I dropped anchor and my lure was sitting in the water right next to the boat and a fish came up and gobbled it right up. Another decent size! I was running out of time but was so excited, so I stayed for another thirty minutes and caught two more nice fish. Too much fun when you find the fish and have a productive day on the water. I would always prefer to share my excitement of fishing with someone else. A tandem canoe makes it easier to control but fishing from a solo canoe adds a new level of patience and skill especially on a windy frustrating day. More days like this to come!

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Fishing for Summer

By Taylor Ham.

After spending my last winter in the cities I’ve realized there is no other place for me than a small town like Ely, MN. I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to call it my home. Something that has been brought to my attention is the accessibility to wilderness I have that many people don’t. Working at an outfitter gives me the ability to rent gear and take it places that for some people only comes once a year or even a lifetime. For me it comes every day if I choose. It takes just a little discipline and the desire to get out on the water. This past winter while focused on my health and healing I spent a lot of time thinking about the spring days I would be fishing in the BWCAW. 

I don’t know much about fishing and I had made It my goal for the summer to fish as often as I can as well as listen and retain as much information as I can about it. What I have found is that fishing is an expensive hobby, but it has been well worth it. It has been occupying my mind most of the time. Catching fish is one of the most exciting things that I have ever experienced. 

When you work a full-time job it’s not hard to make time, you just have to prioritize what you want. If you’re tired you just have to push through, especially when you’re learning something new. The odds increase drastically the more I have my line in the water. For me it is not enough to spend just my days off in a boat. Finding time in between shifts at work to be on the water is key to every summer I’ve spent in Ely. 

Before my shift a friend and household member Nick and I wanted to fish on Little Gabbro. We got up at around 5:30 AM, got organized to be on the water by 7:00. Wasn’t quite early enough to get the morning bite but it was a beautiful morning regardless. Caught a few small fish and sometimes that’s enough. After drifting around for a bit, I noticed something on a distant shoreline moving around. It was a moose and her two babies! The most incredible wildlife I had seen in the Boundary waters to date. It made the whole trip worthwhile. 

Look close near the fallen tree 🙂

The reason I live where I do is for mornings like that. The accessibility I have to wild places surprises me every day. 

A day later I made plans with my partner Madeline to go fishing on South Kawishiwi in the evening after work. We didn’t catch much but again it was a beautiful time on the water. I will never complain about that. It’s a good way to spend time with the people you love. After not having much action with a jig and minnow we decided it was a good time to head back. I threw on a small Rapala and we started our lazy paddle back. After about one minute of trolling I had a good fight with a small mouth bass. It’s so exciting to reel in something big and guess what might be on the other end of the line. I will be chasing that feeling for the rest of my life I’m sure. 

As I’m learning as much as I can about fishing, I stop often and think it’s all a process. I don’t know a lot and that’s okay. But the best thing you can do is talk with people, take their advice and most importantly keep the line in the water. Cheers and happy spring!

Ice Out 2020

On Friday afternoon the sun left Ely for more southern climes I guess. The clouds rolled in and the wind picked up. Shagawa Lake has become, over the years, the official measuring stick for when the ice is out in Ely.

We went down to see what we could see, just hours before the rain came and the last vestiges of 2019’s long remembered Winter left the northland forever. It was almost too windy, but with an experienced pilot on the stick, we captured some fantastic footage of the semi-solid surface. Far from safe and discolored towards black, what was left had bunched together and begun to candle.

You can see in the film, the way the rotten black, especially during the clouded afternoon, takes on the attributes of the surface of the moon. Pockmarks, ski tracks, snowmobile tracks and even tire tracks from cars and trucks are barely noticeable like eons of traffic on the rock the orbits Earth.

Just weeks ago, someone was fishing on this surface, huddled over a hole they cut with an auger. In the hours that followed, the ice was eaten from beneath by the hungry appetite of Spring wetted with temperatures in the fifties and few thirsty gulps of rain.

The wind always seems to be the death knoll of walking on water up here in the North and it was no surprise when Saturday followed up Friday’s slow shower with a steady push over fifteen miles an hour and gusts that crested twenty. This fourteen hour blow did the trick and although bigger lakes like Snowbank and more would follow, Shagawa had freed itself.

Sunday’s sun and the cornflower blue skies that also followed showed a new season waking on Shagawa Lake and Ely. A land of sky-blue waters, straight from a Hamm’s commercial. Cheers!

Saturday also held something special in store for us on a hike at Hidden Valley just outside of Ely. On a couple of trails in different place, the trees open up and you can get a springtime view of the wetlands unfolding before you. At one, in the Summer, you can see a meadow circling a marshy area full of life.

It was HOPPING on Saturday and no mistake. I recorded the sounds and recommend turning up the volume and letting it loop while closing your eyes. It’s the sound of Life, new life and Hope, rebirth, Spring and the eternal hatching of young, both in metaphor and truth.

There’s four types of frogs in our woods this time of year. Aside from Spring Peepers and most likely the deeper voices of the Northern Leopard Frogs, there’s the Wood Frog and the Boreal Chorus Frog. Together with the songbirds and the gulls as well as some raptors we could see flying low over the valley, they made a beautiful chorus that I’ll never forget.

Stay safe, but dream! Close your eyes and you’re in the wilderness!

What follows is a great poetic adventure that I didn’t write 🙂 Tim Stouffer

There’s no video, just a recording of Nature’s rebirth.

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Remembering 2019’s First Trip

May 1st 2019 by Tim Barton

With ice out on most of the lakes and rivers on the west end of the BWCAW, We decided 5/1 was the perfect opportunity to get into the woods for our first official camping trip of the 2019 paddle season. What better way to work out the kinks than to travel 35 miles on two of my favorite rivers in the park Moose river and Indian Sioux.

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Saturday Walk, Shagawa Ice Status

The sun coming in the window woke me with its warmth. The cats were curled up, one on top of the quilt, one underneath, effectively trapping me. I wanted to sleep in. To stay with them. They are a comfort in these uncertain times. Friends that live with us. Friends I can see and play with everyday.

I wanted to get outside, though, before the day began to come on in earnest. Jen wanted to go for a walk and our steps soon found us headed towards Semer’s Park and the closest shoreline of Ely’s Shagawa Lake.

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Solo, but never alone

With social distancing in place across much of the world and the signs of spring dawning with crisp mornings and sunswept afternoons, I have ventured out with my trusty bike to (safely) set new PRs and regain some of my lost endurace from the winter absent of biking.

My winters are often spent in Northfield MN one of the windiest places I have ever experienced, but after Covid-19 required the movement of classes online I returned home to Ely, as countless other students did across the country.

The 2 weeks of self quarantine were a challenge but necessary for the  community of Ely, and after the 14 odd days I left the house I grew up in with vigour to feel a caloric burn. A quick tuneup after some flat tires and an old chain set me straight and the miles soon glided by. I was a runner and skier growing up and biking has not been a natural sport for myself so the learning curve and development of my skills has been a welcome challenge in my collegiate years, and reflections now show a love of speed I previously had unknown knowledge off.

The wind whipping my face as I glide down asphalt reaching speeds in the low 30s MPH has a sort of rush I have felt but never at such sustained levels as road biking. As a person in today’s world of unknown risks and symptoms, the comfort and relaxation attained by a solo bike and an open road deep in the Superior National Forest has been a time for stress to be released and small joys to be seen.

Solo, but never alone. Not outdoors near Ely anyway.
These new friends practice distancing too.

The privilege to have these open spaces has never been clearer to me and I hope all who are reading are able to find a space to find peace and some form of solitude. 

Simon Stouffer

St Olaf College

Ely Native

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Fishing Found Lake Trout

Last Ice fishing trout trip of the season – Found Lake Trip Report March 27-30th — By Eric Glasson

With just one weekend left in the winter trout season, I wanted to plan something special. I had recently been turned on to a stocked trout pond entirely within the BWCAW that I hadn’t had the chance yet to visit. Found Lake, off Newfound via the Moose Lake Entry point #25 is stocked with brook trout and I have heard rumors there are some giants swimming under the ice. Found Lake is about 3.5 miles from the Moose Lake EP, I am sure most of you have paddled by numerous times on your way to Prairie Portage, Ensign or Knife without even knowing it was there. According to the MN DNR lake finder website this small 60-acre lake has been stocked with brook trout during odd years since 2011, which means the lake just received a fresh stock of brook trout in 2019. With my personal best brook trout only being 15.5”, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity for an upgrade. 

When we arrived at the Moose Lake entry point, we were greeted by two dogsled teams packing up after runs up to Knife Lake. Those familiar with BWCA winter travel know that late March can be the best time to cover miles with minimal effort, whether you are being pulled by dogs, or providing the horsepower yourself. The warm weather we had been experiencing for the last two weeks had left only about 2-3” of slush on top of solid ice (later we would find that ice was still 18” thick and safe all the way to the shoreline). While most folks are jetting off to warmer climes in mid-March, all I can think about is chasing trout through the ice in the BWCAW.