Boundary Waters Catalog Blog

Knowledge Base and Learning Center


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Just another day, until this…

November up north rarely sees 70 degrees with no wind.  It was a chance to get out one more time to my favorite little secret fishing lake, take out the solo canoe and see if I could bring home one fish for dinner.  Turns out it the lake gave me that last fish of the season and more fun with the rest I let go.  A northern for dinner fresh out of a cold lake in November, you can’t beat it.  Trolling around taking in the sights, a brief landing and a look around in a magical cedar stand and some warm sun on my back was enough to write a column about without the drama of what happened on way back to the portage.

I always see bald eagles on every trip to this lake.  I’ve seen wolves in winter there, deer on the shore and otters swimming in the shallows.   Fishing this lake is usually about bass, one after another, that we always release. Most days we land a pike and in spring a few crappies for the fry pan.    It takes some work to get to the lake and there are rarely any other people on the lake or on the shore.  It’s a gem of a find in the middle state land and forests of big white pine and cedar.  I could take you there, but you have to blind folded the last 10 miles, it’s that kind of special place.

As I drifted away from the bass rocks and headed toward home, a lone adult bald eagle soared east from near my landing.  In the red pines on the point, another eagle was oddly standing on ground as I neared shore.  The adult with its white head up close is massive.  This one was wet and sitting in the woods.  It sat oddly unperturbed as I paddled within 30 feet, strange to say the least.  I took a few I phone pics and paddled on to the landing to pack up and portage out.  Fileting my fish, I noticed a flash off the point as that eagle flew a few feet out and landed smack in the water just off shore. 

Now that is really odd, must be something wrong.  I got back in my canoe and paddled over.  It was floating like a duck and flapping its wings weakly.  I felt helpless knowing an eagle with a powerful beak and massive talons can inflict sever injury.  I pushed the bird towards shore with the bow of the canoe. 

It stood on a submerged rock soaking wet and shivering, head drooping and looking sick, very sick.  This poor bird, the symbol of our Republic, a fierce predator and scavenger was dying of what likely was lead poisoning.   The symptoms were there.  Its a slow death over a few days of agony all from ingesting just a few pellets of lead shot or a lead jig head found in fish guts on shore.   All I could do was leave it to die and try to come back the next day to retrieve the body.  I paddled back and portaged home and felt a deep sadness and helplessness that still makes me wonder if I could have done more.  

The next day the bird was gone.  No sign of a struggle or a kill or even a feather.  What happened I won’t know but the bird with it’s head bowed, and shivering is a lasting memory I won’t forget.  

Steve Piragis

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Anatomy of a Kevlar Canoe Repair

Greetings from the Northwoods!  With the rental fleet refinishing behind us, the winter canoe repair program is in full swing!  I thought it would be fun to take you through a recent repair I made, so that you can understand the process and hopefully decide we are the place to bring a damaged canoe.

Here you see a photo of the inside (below, right) and outside (below, left) of a canoe with a cut all the way through the hull. This damage went into the gunwale, which adds an extra challenge to the repair process. No worries, though, we’re prepared for anything!

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Last Leaves are on the Ground

eagle sentinel ely minnesota

Hiked out yesterday after a hard enough frost to curl the leaves on the hearty raspberry bushes and turn their edges black. The colors are down, except for the Tamarack holding watch on the edge of the Boundary Waters. I spotted a lone Bald Eagle in a dead tree keeping sentinel as well. His interest was also in the missing leaves because it means much less cover for what he’s really keen on picking up with his sharp eyes, small mammals.

tamarack trees outside of Ely Minnesota
beavers beginning again

There was lots to see and much less to hear in the woods. One Hairy Woodpecker and as you can imagine, this time of year, too many to count of the Red Squirrel variety. They were noisy. Barking at us around every bend. Scurrying up and around the red pines and birch. It amazes me how they can be so loud with their mouths full. No manners!

Tim Stouffer and David

The starkness of the earth tones on a gray morning is complemented by the frozen temper of the crisp air. It sears your lungs a bit, bites at the toes and insists on numbing your fingertips. The wind requires that you wear layers with zippers because you’ll overheat after minutes if you don’t have a way to vent. If you sit down, like I did, with Mr. David Byrne, you begin to wish at once you had another layer. It pays to keep moving.

up the trail
red pine bark

And yet, does it. As Jen and David outpaced me and my camera on the trail, I stopped by the water and took some time with my own reflections :). Even here in Ely, it is difficult to slow everything down and just relax, reflect, just enjoy what is right in front of you, because there’s always more to do. The next project and the three you are trying to complete. There’s the time by which you need to return and the things and people that are calling, pulling at you. But… even here in Ely, it pays to make the most and the best and sometimes even the least of the moment. If that means zipping up your layers and enjoying some time on the log by the lake to think then do it.

stark tree

It’s hard, though, not to frame a catalog cover or think about the way the words might fold together in a blog about this moment, however brief. I try to focus on some details that don’t seem at first to be obvious, like a beaver run cut through the tall grass that is both green still and yet brown and dry. A beaver run that they’ve kept open from the marsh that is partially hidden by a slight tree line on the left of the trail, all the way to this shore of the lake. This edge by the marsh is always more treacherous in the winter due in part to beaver activity. It also has current moving and in the shallows like at similar points of contact on other lakes it will never fully freeze here, even though in a couple of months, just yards away there will be two to three feet of thick hard ice.

bass lake

Across the lake I can see in the low light the splash of white that is a small waterfall. I cannot hear it, only the wind blowing through the barren trees and the dry grass. That and the irritation of the squirrels. The evergreens are the forest now. They are the color of the season from near black in hours like this to vibrant Kelly green under a sunlit sky. The rest of the forest has splotchy holes in it except for an occasional stubborn birch with yellows that have now matured to match the rusted golden tones of the once brassy Tamarack.

jack pine hangin

There’s no pomp and no splash of fuchsia or orange. There are just soft boughs of green that hang heavy like coat sleeves in the dark aisles of the woods. Boughs that will soon be laden and weighted down with snow like a second skin. Red and White Pines, Spruce and the occasional scrappy Jack Pine on its attempt to compete with the Cedars for which can root closer to the water on the meager offerings of topsoil that are often only a token offering of dusting in the cracks of granite older than all of us combined.

beaver run
fallen birch
a fun guy

Sometimes, this is where the quiet and the solitude can take you. When it washes over you, finally and you are at peace, the little things become clearer, the seemingly mundane becomes important. You have the time to notice that all of these leaves on the ground, once bright, once deliberate with their assurance are now part of the nutrients required for the earth to rebuild its tenuous topsoil, to sleep a little over the winter. To rest and bloom again. As we trod on them we grind this slow death of Summer into the soil beneath us a little more with each step. We don’t notice, but we dance with nature and deliver something even more beautiful than we took the time to travel to see, to capture in the moment and to talk about all Autumn. We deliver the promise of rebirth and new life when Spring arrives again.

jack pine over hang
leaves down on the ground

TJS, October 26, 2022

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Winter Canoe Repair Program Begins

Canoe guy Tyler here.  We are going to start a winter canoe repair program this year, and we want to let you know first. Canoes will be slotted into a schedule based on one-month repair windows.  We ask that interested parties reach out to us by phone 1-800-223-6565 (ask for Tyler or Tom), so that we can discuss the repair and determine a suitable date for you to bring your canoe to us. Once we have taken possession of the canoe, we will hold onto your canoe for 30 days without any storage or handling fee, after which time we will charge a storage fee of $50 per month until the canoe is picked up.

A Walk in the Woods

We walked the Stub Lake hiking trail on Saturday. The season of Autumn had already begun to change. Hours after the shorelines began to be dotted with some of the most beautiful colors of the year, those colors, those leaves that took an entire Summer to mature, began to fall.

Indeed, they were crunchy underneath.

I was struck with the weight of the temporary all around. I was also struck with the sense of loss now present, where, hope of new life and all things that spring forth eternal were predominant the last time we were on this trail together. March seventh to be exact. Like this past Saturday, I took some photos and some video, not by accident in some of the same places, to share with you.

The Stub Lake trail is fairly moderate, depending on the season and the depth and age of the snow if present. There are rocks that can be slippery and dangerous after a rain or a frost-covered morning. There are roots, not unlike every portage in the Boundary Waters I’ve ever been on, that reach up and grab at the toes of your boot or sandal when you drift off and begin enjoying the scenery. The elevation changes are minimal and the views around each bend and minor switchback always have something new and unexpected.

As we walked, I pondered how it was roughly the same temperature as it had been on that March day. How different 50 something can seem when it is the first time you experience it after a long, frigid winter than when the back of your mind is tickled with the thought that this could be one of the last times you reach close to 60 degrees and it is only early October.

Snow was everywhere that March day. It was wet and caused my big feet to slip and slide out from under me if I wasn’t careful to stay on the hard packed footsteps that had gone before me. I felt unstable on my feet like a newborn fawn on fragile, gangling legs. Now I felt sure on my feet and yet the number of freshly fallen leaves was adding a layer of unsureness to the cool and sometimes sharp rocks and roots underneath.

Through the leaves and forest you could glimpse the twinkling blue of first Fall and then Stub Lakes and this too was different than March, when the views without leaves only afforded more white. It would have been two months before the many feet of ice retreated from either lake then.

The squirrels were noisy in the woods now, busy and rushed as they were months ago. Our Dog, Mr. David Byrne, spent more time with his nose to the ground than when there was snow. He startled up Grouse more than once and was intimidated by the scents of black bear and timberwolf that had passed this way before us. In March, the bear were still asleep but I did find wold tracks clearly left in the snow.

Both hikes afforded plenty of time to soak it all in. This usually happens to me soon after the branches and leaves of the path I’m on fold in behind us and we are enveloped in the rooms of the forest. It happens quicker if I’m not on a portage or a hiking trail and just find myself walking in the woods. A walk in the woods. That’s what this was.

For me this sensation is always similar to taking a shower after working very hard at something outdoors, a project, a building of something or a tearing down, a demo job, an afternoon cleaning up the garden and/or mowing the lawn and trimming trees. The kind of dirty and grimy you get when you clean out your garage after forty years or move a parent and sort through 70 plus years of accumulated memories. The kind of dirty that you don’t even know that you feel after its been too long since you’ve found yourself in the woods. Even if you’ve just literally gotten out of the shower. The forest has cleansing properties. It did when I was a kid and it seems to even more today.

Perhaps it is all that oxygen that the trees are producing. A literal filtration is happening all around us. A soaking up of what we put out, what we exhale and a life-giving production of what we need with each breath that we are gifted on this earth. Here’s another breath, whisper the trees, here’s another. We’re glad you came. Look at this, look over here, watch out for that, looook aaat ttthissss…

There’s not really silence and solitude under this canopy of colorful flags blowing in the wind. There’s a symphony all around. Sure it’s void of industry and technology and stress that accompanies all things job and all things electronic communication (if you unplug before you step into it). However, it’s a happening place. Birds, wildlife, water running, leaves falling, trees creaking in the wind and brushing against each other, not to mention the soft crunch of each falling footstep.

It takes me back to days spent outdoors when I was under ten. Days so bright with new color and new discoveries that by eyes would hurt when I returned to the house. Not quite the same as the ache you experience from too much “screen time” today. These were days of exploration and rewards of new waterfalls, a list of first-seen-birds two pages long, the cold waters of a spring-fed creek that bubbled out of a valley green with moss and bright with Lady Slippers and Jack-in-the-Pulpits, rich with a cotton bandana filled with Morel mushrooms, near one-sided conversations with a Red Fox and a feral house cat… Days that burned out into nights lit only by fireflies and filtered starlight under the crown of the forest. Days as the poet, Billy Collins describes them, when “I used to believe there was nothing under my skin but light. If you cut me I could shine.”

We’ve all fallen and scraped our knees and discovered the untruth of that line, however sure of it we once may have been. But a walk in the woods, though, no matter how short or fleeting the accompanying colors might be, that still cleanses and refreshes like nothing else. Sitting down against a moss covered stump and chewing the stem of a tall grass seed and slipping into the “nap zone” still results in some of your best dreams realized.

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A Fall Canoe Day-Paddle in Color

With everything happening above the water it was easy not to look beneath, but I did and was struck with the following thoughts…

The ghost trees reach up to the surface of Miner’s Lake (a not so hidden gem, right in town, Ely, Minnesota) with their algae covered arms. When the sun hides behind the clouds overhead their branches are invisible until the white clouds shift in the cornflower blue sky. My canoe slides silently over the tallest of the dead forest drowned in the old mine pit. Here and there on the lake, there are whitened, dry stumps rising up. I say “stumps” but they are really the broken off tops of even taller trees than those below the surface. On some of these that resemble old pylons, six black cormorants sit like sentinels, watching for rainbow trout rising to the surface.

The cormorants are transients, I don’t often see them here in Ely, Minnesota, on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, but they have voracious appetites. They aren’t deterred by my presence on the water, though if I get too close, they shift from foot to foot, their pale, pinkish flesh colored beaks opening and closing. Overhead, a pair of Canadian geese are noisily honking, but these all black predators, more reminiscent of Turkey vultures than our black, common ravens, keep their voices and thoughts close to the vest.

Along the shoreline the evidence of September temperatures bottoming out in the mid-twenties and the waning of the recent Summer are on full display. Fuschia, red, orange, yellow, amber, green, white, and brown, along with every shade in between dot the horizon like a painter’s palette. In the bow of my canoe rests a vintage Smoker’s Brand Quality Paddle. During the first Covid Summer, my son, Simon and I began refinishing and painting patterns on old paddles. Some of you may recognize the stylistic homage to Sanborn Canoe Companies Painted Artisan Paddles. Mine are heavier of course, throwbacks, when paddlers cared less about weight, probably because they didn’t have to carry every piece of gear wherever the portages led.

In the varying light, the paddle’s primary color shifts from a midnight blue, almost black to a more vibrant blue that reflects the robin’s egg shade of the sky. On the return trip up the lake, the current has visibly subsided and most of my paddle strokes slice through a liquid mirror version of the stunning box of 64 Crayola treeline. The way the ghosts of trees rise up, nearly grabbing my canoe as it slices through the surface, leaving ripples of wake behind that silently seal up my passage as if I had never passed, is uncanny. It is eerily peaceful. Occasionally, an algae encrusted limb will scrap the bottom of my Wenonah Encounter as I slide over top of the forgotten forest.

Maples dot the shoreline with surprising punches of color.

I feel as though I could pull and pull forever, through afternoon after afternoon, until the ice begins to form. Without any wind in my face, it is effortless and I feel a little like I’m on the Willy Wonka skiff with all of the scenery on shore streaming by in a barrage of speed and unconscious focus that allows me to take it all in at the same time. 

Behind me the cormorants have been roused by something, hunger I suppose, and their twelve powerful black wings pound and splash the lake as they overtake my sleek yellow canoe and rise up into the sun that glints like diamonds off the glass-like lake. A hundred details hammer into my mind’s eye as the echoes of those wings permeate the afternoon peace.

This could be any lake or river in the north, in the wilderness or on its edge. The likelihood of seeing anyone else is pretty slim and even less slim is the chance of having your private thoughts interrupted by anything other than nature and wildlife. It’s a good season to relax during, as long as you are prepared for the weather and the elements. The wind is frequently higher and more unpredictable, the temperatures easily fall into the thirties during the day and night and as a result the water temperature is much colder than it is in the full canoe season. Combine that with the wind and hypothermia is a very real possibility if you get wet for an extended period of time or lose your balance and flip your watercraft. For these reasons and more if you find yourself on the water enjoying a late season trip or even just a day trip you need to take added safety precautions in the Autumn of the year.

To this effect (and also to prep your gear and canoes for next season) there are some Fall Canoe Gear Essentials that you should have easy access to. It is also a good idea to pack a waterproof bag with an extra set of warm and dry clothing, a warm fleece jacket and blanket and fire starter tinder and dry small fuel (sticks, birch bark, medium kindling) etc. A dependable lighter or two and backup waterproof matches and more birch bark goes without saying. These things should be in smaller waterproof bags of their own separate from your clothes and ideally, you should have multiples of them in case you lose a pack or can’t recover it. It goes without saying. But we’ll say it. Wear your PFD, it can save your life and it helps keep your core warm.

The variety of color as the sun shifts from behind the clouds is amazing.

Prepare for the worst and have the best time! That’s a good rule of thumb for any season, but on these shoulder seasons, you’ll be in a much better mood with extra gear and peace of mind than if you’re cold, miserable and in danger. Pack a rain jacket, good appropriate footwear and throw on one of our Piragis super-lightweight breathable Windshirts and you’ll be set.

Original art by Lucy Stouffer @bumblebeeart3

I’m drifting here, looking down at the ghost of a forest that once had green leaves of a different kind. Caught by surprise with another tree that long ago reached for the clouds that were only above me and not mirrored on the surface just below me. Now down below there are rainbow trout, smallmouth bass and my reflection looking back up at me.

We’re here for your canoe and camping needs plus so much more. Winter is coming and it’s a great time to get back to your reading lists. Check out our online bookstore if you haven’t already and our exciting list of Ely Artist made and written works.

Glass-like surface, early afternoon, first week of October, 2022

Tim Stouffer, Creative Director, The Boundary Waters Catalog and Piragis Northwoods Company.

06 Type of Travel Personalities -Which Type of Traveler Are You?

Isn’t it interesting that every year thousands of people visit Ely, but everyone experiences it differently? There’s so much to explore up here, but how you plan your vacations and explore the surroundings depends on what type of traveler you are.

Type of Travel

6 Type of Travel Personalities

You might find yourself among the following type of travel personalities:

Adventure seeker

Your life revolves around conquering challenges, owning a lot of spandex, and not being afraid to wear it. You go to sleep thinking about your next vacation and have a long list of adrenaline-pumping adventures you need to get to. Minnesota has what you are looking for. Whether you want to go out and explore the wilderness in a canoe, experience camping, or go Stand Up Paddle Boarding or kayaking on local lakes, we have got everything you are looking for. 

The creative finder

You have a love for unique things, everything handmade and authentic. Back in high school you may have dyed your hair purple or green and in college you enjoyed spending time around the art galleries. In Ely, you are most likely to sign-up for a class at the folk school, walk around the art galleries and spend most of your afternoon in a secluded spot with a sketchbook and maybe some paints. 


You love reading adventure stories and took a year off in college, or from work, to travel to different destinations around the world. To feed your restless soul, there are many ways to get out and explore the Ely area, find a quiet spot, and experience the spiritual zen of being in the most beautiful natural areas in the world. After all, the Boundary Waters has just been designated one of the Quietest Parks in America and the world’s newest International Dark Sky Sanctuary.  

The Want-to-know-it-all

Before you visit any place, you do your homework. It won’t be wrong to call you a history buff. You tend to read up and familiarize yourself with the history and culture of a place. Fortunately, the Ely-Winton Historical Society, the Ely Arts and Heritage Center, the Dorothy Molter Museum, and the Sigurd Olson Cabin at Listening Point proudly speak of Ely’s heritage for you to scoop up as much information as you want. 


You wish you were born in frontier times or had been a French Voyageur, before there were any towns and cities and when the rivers and lakes were still unnamed. No surprise you came up to Ely! As Ely is the gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, there are thousands of ways to get out and explore a wilderness area that will make you feel like you are the first one to explore the place. 


Exploring the wilderness area is a great adventure, but sometimes you just want to walk around, enjoy the modern lifestyle, and shop. With dozens of restaurants, cafes, craft breweries, wine bars, art galleries, spas, boutiques, and art and craft shops, Ely has got everything to delight your soul.

Bonus: If you are looking for some high-quality camping products, apparel, tools, books, popular Wenonah Canoes, and Kayaks to everything imaginable you can need for canoe outfitting and paddling -our Boundary Waters Catalog has got you covered. Browse around to order your favorite products today. 

Someone in our Corner…

Frank Benson was a local hero for young recent immigrants to Ely, Minnesota in the 70’s and 80’s.  He scouted out garden tools and fishing gear and just about anything a newly minted local could use but couldn’t afford at retail.  Frank knew the right connections to find a rake for $2, a useable shotgun for $30 or a worn-out refrigerator to use to smoke white fish for $1.  He made life on the edge of the wild possible with the gear we all needed but most of all he was our friend.  

Frank grew up in Robinson Lake.  Not in the lake but in a small settlement on the railroad line from Tower to Ely called Robinson.  He worked on the railroad for years and knew the land west of Ely around Bear Head State Park like the back of his hand.  He had a favorite lake in the woods at the end of a grassy dirt trail where Frank’s boat was always pulled up on a log ready to fish.  The 10′ rowboat was just big enough for Frank the guide and any one of his young proteges lucky enough to have time to join him for a late afternoon spin.  Frank knew well the fish we caught were largemouth and smallmouth bass, but he had his own vernacular, green ones and brown ones.  

I visited Frank’s landing for the first time in maybe 30 years this week.  The old steel rowboat was still there, sunk in the shallows, a bitter reminder that we lost Frank in the early 90’s.  We, who are now some of the elders of Ely, not yet really locals, but at least longtime residents and experienced woods people.  We’re the ones greeting, employing and passing on the love Frank showed us when we were young, eager and clueless.  We all need a sometimes-tearful reminder that we didn’t make it all on our own.  We had Frank Benson in our corner to help, to encourage us and to take us fishing on warm summer afternoon.   Thanks Frank.

Steve Piragis

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It is Bug Season in the Boundary Waters

There’s a heat wave hitting the Midwest, but so far here in Ely it has been cool and we’ve gotten about an inch or so more rain. Today is alternating between sun and cloud cover and sadly up and down internet and phone service for us here. We are working diligently to address these issues and apologize for any inconvenience it might be causing. If you can’t reach us, please be patient and try again in a half hour or so.

photo by Joel Giffin, Canoe Trip Client, Piragis Northwoods Company & the Boundary Waters Catalog

Thanks for the trip pictures, please continue to send them our way. Ely is busy and the weather continues to be optimal for canoe tripping. It’s shaping up to be a fantastic Summer. Call us at 1-800-223-6565 to plan your canoe trip and get permits today.

Although the Dragonflies are out, we’re still selling a lot of Bug Gear and Bug dope. It is not just a record season for water levels it is a record season for Blackflies and Mosquitoes. We want you to be comfortable on your canoe trip and in the woods. Take our warning seriously and you be much happier campers with the best Bug Gear and Bug dope you can find for the North Woods. If you can, get an Elite Original Bug Shirt, they’re the best!