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.
As we effortlessly pulled our sleds across the ice following the compacted tracks of the dogsled teams as they screamed across Moose Lake, all I could think about was my January 1st BWCAW trout opener trip just two months prior. Due to 3’ of snow, no blazed trail, steep portages and avoiding open water, sometimes requiring hiking up and over steep canyons, it took my crew and I over 6 hours to hike a little less than two miles. Yes, you read that correctly, we were only able to travel an average of .3 miles/hour. The ~3.5 mile trek across Moose Lake, over the Found Lake Portage, and across the lake to our campsite took us 90 minutes. I was excited; my energy would be spent drilling holes on this trip, not recovering from a death march.
We took our time getting setup, making sure with the warm weather coming that we would not be camping in a puddle for three days. We were forced to camp on the ice, as the shoreline was relatively steep and we needed a big open space to setup our Seek Outside ultralight winter trekking tent. As we were going to be camping out for three days, collecting and processing a healthy amount of firewood was our next urgent task. Luckily, a 200-yard trek through still knee-deep snow led me to a grove of small maples, a few of which had been blown down in the last few years. Those dead and suspended were bone dry, and I was able to gather enough maple in about two hours to last us the rest of the trip.
For those who have cooked over an open fire or spent time in a hot tent, you understand the importance of gathering hardwood that burns slowly, provides BTUs and doesn’t contain sap. The extra effort needed to process hardwood is worth it, to save your eyes from burning and fending off the freezing temps in the middle of the night when your fire has burned out. With a good stove full of maple, even the ultralight titanium stove for the Seek Outside tent, you can expect 2-3 hours of burn time before you need to reload. By the time we went to bed that night, we had a wood pile that would make any camper proud.
We were able to fish a little that evening near camp, but we were exhausted from the days work and were looking forward to the Elk Steaks I had brought for dinner, a cocktail by the woodstove and an early bedtime.
I was up and fishing by 7:30 A.M. hoping to put my first brook trout on the ice and secure our first fish dinner of the trip-I know how crucial that early morning hour is for fishing so I only took enough time to fill my Stanley with Coffee (and Bailey’s, of course) before heading. Generally, Brook Trout favor the cold water, so shallow is generally where I start my search for fish. For the next 2 hours, we spent our time drilling holes as shallow as 2’ and as deep as 25’ with no luck, not even a single mark on my sonar. As this is a small, fairly remote lake (not accessible by snowmobile or car) that was just stocked the previous spring, I had assumed the fish would be numerous and active with the warm weather. That was certainly not the case.
On probably the 30th hole drilled of the day; I finally marked a fish on my sonar. I was fishing in 16’ of water and on my first drop in that hole, I noticed a fish was following my bait as it fluttered to the bottom. The fish first appeared about 10’ under the ice under my falling bait. As I do with all trout species, I matched his approaching speed in the opposite direction to induce a chase. Sure enough, the trout followed my bait up to 3’ below the ice before swiping at the bait, unfortunately missing completely. I knew the fish was engaged and immediately opened my bail and let the bait flutter to 6’ below the ice. Again, he came from below the bait and the chase was on. This time, again around 3’ under the ice, he absolutely smashed my UV spoon tipped with a whole salted minnow and the fight was on.
Upon setting the hook he immediately sent my drag screaming and fought his way about 12’ down. For the next minute or so, I watched the drag on my ultralight reel praying my 6lb test and ultralight ice rod were up to the challenge of this healthy brookie. After the third run I felt confident the fish had tired and was ready to be landed. I have lost many trout right at the hole due to their violent head shakes, so I played it carefully as to not lose the only fish we had seen up to this point. Luckily, my hooks were sharp and my line durable. Before I knew it the fish was flopping around on the ice.
While not an absolute monster, this beautiful brook trout did qualify as a personal best measuring 16 ¾” and weighing in around two pounds-plenty of meat for three hungry campers to enjoy. “Even if this is the only fish we catch on this trip, all the work we put in will be worth it for a new personal best and a delicious trout dinner.” That mindset would be key over the next two days, as it would in fact be the only fish we caught on this trip. Fortunately, this was not my first time chasing trout through the ice, so I was used to frustrating trips, finicky fish and staring at sonar screens for hours on end with no luck. I was just happy to be out enjoying the BWCAW while most of the nation was preparing for prolonged shelter at home orders.
While our chances of catching more fish on this unfamiliar water would increase greatly if we “hole-hopped” all day, our goal was to sight-fish brook trout. Also, after drilling 30+ holes through 18” of ice the first morning, my arms might not hold up if we kept with that strategy. We decided to pick a good spot on the lake and cut a sight-fishing hole and let the trout come to us. After another 15-20 holes were drilled that afternoon, we settled on a spot next to a flat peninsula in 8’ of water where we were marking schools of baitfish coming through frequently. We figured if the food was here, it was only a matter of time before the trout would follow.
For those of you who haven’t sight-fished for any species in the winter, it is a completely new experience that really forces you to think about fishing differently, and in my opinion helps a person to better understand how these fish feed, the action of your bait/lure, how they react to your bait, and what errors result in fish being spooked or moving on without making an attempt at your bait. It is however, an incredible amount of work to cut a hole 4’ x 6’ through 20” of ice. For my birthday in October, my wife purchased an ice saw for me, as I hadn’t shut up about sight fishing trout all summer after my first winter in Ely. I was able to do it a few times here in Ely on Miner’s Lake drilling two holes next to each other and standing directly over the hole looking down, but what I really wanted was to have a massive viewing window into their world-to better understand the species.
An ice saw works similarly to a hand saw, but it is about 6’ long (half handle, half saw) and has GIANT teeth for cutting through ice. When carving out a hole this size, I drill at least 6-8 holes along the perimeter and connect them cutting through the ice vertically with the ice saw. Once the outline has been cut completely, you’re essentially left with a giant ice cube, but there is so much air frozen into the ice that it is too buoyant to sink and too heavy and slippery to remove from the hole without proper tools. I had to make a cross-cut to divide the cube in half before the three of us could push the two blocks under the ice and away from our hole as to not spook fish and keep our field of view clear.
After the ice was cleared from the hole, we set up the shelter to reduce glare and make it dark enough inside the house that we could see the bottom and the surrounding area. It is amazing how much light shines through even snow-covered ice to illuminate this magical under water world. We could make out individual crayfish skittering around on the bottom and see schools of baitfish swimming 20’ away when the sun was out.
No more than 5 minutes into sight-fishing, the two largest brook trout I have ever seen (and I am guessing 20+’’ dwarfing my personal best I had put on the ice just hours before) appeared out of nowhere from the depths of the lake and one came straight for my bait! As always with trout, I slowly jigged up and away from bottom and the fish followed it all the way up to 4’ under our hole before getting spooked and disappearing forever. Whether it was real or imagined, I swear I could feel the movement of water when the two brook trout simultaneous did an about face and with one powerful kick of their tail, were out of sight. I couldn’t believe what had just happened, my heartbeat did not return to normal for a while.
I talk about this casually, but every single time this happens, my heart races as I realize I have a split second to decide how to entice the fish to bite or waiver and lose the fish. It literally makes the sport more exciting for me, someone who has been fishing for over 25 years. The other thing sight fishing does for you is make each and every fish personal, tangible. When staring at the screen of a sonar, you generally don’t know the species, how large the fish is, how they are behaving or even what direction they are swimming. In my opinion, one successful day of active sight fishing is more beneficial to an angler’s development than a week’s worth of staring at a sonar speculating. This is also why underwater cameras have become so popular in the last decade – being able to physically see each fish makes the sport infinitely more enjoyable.
Over the next two hours, we saw two more solo brook trout slightly larger than the one I caught, but nowhere near the size of the two leviathan brookies that escaped our grasp earlier. The stories of monster brookies patrolling these waters were confirmed, but this time all but one outsmarted me. As the old-timer’s say; “that’s trout fishin’.”
I have a few theories as to why the fishing was so difficult that weekend. While the weather was generally nice and sunny, it was windy almost the entire time, with the barometer fluctuating hourly. These are generally conditions that do not bode well for trout through the ice. For whatever reason, I have had much better luck chasing trout when the barometer is falling, rising or staying steady. It seems to be the drastic fluctuations in weather they don’t like. I have also never fished a lake with such ample forage! We saw thousands of baitfish, dozens of monster crawfish and I am sure up in the shallows there are tons of invertebrates that were out in force with the warming water. In a lake with such ample forage, it is tough to convince an old fish to go after something less natural, when they have a buffet waiting for them everywhere they look.
While the fishing was nowhere near as lucrative as we would have wanted and expected, we had a blast. The day we hiked in hit 50 degrees and the overnight lows were in the high 20’s and low 30’s which made for comfortable sleeping. The wind was strong enough that there wasn’t much standing water on the lake and travel home early Monday morning was quick as the ice hadn’t yet had a chance to melt.
I would recommend checking out Found Lake on your next trip through the area. Unfortunately, there’s only one designated campsite on Found, but that also means the fish likely aren’t pressured as frequently and you will likely not run into another soul (we didn’t on our 4 day three night stay). There are bluffs on the Northwest shore (where I found the maple trees) that can provide a decent view in both directions, and there is a winter-use trail into Manomin also on the NW shore that is worth exploring. As it is an easy 3.5 mile paddle from entry point 25, you would also have the opportunity to make a day trip into Found for a beautiful picnic lunch or to catch dinner.