Boundary Waters Catalog Blog

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Swans on Open Water

A few days later and the recent snow is melted away. Of course the forecast hasn’t changed, today the rain is falling and deteriorating the determined piles of snow that we have left. I took the short trip out of town to where the river bends into the forest and around the edge of Winton on 169.

The swans had thinned their bevy, but they clung to the same shoreline, now devoid of snow as well. As I held my phone up to capture the same scene from Monday three of them took to the grey skies that held only the pre-meditations of the rain that would soon be falling.

The pair of Canadian Geese were up closer to the road and honked at me several times before they rose up overhead and flew away towards Lake One and the End of the Road about twenty miles away.

After their departure, I crossed to the other side where the flowage was home to a family of Merganzers (both hooded and common) and other Spring waterfowl. The beautiful sound of rolling water accompanied their conversations. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but it sounded like bits and pieces of a song for Spring and a tribute to the toughness of Old Man Winter.

I drove over to where the river exits Shagawa Lake to see if any of the swans had landed over there but instead I found more Merganzers and Canadian Geese.

Since this morning it has rained over an inch and we are expected to get four more inches of what they call “Wintery Mix.” I guess we will see what happens.

Rain on my metal roof sounds like pretty fair music to the ears right now. It is a welcome change. The ground is thawing and the birds who have returned seem happy enough in their dance on the surface. The water temperature can’t be much above freezing but they don’t seem to mind.

It’s a good day to be half way through the week. The Northwoods is singing.

And dancing.


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The Beauty and Cold of Winter Hangs On

It feels like Winter used to feel like in the Northwoods when it would hang about in Ely waiting in the wings, waiting to catch us off guard. We have climbed up and over 50 degrees multiple days and even multiple days in a row since late in February. However, Winter is still with us and the pictures I took earlier this morning tell you all you need to know.

The calendar might say that it is Spring, but the weeks still bring nights below freezing and at least two days of the white stuff that has begun to feel like a house guest that has overstayed their welcome and long ago ceased to bear gifts to placate our nervous energy about when they will be leaving.

The snow is of course, beautiful. It is always unexpected, even though we follow the forecast. The snow is also very welcome as it raises the water table and helps us overcome the lingering drought that the last four years have left us. We don’t want the threat of fire that loomed in the Boundary Waters and the Superior National Forest most of the paddling season last year and indeed materialized both up in Canada and on our side of the border. We’ve had enough of the rampant haze and smoke that clouded our summer and frazzled the nerves in a different way. Snow is good. Moisture is good.

It has been Winter since later in October, though and being used to change in Minnesota, we are ready for some change. Half the year is a big deal. Since the lake waters were hard enough to walk on, there have only been a few nights above freezing when we weren’t making ice. As a result, on April 10th, yesterday, many local lakes still measured three feet of thick hard ice.

The next ten days look to be in the thirties except for one or two and the nights are all expected to be below freezing with the exception of one that only climbs up to 33 degrees. This whole working week is projected to welcome either snow or “Wintery mix.”

It is a place for the hearty and every year some of the heartiest of our friends return early. For a few weeks now the geese and waterfowl and our relatively new friends, the swans have shifted their feet and stood around on ice waiting for open water. The soft edges and slow turns of our rivers have opened with the swift and sure currents. They are sharing these spaces and if anything else could be more beautiful than a freshly fallen snow, it should be the graceful swans.

The growing but fleeting strength of the morning sun was peaking through the heavy clouds just enough to splash a net of sparkling diamonds across the corner of my frame. Mirrored across the shoreline, the bevy or bank of swans stacked up the edge of the riverbank. Off to their left a pair marked their space on the opposite bank, perhaps giving way to a pair of Canadian Geese that ultimately took flight as I snapped off some shots.

It was a good start to the week. It was a change and I guess that’s all I really wanted to see. Not more of the same. We’ll stop walking on water and begin paddling on it soon enough. Soon enough these beautiful birds will take flight and we will take their place on the water, with sunlight until the ten o’clock hour.

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Stocking Stuffers: Gift Ideas 2021

At the Boundary Waters Catalog we strive to make it easy for our customers and guests to find what they need quickly. Thus we’ve added a new category this Holiday Season: Stocking Stuffers.

When you reach inside, the best stuff might be down by the toes who knows?! New Zippo Handwarmers, Pour Over Stanley Coffee Sets, Pancake Mixes, Our own special Boundary Waters Coffee Blends, Gourmet Pretzels, Chocolate Covered Crickets, wonderful reads, Maple Syrup, the list is as long as Santa’s and goes on and on. It’s got something for everyone!

stocking stuffers from Boundary Waters Catalog
Click above for this year’s Stocking Stuffers

There are easy to find gifts under $30, below $50 and a selection between $50 and $100.

Gifts made right here in Ely. Click for the best Granola you’ll find.

Of course we have plenty of other selections that canoers, campers, outdoor enthusiasts, lovers of books, collectors of useful outdoors tools and artisan paddles will love. All of these are covered by a wide range of prices.

Click Stocking for Gift List

You may have just discovered our expanding variety of specialty foods which make excellent gifts all times of the year but especially at Christmas and the Holiday Season.

Keep your hooks safe and leave your lures on your rods. Made in Ely. Click above to buy.
Click above for Gift Cards

If you cannot decide but know in your heart that our gear is something a friend or loved one would be over the moon for, then just follow this link to our easy to purchase electronic or physical Gift Cards. Trust us, Everyone loves em!

Let us know if there’s anything we can help with orders@piragis.com.

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Step away from the hustle.

The sun comes out early these days, and with it, magic. The warblers and songbirds and ravens begin their choruses about 4:30 a.m. leading up to the explosion of light that turns dusk and grey and shadow into a spectacular vision of color. Green blooming all around in beautiful variety. Yellows, reds and oranges, blues and purples and blacks follow. Some right on top of others as sunlight illuminates and reveals new levels like the layers of an onion. It reminds me of painting

Doing watercolor paintings at the break of dawn is a study in speed and first impression. As the light transverses the horizon, colors both change and disappear. Shadows shorten, details emerge. One has to practice sketching quickly and sometimes doing quick color studies on another page of paper; mapping the sequence as morning advances, squashing the grey dreamy unknown.

It’s a quick record of something normal and everyday that is also magical. Doing it right requires you to take mental notes, to take physical notes, to blend water and color and pencil on the fly and then to return to the “canvas” to complete. It requires observation.

To me, this is the best part because it means we have to slow our roll, to notice everything and to focus. To watch and nothing else. To stop the mind from multi-tasking. To see.

It usually takes on average 3 to 4 days to adapt to the schedule of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to the point where you get into a groove. Paddle, make camp, prep, cook, swim, campfire, sleep. Wake early, light stove, make coffee or water for tea, etc. Prep, cook breakfast. Trips for water, boiling water, latrine trips, packing up, unpacking, washing up, cleaning up, bear proofing, not to mention: hammock, reading, fishing, swimming, staring, and un wind ing.

It takes a couple of days to detox from the business and busyness of modern life. To enjoy quiet. To discover a partnership with nature.

To see.

— We hope you’ll take the time to discover how beautiful mornings and evenings in the BWCAW can be and how taking that time can change your outlook on life. Indeed, how wilderness can shape your life into something different than you had planned. You won’t find it virtually. You’ve got to get out in it to see what I mean. 1-800-223-6565 is a free call to place that can get you in touch with our Outfitting department. Drew, Adam and Tim Barton are on-hand to get you started on the canoe adventure of a lifetime. One that you’ll want to repeat again and again.

Don’t let the sun set on one more of your days without booking some of the summer/fall in the Boundary Waters…

First Day of Summer 2021

It is upon us.


The rain fell all day yesterday, giving us some hope for the recent brace of dry weeks that have become synonymous with June these last two Springs. It is cold this morning (barely 50 degrees F. about 10:30 a.m. central time). The sky is brewing up some more rain for the early afternoon hours.

We brought fish home Thursday and Saturday, avoiding the worst of the gusts with winds blowing up to thirty miles an hour as the week progressed. The breezes we did experience gave us the effect of trolling as they pushes us down the shoreline in our canoe.

There’s not much more appealing to the eye and the taste buds than Panko breadcrumbs over an egg wash with a little mustard all frying to a golden brown over some fresh fillets. Miracle Whip for added tang instead of mayo, mixed with pickle relish and a teaspoon of lemon juice makes a great tarter sauce, perhaps with a few shakes of paprika or cayenne pepper if you’re feeling spicy. Fried potatoes on the side and fried eggs over medium. My go to breakfast, lunch or dinner. Dinner this time with a cold Pilsner. Reward for cleaning.

Simple pleasures.

This first taste of “Summer” never gets old. Sunshine on a plate. If you don’t eat fish, that’s fine, everything tastes better when you are camping. Put a little char on something and it can’t help but remind you of hot days, cool nights, fireworks, freedom from the droll and mundane sameness of normal weeks.

Time in the woods, time with a canoe paddle in your hand, a fishing pole at your side and a camera’s view of your “own” wilderness lake. Those are things worth the trip up north. Being able to hear a loon singing on what seems like your own private lake, a timberwolf “answering” a few lakes over. These small wonders add up to unforgettable memories wrapped in some of the most beautiful sunsets you’ll ever see.

Fall asleep under the stars that you can’t see because of the light pollution at home. You’ll be tired in a good way, worn out, but not exhausted. Just happy in your rebirth as you experience the real outdoors. At four-thirty in the morning the birds will begin singing at dawn and you won’t need an alarm or a reason to wake, you’ll just be ready. Ready for anything or nothing. Believe me there’s room in your daylight hours for plenty of each in the wilderness.

  • T (Call us 1-800-223-6565 and talk canoe trips. We’ve got the best Trip Outfitters in the business on hand to help plan your trip.) Photos by @timyb11 and #elystreetpoet
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Poem: Evening Meal Food for Thought

Evening meal.

Up along the ridge,
rising like the guard hairs on the back
of a sleeping sentient dog
stand the blackened bones against the setting sun.
Underneath the forest, that has
not forgotten the fire, is childlike again;
free and open with its searching.
the lake remembers,
but not in the way the forest does
or the way we might,
its reflective past a mystery
swallowed with the dip of the
sun behind the ridge.

We fish under the growing clouds
of storm.
We feel the pull of our lines
on our hearts.

Our tent waits in silence.
Our story waits to speak.

Change is a lightning strike.

What if we could all be a difference that followed,
loud as the rolling thunder,
beautiful as the last beams of the sleeping sun,
exciting as the triple dip in the rod tip?

©Timothy James Stouffer #elystreetpoet
06182021 All rights reserved.

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Taking time to sit.

Take time to sit. It’s important.

Summer’s official start is just a few days away. There are canoe trippers sitting in canoes, sitting at camp, sitting around the fire, sitting on the highest points they can find, looking out over the wilderness we call home. Just when we thought nothing could beat the increased interest in the outdoors spurred by the 2020 Summer months during the pandemic, we were proven wrong. Permits are going fast, some days it’s difficult to find a canoe rental, Ely is a busy place.

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Howling Too Good on a December 1st Afternoon

by Steve Piragis

All my friends seemed a bit squeamish about early season ice conditions yesterday.  It is early but the small lakes now have at least four inches of ice, so Jack our dog, also known as Mr. Happy, and I just got out some tip ups and bought some minnows and headed to our secret little wilderness lake to see what’s biting.

Tuesday was a near perfect early winter day; little wind, lots of sun and some fresh hope for the future in the air.  The walk in is very short but this lake, just outside the wilderness boundary, seems to be rarely visited by other folks.  We were alone again, and the feeling was good.  Jack is always happy to be out and as a fuzzy and very cute bearded collie he is constantly aware of more of nature than any human can sense. 

piragis winter one

With ice chisel in hand, we poked our way along the shore ice till we got to the spot where a big boulder is a long stone’s throw offshore and headed out.  I was wearing my paddling life vest and I had safety ice picks on a cord around my neck.  I was as careful as all my friends had warned me to be.  The thump of the chisel every few feet sounded solid, so we carefully made our way to the fishing hole that was so productive in summer, off the big gull nesting rock.  It’s a good spot for northerns, crappie and bass in summer so why not in winter was the hypothesis.

In my humble opinion, the best time to ice fish is early in the season on a rare sunny day with four inches of ice to cut through instead of 4 feet of ice in January.  At 30 degrees the minnow bucket doesn’t freeze, and the holes stay open and a human can relax and jig from the comfort of a camp chair while soaking up the rare natural vitamin D available in December.

The chisel chunked out big chards of ice that Jack found to be the perfect puck to chase around the ice and crunch on for kicks and refreshment.  He seems to prefer drinking out of lakes and eating snow over drinking water from a bowl anytime of the year anyway.  With a couple ice fishing tip-up rigs set up and baited with a fresh minnow we had time to play fetch the ice chunk.  At a year and a half, it was Jack’s first time realizing that even a canine with four legs has a challenge trying to stop while running on ice. 

jack on ice

With no action happening and feeling the thrill of being alone on a wild lake perhaps miles from the nearest person, I tuned up my wolf howl for fun.  It’s worked well over the years, mostly at night but even in daytime occasionally.  Not to sound like bragging, but one of my few talents in life is the ability to imitate the calls of birds and even a few mammals.  On early morning walks with Jack, I have made more than a few ravens do a double take and circle back to check us out.  I have called in whip or wills in white cedar bogs on Cape Cod and made a lot of loons curious about a canoe cruising past.  “Poor Sam Peabody” is a specialty of mine.  The white throated sparrows eat it up in June when I whistle the call, they all but attack me.  I once imitated the high-pitched whine of a mother wolf and brought her three little pups out of the woods to greet me on a June run on old logging roads.  When mom showed up to round up the pups her stare at me, hackles up on her neck from a few feet away is a moment frozen in time.  So, howling into the wind on an open wild winter lake in not unusual for me.  Jack thought I was a little crazy, but he is always forgiving. 

The flag went up and we trotted over to the tip-up and found the line headed south and the tug of a fish on the end.  I was hoping for a pike for dinner or even a walleye but up through the ice hole came a largemouth bass.  Now, that’s a first for me in winter in northern Minnesota, catching a bass through the ice. Two pounds of golden floppiness lay on the ice for Jack to inspect.  I believe he thought that was pretty cool.   We let her go back through the hole she came up through swimming straight down in the murky depths.  It turned out to be the only fishing thrill of the day.

jack and bass

The sun slides sideways in the north on a December afternoon.  The angle of decent is as oblique as it gets in December as it slices towards the horizon oh so slowly.  As Jack and I descended into the shadows of the big white pines to the southwest, I felt the first chill of the day.  Maybe it was time to start packing up the gear?  But, first a couple more howls to the distant hills and we can wind up the lines. 

Facing the long length of the lake to the east there was some movement near the distant shore.  I’ve seen deer on the ice there before and as day turns slowly to night deer are more likely to be out of cover and on the ice.  Two animals at first and then four and they seemed to move more quickly and playfully than deer would naturally.  There were soon more.  The long legs could be deer, but the quality of their movements looked more like wolves.
Jack took notice.  He made a half-baked move to run out there but seemed relieved when I told him to stay and get back with me.  One little 50-pound beardie does not herd his flock of wolves without consequence.

The energy from across the lake suddenly picked up momentum.  Four animals became six and more movement along the shore meant more.  Were there really nine wolves in this pack?  The lead group was coming closer and again the pack expanded.  I counted many times and came up with 11 dark figures moving randomly but ominously in our direction.  As they came closer the lead animal was darker than the rest and appeared much larger.  He or she, likely the alpha, stood obliquely to us staring.  Maybe my howling earlier in afternoon piqued their curiosity or maybe they perceived a threat to their territorial range.   Whatever their motivation it was obvious Jack, and I were on the minds of 11 wild, awesome predators of the great north woods. 

I had had a close encounter with a walrus once in the high arctic waters of Ellesmere Island.  It was just curious I think but it bumped the bottom of my kayak lifting two of us out of the water a foot or two before appearing with tusks dripping ice cold water two feet from my bowman. With 28-degree water leaking into our skin covered boat from a hole made by the walrus, we had little time to take photos.  We made it to shore before sinking along with the rest of our team in similar fabric covered kayaks only to have this mighty whiskered beast sit offshore a few yards watching this rarity of humans in a place long abandoned by Inuit centuries before.  In a life lived outdoors there are moments that a person will never forget.  The connection to nature is woven of experiences like this and so many others with the animals that live their entire lives in the constant drama of life and death.  Our own lives are mostly not at risk in nature with a modicum of care but there are moments on the edge when it could go either way.

I never got out my phone to take a photo or video of this great pack of wolves on the ice; never even thought of it.  I wasn’t really scared as I wasn’t rationally afraid of the mother wolf with pups two decades before.  But there was adrenaline.  Fight or flight was in my blood, but I reminded myself that wolves have never been aggressive towards humans in recorded history except for a questionable death up north in Saskatchewan a few years ago.  11 wolves however approaching even a quarter mile away is intimidating.  One or two would be less so I think.  11 is a whole squad in any sport and we were easy meat.  So, what to do?  I pulled the homo sapiens card and instead of howling, I yelled at them to get lost.  The ones in the back quickly retreated for the shore and the woods.  The 2 or three in the front, including the biggest and darkest of the pack just stood there.  Yell some more I think is what Jack suggested.  I did and they all slowly moved south towards the shore and disappeared.  One more indelible memory etched in chemical and electrical tangle of brain cells that will last as long as I do.  May there be many more.

— Steve

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A Snapshot in November

There are times when things just fall together. Colors on a hardwood floor, patterns, like Autumn leaves jumbled into a harmony ordained from the moment they deserted the only home they’ve previously known up in the canopy. Perhaps it is because we work together as a team, that our choices as buyers and creative members compliment each other.

Perhaps it is just a simple snapshot of November. Like the song goes, these are a few of our favorite things… today.

— for your reference, easy links and copy and paste items numbers for search if you are finding us from Instagram.

Buffalo Plaid Beanie — Item number 10008-1 $28.00
Sunset Wilderness is Calling Sweatshirt — Item number GDND $39.95
Topo Mini Quick Pack — Item number miniquickpack $55.00
Home Pack — Item number T25 $42.00
Sanborn Anniversary Cribbage Board — Item number SCC25 $65.00
Trees Sweatshirt — Item number T26 $48.00