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World-Class Fishing (and Relaxing) in the BWCA

World-Class Fishing (and Relaxing) in the BWCA

This week, I want to take a break from legal and political commentary and simply give our readers a “heads up” on a great vacation idea. It’s called the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and if you enjoy fishing and the outdoors as much as I do, it will be the trip of a lifetime for you and your family or friends.

The BWCA consists of a little more than 1 million acres of water and wilderness that extends along the US/Canada border in Northern Minnesota. It has been carefully cultivated and regulated by the two countries with an eye toward protecting and maintaining the wilderness, and from what I have seen throughout my years of traveling there, they are doing a really good job. Permits are required to enter and camp, and the number of campers in a particular area is strictly limited. No glass containers of any type are permitted. And the big thing — the one that I think does the most to keep the area pristine — is that motors are not permitted. So, if you want to get from point A to point B, jump in your canoe and start paddling.

Your trip to the BWCA will begin with a flight into Minneapolis. From there, you drive north for a bit over four hours to the quaint little town of Ely. There you will find outfitters, restaurants, and unique stores galore. Any camping necessities you forgot to pack will be available somewhere in Ely. I suggest the Ely Steakhouse for the best meal in town, or for a few adult beverages on the back end of your trip.

From Ely you will travel to your outfitter to prepare for your trip. I have been using Moose Bay Lodge (www.moosebay.com) since I first started making this trip, and owner John Herrick really knows what he is doing. He can also give you a few tips on catching fish; he holds the world-record for smallmouth bass on a fly rod. You’ll be fishing the same waters that produced his world-record catch.

On the day you head into the BWCA, you’ll be traveling in a motor boat with your 20-foot canoe strapped on top of a rack attached to the boat. You will check in at the ranger station at the border, and then head off into the wilderness. When you hit the restricted area, you put the canoe into the water; transfer everything from the boat to the canoe; hop in and start paddling. I have done trips where the paddle was as short as 45 minutes, or as long as 4 hours. Everything depends upon where you are going and which way the wind is blowing. Paddling a big, loaded canoe into a stiff wind is a serious workout. Trust me on that one. An experienced guide is a necessity, as handling that big canoe in rough water is darn near impossible for those who have not done it previously. Your outfitter can set you up with a good guide.

Once you hit your campsite, the fun begins. You set up your tents, rig up your fishing tackle, and head out. Smallmouth bass are the fish of choice in the BWCA, although there a plenty of big pike and some walleye as well. But for my money, it’s the smallies that make the trip worth taking. 2-3 pounders are the average, but I can almost guarantee you will catch some 4 and 5  pound hogs during your trip. It’s all catch and release (except for what you keep for dinner), and in over 10 years of taking this trip, I’ve never had a bad week of fishing. This year, my buddy Rich and I kept track of the fish we caught throughout 1 day. We fished just a little over 4 hours, during which time we caught a total of 77 fish. We were in a bay filled with Northern Pike when the guide called “last cast”, and each of us hooked a pike that was 10+ pounds on those casts. Unbelievable.

Some folks call camping in the BWCA “roughing it”. Those folks haven’t been there before. We eat steak, pork chops, grilled/fried fish, ceviche, wine, cheese, and anything else you want to take with you, space and weight permitting.

All of the pictures included with this article are from the BWCA. The one with my son and the dog gazing out over the lake is from our usual campsite. The pictures will give you some idea of what it’s like up there. For me, it’s a stress-reliever like no other. Give it a try, and feel free to call me at our Moundsville office if you have any questions.

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