Memorial Fishing Report, 6.2.18

Fishing reports varied greatly depending on where anglers decided to drop a line this past holiday weekend. Tourists flooded the Gunflint Trail and Grand Marais area trying to beat the heat wave happening in the metro area.

There was a major temperature difference between Devil Track Lake and downtown Grand Marais this holiday. Lake Superior kept the city temperature in the mid 50s while a few miles inland temperatures were about 30 degrees warmer.

Pontoon boats, Jet Skiers, and anglers were all taking advantage of the hot weather while children swam off our docks at Skyport Lodge – hard to believe the lake was frozen a few weeks prior. The lake water has warmed to 70 degrees in the shallower bays and fishing has begun to improve on most lakes, but not every lake has been giving up fish.

The Minnesota side of Saganaga Lake has been in a slump this spring, which has happened many times before, while the Canadian side of the lake produced a lot of nice post-spawn walleyes. I guided two of the days over the holiday weekend and managed to boat between 15 and 20 fish each day in the back of Curran’s Bay – a traditional spring haunt for walleyes after they have spawned. Lake trout were not cooperating as well, but we managed to catch a few of those finicky fish as well in 55 feet of water.

Our guests at Skyport Lodge have been catching small walleyes, later in the day, by trolling spinner-rigs or soaking leeches under a slip-bobber in 6-8 feet of water – especially before the big storms came through on Tuesday; anytime the barometer is dropping, fish are biting somewhere. Leeches and nightcrawlers have been working well, which is great since the warm surface temperatures are making it difficult to keep minnows alive.

Slow Green Up, 5.26.18

The woods are reluctantly turning green this week as leaves begin to sprout from tree limbs and the grass, although spotty, begins to grow. Conditions are dry, and there is very little precipitation forecast for Cook County to help aid the green-up and hopefully curb the current fire danger.

When Smokey the Bandit says, “high or extreme fire danger” it is time to pay attention to the potential dangers involved with otherwise normal springtime activities, like running a chainsaw or burning brush piles. When you start seeing an abundance of green Forest Service firefighter rigs buzzing around town – it is really time to pay attention.

Firefighters have been staging around the Grand Marais area preparing for a “worst-case scenario” that we have all become too familiar with. Small fires can grow rapidly in the current conditions, and Forest Service wildland firefighters want to be ready to combat any outbreaks before they become catastrophic.

I spend a lot of time in the woods each spring, priming wildfire sprinkler systems and preparing Gunflint Trail cabins in time for Memorial weekend – and this spring is very dry. The roads are dusty, lakes are low, and the grass crunches below your feet as soon as you step into the woods.

Memorial weekend is the first busy weekend of the summer season and hundreds of campers will be entering the BWCA, hopefully prepared to camp with fire restrictions that are likely to be imposed any day. Currently there are no burning permits being issued throughout most of the state, but campfires are still allowed for the time being. Let’s all do a little rain dance and pray that our wilderness survives the busy weekend ahead.

Slow Green Up, 5.26.18

The woods are reluctantly turning green this week as leaves begin to sprout from tree limbs and the grass, although spotty, begins to grow. Conditions are dry, and there is very little precipitation forecast for Cook County to help aid the green-up and hopefully curb the current fire danger.

When Smokey the Bandit says, “high or extreme fire danger” it is time to pay attention to the potential dangers involved with otherwise normal springtime activities, like running a chainsaw or burning brush piles. When you start seeing an abundance of green Forest Service firefighter rigs buzzing around town – it is really time to pay attention.

Firefighters have been staging around the Grand Marais area preparing for a “worst-case scenario” that we have all become too familiar with. Small fires can grow rapidly in the current conditions, and Forest Service wildland firefighters want to be ready to combat any outbreaks before they become catastrophic.

I spend a lot of time in the woods each spring, priming wildfire sprinkler systems and preparing Gunflint Trail cabins in time for Memorial weekend – and this spring is very dry. The roads are dusty, lakes are low, and the grass crunches below your feet as soon as you step into the woods.

Memorial weekend is the first busy weekend of the summer season and hundreds of campers will be entering the BWCA, hopefully prepared to camp with fire restrictions that are likely to be imposed any day. Currently there are no burning permits being issued throughout most of the state, but campfires are still allowed for the time being. Let’s all do a little rain dance and pray that our wilderness survives the busy weekend ahead.

Fishing Opener, 5.19.18

The sun was shining but opening day had a chill in the air that forced my crew to return home to add another layer of clothing. Devil Track Lake was ice covered only three short days prior to the fishing opener on Saturday, and the occasional miniature iceberg floating around the lake made it feel more like the Bering Sea than an inland lake in Minnesota.

Fishing was slow, to say the least, with water temperatures in the lower 40s and very little cloud cover until later that afternoon. We caught one small walleye in the morning then struggled to find any fish until the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in around 4 p.m.

Walleyes typically feed better in lower light conditions created by either wind, clouds, or the time of day. Walleye use their excellent vision and keen sense of vibration to locate and capture prey during these favorable feeding conditions. The bite improved with the afternoon clouds and we managed to land a dozen edible walleyes before 6 p.m.—not too shabby.

The lakes and rivers are slightly lower than normal, likely due to the lack of precipitation, which can create poor spawning conditions for walleye that use the current to lay their eggs each spring. There is some rainfall in our forecast this week, which will help “green-up” the woods and curb any wildfires—if the forecast is accurate—but too late to aid the spawn since it has likely already happened in most lakes.

Trees have begun sprouting leaves and the grass is slowly turning from brown to green while spring transforms to summer. Mosquitoes are buzzing, peeper frogs are peeping, and sun-soaked snowbirds are trickling in from Florida or Arizona to enjoy another summer in Cook County.

Open Water Opener, 5.12.18

The million-dollar question of the week, “Is the ice going to be gone by the opener?” has become a little easier to answer after yesterday’s rain. Devil Track Lake had only receded 20 or 30 feet from the shoreline until the slow rainfall flooded, and eventually sunk the remaining ice patch that covered the lake.

I was surprised to wake and find the lake is open as far as we can see from our third-story apartment above the lodge. Time to get the docks into the lake and start the outboard motors so we are ready in time for the fishing opener this weekend.

Some of my days have been spent preparing cabins and repairing whatever the harsh winter has broken on the Gunflint Trail, and I saw that many of the smaller lakes have already opened up. Iron and Little Iron both looked open and Poplar was very close. The remaining ice will be no match for the rain that has been forecast for our area.

Open water is a blessing indeed, but my experience has shown that cold water openers are not very productive, especially on the bigger lakes. Fish are cold-blooded creatures, and cold water slows their metabolism causing them to be lethargic and lazy. The smaller lakes that have warmed up faster are typically going to have hungrier fish that are ready to fight.

Whichever lake you choose to fish this weekend, try fishing slower and using smaller baits to entice the weary biters. Slip-bobbers or slow drifting with live-bait rigs are both great cold water presentations, and try finding the warmest water on the lake, which will be in muddy bottom bays that get the most exposure to the sunshine. Good luck.

Spring Peepers, 5.5.18

The sights and sounds of spring are beginning to happen with each passing day of sunshine and warm temperatures. Ice-covered lakes have begun showing open shorelines, while the peeper frogs are singing in the marshes – it won’t be long now.

Nothing says spring to me more than the chirping orchestra of frogs who take to the marshes as soon as they melt, which is how they earned the name “spring peepers.” Shortly after the seemingly lifeless frozen swamps have thawed, they are teeming with hundreds of chirping frogs eager to mate, reminding us that warmer days are ahead.

Streams that only run in the spring are babbling their way to join forces with merging rivers and lakes as the snow melts. Spring showers help thaw the ice and snow while injecting life into the sleeping woods, which will soon turn from brown to green.

Snowy white lakes are turning gray as the sunshine dissolves their hard surfaces. It has been a slow transition this season, but with a little luck and some much-needed rain we might be fishing from boats on the fishing opener after all.

The larger Gunflint Trail lakes might not be open in time, but it is looking good for Devil Track Lake, as well as many of the smaller lakes that are scattered throughout Cook County. I do not think it will be difficult to find open water to wet a line in next Saturday, but it might not be on the lake you were hoping to fish.

Flowing Water, 4.28.18

The powerful April sunshine has been chiseling away at the snow cover this week and we are finally seeing the lakes begin to melt. Devil Track Lake’s ice has begun separating from shore in some areas and the creeks and rivers are beginning to flow.

We took the family to the end of the trail campground to see if the Seagull River had begun to run last weekend, and we were surprised at how much snow is still on the ground. The unplowed road leading to campsite No. 19 was covered in eight inches of wet snow, too much for our minivan, so we hiked in from the Gunflint Trail.

The river was low but flowing hard with anticipation of more water heading its way as the melting snow finds its way down to the river. The current had begun carving a path through the ice-covered pool below where big female walleyes will soon make their way to the flowing waters to deposit their eggs.

The success of the annual walleye spawn depends largely on water temperature and flowing water. The river needs to be deep enough to keep the spawning females safe from the hungry eagles who nest above, and yet shallow enough to provide current over the rocky bottom needed to protect their eggs.

Eventually the water finds its way to either Lake Superior or Hudson Bay, depending on which side of the Laurentian Divide it is on, and we are already seeing the rock walls along Highway 61 begin to leak. Stream anglers are beginning to find rivers flowing and fish gathering near Duluth tributaries of Lake Superior as we inch towards the open water season. This will be a late transformation this year for sure, but it is great to finally see some water flowing.

Endless Winter, 4.21.18

The seemingly endless winter season has fought its way into the third week of April and is showing little sign of surrendering to the spring sunshine. We have seen some incredibly fast transformations before, but it will take an intense wave of heat to open these waters in time for the fishing opener on Saturday, May 12.

The last wave of snowfall left us with 6-8 inches of fresh powdery snow, much less than our neighbors to the south, and prompted a few last-minute riders to take a spin around the lake and trails. The lakes are holding up with a soft bed of snow cover, but the trails are barely covered, and the recent snowfall has masked the dangerous spots creating unsafe conditions for snowmobiling, in my opinion.

Downhill skiers can safely enjoy the slopes at Lutsen Mountain for awhile since they have extended their season. Our kids have not tried to downhill ski yet, and we are hoping to get them on the slopes before the excitement is over. Rachelle and I rediscovered downhill last season and were able to go every Wednesday morning (local discount day) before opening the restaurant for lunch. It was the highlight of our week and we regret not continuing the tradition this year. Getting the kids into the sport will help motivate us into going more regularly, I hope.

I have noticed a few tan people wandering around town, either returning snowbirds who are regretting coming back so soon or spring breakers who traded a week of freezing temperatures for warm beaches and sunshine. Regardless, we all could use a shot of vitamin D after a seemingly endless winter season.

Back To School, 4.18.18

Spring break is now a pleasant memory of warm Florida sunshine as I gaze out the living room window at a lot of snow. The view has not changed since we last saw Devil Track Lake nearly two weeks ago, and the puddles in our parking lot are hard enough to walk on without breaking each morning – spring appears to be on hold up north.

Ice fishing on the spring opener is rare, but not new to Cook County, and it is beginning to look like this could be one of those years that takes a little longer to thaw. It is hard to say what the ice is doing because the lakes are covered in a hard-packed layer of snow that has shown no signs of melting, despite the powerful sunshine. I see that Lake Superior has some offshore ice showing each morning, and the harbor is full of crushed ice, as it has been for most of the winter indicating the lake has not begun to warm yet.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about our last snowmobile ride of the season assuming the snow would be mostly melted before we returned from vacation, but we took another last ride this week from Devil Track to Loon Lake to store our sleds for summer. The trails were surprisingly good near Devil Track and progressively got worse near the mid-Trail area. We had enough snow to keep the sleds cool and took in the scenery one last time before the snow melts.

The lodge will reopen on May 4; until then our days are filled with preparations for summer, as we get ready for another season on Devil Track Lake. See you then.

One Last Ride, 3.31.18

Anytime the trails hold up until the last week of March is a bonus, and with a little luck they might still be enjoyed into April.

Skiers will get a little more season then sled heads will since snowmobile trails take more abuse, and the machines require enough snow to keep engines cool and slides lubricated. However, ambitious riders should be able to find a few places to play before hanging it up for the season.

My daughter, Sophia, and I went for one last ride around Devil Track Lake after closing the restaurant last Sunday and were pleasantly surprised at the smooth trail conditions. A few bare spots and icy corners are to be expected this time of year, but the extra attention to grooming these past few weeks has really made a difference in the condition of the trails that we like to ride.

March can be the snowiest month of the season, but that was not the case this year with only a couple of storms to help extend the season for winter enthusiasts. Frigid overnight temperatures have been preserving the snow from daily abuse doled out by the powerful spring sun that exposes a little more earth with each passing day.

This week we closed the restaurant and packed our bags for spring break in Florida to enjoy some real heat with our kids on the beach. I vowed once, or maybe even twice, to no longer visit Florida during Spring Break, but long Minnesota winters somehow dull any bad memories of traffic jams and waiting lists. To my defense, we have decided to try the middle-Keys this time in hopes of finding a little reprieve from the hustle and bustle of our previous home in “not so family friendly” Key Weird – I mean Key West. Regardless, we are all very excited to have a break and are thankful for another great season under our belts at the Skyport Lodge. See you in May.