Spring Break, 3.24.18

Spring is here, although you wouldn’t know it by looking out the window at the snow-covered lakes. Other than some exposed grass along the roadway and a little extra daylight it still feels very much like winter up here.

I took the kids for a ride on the G-trail, leading up to the Gunflint Trail area, and enjoyed the freshly groomed trail that was in great shape. Our phone has been ringing off the hook with interested riders for this weekend, and all we can tell them is that the trails are in great shape for the moment. Luckily, we dodged the rain that was predicted last weekend, and the overnight temperatures have been cold enough to keep the snow from melting too fast in the bright midday sunshine.

It is hard to predict the end of the season, but the timing of Spring Break with our kids was a good enough reason to book a family trip to the Florida Keys, where Rachelle and I used to live. Swimming in the ocean, tanning on the beach, gorging ourselves on fresh seafood, and maybe even wetting a line with some friends would be a great way to forget about a cold Minnesota winter.

The ice is not going to melt anytime soon – in fact many lakes are still covered with 30-plus inches of ice, and I would suspect that anglers will get a full season of walleye and trout on the border lakes, which is great, assuming it melts in time for the opener in May.

I was able to catch a few lake trout this week on a nearby lake (notice I did not name the lake, which means I am telling the truth) with some friends who had invited my son, Bo, to join them. It was exciting to discover that my schedule allowed me to tag along, and we had a great time catching fish while sunning our faces.

Spring Meltdown, 3.17.18

Will the snow withstand a week of sunshine? Only time will tell. The forecast looks bright and sunny for the next week, which will officially lead us into spring on the 20th of March.

Intense sunlight and warm springtime breezes are heading our way, possibly devastating the trails and lake surfaces with slushy/wet melting snow. If it were not for the last major snowstorm, the 2018 season of snowmobiling and skiing would already be over.

Local riders will play on their sleds to the very end, even on open water, but the tourists that visit us from the Twin Cities often forget about snow sports once they start seeing grass on the golf courses. It is, after all, the first half of March, but the sun feels strong, and the snow base is dwindling with every minute of sunlight. A late season snowstorm could be too late to make a difference.

As water begins to flow with the melting snow, the rivers and streams gain strength and flood the lakes with excess water. We have a small tributary that flows into Devil Track beside our lodge and soon it will carve its way along the shoreline towards the Devil Track River as the lake ice separates from shore. The spring “meltdown” is a beautiful transition seldom witnessed by the many tourists that visit Cook County each year. Our favorite spot for a spring picnic is at the End of the Trail Campground, which overlooks the Seagull River.

Rachelle and I will be sad to see the winter season end, but the thought of warmer days and sunshine on our faces is also enticing. Get out there and take advantage of the nice weather before it all turns wet!

Spring Is Near, 3.8.18

The sun has been making regular appearances, days are getting longer, and the winter season will soon be nothing more than a memory. March has arrived, and I am sad to say that I can count the number of fish I have pulled through the ice on one hand.

Not to worry, the best couple of weeks are still ahead and it looks like we will be holding onto the snow for the remainder of the ice-fishing season.

I, like many of you, have my excuses for not wanting to brave the consistently horrible weather we endured through the months of January and February this year. Ice fishing in a T-shirt while sunning my face would be a wonderful way to finish the season.

Recently, my children have mastered their mini-z snowmobile and most of my free time has been spent touring the lake at 10 mph while they ride their snowmobile. The 10-horse gas engine, and heavy snowmobile helmets with neck collars, have been too intimidating for them—until this week.

Now, they demand that we ride for an hour after school, when the weather allows, and they cannot get enough of it. The little sled does well on the hard-packed snow from the continuous flow of snowmobile traffic surrounding our lodge, but not very good in the thick stuff.

Soon the sunshine will begin to melt the snow, and the base that took all winter to build will collapse into a sloppy mess. I suspect the mini-z will not perform as well once this happens, so I am trying to get as much sled-time in with the kids before it falls apart – then we can focus on drilling holes and catching fish.

Trout Derby 2018, 3.3.18

The last two snowstorms left us with a thick enough base of new snow to carry us through the remainder of the winter season. It had been awhile since our last significant storm, which threatened to shorten our season of winter activities by exposing the miles of ski and snowmobile trails that wind through Cook County’s wilderness.

March is just around the corner and shaping up to be a very busy month for us at the Skyport Lodge. Snowmobilers have been calling to make cabin and lodging reservations while asking about the current trail conditions. The Ridge Riders snowmobile club posts current trail reports on their web site as well as VisitCookCounty.com.

Sunday, March 4 marks the annual Trout Derby on Gunflint Lake hosted by the Ridge Riders. Registration for the tournament runs from 9 to 11 a.m. and the contest ends at 2 p.m. Cost is $20 for non-members and $10 for members and includes a BBQ lunch and raffle prizes. This event has always been a fun time and with a little luck I will be able to join the fun this year.

Anyone can fish the tournament, even if you do not bring a snowmobile since the club plows numerous roads on the lake for anglers to get around. Many anglers drive their vehicles on the ice, or simply park at the public landing or Gunflint Lodge and hike out to the lake where the club has a bonfire and BBQ going.

The forecast calls for snow showers Sunday, but otherwise it looks like a great day to try your luck at landing the tournament winning laker while supporting our local snowmobile club, see you there!

Let It Snow, 2.24.18

Weather forecasts are about as dependable as the fish biting, but the local meteorologists got it right this week with their prediction of back-to-back snowstorms. Many parts of Minnesota’s Arrowhead saw eight to 12 inches of snowfall this week, covering the lakes and trails with a fresh blanket of fluffy white powder.

High winds that followed the storms caused some drifting to occur, especially on the bigger lakes. The storm travelled from the south, then it circled over Lake Superior before descending from the northeast, causing some lake-enhanced snowfall that accumulated quickly.

The existing snow base was getting packed tightly, making trails hard from the continuous use, but the fresh snowfall will cure that. The past few weeks have been too cold for any significant snowfall leaving us with an eight-inch base of snow that could have been devastated by a few sunny days in the 40-degree range, but the groundhog indicated more winter to come and it was right.

Winter is a touchy season that could go from good to bad, and then back to good again with the onset of a few significant storms.

Nordic skis, snowshoes, fat-tire bikes, and snowmobiles will all be enjoying the new snow this weekend on the numerous trails scattered throughout the wilderness. Cook County now has the best trail conditions in the state, and our phone has been ringing off the hook for lodging and trail information. Winter enthusiasts know where the snow is and the lodge rooms and cabins fill up quickly with ambitious riders and skiers looking to enjoy the wonderful outdoors.

Fish Talk, 2.17.18

It has been awhile since we have seen the snowfall in the Northland, but the sub-zero temperatures are keeping the woods white and the trails in great shape. High winds have curbed my excitement to see solid ice on the big lake this week as we enter the last half of the winter season.

Ice anglers have been singing the blues lately while fishing during high-pressure systems that make fish act like slugs. Gunflint Lake traditionally goes through a mid-winter slump during the coldest few weeks of the season, then usually gets better as the temperatures start to rise. As a guide I would try smaller lakes, after being humbled by the lack of action Gunflint is sometimes known for – and find better action with fish less affected by the barometer.

Now that I talk more fishing than fishing, I have learned some etiquette in the world of fish talk, which vaguely resembles poker. For instance, if a customer enters our bar and tells me he went fishing today without mentioning where, then I know not to ask. These are the “poker face” anglers that simply want me to know they went fishing and may or may not have caught any fish on the undisclosed lake.

On the contrary, if the anglers give me too much information by telling me they caught a pile of splake on Kemo Lake in eight feet of water by the leaning pine tree on the north shore with 1/8th ounce white teardrop jigs and waxies, then I know they are either bluffing or do not understand how to play the game.

Regardless, the jealous angler in me will make sure to have an arsenal of white teardrop jigs and waxies while I am looking for that leaning tree.

Big Lake Ice, 2.10.18

Lakes are very unique in shape, depth, and current conditions which all play important roles in how, and sometimes if, a lake freezes each winter. The biggest, deepest lake of all has been fighting the ice for weeks as the high winds have kept it at bay, or at least “in the bay,” until today.

While taking the kids to school this morning, I saw large plates of ice drifting offshore on Lake Superior as far as I could see. With a little luck those floating plates could connect into a solid body of ice if the temperatures remain, and the wind lets up enough to allow the ice to thicken. The harbor has been mostly frozen over for a few weeks, but the big lake water has been too rough to freeze for any amount of time this season.

I have yet to ice fish on Lake Superior, and I am always baffled by Duluth ice anglers who brave the few hours of morning ice before it breaks away. I love to fish, but there isn’t a fish worth that kind of stressful angling.

My big lake ice experience comes from slightly smaller “big” lakes located on the Gunflint Trail, which bring their own set of worries without having to guess when the ice house will start drifting off to sea. It would be neat to fish the big lake this winter, but it would have to be locked up for a long time before I would even think about trying.

The Gunflint Trail lakes are giving up some nice lake trout in-between passing cold fronts, and the designated stream trout lakes have been providing fish dinners for anglers willing to put in the effort. So many lakes and so little time!

Beargrease Checkpoint, 2.3.18

Mushers began arriving long before sunrise Tuesday morning, powered by their team of dogs who were eager to eat, rest, and regroup at the Skyport Lodge checkpoint. Sleep-deprived racers, handlers, volunteers, and newscasters slowly paced around like zombies as more teams began to arrive throughout the morning.

Our kids were excited to skip the first half of their school day to watch the event with a few of our friends and family. We were all impressed by the mushers’ ability to control their sled while navigating our winding, back yard entrance from the lake, as if they had done it a hundred times before.

Anyone who has witnessed the start of a race can attest that the dogs are wild with energy, so eager to run they bark and howl while maniacally jumping against their leashed collars. Hundreds of barking dogs harmonize into a deafening melody of nervous energy, as they eagerly wait to run.

During the race, the dogs are worn out from the hard miles of hilly terrain, and much quieter. We had several dog teams pass our checkpoint without even waking us up – granted we were also slightly deprived of sleep, but I assumed the dogs were going to wake me up for the 5 a.m. breakfast buffet before my alarm clock did – good thing I set it anyway.

Once the last team departed, the winds picked up and left us with 5 inches of snow on Devil Track Lake. The snow was welcomed by everyone but the mushers I am sure, making their job much more difficult as visibility drops. The fresh powdery snow blowing sideways across the lakes and trails covered any evidence of the event, as another John Beargrease becomes a memory for Skyport Lodge.

Sunset Country, 1.20.18

Old man winter finally loosened his grip this week with temperatures reaching the mid-twenties and sunshine to warm our pale faces. The wind subsided enough to enjoy the outdoors, and back-to-back snowstorms this week have left us with a fresh foot of snow to play on, but the real highlight has been the spectacular sunsets.

The westerly view of Devil Track Lake from our lodge is one of the best places to witness the colorful sunsets each evening— especially from our third-floor apartment. Partly cloudy skies seem to create the most colorful sunsets where the entire sky transforms from gold, to orange, to pink before sinking into the horizon. It is my favorite 15 minutes of the day.

Fresh snow and decent weather enticed a number of riders and skiers to the Northland this holiday weekend, and the trails reports were mostly good – especially in the Devil Track area often referred to as the “snowbelt.” We seem to get a little more snowfall than our surrounding areas, for some strange reason, but the local trails are all covered in plenty of snow to soften the bumps.

The additional snowfall was needed to groom the trails again, and anyone who stayed around until Monday was able to take advantage of the flat trails. I think some of the folks staying at our cabins had plans to watch the Vikings game back home, and took off Sunday morning, ignoring both the fresh downfall of snow, and our first-ever Sunday brunch at the Raven Rock Grill. Oh well, I suppose getting home in time for the big game was more important than made-to-order omelets, home fries, and biscuits with sausage gravy—it was a big game.

Take a Kid Fishing, 1.13.18

Saturday, January 13 marks the 2018 trout opener and a special weekend for kids under the age of 16 who would like to ice fish for free. Anyone over the age of 16 can take a kid under the age of 16 ice fishing without a Minnesota fishing license from Jan. 13-15. Check out the MN DNR website for more details.

Icehouses are showing up on local lakes as the highly anticipated 2018 trout opener approaches. Gunflint Lake has a solid 18 inches of ice between the public landing and the infamous “ice house point,” but I have not heard any ice reports from either Saganaga or Sea Gull lakes. The bigger Gunflint Trail lakes take longer to freeze over, but once they do the ice builds fast.

Gunflint Lake can be tough fishing in the winter, but an ice angler gets a longer season on a border lake since they allow ice houses to stay out longer than inland lakes. I have not decided where to put my house yet, but I know that if I do not get it out soon I might not get it out at all.

The trails have all been groomed, and we are looking at eight to 10 inches of snowfall before the big fishing opener – that will make the skiers and snowmobilers both happy. Not very many riders have been taking advantage of the mid-week advantages: less traffic on the freshly groomed trails, cheaper accommodations, and your choice of tables at most of the local restaurants. I know mid-week vacations are not always possible, but the advantages are enticing if you are able to get away.