No Luck Fishing, 1.04.18

The anticipated BWCA fishing trip planned for this week was hinging on weather and work both cooperating, but neither did.

Anglers braving the elements on opening weekend for trout earned their catch while battling high winds and subzero temperatures.

Wind chills have been nearing 40-below zero on the gusty days, and lakes are reported to be making as much as 2 inches of ice each night this past week. Heat systems, water lines and septic systems are all vulnerable to harsh freezes— and are one of the reasons I was unable to fish this weekend.

We lost heat in part of the lodge for a few days and were forced to use a couple of electric space heaters to keep the rooms warm.

New Year’s weekend is traditionally busy, but the brutally cold weather kept some folks from traveling. A few riders trickled through the Raven Rock Grill on Friday and Saturday during the lunch hours, and they seemed very appreciative of the warm fire cooking in the fireplace to thaw their gear.

Riders were also happy to see that the snowmobile trails had recently been groomed and the lakes were hard enough to travel across, although a little bumpy from the drifts. We saw very little snowfall this week, due to the temperatures being too cold from the continuous barrage of Canadian clippers descending on us.

I am ready for a warming trend so we can see some snow and get outside to enjoy it.

BWCA Trout Opener, 12.28.17

The BWCA trout opener is Saturday, Dec. 30 and the early forecast is calling for high winds and low temperatures… sounds about right.

New Year’s weekend is known for rough weather and this year will prove no different as anglers hike into the B-Dub in search of trout. All species of trout will open for anglers on lakes that are entirely within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area this Saturday, and with a little effort and the right equipment it is possible to fish bad weather in relative comfort.

Insulated tents are a nice way to stay warm, and well worth the extra pack weight. Hubstyle tents are easy to set up and only require a few hand-drill spikes to keep from blowing away. Hand augers are required within the BWCA, since normal rules apply including the self-issuing permit for the day.

I use a six-inch auger with seven-inch blades for BWCA fishing, because it is a big enough hole for any lake trout I would ever want to keep, and small enough to pack light and drill easy. Keeping the blades clean of ice build-up between holes will help the auger’s performance, and not using the blades as a hammer to start or finish the hole will help them last.

Hand augers are easy enough in the early season due to the thinner ice conditions, but I choose my locations carefully in March, making every hole count when the ice grows to 30 inches thick. “Ice House Point” on Gunflint Lake, although tougher to catch fish, becomes increasingly attractive as the ice gets thicker. Drive-to ice shacks and power augers make mid-winter fishing more enjoyable, especially on those windy days.

Assuming the lodge will allow me to leave, and the winds subside enough for a hike into the B-Dub, I will be anxious to write about a BWCA fishing experience next week.

The Buzz of Winter, 12.23.17

Nothing says, “winter” like the buzz of passing snowmobiles that are being heard more frequently as we near the end of another year.

The last snowstorm covered the trails with a fresh eight inches of fluffy snow that is ready to be groomed in time for the holidays, and another 10 inches are predicted to fall this week.

Many of the snowmobile and Nordic ski trails have already been groomed in Cook County, and winter activities are right on schedule. High winds are pushing in a cold front that is expected to settle in for Christmas weekend with high temperatures barely reaching single-digits – brrr.

Devil Track Lake is looking like a white lake with angry seas since the winds have been cranking down the lake all day with gusts reaching 30 mph. The kids insisted on sledding at the Rec Park after school, despite the arctic hurricane, but only lasted a few runs before giving in to Mother Nature’s frigid hand. On the brighter side, they did have the hill to themselves.

We are closing the restaurant from the 24th – 26th so we can escape to the cities for one last break before the season jumps into overdrive. I usually opt to not travel during holiday times, but we were stuck here last year, having only owned the lodge for a few weeks, and it is nice to spend the holidays with family.

Gunflint Lake Has Ice, 12.16.17

Winter has clenched its grasp this week with temperatures in the single digits and winds strong enough to keep a person inside. There are a couple of weeks left before the winter season gets popular around here, while the trails are being prepped for both the snowmobilers and the Nordic skiers.
The early snowfall that got everyone prematurely excited has diminished to an occasional dusting of light fluffy snow. There have been a few weather systems nearly catching our corner of the state, but none have given us the direct hit we need to get a good enough dumping to start the season right. I can see twigs and tall grass poking through the six- to eight-inch base of snow covering most of the trails, and the high winds have surely knocked down a few trees that will need to be cut.Gunflint Lake has finally locked up with ice this week, which typically means that Seagull and Saganaga are covered as well. The deep lakes take longer to freeze, but once they start, they build ice quickly – especially with temperatures dipping below zero overnight.
Devil Track and the surrounding lakes froze sometime during the first week of November and are now reaching eight to 10 inches of ice, reported by some local anglers. Fishing has been slow for most, which could be from the lack of snowfall on top of the ice. Light penetrates the ice and causes fish to spook easier than if the lake was covered in a dark blanket of snow.
There have been some stories of vehicles falling through the ice this year. Lakes are not always covered consistently with thick enough ice for vehicles. Loon Lake might already have six inches of ice while Gunflint Lake, located a mile away, has only one inch because it just locked up a few days ago. Play it safe and check the ice often, because no fish is worth endangering yourselves and the people sent to save you.

Little White Tornadoes, 12.9.17

The latest streak of warm weather, although pleasant, has turned most of Cook County into a skating rink. Flooded parking lots, caused by the powerful daytime sunshine, have turned to ice overnight as the temperatures drop below freezing—which creates a dangerous situation for both pedestrians and drivers.
A couple of our neighbors on Devil Track Lake decided to take advantage of both the ice-covered lake and the bright moon Saturday night as they ice skated to the lodge for dinner. The lake has been making a lot of intimidating noises lately while it expands and contracts throughout the day, which is very usual behavior for larger lakes when they are making ice. The drastic temperature changes and high winds we have been experiencing this week will cause the ice to make even more noises as it builds a little more each day with the ensuing cold snap.
Warm streaks are now a memory, according to the forecast, with temperatures reaching the single digits and enough wind to make white caps in my coffee mug. It is hard to tell if it is snowing outside, or just drifting in the strong winds that have been ripping down the lake. We are at the far east end where five miles of open water come to an abrupt stop. The wind was so strong this week that it created numerous little white tornadoes which danced along our shoreline as we sat by the fireplace enjoying the warmth—the best way to watch a storm.

Making Ice on Thanksgiving

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner at Skyport Lodge for our relatives from Iowa was a great success, with nice weather and plenty of snow for them to play in. The men ice fished, rode snowmobiles and four wheelers, while the ladies decided to stay warm by the fire as they decorated the lodge with Christmas lights and garland.

I was surprised to see that my brothers had already bought the last dozen minnows in town and were drilling holes in front of the lodge before I had a chance to give them any advice. Their ambition was commendable, but it did not reward them with any fish – however, the six inches of hard ice they discovered gave me enough confidence to try another lake.

The next morning, we took a short drive up the Gunflint Trail to Elbow Lake, hoping to find some hungry perch big enough for the frying pan. The ice was four inches thick everywhere we drilled a hole, but the fish were not cooperating. I caught a small northern pike, and my brother caught a little perch before it began raining enough to soak into our bibs and change our minds about catching lunch for everyone.

Cold, wet, and slightly disappointed from the lack of action we decided to drive farther up the Trail hoping to see a moose. We made it as far as Gunflint Lodge before turning around, and my brothers were amazed and slightly frightened to discover that Gunflint Lake had not even begun to freeze. Waves were lapping against the shoreline as they would in June, and we were only a 20-minute drive from Elbow Lake where we had just been standing on four inches of ice.

No moose were spotted on our drive, but it was still a great day with my family.

Ice Fishing on Thanksgiving, 11.25.17

The smaller lakes in Cook County have been frozen for nearly two weeks, and the overnight temperatures have been cold enough to make ice. I plan to check a few of the smaller lakes for thick enough ice this weekend, with my brother visiting from Denver for Thanksgiving who is excited to catch anything on the ice.
Normally ice fishing on Turkey Day is not possible around here since our lakes take such a long time to freeze-over, but this year it might be possible. I would never encourage anyone to be the first angler to brave the ice, but it seems that every year someone goes much sooner than I would. It takes two inches of ice to be safe for walking, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and six inches for vehicles. Ice is never safe, and common sense can go a long way for anyone not sure about the lake they choose to fish.
The best method is to punch a hole every 20 feet or so to check if the ice thickness is consistent while hiking to the spot you would like to fish. Beware of running water entering the lake, which will cause thinner ice or discolored ice which could indicate a change in thickness. Take notice of the condition of the ice while it is being bored by the auger; does it seem flaky and weak like shale, or hard and robust?
A few “must have” safety items would include: rope, ice picks, whistle, life vests, hand warmers, and an accurate float plan (letting someone know where you are going and when you are expected to return).

Early Ice a Surprise, 11.18.17

After braving the white-knuckle drive from Minneapolis Friday evening, while returning from San Diego, it was nice getting home and sleeping in our beds again. The thought of staying in a hotel one more night and having to unpack the van again was not worth it for me. We drove slow, as did the other travelers braving the elements, and we were surprised to see that the lakes had already frozen as far South as Forest Lake.
The snow let-up north of Duluth and the drive became easier since Highway 61 had recently been plowed and sanded. The kids fell asleep, and I watched the deer grazing alongside the road, aware but not startled by the passing headlights as we drove through the night.
Saturday morning, if you consider 11:30 a.m. the morning, we pulled open the curtains after stumbling out of bed and could not believe our eyes as we looked at Devil Track lake covered with ice. I was expecting to see waves lapping against the shoreline and boats pulling whitefish nets, not ice. My family will be visiting from Iowa for Thanksgiving this year and we are hoping to ice fish. It looks like they might get their wish.
In a couple of short weeks, we will be opening the Raven Rock Grill for dinners, and our break will end. Rachelle and I are excited about the season ahead and feel recharged from soaking in the San Diego sunshine. Winters can be long, especially when they start in October.

Winter is Here, 11.4.17

The buzz of overly zealous snowmobiles blessed the evening hours this week after a healthy six inches of snow fell on Cook County. The ground is still far from frozen, but the low temperatures forecast for this week should start hardening the muddy base that is hiding below the recent blanket of white snow.
One of the hardest things to endure while living in Cook County would be the in-between seasons that generally take weeks to transform. If the temperatures remain the same and we continue to get a dusting of snowfall every few days, this could be the fastest change of seasons I can remember.
Winter is here, in spirit at least, and the Grand Marais locals are excited for a long season of snow ahead. ATVs and snowmobiles have been lighting up the Skyport area each evening with headlights bouncing through the ditches and around the trails. I am sure it is fun, but I prefer to wait for the ground to set up and the boulders to be covered with a few more inches of snow before jumping on our sleds.
Being owners of a lodge, we decided to vacation this week since the restaurant is closed until December 1st, and it is usually too early to be concerned with plowing snow—one of my other numerous businesses. Good thing I hired a back-up plow operator for my plow service, although I did not suspect I would need to. There are a number of snowfalls projected to hit this week with a bigger storm expected to bring an additional six inches on Friday—winter is here

The Big Chill, 10.26.17

Last week I mentioned being one big wind away from losing our fall colors, and the 30 mile-per-hour gusts this week have done just that. We have been blessed with a long warm fall season, but now the landscape has been stripped of color as we prepare for the wintry mix of snow that is forecast for later this week.
Devil Track Lake has been angry all day with three-foot waves crashing against our rocky shoreline, fueled by steady winds from the west. Big fall winds allow lakes to mix unevenly tempered waters as the thermocline disappears, and the lake “flipsover” for winter. The bottom layer of cold water mixes with the warmer, wind-disturbed surface water to eventually create an evenly tempered lake from top to bottom.
Lake trout spawn once the surface temperatures drop, on shallow water rock piles that are near deep water. Many of the bigger Gunflint Trail lakes that have lake trout also have unique rock piles, sometimes barely breaching the surface, that are traditional spawning grounds.
The lake trout season closed at the end of September on inland lakes to protect them while they are spawning. It is rare, like Halloween blizzards, but possible for the surface temperatures to drop enough to initiate the spawn before that date. Female lake trout, also called hens, will lay their eggs in a few feet of water while the males ferociously guard them by attacking anything that moves into their space.
The mercury dipped below freezing a few times this week, and it is beginning to feel more like a traditional Cook County fall. Most of our winter preparation list has been accomplished at the lodge, and we plan now to take a little break. The Raven Rock Grill is currently closed until December 1st— see you then.