Moose Sightings, May 11th, 2013

It is now a safe assumption that the lakes are still going to be frozen solid on the fishing opener this weekend. The overnight temperatures fell below freezing last week and did not allow the lakes to melt down much up here. This will certainly be an opener to remember.

The Cross River at Gunflint Lake has cut a trail through the spawning grounds that will soon connect to the mouth of Magnetic Lake and help open up the west end of Gunflint. Otherwise I have not seen very much open water in these parts. The rivers are flowing hard from the melting snow but the ice on most of the lakes is still very thick. I am hearing reports of 24-30 inches of ice still on Hungry Jack Lake and I am sure this is a pretty good representation of the rest of the lakes as well.

Rachelle and I took the kids up to the Seagull River rapids at the End of the Trail campground on Saturday and there was still a fair amount of snow on the gravel roads. The heavily shaded areas near campsite No. 19 were holding enough snow to keep our minivan from passing. If it wasn’t for the kids I think I could have made it but Rachelle was not on board with the idea, so we backed out instead.

The river was running beautifully but I could not see any signs of walleye activity below the turbid waters. It might be a little early yet with the late weather this season.

I am not a fisheries biologist but I would have to believe that the conditions seem promising for a very successful walleye spawn this year. The well-oxygenated moving water is necessary to have a good walleye spawn and the past few years have not been this accommodating.

Last year the rivers did not start flowing until June when we finally started seeing some precipitation which was long after the walleyes had finished spawning. In fact, the river was so low during last year’s spawn that the bald eagles could barely fly from fattening up on the vulnerable females laying eggs in the shallow water.

It seems like there is more wildlife loitering around the end of the Gunflint Trail than anywhere else up here. We spotted four bald eagles in the moose pond near County Road 81 taking turns feeding on a dead deer by the shoreline and three moose on County Road 11. There have been two cows with three calves (collectively) that are usually on County Road 11 every day—especially during the dusk hour. They are so used to the spectators that they were willing to walk right past our car window within inches of us. I was tempted to reach out and touch one of the cows but decided against it when I saw her calves getting excited.

The moose are not very attractive this time of the year since they are skinny from a challenging winter and partially hairless from molting, but they are still entertaining to watch. If you are looking to see them up close— the end of the Gunflint Trail is a great place to try.

Receding Snow, May 4th, 2013

The sun came out and the snow melted. It is nothing short of amazing how fast the ground became exposed this week on the Gunflint Trail. A few patches of white can still be seen in the woods but its days are numbered—especially if we get some rain showers this week.

With the last storm leaving a couple of feet of snow in its path, I thought for sure that spring would be a slow transformation. The snow was melting so fast this weekend that you could actually hear and see it happening. The water absorbed so quickly that my driveway is already dry and hard.

Rachelle and the kids are going to be amazed when they return from the Cities. They left a few days ago so that Rachelle could go to the Fleetwood Mac concert last Sunday at the Xcel energy center with her mother in St. Paul. I know what you are thinking, “Your wife is way cooler than you!”

I opted to stay home and get some interior staining done on the house because I hate traveling in a car with a teething infant. Actually, Rachelle came across a free ticket and I would have had to buy one and I am way too cheap for that.

The ground is thawing fast but it will take a while before we start seeing some open water. Everyone is asking if the ice will be off by the fishing opener on May 11 and I cannot say. I will let you know what the conditions are looking like next week because right now it is too early to tell. Loon Lake and Gunflint both turned dark and slushy on Saturday but they have not separated from shore yet.

When a lake becomes flooded with the melting run-off, it causes the ice to break away from the shore and become a massive floating iceberg. This is the most vulnerable time for docks and waterlines that are in the lake. With a little luck, the iceberg will melt away fast without being shifted around by heavy winds— otherwise the ice gains momentum from the wind and will take out anything in its path.

This is an exciting week on the Gunflint Trail if you are a runner since the Ham Lake half marathon is on Sunday, May 5. If you have any questions about the event you can call Voyageur Canoe Outfitters or visit the website dedicated to the event at www.hamrunhalfmarathon.com.

The Ham Run gets bigger every year and once again I plan to drive the sweep vehicle for the short race. Don’t worry, I will not pick on any stragglers this year.

This event raises money for the community and is followed with lunch (ham sandwiches of course) at the End of the Trail parking lot. There will be a shuttle service offered for spectators since traffic will be stopped along the Gunflint Trail during the race.

Trail Center will also be opening this week on the 1st so if you have been craving a logger’s burger with pasta like I have, then get up here and get you some! I am sure they would love to see you.

Big April Snowstorm, April 27th, 2013

I should have warned everyone that it usually snows whenever I leave town with my family. While we were traveling last week, the Gunflint Trail was buried under 24 inches of snowfall. It was a great week to be in Iowa.

The snow came down so fast and furious that it was almost impossible to plow with a truck. There are a few Gunflint Trail residents who are still snowed in, and will just have to wait for the melt down to get out of their driveways. It took heavy machinery with snow blowers to open up some of the gravel roads around here. A storm like this deserves a name.

Rachelle and I stayed at the Aspen Lodge in Grand Marais the last night of our vacation. We were coming from the Cities after dinner with the family and I did not know what to expect back home. Luckily, someone plowed our driveway so we were able to get in without any problems. I went out a few days after the storm and tried to plow but the snow is too wet and heavy now. Where was this snow last December and January?

So much for getting an early start on the garden this year. It could be Memorial Day before we see our lawns.

I shouldn’t complain because the snowmobile trails look pretty inviting. I would think the lakes are going to get sloppy this week, but the trails should stay good for a little while yet. Rachelle and I will have to get out this week and burn up some gas on the sleds.

Snowmobiling in May? It could happen.

There are warmer temps forecasted for the week but so far there is very little sign of anything beginning to melt. The culvert that goes under the Gunflint Trail at Little Iron Lake isn’t even showing water yet. I simply cannot see how we are going to have open water by May 11.

Everything is going to happen later this season— even the robins are afraid to come back too early. While we were staying overnight in the Cities we were awakened by thousands of chirping robins. The migrating birds are staging up since they are afraid to trek any farther north with the frozen lakes and bad weather. You might even say that the robins knew a bad storm was coming before the meteorologists did.

Off the Trail, April 20th 2013

The ice season for walleye anglers has come to an end, but old man winter has not. Gunflint Trail lakes are still not showing any signs of thawing and we are only three weeks away from the 2013 fishing opener. It could be an interesting change of events if I have to use an ice auger on opening day.

Saturday evening was absolutely perfect for fishing. The sky was bright and clear with very little breeze. I was fortunate enough to get out of the house and spend the last few evenings fishing for walleyes on Saganaga Lake. Thanks honey!

There were a few anglers setting up camp outside of the narrows but it did not sound like it was a very hot bite so I decided to avoid the crowd by fishing in front of Saganaga Falls in Red Sucker Bay. The bite lasted about 20 minutes each night and I managed to put a couple of eater-sized ’eyes on the ice, but it was not enough action for the effort.

Now that the ice fishing season is over, Rachelle and I decided it would be a good time to get away for a week. Little Bo does not travel well but it has been too long since we last visited my family in Iowa and if you have ever spent some quality time in a vehicle with an unhappy infant then you can understand why.

Despite the exhausting drive, we feel it is important to get off of the Gunflint Trail occasionally. It is great to live away from people and technology but I feel like we have to keep an eye on society in the real world to see what we are missing. The grass always seems greener on the other side until you are actually on the other side. I may have stolen that line from someone—but it sounds like something that I would say.

Somewhere around Albert Lea the snow disappeared and the temperatures climbed into the 40s. It’s not Florida, but it sure feels like it. I know that we have been experiencing a long winter in northern Minnesota but I was very surprised to see frozen lakes down here. Albert Lea Lake was 90 percent covered with ice and as soon as I find a lake in Iowa I will let you know if it is frozen or not—but it might take me awhile to find one. I am a proud Iowan, so I do not want to sound like I am picking on my homeland. Iowa is a great place to… uh…visit.

A lingering winter, April 13 2013

One of the most difficult aspects of guiding is trying to predict fishing patterns. The art of knowing “when to be where.” This year has been particularly difficult since the lake conditions are the same as they were in February. The rivers are not being fueled by any lake run-off and the fishing is tough. I traveled up to Northern Light Lake this week with low expectations that were thoroughly met.

The traditional spots are not working yet and walleyes are only open on Minnesota border lakes until the 14th of April. I know that the conditions can change with a blink of an eye up here but we are still drilling through 30 inches of black ice that is covered with six inches of snow. It could be an interesting opener. Trail Center hosted an ice fishing contest on their last weekend of business for the winter season that was a lot of fun. The weather was perfect and to many people’s surprise, there were a few fish caught. Poplar has never been known for great fishing but Sarah Hamilton drove around on her snowmobile delivering raffle prizes to the participants.

Friday was a bright day with only a few clouds in the sky. I set out with a few friends after filling up Trail Center style on some pancakes to see if we could actually put a fish on the ice. Trail Center’s bay is fairly shallow so we ventured out to the main lake in search of anything that would bite.

Poplar is a tough lake to fish in June let alone through the ice in March, but I like a challenge. A few minutes into the first day of the contest I missed a good bite. Before the disappointment had time to leave my system—I did it again. These two squandered opportunities would be the only daytime bites I would have in the two days of the fishing contest.

As the sun set over Poplar Lake and the anglers packed up their equipment for the day, I started marking some fishy activity on the depth finder. The fish rose up a couple of feet from the bottom and bit with conviction, but it was just a little walleye, which I released.

The sun disappeared behind the trees and the depth-finder kept marking more fish moving around the bottom. The next bite was also aggressive but this time I felt some resistance when I set the hook. It was a 23-inch eelpout that ended up winning the contest. My feet were cold, it was dark, and the second eelpout that I caught relieved himself on my jacket, but it was worth it. I went home tired, cold, and smelly.

Where are the fish biting? April 6, 2013

 

This will likely be the last fish report until fishing opener on May 11. But the season wrapped up with a great Trail Center eelpout tournament on Poplar Lake. Read Cory Christianson’s Tails from the Trail column for more on that.

This week wrapped up the season-long Trail Center Fishing Contest and the folks who won fabulous prizes and bragging rights.

Congratulations everyone and thanks to Sarah and the folks at Trail Center Lodge for a good time!

Lake trout
Julie Collman 35″
Northern
Kristie Batz 35″
Brook trout
Gary Brumberg 17”
Splake
Twinkie 17”
Walleye
Craig Schulte 27½”
Whitefish
Nathan Clay 29½”
Crappie
Gary Brumberg 11”
Rainbow trout
Diane Wimmer 21½”

51p1.jpg

Thick ice = late season, March 23 2013

What a difference a year can make. We are nearing the first day of spring which is debatably either March 20 or the 21. I prefer the 20th since it is also my birthday, and the winter season is still booming. Last year we were fishing in T-shirts and this year we are fishing in heated shanties.

The Gunflint Trail has been blessed with another few inches of snow this week and the temperatures are low enough to keep it from melting away. Our local amateur meteorologist, Robert Reed, reported 26 below zero this week for a low in the Mid-Trail area, and Saganaga Lake reported 30 below. I don’t think we will be losing the ice any time soon.

Despite the bitter temperatures this week I have managed to spend some time on the water. The ice is thick enough to reach the head of my power auger without having to add any extensions, but it is getting close. My three-horse auger can usually cut a hole without too much effort but lately it has been getting a little “fatigued” while boring through the solid black ice that is covering the lakes up here.

There have been some reports of big rainbow trout being caught on Birch Lake. The rainbows on Birch have been growing bigger each year but they are few and far between. They have been averaging between 21-23 inches. Portage Lake gave up a few splake for us this week in eight feet of water. There was not a lot of slush to contend with yet and they were just big enough to eat.

I have been guiding mostly on Gunflint Lake this week since it is still too early for the traditional “late-ice” spots to be working. The conditions are not any different than they were in late January and that is exactly how the fish are behaving. This might be one of those years that we have to contend with the ice on the spring opener.

The little bit of snow we have been getting is not enough to plug up the plowed roads on Gunflint Lake so it is fairly easy to access some deep water fishing spots with a 4×4 vehicle. The roads are above some proven lake trout spots and a heated vehicle makes a pretty comfortable ice shanty. I just wish the transducer cable for my Vexilar was longer so that I could mount it to my dashboard.

Cabin Fever, March 16 2013

Cabin Fever

Cory Christianson

As I watch the snow falling from the kitchen window, I cannot help but wonder how long this season will last. It is a welcome sight that promises to keep us on the trails for a little while longer. Last year we were on the brink of open water, so I feel like we are now on borrowed time that needs to be taken advantage of.

Our children are finally able to get outside and play in the snow after being cooped up in the house all winter long–and it could not have come any sooner. While burning off some caged energy last week, our daughter Sophia jumped off of the couch and landed on my laptop computer.

The screen shattered into a spider web of colors and Sophia was more worried than hurt, but what can you do? Punish a 2-year-old for acting like a 2-year-old? It happens and ultimately it was our fault for using it on the floor. I told Rachelle that the kids will be breaking our stuff for the next 18 years so we might as well get used to it.

Rachelle and I took advantage of a rare opportunity to get out and blow off some pent-up cabin fever in the snow without kids. The babysitter agreed to a halfday so we decided to venture north of Gunflint Lake and travel up to Saganaga Lake. The maze of logging roads and trails leading north winds through burnt forests and over spectacular vistas. These logging roads are so wide and smooth that the ride is a pleasure. It was a great reminder of why we chose to live here.

The ride took about an hour to reach Rachelle’s cabin on Saganaga Lake from the public boat landing on Gunflint Lake. Next time we should ride up to Northern Light Resort for some french fries and gravy, eh? The route was well marked and I cannot wait to ride it again.

March is my favorite month to ice fish and so far it has not been great. The warmer days should start melting off the lake snow and giving the fish a little more light in the water. The added light and re-oxygenated water will eventually trigger fish to start feeding, especially the walleyes. River mouths like Hoof Creek on Northern Light Lake, Ontario will start to shine once the water starts flowing. The last few weeks of the season are traditionally the best, so get out there and enjoy it while you can.