BWCA Fishing Secrets: Trident Lake

When I go to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the summer, I try to go to a new place each time. Therefore I have no reason to hold on to any honey hole secrets and I thought I’d share them here with anyone looking for some advice on the where, when, and how of BWCA fishing. I can only tell you what worked for us and I offer no guarantees, other than that you will come out much more relaxed than when you went in.

I know some of you may be thinking March is a bit premature for planning a fishing trip, but I am compelled to start early, as I explained in this delightful post.

One of the best tools for planning your BWCA trip, should fishing be high on your list of priorities, is the MN DNR LakeFinder website. This site has lake maps, sampling reports, topographic maps, and even aerial photos of just about every lake in MN. Using this info, you can see which lake has what species, how large the fish get in a particular lake, and even portage length information to surrounding lakes. Most “lake information” reports also include a helpful summary at the bottom of the page, which can save time instead of trying to interpret the sampling data tables. Fish consumption guidelines are also included.

However, an important thing missing from the LakeFinder site is BWCA campsite locations. For this you must purchase maps from Fisher Maps or McKenzie Maps. I prefer Fisher but I have other friends who prefer McKenzie; you can’t go wrong with either and they are all reasonably priced. ($7-$8 per map.) These maps will show you entry points, portages, and campsite locations. They usually are updated every year and I’ve yet to have a problem with either brand. After a few BWCA tips you will find your map library expanding and may even start to purchase ones you don’t have yet whether you plan to go to that area or not. It’s only a mild form of hoarding and they don’t take up much space, so collect away.

Ok, let’s get down to business.

Lake name: Trident Lake

Target species: Walleye, largemouth bass, northern pike

Easiest way to get there: Get a tow across Moose Lake (entry point #25), it is only $25 per person each way and will save you a lot of time and a lot of paddling. It is confusing they call it a tow, because nothing actually gets towed, they just put your canoe upside down on top of a rack in the boat and you ride like you would in any boat. Take a short portage into Ensign Lake, paddle across its picturesque length, and then make the 100 rod portage into Trident. Not a terribly taxing journey, but you will sleep well that night.

Campsite info: While I highly suggest going to the MN DNR LakeFinder site and exploring it for yourself, I will post the Trident Lake map for those who are unfamiliar with the site. You can open a PDF map here by clicking Trident Lake Map. (If the PDF won’t load correctly, just look up Trident on the LakeFinder and both PDF and TIFF files are available of the lake map.)

Look at the west side of the lake and find the big point sticking out; it has “B.M. #1″ labeled on it. (That stands for “bench mark”, not “bowel movement”, although after eating Johnny’s five-alarm chili for two nights there it would have been an appropriate name.) Right on this point is the campsite we stayed at for five days. There is one other campsite on the east end of the lake but this western one was far superior, so grab it if you can. The tent pads near the fire grate are a bit rocky and rough, so make sure you walk back a little ways on one of the trails leading away from the site; there is a beautifully soft and grassy tent area that we unfortunately didn’t discover until we were all set up. (Our group is not exactly a collection of geniuses.)

Luckily, walleyes can be caught right off of the tip of the point. Being able to catch fish without getting in your canoe can be a godsend in the BWCA if the wind is too strong or if your canoe partner is a damn lazy loafer who wants to sit in a camp chair all day. (I’m talking to you, Matt.) A short, brushy trail leads from the campsite to the point. We used slip bobbers with leeches on chartreuse jigs set to 5-6 feet in depth and had some great success. Nothing that would look impressive mounted on a wall, mind you, but plenty of ones that look magnificent in a frying pan. (We usually only eat fish for one meal during each trip so that the fishing can continue to be outstanding for future generations.)

We also found some fast walleye action on the south shore of the lake, near where the 14 foot maximum depth is labeled on the map. There were some fallen trees stretching out into the water and straight out about 20 yards from there the walleyes were chomping down our leeches at depths of about 10 feet. Have some type of anchor rigged up so you can stop once you find them. (I’ve been using this for over a decade and I love it.)

The occasional nice northern was also caught around here, so if you’re looking to land some of those mean suckers try flinging a daredevil around if the walleyes aren’t cooperating. The LakeFinder report shows there are a good number of northerns over 30 inches in Trident, so there very well could be a monster or two patrolling the depths. Let’s just say that, as a man, I wouldn’t suggest swimming naked there.

Probably the biggest surprise for us was catching a bunch of huge largemouth bass. They’re not even listed on the sampling report (although they are mentioned in the summary as being present but hard to catch in sampling nets), so it was a shock to start hooking into some hogs while fishing by the large boulder straight north of the campsite. It is very shallow in this area and we were catching them with slip bobbers set as shallow as 2 feet. I would imagine fishing topwater lures or even flies in this area would be a blast.

Summary: The five days I spent at Trident Lake ended up as one of the best BWCA trips I have ever been on. Great fishing, very secluded (we only saw two other canoes the entire time), and with the tow option you can get there relatively quickly and have more time for fishing and telling lies around the campfire. You may even be lucky enough to witness an unforgettable wildlife moment from the comfort of your campsite, just as we did when a hulking bull moose sprinted along the south shore, jumped in to the water, swam a short distance, then hopped back on to dry land and continued running. (We didn’t see what was chasing him, but we weren’t sure we even wanted to know.)

If you have any other questions about Trident Lake or anything BWCA, just post a question in the comments section and I will do my best to help you out.


14 thoughts on “BWCA Fishing Secrets: Trident Lake

  1. Nice of you to share your experiences – thanks much! Haven’t been to BWCA yet but it’s definitely on my list of places to go!

  2. Be careful, Gary, going to the BWCA is extremely addicting, but fortunately this addiction leads to unforgettable memories and a ever deepening love of nature. You’d be surprised how inexpensive a trip can be and it’s up to you how far into the backcountry you want to go; the possibilities are limitless. I hope you make it up there soon!

  3. Actually camped on Ensign Lake last summer. A little to busy for me but made for great wildlife sighting. Plenty of Eagles and Loons and actually saw a large wolf come out of the woods to get a drink. At our campsite we had a pack (wolf or coyote) trail run right by our toilet box. Pretty impressive to hear the howl only 50 ft from our tent.

    • That’s outstanding! I’d love to experience that, but I’d probably also be freaked out knowing a pack of carnivores was that close. Better wolves than bears, I guess.

  4. Both environmental and animal rights factions have criticized bass fishing in recent years for being both harmful to native species and cruel to the bass themselves. Most bass are no longer caught for sustenance, but simply as a sport, and largemouth bass are generally let go after the catch.”:

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  6. My son and I are heading into the bwca in the second week of May. We’d appreciate any advice on which lakes to hit and what lures to use at this time of year. Any input is greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Kevin. If you are going in the second week of May, I would suggest fishing for lake trout. There are many different BWCA lakes with lake trout in them, most of them are located near the Gunflint Trail.

      You can go to the MN DNR fishing website and look up fish by species. Click on lake trout and it will take you to a list of all the MN lakes with lake trout, listed by county. Go to Cook county and you will see plenty of laker lakes, with links to their sampling reports also.

      I have always had good luck trolling for lakers early in the season. This early in the season the lakers will be in shallower water, perhaps less than 20 feet deep, or shallower if the weather the few weeks before opener has been cool.

      Troll very slowly with a flutter spoon or Lil Cleo spoon. Put one or two large split shot sinkers about 2-3 feet above your lure, let out a lot of line, and troll just fast enough to make the spoon flutter back and forth. Start shallower and if no bites then move out a little deeper until you get strikes.

      I’m not an expert, but these techniques have worked for us. Good luck!

  7. Loved the write up! A couple buddies and i are heading up to the boundary waters the last week in May and had Trident Lake targeted, although nothing set in stone. What time of the year were you fishing Trident? Just trying to get a feel on how the fishing might be that early in the year, and what areas to target. We will be fishing hard, but not going to discriminate on species, we will fish for whatever is biting!

    Again thanks for the write up and any help!

    • Hi Nick,
      We were there in mid-June. We did have success with walleye, largemouth, and some northerns, so the fish are in there. We mostly used slip bobbers with jigs and leeches; it worked for the walleyes and the bass. The northerns were more random and I believe they were mostly caught with spoons or spinner baits.

      Like I said in the post, the campsite at the far west end of the lake is where we stayed, and we caught walleye right off a point next to the site, didn’t even have to get in a canoe to catch dinner!

      I would guess you would have success in late May, especially if the ice goes out earlier this year and the water warms up. But, as I’m sure you know, if they ain’t biting, they just ain’t biting.

      Good luck and have a great time!

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  9. Quick question for you. How hard would it be to just paddle in all the way through Moose Lake? We are planning a trip up through Moose and would rather not pay the money to be “towed” and want to know if it’d be too strenuous to paddle.
    I also want to just make sure that there is only the one portage (100 Rod).

    • Hi Bintor,

      I don’t think it would be too hard to paddle Moose, it just adds a lot more time to your day. We went in on a gorgeous day with little wind, so paddling Moose would have been relatively easy, but a stiff headwind could make the paddle suck pretty bad.

      The portage from Moose to Ensign was short, I think it might even be paddleable if the water is high enough. And then it is just the 100 rod one into Trident.

      I think it would be fine to paddle Moose, we just did the tow to get more fishing time in. However, because Moose allows motors, you may get a lot of wake waves bobbing you up and down as you make your way to Ensign.

      Paddle or tow, you really can’t lose. Good luck!

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