BWCA Fishing Secrets: Gun Lake

When I go to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the summer, I try to visit 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.

This week’s feature lake is Gun Lake. My BWCA buds and I spent five days there in early August of 2005 and the fishing was outstanding, including the landing of a monster northern that to this day is still the largest one I’ve ever personally witnessed someone catch.

For some background info on researching lakes and finding the best maps, check out my first BWCA post. (Note: The DNR fish sampling report for Gun Lake is from 1973, so it has limited value, but the other info is useful.)

Lake name: Gun Lake

Target species: Walleye, northern pike, bluegill, smallmouth bass

How to get there: Gun can be accessed from several directions, but we started out at Mudro Lake, which is entry point #23. You can park near the entry point in the lot of what used to be the Chainsaw Sisters Saloon, which was a neat little watering hole that no mortal could resist enjoying a beverage of choice at, either on the way in or out. Unfortunately it closed not long after our visit, but the Forest Service purchased the land and now allows the public to park there for free.

The portages from Mudro to Gun collectively aren’t too difficult, but when combined with the healthy amount of paddling required it can take the better part of a day to travel the whole route. When there is this much paddling involved a canoe seat can be a lifesaver and worth every penny. We arrived at Mudro at midday, so we stopped at Boot Lake for a night before continuing on the next morning. If I were to do it again, I would arrive at the entry point early and push through to reach the excellent fishing at Gun that much sooner.

Campsite info: Gun Lake is bisected into north and south sections by a wide peninsula, upon which is a unique campsite perfectly suited for medium to large groups. You can’t miss it as you paddle north on Gun, it is a large clearing that almost looks like it has been mowed. Plenty of space to set up tents and organize gear, but finding a suitable set of trees to string up the tarp was more of a challenge. (I highly recommend bringing a tarp large enough for your group. You can get out of the sun and rain anytime and still be outside with your friends and not cramped in a tent. Poker games under a tarp in the pouring rain are some of my fondest BWCA memories.) I believe this site was once a logging camp station or something like it, as off to the right there is a concrete ramp going down into the lake and some old junk in the woods behind the site.

This is the view from the campsite facing south. The site is wide open with plenty of space for tents, but you have to set up your tarp further back near the trees. Overall an excellent site.
Plenty of room at the campsite to construct your own little nylon village.

Now, how about them fish? Head east from the campsite along the shore of the peninsula until you come to a large boulder at the water’s edge. Go out about 30-40 yards from shore and start jigging in 12-15 feet of water. My brother Tim and I had some crazy fast fishing here early in the morning using leeches on chartreuse or pink jigs. The coolest thing about this spot was that we never knew what we had on the line when pulling a fish up from the depths. We caught smallmouth bass, bluegill, walleye, and northerns all in this same spot at the same time; it was BWCA fishing roulette and we loved it. As I reeled a bluegill up to the surface, a 5 pound northern darted in and took a chomp out of the already unlucky fish, scaring the crap out of me in the process. We kept enough walleye for our group to have a meal that night but otherwise went all catch-and-release.

“Hey Tim, those are some nice walleyes, but they’d be even nicer if they were filleted, breaded, and frying in oil right now.”

Now for the big one. If you head west of the campsite, near the relatively narrow channel separating the north and south lobes of Gun Lake, you will see a huge, mostly flat rock sticking out of the water that looks like a humpback whale surfacing for air. Our friends Dusty and John had parked their canoe there and were standing on the rock fishing as dusk approached. Tim and I were in a canoe trying in vain to find another productive walleye spot when John’s voice burst on to the walkie talkie. “Get over here, Dusty has a shark!” Tim and I paddled over as fast as we could and arrived just as Dusty hauled this toothy hog up on to the rock.

Dusty’s fish of a lifetime. He caught this monster near dusk by casting a musky-sized bucktail through the lily pads on the west side of the “whale” rock.

Needless to say we were all in shock as Dusty worked to remove the sharp treble hooks from the beast’s mouth. We snapped the photos and Dusty slid the monster back into the lake, where hopefully someone has been able to catch him again in the years since. Who knows, it may still be terrorizing the local bluegill population to this day.

Let’s just say none of us were in a hurry to help Dusty reach into these tooth filled jaws and pull out his lure. This behemoth was released and yes, Dusty still has all his fingers.

Overall, the walleyes weren’t huge but they were perfect eating size, the bluegills were occasionally hefty and a meal could be made of them if you’re willing to put in the time, and the smallmouth had some size to them and put up a great fight as always. The preceding photos attest to the size that northerns can reach in this lake, and most of the others we caught were 3 to 6 pounds—great fun to catch.

Even if the fish aren’t biting, you can’t go wrong with a voyage to Gun Lake. The scenery is gorgeous and there are many other excellent lakes nearby that make for fun day trips. Maybe we will go back to Gun Lake someday to see if another lunker pike is in a biting mood, and if we do, I will be putting on two extra pairs of swim trunks before I go swimming in that water again. (Did you see the teeth on that fish?)

As always, questions or comments welcome.

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