While I like to openly share most of my BWCA fishing “hotspots” in the interest of helping others to experience the same excitement I’ve enjoyed (see here, here, and here), there are a couple of gems I must keep to myself. I protect these handful of honey holes not just for my enjoyment, but also because my fishing buddies have threatened that any divulgence of said locations would result in me “sleeping with the fishes”. These two factors are more than enough to shut my big mouth up.
What I can tell you is that the secret lake we last visited was in Northeastern Minnesota, lies on the edge of the BWCA, and has lake trout patrolling its depths. That’s all I can say without fearing that I will wake up in cement shoes at the bottom of the lake. However, I can share with you the how and the what that contributed to our successful outing.
How to get there: Top Secret
Lake Map: Need to know basis only
We hit the water two weeks after ice out–which this year was two weeks after fishing opener–thus the lake trout could be found in shallower water. I am not one to use downriggers or other devices to reach the deep water that lake trout descend to as the summer heats up, so that’s why I always concentrate my early season efforts towards Salvelinus namaycush. As soon as we reached the landing, the excitement was palpable.
Because the trout could be found in shallower waters, we began to troll about thirty yards off shore, trying to keep our lures in the 15-25 foot depth range. We tied on Little Cleo spoons, clamped on two large split shot sinkers about four feet above the lures, and trolled at a slow speed, just enough to get the spoons to flutter. After an hour of nothing, and as our spirits began to dip, Tim’s rod began to bend violently. There was no doubt it was a laker, as it flexed its incredible strength and dove deep over and over, whizzing line out of Tim’s reel as the drag put up useless resistance. As the fish finally began to fatigue, I positioned myself at the boat’s edge with the net in hand, ready to scoop up our first trout of the year. When the beast surfaced, I expressed my surprise as I realized what it was.
“It’s not a trout, it’s a @*$!ing enormous bass!”
After releasing the monster bass, we continued our slow troll. We crawled along over a steep sandy drop off that plummeted from 10 to 35 feet, a structure experts extoll as a great place to find lakers. After reaching the edge of the drop off we made a wide U-turn with the boat to pass over it again. As the boat finished it’s turnabout, I felt a tug. Fish on. My rod tip curled over and the drag buzzed; it was obvious this fish was large. We did the fish fight tango, as I reeled in, then the fish took off, I reeled in again, followed by the lunker fleeing again. This went on for five minutes or so before the fish, which I was certain was a trout, came close to the boat. John had the net in hand, ready to dip it in and come up with a lunker, but the fish made one last run–and the line snapped.
In the past, when my line would snap so would I, releasing a torrent of expletives and frustrated gesticlulations, but the longer I live the more I have realized that these tantrums weren’t helping anything and only made my buddies suggest I seek counseling. Therefore I let out only a couple mild profanities and tied on a new spoon, trying my best to accept reality.
The wind picked up, so we decided to drift along the drop off and cast our spoons in all directions. This strategy immediately paid off, as I felt another strong tug on my line and was once again battling a heavy fish, which I prayed was a trout.
It was. The line held this time and as John scooped the net underneath the laker we could see its broad muscular back and golden color.
The fish measured 23 inches long and had a nice beer gut; this trout was well-fed. Knowing this big fish was surely sexually mature and therefore contributing to the lake’s trout population, I released it so that it could not only be caught by someone else, but also so that it would hopefully do its part to create many more of its kind.
Our boat was atwitter after this landing, as we now knew there were nice trout to be had and they appeared to be in a Little Cleo mood. Another drifting pass over the drop off only produced a medium-sized smallie and the next pass produced nothing. Our spirits began to flag.
Just as the conversation as to when a lunch break would be appropriate began, Tom hooked into something. It was another big fish. His rod tip dove towards the water and his drag relented to the powerful pull coming from the depths. After another ten minutes of give-and-take, the fish surfaced, and John manned the net and brought out another chunky lake trout.
Just as I thought Tom was about to win the biggest fish of the day bet, the fish checked in at 23 inches, thus we had a tie.
High fives went around the boat and we got right back to work, excited that six pound lakers seemed to be the norm in our secret lake. Despite spending another three hours enduring the windy chill of the lake, we only raised one more decent smallie and a 9-inch laker, neither of which moved our excitement needles much after the two 23-inch behemoths.
Our day on the secret lake had been a success. It was a quality-over-quantity experience, which suited us just fine. Getting back to the cabin for the warmth of the campfire and the ribeyes we cooked over its coals completed a great day in the wilderness.
Having a secret spot or secret lake is nothing novel; many anglers possess their own stable of sweetspots. As much as I would like to share everything, there are some places worth protecting, and given that I occasionally see other boats or canoes working these same locations, I imagine my secrets are far from exclusive.
Nevertheless, I’ve said too much. But feel free to share any of your hot spots with me. I promise my fishing buddies and I won’t immediately pack up and head to the exact spot and fish the crap out of it. Just make sure to include GPS coordinates.