Outdoors: Feeling Minnesota

Photo by Josh LantzKristen Monroe with a 50-inch sturgeon she landed on a medium action St. Croix Avid Pearl rod while walleye fishing on the Rainy River.

When I was growing up, my parents took my brother and I on family vacations regularly. We always thought that was a big deal when they pulled us out of school for an extra day or two around school breaks. Apparently, the Nuns at St. Bernard’s in Wabash always encouraged them when they did that. Sister Patricia and Sister Veronica knew the cultural exposure my brother and I would experience far exceeded any grade-school lessons we’d miss.

I love to travel, see new places and experience different cultures. I still haven’t been overseas unfortunately, but on the upside, there aren’t many places I haven’t been in North America.

Some of these adventures have provided me with incredible memories. There was the time Angie and I stopped at a tiny “restaurant” in the jungle of Belize near the Guatemala border. I saw a Belikin Beer sign peeking through the dense foliage, so it seemed like the proper thing to do. Besides much needed refreshment, we ate “fresh roast pork” with tomatillos sauce on rice.

I asked where they kept the hogs, and the nice Belizean lady tending to us took me behind the restaurant where there was a corral made from old-chicken wire. I could see a couple very pig-like mammals called white-lipped peccary hiding from the sun (and machete) in the shadow of a young banana tree. They trapped them right in the backyard.

I’m not sure Angie appreciated it as much as I did, but I love that sort of thing. I want to get off the beaten-track and find those little gems. It could be a small beach or a remote waterfall, but those places are all around us. One just has to be brave enough, or crazy enough to go look for them when traveling.

Thankfully, there are plenty of relatively-remote places that are easily accessible, it just takes some windshield time. For most of us, it’s a lot more feasible to travel within a day’s drive and still feel worlds away from home. There are plenty of spots in the northern states and Canada that fit this description. One such place is northern Minnesota.

If you look at a map of the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” you will see that this very large state has approximately…wait for it…10,000 lakes. While Lake Superior dwarfs all the others, many large bodies of water exist in Minnesota, including standouts Mille Lacs, Leech, Winnibigoshish, Upper and Lower Red lakes, as well as the monster Minnesota shares with Ontario and Manitoba, Lake of The Woods.

Incidentally, the Mississippi and Rainy rivers are also in Minnesota - the Rainy River is the international border with Ontario, actual border splitting the river right down the middle. The rivers and lakes are often rugged with little access and a lack of support for the modern conveniences we have come to expect here. Needless to say, this is a land of extremes; big lakes, big rivers, big woods and big fish are part of the scenery in wild Minnesota.

I spent several days on the centrally located Mille Lacs back in early-September while working on a St. Croix Rods photo shoot. St. Croix’s slogan, “Best Rods on Earth” is an understatement. Believe me, after using a broad range of the Park Falls, Wisconsin rods in Quebec, Minnesota, Wisconsin and locally here of the past few months, it’s a no-brainer for me when it comes to picking out my next rod.

A couple weeks ago, I found myself in Minnesota, yet again. The second time I was near the Canadian border on Lake of The Woods and Rainy River for the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers conference. AGLOW has strong Indiana ties, so besides spending time with old friends, I enjoyed meeting many new folks, some of which I’ve been following in print for years.

Technically, I was working for Plano and Frabill, and my job was fairly simple: Familiarize other outdoor writers with the new products offered by these companies. The thing is, the stuff is so good it sells itself. Let’s just say that I didn’t have to get too pushy, there was lots of interest.

The rest of the time I attended a variety of presentations on many different outdoor-related topics, including the one I did on waterfowl hunting. We also fished, hunted and socialized the proper Northwoods way well into the night.

We also ate tons of fresh walleye. The conference took place at Sportsman’s Lodge, located north of Baudette near the mouth of the Rainy River, where it runs into Lake of The Woods (www.sportsmanslodges.com). The river and lake are absolutely incredible fisheries. There is a peculiar walleye run that takes place this time of year as tens of thousands of walleyes chase emerald shiners upstream from the lake. There are also huge sturgeon present which are caught regularly. In fact, several of the writers in attendance caught sturgeon in excess of 50 inches while walleye fishing.

One afternoon, I jumped in the truck with my old black lab Deuce and headed west towards the edge of the prairie. Of course, it was practically inevitable that I’d find ducks and geese to hunt. All I needed was a boat. After explaining the situation briefly with the Executive Director of Lake of The Woods Tourism and can-do man Joe Henry, none other than lodge owner Greg Hennum came through with a fine old beater Lund sporting a newer Yamaha 25 horse.

This sort of generosity became a common theme as the people of that region proved to be some of the hardest working and friendly I have encountered anywhere. They made us feel like family day in and day out. You just don’t hear the word “no” very often.

The next morning, Deuce and I piled into the boat with Chris Jennings, Chris Sebastian and Kyle Rorah of Ducks Unlimited and had a very memorable hunt. In fact, it was so good we did it again a couple days later. The guys from the local chapter of The Ruffed Grouse Society took some of us hunting one perfect afternoon.

I was also able to field hunt for geese with a bunch of other writers. It was ridiculously good, and a big thanks to Dillon Reed and Paul Johnson for the guidance and laborious logistical support. Incidentally, Paul owns River’s Bend Resort and Walleye Inn right up the road from Sportsman’s Lodge (www.riverbendsresorts.com) and Dillon is a real estate agent for…wait for it…Reed Realty.

These folks all know each other and share the spotlight. Clearly, it’s a team effort. The hunting and fishing was absolutely amazing and made the 12-hour drive worth every minute. Simply put, I cannot recommend a trip to Minnesota’s Lake of The Woods enough for a road trip.

Jay Anglin writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Argus. Write to him at jay@anglinoutdoors.com.

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