We love to fish, but we're southern bluegill and bass fishermen, so we decided to get a guide to help us out with walleye and pike fishing in this huge northern lake in Voyageurs National Park. That turned out to be a good idea, and we had a successful day.
Today, we had made arrangements to go on a guided fishing trip in Voyageurs National Park.
We met Frank (Frank House Guide Service) at the Kabetogama Visitors Center at 8:00 a.m.
Frank has lived in this area all his life and is known as one of the best four guides in the area. He and his wife owned the Deer Horn Resort on Lake Kabetogama for many years before selling it back in 2008.
We approached his boat, introduced ourselves, and passed the pre-boarding quiz:
Having passed the test, he welcomed us aboard.
Our goal was to learn the lakes a little bit, learn how they fished for each species, and catch enough fish for dinner. Frank considered it almost a perfect morning with overcast skies and a healthy wind.
He says they haven't been finding Walleye in deep water this year, so they've had to fish shallow water along the weed lines. He says the wind, waves, and clouds give the fish a sense of having more cover, so they venture out of the weeds a little farther to feed.
We got to our first spot and he handed us each a rod with a spinning reel. There was a split shot weight about two feet above a short small hook. And then he brought our bait of choice for today - leeches. Linda wasn't too sure about that.
And neither was I but, apparently fish love them and they are actually pretty easy to get on a hook.
Of course it didn't really matter as Frank baited our hooks all day. However, he also gave us an education. These leeches aren't bloodsuckers. They are Ribbon Leeches, also known as "fishing leeches", and they are firmer and apparently better tasting (to the fish) than the bloodsucking, squishier "lake" or "horse" leeches. By the end of the day, we were much more comfortable with putting the leeches on the hooks ourselves.
So, we just put our lines out as he used his smaller "kicker" motor to back-troll along the weed lines. We had to learn to tell the difference between the hook and bait getting caught on the vegetation and a fish bite. It took us a while to figure that out.
Frank would make one or two passes along a weed line and, if we didn't get any bites, he would take us to another spot where the wind was blowing directly into the weeds in a cove. At our second spot, I caught a nice Northern Pike, our first keeper of the day.
We were fishing for Walleye (they have to be 17 inches or less to keep), but the way we were fishing, we could catch Walleye, Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, or Yellow Perch. And we caught all of them.
Linda was the first to catch one of each. But Frank was fast, and before I could ever grab the camera, he had the fish netted, unhooked, and in the live well.
In the morning, we went to a few spots on Lake Kabetogama, and then we headed into the slightly smaller Namakan Lake. Both lakes are beautiful with all the islands, rocky shorelines, and sheltering coves. It's kind of a houseboat paradise, and there are designated houseboat sites throughout the park.
I was freezing this morning, but some of the houseboat people were swimming. A hardy bunch they are. Of course, the folks up here think anything over 80 degrees is sweltering.
For most of the day, we pretty much caught one keeper fish in each spot. Often, our first cast would result in bites and the landing of one keeper fish and maybe one fish that was too small or one that got off before we could get it to the boat. It became a joke - "Got our one fish here, let's move on".
In the middle of the day, it started to clear up and warm up. Frank said I could have my sunshine as long as we still had wind for good fishing. We docked at one of the day-use picnic areas to have lunch.
After lunch, we fished more spots on Namakan Lake with the same "one-fish" results. Then, in the late afternoon, back on Lake Kabetogama, ....
we found a spot where we got consistent bites and brought in multiple fish.
We also missed a lot of fish. Even Frank missed way more than he said he should. It wasn't an "aggressive" bite all day, so it took patience and feel. But, by the end of the day, we were feeling much more competent and missing less.
As we were getting low on leeches, Frank went to nightcrawlers, and then I changed to nightcrawlers as well. Fortunately, the fish didn't really seem to care.
Finally, around 5:30, we ran out of bait and headed in.
Frank docked the boat at the Visitors Center, ....
and we waited for him to get it trailered. He then followed us to the farm as he lives only about a mile and a half from there.
He set up a temporary work station in his boat and prepared to clean our catch. Bonus!
But first, I had to get a picture. I was going to lay out all the fish, and group them by species, but they were flopping everywhere, so Linda took a quick photo.
We had 17 keepers including:
We thought we had another pike, but apparently not. It might have escaped. While we were fishing, one of the pike jumped out of the live well (yep, popped the lid open) and was flopping around on the deck of the boat. Frisky little devils.
So, Frank cleaned our fish in his boat (don't tell his wife, she'd kill him),
while Linda watched.
He showed her how to complete the filleting process on each type of fish.
Now that's a bowl of fresh fish.
Fresh, fried fish for dinner.
We thought that generous portion would last us a couple of nights, but it was so good, we ate two thirds of it. Linda kept a few more fillets to cook tomorrow night to add to the leftovers, and then she froze the rest.
It turned out to be gorgeous afternoon on the lake, and Frank taught us a lot. In addition to the fairly simple method we used today, he gave us pointers on some alternative methods. We certainly met our goals for the day and hope to get back out there a few more times while we are here.