I just got back from a four-day trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota. Joining me were my father and two friends. We fished and camped along the Gunflint Trail, which is located about an hour north of Grand Marais, Minn. The focus of the trip was post-spawn walleyes, but the Gunflint trail is noted for phenomenal smallmouth fishing as well. After making camp, we wasted no time in hitting the water. Our primary area was a gradual ledge located approximately 20 yards below a swift set of rapids. This ledge has been good to us over the years, both with numbers and size. Dad and I started by floating slip corks and leeches in 12- to 14-feet of water. Neither of us had seen a bite in the first 10 minutes. We weren’t panicking, but it wasn’t a good sign.
Dad’s bobber finally goes down and it appears to be a good one. Playing a big fish in a canoe can be dicey, but thankfully there were no issues this time. At first glance I saw it was a big female walleye and a second later I had scooped her in the net. The fish measured just short of 28 inches and weighed approximately 7 1/2 pounds. Moments later I stuck a 22 and a 24. The bite slowed after that 30-minute flurry but we had managed a handful of walleyes and none were less than 20 inches.
The next day the bite was much slower but I did manage a 25-incher, my biggest walleye of the trip. I also lost a giant on a rig. In addition to using corks, I set up a bottom-bouncer rig with a floating Northland jig. I tied on 15-pound braid as my main line and then attached about 3 feet of 10-pound Berkley 100% Percent Fluorocarbon line as my leader. Instead of drifting the whole ledge, I wanted to focus on specific portions in hopes of attracting lethargic walleyes. The corks work great but the fish must be aggressive enough to commit as the bait drifts along. The rig essentially allows the walleyes to stare at it in the current.
On my first cast with the rig I hooked up with a good fish. I knew it was big and I was excited because I had just spooled fresh line. If nothing else, I knew bad line wasn’t going to prevent me from landing this fish. I got it all the way to the canoe and finally saw it was a giant walleye. I got one really good look at her and would estimate it weighed between 7 and 9 pounds. Then she turned her head and dove back down. As she turned I watched in agony as my white Gamakatsu glow hook popped out of its mouth. I was disappointed, but there was nothing I could have done differently. The 25-incher came about 30 minutes after the big one got off. It definitely wasn’t the same fish, but it did help to take the sting out of a missed opportunity. The rest of the night was surprisingly slow.
The next morning the wind was calm so I decided to check out a sandy flat for spawning smallmouths. We didn’t see a ton of beds, but several fish were still up in the shallows. I learned this week that fishing for spawning largemouths is nothing like targeting spawning smallies. Once you see a bed, whether the fish is locked on or not, all you have to do is back off a little bit and throw in the direction of the nest. I had all these different baits lined up – from Mizmo tubes to Senkos to jerkbaits to plastic crayfish. It turns out that it doesn’t matter what you throw. Just cast in the direction of the bed and hold on. I sight-fished some spawning largemouths in the Hayward, Wis., area over Memorial weekend and they were aggressive, but oftentimes it took five or six casts to get them to bite. Every single smallmouth I saw this week bit on the first pitch. And they absolutely attack a bait – whereas the largemouths just calmly draw it in. I’ve caught bigger BWCAW smallmouths in August but I think this was more fun. The biggest were just under19 inches and probably weighed not quite 5 pounds. All were released of course.
The largest walleye of the trip came on our last night. In the same spot where I lost my big fish, one of our friends landed a 9-pounder. The beautifully golden walleye firmly held to the bottom for several minutes until finally relenting. Overall, the fishing was good. Our numbers were below average but the size was better than expected. After packing up the next morning we fished some on our way out and caught a few more quality smallies and walleyes. As we were finishing our paddling we got poured on pretty good. But it wasn’t nearly enough to spoil what was another great trip to the BWCAW.