Peter Brookes: Lake of the Woods: World’s walleye wonderland
“Passport? … why do I need a passport to go to Minnesota?,” I wondered out loud. I know the folks up there have a “unique” accent and are obsessed with curling and hockey, but what’s going on?
It must be “Minnexit.” That’s it!
You know, like this year’s “Brexit,”the British vote to exit the European Union – or, maybe more appropriately, “Calexit,” some Californians’ threat to split from the United States over public policy differences with Washington, D.C.
Perhaps Minnesota is going to leave the United States to join Canada, declare independence or some such political notion?
It turns out that I needed a passport to visit the Northwest Angle, a spit of land on the Lake of Woods (lakeofthewoodsmn.com) that’s separated from the rest of Minnesota by a short stretch of Canada’s Manitoba province.
Google it: You’ll see I’m not making this up.
Minnesota isn’t going anywhere – and believe me that’s a very good thing, considering the incredible natural beauty and bounty of the Lake of the Woods, America’s sixth largest lake (after the nearby Great Lakes).
After crossing the Canadian border at a manned checkpoint, I drove for an hour or so to the unmanned American border where you pick up a phone at a roadside parking lot to call U.S. immigration/customs to check back into the United States (and Minnesota).
You do the reverse on the way back from the Northwest Angle – except you call the Canadians.
I was heading for Flag Island Resort (flagislandresort.com), which is–as the name implies – an island camp in the Lake of the Woods. I rang them up from the parking lot, and they cheerfully said they’d meet me at Young’s Bay.
Young’s Bay, by the way, is the northernmost point in the contiguous United States … having been to the southernmost point in Key West previously, I was feeling pretty darn worldly.
Just let me have my little victories, OK?
After tossing my gear aboard the boat, we headed off across the glistening lake waters for Flag Island. Judging by the dark wood cabins, flotilla of boats and coolers waiting to be filled with catch, this was a real fish camp.
Lake of the Woods is the walleye capital of the world after all.
I spent the first evening lounging on the front porch of my cabin, watching happy anglers motoring back from a day of fishing on the U.S. and Canadian waters that make up the Lake of the Woods.
Though tired, it was hard to turn in while taking in the beauty of the late, northern sun setting on the lake, the waves lapping the shore at my feet and the haunting sounds of loons echoing across the waters.
The next morning found me and my guide, Jeremy, chasing the local favorite, walleye, in the lake’s tea-colored waters. After a slow start, the bite was on. In short order, we’d reached our limit of walleye and sauger.
We high-tailed it back to Flag Island, where in no time, the walleye and sauger were cleaned, cooked and sitting in front of us on the lunch table. Talk about incredible eating – can’t think of a better tasting freshwater fish than walleye.
Let’s just say I ate until I was up-to-my-gills full.
We spent the next day chasing northern pike and musky, but the bite wasn’t hot, likely due to the coolish lake water that hadn’t warmed quite enough yet this season to get these big predators really hungry.
Lake of the Woods has monster musky.
Between light tackle casts, Jeremy and I had a chance to talk a bit. I was particularly interested in life in the Northwest Angle during the frigid Minnesota winter. I just assumed the resort shuttered up for the season.
Rather, Flag Island Resort is very busy in winter with – you guessed it – ice fishing. The crew attaches tracks to the resort’s vehicles, which travel across the lake’s 4-foot thick ice to pick up visitors from shore and deliver them to ice houses.
A good day in a (heated) ice house can bring as many as 40 fish, including good-eating crappie, from deep beneath the lake’s ice. Getting a glimpse of the mystical Northern Lights is a real possibility, too.
With lots of outdoor action in both summer and winter – not to mention waterfowl, deer, bear and wolf hunting in the fall – at Flag Island Resort, I sure hope Minnesota doesn’t ever think about Minnexit.
Or, at least, leaves the Lake of the Woods behind.
Dr. Peter Brookes is a D.C. foreign policy wonk who escapes to the great outdoors and his Fort Valley cabin every chance he gets. BrookesOutdoors@gmail.com