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Fishing the BWCAW Canoe Country- Where to Go?

Posted by David

Fishing the BWCAW Canoe Country- Where to Go?

“The gods do not deduct from a man’s allotted span the hours spent in fishing.”

-Ancient Babylonian proverb

Taking the sentiment one step further… time spent fishing in wilderness may even add to an anglers allotted span! Canoe country fishing, especially in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park contains fishing possibilities that are almost unrivaled.


Knife Lake Smallmouth-HooleDSCN2045There’s so much connected water:

Rivers, lakes, wetlands, and portages create a pathway of possibilities for fishing adventure. It is a whole system of navigable canoe routes, and most of those waterways are home to fish.

Reduced fishing pressure:

With the BWCAW and Quetico being designated wilderness areas, there are fewer motors, cabins, resorts, docks, or manmade structures, if any, in the wilderness area. It’s tougher to get to, and therefore has fewer anglers.

Great habitat = More fish:

With the deep, clean water, superb structure (stuff n’ things in the water for fish to live in and around), fewer anglers, and an effective practice of catch and release, you get a proven formula for excellent fishing.  

We recently posted an article with some tips on what sort of tackle to bring. In this post, we’ll be focusing on where to fish. There is decent fishing in most any canoe country lake, though some are better than others.

Quetico Lake Trout-Hoole-IMG_0228If you’re looking to make your next paddle trip one to remember for great fishing, The Boundary Waters Journal and the network at are excellent resources. So are the outfitters in Ely, Grand Marais, along the Gunflint Trail, and other spots along the edge of the Boundary Waters. They are generous with information, will rent nice canoes (and any other gear you need), and can even fully outfit or provide a guide for your trip. Ask the experts, they’re ready to help. Specifically, if you’re looking for Frost River gear available at your outfitter, check out Piragis Northwoods Company in Ely, MN and Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply in Grand Marais, MN. The MN DNR’s LakeFinder database is useful as well. Type your lake in to their tool to see what fish species naturalists have netted there.

With the right gear in your kit, some marks on your maps, and some pep in your paddle… the next question is where to go once you’re in the maze of bays, inlets, and islands. Some of the best fishing advice, stuff from the old-timers, is to aim for the wind. Catching fish in a “walleye chop” is legendary (and often true). The wind will push the floating and submerged debris to one end of the lake. That brings the baitfish, and they bring in the predator fish (the ones we’re looking for!). Depending on time of year, water temperature, and spawning condition, the fish will be at different depths, but it’s usually best on the windy end of the lake, near an island, rock pile, whatever… try to fish in the wind (wearing PFDs of course). Jigs with twister tails or live bait is usually the right tool for the job here. Trolling a diving crankbait between jigging spots and while on the move around the lake. Here’s a good book on catching walleye from a canoe.

You’ll also need a bag to carry all your fishing essentials, and you're in luck! Our canoe packs, once stuffed, often provide just enough extra space for a slim tackle box. We have canoe bags to store tackle and other sundries in the bow, on a thwart, or under a seat. Our Creek and River Bank Tackle boxes have a wealth of capacity and flexibility, with a removable insert divider and side pockets.

Grand-Marais-Tackle-IMG_4919Some of our favorites though for canoe country fishing trips are the Grand Marais Mail Bag and Little Marais Messenger Bag. They're big enough to bring a box of jigs, a couple bags of tails, and another box (or two) with some crankbaits, spoons, and topwater lures. There’s even room for a fillet knife, sharpening stone, and a stringer. A jaw spreader also comes in handy for removing hooks from the tooth-filled jaws of the northerns.

Practicing careful catch and release is imperative to keeping the fishery healthy in the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Keep the fish in the water as much as possible, hang onto them— don’t let ‘em flop around in the bottom of the boat, and consider using barbless hooks no matter where you are. Even if you lose a few as they throw a hook, there are plenty more where that came from.

Feeling the pull of a lively fish at the end of a line is a reward like nothing else, and even better yet to savor a meal of fresh fish in your canoe camp.

Ever tried bacon wrapped walleye? Bring some toothpicks! Bacon wrapped Walleye-Hoole-IMG_0262Be responsible with your harvest though, choose your meal wisely, practice effective catch and release, don’t kill more fish than you can eat in a day, and throw back more than you keep. It’s an ecosystem that, when treated right, can keep getting better all the time.

Come up and see us at Frost River for a Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness permit, we’re an issue station, and we’d love to tell you more about adventuring in canoe country.

Happy fishing and good paddling to you, and keep in mind that time spent fishing does a person good!