We are back from our annual family vacation to the Northwoods of Minnesota, which we relished with six of our 10 grandchildren and some of their parents.
For five of us, it was about a 760-mile drive from their northeastern Kansas home, and for the other eight of us it was about a 690-mile trip from our northeastern Kansas homes.
Despite the many joys that unfolded during our journey and holiday, the two old-timers in this entourage have recently found that these marathon drives across northwestern Missouri, over central Iowa, through the many traffic quagmires in and around Minneapolis, and finally into the resplendent Arrowhead section of Minnesota to be rather excruciating.
Back in the 197os, Ron Schara of Minneapolis, who is an author, host of the “Minnesota Bound” television show, executive producer of Ron Schara Productions, and a former Minneapolis Star Tribune outdoor columnist, described the Arrowhead and its wilderness waters as Minnesota’s “gem stone: wild and scenic, raw and untamed.” Even though most of the forests and waters across the Arrowhead portion of Minnesota are no longer wild, raw, and untamed, they are still scenic. And the picturesqueness of the waters and forests and their many denizens gradually soothed our 73- and 74-year-old minds, bodies, and souls that were set askew by the grueling miles of traveling on one woebegone highway after another.
Before we began our holiday to the Northwoods, we were well aware that the largemouth bass and smallmouth bass that inhabit the 419.85-acre eutrophic lake that our children and grandchildren would be fishing during this vacation would not be as easy to catch as the largemouth bass and smallmouth bass that abide in the flatland reservoirs that grace the rather mundane and dreary-looking countryside of northeastern Kansas. Even if we made occasional forays to several of the other nearby scenic lakes that embellish the forests of Itasca County, the largemouth bass and smallmouth bass fishing would not be as bountiful as the fishing that we enjoy in northeastern Kansas, where we can normally tangle with 10 to 11 largemouth bass an hour, or as many as the 102 largemouth bass that our grandson from New York City and his friend caught on April 23 at a 195-acre community reservoir in four hours and 20 minutes.
Knowledgeable Minnesota bass anglers rarely fish the same small lake day after day. Instead they move from one lake to another. We stopped doing that a number of years ago. One reason why we don’t venture to other waterways is that after hauling our boat for 15 or more hours, we don’t want to spend another minute hauling it to another lake. And on this piscatorial vacation, there are six grandchildren and several of their parents who wanted to fish several hours each day, and there weren’t enough hours in the day to drive to other waterways.
Despite the challenging fishing, there is something indescribably enchanting about fishing this gem-like waterway, which inspires us with the hope that we can eventually find a mother lode of largemouth bass and smallmouth bass. What’s more, when we catch one, they are feistier and handsomer than the largemouth bass and smallmouth bass that abide in the flatland reservoirs of northeastern Kansas.
Besides us, there are usually three other boats of ardent bass anglers afloat and vigorously dissecting many of the same lairs that we do. Therefore when we are in Minnesota, we are pleased if our children and grandchildren catch an average of 11 largemouth bass or smallmouth bass a day. And we have found that if they employ Midwest finesse tactics they will catch more largemouth and smallmouth bass than the other anglers who religiously and vigorously dissect these same acres of water.
By late July and early August, this lake is endowed with copious growths of submerged aquatic vegetation: such as broad-leaf pondweeds, bushy pondweeds, coontail, and narrow-leaf pondweeds. The primary emergent plants are white water lilies and wild rice. A secchi disk can be seen in 17 feet of water. The deepest spot in this lake drops into 67 feet of water.
In addition to the aquatic vegetation, many of the shorelines are graced with laydowns. The eastern-white-pine and tamarack laydowns that still have their needle-like leaves can shelter a significant number of largemouth bass. In fact, one laydown yielded a dozen largemouth bass during this vacation.
In the eyes of most anglers, this lake looks as if it would be an ideal venue for power anglers. But in late July and early August, the submerged vegetation is so thick that it can’t be effectively penetrated by even the most savvy and diehard power anglers. Even though it doesn’t look as if it is an ideal venue for employing our Midwest finesse tactics, we have concluded it is the best one for our family to employ.
Our children and grandchildren are not hardcore anglers, and the only time that they fish is when they go with Patty and me. No matter where and when they fish with us, we have found that Midwest finesse tactics allow them to catch more largemouth bass and smallmouth bass than they could catch by employing other methods.
On this vacation, our grandchildren ranged in age from 13 to 27 years old.
The 27-year-older grew up in Brooklyn, New York, but she recently moved to Lawrence, Kansas. Across her 27 years, she hasn’t fished 27 times. This was her first vacation to Minnesota since the late 1990s. And to our surprise and delight, she said on the second day of our vacation that she had become bewitched with a significant case of fishing fever. Now she hopes that she and her boyfriend, who is 30 years old and accompanied us on this trip to Minnesota has also become bitten with fishing fever, will be able to fish on a regular basis from now on.
Two of the grandchildren are thirteen years old, one is 15, one is 16, and another is 17. The three parents who fished ranged in age from 45 to 48 years old.
Rather than fishing, I spent most of my time guiding, helping, and watching all of them fish.
We never got afloat before 9:30 a.m. On some outings, there were four anglers in the boat. Most of the time, there were three anglers, and occasionally there were just two. The length of each outing varied; some were 90 minute affairs; others were 2 1/2-hour endeavors. Several evenings we fished until sundown. And after those evening outings, all of us sat around a fire and chatted among ourselves and with our neighbors.
We didn’t record any weather statistics as we normally do in the logs that are featured in the monthly guides to Midwest finesse fishing. But when the wind blew, it angled out of the north, northwest, and northeast. And at times, it blew hard enough one day that we used a drift sock. Throughout our stay, it rained and drizzled during two of the days. Most of the time, the low temperature was in the mid-t0-upper40s and the high temperature was in the mid-to-upper 60s, with an occasional foray into the 70s. Paul Douglas, who writes about the weather for the Star-Tribune, described the weather as September-like.
The lake’s surface temperature ranged from 73 to 76 degrees.
It is interesting to note that a wacky-rigged soft-plastic bait is the dominant motif at this lake about once every three years, and this year was one of those years.
The three baits that paid the greatest dividends were a four-inch Z-Man’s Fishing Products’ watermelon-red Finesse WormZ affixed wacky-style to a 1/16-ounce Gamakatsu Wacky Jighead, a Z-Man’s California Craw ZinkerZ rigged wacky-style on a weightless No. 2 Gamakatsu Finesse Weedless Hook, and a Z-Man’s California Craw The Real Deal affixed to a blue 1/16-ounce Gopher Tackle’s Mushroom Head Jig.
Z-Man’s 3 1/2-inch watermelon-red-flake GrubZ affixed to a black 3/32-ounce Gopher jig and a customized 2 1/2-inch Z-Man’s Sprayed Grass FattyZ on a blue 1/16-ounce Gopher jig accounted for several largemouth bass and smallmouth bass.
A few largemouth bass and smallmouth bass were extracted from water as shallow as two feet. Most of them were caught in depths of four to eight feet of water.
We spent a lot of time helping our grandkids execute proper retrieves. Sometimes they were able to consistently implement them, but most of the time their retrieves were a tad haphazard, as well as peculiar, and thus, it is impossible for me to describe how, when, and where they caught each of the largemouth bass and smallmouth bass that they caught. One of the virtues, however, of the Midwest finesse baits that they were using is that these baits will inveigle some largemouth bass and smallmouth bass with the oddest of retrieves and lackluster casts. And after watching these novices fish for days on end, wielding an array of helter-skelter casts and employing an array of bizarre retrieves, it provoked me to think that we have often exaggerated the importance of pinpoint casts and the subtle retrieves that Midwest finesse anglers have created across the years. Nevertheless, they caught more largemouth bass and smallmouth bass than the other anglers who were fishing this lake, and the resort’s proprietor said he was impressed by the numbers of bass that they caught each day. Moreover, our children and grandchildren savored every fish they caught; in their eyes, the fishing was quite bountiful.
These family adventures, however, aren’t solely about catching largemouth and smallmouth bass. Even though the fishing was a struggle in my old eyes, the blueberry picking was the best we have ever enjoyed, and the kids also relished many hours of kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing, swimming, and talking to one another.
Here are a few photographs that illustrate some of the largemouth bass and smallmouth bass that were caught during our days in the Northwoods of Minnesota.