Thursday, May 17, 2018

Boundary Waters Fishing: Go To Lures by Tim Stouffer

I often find Original Floating® Rapalas® in various conditions in the bottom of old tackle boxes that I buy.  Since I was a little kid, one of my passions has been antiques.  I gravitate towards old tackle boxes and (avoiding rusty hooks) love to dig through them looking for treasure.  Aside from remnants of melted plastic worms, the single most popular discovery is some form of lightweight balsa Rapala® Floating Minnow.  Sometimes this will include foil-sided early models with embossed stars from when they were still made in Finland.

This got me to thinking… why do I find so many of these?  Why are they always in such a state of disrepair and not pristine?  Why do their newer counterparts show up nearly as often in Perch, Silver and Blue, Firetiger and Orange?  And, perhaps an even better question, what do I consider my “Go To” lure when on a Boundary Waters Canoe Trip?  Not necessarily my favorite lure, because if I’m perfectly honest Mepps® Spinners are my favorite because they were my Dad’s favorite and who doesn’t enjoy a bit of flash?  Usually walleye, definitely Pike and the Smallmouth love em.  Let’s face it though, they aren’t minnow shaped, don’t swim or look like a minnow except in the heat of the moment.

Most predators are attracted to anything that closely mimics their natural prey.  Wounded or erratically swimming minnows.  Or, when wounded ones aren’t on your radar, something that looks like what you’d expect to be swimming in the water.

Live bait is difficult to keep alive during the Summer months when the temperatures rise.  It’s hard to transport and care for even when it is cooler outside.  Most of us use artificial baits on extended trips longer than a couple of days.  Most anglers have favorite colors and like to change it up according to the season.  I prefer perch colors early and late in the year and will switch them out for Firetiger and Silver and Blue and crawdad brown and orange imitators during the heat of July and August.

Whether or not I’m going up to Quetico Park in Canada where barbless hooks are a requirement, I always pinch the barbs of my hooks off.  Often on a Rapala® that means crimping down 9 hooks for the three trebles, at least six, depending upon the model.  Fish tend to flip and writhe at the exact moment you are reaching into the net or for their mouths.  At that point you are in danger of embedding multiple hooks into your hand or arm and believe me you don’t want that to happen.  You especially don’t want those hooks to have barbs on them when they are driven deep into your thumb.

From the beginning Rapala® has tank tested and tuned by hand each of the lures that they produce.  This is how you know that every model you pull of a new box or old tackle box will accurately mimic the action of baitfish.  There are many different models available and I plan on highlighting a few of our favorites that produce well in the Boundary Waters.  You can plan your wilderness tackle box accordingly and tweak what you take along in your canoe to your taste.

Shallow Fishing for Northern Pike, Walleye, Bass and Trout is an ideal beginning to the season.  For this the Original Floating® Minnow is very hard to beat.  Fish where you know baitfish will be: in warmer waters, near new weed growth just underneath, casting near structure like downed trees and shallow rocks.  Add weight like a pinch on sinker of some sort (we recommend non-lead alternatives because lead poisons Loons and other wildlife) perhaps a foot above your Original Floating® Minnow and you’ve just extended the season and reason for this lure.  Now you can troll at mid-depth with it.

If you like to hunt for large fish, you can use Husky Magnum® or Floating Magnum® Rapalas both as floating surface models as the Lilly Pads and grasses grow out of the water or off of a “bottom bouncer” a weighted wire that bounces off the bottom and allows you to fish large lures way down deep.  This is a classic up north way to troll deeper waters but requires heavier rods, reels, line and leaders.  The point is, as you are starting to imagine, that Rapala® makes a lot of lures, but each one has multiple uses!

While we’re on the subject of Big, one of our Outfitting Crew’s favorite lures is the Deep Tail Dancer®.  Made to head down to the thirty foot range they seem to attract a great deal of attention from Lake Trout and larger fish in particular.  They come in some fantastic color options.  They’re a little bit like an overgrown version of the Fat Rap®, which has also been a favorite of Walleye and Pike for many years.

The CountDown® Rapalas® are the best choice for mid-range depth and they lend themselves to great stop-and-go motion when retrieving.  One of my most successful afternoons of Walleye fishing involved casting medium sized Perch colored CountDown® Raps towards an island and counting to five before I began retrieving it in a steady, fluid motion instead of stop-and-go.  I couldn’t cast it too close to the island because by the time I reached five, it would have sunk to snag in the rocks, but with patience in my pocket by the time I reached another five on the retrieve I had a Walleye on.  Time and time again, the perfect size for dinner, one after another.  Ever since then, especially on a hot day, I’ll go back to the CountDown®.

Anytime during the season when you want to get attention quickly, it’s a good idea to move to the erratic swimming motion of a Jointed Rapala.  Your retrieve and depth choices can modify the display of this magical lure even more.  Wounded Baitfish, wounded baitfish, wounded baitfish.  It should be your mantra, especially when nothing else is working.  If you are paddling steadily towards your first (or next) campsite and you want a lazy way to have the best chance at fresh fish for dinner, the Jointed Rapala is often your best bet.

Around camp, you’ll often find panfish.  Usually that also means there’s Northern Pike, the wolves of the northern waters, cruising for big punkinseed and bluegill (not to mention Black Crappie).  Traditional ways to fish for panfish include slip bobbers and tiny “flu-flu” jigs.  I like to put on a piece of night crawler when I’m near home. People love to fish them with a slip bobber rig and small, silvery “crappie minnows”.  Those traditional methods involve live bait. There’s a relatively new version of the fantastic performing Fat Rap called simply the Mini Fat Rap.  They have a compact, tight swimming action that imitates (nearly perfectly) the speed and motion of a fleeing baitfish.  This causes what seem to be instinctive strikes from panfish that you’d expect from its one and a half inch size.  Again, add a weight six to twelve inches up from it on your line and you can create this action at a deeper level, down by where the bigger ones are hiding in the shadows.

Well, that’s why you find so many Rapalas® in old and new tackle boxes up North.  Down South too, for that matter, but for the Boundary Waters and Canoe Camping Trips, it’s hard to beat a balsa minnow that has been hand tuned to catch fish for dinner.  Breakfast too.

You pick the colors, you pick the style, just get more than one, because even if you don’t lose any, your friends will want to use em.  These lures and/or other Rapala® lures are in-stock at our Retail Store, Piragis Northwoods Company at 105 North Central Avenue in Ely, Minnesota on the edge of the Boundary Waters.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Solo Canoeing -- at peace with yourself by Taylor Ham

I cannot decide if I prefer to paddle in a group or if Id rather just go alone.  The thing that I love most about solo paddling is that whether it's just a day trip or a multi-day trip there is no outside pressure to do anything.  No schedule in a sense, unless YOU make one.  You have to be disciplined enough to accomplish your goals and you are the only one responsible to push yourself.  When you are alone it's all up to you.

For my first solo paddle I took it easy and went to entry point #14 Little Indian Sioux North.  I have been there once before during last season, but it was at the end of a very long day so I didn't have the energy to explore. It made for an easy decision to go back.  Unfortunately, due to a small wrist injury, I was not able to make it to my planned destination which was Devils Cascade. I will leave that for another day, I suppose.

I took a Northstar Magic on my trip.  The Magic is my favorite solo boat to paddle. It handles better and portages better than any boat that I have tried yet.  I also prefer to use a kayak paddle, that way, I feel like I am able to cover more ground.

The weather on the river was absolutely gorgeous and the wind was very mild, not a cloud in the sky.  I paddled slowly down the river, stopping often to listen to the earth singing.  I didn't see a single person out there even though the parking lot was packed for fishing opener.

When I first arrived at the portage I jumped out of the boat into the chilled water, I could hear water rushing.  I walked back and forth along the portage until I found a good spot to sit down and read for a while.  The portage is 60 rods and it leads to another segment of the river.  I sat there for a good while to gather my thoughts and enjoy the sound of runningwater .

When I got back on the river I searched for a nice sunny spot on the shore where I could have some lunch.  As I ate, a small family of turtles joined me on a log.  They stayed there until I got up to leave.

My first solo paddle of the year wasn't very eventful but not every paddle into the Boundary Waters has to be about what you saw, how far you went or what you did. A vital part of every experience should be about how your body is feeling and most importantly how your mind is feeling when you're finished.

Luckily with the Boundary Waters so close, I never really feel like we are finished -- there's always another day and another lake to explore.  Maybe I'll see you out there.

Taylor Ham, Piragis Northwoods Outfitting

Friday, May 11, 2018

Portage to my first Paddle of 2018 by Taylor Ham

On May 6th I woke up early before work and knew it was going to be a good day on the water. I went to work knowing that I would have to leave early so I could take advantage of the weather.  With zero resistance my manager told my co-worker Joe and myself to have fun and be safe. 

We left town at around 3:30 PM and had a nice drive up the Echo Trail to entry point 23 Moose River North.  Its about a 45 minute drive from town.  It was my first time portaging or paddling of the season.  The first portage into Moose River North is about a half mile long, it is a beautiful portage that is relatively flat.  It is always interesting how your body will react to the first portage of the season.  Carrying a boat isn't always the most pleasant feeling but it is something over the years that I have grown to be very comfortable with.  

When we got to the water I was a little relived to get the canoe off of my shoulders.  As we began to paddle I started to regain skills that come with every summer I spend here in Ely.  There are three portages until you get to Nina Moose.  Joe and I finished our second portage and we paddled for just a few minutes until we spotted something unusual in the water ahead.  It looked like small rapids, or like water was running over a stick in the water.  As we got closer the movement in the water got further away and we realized that it was three small otters.  We followed them up the river for about half a mile before they realized we were behind them.  They swam to the shore and scurried away to the woods. 

The reason I chose to go to Moose River North is because there is a high peak that you can easily climb to the top of and see all the rest of the river and Nina Moose Lake.  I had been there a few times before in previous years and I wanted to see it in the spring time.  Its not marked on a map anywhere but when you arrive you can see where people in the past have gotten off of the river.  We climbed to the top of the hill and the wind picked up as we got out in the open.  The sun came out from behind the clouds and we sat up there for a while and talked about our grand paddling plans for the season.  After a while we climbed back down to our boat and paddled to Nina Moose. 

Paddling rivers is very different than paddling lakes, although the rivers in the Boundary Waters don't flow very strong it is still important to read the water as it flows over rocks and other things in the water.  Its a good idea to have good communication between yourself and your paddling partner to avoid the things that can damage your canoe.  I would draw from the right or left from the bow seat to quickly change the direction of the boat.  The person in the stern cant always see the incoming rocks so its important for the person in the bow to always be watching to protect the canoe.

We paddled to Nina Moose and the wind completely died.  We spent some time there to write down our thoughts and to capture some of the science.  Two swans landed in the lake and we also shared the lake with a loon.  It was the first time since getting back to Ely that I had heard the call of a loon.  The sun was hinting to us that it was time to start heading back.  The sun was behind the trees on our way back so the temperature lowered considerably.  The water was clear as glass and in the reflection you could see the shore line.  We ran into a beaver that swam about 15 feet away from us before diving under us and popping back up 15 feet behind us.  We also saw our otter friends again and it seemed as if two of them were fighting but they disappeared to the woods again.  

Spring time is such a wonderful time to go into the Boundary Waters, even if it is just for a day trip.  It's as if you get to watch the world wake up right in front of you.  I'm excited for another season of padding in the most beautiful country!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

My First Paddle of the Year 2018

#32 South Kawishiwi River
May 2 and May 3, 2018
Adam Macht

On May 2nd, Joe and I hit the trail for my first paddle of the year.  Joe had been out a few days earlier and was able to get to Devil’s Cascade out of #14 Little Indian Sioux River.  This in mind, we decided we would try to get into #32 South Kawishiwi River, and if we were lucky, do the whole Kawishiwi Triangle.

South Kawishiwi River Portage
The portage trail to the river was pretty rough.  There were a few downed trees along the way that required a little teamwork to get the boat through.  When we got to the river, we had open water, but only along the edges.  We slowly made our way north when we saw a large ice sheet blocking the river.  We had to break a little ice and skirt the shoreline, but we managed to get the first campsite on the west side of the river.

The ice had pulled away (maybe 15 feet) from the west shoreline.  We decided to see how far north we could get.  Not far.  Less than a mile up, the ice was thicker than we wanted to mess with, so we decided to back track and take that first campsite.  We got to camp, got all set up, and started dinner.  Ribeyes, potatoes, onions, and garlic.  Not a bad way to start the camping season!  We had a nice fire and a relaxing evening at camp.  After a long, cold winter, it was great to back in the canoe!

View from my tent pad.

The warm sun hit my tent early in the morning.  (I love to put my tent where it will get good morning sun in the spring and the fall.)  I could hear at least 3 pileated woodpeckers and some trumpeter swans as I got out of my tent.  I let my stuff dry for a bit in the sun and then got all packed up.  Meanwhile, Joe slept.  We were in no rush to leave camp—it was nice to have a slow leisurely morning.  I started a fire and got some water boiling, and literally watched and listened to the ice melting.  It was an incredibly peaceful morning.

Campsite view on the morning of May 3.

Lots of ice had melted by mid-morning.
After a little brunch, we hit the water at about noon, and decided to see how far we could get.  The warm morning sun had done some work on the ice.  We were optimistic that we could get further than the day before.  We made our way north, skirting the west shore line, clinging to open water.  Now and again, we had to paddle through an ice sheet.  The ice was dark and soft and broke easily when our canoe bumped it.

Eventually, we were able to make it to Eskwagama.  It was clear!  We continued north to check out Clear Lake.  It was open as well.  We decided to keep going.  We portaged north from Clear, back to the Kawishiwi River.  It did not look good.  The ice was pushed back into the bay, but there was a small channel of open water along the shoreline (maybe 4 feet wide).  We contemplated turning around, but after some deliberation, decided to push forward.  We followed the edge of the river, getting out on to shore in a couple spots as the ice was too thick to get through.  Finally, things opened up a bit as we continued east.

Things looking a little sketchy ahead.
We made it to the 200+ rod portage on the North Kawishiwi.  The trail was long, and we were nervous to see if there was ice on the other side.  When we finished portaging, we came out to open water, but we could see quite a bit of ice in the distance.  Again, the thought of turning back crossed our minds, but we pushed onward.  The NE corner of the triangle was pretty icy.  At one point, we needed to cross the river to start heading south.  By some stroke of luck, the ice sheet had cracked and split apart.  There was a seam about 10 feet wide that we were able to use to cross the river.

We pushed south.  Hugging the west shore to stay in open water.  Just before the 30-rod portage near the south tip of the triangle, we ran into more ice.  It was a long slog, and we had to break some ice, but we made it!  It was smooth sailing after that.  By this point, it was starting to get dark, but the end was in sight.  We needed the headlamps for the portage out but made it back to the car without incident.

By the time you read this, I suspect the Kawishiwi Triangle will be open and ready for paddlers.  The bigger lakes still need a little more time, but this was encouraging.  It was so nice to knock the rust off from the long winter and get back into the canoe!  Hopefully you can hit the water soon!

Adam Macht

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Wilderness Camping is not Just a "Guy Thing" by Cara Berzins

Wilderness camping is not just a “guy thing”

Ladies, no matter what hats we wear and titles we carry, I suspect that there are some core things we all want. For example, I carry the titles mom, wife, teacher, writer. I’m always looking for ways to improve how I carry those titles. I think as women we are always looking for ways to grow, and unfortunately, we tend to doubt ourselves and wonder whether we are doing any of those things right. I know I do.

I believe I know a secret and unexpected way to build confidence and reduce doubt and guilt. This is my story of how wilderness camping shaped my identity and set me up for a happier life.


I was 1 year old when I visited the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for the first time. It's a wilderness camping area of supreme quiet, endless forests, and interconnected lakes stretching across the northern border of Minnesota. Every summer, as a family of 5 and sometimes with friends, we meandered the over 1500 miles of canoe routes traversing more than 1000 lakes.
Not only did my parents get double takes because they brought young children with them into this utterly remote wilderness camping area, people noticed when two of the three little ones were girls.
As my sister and I grew, we became increasingly aware that we were a rare breed in the BWCAW. We couldn't help but feel a sense of accomplishment when we were able to load ourselves up for portages with ease while guys with other traveling groups looked on openmouthed. One of us would help the other slip her shoulders into a large bulky looking canvas canoe pack. Sometimes, to avoid coming back for another trip over the portage we would carry two packs. The other would be strapped on backwards so the backpack part hung in front. (Believe it or not, this method was actually easier because the weight was distributed more evenly!) Then the one carrying the packs would prop up the canoe as the other centered her shoulders under the yoke. Away we went after taking all of 3 minutes to load up. Seeing a teenage girl carry a canoe on her head all by herself was a shock to some of our fellow campers. Seeing how impressed they were was a huge self-esteem boost to me in the years when girls usually feel especially awkward.
The wilderness does not discriminate. When the wind howls and the waves rise into frothy whitecaps, you still need to paddle back to your campsite whether you are male or female, 8 or 80. You need the same bare minimum of gear to survive and enjoy your time in the wilderness. As yet, there is no portage concierge available to shunt these belongings from one waterway to the next. This fact makes it seem like a man's world. Instead, this very fact makes wilderness camping the great equalizer.


I believe these experiences have shaped my self-image in fundamental ways.

  1. I feel strong and sure of myself. Traveling for miles powered only by my own muscles taught me to be confident in myself and my ability to handle physically demanding situations.
  2. I feel a connection with nature that is strongest in this true wilderness, but helps me seek out and find that same feeling even in places where nature is scarce.  
  3. This connection with nature is like a deep seated well of tranquility. It helps me combat anxiety and stress, which gives confidence in my emotional ability to handle demanding situations.
  4. Being at the mercy of the elements taught me that I can't expect things to always be easy. It also taught me not to give up when the going is hard.
  5. I learned to think outside the box. Sometimes you need to be innovative and learn to make do with what you have when you are traveling with the bare minimum. (Once we traded minnows for toilet paper from a group of fishermen. Priorities😉)
  6. I learned to distinguish between need and wants. You quickly realize what is needed and what’s not when you have to carry it all for a couple of miles.
  7. The value of cooperation and teamwork is obvious in the wilderness. If you aren’t paddling in unison, you get nowhere fast. If you don’t work together to set up camp, it takes twice as long.


Some of my happiest memories are times we spent as a family camping. The sound of a paddle swishing through the water, the call of a loon, the lapping of waves, rain on the tent flaps, beavers slapping the water with their tail, various bird calls, the rustle of our feet on the portage, waterfalls thundering, wind rushing through the treetops. How often do we experience these sounds anymore? The effect they have on the mind and body is . . . I struggle to come up with the right word. Invaluable, healing, soothing, life altering.
Nancy Piragis summed it up well on the welcome video for Piragis Northwoods Company. She said, “I never forget a canoe trip. I never forget a day in the woods. But I forget days at home, I forget days in the office. . . Every single time you go out there’s always memories to be had.” You find that life has been reduced to what is right in front of you. No distractions, no rushing, no multitasking. It’s so good for your psyche and your brain.
Humans seem to be built to perform their best when at one with nature. It makes us happier, healthier, calmer. This effect has even been hitting the headlines recently. I especially enjoyed this recent episode of Innovation Hub on my local NPR station. It’s about the scientific evidence that nature is good for us.
One of the saddest side effects of modern living is that people have started to fear nature. And yet nature has so much to give us. They flood their yards with spot lights at night, they avoid uninhabited areas because they are afraid of the animals. For me, the sounds of nature are so soothing, it seems absurd to be afraid of them. I remember when I realized how much people fear nature. I was camping with friends, a single mother and her daughter. She mentioned they might not sleep well because of the noises. That night in my tent I listened with extra attention to the forest noises. Because I was listening so intently and imagining how it would sound to someone unfamiliar with the forest, my senses were all on high alert. Suddenly, I heard a terrifying, unidentifiable rumble. For a few scary moments my mind rushed through a whole series of animals until it finally dawned on me. A jet was flying high overhead! I felt relieved to finally identify the noise. But this confirmed my previous opinion; the creature most to be feared is our own species, humans. No animal noise could sound that terrifying. In the end my friends slept well, and decided they loved camping.


My parents gave me a priceless legacy by taking me wilderness camping as a girl. Since then we have camped with my nieces and my daughter. At first the noises and the wildness made them nervous too. But soon enough they feel just as comfortable and at home as they would in their own house. The difference is, instead of being enclosed in walls and under a roof, the lake cradles them under the vast blue sky while the forest sings its lullaby.  
Experience wilderness camping for yourself. If you want to learn to believe in yourself, if you want to connect with nature more deeply than you thought possible, if you want to shake off the built-up stress and pressure of every-day life, then wilderness camping might be just the right thing for your next vacation!

Editor's note: Piragis Northwoods Outfitting offers a fully guided Women Exploring Wilderness Canoe Camping Trip. We also have Women Guides on staff as well as men, each with excellent experience in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. We also have all the gear you need for your trip at The Boundary Waters Catalog and for RENT.