Fly anglers who are tired of fighting the crowds on the famous streams in the Rockies and on the coasts can find a respite from the competition by coming to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. More than a thousand Wilderness lakes (and others in the Superior National Forest outside the Boundary Waters) present great opportunities to catch smallmouth bass and northerns (and the occasional walleye) on flies from the fishing opener in May until late September. On most lakes on most days, there won’t be another canoe in sight. Trout anglers accustomed to wading or driftboat fishing will need to adjust their casting strokes a bit to compensate for fishing from a canoe seat, but as a fly fishing fanatic who is not a stellar caster I can attest that the transition is not difficult. Casting poppers, streamers, and crayfish imitations for our big “warmwater” game fish is less technical than stream trout fishing but no less rewarding.
Take two rods to maximize the opportunities and the fun. I prefer a five-weight rod for smallmouth (and sometimes largemouth) bass. With a weight-forward floating line and a tapered monofilament bass bug leader, it’s easy to cast poppers and small streamers accurately to the nooks and crannies where bass wait for prey. An eight-weight with a streamer taper weight-forward line and a heavy monofilament leader with a wire tippet is the right rig for northerns. The only fly you need for northerns (and walleyes) is a 2/0 chartreuse or chartreuse and white Clouser. A northern will come a long way for the Clouser. The tricky part is that northerns often can’t resist a bass bug or a smaller streamer, which I fish without a wire tippet on the five-weight rod because wire deadens the action of smaller flies. The northerns fail to ask which rod you are using before they hit. Be prepared to lose some bass flies.
But you don’t need to be a fly angler to enjoy fishing in the Boundary Waters. My good friend Steve Piragis prefers spincasting Rapalas or spoons--or sometimes fishing leeches for walleyes for the pan. Steve is a wonderful stern-seat paddler, and he keeps me in position for fly casting while fishing very effectively himself. It’s a great combination. Come to Ely with your fly rod or whatever rod-and-reel combo you prefer. You will have a fun fishing adventure in the world’s greatest canoe country.
Photo credits Ben Carron, Reid Carron, and Steve Piragis.