Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Boundary Waters Fishing Gear List by Piragis Northwoods Company

Boundary Waters Fishing Gear List

We get asked all the time what our choices for fishing trips in the Boundary Waters are. While what goes in a guy's or gal's tackle box can be very personal and lures are highly prized for sentimental and experiential reasons… there are tried and true options that have advantages over others.

There are a "big three" of fish species in the Boundary Waters, four if you include Lake Trout, although they are not as prevalent. Walleye, Northern Pike and Smallmouth Bass can be found throughout the Boundary Waters (BWCA). Panfish such as Black Crappie and Bluegill are common as well. We'll focus on the "big three" for the purpose of this discussion. Please note: All of the items discussed can be purchased in our retail store at the first stoplight in Ely, Minnesota before your trip begins. At Piragis, we don't run out, we keep these staples in stock, in the best color and size combinations.

The first thing you need is a good Medium 2 piece spinning rod and one for back-up. If you want to go with a slightly heavier action on the back-up rod, that is fine. Extra line, pre-spooled is a good idea. The best choice for the BWCA is 8 pound test. We advise you take something 6 to 10 lb. test, nothing lighter unless your passion is ultra-light fishing and then you'll have to adjust a great many of the lure choices that follow accordingly.  We carry an excellent and quite affordable break down pack rod and a case made right here in Ely that fits each piece and rolls up to protect it in your pack. That little detail can allow you to have a rod in your pack without hardly noticing it.

Smallmouth Bass and Northern Pike like surface lures. Frog baits, Mouse baits and floating Rapalas always top these lists. Old standards such as Lucky 13, Tiny Torpedo, Bass-Oreno and the newer Pop-R baits all pull Smallies out of their hiding places. Smallmouth Bass like the durable plastic baits such as Zulus and Zooms and others that mimic dying minnows. These are best rigged simply with a large "worm" hook and retrieved like a wounded minnow would swim.

Crank Baits come in various combinations of diving depth. Rapala has shallow and deep runners, ranging from baits that run three to nine feet deep. These are all good and work while you cast or troll for dinner as you paddle through paradise. Shad Raps, Rattletraps and lures like Crawfish Baits and the Wally Diver are fantastic choices to attract Walleyes. It is a good idea to have a combination of all of these to choose from. Tiny alternatives like countdowns and large and jointed Rapalas give you some great options during the heat of Summer.

We stock and carry non-lead jig heads in 1/8 oz and 1/4 oz in a variety of highly visible colors. These work great with live bait (minnows, leaches, night crawlers) as well as Gulp artificial versions of those three. Jigs work well with Twister Tails in bright colors and black as well. Those combinations are some favorites of Walleyes in the Northwoods.

Daredevle Spoons in silver, gold and the old standby, red and white are hard to beat when you want to troll deeper with some flash. Fish just respond to them and always have, especially big fish.

Mepps Spinners in just about any size seem to attract fish on days when nothing else will work. That being said, they were always my Dad's favorite lure and he used them almost exclusively. Mepps with bucktails for trailers bring big pike in too!

There's a handful of terminal tackle and tools that you should have in your tackle box or pack. That brings to mind what you are going to carry all of this stuff in. Flat Plano boxes work well and fit in stowaway packs under the canoe seat or hang from the thwarts. Some soft tackle carriers fit in portage packs easily. Taking your fully outfitted (and often large) favorite tackle box isn't recommended.

Terminal tackle needs include: non-lead sinkers, slip bobbers and stops, plain shaft or octopus hooks (sizes 6 and 4), leaders (stainless or black metal), snaps and swivels.

Extra line is good to have as we've already noted. A good pair of needle nose pliers, a stringer, a net (collapsible) and a sharpened filet knife round out your list of necessary Tools.

As a postscript I always take along a favorite lure for walleye fishing off the campsite. This is a killer lure, that is really just a hook, spinner and float. Made by JB LURES it is the little known, but highly effective WINKUM Spin-N-Float. Just tie on a swivel and snap to the end of your line, put a heavier split shot for weight before the swivel, slip the loop on this rig onto your snap and rig a minnow, leech, worm, gulp artificial bait or twisty tail on the #4 octopus hook and you are ready for action. Upon casting it out, the weight sinks, the float raises your bait up off the ground and the spinner flashes around like a one-eyed wounded bait fish. You'll have time to feel your line being taken and see the end of your rod being yanked down before you set the hook!

NOTE ON COLORS and PRESENTATION Popular color combinations are chartreuse, pink, clown, perch and firetiger along with blue and silver shad. Black is a surprisingly effective color for jigs and plastics as well. As always, the most natural presentation you can rig will always bring the best results. Simple knots on a plain hook with a worm and a split shot a foot or two up will produce fish without being fancy when you fish off of the bottom. Tie your artificial baits on to "swim" naturally and retrieve them as such and you will do better. Look for sunken trees, rocks and structure when fishing for bass and weed beds for pike. Walleyes like points and structure transitions on the lake bottoms most.

Lure Lock'r. Keep those hooks from snagging and keep your favorite lure ready to go on your rod without tangling.  Don't leave home without them!  Lure Lock'rs Here.

RODS and REELS. We sell a great and affordable (less than $35 for rod and reel) combination from Okuma called the Finchaser Combo here at Piragis in Ely. If you want to leave your expensive rod at home because you don't want to chance a snap in the wilderness with portages, trees and snags, you can't do much better than these rods and they'll be a step (way up) for the kids or company to use when you get home.

Why Non-Lead? Common Loons gobble up lead jigs, sinkers and split shot and as a result die from lead poisoning. We are committed to keeping our State Birds happy and healthy.

Fishing with Kids: Read this Blog Post specifically written about fishing with kids 

Tim Stouffer

One of our Canoe Trip Clients submitted this photo of a Boundary Waters Northern Pike

BLOG 46. Wilderness Signaling Devices


by Cliff Jacobson

In June, 1967, my friend, John Orr and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota.  Along a portage, we met a group of teenagers who were carrying a 15 year old girl on an improvised stretcher.
She said she had a “stomach ache” and had taken Tums and Pepto Bismol, but they didn’t  help.  When John--a football coach--gently touched her abdomen, she shrieked in pain.  He diagnosed appendicitis and suggested we evacuate her immediately.
Then, a miracle!  As we were loading her into a canoe, a forest service fire plane appeared on the horizon (really!).  I whipped out my Silva compass and luckily, the mirror flashed the pilot’s eye.  He saw our frantic waves and settled on to the lake. Then, he flew the girl to Grand Marais, where her appendix was removed without complication.

This was the only time I have signaled for help in a medical emergency.  But I have used signals for other reasons.  Here’s what I carry in my kit:
L to R: Iridium Satellite phone, VHF Aircraft Radio, CB radio, Orange Smoke
These burn for 50 seconds or more and produce bellows of thick orange smoke which, on a clear day, can be seen for miles.  I have used orange smoke’s twice, and each time, they caught the pilot’s eye.    Every marina has them.

It is very difficult to precisely flash an object with a standard mirror like the one on an Orienteering compass.  I bring a military (ESM/1) signal mirror, which has an aiming cross in the center.

You may not hear a whistle above the roar of rapids--that’s why you should know the official hand (safety) signals.  But a whistle works if you wander off a bush-whacked portage trail and become confused. Pea-less type whistles like the Fox 40, which work when flooded, are best.

Choose brightly-colored canoes, packs, tents and clothing that can be seen from an airplane!

VHF TRANSCEIVER (JD200 Tranceiver/Sporty’s Pilot Shop)
An aircraft you can see is probably within ten miles of you—close enough to be reached on a hand-held VHF aircraft transceiver. The typical VHF radio with a 15 mile range allows about five minutes of talk time at typical float plane speeds.  As a courtesy, most bush pilots will circle and keep you in range until the conversation is done.  But high flying jets won’t change course, so you better talk fast.  One of my greatest thrills was getting weather conditions from a passing Calm Air passenger jet.  We talked for about 20 seconds. In a life-threatening situation you may broadcast on the restricted emergency frequency (121.5 megahertz), which all pilots monitor.  But for other concerns you must stick with the frequencies that are assigned to the charter air companies.  Be aware, that transmitting without an FCC license isn’t strictly legal!  In the bush, however—and given the short range of hand-held transceivers--everyone looks the other way.  Indeed, most charter air services are pleased that you have a radio.
 Note:  You must have an aircraft model VHF radio to talk to pilots.  A  marine band VHF radio won’t work.  Aircraft models are much more expensive than marine radios and are generally available only from pilot shops.

If you charter a power boat on Hudson Bay or one of the big Canadian lakes, you’ll want a CB radio so you can communicate with the captain.   Naturally, you must know the channel of operation before you call.
When we reached the complex delta at the mouth of the Tha-anne River on Hudson Bay, I called my charter boat captain on my CB radio. 

He said, “Better hurry—tide goes out in 30 minutes!”

I punched his position into my GPS.  Twenty minutes later, the white fishing boat came into view.  When time is short, or bad weather threatens, a confident course can make a difference!
SPOT Satellite Messenger
These satellite messengers are lightweight, compact, waterproof and—if the weather cooperates—reliable.  A button push will initiate search-and-rescue operations. The basic SPOT allows you to send three prewritten messages and your GPS location/tracking to your contacts via text and/or e-mail. More advanced SPOT units, and the DeLorme inReach GPS locator allow you to send text/eMail messages through your smart phone. A subscription plan is required.

I prefer the basic SPOT which uses AA batteries. Satellite texting through your smart phone makes sense only if you have a way to keep your cell phone charged on a long trip—and if you can afford the pricey subscription plan.
DeLorme inReach with PN-60 GPS

If you’re going where help is an airplane ride away, a satellite phone is the way to go. Satellite phones operate just like regular phones, except that calls must be dialed in international mode. I’ve used my sat phone many times on canoe trips and it always been reliable.  Rental phones, however, can be troublesome because the batteries have been recharged so many times.  Every failure-to-function I’ve observed has been the result of batteries that won’t hold a charge.  Rental phones should come with an extra battery AND a solar charging unit!

Cliff Jacobson

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ice Out Conditions From Forest Service as of Tuesday Night, May 14

 Tuesday PM, May 14, 2013 

A strong crosswind grounded the fire patrol this afternoon. New information from observers: 
• Disappointment is open. 
• Parent Lake (near Snowbank) is iced. Snowbank is still iced in. 
• Rice and August Lake are open. 
• Vermilion Lake was iced in yesterday. 
• Big Lake was reported open yesterday, but southerly winds pushed the ice pack to the northern half today. 
• The North Arm of Burntside is still frozen. The East Arm is full of dark ice. 

This information is from Monday’s flight: 
• Moose Lake: southwestern third is open; northeastern two thirds frozen but dark ice. 
• S. Kawishiwi R. and Gabbro Lake are mostly open. 
• Turtle is open. 
• There is ice in the middle of Bald Eagle. 
• Clearwater and Pietro are frozen (thin ice) but Gull is open. 
• Quadga and Bog are open. 
• Isabella and Perent still have a lot of ice in the middle. 
• Polly and Phoebe are open. 
• Alton and Sawbill are still frozen. 
• Generally the smaller lakes in the south east are open or mostly open. Larger lakes are still frozen. 
• Alice is frozen. 
• Insula south of The Rock is open, the northern portion is frozen. 
• Lake 3 is mostly open. 
• Knife Lake including the South Arm is mostly ice. 
• Saganaga is still frozen. 

FS Pilot report—this information is from a flight late Sunday afternoon. 
• Jackfish- 40% open 
• Open: Pipestone, Stuart, Agnes, Nina Moose, Ramshead, Upper and Lower Pauness 
• Frozen: Oyster 
• Bald Eagle- 60% open 
• Gabbro- 75% open 
• Open: Gull, Turtle, Lakes 1 and 2 
• Clearwater- frozen, but open around the edges. 

Today’s safety message: Bears are awake and hungry. Keep a clean camp. 
Winds are drying fine fuels quickly. Be careful with fire 

Ice on Burntside Lake Wednesday Morning, May 15, 2013 by Steve Piragis

Ice is hanging in on bigger lakes around the Boundary Waters.  Here are a couple images from this morning, Wednesday, at the landing on Van Vac Rd on Burntside Lake.  This is a deep lake and this is the widest part.  Bays are open and narrows but the big lakes indicated here are still covered with black ice.  The forecast calls for strong nw winds today after an unusually warm day with sw winds yesterday.  If you are planning a canoe trip for this week check in with us on your route for advise.  I'd expect ice out on all lakes by the weekend but this year's ice seems pretty tenacious.

Steve Piragis

Monday, May 13, 2013

Ice Out Conditions May 13, 2013

Boundary Waters Ice Out Conditions:

The latest from the Forest Service:

Today’s Safety Message:
• Grasses are dry and cured. We’ve had a few small fires. Keep fires small and stay nearby.
• Winds will be from the south at 5 to 15 mph but with gusts up to 30 mph. Wear PFDs.
FS Pilot report—this information is from a flight late Sunday afternoon. There is a flight up now so more
information will be sent later:

Pipestone- open
Jackfish- 40% open
Stuart- open
Agnes- open
Oyster- frozen
Nina Moose- open
Ramshead- open
Upper & Lower Pauness- open
Bald Eagle- 60% open
Gabbro- 75% open
Gull- open
Pietro- open
Clearwater- frozen, but open around edges
Turtle- 25% open
Lakes 1,2,3 open
Moose Lake: southwestern third is open; northeastern portion frozen but dark ice.

BLOG 45. Nemo Cosmo Insulated Sleeping Pad and Fillo Pillow

by Cliff Jacobson

The Cosmo Insulated Sleeping Pad with Pillowtop cover is the most comfortable and luxurious sleeping matt I’ve used. Here’s what sets this pad above the crowd:
NEMO pad with Pillowtop

·      The air chambers run crossways—they follow the curve of your spine; this eliminates the “sinking between the tubes” feeling common to air mats with longitudinal tubes.

·      The luxurious polyester microsuede Pillowtop cover (an optional accessory) is a show-stopper. On hot nights you can comfortably sleep bare skin on the Pillowtop cover and use your sleeping bag as a blanket. There is none of the annoying skin-to-plastic feel common to traditional uncovered pads. I have long believed that every sleeping pad should have a porous cover. Again, Nemo got it right. I am aware of only one other high end air-pad (Exped) that has an optional factory cover. Manufacturers please take note!

·      The Cosmo is 25 inches wide, about five inches wider than most competitors. Those extra five inches are enough to keep your elbows from sliding off the pad onto the cold ground.  I love the extra width!

For decadent luxury, add the (optional) layer of one-inch thick mesh-covered, open-cell memory foam. It rests on top of the pad, under the cover. Ties inside the Pillowtop cover keep it place. Now, you have a super-insulated trail pad that is nearly as comfortable as your mattress at home. When used together—Cosmo air pad, memory foam layer and Pillowtop cover—the comfort and warmth are remarkable. For car camping, or where weight and bulk are no object, use the entire system; for canoeing and kayaking where bulk is more important than weight, remove the memory foam. Ultra light hikers will carry the Cosmo pad alone or opt for the ultra light polyester Slipcover which weighs almost nothing.

A built-in pump at the head allows fast inflation—one minute if you use both hands, 30 seconds if you use a foot (impractical in a tent). The pad is about three inches thick when inflated so it smoothes out everything below. A locking oral inflation valve allows you to let out excess air if you over-inflate. You can also inflate the pad by mouth if you don’t want to use the hand pump. A huge dump valve completely deflates the pad in about three seconds.  No kidding! 

The Insulated Cosmo has a thin layer of polyurethane foam welded to the inner surface. The foam stops convective air currents and creates consistent and even insulation. I used an Insulated Cosmo with Pillowtop cover (but no memory foam layer) on a two week wilderness canoe trip in Norway and Finland. We were 200 miles above the Arctic Circle and it was never T-shirt weather. The Cosmo was never cold. I can’t comment on its performance on snow or permafrost, but for three seasons, it’s fine. The insulation adds just five ounces to the weight of the basic (non-insulated) pad. Note: the pad goes completely flat when the air is exhausted and the insulation value drops to near zero. So don’t use this pad on snow or ice unless you can repair a puncture in the field.

Size: 25” x 76”
Thickness: 3”
Packed size: 9” x 6.5”
Weight (pad alone): 34 ounces
Weight of Pillowtop cover: ???
Weight: Memory Foam layer: ???
Price of pad alone:  ???
Price of Pillowtop: ???
Price of Memory Foam: ???

PS. I also regularly use an Exped insulated pad, and I love it, so a comparison here may be in order.  The Exped is narrower than the Cosmo, so you may want to pad your elbows (which fall off the pad) when you sleep. The two pads are about equal in comfort on rough ground.  The Cosmo pump is located at the foot end of the pad; the Exped’s is at the head.  If your tent has just one entry you’ll have to reverse the Cosmo to inflate it—an inconvenience. The Exped gets the nod where space (in a pack or tent) is a concern.  It may also be warmer on bitter cold ground. Both pads are excellent—like comparing a BMW to a Mercedes Benz.


The Fillo pillow may be the most comfortable camping pillow on the planet. It mates a layer of three inch thick open cell foam to a one-inch thick layer of memory foam. The foam is covered with Nemo’s luxurious micro-suede Pillowtop cover. A locking oral inflation valve controls air flow and pillow thickness. An elastic net on the pillow bottom secures clothing (to add thickness) and keeps the pillow in place on a car or airline headrest.  Another “A” product!
Fillo Pillow and jacket.  Note elastic cords that hold the jacket in place
Filo pillow weight: 11 ounces
Size: 10.5 x 17”
Packed size: 6” x 4”
Fabric: Washable Polyester Microsuede
Price: ???


You can find NEMO products online at Piragis Northwoods Company and the Boundary Waters Catalog by clicking here

Blog for American Rivers by Steve Piragis

Somehow rivers speak to us don't they?  More than placid lakes that lie still and demur asking only to be respected, rivers demand your attention.  Spring whirlpools turn to summer's lazy meanders and the surface for transporting leaf boats to the sea in fall.  Lakes seem safe in winter for us to ski or fish or camp but rivers have the unpredictable personality that tempts us to take a chance.  It's the the headwaters of big rivers that I love the most.  Small streams merge into medium streams.  Rocks, not mud dominates the benthos.  Hatches of midges and stoneflies emerge from cold waters then the best of all, the dragonflies of June walk out on a rock and unzip themselves down the back, unfurl their wings and set sail in the fragrant air of a blooming June day.  Such is the mood and the temperament of the Kawishiwi River winding its way thru the heart of America's canoe wilderness, the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. 

How could a wilderness river so pure for twelve thousand years since it's birth under glacial ice be threatened?  This gem, flowing tea amber from bogs and lakes that lie within the Precambrian bedrock, has a small problem.  A billion plus years before that last glacier melted during a time of crustal uproar these Algoman highlands were being injected from the mantle of the earth with a magma rich in metal ions hot to mate with the sulfur atoms in the country rock that this magma was invading.  The marriage made in hell lay dormant through a quarter of the earth's life until now.  Now the metals bound to their mate sulfur are immensely valuable to the planet's masters.  We, the members of the technology culture, have in insatiable and gluttonous appetite for metal.  The problem the Kawishiwi has is that these metals are sleeping in the crust just below the river and are being awakened by the core drillers taking biopsies to assess their riches.  Metals tied to sulphur in a sulfide marriage brought up to the light of day and the exposed to the rains and winds get divorced quickly and remarried hot to travel on the river as sulphuric acid and loose metal ions.  The river suffers when plants and frogs and fish burn out on the acid or suck up the metals to become toxic to the trophic layer above them.  

It's rather simple isn't it? Don't risk the life of one of the world's most pure rivers flowing through the heart of the most loved wilderness to feed the insatiable  appetite of this culture.  The river deserves our love and our willingness to fight for it;  even to commit to use less metals ourselves and enjoy our brief lives on this enduring planet more in the company of a river with personality, a river with life and liberty and purity, a river like the Kawishiwi.  

Steve Piragis

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ice out Conditions THE COLD HARD FACTS May 8th 2013

Yikes, the cold hard facts...
                 Superior National Forest Ice Update
                                                                        May 8, 2013
Current Ice Conditions:
From FS pilots: They flew a west patrol yesterday from Jackfish west and south to Birch and Vermilion Lakes.
·         Everything was still frozen. Many lakes were still frozen right to the shoreline.

·         Fall Lake had the most open water around the edges but was still 80% ice covered.

·         Birch, Vermilion, Burntside, western Basswood including Pipestone and Jackfish Bays, S. Farm, and White Iron were frozen.

·         There was a little open water near the bridge on the northern end of White Iron and a little open water on the southeast end.

Reports from others:
·         Rivers are running hard but the lakes are not open.

·         Some people are venturing out over the ice (very dangerous!) only to find themselves confronting more ice.

·         A few smaller lakes are very black and may open with rain or wind.

·         Sawbill Lake had 23 inches of ice on it yesterday.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Boundary Waters Ice Out Update -- Not Yet

ICE OUT UPDATE:  Currently although we have a favorably warm forecast for the rest of the week with possible thundershowers tomorrow there is still 20" to 24" of ice on most of the lakes of any size.  Portages in the woods have a foot of snow on many that have tree cover.  Ice is beginning to pull away from the edges of the lakes.  As the week goes on we will keep you updated.  AS OF TUESDAY MORNING, THE FOREST SERVICE HASN'T DONE ANY FLY OVERS TO CHECK OUT THE ICE BUT THEY ARE LIKELY TO IN THE NEXT FEW DAYS.   If we get any first hand knowledge of openings, rivers, etc. WE WILL POST AS SOON AS WE KNOW ANYTHING.