Editor's Note: Jim Lawson is the tennis coach at Moore High School and recently returned from a fishing trip in northern Minnesota to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
CROOKED LAKE, Minn. — My wife playfully calls it our “prove your manhood” trip.
Several years ago, I began making annual trips with the other men in her family to remote Mack Lake in Northwestern Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park.
To reach our campsite, we would have to spend a morning of riding across Canadian back roads, hiking, and paddling. Once there, we would spend many hours fishing from a canoe in search of smallmouth bass and walleye while being harassed by the pesky northern pike.
Normally, we catch a lot of really nice fish. By the end of the week, we are sore from paddling the canoe and hooking so many smallmouth bass.
Mack Lake is definitely off the grid — no cell service for miles. We have the conversation each year of what to do in the case of a major injury, heart attack, etc.,
We never have arrived on a good solution other than agreeing it would take a long time to get assistance.
Two years ago, we decided to start searching for new places to fish on the American side of the border. Last year we started visiting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota.
The BWCA is comprised of more than 1 million acres of wilderness lakes and forests. While resorts were created in this area many years ago, a series of laws — beginning with The Wilderness Act in 1964 — were passed which restricted logging, mining, and the use of motors within the wilderness area.
The result was that the resorts relocated to other lakes outside of the BWCA and most of the area became available only to those willing to hike in or canoe, just like Canada's Quetico to the north.
This has created excellent fishing and nature-viewing opportunities for those willing to make the journey.
Last month we visited Crooked Lake, located on the border of Minnesota and Canada. The lake consists of several bays, each named after days of the week.
We read about the smallmouth spawn in Saturday Bay, so we decided to focus our efforts there.
Saturday Bay is a smaller, shallower bay than the others on this lake. The larger bays run about 2 miles from north to south and about ¾-mile wide.
Not huge, but when your mode of transportation is a canoe, seeing whitecaps on any body of water has a tendency to be terrifying.
Our party this year consisted of four people: me, my father-in-law, my nephew and my 10-year-old son.
We traveled to Ely, Minn., where Voyageur North Outfitters had our We-no-nah 4-man canoe and entry permits ready for our trip.
We were on the water shortly after 6:30 a.m. and headed for Crooked Lake. The journey to Saturday Bay took us 26 miles of paddling and portaging into a stiff wind.
We reached our campsite on the second day, exhausted from the trip, but ready to catch some fish.
Along the way, we saw beautiful waterfalls, Native American pictographs, landmarks, and even an abandoned truck from the pre-BWCA days.
Once we began fishing we could tell why Crooked Lake receives such rave reviews. It seems that nearly every fish in this lake is a monster.
It was common to catch a 4- and 5-pound smallmouth only to discover that something else larger had taken a bite out of the fish. While we arrived too early for the smallmouth spawn, the fish were beginning to move into the shallow areas by the end of our trip.
As we experienced in Quetico, several times multiple fish were landed simultaneously by different people in our canoe.
Each day our routine was the same — fish until lunch when we would take a break to stretch out on a rock and enjoy the granola, trail mix, ramen or whatever made it into our pack for the day.
Dinner would be fish each night along with rice, hash browns, macaroni and cheese, or whatever else we could pack lightly.
As was the case in Quetico, there was no cell service on Crooked Lake. We were able to pick up the Ely radio station to hear news and the weather forecast each morning.
After returning to our entry point to be picked up by our outfitter, we began discussing how many miles we had paddled over the course of the week.
While my nephew is adamant that we traveled more than 100 miles in our canoe, my estimate is 80 miles. Either way, our sore backs and muscles could attest to quite a workout that week.
We are already discussing next year's trip and how to prove our manhood once again. We agree that Crooked Lake is a beautiful place, but we might need to prove our intelligence and stay a little closer to civilization.
And maybe paddle only 50 miles in a week.