The reason we travel to Northern Minnesota to fish stream trout through the ice is for the experience and the solitude. Although we could have easily kept limits of trout, we only kept a few rainbows around 20″ and let everything else go. The lakes were empty of people and we really felt alone out there. Some lakes were completely untouched and we were the first to break trail. Sure, you could go to some other ‘trouty’ destinations where you have chances at much larger fish with cityscapes in the background or on the horizon – but you just can’t beat the wild scenery of the North and having an entire lake to yourself, wondering what might come swimming through your hole in the ice.
On Sunday, October 15 of 2017 I entered the woods around 2:30pm to setup for an evening bow hunt. The temperature was around 46 degrees, the wind was blowing out of the West around 13mph and it was partly cloudy but starting to become overcast. After walking into my hunt location, I setup my treestand in a spruce tree and settled in for about a four-hour sit. I waited patiently as the sky became more overcast and the sun lowered in the sky.
Shortly after 5pm I did my first rattling sequence. This sequence was very short and non-aggressive. I waited for 15 or 20 minutes and repeated the same delicate sequence. Some time had passed when I happen to notice movement through the trees 50 yards to my right. It was a buck. Despite all of the dead and dry leaves on the ground he managed to approach almost silently – had I not spotted him, he could have very well snuck right up on me.
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He did not appear to be looking around like he was seeking anything in particular so it is difficult to say whether the rattling drew him towards me or not. He paused periodically and lowered his head to pick up mountain ash berries from the ground but was pretty quick to snap back up and look around if he thought he heard something. It was breezy which may have had him on higher alert.
This was a very respectable deer but a young deer. Judging by the thickness of the antlers and size of the body I think this deer was no older than 3.5 years. In two more years I think he could be a giant if he lives that long. I was content with watching this deer and observing his behaviors, but I also wanted to wait and see what else might show up. Trail cameras were not a tool I utilized this season so I really had no idea what might be walking around out there.
After waiting some time for him to make his way behind me and disappear hopefully some distance away, I decided to do another short rattling sequence. By now it must have been around 6pm or shortly after. Again, some time had passed when I noticed movement off to my right but further behind me. Taking hold of my bow from where it was hanging on my left, I stood up and turned myself facing towards the tree to prepare myself for a shot. As the deer approached I could see it was another buck. Again, he did not seem to be seeking or looking around so it is difficult to say whether the rattling attributed to him being there or not.
Once this buck was directly underneath me yet still behind my tree, I could see he was a very fat and healthy deer – much larger than the first buck yet not necessarily a larger rack. His neck was so swollen thick it was almost like he did not have a neck. He was all body. At this moment I was not thinking of shooting this deer. It seemed too early in the archery season yet and I was just getting warmed up! Sitting high up in a tree and looking straight down I did not realize just how big he was. At that sharp angle they can look so far away and be difficult to judge. The size of the body seemed to have dwarfed his rack. He turned a bit to his left and began making his way behind me. Carefully I turned myself around so that I was looking around the other side of my tree. There was more mass than I initially thought and now I had to make a split-second decision. I did not quite have a shot since there were branches in my way. I knew that if I drew my bow back I was going to shoot this deer.
He continued walking quartering away from me. As the distance from my tree increased, I was going to have an opening to shoot through. I drew my bow back. He was right in my shooting lane now within 20 yards and as soon as I settled my pin on him I released the arrow. I watched as the arrow disappeared behind his ribs, angling forward towards the opposite leg. The buck took off. Immediately I started shaking. By this time I had sat long enough I was slightly chilled to begin with so that always seems to make it even worse when you get the shakes!
The shot placement looked perfect. I was feeling very confident and excited to have just harvested this deer. Pulling my phone out, I messaged my friend Mitch that I needed his help with a deer. While I waited, I got myself out of the tree and took my stand down. I immediately went over to where I made the shot hoping to see my arrow. No such luck. It was starting to get dark now and I couldn’t even find a spot of blood. My heart sank and I was filled with mixed feelings and frustrations, second-guessing my shot and replaying the sequence in my head.
Thankfully my past experiences told me not to be discouraged and I was still confident in the shot I made. There were deep indentations in the ground and leaves scattered where his feet landed. Slowly making my way in the direction he took off, I began following the tracks finding each spot where he landed and kicked up dirt. I was able to stay with the tracks long enough until I finally found a few spots of blood. His direction changed and he began heading straight left of his initial course. At first I found some good blood, but then it was only a small spot here and there. It was difficult to follow but I was able to stick with it. Pausing after each spot until I could see the next spot.
About the time Mitch showed up, we just started finding larger areas of blood and the tracking quickly became easier. We both felt like we were close now and any minute we would see him. I was filled with relief when I scanned up ahead with the flashlight and could see a deer lying on the ground.
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The arrow had entered from behind the ribs and lodged into the opposite shoulder. It was a good lung shot but since there was not an exit hole and the entrance was higher and further back – there was also not a lot of external bleeding. After some photos, field dressing and a lot of brute force dragging, we were able to get the deer to the edge of the woods where I could drive the truck to and load it up. It took a number of attempts even with the aid of a platform against the tailgate for leverage but we finally managed to load it in.
Once home we put it on the scale. Field dressed it weighed in at 260 lbs!
Due to the type of hunt this was, I had to clean up the gut pile, bag it and take that with me so we weighed the guts as well for an additional 60 lbs. That put the live weight of this deer at more than 320 lbs!
Kayak Fishing Lake Trout
Always have a plan B. Plan A was kayak fishing lake trout every day but because Lake Superior is so unpredictable, conditions were only ideal for our first evening of fishing. Even so, we capitalized and made the best of it when we could.
Plan B was fly fishing in the rivers which we spent most of our time doing after paddling out over 4 foot rollers. I did not feel like I could really focus on jigging lake trout while abruptly bobbing up and down in a 12′ kayak.
Fly-Fishing Pink Salmon
Pink Salmon, ‘Humpies’, were in thick and there were a lot of fresh fish around aggressively chasing down and hitting streamers. Combined with a mix of brook trout (and few bass + one walleye), it made for constant action and kept us entertained all day.
Fly-Fishing Brook Trout
Going back to that first evening of kayak fishing – we did hook up with lots of fish in the short time we had, losing or missing a lot but also landing some dandies including this 20lb class fish which was healthily released.
Saturday marked the debut for a new fly fishing tournament hosted by Great Lakes Fly Shop. The tournament was specifically open to fly fishing anglers; canoes, kayaks, and non-motorized drift boats only. All proceeds were donated to The Minnesota Land Trust to support clean and sustainable water on the St. Louis River. Official Facebook Event Page.
Anglers endured pouring rain and tough conditions. At the end of the day the results were in:
First Place: Carson Spohn @ 18’5” inch small mouth bass
Second Place: Hansi Johnson @ 17’5” inch small mouth bass
Third Place: Leif Birnbaum @ 17’5” inch small mouth bass
Fourth Place: Erik Suppes @ 15’5″ inch small mouth bass
Fifth Place: Nate Gervenak @ 14′ 3/4″ inch small mouth bass
Sixth Place: Daryl Valentine @ 14’3/4″ inch small mouth bass
(an official coin was flipped to determine placement in event of a tie)
Thank you to the following sponsors:
- Echo Fly Fishing
- Bent Paddle Brewing Co.
- Patagonia Fly Fish
- The Ski Hut
- Duluth Coffee Company
- Johnson’s Bakery – Duluth MN
Two Thousand Seventeen is off to a good start. We had a strong showing early on in February. There was even a day on the weekend that wasn’t blowing 60mph and I was able to get my kayak out in some deep water jigging lake trout and herring.
It didn’t take long to find a limit!
I met up with Joe that same afternoon and within a couple of hours we found limits of rainbows too! It was a banner day!