One thing I have always been very proud of is the fact that I could go from Baudette, Minnesota to Kenora, Ontario via boat on Lake of the Woods without the aid of a map. That’s like 110 miles from south to north on a lake that is almost equally as wide and known for islands, confusing shoreline, reefs that appear and disappear depending on water levels, and tight passages that require some knowledge to negotiate without any collateral damage. So the day I couldn’t find my way from the Government dock in Sioux Narrows to our cabin 7 miles away was devastating to say the least.
I grew up on Lake of the Woods, at least every summer. I guided. I fished. I have always loved this lake and the surrounding shield lakes that were prevalent in any direction you looked. Some were considered “trout lakes”, some “musky lakes” and some were called walleye of smallmouth lakes by the locals. Not to say they didn’t hold other species, but that the “designation” meant that those fish were big and worth going after in that particular lake.
Lake of the Woods is all of the above. Toward the south end it really isn’t much over 40 feet deep so the walleye, sauger, largemouth, perch, northern, crappie, smallies and musky fishing is nothing short of fabulous. As you go north about half way it gets deep so along with these species lake trout abound, some well over 50 pounds! It is said some sturgeon inhabit Lake of the Woods as well, although that’s a fish we never had the good fortune to hook up with (and there is now no open season on).
Sioux Narrows is just about half way between Kenora and Baudette on the east shoreline of the lake. The longest single span wooden bridge in North American is located here and if you drive from the U.S. (International Falls) to Kenora you will pass over this remarkable bridge via highway 71 on the way. To the east of the bridge is Regina Bay Lake of the Woods and to the west is Whitefish Bay. Our cabin was about 7 miles from Sioux Narrows toward the south end of Whitefish Bay.
The transit was typically easy and only required that we leave the government dock on the east side of the highway before the bridge, go north, turn west and go under the bridge, go about a mile or so and turn south into the main body of Whitefish Bay and then hold due south for about 5 miles. Our cabin was on the east side with a boathouse behind it that was approached by making a hard left turn after a rocky point. It was simple and has been done hundreds of times by not only me, but by Dixie and the three girls as well.
There were some reefs right after the bridge, but they were marked with buoys. There were also some about half way after turning south, but we usually didn’t get close to them choosing to stay west in deep water. There were three distinct little high capped islands called the Three Sisters and once past them the cabin was in sight and home was only a couple of minutes away. Basically it couldn’t have been simpler. Except this one time.
I don’t recall just why, but this trip up to the cabin we had left southern Indiana late which meant we would have to load the boat at the government dock with our provisions around midnight. But darkness never really bothered me and I had on several occasions rescued fishermen at night who had become disorientated around our cabin and led them back to Sioux Narrows even on the darkest of nights with no moon. Neither Dixie or I saw any reason for concern.
We arrived at the government dock closer to 1 AM than midnight. It was a sultry summer evening and there had been rainstorms from Duluth pretty much the rest of the way north. Crossing the Border at International Falls was quick and Fort Frances (International Fall’s “sister” Canadian city) was practically deserted as we drove through in what had to be record time. The McDonalds was closed and any thoughts we had of getting some food would have to wait until we got to the cabin.
As we loaded the boat the “mist” we began to see after crossing the border got denser. I can’t recall any wind, so that mist was definitely thickening up. I think it’s called fog by most of you folks. By the time we cast off it was thick. Really thick. Maybe 5 to 10 feet visibility.
Now anyone with any sense would have been content (and smart) to abandon plans to travel in this stuff and just camp out in the car and wait until daybreak to get to a cabin 7 miles away on a lake filled with reefs, islands, and absolute darkness. But my ego would hear nothing of such compromise. We were here. The boat was loaded. I was a seasoned (and if I do say so) damn good guide. 7 miles in this stuff? Piece of cake. I don’t think Dixie agreed, but she sat unsmilingly motionless as I cast off.
Our first challenge was try to figure out where to turn left to go under the bridge. That’s less than 1,000 feet away from the dock! I made a call, turned the steering wheel, and soon saw the undercarriage of the bridge overhead. “maybe this won’t be so bad once we get away from town,” I thought with increased confidence.
We putted west looking for the buoys marking three reefs that protected the entrance to Whitefish Bay. Dixie held a spotlight pointing forward which absolutely killed any night vision I might have had, but was necessary in order to spot the reflective bands around the buoys. We putted on further west. And we putted. And we putted.
Now in case you’ve never been in a similar situation it seems like time (and distance) go a lot slower than you expect when you don’t know exactly where you are and can’t see where you’ve been. No landmarks. No horizon. Just pea soup thick fog.
In what seemed like an hour we finally came upon the buoys. I knew as soon as we passed the third buoy we should go about another 1,000 yards and then execute a hard left turn bringing us to a course due south. And we did. The depth sounder started showing deeper and deeper water, so at this point we felt confident we were headed towards the cabin and some food.
I increased the speed a bit, making sure the water depth was as I remembered (and expected). The real trick at this point would be to make sure we kept west to avoid the unmarked reefs to the east. We proceeded south, never at a speed that would get us in trouble should my instincts prove unreliable.
Wham! We hit some rocks. I put the motor in neutral, grabbed the spotlight, and peered into the soup trying to figure out just where we were. It wasn’t the reef I had been trying to avoid. But it sure as hell wasn’t where I intended to be! I raised the lower unit a bit and gingerly engaged the motor into forward. We slid past the rocks and the depth finder started showing 10 ft, then 20 ft. Slowly the depth went down and I increased the rpm’s a bit. All this time Dixie sat silently in the bow.
We putted further south and I felt that we were surely on course. Then wham! Another rock. Dixie leaned back towards me and in her firm but understanding voice said, “Maybe we should just pull in to shore and wait for the fog to lift.”
Now I don’t know about you, but hey, I’m a guy. Asking for directions is not an option in my world. And certainly throwing in the towel when we’re (supposedly) so close to the cabin just didn’t make sense to me. I putted off the rocks once again, increased the revs, and watched the depth finder. It went deep and then wham! Another rock.
This time Dixie walked back to towards me. No smile. No understanding silence. With a grim look and firm resolve she once again said, “Tom, we need to pull in and wait until we can see where we are going. Let’s not ruin the boat and motor just because you won’t admit we’re lost.”
“Lost? Who said we were lost? We’re in pea soup thick fog. But, we are not lost. Maybe we’re off course, but by God we’re not lost.”
So I had two choices: Keep on going which would most likely cause more damage to the lower unit and could mean drifting around on the lake without useable power or, listen to my wise wife and admit I wasn’t going to be a candidate for Guide of the Year this season. I’m sure most of you guys know what I would have liked to have chosen, but reason (and avoiding an argument in this stuff) got the best of me and I pulled in to shore.
I tied the boat to a small sapling and put the canvas top up. Although we had food packed in coolers there really wasn’t anything we could eat. There was some beer which was warm, but what the heck. It’s better than nothing. I popped a top and suggested Dixie enjoy one as well. She just smirked and curled up on the floor of the boat. I had another. And then one more. I got to feeling pretty good, bruised ego and all. Maybe we should fool around?
Now there are good ideas and bad ideas and safe to say that was a bad one. So, I curled up as well, some distance from my not-to-happy mate. It was going to be a long night. You could tell by her smirk, frown, and absolute silence.
Morning light came soon enough and I woke up anxious to see just where in the hell we were. It was embarrassing. We had put in about a mile from our island, just east on the next island over. Our friends had a cabin on the east side, we were on the west side. Probably less than 500 yards from their dock!
I inspected the prop and saw it had evidence of my stupidity on all 3 blades. It would get us to the cabin, but would need to be replaced before we did any serious cruising. The hull was OK and Dixie was almost smiling. Better than I had expected…. All I could think about was casting off as quickly as possible so our neighbors didn’t find out just how poor a guide I was (or how stupid for that matter). I started the motor and in about 5 minutes we were at our dock, unloading the provisions and looking forward to a hot shower and some breakfast. It was about 5:30 AM
I think I can still find my way from Baudette to Kenora without a map. That’s stuff you don’t forget. But if there’s fog don’t look for me on the lake. I’ll be in the motel waiting for the fog to lift!
It’s been a cool and rainy week here in Southern Indiana. That’s a sure sign that Fall fishing is just ahead. Probably one of my favorite times of year, Fall always produces some of the largest and most feisty fish of the year. We’ve been getting in some great new gear which we will be telling you about in this and future issues of the newsletter.
This issue we have some great news how you can get 25% off Daiwa Steez Rods and G. Loomis rods. We also have New G. Loomis Luggage Bags IN STOCK. This bag is first class quality and is a must have for the Loomis enthusiast. New G.Loomis GLX Flipping and Crankbait models, with a free Collector’s Edition G. Loomis Catalog Offer. We have also received the brand New Eco Pro Tackle to add to our Tackle Corner that is full with the Top Tackle brands in the industry.
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Once again we want to thank everyone for their support. We are here only because of your friendship and patronage. It is very, very much appreciated!