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kwiggy

ice fishing and camping in the BWCA

28 posts in this topic

I have never ice fished in the BWCA and am thinking of taking my 10 yr old son. Lot's of questions come to mind... Do you camp overnight? Do you bring a tent or sleep in your ice shelter? Since you can't bring a power auger in, how do you minimize the hand augering? How do you target the fish? Are there bait restrictions? How far in do you go? Any suggestions, tips, or techniques would be greatly appreciated.

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Whoa, this could be a long thread. What kind of fish are you looking for? I've slept in tents, snow caves, with tarps and even in a sea cave on Thomas once. Most comfy is a canvas tent with a wood stove but unless you are going to dog sled it, that's a lot to bring in. Limit ice augering? Early season when you've got 6-10 inches of ice would be my answer. Late in the season when the ice gets to be 36 inches thick or more, you'd better decide on a couple of good spots and stick with it! Targeting fish again depends on the species you're looking for. Northerns in or near shallow weedy bays. Lake trout down the side of reefs dropping into deep water. Walleyes, can be anywhere and crappies change depending on early winter or late winter. If you are interested in some specific suggestions on where to go with a 10 year old, email me directly and I'll reply. Good luck!

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A lot of the resorts are doing the dogsled trips out there now. The advanages are many. Nice warm camp set up for you, set up on fish (usually) and you dont have to walk.

My advice if you go alone, besides be sure to tell people where you are going etc, is to get a nice sharp small hand auger. My 6" lazer auger will cut through 2 ft of ice relatively easy. So much easier than my larger 8". 6" could be small, but you are not afraid to cut holes, which I think is really important in ice fishing.

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The hand augers are a way of warming up, at least for me. When I get to where I want to fish, first thing I do is take care of my dogs, then I start augering holes. Throw out some tip ups and start setting up camp. For me, it's not that difficult. I sleep in a bivy sack, unless I have someone with me who is new to camping in the winter and then I bring a tent. Good gear is a must. I use a synthetic bag since it will stay warmer if it gets wet, which is a real possibility if you pop through the ice. Some prefer down since it's light, warm and compresses well. I don't use a heavy tent when I bring one and I don't use a woodstove in it. They scare me. I know a little bit about venting and would rather be a little bit cool instead of risking injury or death. Not trying to scare anyone out of using a tent stove, it's just my opinion. I normally fish for lake trout and northerns so my bait is easy to transport. I use frozen ciscoes. I don't bother with a fishhouse since it's more to pull. I've pulled a portable in for a friend once and he didn't end up using it.

I haven't heard of any bait restrictions, yet, in the BWCA but the Quetico is supposed to be implementing some soon. I guess, I should add that stream trout lakes have restrictions. Depending on what you're fishing for, you could go to a border lake or you could go in twenty miles.

I'd suggest if you're interested in overnight camping and haven't done it before, try it out in your backyard. I think you'll find it's not as tough as a lot of people think. Eating lots of food helps keep the cold away. High fat and high carb. What's really nice, besides the lack of people and the lack of mosquitos, is that you can bring real food and not have to carry a cooler full of ice to keep it from turning. Have fun and be careful.

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Check out every lake you will walking on, so many are spring fed and do not freeze in spots or every small amount of ice. I have been winter camping over 25 times and each time it is so different then the time before. DNR has great info on all the lakes, take the time out and stop in and talk with them, also fill out a fishing plan, just like we do when we fly. That way if something does happen they know where to go. Not that something will happen but always good to plan ahead with a young one with as well.

If you go out on a fishing trip, check out the dog sledding ones you are nice and warm at night and have a warm meal too.

I have my bush pilot lic and used to fly people in and out..so make a plan and stick to it.

kalli

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kwiggy, your question is a wide open one.

You can cross out bringing in any type of tub or suitcase type portable into the BWCA, they just aren't designed to pull for any distance. You'll be limited to what you can put on your back and one toboggan(long and slender) per adult. With one adult and a 10 year old, you'll barely be able to haul in the bare essentials of food, personal items, fishing equipment, and gear for winter camping. Add more adults and the gear gets divided. Depending on snow depth you'll be using skis or snowshoes, that'll also determine how far you can travel in a day. Angering holes to fish out of will be the least of your challenges. If you haven't winter camped I'd recommend you either use and an outfitter or a trip outside the BWCA where you can drive your truck or snowmobile to.

You could stay at one of the lodges on the Gunflint and day trip into a BWCA to fish. Thats a popular choice for a lot of guys on Trout Opener inside the BWCA. Not having to haul in camping gear affords you to take more comfort gear like a portable and heater.

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Here is the rig I dragged in last March;

110056.jpg

110055.jpg

When I got to the portages, I stacked the auger sled on top of the first sled, only rolled her a couple times. grin.gif

Awesome lake conditions for pulling, but by the time we left there was minimal snow on the portages, hence the 15 yr old custom kiddie sled didn't survive the trip. Time to construct a new one. Here is the bottom of the sled before the damage, notice the patch from a previous mishap. I'm probably going to make a longer toboggan type with a custom bag to hold the gear.

110053.jpg

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Quote:

Angering holes to fish out of will be the least of your challenges.


The holes you would typically fish out of are much to laid back to be easily angered. grin.gif

I know you meant to go up with the "J" finger and not down but I couldn't resist.

There are a few designated stream trout lakes in the B'dub. As with all designated lakes no live minnows. That is about the only bait restriction.

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Casey, you're so bad.

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It's usually the holes that anger ME! crazy.gif

I guess I wasn't thinking about how broad my post was. Let me add some more information. I have a few nights experience winter camping in Alaska, but I had a snogo to pull everything I needed. When I think of going into the BWCA, I am thinking of my very heavy Clam Sleeper. I have a sled for it that I can strap it on, but it doesn't make it any lighter confused.gif

I know I would be exhausted on a long haul with this heavy gear, so I would need a short portage or entry point. I wouldn't mind going across a lake, but over and up portages doesn't get me too excited.

I like the 6" auger and early ice advice. Before Christmas seems like it would be nice time of year with just the right amount of snow and enough ice but not too much.

I haven't fished for anything other than walleyes, northerns and panfish. I don't know anything about trout.

I would love to to do a dogsledding trip, but am concerned about the cost. Any idea on average cost? Do they drop you off or stay with you all night? Man, that would be awesome to have all the gear hauled out and then get dropped off in the middle of nowhere! Would they be able to pull that monster sleeper?

Thanks to everybody for the advice. This discussion is exactly what I need so I don't make the usual bonehead mistakes I can be so good at.

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kwiggy, I don't know about dogsledding trip costs, but you can work it so they stay with you or just do a dropoff and pickup. If you're interested in doing that in the Ely area, check out the Ely Chamber of Commerce at www.ely.org for a starting point with dogsled outfitters. They'll have a list, and a couple phone calls should give you ballpark pricing.

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With that gear and a 10 year old, Wood Lake off the Fernberg might be a good choice. That time of year you'll have some company, but fishing is good and it's not a bad trip in.

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In most cases you'll travel inland a ways or across one lake to get into the BWCA. That can be done with a snowmobile till you get to into the BWCA. I'm mentioning that because you could haul your gear to that point and base camp there and day trip into the BWCA.

Theres also the option of doing the whole trip outside BWCA. You wouldn't know the difference other than you might see someone else. Advantage there is you can use a snowmachine to pack in gear or even camp out of a truck. I can give a slough of places to do that.

If your intent on the BWCA Winter Camping scene then you'll need to get the gear for that. Having a youngster along I'd recommend that you use a tent and wood stove. (thats another topic) Just that weight alone will mean you you'll have to leave the portable at home. I'd also get another father/son pair or another adult to come along, the more the better. As far as fishing goes, you can fish for eyes and pike anywhere, I'd go for Lake Trout. Theres been a lot posted on the how to's already but we can do that again if thats what you decide. Why Lakers and not Stream trout?

Because you can get Lakers on tip-ups. Lets face it, you won't be spending all day on the ice, fishing. Having tip-ups setup for Lakers scattered out in front of a sheltered camp has its benefits.

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Kwiggy,

About 6 or 7 years ago I wanted to spend a weekend camping/ fishing in the BWCA and had these same questions.

In the years since then, I've come up with a system that I like. Maybe it will work for you, too.

First, definitely go for lake trout and on a body of water with a decent population. I've struggled trying to find walleyes in the winter up there (even on smaller lakes I've caught plenty of fish in during open water). Plus, lakers are just so much more fun than other species through the ice.

Pick a lake that is only an hour or two walk from the car. If you have skis or snowshoes and want to use those, great. I've done both. But to be honest, a lot of times now the snow pack is limited enough all you need is a good pair of Sorels. Obviously this could change any given week and be aware of conditions before you start.

Plan on only camping a night or two this first trip and see how you like it. If you have a backpacking backpack or even a really big Duluth pack (might need to have son wear one, too) you should be able to get all your gear into them. Then you'll need to carry your auger (or strap onto the backpack) and fishing rods (or carry in a bucket).

I've humped in a Clam a couple times and it isn't worth it. With all the other gear you're carrying, it's a lot of work. If there is any snow, you'll really be sweating, and if you go over a portage or two the trails are a bit too narrow. Again, I've done, but it isn't worth it.

Instead, I'd recommend this for a fishing strategy. Set up camp in a protected area at the edge of the trees, not far from where you want to fish. Before you fish, get a HUGE pile of wood. Finding/ cutting wood keeps you warm. Then cut some holes in likely spots. If you have a flasher, watching the lakers move in on your bait is a blast. Hop from hole to hole (much more fun than sitting in your Clam anyway). You'll be limited ot how many holes you can cut, but this is another good way to warm up. When you get cold or want a break, go back to camp and sit by a warm fire. Throw out a tip-up if you feel like it. We've found that all waking hours are either spent by the fire, cutting/finding wood, fishing, or doing something else active, like walking/skiing. These things seem to eat up the day fairly quickly.

As for sleeping, we've just gone with the regular summer tents, a good thermarest, and either very warm bags, or two sleeping bags each. If you have plenty of fleece along to wear in your bag, you should be plenty warm. If not, you are an hour or two from the car.

I'm sure the dogsledding trip would be great, as would several nights in the BWCA with a wall tent. But I've found this simple approach is perfect for two nights in the wood, and I've been plenty comfortable. The key is to be able to always get near a big fire when necessary.

Lots of great spots to try. I'd recommend something off the Gunflint (Duncan, Daniels are great, but any small to medium lake with lakers an hour or two from the car works).

That's my approach. Whatever you do, be safe and have fun.

John

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Just remember lake trout season doesn't open until January.

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Quote:

Just remember lake trout season doesn't open until January.


That's a good point. I appreciate all advice and was thinking a trip to non-BWCA lake for trout in early December would have been fun. See... I mentioned earlier you guys were helping me avoid a bonehead move. smirk.gif

I am starting to think a two-night trip outside of, but very near the BWCA would be in my best interest. I would have all the comforts of home (power auger, snogo, truck, etc...), but still be in a beautiful wilderness. I have a vex 20 and it sounds like trout can be fun. Is Snowbank a good trout lake? I am going to start looking for old posts on Lake trout fishing. I thought the DNR had lots of good info on all trout exc ept La ke trout.

Let me guess... I'll need to buy a trout stamp

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Yep, trout stamp indeed. grin.gif

Snowbank is a pretty good lake for lakers, and of course you can drive your vehicle/snow machine right up to the BWCAW line on the lake and then walk in as far as you like to camp.

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One tip that I have found useful in winter camping, that some may disagree with,,, the more clothes you wear to bed and inside your bag, the more you take away from the insulating your bag gives you. You are effectively insulating yourself from the bag. One trip on in Quetico years ago, it was -25 when we crawled into the tent and bags. I had on two pairs of loosly fitting long underwear (top and bottom), a pair of wool socks, and of coursse a loose fitting stocking cap. After the normal chit-chat, my buddy asked me if I was warm enough, I said no- I was not warm enough to fall asleep. He told me to take off a one of the pairs of long johns, I did , and warmed up considerbly. Now I go in the bag with warm, dry clothes that I want to put on in the morning or when nature calls, and strip down to boxers and a top of long underwear. Actually, damp to almost wet clothes will dry out in your bag by morning from your body heat with a nice bag. Never had a night that cold again, but it does seem to work for me and does make sense when you think about how a bag works in trapping air. It's a bit of inconvenince when you gotta go outside and takes time, but as all cold weather campers know, everything takes more time in the cold.

What do others think??

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I just wear thin long johns and thin socks when I sleep, and a hat or terrorist hood. Some guys that I camp with use a piss bottle, I like standing out on a crisp night checking out the stars while I take care of business. Then, nothing beats that feeling of climbing back into that still warm sleeping bag.

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The sleeping bag/clothes thing is a very good amd important point. Your sleeping bag should keep you warm at night, not your clothes. The bag may be cool when you get into it, but your body will warm it up, just like cold sheets at home. I wear a pair of clean/dry long underwear, light socks and a stocking cap or hood depending on the cold. All of these must be wicking fabrics. Thats HUGE!! The old cotton LJ's we used as kids will not help you. Socks should be poly or wool. If you sweat, you will get cold.

Also, the potty break thing. The coldest guy in bed id the one who doesn't want to get up to pee. Your body wastes a lot of energy keeping your uring warm. Use a bottle (don't miss or spill) or go outside. You will be warmer and you won't wake up every half hour with a full bladder and aching kidneys. Its a proven fact, just check out any article or book on winter camping.

I love winter camping and I love the BWCA. I've never combined the two, but I might extend my Ely trip this year to include some.

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Quote:

I wear a pair of clean/
dry
long underwear...


Powerstroke has some extremely good advice here. The dry part is the most important. Clean is nice but not necessarily essential as long as you are sleeping alone in the bag and not too concerned about making new friends. grin.gif

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I am a believer that the more clothes you wear to bed, the more likely you will sweat (and keep that water near your skin, this is wear a wicking fabric is essential if you are going to wear clothes to bed) and then get the chills. It doesn't need to be the middle of winter for you to 'learn the hard way' on this subject, Mud Cutter, you know what i am talking about. The wrong combo of long johns, an inadequate sleeping bag and below freezing temps (early may) and things can get really miserable. A stocking cap and a good sleeping bag is what i use. Having the right equipment for your situation is essential.

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Long-

remember that night back a few years ago when you used two 25-30F bags , one inside the other and crawled in for a long winter's nap when it was near 0F??? I think you were basically insulating yourself from the outside bag- plus trapping moisture etc,. I don't buy the idea of a shell for adding a few degress, unless it's a waterproof,Gore TEX deal to get you outta the elements in a bivy or something.

That time in Quetico years ago has me a firm believer in insulating yourself from your bag.

Mud

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Your body is loosening moister all the time. What you want is for that moister to pass though your bag. I'll use an over sized bag and a regular sized bag inside it. I don't want those bags to be tight fitting or compressing the loft. The shells need to be breathable too in order for that moister to escape. What you find in extreme cold temps is that moister condenses somewhere in that outer layer.

What you do then is use a cover almost like a tent that isn't permeable and the moister will frost to that. In order for that to work you need enough insulation so that the the outer layer of your bag is cool enough to not melt that frost on the cover but not so cold that the moister condenses.

Something thats overlooked is whats underneath you. Insulating yourself from the bottom is important, maybe more. First off the bags insulation your laying on is compressed. There goes all the insulating qualities.

A closed cell pad or self inflated pad will add insulation to your bottom but thats still not enough. I'll use both a closed cell and self inflating pad. As you can see just the proper bags and pads are a lot of bulk to pack in.

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Must have a good bag. Underneath padding is second important. Also make sure to eat plenty of carbo calories. Keep that fire fueled up.

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