Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lake of the Woods

George's winning walleye
This weekend I had the pleasure of accompanying my wife's side of the family to celebrate her uncle Andrew's 75th birthday.  Andy's son Jason Rombalski and son-in-law George Wimmer came up with taking a trip to Lake of the Woods for some fishing and asked if I could fill out the forth spot.  Not a hard job, I gladly accepted as I really like hanging with these guy, especially Andy.  It was nice to have someone else make all the arrangements for once and all I did was bring my expertise with.  Jason settled on booking with Slim's Resort on the Rainy River, just as it empties into Lake of the Woods.  Although I had never heard of Slim's a little investigation explains that it's the new owners of the old Shuster's Resort, a Lake of the Woods icon.  It was actually a pretty good deal as the plan was to arrive late Friday night, fish Saturday and Sunday while staying at the accommodations at the resort.  Sounded good to me!  Arriving at around 10:30, there was a note at the front desk, Rombalski Cabin 15, be ready at 8:15, Nick will pick you up in front of your cabin.  After a few congratulatory toasts it was off to bed, ready to hit it hard on Saturday.  The ride out was typical Lake of the Woods as the driver stopped with his 1940's model Bombardier, no longer made, a throw back from the past.  Driven by a rear engine, it accommodates a driver and 6 - 8 passengers, and is driven by 2 tracks with skis on the front end.  They are quite a machine and only in northern Minnesota will you see them still working as they did 70 years ago.  Loud and somewhat slow, they do the job as we piled into the wood Bombardier, getting its name from the construction of both interior and exterior surfaces, wood paneling!   I guess anything to keep them running.  Our destination was house # 1 at the end of the line of rentals, a 30 minute ride from the resort.  Dropping us off along with a cooler of fathead minnows, we were on our own.  It didn't take long to start fishing and settle on the day's contest, first fish, biggest fish, most fish...a chance to win $15.  As Lake of the Woods goes, it wasn't the greatest bite but we did get a number of walleyes and saugers along with a few tullibees.  In the end it was George who came from behind to win the biggest as he already qualified for the first.  George isn't much of an ice fisherman so we ended up coaching him through the day.  I guess all of that training paid off as he nailed a nice 26 inch walleye a half hour before the bombardier was scheduled to pick us up.  One last lesson to give George was how to take a fish picture.  Being a good student of the game, as you see his walleye was pretty nice. Of course he got the $15 with that fish.   After our reunion with the guide we headed back to the cabin to clean fish, make supper, play a little cards, and reflect on the day.  Because the guides go out in two shifts, we were relegated to the early shift on Sunday, 7:15 was the pickup time as we headed for bed.

Huge Tullibee!
Sunday was definitely on the downside as far as the weather was going.  Strong north winds prompted blizzard warnings for the entire northwest portion of Minnesota.   Showing up at 7:15, we boarded the bombardier, picked up a couple of guys from Iowa and headed back out.  The resort rotates times and houses so you get a chance to fish something different each day.  After making sure our house was clear, the guide allowed us in, admittedly I liked the previous day's house a lot better.   For one thing, the hole setup was quite different as one had to constantly step over the slots in the floor to move.  I could see a real problem if you had one too many beers.  The second thing that made it uncomfortable was the furnance's thermostat never shut the heat off.  Although the heat is appreciated, it must have been at least 90 degrees unless you kept the door cracked.  Seems like a waste of propane, but hey we were fishing.  The irony was that the fishing wasn't so hot in the house.  Although we managed a few walleyes and saugers, they were few and far between.  One bonus fish was the tullibees we were catching.  The action was neither fast or furious but considering the slow walleye bite, we appreciated the occasional hard fighting silver fish.  I did save the ones we did catch hoping that maybe these didn't have the parasites the previous tullibees caught on Lake of the Woods but it wasn't the case.  Once filleted you could see the opaque worms embedded in the flesh, it just didn't look very appetizing.  Managing to catch the largest walleye of the day, a plump 18 inch fish, it was good enough for the big fish of the day and I got my money back.  Beyond that, we probably ended up the 2 days with 6 walleyes, 8 saugers, 77 tullibees, and a nice perch.  On Saturday I did have something big on my line, it gave a good fight before throwing the hook.  Maybe a big walleye, maybe a big eelpout, who knows but it would sure have been nice to see.  The guide came by around 2:00 and announced the whiteout conditions will force us to cut or trip short, fine with us as it was getting pretty bad out.  What normally took 30 minutes to shuttle us back to the resort turned into an hours as we crawled back on the trail.  Quickly filleting the fish we finally got on the road and headed south.  One interesting note, we met a family in the cleaning room who had the same luck as we did on Saturday.  On Sunday it appeared as though they were fishing a different lake with a nice bunch of walleyes including a 29 inch hog.  Oh well, that's the way it goes.

I am getting ready to head back up to Red on Friday with Mark, my brother Steve, friend Kevin, Mark, and Keith Holtan.  Our plan is to get there in the afternoon and fish till Sunday morning.  It will be the maiden voyage of my newly acquired fish house and were anxious to try it out.  With all the comforts of home, all we need is the fish to cooperate.