Last weekend, I went fishing with a guy I met on the Internet. Let me explain, because it’s not what you may think. We didn’t hook up (pardon the pun) after meeting in one of those shabby fishing chat rooms where fishermen post pictures of their big ones. Instead, we were introduced by Bill Hansen at Sawbill Canoe Outfitters.
Graham Rowe, who lives near Liverpool in northern England, was planning a Boundary Waters canoe trip. An avid angler, he was hoping to fly-fish for trout in the wilderness. At Bill’s suggestion, he emailed me for advice. I told him the Boundary Waters has plenty of good fishing, but offers few opportunities to fish for trout other than deep-dwelling native lake trout. The best fly-fishing for trout is in the many streams and stocked trout lakes along the North Shore. If he had time after his canoe trip, I offered to take him out for a day or two of trout fishing. He emailed back that he’d adjusted his flight home so we could do just that.
Last Friday, we met face-to-face at the Coho Cafe in Tofte, a few hours after Graham emerged from a 12-day solo excursion in the canoe country. For him, extensive paddling trips are par for the course. In Great Britain, he canoes the lochs and rivers of Scotland, climbs crags in Wales and sea kayaks in the North Atlantic. He also skis in the Swiss Alps, took part in a skiing expedition to Baffin Island and has bicycled around the world.
A frequent fisherman, Graham fly-fishes for trout and uses standard tackle to pursue various ocean species. Since his canoe trip occurred during a period of miserably wet weather, he’d only managed to hook a few lake trout. We decided to spend the weekend chasing a couple of North Shore favorites—brook trout and walleyes.
We set off Saturday morning to sample the many brook trout lakes along the Shoe Lake Road northeast of Grand Marais. To sum up a long day, we fished here and there, had some great conversations and didn’t catch anything. Getting skunked is always humbling, but it’s especially bruising to your ego when you are hosting someone who has traveled halfway around the world to be there.
I did learn a thing or two about British trout fishing. Graham primarily fishes reservoirs, lakes and ponds where you pay a fee for access. Fishing some of the famous British chalk streams or Scottish salmon rivers is so expensive it is essentially out of reach for the average angler. However, I was interested to learn you can canoe on those same rivers for free. Most of the trout he catches are farm-raised and stocked for fishing, often not long before you catch them. Many waters also contain monstrous northern pike, which may weigh 30 or 40 pounds. The stocked trout provide the pike with a high protein diet.
Sunday morning we tried a trout lake I hadn’t fished previously, even though it has a reputation for producing nice brookies. We worked our way around the lake’s shoreline without any luck, but learned the lake was essentially a shallow basin with a deep trough running the length of the northern shoreline. Graham suggested we try the deep water. I tied on a small Countdown Rapala to plumb the depths while he trolled with a Wooly Bugger. We trolled the length of the trough and were discussing moving on to another lake when my rod bowed from a hard strike. Perhaps a minute later, I slipped the net beneath a nearly two-pound brook trout. Finally, we had success.
“It’s fin perfect,” said Graham. “I suppose it was stocked this spring.”
I explained to Graham the fish was stocked as a fingerling two years previous and grew to adult size in the natural environment of the lake. His “fin-perfect” remark referred to British stocked trout, which often have damaged fins after being raised in the raceways of a fish farm.
Now that we’d caught a trout, we decided to not to move to another lake. Graham put down the fly rod and rigged a spinning outfit with a sinking Rapala. The next two brookies, slightly smaller than the first, came to him. We reeled up and headed back to my place, where Vikki served fresh brook trout filets for dinner. Afterward, we headed to my favorite walleye lake for the evening bite.
We rigged up with small jigs tipped with leeches, a common fishing method that was new to Graham. He easily picked up on the technique and soon landed his first smallmouth bass, which was about six inches long. Next came his first walleye, a keeper. The fishing action improved as the sun set, though my partner unfortunately missed more walleyes than he brought to the boat. After missing a vicious strike, I hooked into a stubborn fish on the next cast. After a short battle, Graham netted my prize—a walleye weighing nearly five pounds. Although we were far short of a walleye limit, we were satisfied with our catch when we returned to the landing at dark.
Today, as I write this, Graham is wandering around Grand Marais. He stopped by the office to say he’d enjoyed a long conversation about canoes and kayaks with the boys at Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply. As a builder of wooden canoes, he was pleased to discover the North House Folk School, which offers extensive boat-building courses.
“There’s a bloke over there who I need to meet,” he said as he headed out the door. “Wonderful place. I could spend the whole day there.”
Tonight we’ll have walleyes for supper. Tomorrow Graham, who isn’t driving a vehicle, plans to begin wandering down the North Shore to explore the state parks. On Thursday morning, he’ll board a plane in Duluth and head for home. We may not meet again, though I suspect we’ll stay in touch via email. It may have started with an Internet hookup, but I was lucky to land a new friend.
Airdate: June 8, 2012