Do Something New: River Smallmouth Float Trip

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I recently took a day trip on the Mississippi to do some fishing. It’s something I hadn’t done before, but had been considering trying on the many fishable rivers in the area. 

It’s good I did, because it will probably stand as one of the highlights of the entire summer. To tell the truth, the plan was so simple, it really couldn’t fail: just me, my kayak, the river, and any smallmouth bass that were in the mood for a tussle. 

As it happens, it was my neighbor who put the destination on my radar. Apparently he’s into fly fishing and has been down the river with some co-workers. He told me Clear Waters Outfitting ( does rentals and a shuttle service, which was new information to me. He made it sound good, so I pushed it up my list of priorities. 

A few weeks later I called to make a reservation on their shuttle, and they helped me determine which day trip would best suit my needs. I opted for the shortest, a 5-mile float, because of fishing recommendations. 

The day itself could not have been much better. It was not too hot, there was a moderate breeze, and the sky was brushed with high, feathery streaks of white. The river— though fairly low— pushed past at a good clip while I loaded my kayak and applied sunscreen. 

I shoved off and began casting to shoals and current breaks, trying to figure out where the smallmouths might be and what they found most attractive. The current felt even more swift once fully at its mercy, and I thought my little trip could be shorter than I’d planned. It wasn’t long before a couple islands and sandbars caught my attention and begged for more thorough treatment.

Maneuvering to a logical landing place seemed easier than it was. The gently sloping gravel bars made it difficult to reach to dry land, and my right foot was soaked when it slipped off a mossy little rock. That was the first and last time I thought about that, however. 

I tossed a Jitterbug a couple times into the slackwater behind the bar. Minnows, crayfish, and little bass could all be seen in mere inches of water just beyond my toes. Just as doubt began to creep in, a fish splashed downstream at a distance that looked barely attainable— even with a cast best classified as “wild abandon.”  

I let it rip.

That fish hit before I could even flip the bail over and start reeling. She jumped a couple times and made a hasty run into the main current. Our tug of war tipped in her favor for a moment. Then she turned back and began to relent just as quick.

At 16 inches, it was probably my biggest smallmouth ever. Most bronzeback junkies would sneer, no doubt, but I’ve rarely fished for them and can’t remember one bigger or more muscular. 

Screw ‘em

The float resumed. Smallmouths came from here and there, without rhyme or reason to any of it. Trying to find a “pattern” was useless.

Eddy? Yep. 

Scattered weeds? Nope. Then yep. 

Shallow gravel on the margin of the current? Sure. 

Those bass loved that Jitterbug, small crankbaits, and especially the Heddon Torpedo. And since they were lurking everywhere, I didn’t waste a moment not casting or reeling. 

The best spot came near the end. There were multiple gravel bars, channels, and boulders nestled in an outside bend. From there came more bass—including the second biggest of the day—and a 26” northern pike that made a dolphin leap out of the water when it struck the Torpedo next to the kayak. 

I hollered. Maybe with colorful words.

In the end it was good, but not the kind of blowout bass fishing I believe it could have been. Strikes were plentiful, but catches were fewer and most of them were small fish. 

Still, that didn’t matter; it was exactly what I expected. That stretch of the river was refreshingly pristine in appearance, and encounters with other people were mercifully few. There was no minute I wasn’t supremely enjoying myself. In fact, I nearly forgot to eat the lunch I brought along, and that’s saying something. 

If that sunscreen hadn’t been expired, I might have been tempted to use the “P word” to describe my day: 


Yellow Bass of the Fairmont Chain

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I was on the phone last night with an old Minnesota fisherman. He asked if I’d done anything interesting lately. I said, “See if you can guess. What are yellow with black markings, plentiful, and taste good when they’re battered and fried?”


“Yeah, well, okay….here’s another hint: they wiggle and flop when you throw them on the ice next to your sled.”


“What? No! I’m talking about yellow bass.”

“Huh. Never heard of ‘em.”

No kidding. 

Continue reading “Yellow Bass of the Fairmont Chain”

BWCA Entry Point 25: Winter Camping and Fishing

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For years I have dreamed of camping and ice fishing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Biting cold and slush-laden lake tops have kept me home the last two winters. That was fine; I’m not one to press my luck. But the warmer-than-average weather we’ve enjoyed lately had me itching to get at it.

Entry Point 25, with walleyes in Newfound Lake and brook trout in Found Lake, was the perfect setting for my introduction into winter adventuring. Little did I know, however, that introduction would come with a sobering peek into my own psyche. Continue reading “BWCA Entry Point 25: Winter Camping and Fishing”

Do Something New: Minnesota State Park Deer Hunt

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It all started about two years ago. My deer season had almost gone by without a single deer sighting. I’d spent two rainy days in a deer stand on private property, then one especially frigid day hoofing it on state forest land. If it weren’t for the good fortune of my brother and dad, we’d have been short on meat for the year. Continue reading “Do Something New: Minnesota State Park Deer Hunt”

Do Something New: Hook a Dinosaur

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I haven’t had many fun surprises lately. For better or worse, life has been plodding along at its sedated, pandemic pace. Nothing seems to change and there isn’t much to look forward to. Until Thursday, that is. 

An invitation came out of the blue from my friend Scott Mackenthun, who is a Fisheries department manager with the Minnesota DNR. He asked if I’d like to go out with him and try to catch lake sturgeon. I’d never caught one before, and wouldn’t have thought that was likely to change. I was intrigued, to say the least. Continue reading “Do Something New: Hook a Dinosaur”

Foraging in Minnesota: Dwarf Raspberries

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Every year about this time there is a lull in the foraging season here in Minnesota. The early season has passed and the frenzy over morels, fiddleheads, and ramps is over. The summer mushrooms and berries really haven’t started. However, while raspberries, blackberries, thimbleberries, and other members of the Rubus clan have yet to even finish blooming, their little brother is here to take center stage.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Dwarf Raspberries”

Foraging in Minnesota: Ostrich Ferns

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The Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) seems to be gaining in popularity among foragers, if mentions in social media are any indication. Posts about “fiddleheads” are becoming more and more common this time of year. Also apparent in the social media soup is how much confusion there is when it comes to knowing which species are edible and how they are identified. 

Some people- a proportional few- are vocal in their opinion that the Ostrich fern is not the only edible fern in Minnesota. While that may be true for sometimes complicated reasons, I will not subscribe to that school of thought. Allow me to explain why.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Ostrich Ferns”

What to Fix: Recipes for Ramps

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Ramps are special, and the season is short. For some foragers, it’s the taste of Spring, and they wouldn’t miss it. I’m not that fervent, but I do like them nonetheless. This year, I made a point to branch out and do more than scrambled eggs with ramps. Now, I’m no chef, so don’t expect any groundbreaking ideas or recipes here. My perspective is that of an avid forager and great fan of trying new things. Continue reading “What to Fix: Recipes for Ramps”

Foraging in Minnesota: Ramps

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Once again, I blame social media. For what, you ask? For the ridiculous fame that ramps seem to be “enjoying” nowadays. Of course, people have known about ramps for a long time, even holding spring festivals for them in parts of the eastern U.S. where they used to grow prolifically. I say “used to” because it is well known that wild ramp populations are hurting. Because of that, they really don’t need any extra harvest pressure. Every foraging group I subscribe to on Facebook, however, is currently experiencing Ramp Mania. Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Ramps”

New Year, New Adventures

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I’m not a new-year’s-resolution kind of person. Rare are the times I am moved to state such aspirations formally, and rarer yet are the years when they survive to see the next changing of the calendar. Still, I will frequently look back on the past 12 months as that milestone approaches each year. My reflections have been more rewarding than usual this time around.  Continue reading “New Year, New Adventures”

Do Something New: Harvest Your Own Christmas Tree

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Normally, I wouldn’t be thinking about our Christmas tree in October. In fact, we’ve had a hand-me-down artificial tree for about the last 15 years, so it wouldn’t occur to me at all. But some relatives were telling us they’d be at the cabin this year for Christmas, and I suggested they get a permit to take their tree from the woods for the occasion. So in the interest of encouraging others into the outdoors, I snooped around for information from Minnesota DNR and the Forest Service, and emailed them some web links. 

What I found actually surprised me. As far as I could tell, the permit for harvesting a tree from Minnesota’s state forest lands would cost $25. That was a higher price than I expected. However, the permit for a tree from Chippewa National Forest costs only $5. 

Yes, FIVE DOLLARS.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Harvest Your Own Christmas Tree”

Do Something New: Quarter and Pack Out a Deer

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I’ve long dreamed of hunting in the mountains, spending days climbing, glassing, and stalking. This kind of trip has always seemed quite accessible to me, except for one aspect: getting the meat out of the woods. It would be impractical to expect to drag a deer back to the truck. Foolish, really, and out of the question with an elk. So that would mean quartering and packing the animal out. This is nothing to the hunter on horseback, or even one who is accustomed to doing it. Continue reading “Do Something New: Quarter and Pack Out a Deer”