Will Camp for Fish

Boundary Waters
Liz Ogilvie (third from left) and friends at the start of a great trip through the Boundary Waters.

I’ve never been much of a camper. When I think of how I’d like to spend my downtime, “roughing it” doesn’t usually cross my mind. The one thing that will force me willingly into the wilderness is the promise of a good bite at the end of my line.

One of my favorite fishing trips was an adventure through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, memorable for many reasons, but specifically because it was my first multi-day camping trip. When three friends, each experienced in camping and canoeing, suggested it, I made two stipulations: I needed at least two hours of each day to fish, and there would be no grumblings about towing my rods and tackle along. They were in serious need of a fourth – they agreed.

We made our arrangements with one of the many outfitters based in Ely, Minnesota. They supplied us with nearly everything needed for five days in the wilderness – our canoes, tents, sleeping pads and bags, cooking supplies, freeze dried food, water purification devices, and even toilet paper. We simply packed our own clothes, personal toiletries, a few Nalgene bottles filled with vodka (and one of tequila), and an impressively paired down version of what I usually take on a fishing vacation.

The outfitter also provided a waterproof map, pre-drawn with a suggested route to take us through the scenic area. He highlighted the best campsites for impressive views, the tiny islands with the most privacy, and some cool swimming holes. And to my surprise, and at the thoughtful request of one my travel mates, he marked the spots that he knew were great for catching fish.

“SB,” “WE” and “NP” were scribbled in red, waterproof marker all over that map. I don’t know why I would have thought any differently – the Boundary Waters has remained one of the most pristine watersheds in the world. It is managed in a way to encourage recreation, yet minimize human impact. Our footprints don’t tread heavily on this land and extensive system of lakes, and the health of the fishery is clear evidence of that.

I caught my first pike on that trip. I ate my first pike on that trip. It was the first full day on the water and I was casting a big, black woolly bugger fly – trying to mimic the leaches I had extracted from between my toes after the previous evening’s swim. Multiple times I felt a knock on my submerged line and when I brought it up to inspect the fly, it was gone, with only a frayed leader left. Something was definitely interested, but it wasn’t a smallmouth. I had a good look at the teeth on the first fish I was able to land and was very glad that my Boga Grip had made the cut of which gear to bring along.

My friends delighted me in celebrating a successful day on the water. We took two of our MREs – rice and beans, and peas and onions – grilled up the filleted pike, and combined it all with diced kielbasa to make a one-pot camper’s paella. (I had been thinking that packing a kielbasa was strange, but it turned out to be brilliant.)

The rest of the fish I caught didn’t make it in our culinary creations. As much as they would have enhanced our evening meal, releasing them just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

Those five days in the majestic wilderness of the Boundary Waters watershed were exhilarating. And exhausting. And so hard to leave behind. A trip like that was on the bucket list for my camping enthusiast friends, but had escaped my radar. I’m glad they opened my eyes to one of the most awe-inspiring, wild places I’ve ever seen and had the pleasure to enjoy.

And the map – it survived the trip. It is now framed and hanging on my living room wall, a reminder of the numerous SB, WE and NP holes that I couldn’t get to in a mere five days, and will hopefully return to in the not-so-distant future.

Liz Ogilvie
Keep America Fishing Director

PS – The Boundary Waters are currently under threat from Sulfide mining.  Click Here to sign the petition to stop the renewal of the mine’s leases.