September 30, 2010
Because we have so much water in our state, we have more family vacation getaways than you could enjoy in a lifetime. You better get started right now! (June 2006)
While researching destinations for family fishing road trips, I was discussing with resort owners the alternatives to just fishing. After all, I thought, what if one member of the family wanted to fish, but others wanted to take advantage of different activities that weren't fishing related.
It was a comment by Mike Lantry of White Eagle Resort on Lake Vermilion that made me realize it's not really a family trip if the family doesn't take advantage of their time together.
WHITE EAGLE RESORT
"When you're in an area like Lake Vermilion, it's a good opportunity for families to connect," Lantry said. "The lake is the focal point where families can go fishing, boating, swimming, even sailing. Spending some time in the boat fishing with the family on a beautiful lake like Vermilion should bring them closer."
So I asked Lantry to describe his family-friendly setting and include some activities that weren't related to fishing. He laughed and said, "We have kayaks and a Hobie Cat for sailing, and we have some water bikes. The Hobie is a safe vessel, and even those with no sailing experience can have a lot of fun."
White Eagle Resort is located on the west end of Vermilion and consists of 13 housekeeping cabins in a beautiful rustic setting. Vermilion is a large lake -- over 40 miles long with 1,200 miles of shoreline. When I asked Lantry if first-time visitors were a bit intimidated by the size of the lake, he smiled, shook his head and said, "We've never lost a guest. The maps have the buoys and the buoys have numbers so you can't get lost. You just go to a buoy, check out the number and you're acclimated again."
Vermilion is well known for its quality walleye and smallmouth bass fishing. Muskie fishing has also become a tremendously popular pastime on this lake. Big northern pike can be caught with some effort, and the largemouth bass fishing is just beginning to be discovered.
"We're starting to see a lot more largemouth bass up here, and the size of the largemouth bass is increasing," Lantry said, and he added a comment about Minnesota's favorite fish. "The walleye fishermen complain sometimes that they're catching too many smallmouth bass, but they do admit they have a great time catching them."
For more information, contact the White Eagle Resort at 1-800-542-0365, and visit their Web site at www.whiteeagleresort.com.
In contrast to the northern big-lake log cabin resort is the small-lake resort setting with clean cottages, and kids on the shoreline with their fishing poles or chasing frogs. The perfect example of this is Floding Resort on Brophy Lake just west of Alexandria.
Floding Resort has been around for some time. According to Josh Lord, who co-owns and manages the resort, he is a fifth generation in the resort's operation.
"My great-uncle Art from Switzerland started it as a dairy farm," Lord explained. "He didn't make any money with the dairy, so he built one cabin, then another. He built six cabins and then my grandfather built three more, and we recently tore them out and built eight new ones."
So all the cottages are brand new? "The cabins have had only one season of use so far," Lord said. "They're two-bedroom cabins with full-sized beds, and we provide sheets and towels. They all have a fireplace and in-floor heat, and come fully equipped with kitchen utensils. Upstairs, there are two leather pullout couches. And they all come with a charcoal grill, picnic table and lawn chairs. We have a fish-cleaning station, and the dock is right out in front of your cabin."
Brophy Lake is less than 300 acres, but the water quality is outstanding and the fishing has great potential. The kids, of course, will be pleased by the abundance of bluegills, while the adults will get their fair share of rod bending from the prolific pike and largemouth bass. There are walleyes in the lake from DNR stocking, but count on them as a bonus fish that occasionally hits a crankbait that's been sent out to find a bass or pike.
For more information, contact Floding Resort at (320) 763-7787. Their Web site is www.flodingresort.com.
VOYAGAIRE LODGE & HOUSEBOATS
You can have your own private swimming area, no one around you for miles and live lobster delivered to your door. How can that be? Rent a houseboat from Voyagaire on Crane Lake in the Voyageurs National Park.
From Voyagaire Lodge you have access to miles and miles of wilderness resources if you choose to use your houseboat to explore Sand Point, Namakan and Kabetogama lakes. According to Jim Janssen, owner of Voyagaire, even someone with no experience with a big boat on these lakes has no reason to be intimidated.
"It's all about support," he said. "We have three radio bases on the water, where you can be 70 miles away from us and still reach somebody live on the radio to deal with your concern or question. Some people are navigationally challenged or need to discuss how something works on the boat. No problem -- just call. We also employ a couple that actually lives on the water and their job is to be sure that you are OK."
Asked to describe the lure of a houseboat, Janssen said, "It's the best of both worlds. It's the remoteness of the Boundary Waters with all the luxuries of a houseboat with all the amenities. Some of these boats are equipped with central air-conditioning and hot tubs."
And what about this live lobster?
"We have a hospitality service," Janssen said, "where the guests can call every day if they like, by 10 in the morning, and no matter where they're at on the entire chain -- which is 70 miles long. They'll call and tell us what they need and we'll bring it out. It could be beer, bait, juice, ice, gas, milk, whatever they need. We'll deliver it that afternoon, including live lobster. We fly live lobsters in from Maine once a week and we deliver it right to the boat."
Lantry said that besides fishing, families can enjoy the many hiking trails in the park, and if you want, you can hike into remote lakes. Janssen said Voyagaire has boats in some of the interior lakes in Voyageurs National Park where you can hike in and have your own boat on a remote lake, and do some fishing and hiking in a remote surrounding.
"There is a lot of swimming, and the water quality is outstanding,
" Lantry added. "Kettle Falls Hotel is part of the National Park System and people always make it a point to go there. You can see the native paintings throughout the park, and when you do drop some bait in the water, the walleyes, pike and smallmouth bass fishing is the best in the state."
For more information, contact Voyagaire at 1-800-882-6287. Their Web site is www.voyagaire.com.
"It's all about the fishing," said Greg Hennum from the Sportsman's Lodge on Lake of the Woods. "People come here because they know this is one of the best walleye lakes in the world. There's just nothing that compares to Lake of the Woods."
This is no exaggeration, as anglers return from their annual trips to this huge lake with stories of the many fish they caught there.
"One of my best-kept secrets is the big crappies," said Dick Nash, one of the guides there. "It's a fall thing, but the fish are big and there are plenty of them there, but only a few of us know this, so they don't get a lot of pressure."
Sportsman's Lodge is a great family fishing road trip, but only if the kids are old enough to handle the big-water waves and are willing to spend a day on the water trolling or drifting for walleyes. This eliminates the youngsters and leans more toward the teens that just can't get enough fishing time in and are sorry to see the day end.
If you're not equipped for big-water fishing like you find on Lake of the Woods, Sportsman's Lodge has you covered. Their guides are waiting on the dock for you about 8 a.m., and you just hop on the 27-foot cruiser and off you go. They have the rods, reels, bait and everything you need to catch plenty of fish.
Sportsman's Lodge also gives you two options for your stay. There are housekeeping cabins if you want to cater to yourself, or the lodge has restaurants and rooms for those who want full service.
"It's a retreat for those who want to spend their time on the water catching fish," Hennum said.
For more information, contact the Sportsman's Lodge at 1-800-862-8602, and visit their Web site at www.sportsmanslodgelow.com.
NORTHWOODS GUIDING SERVICE
Bill Slaughter has been living in Ely all his life. He was born and raised there, and has been a Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) guide since he was a teenager. He has noticed there are more "younger" families taking advantage of the BWCAW because they've discovered how to utilize a low-impact form of exploring this wilderness.
"You see Dad and Mom with a couple of kids who are 8 and 10 years old," Slaughter said. "They drive up in a small motor home they rented and stay at one of the campsites on Fall Lake or Fenske. Sometimes they just rent a couple of rooms at the Paddle Inn in town. Then they hire me to take them (to the BWCAW) on day-trips to explore and fish. I provide all the equipment and cook the meals while we're there."
Slaughter said this has been an evolutionary process.
"Ten years ago, the only young people you would see were teenagers who were part of a wilderness or church group," he said. "Those poor kids just paddled all day long and never really got a chance to enjoy the beauty around them. Now you see younger families, I suppose because people don't feel like their younger kids should keep them from doing whatever they want to do. And they're right. These younger kids love paddling and fishing and hiking in the woods."
If you're planning on doing a BWCAW experience with your youngsters, Slaughter recommended day-trips because then parents can gauge how much time the children can handle in a small watercraft before they get bored. Fortunately, according to Slaughter, the fishing is generally good, so the young anglers stay focused on fishing as long as they're biting. Plan on making frequent shore stops so the kids can skip rocks, follow some trails and do some exploring.
"Take it slow when they're smaller and you'll have some great partners for extended camping trips in coming years as they get older," Slaughter said.
To contact Slaughter, call 1-800-559-9695, and visit his Web site at www.elymnguide.com.
SPIDER SHORES RESORT
I have fond memories of Spider Lake and Spider Shores Resort. It's been a few years since I've been able to get up there, but it still is a great family fishing road trip.
I recall leaving the docks with my two sons and heading through the central basin for the southern basin to do some walleye fishing on the sandflat at the southern tip of the lake. As we passed the point on the west side of the central basin, my sonar showed a big pod of suspended fish. I took them for walleyes until my slip-bobber went under and I reeled in a 17-inch smallmouth bass.
There was no wind, so I drifted over the school of smallies, and my two young boys and I were pulling in one right after another. Soon a few other boats came over to share in our good fortune, and one angler hooked into a muskie that must have been swimming in the school of bass. It broke off at the boat after a long fight.
Spider Lake is only 1,400 acres, so you can master the lake's bottom in just a few days. There are loads of sunfish and perch to keep the kids happy, and northern pike, muskies and walleyes can create a challenge for the big kid, which would be you. The smallmouth fishing can be outstanding when you find a school of these great fighters.
Contact Spider Shores Resort at (218) 326-2031, or check out their Web site at www.spidershoresresort.com.
It wouldn't be fair not to feature a resort that doesn't have everything for the family, and more.
Arrowwood Resort is the perfect family fishing road trip because the facility is on the Alexandria Chain of Lakes. This group of lakes has some of the most diverse fishing potential of anywhere in Minnesota. All of the lakes on the chain have outstanding bass and pike fishing. Le Homme Dieu Lake has great crappie fishing and some of the biggest sunfish on the chain. Lake Carlos has loads of walleyes, and its classic walleye structure just calls for a leech on a live-bait rig. Lake Darling, where the resort is located, has some of the best big-pike fishing in the region. Take your own boat and leave it at their docks, and plan on exploring a different lake each day.
Should the kids need something to do, there's the huge water park that can keep them busy for some time. There are two 18-hole putting courses. There are tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course, riding stables and some open grassy areas.
"Don't forget to mention the two swimming pools," said Jeff Wi
ld, the director of operations at Arrowwood. "One pool is indoors and one is outdoors. We cater to the family that wants a place where there is something for everyone. We have a great restaurant and bar, and if you need to check your e-mail, you can use our computer, or we have wireless access. You won't find anything missing at the Arrowwood."
You can contact the Arrowwood Resort at (320) 762-1124. Visit their Web site at www.arrowwoodresort.com.
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I need to reflect on the statement by Mike Lantry from White Eagle Resort. He said that a fishing resort is a good place for families to connect. I have six brothers and a sister, and for many years in our youth, Dad and Mom would pile us into the station wagon and head up to Westridge Shores Resort on Lake Mary near Alexandria. We met other kids and caught fish with Dad in the boat and Mom off the dock. Dad would go out chasing pike and walleyes for a couple of hours with a couple of us kids and then come back to switch kids for a couple more hours. Mom would sit on the dock in her lawn chair while soaking up the sun and pulling in sunfish and perch. When we weren't in the boat, we were hanging out with Mom or some of the other kids who were at that resort.
What is interesting is years later when my family gets together for holidays or reunions, one of my siblings will always bring up these family fishing outings and we will reminisce with great joy in our experiences. It's that connection Lantry described and it can never be broken. It'll make you feel good, too!