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Minnesota's Family Fishing Getaways

Minnesota's Family Fishing Getaways

It's easy to make vacation memories out of campfires, loons and singing frogs, but if you go fishing on these waters this summer, you could enjoy the trip of a lifetime! (June 2007)

Photo by Bill Banaszewski.

Can't you just smell the smoke from the campfire as the breeze from the lake fans the flames, with sparks rising along with the heat as it curls toward the heavens? The loons call in the distance while the last of the sun's rays disappear over the horizon, turning the sky into a purple hue. Boats clang on the wooden docks where they are tethered in wait for another day of anglers hoping for the bite of a lifetime. The frogs begin their nightly singing ritual, which is music to the ears of those entranced by the crackling of the fire. It's the vacation season in Minnesota, when time slows down and dreams become memories.

Your options are bountiful when it comes to vacation destinations in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. If a quaint cabin on the edge of a secluded lake is what you desire, you can have it here. Maybe a houseboat trip into the northern wilderness is something that has always been on the edge of your radar screen. Why not explore what the southern parts of Minnesota have hidden from those who always venture north?

There aren't many resorts failing to consider options that won't satisfy your entire clan. Some resorts cater to pursuits outside of fishing with spas, water parks, golf courses and tennis courts. Those that are more wilderness-oriented will offer naturalist themes with hiking, bird watching and orienteering programs. But there are some parts of a vacation destination that never change. Sand beaches that taper into the water, fire pits surrounded by freshly-split hardwood, skies so black that every star looks like it will fall into your lap and the ability to wake up whenever you want instead of being pushed out of bed by the ugly sound of an alarm clock. Vacations are designed for pure pleasure -- the kind that bears no guilt.

Here are a few options where you can find what you're looking for.


Recently built Deer Ridge Resort is located on Garden Lake just outside of Ely. This resort sits on 35 acres of pristine woodlands and has over 2,500 feet of shoreline. Garden is one of four lakes on the White Iron Chain. Garden, Farm and White Iron have no motor restrictions, while South Farm is in the motorized portion of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

"We started building in 1996 and finished in 2000, so it's all very new," said Deer Ridge Resort owner Doug Kalina. "We were probably the first in 40 years to build a new resort up in the Ely area. And it's all log."


Being able to get to four lakes from the resort offers anglers options.

"Garden Lake is known for its huge crappies, and we have largemouths there, too," Kalina said. "In Farm Lake, you'll find the northern pike, and White Iron is the walleye lake. Of course, you can find smallmouths in these lakes as well. You have a good variety of options depending on what you want to fish for."

However, like many of today's resorts, fishing is not the only option.

"We do a lot of day trips where we take people up to Lake One and they can paddle back to the resort," Kalina said. "We set up a lunch for them and they paddle the North Kawishiwi River from Lake One right back to the resort. There is a nature center that my kids run. We're licensed by the DNR for the nature center, and we'll put on different programs through this like bird watching and that type of thing."

For more information, visit their Web site at, or call 1-800-382-2041.


Many Minnesotans point their compass north when planning a family fishing trip. That rules out some of our state's best walleye fishing.

"We have one of the top walleye lakes in the state," said Heather Ulrich-Glynn from the Lake Benton Convention & Visitors Bureau in Lincoln County. She is, of course, referring to Lake Benton, a shallow lake that is stocked heavily by the Department of Natural Resources. Benton maintains that walleye population through the winter months with the benefit of aeration.

"Because we're not well known, it's a nice and quiet place to vacation," Ulrich-Glynn said. "People who know about this lake like it because it's not that well known. Those that have heard about it always want to try it. You can fish right off the docks and catch walleyes."

Exploring the area is another pastime Ulrich-Glynn recommends to those coming for a vacation. She said there is plenty of history in this region.

"We have a historic 1896 opera house, we have several antique and specialty shops, and there are some great local artists in Lake Benton," she said. "For a town of 700, there's plenty to see, and everyone should visit the coffee shop in the old jail building. You can take pictures there in the old cast-iron jail."

Hikers will appreciate the options.

"We have The Nature Conservancy, which has taken 800 acres and turned it into a natural area that is home to some of the rarest butterflies in Minnesota," Ulrich-Glynn said. "One is known as the Dakota Skipper. You can hike through the area and check out the unique butterflies and wildflowers and natural grasses. It is located just south of Lake Benton. There is also the Hole-In-The Wall park, which is 800 acres of hiking. There's an old log cabin there, places where people were buried in a blizzard and a lot of Indian artifacts."

For more information, visit their Web site at, or call (507) 694-1138.


After an early morning of casting and reeling in fish, how about a massage to get those kinks out your aching muscles? That's an option at Kohl's Resort on Big Turtle Lake by Bemidji -- that and plenty of other activities for spouses and kids.

"On Thursday, it's massages," said Kohl's owner Jim Eickorst "On Tuesdays and Thursdays, there are canoe trips out on the Mississippi River. There is family bingo, two ice-cream socials and minnow racing."

The anglers will likely spend much of their time exploring the three lakes accessible from the resort -- Big Turtle, Little Turtle and Movil. All three lakes are considered outstanding for walleyes, bass and pike.

"There is a lot of structure on the lake," Eickorst said. "Yo

u'll find 47-foot holes, sunken islands and three actual islands on the lake, so the structure is up, the structure is down, and there is a lot of it. Most of the lake is surrounded by weeds, so that allows for great habitat for natural reproduction of the fish."

There is also some good fishing on the nearby Mississippi River, and that is an option even if you don't have the equipment yourself.

"On Tuesdays," Eickorst said, "when we get done with the minnow racing, we load up anyone that wants to go and we go to the Mississippi River. I put them on the river. I then drive to a camp area and get a fire going. The canoers come down to me. We then have lunch at the fire, and after we're done eating, it's back to the river where they canoe for another hour-and-a-half and then I meet them at the end of the trip. Everything is provided. On the river, you can catch muskies, northern pike, trout -- it's a nice section of river."

For more information, visit their Web site at, or call 1-800-336-4384.


Bill Dougherty and his family have a long history of providing great fishing vacations on Rainy Lake. Past generations began the process in 1918, and today, Rainy Lake Houseboats continues to assist families and groups discover the beauty and excellent fishing that can be found on this tremendous resource.

Dougherty described his operation as your own personal getaway.

"We're in the private vacation business," he said. "Our guests don't have a cabin next door, no neighbors. You pull into a bay and you're secluded in a gorgeous wilderness area with your own private beach. All the interaction is with just those you have on the houseboat."

Many of the groups that go exploring in one of Daugherty's well-maintained houseboats stick to the Voyageurs National Park and the American side of Rainy Lake because there are plenty of places to explore in this region. But access to Canada is also an option.

"We have 95 percent of our people who stay in Minnesota," Daugherty said. "We have some people who get a remote-area border crossing permit and go into Canada, and they do whatever it takes to get onto fish, but it's a natural park that's not built up with cabins, so you don't have to cross the border to find a nice secluded spot."

Fishing is outstanding on Rainy Lake, with walleyes, big pike, perch and huge crappies in abundance.

"The fishing is better than it has ever been," Daugherty said. "I started in '65 when I was 9 years old. Fishing was good then, but now we have graphs, GPS and slot-limit management, and essentially we have a better fishery than we had 40 years ago."

For more information, visit, or call 1-800-554-9188.


Campbell's Lodge on Sand Lake in Itasca County bills itself as a place to go for family fun and fishing, but they put the emphasis on family fun.

"You can get good fishing in a lot of places in Minnesota, but we cater to the family, and that's what we do," said Joe Campbell, who has owned the resort for 12 years. "But the fishing is great here, too."

Sand Lake has solid populations of walleyes, pike and perch, and the smallmouth bass fishing is good. But according to Campbell, you can't beat the crappie fishing.

"We have an excellent crappie population," Campbell said. "It starts around the 10th of July, which is not what you see typically in a Minnesota lake. Once they start hitting, it stays good throughout the year.

"The perch are about 10 to 12 inches," Campbell continued. "When you can't catch the walleyes, you can generally catch the perch. The northern fishing is great. They're small, but there are a lot of them."

Campbell realizes everyone won't want to spend the entire day fishing.

"For those who don't want to fish, we have weekly activities for the kids," he said. "We have a family activity planned once a day, and we're only 45 minutes from Grand Rapids, so if you want to shop there, you can do that. What we try to do is: If someone wants to stay at the resort for the entire week, there is always plenty to do; but if they want to go somewhere else, my wife maintains a three-ring binder that is loaded with things to see and do in the area."

What about the beach? "It's a great sand beach," Campbell said. "And we have a beautiful lodge where we serve root beer floats. It's the heart of the resort -- the lodge and the beach area."

Visit for more information, or call 1-866-659-2862.


The Northwest Angle is the northernmost point in the contiguous United States. This section of our country is bordered by the best fishing waters in Minnesota. Since the commercial nets left Lake of the Woods in the 1980s, the walleye, pike, perch and muskie fishing in this region has gained a reputation as being second to none.

Getting here adds a completely new meaning to "road trip." To drive to the Northwest Angle, you have to leave the United States and cut across a portion of Canada, but the slight nuisance of clearing customs is worth it. This part of Lake of the Woods provides a picturesque setting. You will be surrounded by islands, and the structure-laden waters are loaded with fish that seem ready and willing to bite under just about any conditions.

A trip to "The Angle" is all about fishing. One day you'll find yourself straining the deep structure with live-bait rigs for walleyes, and the next day you could feel like attacking the shallow rockpiles with spinnerbaits and crankbaits for smallmouth bass. It pays to take along a stout rod with some big topwater lures to cast to the cabbage beds and shallow rubble bars for big pike and muskies. The Northwest Angle is one of those places where once you go there for a week of fishing, you'll make it a point to get there again and again.

For more information on the resorts on the Northwest Angle, visit, or call 1-800-382-3474.


You often hear people say they would love to take a trip into the Boundary Waters, but they just don't have the gear, or they fear getting lost. Some people are even afraid they could be eaten by a bear. Bill Slaughter, a lifelong resident of Ely and owner of Northwoods Guiding Service, said there is a better chance they will be eaten by Sasquatch, the abominable snowman, than a bear.

"You see bears once in awhile, and moose, too," Slaughter said, "but if you set up camp right and take a few simple precautions, the bears

will leave you alone."

Slaughter has been guiding groups into the BWCAW for years, and he laughs when he claims, "I've never lost anyone yet." He also admits he has had clients from families with small children to elderly couples who have lived in Minnesota all their lives and never been into the BWCAW.

"You can gauge your trip by how difficult you want to make it," he said. "I've had groups that want to work hard and see a lot, so they're going to paddle a lot and make a few portages every day. Some groups just want to have a low-impact trip, so we might make one or two portages, set up a base camp and explore near there."

Slaughter's operation does it all. The equipment and food are provided, and fishing guides will be along on the trip. You can do as much or as little as you choose. Where this really comes in handy is that the guides know where the best fishing, hiking and camping spots are.

"We get a lot of first-timers," Slaughter said. "They want to have a guide to show them the ropes and then they figure they'll be able to do a trip on their own. Not surprisingly, many of them come back to us again. They figure the cost for equipment is easily offset by just hiring the guides who provide it all."

If it sounds too easy, it is. Your permit is taken care of, all the equipment provided, you will eat like a king or queen, and you'll get to explore some of the most beautiful wilderness in the country.

For more information, go to, or call 1-800-559-9695.

* * *

Can't you just smell that northern air, hear the loon talk and feel the joy of your kids laughing? It's time for that family fishing road trip!

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