BOUNDARY WATERS CANOE AREA WILDERNESS We meet shortly after dawn on this June morning. The canoe is already lashed on my friend’s pickup. We toss in life jackets, paddles, day packs. One stop at the bait shop for chubs, and we’re on the road.

North, of course the only direction we know to go.

Just a day-trip this time, but a long one — 15 hours, round trip. The purpose: To acquire some walleye fillets for our families. We must go far from home, of course, into the canoe country up north that we love.

We understand we are not your typical Minnesotans, fishing this way. We don’t own fishing boats. No high-tech fish-finders. No trolling motors. We are not young anymore, but we have not outgrown paddles and packsacks. It’s unlikely we ever will.

We make our way down a serpentine stream, over a portage or two. At our destination lake, we head for a cluster of islands.

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We love the movement of a canoe on open water, the way it feels riding the waves, the silence, the little surge forward with each stroke of our paddles.

Within our first few casts, the first walleye comes aboard. No trophy, certainly, but a good eater, as they say. Onto the stringer. Soon, it has some company. Ahh — the lake is going to be kind to us again.

It seems to be a perfect walleye day. Light chop on the water. Clouds overhead. Wind out of the southwest.

We love fishing in this primitive way. We have both spent much of our lives in canoes. Each of us paddled to Hudson Bay long ago on the same river — before we even knew each other.

We see a few other canoes out on the water by mid-morning. Some are trippers headed for the next lake. Others are anglers like us, looking for dinner swimming under their canoes.

My partner and I do not fish in silence. We chatter all day about our kids and walleyes and upcoming trips and old friends who are no longer with us. We talk about Alaska and hunting dogs and the prospect of a big trip next summer. It is a form of therapy, these conversations. They affirm that we are not alone, that our hopes and fears and dreams are not so different. Now the walleyes have gone moody on us. The bites have become sporadic.

“Wanna move?” my partner asks.

We paddle to a spot where we nailed them last year with this same wind direction. Nothing this time.


By mid-afternoon, we have only four walleyes on our stringer. We have thrown back a couple of smaller ones. The afternoon is wearing on. The wind has kicked up. The clouds are beginning to look like they’re carrying a payload of moisture.

We paddle to a little point and fillet the fish. We hop back in the canoe and race the oncoming storm upriver. Big drops begin to fall as we lash the canoe on the truck. Perfect timing.

Back home, we both know our meager catch isn’t enough to split up.

“You take the fish,” I say.

“No, you take ‘em,” he says.

We do this back-and-forth a couple of times. He gets his way — I end up with the fillets and only a bit of guilt.

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at or find his Facebook page at