Minnesota is naturally known as the land of lakes, and over the years I’ve been on many of them. As a fisherman, several are more clearly fixed in my memories.

One of the foremost is a small, undeveloped lake surrounded by forests, beaver ponds and wetlands. The only access is up a small, log-choked stream or down a dirt road that likely hasn’t seen a lick of maintenance since neighboring parcels of land covered with grown trees were last logged.

When Dad and I first fished here perhaps 20 years ago, we could, in dry weather, drive a truck or SUV to the lake. Then one wet fall a bear hunter tore out the bottom of the track, leaving ruts that became streams and holes that became pits of clinging mud. Now getting to the lake requires dry weather and an UTV pulling a small boat.

The difficulties getting there ensure that we almost always have the lake to ourselves. And over the years, we have had some great days of fishing. One early fall visit, we each caught the largest northern pike either of us ever boated in Minnesota.

A small northern is netted and soon after returned to the lake. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
A small northern is netted and soon after returned to the lake. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

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But what really makes the fishing memorable are the panfish, especially in the fall when the aspen and tamarack around the lake are dressed in gold and the air has a nip to it. Then the slabside crappies are biting, sometimes so quickly that Dad and I will double up, each reeling in a fish. Such action adds to our friendly and traditional debate about who is the better fisherman. (Just as me losing a fish can bring forth Dad’s comment “Stupid kid. I taught you everything I know and you still don’t know anything.”)

Even when nothing but deer flies and mosquitoes are biting, it is good to be on the lake. Undeveloped and remote, it is home or magnet to wildlife. Beaver and otters have swum by us as we fished. Eagles have soared overhead looking for their own catch. Morning mists have faded to reveal a dozen swans in a corner of the lake. We’ve watched deer come to the water to drink and been watched by a loon hiding on its nest.

A common loon sits on its nest, watching as Dad and I troll by.  (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
A common loon sits on its nest, watching as Dad and I troll by. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

We were last on the lake earlier this month, fishing two evenings. The first night the only fish we caught was a small northern I hooked late in the day.

The next evening it looked like we were skunked as we trolled back to the landing when Dad hooked a snag. Then the snag started moving in the jerking and diving manner of a northern. I sat back and watched as Dad played a combative pike on a panfish rig. Two, three times he brought the fish close to the boat only for the northern to drive again, rod bending over and line pulling out.

When Dad got the seven-pound northern alongside the boat I netted it, quickly unhooked it, and returned it to the lake.

“You don’t need big hooks to catch big fish,” Dad said.

Or special times on the water that will long be remembered.