Thursday, November 05, 2020

My (Almost) Troutless Trout Season (Habitat Report, 2020)

Gabby, a young friend of mine, posted a meme on her Facebook page that read, ""2020 is like looking both ways before you cross the street, and getting hit by an airplane."" It's an excellent assessment of what was probably the most unusual year I can remember experiencing. Things started out fairly well, and we in the Minnesota Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers were getting ready for the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo when the Novel Coronavirus COVID-19 that had been festering in the background since late 2019 took a turn for the worse and became a full-fledged pandemic. Great Waters was canceled, along with a host of other activities in what was supposed to be a two-week shutdown. Our much anticipated Bikefishing Workshop at Trailhead Cycle in Champlin was postponed twice before we finally decided to try again next year. The shutdown ended up being more like five months, the effects of which are still on hand, with numerous restrictions still in place.

As the governor slowly started allowing people to do things again, specifically urging Minnesotans to get outside, one of the activities that was allowed was fishing. Travel was still restricted both in Minnesota and next-door in Wisconsin, but we could go to nearby lakes and fish for bluegill, crappie, and other continuous season species. Mid-April rolled in with the inevitability of taxes postponed for ninety days. That same weekend was the opener of Stream Trout Season in the majority of Minnesota outside of the Driftless Region, and it was our first chance to get out and try chasing rainbows. My wife and I traveled up to St. Croix State Park east of Hinckley for the trout opener. We fished Hay Creek (Pine County) in the park, and Crooked Creek in the Chengwatona State Forest, not catching anything but enjoying the opportunity to get out and on the water. 

Because of the pandemic restrictions, we decided not to invest in Wisconsin fishing licenses this year, (a decision we would later regret) and initially decided to stay in Minnesota, focusing on the North Shore, Superior National Forest, and the Chippewa National Forest. Over the course of the next few weeks, we made fishing excursions to Silver Bay, fishing the Beaver and Baptism and Nemadji Rivers, Bensen Lake in the George Crosby-Manitou State Park, and Kremer and Doctor Lakes in the Suomi Hills Non-Motorized Area of the Chippewa National Forest before finally breaking down and heading to Wisconsin. 

The first and foremost observation I have to make about fishing this year, and its possible effect on the habitat, is people. People were everywhere. Cabin fever was taking its toll, and when the governor allowed us hearty Minnesotans to get outside, we went fishing. The Minnesota DNR reported an 11% overall increase in fishing license sales with sales on the opening weekend reaching a record 27% higher than in previous years. Similarly, in Wisconsin the DNR there reported over a 104,000 more license sales over 2019's numbers. (Interesting note from the Minnesota DNR was a 17% increase in youth license sales.) 

One of the reasons I concentrate on ""Backcountry"" angling is due to the lack of people around while in fishing. During those first few weeks when I was primarily lake fishing, in places where I would normally have found him one or two other people, I sometimes found it hard to even find a spot by the water. Finland and Eckbeck State Forest campgrounds on the Baptism River were full to overflowing each of the times we drove through them, and the river had been heavily fished and was unproductive. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the US Forest Service chose to not open our favorite Superior NF campground, Little Isabella River, so we never had the chance to fish there this year. Superior National Forest and the Arrowhead Region in general have been receiving less than normal amounts of precipitation, and accordingly, stream levels were low. One spot that I had hoped to fish was already occupied by a young black bear, so I didn't catch anything that day. 

Probably my best fishing weekend was Independence Day on the Chippewa National Forest. Although I was angling for trout, my wife and I came up with a half-dozen nice sized smallmouth bass. The Chippewa has seen more precipitation than its neighbor to the east, so the vegetation was lush, and trails into the interior were in very good condition for my Cogburn fat bike. There, as on the Superior, anyplace that was accessible by vehicle was heavily overused. Additionally, many of the people taking to the outdoors were inexperienced, with no knowledge of Tread Lightly or Leave No Trace and they left copious amounts of litter behind for others to clean up. In some cases, restrooms (vault latrines) remained shuttered until after July 4th, and in those locations, visitors left more than just litter. Interestingly, however, less than a mile into the interior at Doctor Lake, there was no crowd, no litter, and no conflicts. 

By the middle of July conditions had improved enough in Wisconsin for us to start visiting Chequamegon National Forest again, and we spend our vacation at Beaver Lake USFS Campground near Marengo. Fishing Whiskey Creek, the Marengo River, 18-Mile Creek, Porcupine Creek, Johnson Springs Pond, Beaver Lake, Lake Three, and the Namakagon River, we had numerous strikes but didn't bring anything to shore, with the exception of a minuscule trout fingerling that hooked onto my fly as I was retrieving it at the end of the day on Porcupine Creek in the Porcupine Lake Wilderness Area. (That's why I included the ""almost"" in the title.) Again, we saw more people in the backcountry areas than I could remember seeing in my thirty plus years visiting Chequamegon. Even in the Wilderness Area, the trailheads were full of cars, and there were people on the trails. However, going only 50 to 100 feet off the trail following the creek, and you were alone again. Of the lakes and ponds that we fished, Johnson Springs was the most enjoyable, even though we didn't catch any fish. Although the surface of the lake was placid, casting the fly would almost always result in it looking like the fly line hit a wall and dropped. Wetting your finger and holding it up in the air, I realize that 8 feet or so above ground/water there was a light breeze blowing directly towards me onshore. The fish were and are out there. We could see them hitting the surface, but without spin casting gear, we couldn't reach them. Our biggest regret came in not buying a seasonal husband-wife fishing license, opting instead for two-week licenses on each of our trips up there, which cost us thirty-five dollars more than a regular license would have. 

Western Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest has received far more rain than Superior National Forest. Vegetation is lush, and the streams are flowing free and deep. Water is by in large, clear and there is an abundance of fry, fingerlings, and aqueous insects for fish to feed on. One angler showed me pictures on his phone of three 15-inch or better brown trout he caught on the Namakagon River between Cable and Hayward. Water levels had reduced during our last visit in early October, but the fall colors were beautiful due to the early frost the area received in September. 

Hopefully, 2021 will see a return to some sort of normalcy. Although it may mean a decline in license sales, we can hope that the inexperienced and ""slob"" fishermen (and hunters) will have found other avenues for their favorite activities reducing human impact on the forests. Although as previously mentioned, I am primarily an angler, wildlife is abundant, particularly on the Chippewa and Chequamegon forests, and seasons for turkey, game birds, small game, deer and bear should be quite productive. 

Our goals for next year, presuming that things are more normal than they were earlier this year, are to conduct at least one and as many as three bikefishing workshops starting with our friends at Trailhead Cycle, and possibly even a Bikefishing booth at the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo in St. Paul. We also are looking forward to opportunities to visit with Minnesota High School League fishing teams to talk about fly fishing, backcountry angling and bikefishing. We are also hoping to play a role in the establishment of a fishing team at Jordan High School and promoting a qualifier for the Fly Fishing Team USA in the Driftless Region later in the spring. 

Wishing everyone a good winter season, whatever your favorite outdoor activities may be, and we will keep you posted on our plans here at

Sunday, September 13, 2020

BIKE2FISH Challenge: Finding Solitude and Fitness in a COVID-19 World

           “Gone Fishing.” This year it seems that everyone in the worlds (See my other blog, to understand why “worlds” is plural.) has gone fishing. Recently, a podcast that I listen to regularly, “Casting Across,” did an episode on that very subject. ( In Minnesota alone, where we live, fishing license sales are at all-time record numbers. Accordingly, everywhere you would go fishing, someone else, or someones else are there already. Places that rarely saw pressure were in some cases literally packed.
            Unfortunately, where I live in central Minnesota the only real flowing water is the Rum River, and it is not a trout stream. Smallmouth bass, yes. Northern pike, them too. Our neighboring county, Chisago, does have a couple of streams designated by the DNR as trout streams, but I have yet to locate any in a place with the totally uninspiring name of “County Ditch Number 3.” (Yes, that’s really its name, and it’s really supposed to hold trout.) So, I content myself with catching panfish and itty-bitty bass in the numerous small lakes near our home. Given the chance this season, I have finished trout waters of the North Shore of Minnesota (where I encountered a furry fellow in the spot I wanted to fish), Saint Croix State Park, Chippewa National Forest, Ramsey Creek near Redwood Falls, and of course, my “happy place,” the Chequamegon National Forest.
            Now, to my point, in each of the places I just named there were no other people other than my wife and me. No problem with social distancing, no real need to wear a mask, no large crowds. You can get away from the crowds, wherever they may be, you can be somewhere else. As noted in previous posts, I have a bum left foot and ankle, which is why I use my fat-bike to access the backcountry. However, this is led to another discovery; because of COVID, my age (I turn 66 next week), a fairly sedentary job, and possibly, because my wife is such an excellent cook, I am in crappy shape. I want to fish away from crowds, and I greatly prefer small streams and spring-fed lakes, and I want to be able to reach them without bursting a lung to do so. So, I’ve come up with a plan.
            If you’ve read any of my previous posts this year, you know that the pandemic is also the cause of the delay, and ultimately the cancellation of our first “Bike to Fish” bikefishing workshop. (We’re going to try again next year, hopefully, the second Saturday after the fishing opener.) From that planned workshop as grown an idea that I call the “BIKE2FISH Challenge.” The challenge consists of riding a number of miles to be determined, fishing a number of backcountry streams and/or lakes, in a given amount of time, probably in the neighborhood of six hours. More than likely this will take place in the northern Chequamegon National Forest, although it could also happen in the Superior National Forest outside of the BWCA Wilderness. I will be posting the details as I work them out.
            In order to put something like this together, I have to be able to do it myself; ride the miles, catch the fish, in the time limit. That’s my challenge to me. That’s what I’m going to be working on for the rest of the season, and as soon as it starts next year. I’m not opposed to e-bikes as much as I used to be, but I’m also not ready for one yet. E-bikes would take some of the "challenge" out of the Challenge, so for me, it will be done on the Cogburn.
Next week I will be celebrating my birthday by riding the remaining stretch of the Willard Munger State Trail that I haven’t ridden, 23 miles from Barnum to Carlton on my touring bike; my longest distance bike ride in a number of years. I’ll be spending the week getting ready, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, August 09, 2020


News for Immediate Release
Aug. 4, 2020
Contact: Katie McKalip, 406-240-9262,

President signs ‘once in a generation’ conservation and access bill following
strong support by Congress, unrelenting advocacy by BHA and others

WASHINGTON – Following strong, bipartisan votes in the Senate and House of Representatives and outspoken support by public lands sportsmen and women, the President this morning signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has consistently urged Congress to prioritize funding for public lands and waters. The Great American Outdoors Act, or GAOA, achieves a longtime BHA goal by ensuring full and dedicated funding at $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a popular and successful program that funds conservation and public access projects across the United States. (The Dingell Act, which became law last year, permanently reauthorizes LWCF.) GAOA also includes $9.5 billion over five years to address critical maintenance backlogs on public lands and waters.

BHA President and CEO Land Tawney commended members of Congress and the President for championing the bill, while crediting grassroots sportsmen and women for their unrelenting advocacy in fighting for its passage.

“Today we unite in celebration of our public lands and waters,” said Tawney. “Success has many fathers and mothers, and without the dedicated, unwavering support of so many – ranging from rank-and-file hunters and anglers, outdoor recreationists and business owners to members of Congress and the President – we would never have achieved this hard-won victory.

“Conservation has never been the province of a single party nor owned by a particular constituency, as illustrated by the super majority votes cast by our elected officials – 73-25 in the Senate and 310-107 in the House,” Tawney continued. “We are all public land owners. Today we can give thanks that our shared lands and waters will receive the funding critical to maintain important habitat for fish and wildlife, uphold opportunities for all to access and enjoy the outdoors, and sustain our irreplaceable outdoors legacy. Thank you, Mr. President, for listening to the American people and signing this historic legislation into law.”

Passage of the Great American Outdoors Act was made possible by a bipartisan group of congressional leaders, including Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Steve Daines (R-MT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Reps. Joe Cunningham (D-SC), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), to name just a few.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is the voice
for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife.

I am a proud member of the BHA and Trout Unlimited, both of which fought to pass this legislation. Both Minnesota Senators and my Congressman, Pete Stauber, voted in favor of the bill.


Monday, June 08, 2020

UPDATED: Bike to Fish CANCELLED for 2020

Bike to Fish CANCELLED for 2020

Postponed Again: Due to ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, group sizes and social distancing, we are reluctantly postponing the Bike to Fish 2020 bikefishing workshop until a date to be announced later. We will be working with our non-profit partners, tentative guest speaker, and Trailhead Cycling to come up with a mutually acceptable date that allows for the most flexibility when the pandemic restrictions have eased, Thank you for your interest and understanding.
Trailhead Cycling 11350 Aquila Dr. N, Ste 505, Champlin, Minnesota 55316
Our first workshop ever is back to the drawing board. The session will introduce participants to "bikefishing", riding your bike in pursuit of trout, walleye, bass, and panfish. We will post details here as they develop. Some bikes and fishing tackle will be available, or you can bring your own. Seating is limited and the suggested donation is $10.00 per participant. We are waiting to hear about developments with the COVID-19 situation from the Governor's office. If necessary, we will limit attendance to 10 people and schedule a second session in July. Masks/buffs are encouraged. Bring your own lunch, but bottled water will be available. More info to follow as we pull things back together.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Bikes in the Backcountry: A Rider's Viewpoint

           I have a bum left ankle; actually, everything from the shin down. I was born with my left foot twisted, something they now know how to fix in infancy. Then, when I was in seventh grade, I broke my left ankle skiing, which required surgery to repair. Back around 2004, in two weeks’ time, I managed to sprain both sides of my left ankle which caused the arch in my left foot to collapse. Lastly, a couple of years ago I got a spiral fracture of my left fibula, falling down the stairs.

In 1993 I took up cycling as an adult, first mountain biking and then bicycle touring/travel, because although I enjoy walking, even with the aid of orthotics it can be painful for me. As a founding member of IMBA’s National Mountain Bike Patrol, a volunteer service organization modeled after the National Ski Patrol, I have observed with interest the ongoing debate about the place of mountain bikes in backcountry and wilderness areas. Because of my specific situation, I am sympathetic with those who advocate for increased access to particularly wilderness areas by those who ride mountain bikes. As a park ranger for twenty-six years, I also am very familiar with the damage that can occur from various types of backcountry travel. It goes without saying, that horse hooves, bike tires, and even hiking boots take a toll on the ground underneath them. On the other hand, mountain biking, which is only been a popular activity for about thirty-five years, has less of effect on trails that are built sustainably for the specific activity. If you go to Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area in central Minnesota or the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association trails in Northwest Wisconsin, you will see less of an impact, because those trails are specifically built for MTB use.

Therein, I believe, lies the problem. Sustainable trails can bear mountain bike and hiking use quite admirably, but they have to be built to the specifications required to do so. Because of my physical limitations, a number of years ago I started using my touring bike to access backcountry fishing spots at Cuyuna. Later, I started using my mountain bike for the same thing in Chequamegon country. Then, in 2014 Quality Bicycle Products (QBP), the world’s largest bicycle-related company, introduced the Cogburn Outdoors CB4, a mountain bike with 4-inch-wide, low-pressure tires that is basically a human-powered ATV, marketed specifically to the outdoor sports user. The Cogburn has become my primary way of accessing non-wilderness backcountry away from the trailhead, or after the road ends.

Photo credit: Cogburn Outdoors
Much of the early publicity for the Cogburn revolved around hunters (and in some cases anglers) using the bike to access hunting areas away from the road and have your usage areas. In areas where this is possible, practical, and legal, it’s a great idea, and it worked very well. However, two things happened that had a pronounced effect on this use; misuse, and the advent of e-bikes. The first, misuse, while theoretically avoidable was also probably inevitable. Bikes ended up where they didn’t belong, not just Cogburns, but mountain bikes and others. The second, and probably the greater issue, was the adding of electric assist motors to fat bikes (mountain bikes with 4 inch or greater with tires) that were also marketed heavily to the outdoors user. The crux of the issue is that e-bikes, unlike their unassisted counterparts, are motorized vehicles. Most national and state forest and game management areas limit the use of motorized vehicles to designated roads and trails. Places that a mountain bike or fat bike and go legally, an e-bike cannot.

In 2017 QBP ended production of the Cogburn without much fanfare. The Cogburn was a niche bike, and with the growth of e-bikes and other marketing considerations, it became a rapidly dwindling niche. I still have mine, and always will. I’d love to get a couple more to have on hand to take my grandkids fishing, but right now that’s not in the cards, nor is there enough space in my garage to do so. I still ride in the backcountry, to access remote streams and lakes. Do I believe wilderness should be open to non-electric assisted mountain bikes? On a limited, case-by-case basis, yes, I do. To blanket state that all wilderness areas should be open to mountain bikes, absolutely not. Should wilderness designation be used to take away existing, legal mountain bike trails? Also, absolutely not. But I do believe there is a place, and a time for compromise. It pained me to see organizations that I am proudly a part of taking a rigid stance against bikes in the backcountry, particularly since Cogburn Outdoors was one of their early supporters.

To mountain bike users, I would say pick your battles wisely. There is a lot of backcountry (primitive, nonmotorized management areas, or “wild forest”) that is available for us to use. There is a state forest near me where ranger flagged me down while I was riding there one time, simply because he had never seen a mountain biker on that forest. Wisely use what you have available before you go looking for that which is not open. To those who are opposed to bicycle use in the backcountry, I would say that Montana is different from Minnesota is different from upstate New York. Look at things on a case-by-case basis rather than a blanket “NO!” To both sides I would say, look and work for an effective compromise.

And for those who would jump all over me for riding on “their trail”, first of all, no, it’s not. Secondarily, as one district ranger told me with regard to a certain national trail that crosses a first-class trout river, “there aren’t any ‘no bikes allowed’ signs on that trail.” Where there are, I won’t ride. Otherwise, I’ll see you out there.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Pool on a Stream in the Woods

I have been trying to get into this one pool on 18 Mile Creek (left) on the Chequamegon National Forest all winter. The first time I tried, in December, the trailhead hadn't been plowed yet and I couldn't get in past the plow berm. I tried again in February and I had a double snowshoe binding failure Finally, in early March I was able to get in after digging the Jeep out of the ditch it dragged me into. (right) Even with my good snowshoes, getting in there wasn't easy. The snow was still about 2 1/2 ft deep in the woods, what skiers call "corn snow." I was able to use my new Tiny Tenkara rod (below left) for the first time and got a nibble on a golden bead red dragon nymph. I also tried my Badger Tenkara rod, but it managed to snag on the one tuft of frozen grass at streams edge, and I lost the leader and fly. Was it worth all of that? Absolutely! 

Now we're in the midst of this COVID-19 thing, and we're being advised to avoid groups of people greater than ten. My wife is working from home because she can. My job doesn't allow that, so I essentially have at least two weeks off with pay, which would be so bad if the weather would just cooperate. I think the best way to avoid large numbers of people is to head into the backcountry. Now if I could just find someplace to go where the water is open and legal this time of year. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Ovis: Mend (A TBI Survivor's Story)

As a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) survivor myself, this touched me in ways you cannot imagine. Thank you Orvis, and thank you Joey Maxim. Lordabove bless!


Thursday, February 13, 2020

POSTPONED! Bike to Fish 2020: Our First Bikefishing Workshop!

Our first workshop ever is still a work in progress. The session will introduce participants to "bikefishing", riding your bike in pursuit of trout, walleye, bass, and panfish. We will post details here as they develop. Bikes and fishing tackle will be available, and hopefully a "pint night" afterward. This is the first notice!

Where: Trailhead Cycle and Fitness, Champlin, MN.
and a ride-to fishing venue to be announced later.
When: May 16, 2020, 1:00 PM
With MN Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and Twin Cities Trout Unlimited!

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Salsa Cycles Presents: Touching The Sun

I thought I had posted this a year or so ago, but I guess not. Part of this excellent video was filmed on the same lake I took Sophie to in 2018. (Thanks, Mike Reimer for giving me the name. I haven't told anyone yet. Except my granddaughter.) The video won "Best in Show" at the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo Film Fest. Bikefishing and Public Lands. It's a great combination!

Winter Blahs, or Not?

I like winter. Really, I do. I like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and even a bit of winter catch and release stream fishing. But you get to a point during the winter where you wish that it was spring; that it was the second week of April when stream fishing season opens in Minnesota, or two weeks later in Wisconsin. I'm to that point right now. I even subscribed to "" which is a good indication of how I am currently feeling. But watching other people fish online or playing fishing videogames just isn't the same as getting out there. I did get out briefly last Sunday on the Chequamegon National Forest, to 18 Mile and Porcupine Creeks, two of my favorite fishing streams. Unfortunately, I was hampered by a binding failure on my snowshoes that kept me from Reaching the pool I wanted to get to. I have a new Tiny Tenkara rod that I wanted to try out, but 3-foot deep snow and malfunctioning snowshoes are not a good combination. So I tried a few times with my Badger Tenkara UNC (for Un-Named Creek) rod just to say that I tried. I will try again after the Fat Bike Birkie in March.

Last summer I spent a lot of my fishing time on the Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota, partly because time was at a premium and I wanted to spend that time with my wife, and partly because the place that we usually stay on Chequamegon was being rebuilt. I don't know if we're getting too old for camping, or if we're just getting lazier in our old age, but we elected to motel it. (We did take the granddaughters and our daughter camping and fishing on Chequamegon for Independence Day weekend.) We're going to go back again this year, with at least one camping trip, a guided flyfishing trip, and hopefully, finally, after probably twenty years of trying, reaching an undisclosed interior trout lake north of Tofte.

I have recently reposted on my MNBackcountry1 Facebook page a number of articles about how young people, Gen X as they are referred to, fail to get outdoors even as much as people their age did ten or twenty years ago. One study even said that prisoners in jail get outside more often than teenagers in today's society. While I believe technology is partially to blame for this, there is also a certain amount of blame that has to be directed at parents and grandparents who don't encourage their children to get away from the screen out of the door. We have always tried to get our daughters and our grandchildren to take part in outdoor activities, largely successfully. Last summer my younger granddaughter got really, "hooked on fishing." This year she hopes to get a fishing team going at her high school. We had some great times over the summer at various lakes and streams around home and in Wisconsin. Even if it's just some sunfish or bluegills, it's still a successful day not just for the fishing, but for spending time with Sophie. Two summers ago, we hiked into an interior lake on the Superior Forest. We didn't catch any fish, but it was a fun time. Who knows? We may go back there this summer.

The point of this blog post is, yes it is winter. Yes, it is cold, although we've also certainly seen colder winters here in Minnesota. But we need to get outside, even in winter. We need to get moving and get away from the screens, unlike what I'm doing right now. If you have a young person in your family, take them with you. Discover winter! The undiscovered season.
I'm going to try and post more this year, but I also plan to spend more time outside. I hope I'll see you streamside!