Today is the last Father’s Day ever before I become a dad. As I prepare for the upcoming birth of my first child, I call to mind a man who is both father and fisherman––a man who took me on a fishing adventure last fall on legendary Lake Gitchi Gumee.
Dave Williams and his bride Cathi visited Grand Marais some 40 years ago during a winter that wasn’t much better than this year’s. “It was below zero with the wind blowing snow everywhere, and I said to Cathi, ‘Do you want to move here?’” Williams recalls.
Apparently Cathi said yes. The pair of teachers quit their jobs and headed to the far north woods near Lake Superior to start a small guiding and outfitting operation in 1972 that, over the past four decades, has become a staple in Grand Marais. Bear Track Outfitters have given Dave a chance to fill his life with both his passions: his family and the outdoors.
The Williams family worked hard to turn their dream into a reality––building cabins, guiding fishermen, outfitting kayakers and campers––and then worked even harder to keep that reality afloat amid recessions, down-turns in fishing’s popularity and, tragically, a fire to their camp years ago.
“To make a living up here, you gotta work hard when the sun shines,” said Williams. You also have to be resourceful. Dave and Cathi re-built cabins after the fire, and expanded their offerings to include canoe lessons, birding outings, scenic dinner cruises and skiing. They were the first outfitter in the area to use Kevlar canoes. Many a cross-country ski team has rented out their remote cabins to hold camp for practices, and more than one Olympic skier has stayed at Bear Track’s year-round cabins on North Shore Mountain Ski Trail at Bally Creek Camp.
What I discovered is that Williams treats everyone like an Olympian. “I really like taking Veterans out fishing,” he said. “I took one guy out who was close to 90, who used to be in the Navy during World War II, and he just had a ball being on the water. And it was great listening to his stories.”
Military vets get a discount on guided trips with Williams. Then again, so do children 13 and under. Kids under 5 are free. You get the sense Williams isn’t in this business to get rich.
His grandfather had a little place near Cascade River that Williams used to visit every summer as a boy. Eventually, he fell in love. “It sort of grows on you, this area,” he said.
Lucky for Williams, his wife fell in love with the region, and so did their children. In fact, that’s why Williams’ boat is named “Fishin’ Chics.” Daughters Brooke, Lindsay and Stephanie are certified captains, and have guided for the family business at various times over the years.
“It was great to see the kids want to be involved with what we do,” said Cathi. “Our daughters have taken a lot of young girls out fishing over the years, and I think that’s a wonderful example for girls to see.”
The Williams sisters no longer guide, so Dave was our captain on the calm September morning my mom and I went fishing. He did have some help, though.
“Capt. Jack is my first mate,” Williams said of canine companion. “He’s a real schmoozer. People want to take him home by the end of the trip.”
We pulled spoons behind dipsy divers in 80 to 120 feet of water and took advantage of the hot bite.
I’d always wanted to catch a salmon on the big lake, and we didn’t have to wait more than 30 minutes for that to happen. A perk to “working” in the fishing industry is that you get the scoop on guides––which guides are good, and which guides are great. Williams definitely falls into the latter group.
We quickly caught all the salmon we wanted to eat (Williams cleaned and packaged the fish for us back at the marina), and I also caught a bonus fish: a beautiful lake trout that gave a heck of a fight and tasted great on the grill.
“September is a great time for lakers,” Dave explained. “And fall is a beautiful time to be up here.”
Of course, anytime of the year is a wonderful time to embrace Superior and all that she offers. The Williams family takes pride in helping others enjoy the outdoors year-round, and the couple has seen their fair share of seasons change.
“Today is our 42nd wedding anniversary,” Cathi told me when I called her the other day. She was waiting for Dave to get dressed to head to dinner at their favorite restaurant: The Angry Trout. “It’s hard to believe it’s been that many years.”
The website for Bear Track Outfitters is www.bear-track.com. To contact Dave or Cathi, call 1-800-795-8068 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
With a sunrise over Superior like this, I would have been happy had we not caught a single fish. As for Capt. Jack, well, I guess being on the water day-in and day-out takes its toll on him. After helping us haul in all those salmon, Jack needed a bit of a cat nap ... though I'm sure he calls it something else.
Bear Tracking Outfitting is directly on Hwy 61 in Grand Marais. The year-round cabins are back up in the hills.
Cathi runs the gift shop, does bookings and helps get groups checked in for guided and outfitted trips. Cathi and Dave certainly provided my mother and me with a memorable outing.