Consistent action in a frigid early outing -- and massive amounts of food -- help the thrills far outweigh the chills.
Orv Lundbohm was pumped.
Just minutes after motoring into a remote Ontario lake -- clear, cold, deep and chock-full of feisty lake trout -- Lundbohm landed a 5-pound laker while trolling the pine-studded rocky shoreline.
"That's how it's done -- you just hold on to your rod until one hits,'' he joked. "Maybe we'll have trout tonight instead of hamburgers.''
Several hours later, while a campfire crackled and loons sang mournfully in the dark, five of us devoured grilled trout, fried potatoes and baked beans.
"Some people aren't crazy about lake trout,'' Lundbohm said. "But we love 'em.''
Bill "Orv'' Lundbohm, 58, of Baxter, grew up in a hockey-crazed and outdoor-loving family at Roseau near the Canadian border. He's been trekking for decades with family and friends to remote northwestern Ontario lakes in search of lake trout.
"Dad brought us up here fishing for as long as I can remember,'' he said.
Taking advantage of a rare April ice-out, Lundbohm, his son, Zack, 25, of Eden Prairie, and Zack's buddy, Jake Carlson, 25, of Brainerd, jump-started the 2012 fishing season last week with a four-day fishing-camping trip near Lake of the Woods in Ontario. Also along were Lundbohm's college friend, Jack Rendulich, 58, of Duluth, and me.
It was Lundbohm's earliest-ever spring trip. "Normally we'd go in May,'' he said.
Whether in April or May, the appeal of early trout fishing is simple: With the ice recently departed and the water still numbingly cold, lake trout haven't yet descended to the depths and can be caught near the surface.
The tradeoff for good fishing: The weather can be frigid and unpredictable. A boating mishap in 40-degree water can be deadly. And in this wilderness during spring, losing the lower unit of your outboard to an unseen rock might leave you stranded for days.
Fish are hungry
We avoided the rocks and found rain, wind, moderately frosty temperatures -- and lots of trout, 5- to 7-pounders that peeled line off our reels and put grins on our faces. The fish smacked various minnowlike lures, including Bomber Long A's, Storm Thundersticks and Rapala Shad Raps, as well as spoons and dead ciscos impaled on hooks and fished from shore.
The action wasn't always fast, but it was consistent. One day, our boat of three anglers averaged perhaps a fish every half-hour. All told, we caught about 60 trout, releasing most but keeping a few to eat. We also landed several northerns and a 3-foot muskie.
But we came for lake trout.
"We're trout fishermen,'' Lundbohm said. "Just look at how they fight.''
Besides, he said, "we can catch all the walleyes we want at Lake of the Woods,'' where his family has cabins.
A cold front that brought sub-freezing nighttime temperatures and a stiff wind (the same system that dumped a 10 inches of snow on the Iron Range) likely didn't help our cause.
"We caught fish here, there and everywhere -- pretty good, considering the changing weather,'' Lundbohm said at trip's end.
Besides, he said, "fish are a bonus.'' Just getting away and into the wilderness with family and friends is rewarding.
Trout on a plank
And there was more than fishing.
I was rousted from my warm sleeping bag early one morning first by a loon calling loudly, then by a mallard quacking incessantly, then by seagulls squawking.
We also found pelicans, Canada geese, beavers and miles and miles of scenic pine-scented wilderness.
And good food.
For years I have paddled canoes into the Canadian wilderness in springtime seeking trout, but traveling by boat allows Lundbohm's crew to bring mountains of gear, including enough food to supply a Boy Scout troop.
"What the heck, there's no sense eating freeze-dried food out here,'' Lundbohm said while cooking buttermilk pancakes, eggs and sausage one morning. "We always have a traditional steak dinner.''
Each day, we loaded cans of beans, chips and a small gas grill into our boats to cook trout for shore lunch.
"Zack is the trout chef,'' Lundbohm said.
Their method of choice: grilling the trout fillets on a cedar board laid atop the grill. The wood allows the fish to cook slowly, and it imparts a delicious smoky flavor.
"The longer they hang out in the smoke, the better,'' said Zack Lundbohm as he shook some McCormick Smokehouse Maple seasoning onto the bright-orange fillets.
Nearby, two cans of beans simmered near a campfire.
In a few minutes, it was all gone.
"It doesn't get much better than that,'' Zack said.
Doug Smith • firstname.lastname@example.org
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Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?