CANADIAN CUSTOMS, SAND POINT LAKE, ONTARIO -- Not that many years ago, Canada offered traveling fishermen five island customs stations between Lake of the Woods and Lake Superior. Their intent was to clear Americans -- and they were mostly Americans -- for quick entry into Canada, a process that generally was painless.
Now between Lake of the Woods and Lake Superior there remains but one island Canadian customs station, the one here at Sand Point Lake. Long popular with floatplane operators, Sand Point is still the must-stop check-in station for boaters leaving Minnesota's Crane Lake for Sand Point Lake (which has both American and Ontario sides) and, farther along the border, Namakan and Kabetogama lakes, among other waters.
Tuesday just after 7 a.m., mine was the only boat at the dock here at Canadian Customs. Clearance was straightforward. I handed the officer my passport and he asked a few routine questions, among them my home address and whether I was carrying live bait in the boat.
The bait issue is widely misunderstood by U.S. anglers entering Canada. No live minnows or leeches are allowed (nor are live or dead smelt). But worms and nightcrawlers are allowed. The latter can't be packed in soil, however, because Canada doesn't allow entry of soil from other countries.
Worms and nightcrawlers packed in wet newspapers or artificial bedding can be brought into Canada. But "bedding'' -- some of which looks like soil -- can be a source of confusion, mostly because some Minnesota bait dealers tell customers their nightcrawlers are packed in artificial bedding (that looks like soil), but in fact the bedding is soil.
When this occurs, the angler gets delayed at the border and also loses his nightcrawlers. Not because customs agents confiscate the nightcrawlers, but because the agents require the anglers to take the bait (technically, the soil) back to the U.S. (If anglers lie about carrying bait and are found to have it, or are caught with it, fines can range from $300 to $500.)
Canada also offers Remote Area Border Crossing permits, which in some cases allow for entry into Canada in places where no customs offices exist. Permits are good for one year and can be issued to individuals and families with kids under 18. More information is available online at www.cbsa.gc.ca (select CANPASS, then CANPASS Remote Area Border Crossing).
In past years I've been at Sand Point customs when it's been tied up with traffic. Business is a lot slower this summer, perhaps due to high gas prices, perhaps due to the slow economy. I was on my way before a plane or another boat showed up.
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