Known nationwide among canoe paddlers as a magazine publisher and editor, Stu Osthoff also has a second life. And a third, and a fourth.
An experienced sled-dog racer, he guides anglers to trophy smallmouth bass and brook trout in the U.S. and Canada. And in fall he’s an elk hunting guide in Colorado.
Primarily, however — call it his day job — along with his wife, Michele, Stu produces the quarterly Boundary Waters Journal (boundarywatersjournal.com), the only magazine dedicated to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and adjacent Quetico Provincial Park.
Confronted these days with the same circulation challenges that have beset the entire publishing industry, Stu remains upbeat about the bottom line that matters most to him: his lifestyle.
And why not?
While his counterparts in the magazine game commute long distances to toil in New York City cubicles, Osthoff’s daily travels these days are largely limited to the distance between his bedroom and his office in the log home he and Michele own on the outskirts of Ely.
Not bad for a guy who never studied journalism and who hails from Wisconsin farm country.
“I grew up in the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin,’’ said Stu, 63. “During the summer of my freshman year in college I got a job at Canadian Waters [canoe outfitter] in Ely, basically doing grunt work. But I worked hard and paid attention, and on days off I’d take daylong trips into the BWCA. Eventually, I became a canoe guide.’’
Stretching his college career over seven years, Stu earned a natural resources degree from the University of Wisconsin and a business degree from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School.
All the while, come summer, he worked at Canadian Waters — a fortuitous placement, because that’s where he met Michele. The two were married in 1982.
An Ely native, Michele came from a sled-dog racing family. She ran her first competition when she was 9, and Stu quickly adopted his in-laws’ lifestyle, traveling widely with Michele in winter with a truckload of dogs.
Even during the magazine’s lean years following its launch in 1987, the two competed with their dogs in “sprint races’’ whenever and wherever possible.
“We raised the dogs from puppies and trained them,’’ Stu said. “It was a great outlet for me, because I’m a competitive person. For about 20 years, until 2004 when we sold the sled dogs and I got into bird dogs, that’s what we did.’’
Freed from helping to care for a yard full of huskies, Stu soon rekindled the hunting and fishing passions that had propelled him to Quetico-Superior country in the first place. He enjoyed producing the magazine, he said, and still does. But he wanted not only to write about the outdoors. He wanted to live it.
Michele also was gaining a new interest, trading sled dogs for horses and working regularly as a groom out of a barn in Delano, Minn.
“In summer I pull a load of horses around the country and get them ready to show,’’ Michele said. “I like the magazine work. But I also like the horses. For me, they complement one another.’’
Intending to gather stories for the magazine while getting paid to travel in the wilderness, Stu in 2008 again began guiding canoeists into the boundary waters. Calling his operation Grand Slam Guide Service (see also boundarywatersjournal.com), he soon was sleeping more often in a tent than in the house he and Michele share.
“Beginning in mid-May, I take paddlers into the boundary waters who want to fish for big smallmouth bass,’’ he said. “We fish for walleyes, too, and catch a lot of them. But I’m a big bass guy. I just love the style of fishing. It’s so visual. The biggest smallie I’ve guided an angler to measured 23 inches.’’
When boundary waters fishing slows in August, Stu shifts to the Sutton River in Ontario, a fly-in operation he leads for anglers wanting to catch world-class brook trout.
“It’s a 100-mile float, essentially, with no portages, so I can take older clients,’’ he said. “The Sutton is a 100 percent pea gravel limestone river, which makes the water gin clear. The bugs are terrible and we have to keep polar bears in mind. But the brookie fishing is unbelievable. There are lots in the 20- to 23-inch range. The biggest I’ve measured is a 24-incher.’’
Come September, Stu travels west to Colorado, where he guides archers to elk, a job that grew out of his obsession for chasing the big animals in the Rockies.
“As a kid I always wanted to be a big-game guide, so when the outfitter I had been hunting with offered me a chance to be in the mountains in September, guiding, I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do it.’’
Returning home in October, and through the winter, Stu, with Michele and a small staff, plan coming editions of the Boundary Waters Journal. As often as he can, Stu also travels in fall to South Dakota to hunt pheasants.
With a circulation that has fallen to about 12,000, the magazine reflects what Stu believes is a growing disinterest in the outdoors among some young people.
He concedes he hasn’t fully developed the magazine’s online presence. But he’s active on its Facebook page. And he’s encouraged by the publication’s loyal advertisers and readership.
He’s also encouraged by the higher angle of sun that beams these days into his home office, and he anticipates keenly the coming ice-out of border waters.
“Not many editors get to be in the woods as much as I do,’’ he said. “I’m fortunate.’’
Dennis Anderson email@example.com