I’m not a big fan of ice fishing, but it’s not a bad way to spend the day, especially when you’re in a shelter, complete with a propane heater, and sonar gear to let you know if a fish is showing interest in the fishing lure I’m bouncing around a foot off the bottom 20 feet straight down from the hole in the ice. This hole in the ice was a long way from home, in the frozen waters off the shore from Duluth, Minnesota. With me in the shelter was my host, Matt Stewart, a local fishing guide. The outing had been arranged by Visit Duluth, the area’s convention and visitor bureau.
I’m on the board of directors of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, and Visit Duluth invited us to have our winter board meeting in Duluth to give us a chance to get acquainted with the area, because we would be having our annual summer conference there this coming June. While we waited for the fish to take our hooks, Matt told about the fishing in the harbor waters. Most people want walleyes, but it’s one of those waters where you never know what might come along, including pike, muskies, perch, sturgeon, and burbot, which locally are called eelpout. One angler recently caught a 30-inch pike through the ice, and Jarrid Houston, another guide, once caught a 57-inch sturgeon through the ice. The water we were fishing is referred to as the St. Louis River, though the harbor waters seem to be at least a mile wide. The St. Louis River comes a long way through northern Minnesota before dumping into Lake Superior. Mike Furtman, a local outdoor writer and wildlife photographer, said when he was a kid the St. Louis River was polluted and poisoned by raw sewage from upstream communities, as well as industrial pollution from shipyards and other sources in Duluth. There’s still work being done, but the Clean Water Act effectively cleaned up the river and the harbor, and the fish came back. It’s a great lesson to remember as we hear about the possible gutting of the Environmental Protection Agency. As it happened, I didn’t catch any fish. The sonar indicated a number of fish that checked out my lure, but it couldn’t make them bite. Matt caught a small walleye, and others in our group, fishing with Jarrid, caught several fish, including one of those “eelpout.” That’s the way it goes. There were a lot of options for the day (to make up for the previous day in a stuffy meeting room). Several people went cross-country skiing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and others tried ice climbing and fat tire biking. The next day several of us went up the North Shore to Two Harbors and caught the beginning of the John Beargrease Sled-dog Marathon race, one of the country’s major sled dog events.
It was a typically busy weekend in the Duluth area, and there are a lot of facilities that provide event venues. We got a look at the convention center that’s along the waterfront. It’s part of a complex of convention facilities, plus ice skating arenas, movie theater, symphony hall, and curling rink, for a start. During our weekend, there was a big hockey tournament, and a major figure skating competition at the center. The weather was relatively mild during our weekend, but Duluth has a system of skyways so that people can navigate through much of downtown Duluth without having to go outside. All in all, we found Duluth to be a really interesting destination, with lots of indoor and outdoor activities. My wife and I have been to Duluth before, but it has been over 30 years since the last time we were there. The big waterfront convention center complex was built since then. Incidentally, on the way home I got caught when Delta Airlines had a major systems crash, so I missed the public lands rally at the Capitol last week. Travel is fun, though not without problems.