A great fishing opener on Lake Kabetogama

Published 12:45 am Friday, May 21, 2010

Here it was the Friday before the fishing opener and as I left the cabin and turned right to head north for the Governor’s Opener something told me that this was going to be a good fishing opener. I know why they call this area, “The Edge of the Wilderness” because if I’d turned left it was a mere 3 miles to a convenience store-gas station, etc. but turning right meant there was not another town for 42 miles.

I had never fished Lake Kabetogama before so I was really looking forward to the experience. I was totally impressed by the Kabetogama, Ash River Trail area and Voyagers National Park; the beauty of this whole area is something to behold.

One of the top walleye lakes in Minnesota, Lake Kabetogama is along the U.S.–Canada border. Kabetogama has 500 miles of rocky shoreline, 25,874 acres of clean, cool water and it is one of the five major lakes that are part of the 200,000 wilderness acres of Voyageurs National Park, which has more than 30 total lakes within its boundaries. Kabetogama is 22 miles long by 6 miles wide and has 200 islands. Road access to the lake is limited to the southern shore where most of the development will be found. That is where you will find the many resorts, businesses, private homes and the two national parks visitor centers. The park has more than 20 miles of hiking trails that surround the lake. You can also canoe and fish on interior wilderness lakes free of charge with park service equipment and there are also regularly scheduled interpretive tours.

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The Kabetogama, Ash River Trail area is the smallest community to ever host a Governor’s Fishing Opener. It may be small in population but it’s large in hospitality and community involvement. There is so much work that goes into hosting an event like this and the folks from this area did an unbelievable job of making this one of the best openers that I have ever been involved with. The people of the area went out of their way to make sure everyone enjoyed their stay.

I know that the whole community was pleased when Gov. Pawlenty and his wife, Mary, along with Lt. Gov. Molnau’s party caught plenty of fish. This is what makes the area look good, although I have to say it would be pretty much impossible to make it look bad. Although the water level on the lake itself was down about 3 feet from last year it sure didn’t hurt the fishing any.

We were fortunate enough to be staying at Herseth’s Tomahawk Resort, which is right on the lake and has a beautiful sandy beach for summer activities. With the water temperature maxing out at 51 degrees, swimming was not the first thing on my mind.

Tomahawk Resort is owned by Lee and Lori Herseth, who are third generation owners of the resort. Lee said that his grandfather built the resort and when he retired sold it to his dad, who later sold it to Lee. The resort is easy to get to, has nice docks and all the bait, gas and necessities to make your stay enjoyable. The friendly family hospitality coupled with great fishing and an abundance of things to do make this truly a great place to spend a vacation.

On Friday I met my friend Jeff Anderson, a sports announcer for KSDR talk radio in Watertown, S.D. and after some catching up on the past year we headed to the community picnic. This was an opportunity to meet some of the community and eventually pair up with our fishing host.

That evening we met up with Darrell Stoltz, who had a campsite at the resort and would be our fishing host for Saturday. This was great because it meant we wouldn’t have to drive anywhere to meet his boat.

I soon found out that Darrell was actually from Faribault and like so many of the volunteers at this event, he lived elsewhere but loves spending as much time as possible in the area. I don’t know how many times I heard it said by different folks that “once you visit you don’t want to leave.” It didn’t take long to see why. I talked to someone on the bus who said he was from Hollandale and that his wife was there to take pictures. I asked him if he had a cabin or permanent spot on the lake and he said no, he just comes to the lake frequently to vacation. In fact, he said that his daughter had just gotten married up there last fall. This is just one of many testimonials to the way people love this area. This was pretty much the feeling I got from all of the people of the area whether it was coming for vacation or just living there this was the place they loved and they wouldn‘t want to be anywhere else.

On Saturday the sun was shining and the weather was just about perfect for fishing. After meeting up with Darrell we loaded our gear into the boat and were on the water by 7 a.m., heading to a spot he thought might produce some fish. We spent some time traveling and eventually started fishing. Darrell started out fishing with a homemade Lindy rig and Jeff and I were jigging. The first hour and a half was fruitless and I could tell Darrell was getting a little nervous.

He is an avid outdoorsman and has hunted elk, bear, moose, deer, pheasant, and, I guess, pretty much all things wild. He is a retired carpenter and said that due to injuries and stiff joints he is pretty much just a deer hunter now. He used to be an avid bow hunter but an accident left him with a stiff wrist, which makes it almost impossible to draw a bow.

You knew that Darrell was an advocate of keeping everything “green” and as close to natural as possible. Darrell said that he always likes to do as much as possible to preserve the natural state of the environment of this great area. He said that this island he liked to fish by once had a national park campsite on it. There are many such campsites scattered throughout the park. This particular island no longer had camping after an eagle built a nest on it, and the rangers soon closed the campsite. As he told the story I noticed a pair of eagles circling and he said, “there’s Eddie now and it looks like he has a girlfriend”.

As the morning went on he took us to a spot by a little island that Darrell called his “honey hole” in hopes of catching some walleye. Finally Darrell landed an 18-inch walleye which was a nice, healthy fish but not a legal fish and had to be released. On Kabetogama there is a slot limit that says all fish between 17-28 inches must be returned to the lake and only one more than 28 may be kept. The limit on the lake is four walleyes and two saugers per person.

After Darrell had caught his second walleye I knew that he had really started to wonder if Jeff and I were going to catch any because he felt that it was more important for us to catch fish than it was for him. I compared it to taking grandkids fishing; you don’t care if you’re catching anything as long as they are. Now I may not be the quickest guy but I do know when to go with what’s working. I made myself a Lindy rig and almost immediately caught a walleye, and then it wasn’t too much longer before I had a northern followed by another walleye. Darrell had already caught three walleyes and now I had three fish but he was starting to worry about Jeff who finally came through with a sauger and then all was good.

We caught all these fish in about an hour and I was feeling pretty good that I had boated as many fish as our fishing host. Then just as we were getting ready to head in for shore lunch Darrell said “wait a minute, not just yet” and commenced to reel in a 19-1/2 inch walleye. You knew he felt good about the morning and our luck and I told him that it was only right that the guy who knew the lake caught the most fish.

We caught all of our fish in about 34 feet of water but from other reports they were catching them at different depths throughout the day. One thing about fishing deep is that you need to reel slowly and bring the fish to the surface gradually to avoid filling their air sac.

Although our fishing time was limited it was fun to fish with Darrell, who is someone who truly loves the outdoors and has so much respect for the environment. This is a fishing experience that I will always remember.

The vastness of Voyagers Park and the Ash River Trail area is almost overwhelming when you think of it and if you like the outdoors or just want to take in the beauty of a National Park this is truly a place that you really need to visit. I can now say that I’ve been there but I will also say that I can’t wait to visit there again — SOON!

If you would like to try a summer vacation in Voyagers National Park I’d recommend Herseth’s Tomahawk Resort because it is a friendly, family-oriented resort with folks that will do what they can to make your stay a memorable one. For information about lodging or reservations you can call 888-834-7899, e-mail: Walleyeking@citlink.net or check them out on the web at: www.hersethstomahawkresort.com

Until next time “play safe, enjoy the outdoors and let’s go fishin’”.

Remember our brothers and sisters that are proudly serving our country so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have.