Lake of the Woods Minnesota… Once you catch on, you won’t want to be released
Lake of the Woods, Minnesota
Once you catch on, you won’t want to be released.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Lush. Fresh. In any weather any season, these words best describe Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, which hovers midway across the United States at its northernmost edge.
The air here is so clean each breeze seems a soft sigh, every gust a satisfied yawn. Clean, healthy water teems with an abundant variety and volume of fish. From the sparkling blue water to the rustling green trees, the rich colors appear otherworldly. Bald eagles soar overhead. Loons wail a constant chorus.
Floating on this water feels like drifting on air. You can reach down and touch the clouds reflected on the lake’s glasslike surface.
Weather and wildlife cause more ripples on this water than people ever do. Dubbed “The Walleye Capital of the World,” this portion of the lake reaches depths of 36 feet. Walleye and muskies are king here, but northern pike, perch, sauger, crappie, smallmouth bass, lake trout, lake sturgeon, whitefish, and suckers also thrive.
Earth and water mingle across this 85-mile stretch that harbors 14,552 islands and 65,000 miles of shoreline. The nation’s sixth largest freshwater lake and the 100th largest lake on the planet, Lake of the Woods offers some of the best fishing in the world. While avid anglers cast in search of that elusive record catch, even first-timers get hooked.
“It’s a very beautiful place,” says Ed Phillips, an avid North Carolina-based fisherman who spent a week exploring Lake of the Woods. “The lake is so huge and has so many islands it’s easy to get lost on. ‘Lake of the Woods’ is a very accurate description. It’s unlike anyplace I’ve ever fished.”
This is a place where getting lost in nature is an adrenaline rush. “Lake of the Woods is one of my top three places to go fishing,” says Rebecca Bingham, who goes fishing as often as she can and has fished in seven countries and 36 states. “It’s incredible. There’s such a wide variety of species and each fishing experience is unique—whether in warm months or cold—with its own adventure and excitement.”
Whether you fish for food or bragging rights, a prize can be found here. “You can find big trophy northern pike and walleyes,” says Craig Enervold, a Minnesota native who fishes at least 60 times a year and frequents Lake of the Woods.
From lodges to cabins to resorts, there’s an overnight accommodation option to suit your interests and budget, whether you favor rustic camping or one of the more than 45 full-service resorts, whether you crave the company of other travelers or prefer a true escape into nature.
Navigate the massive lake on your own using maps and a GPS or allow a resort guide to coordinate every detail from providing necessary gear to offering insights about when, where and how to fish for certain species, to even preparing a traditional shore lunch.
Shore lunch can be “one of the experiences that makes a culinary imprint on your brain,” says Bingham. “It’s part of the culture.” Recipes vary but always showcase your fresh catch and can be prepared in just 15 minutes. “I’d never eaten fish so fresh,” says Bingham. “Every fish I’ve eaten since is measured by that experience.” Shore lunches often pair skillet-fried fish with onions, potatoes, baked beans, and bread. Some resort chefs can also prepare dinners incorporating fresh catches; one popular local favorite is walleye and wild rice. Enervold says walleye’s white flakey meat has “a flavor all its own, but not a deep extreme taste.”
Novices and experts are equally welcome. “It’s such a fishing culture,” says Bingham. “Yet it’s big enough that you’re not fishing on top of somebody else.”
Even if not fishing, discoveries await. “We saw some petroglyphs that natives had drawn on some cliffs,” says Phillips. “There’s no light pollution so at night the stargazing is incredible; you can look up and see everything. We saw the northern lights one evening.”
Located an hour from International Falls and two hours from Bemidji, the remote Lake of the Woods is a place that will linger in memory, lure return visits.