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This corner of Minnesota has been dubbed the "Arrowhead" for its distinctive shape, formed by the Canadian border on one side and the craggy shore of Lake Superior on the other. In between is a wild land with deep forests of pine and birch dotted with thousands of lakes, where wolves still howl and loons call out across the water.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) holds more than 1,000 lakes linked by overland trails. Most lakes are paddle-only; motors are permitted on only a few. BWCAW visitors canoe to secluded campsites and fish for trophy walleye, northern pike and some of the finest top-water smallmouth bass fishing in the nation. In early spring, the deepest lakes provide light-tackle fishing for lake trout. Major gateways to this canoe country are Ely and the Gunflint Trail, a National Scenic Byway that begins in Grand Marais.
Also along the state's northern border is Voyageurs National Park. Voyageurs has beautiful rocky lakes, thick forest and great fishing. Entry points include Orr/Pelican Lake, Crane Lake, Lake Kabetogama and International Falls. Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan, Crane and Sand Point lakes serve up walleyes, northerns, smallmouth bass and big crappies. Just west, anglers fish the Rainy River for walleyes, pike and sturgeon.
Along the Iron Range, from Grand Rapids to Babbitt, abandoned mine pits have filled with clear spring water, forming lakes such as Lake Ore-be-Gone, now holding trout and big pike. The area is rich with natural lakes as well, some of which are managed for trout.
Long and narrow Birch Lake near Babbitt has great fishing for a variety of species, and is a favorite for houseboat rental. The island-studded beauty of Lake Vermilion is enhanced by its budding reputation for big muskies, as well as large perch, walleye and bluegills. In the north woods between the Iron Range and Voyageurs, Pelican Lake near Orr has a lot of shallow structure for great fishing.
The forests around Grand Rapids are studded with lakes. North of town, the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway winds among scores of lakes in Chippewa National Forest, including Trout Lake and Lake Wabana. Here is a place to fish walleyes, pike and bass in solitude. Just southwest of Grand Rapids is popular Pokegama Lake.
The Arrowhead borders the largest freshwater lake in the world. Lake Superior's cold, clear waters hold native lake trout, and stocked steelhead, chinook and coho salmon. The big lake is too open and windswept for many boats, but charter fishing trips are available from Duluth and other towns along the North Shore.
Stream & River Fishing
Stream fishing is also popular along the North Shore from Two Harbors to Grand Marais, and all the way to Grand Portage along the Canadian border. In the thundering wilderness rivers that tumble into Lake Superior, anglers wade in to cast for resident trout, or drift-fish for spawning steelhead during their spring run. The St. Louis River near Duluth is a favorite for walleye, smallmouth bass and muskie. The St. Croix, a National Scenic River, is a great route to canoe and fish for smallmouth bass, northern pike and walleyes.
Staying at a Minnesota resort is like having your own lake cabin. There are hundreds of resorts to choose from. Some are large complexes, with luxury suites and condos, on-site golf, gourmet restaurants and spas. Others are historic lodges. Many are small, family-operated resorts with several lakeside cabins or cottages. Most are family-friendly, with swimming beaches, playgrounds, game rooms and other activities for kids, and some offer large units to accommodate big groups.
For anglers, resorts typically rent boats and motors, and provide dock space if you bring your own boat. Many can hook you up with a fishing guide who’s familiar with the local waters. On half-day or all-day trips, guides can show you where and how to fish the area’s lakes or rivers, so you can go out on your own later to take advantage of what you’ve learned. Resort and bait shop owners also are good sources for where the fish are biting, and what they’re biting on.