Willie the Walleye in Baudette

What to Do on an Epic Fishing Trip to Lake of the Woods

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Posing in front of Baudette's Willie the Walleye statue  / Paul Vincent

What to Do on an Epic Fishing Trip to Lake of the Woods

By Andrew Parks

Katie Cahn and Kendra Lilley’s first trip to the Walleye Capital of the World took the South Carolina-based anglers on a whirlwind tour of Minnesota, including stops at stellar restaurants, a convent that was converted into a boutique hotel, and the watery roots of the Mississippi River.

Here is how you can follow in the footsteps of the jam-packed itinerary that brought Katie and Kendra from Minneapolis’ award-winning airport to Lake of the Woods and back....

  1. Choose your own culinary adventure
    The communal feast at Union Hmong Kitchen

    The communal feast at Union Hmong Kitchen  / Paul Vincent

    Choose your own culinary adventure

    Chef Yia Vang landed on the cover of Bon Appétit early in his career by honoring the dynamic Hmong dishes he grew up with. Take a tour of his entire Union Hmong Kitchen menu by crushing a communal feast that includes a whole fish marinated with lemongrass and grilled in banana leaves, house-made sausage, hunks of crispy chicken, and mounds of purple sticky rice, rice noodles, taro chips, fried Brussels sprouts, pickled veggies and complementary condiments.  

    To get a better sense of the spices and ingredients that make Vang’s food special, look out for his long-awaited restaurant Vinai or head over to Hmongtown Marketplace. The latter is a sprawling food court / flea market with more than 100 shops and stalls that have more in common with a massive open-air marketplace overseas than anything you’d expect to find in the Midwest.  

    Hmongtown Marketplace

    Hmongtown Marketplace  / Paul Vincent


    Chef Diane Moua — the former head of the heavenly pastry program at Spoon & Stable and Cooks | Bellecour — also channeled her Hmong upbringing into Diane’s Place, an all-day survey of Southeast Asia in Northeast Minneapolis’ Food Building. Serial entrepreneur Kieran Folliard (2 GINGERS Irish Whiskey, Kieran’s Irish Pub, The Local) kickstarted the complex in 2014 as an incubator for local artisanal food makers like Baker’s Field Flour & Bread, Lowry Hill Provisions, and Alemar Cheese Co. 

    Sample the best restaurants in Minneapolis and St. Paul.  

  2. Check into a former convent
    A bartender pours a cocktail at Celeste of St. Paul Hotel and Bar

    Celeste of St. Paul Hotel and Bar / Paul Vincent

    Check into a former convent

    St. Agatha’s Conservatory of Music and Arts was converted into one of the Twin Cities’ hippest boutique hotels in 2019: Celeste of St. Paul, a Beaux Arts beauty that boasts 71 rooms and transportive design touches like hand-painted tiles, ornate trimming, and gorgeous stained-glass windows. Not to mention a studio apartment-sized chapel suite that’s perfect for progressive wedding parties and garnished with a garden tub, 18-foot ceilings, and a roomy dressing area where an altar once stood.  

    Want to scope out the space without spending the night? Take a tour with Sister Celeste and swing by the hotel’s cocktail bar for a Bad Habit (tequila, bitter aperitivo, Prosecco, and grapefruit), Kneeler (rye, orange bitters, and crème de pêche), or a heady glass of Deacon Carl’s Holy Water (whiskey, bitters, and BroVo Spirits’ vibrant sweet vermouth).  

    Look at other lodging options

  3. Find your flow state with fiber art
    StevenBe owner Steven Berg

    StevenBe owner Steven Berg  / Paul Vincent

    Find your flow state with fiber art

    When a midlife crisis left Steven Berg mulling over his future in the fashion industry, the fiber artist decided to leave a high-level position at Munsingwear for a return to his fiber art roots. StevenBe Studio is more than just a yarn shop; it’s a source of inspiration for needle whisperers in search of satisfying projects.  

    Whether you prefer crocheting or knitting, Berg’s shop — a renovated firehouse that’s been a lynchpin of the lively DIY craft scene for more than two decades — has a wide range of clothing and toy kits that’ll appeal to all skill levels. Keep things simple with a splashy top-down sock or spend the next month chipping away at a chunky sweater. It’s all here alongside spindles of yarn in nearly every color and weight imaginable.  

    Shop at 25 other boutiques.  

  4. Book a one-way ticket to Bourbon Street (in spirit, at least)
    Krewe chef Mateo Mackbee

    Krewe chef Mateo Mackbee / Paul Vincent

    Book a one-way ticket to Bourbon Street (in spirit, at least)

    The faithfully replicated family recipes of Chef Mateo Mackbee make his St. Joseph restaurant feel like it was airlifted straight from the streets of New Orleans. Start your Krewe experience off strong with cast-iron cornbread and creative house cocktails like a funky Old Fashioned made with ume plum whisky and yuzu bitters.  

    The rest of the menu is full of NOLA favorites like crusty po’boys stuffed with Creole-fried catfish or Gulf shrimp the size of golf balls; smothered collard greens cut with caramelized onion and smoked turkey leg; and comforting bowls of gumbo that lean on the legacy of Mackbee’s grandfather. (He was the chef on a cargo ship that rounded the world regularly).   

    Swing by at lunch to avoid the dinner rush and load up on fresh-baked pastries and pies (matcha chess pie with blueberry bursts, anyone?) at Flour & Flower, the small-but-mighty bakery of Krewe co-owner Erin Rae. Bad Habit Brewing is also right around the corner if you have a hankering for a hazy IPA, chocolate milk stout, or watermelon sour.  

    Spend an entire day in St. Joseph and Collegeville.  

  5. Sample ice cream in a grain silo
    Shopping for antiques at Old Thyme Trading Post

    Shopping for antiques at Old Thyme Trading Post / Paul Vincent

    Sample ice cream in a grain silo

    About an hour’s drive north of Krewe is the lofty horse statue that beckons road trippers to Old Thyme Trading Post. A blast from the past that’s been run by Judy Tryggeseth for nearly 50 years, it doubles as a destination for dusted-off vintage discoveries and classic ice cream sundaes, malts, cones and shakes.

    Highly recommended for everyone from restless families to rabid “Antiques Roadshow” fans.  

    Check out Minnesota’s best ice cream shops

  6. Snap a selfie with Paul Bunyan and Babe
    Paul Bunyan and Babe in Bemidji

    Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox stand guard in Bemidji  / Paul Vincent

    Snap a selfie with Paul Bunyan and Babe

    Kodak once declared the iconic statues within Paul Bunyan Park the country’s most photographed roadside attraction right behind Mount Rushmore. From the first season of “Fargo” to the opening sequence of “National Lampoon’s Vacation”, the beloved Bemidji landmark has certainly been a mainstay within television shows and movies — as much a part of Minnesota’s DNA as Prince and The Replacements or The Mighty Ducks and Bob Dylan.  

    Thanks to a federal grant and local fundraising efforts, they don’t look a day over 30 either. Pretty remarkable considering they were first installed back in the 1930’s. 

    Spot the state’s best roadside attractions

  7. Pose next to the birthplace of the Mighty Mississippi
    Mississippi River Headwaters at Itasca State Park

    Mississippi River Headwaters at Itasca State Park  / Paul Vincent

    Pose next to the birthplace of the Mighty Mississippi

    Thousands of international tourists travel to Itasca State Park every year so they can skip across rocks and stand right on the spot where the Mississippi River begins its 2,552-mile journey towards the Gulf of Mexico. Minnesota actually contains more of the Mississippi than any other state, including the river’s most wild stretches as it flows through Bemidji, several large lakes, and the Chippewa National Forest

    The Mary Gibbs Visitor Center features exhibits on the river’s history right next to the headwaters. Also of note: Itasca’s status as Minnesota’s oldest state park (more than 130 years and counting!), with a widescreen footprint of 32,000 acres and grand lodging that’s similar in style to the lovely national park lodges that were built in the early 1900s. The park offers more than 220 campsites, as well as cabins, suites, and rooms at the historic Douglas Lodge and a hostel in the park’s former headquarters.  

    Seek out six national park sites

  8. Catch a colossal walleye
    A freshly caught fish at Arnesen's Rocky Point Resort on Lake of the Woods

    A freshly caught fish on Lake of the Woods  / Paul Vincent

    Catch a colossal walleye

    The open water fishing on Lake of the Woods is out of this world throughout the year — yes, even in winter, when ice fishing reigns supreme — but it really hits its stride in the summer. That’s when resorts like Arnesen’s Rocky Point offer guided fishing on charter boats that explain the difference between downriggers and depth finders and make the most of the lake’s more than 1 million acres. It takes less than 15 minutes to get from Arnesen’s sprawling marina to sun-dappled spots with schools of trophy-sized walleyes, saugers, perch, and Northern pike.  

    In the words of Katie and Kendra, it’s both “very ocean-y here” and “pretty epic,” making Lake of the Woods one of the many hidden gems hiding in plain sight within Minnesota.  

    If you fail to reel in a whopper, be sure to stop in Baudette on the way back from Lake of the Woods. Its Willie Walleye statue was originally made with about two tons of steel and plaster in 1959. When the small town’s weather got the best of Willie about 60 years later, a 40-foot fiberglass replica was put up in its place. Toast its timelessness in the first week of June, when Baudette devotes an entire festival to its unofficial mascot and what is truly the Walleye Capital of the World.  

    Learn how to catch walleye.  

  9. Find the true meaning of “Up North”
    Northwest Angle near Lake of the Woods

    Northwest Angle near Lake of the Woods  / Paul Vincent

    Find the true meaning of “Up North”

    While it’s technically surrounded by water and Canadian land, the Northwest Angle is considered the furthest point of the lower 48 states that separates the U.S. and Canada Reachable only by plane, boat, track vehicle or snowmobile — when Lake of the Woods is a frozen wonderland — the Northwest Angle is mostly undeveloped wilderness, with countless plants, trees, and animals coexisting in a place as peaceful and otherworldly as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or Voyageurs National Park.  

    Landmarks include the incredibly remote Garden Island State Recreation Area and Angle Inlet. The latter is a village full of history buff hits, from a fully restored log fort used by French fur traders in the 1700s to the northernmost point marker and post office in the contiguous United States. When it comes to getting off the grid, there’s no better place to send a postcard.  

    Get off the grid in Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters

  10. Wind things down with hope and healing
    Phalen Regional Park's annual Lantern Festival

    Phalen Regional Park's annual Lantern Festival  / Paul Vincent

    Wind things down with hope and healing

    If you happen to be visiting Minnesota in the middle of the summer, it’s worth seeing if your dates overlap with St. Paul’s annual Water Lantern Festival. Happening towards the tail end of July, it revolves around the release of rice paper lanterns that are lit by reusable LED candles and covered in personal messages and a prevailing sense of positivity.  

    If you’re not in Phalen Regional Park during its biggest event of the year, it’s still worth a look thanks to having one of the city’s largest lakes, miles of multi-purpose trails, and a large-scale replica of an 18th century pavilion that was shipped from China’s Hunan province to St. Paul. Changsha — St. Paul’s sister city overseas — received five Peanuts statues in return, including a version of Lucy in Hmong clothing and Snoopy on a doghouse adorned with two of Minnesota’s favorite things: loons and trees.   

    Visit 10 of the nearly 12,000 lakes in Minnesota, and check out more Star of the North itineraries, including road trips to the Iron Range and Grand Marais.  

Andrew Parks

Andrew Parks is a senior digital strategist at Explore Minnesota. His previous work including copywriting and content design for such clients as the Michelin Guide, Apple, Food & Wine, Condé Nast Traveler, Bandcamp, AFAR, Bon Appétit, and Red Bull.