Gunflint Trail Fishing

Here’s a write up about ice fishing for trout on the Gunflint Trail written by one of my High School friends. Glen is an outdoor writer for the St. Cloud Times.

Winter trout season kicks off across Minnesota

Minnesota’s inland trout season opened Saturday, which means anglers can hit lakes outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in search of stream trout and lake trout. The trout season on lakes entirely within the BWCAW opened on Jan. 1.

Basically, there are two types of trout lakes within the state. Stream trout lakes are designated fisheries stocked with rainbow, brook and brown trout or a hybrid of lake trout and brook trout called splake.

The other is a lake trout fishery, and the only trout species they typically have in them are lake trout. It’s rare to find a fishery with a combination of lake trout and stream trout in it.

Gunflint Trail trout

Most quality trout lakes are scattered across northeastern Minnesota and trout fishing is extremely popular throughout this region, especially during the winter months.

This weekend’s trout opener is a big deal up and down the Gunflint Trail, according to Steve Parsons, fisheries supervisor with the Department of Natural Resources in Grand Marais. Visiting and local anglers alike know that if you want to experience some exceptional trout fishing in Minnesota, the northeast is the place to go.

“We have more lakes with trout in them up in this area than anywhere in the state,” Parsons said. “Trout are the main fishing opportunities in this area during the ice fishing season and we see a lot of anglers taking advantage of it.”

Parsons added that lake trout receive the most attention in his area. Brook trout and splake also are popular species to fish for, with rainbow and brown trout garnering less fishing pressure.

Lake trout populations within the northeastern lakes have been built and stabilized through natural reproduction. Although some stocking of lake trout is done, Parsons said it just isn’t that successful.

The size structure of these lake trout really varies from one body of water to the next. Anglers will encounter fish weighing from 2 to 20 pounds, but lake trout in the 2- to 5-pound range seem to be average in most lakes.

The key to finding the biggest lake trout in the northeast is locating lakes with an abundance of ciscoes. Ciscoes, rich with oil, are a primary food source for lake trout, so they tend to grow bigger in lakes that provide ciscoes as forage.

“If ciscoes are present, that’s likely where you’ll find fish up to 20 pounds,” Parsons said. “But we do have lakes without that type of forage so the lakers don’t grow that big, but those smaller fish are the best eating trout you’ll find.”

Along the Gunflint Trail, anglers should look to lakes such as Saganaga, Greenwood, Gunflint, Clearwater, West Bearskin and Loon as likely targets for lake trout. While you can get close to a few of them with vehicles, accessing most trout lakes in this area involves using a snowmobile, snowshoes or cross-country skis.

While lake trout reproduce naturally, stream trout rely on stocking efforts by the DNR to build their numbers. Parsons said lakes in the northeast are stocked annually or every other year with some combination of stream trout.

Most stream trout run from half a pound to 11/2 pounds. But Parsons pointed out that bigger stream trout are found the farther off the Gunflint Trail you’re willing to go. It’s not uncommon to catch 2- to 4-pound brook trout and splake on select lakes tucked back in the woods.

“We have some exceptional stream trout lakes and some good-sized fish if you don’t mind putting in the effort to find them,” Parsons said. “I anticipate one of the best trout seasons in a long time; we have good ice, not much snow, and no slush so people will be able to move around on these lakes this year.”

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