Vermilion Dam Lodge In The Media
Huge Vermilion Muskie Released
Hastings, Minn. - If you want to catch big muskies, be prepared for the discomforts you'll likely encounter in the process.
Long-time muskie anglers Randy Porubcan and Gene Crowder took on snow, wind, and temperatures in the mid-20-degree range on Oct. 24, but for their efforts they were rewarded with a 59-inch Lake Vermilion muskie that may have - had it not been released - challenged the state record. The fish's girth was 29 inches. The state record is a 54-pounder that came from Lake Winnibigoshish.
“I've never kept a (muskie), and neither has Randy,” Crowder said earlier this week.
It wasn't for lack of knowing that the big muskellunge may have been record material.
“After the fish was back in the water, Randy said, ‘You know, I think we may have probably released a state record.' ”
Crowder and Porubcan were part of a crew of muskie fanatics gathered at Vermilion Dam Lodge last weekend for the annual Larry Ramsell Muskie Outing. Besides fishing, those partaking in the event also gain and share new knowledge about the sport.
Crowder, 70, already had knowledge about Vermilion; he's been fishing the lake for more than a decade. Porubcan, 64, began fishing Vermilion with Crowder just last year; the two met while muskie fishing on Eagle Lake in Ontario several years ago.
It was about 1 p.m. when the fish took the bait, according to Crowder. The duo was fishing near Hinsdale Island in the Smarts Bay area. “The wind was blowing right down the channel we were in,” he said. “Spray was freezing on my glasses.”
Crowder and Porubcan were trolling, Crowder with a 14-inch firetiger-colored Jake that trailed about 60 feet behind the boat. Crowder said he'd been “ticking bottom” in about 12 feet of water, and they were passing through about 20 feet of water, approaching an underwater hump that rose to around 10 feet. He slowed the motor as the depth decreased, causing the somewhat buoyant lure to rise in the water column.
“That's when she hit,” Crowder said. He was the first to battle the fish when he pulled the rod out of its holder.
But strong winds were pushing his boat toward the rocks - the wind was whipping 20 to 30 mph - so he handed the outfit to Porubcan, and motored the boat out of danger.
Porubcan kept reeling, and about 10 yards from the boat the fish surfaced, giving the men their first look at its immense size.
While Porubcan pulled the fish to the boat, Crowder readied the net. “It took three tries” to net the fish, he said.
While Crowder held the fish, Porubcan cut the barbs on the lure, secured in the fish's mouth. It took both anglers to hoist the fish into the boat, during which time, Crowder said, Porubcan tumbled back onto his tackle box.
They were able to measure the fish's length, then use a string to mark and later measure its girth. The fish was nursed in the water for about 5 minutes before it regained its strength and swam away, Crowder said.
“All the work (hook removal, etc.) was done in the water,” he said. “Then we took her out for a couple pictures.”
The cold weather benefitted the fish, Crowder said. “If it had been summer, she'd have only made it (survived) if everything was done in the water.”
While both anglers have fished solo for muskies, Crowder said it's a good thing they tag-teamed for this catch. He once caught a 52-inch muskie by himself in Ontario, and called the resulting chaos in the boat a “disco.”
The Vermilion fish's size, coupled with the day's weather, made a team effort necessary.
“If either one of us would've gotten this fish ourself, it wouldn't have turned out so well,” Crowder said.
Several “muskie calculators” exist. The formulas can be used to determine a fish's weight, based only on length, or on length and girth.
“(They're) pretty well accepted” as accurate, according to Ed Tausk, owner of Vermilion Dam Lodge. “They'll usually get you within ounces.”
For example, according to OutdoorsFIRST.com
, the fish would've weighed about 62 pounds. (To get that estimate, multiply girth times girth times length, divided by 800.)
Tausk said the fish might have been a bit longer (the tail wasn't pinched in measuring it), and it's difficult to know from the photo if the girth is accurate because there's no measuring tape around the fish (Porubcan held the fish against his body to protect it).
Crowder, a retired Northwest Airlines worker, now works as a fishing associate for Gander Mountain in Woodbury. Porubcan operates a health supplement company in Victoria.
Crowder said after he and Porubcan landed the 59-incher, they fished another five hours. Then they went out the next day for a half-day of fishing. Earlier this week, Crowder was prepping for another trip to Vermilion.
In nearly two decades of muskie fishing, Crowder said he's accumulated about 200 muskie lures. “Randy probably has double that amount,” he said.
Tausk said he found the two metro anglers at their cabin when they returned from catching the 59-incher.
“They were having a scotch; they seemed a little shaken,” he said.
Lake Vermilion - A Challenging Body of Water
A Special Attraction for Families for Generations
By STEVEN MERRITT
Published: Friday, August 23, 2002 3:00 AM CDT
Mesabi Daily News
LAKE VERMILION -- The rocky shores of this sprawling lake have attracted families for generations. For some, the secluded bays and coves provided the ultimate retreat -- an escape that only a cabin could offer. For others, earning a living from the lake either as an area merchant or resort owner has been a source of family pride -- a tradition passed on to younger generations.
Like the ebb and flow of a lake that is constantly changing, so too is the way of life for many who derive their livelihood from it. Fishing -- and fishermen -- have changed. So has the profile of the average resort guest.
And for two men who pay the bills on businesses tied to the lake and all it offers, life on Vermilion creates its own challenges. Being prepared -- and looking ahead -- is essential.
The Vermilion Dam Lodge is historically one of the lake's first resorts, originally called Hunter's Lodge in the early 1900s. Guests reached Tower by rail, boarded a boat that went as far as the Oak Narrows before finally taking a canoe to the lodge. In those days, creating a wilderness experience wasn't difficult. Today, new owner Ed Tausk said the lodge and its surroundings can offer a wilderness setting while also providing the amenities that most resort guests seek.
Tausk is living a dream that was well researched. A former Northwest Airlines manager, he and his wife Julie along with partner George Wronowski studied the resort market and wrote several business plans before buying the property three years ago. The main lodge structure itself was the old Buyck City Hall. It was quickly renovated, and upgrades to the lodge's 15 cabins are ongoing.
"I've wanted to do this all my life," Tausk said. "You have to enjoy the work and taking care of people. Plus, we have young kids and are happy with the school system. I want to raise my kids in a setting like this."
Unlike many lodges that run on a May through September schedule, Tausk said to make his business viable, Vermilion Lodge has to be marketed as a four-season destination.
"You have to go after four seasons worth of business," Tausk said. "We can't rely on the traditional summer business -- we have to change hats every season."
He said the bulk of his summer guests are families, with more than half coming from the Twin Cities. He added that around 40 percent come from the Chicago area. In the fall, the lodge sees more hunters and fishermen while the winter brings in traditional winter enthusiasts like snowmobilers and skiers.
Tausk said the typical profile of his summer clients are families "who want the wilderness experience," but also involve "moms that want the dishwashers and microwaves."
"Twenty years ago you went two hours from The Cities to Brainerd -- there was more wilderness there," Tausk said. "That is changing. There are more manicured lawns now. Vermilion is different. We still have wilderness and people say they don't mind the drive. Now we are even getting people from Brainerd."
Tausk added the lodge also tries to offer daily activities like canoe trips, naturalist programs and movie nights to involve all family members.
The formula seems to be working. Tausk said the lodge had a 100 percent occupancy rate last summer and this year doubled its business in May.
"We have a lot of repeat customers," he said. "People are happy with the service."
Vermilion's popularity as a premier destination for walleye and musky fishing hasn't hurt business either.
"The variety of this lake is such an asset," Tausk said. "You truly have everything here, the beauty of a Canadian Shield lake along with strong fish populations. The lake is also being managed well."
Down a dusty county road a few miles away, Rocky Gillson sank back onto a well-worn couch and reflected on his life in the resort business. Gillson, who has owned the Life of Riley Resort for 21 years, said the best change that he has seen has been in the fishing.
"The number and size of the walleye, the growing musky population and bigger and more numbers of northerns all have made this a great lake," Gillson said. "They (the fisheries managers) do a tremendous job."
Gillson also pointed to generational changes in fishermen.
"Sure there's more catch and release now, but 20 years ago, we usually saw three generations of male fishermen -- grandpa, dad and son," Gillson said. "Grandpa wanted to catch everything to eat it. Son wanted to enjoy the trip and show his son what grandpa had taught him. And son usually played with the bait and wondered where the water skis were."
Gillson said Life of Riley has always been a summer fishing resort and camp, but he added that today he is seeing more fishing families.
"It's not just gas, bait and ice for the beer anymore," Gillson said. "You have to provide other means of entertainment. Today we have canoes, paddleboats, sailboats and all the things that go with it."
Gillson said other amenities like microwaves were added to cabins over time, but added that he has drawn the line on televisions as well as telephones.
"There are no TVs and no telephones in our cabins because there is no need to have them here," Gillson said. "It has gone very well and people are appreciative. They listen to the radio, play board games and cards and just spend time together. I'm not about to hook up cable."
Gillson said running a resort is not the glamorous life some outside the business paint it to be, but after 20 years, he still looks forward to each new day.
"I still enjoy it," he said. "It has been a great 20 years. But it seemed to be easier back then. Maybe we were young and dumb, but if you had fresh bait, gas, ice, good food and a place to sleep, you were in the resort business. Now we are more of a full-service operation."
And what about all that fishing he gets to do as a resort owner?
"I haven't been on the water in two years," Gillson said. "But I get the opportunity to like my job and to work outdoors. I get to stick my hand down a toilet and pull dirty diapers from underneath a bed. But I get to do all those nasty things in the forest."
Big Fish Bring Big Bucks to Lake Vermilion
Big fish bring big bucks to Lake Vermilion
By Jodi Summit
Published: Monday, March 03, 2001908
The Timberjay - Volume 15, Issue 41
Hosting a muskie tournament with a $100,000 purse is a big task for a medium-sized resort on Lake Vermilion, or even two resorts.
But Bob Airis, at Bay View Lodge, and Ed Tausk, at Vermilion Dam Resort, were full up to their gills during the Simply Fishing Muskie Classic which lasted five days in September.
“I’d like to see them come back next year,” said Airis, “These fishermen were not intrusive, they weren’t like the bass fisherman lurking around docks.”
Both Airis and Tausk said the tournament filled their resorts during a fall week that is not typically busy. And both resort owners were impressed with the tournament participants’ sense of sportsmanship and respect for the lake and other boaters.
“They really followed the rules,” said Tausk, “they slowed down coming through the narrows and the fish always stayed in the water.”
Airis also had good things to say about the muskie fishermen.
“I heard one person say they saw a tournament team coming into a spot, but when the tournament team realized some local fishermen were fishing there, they just waved, and left the area.”
Catch and Release ethics
The Simply Fishing Muskie Classic was a first for the lake. And it was a tournament that really lived up to its catch-and-release image.
“Judges had to witness the release of the live fish at the boatside,” said Tausk, “If the fish was hurt, the team would be disqualified.” Tausk added that a fall tournament date meant colder water, and better overall survival rates for the released muskies.
Airis said the number of over-50 inch muskies caught, considering the poor fishing conditions, was impressive. He said tournament organizers estimated that Vermilion was producing more large muskies than any other lake they had based the tournament on.
By basing the tournament at two locations, the organizers also spread out boat traffic at both ends of the lake. In addition, the tournament started at 7:00 a.m., so there weren’t any complaints about early morning noise.
Airis said the only problem was the low number of judging boats. The tournament requires that any fish caught be kept in the water until a judge arrives to measure it. With the size of the lake, at least 30 judges are needed to make sure that fish can be measured and released quickly.
If the tournament is to return to Vermilion next fall, more judge boats will be required. Judge boat volunteers are reimbursed for their expenses, up to $75 per day. They are also included in all tournament functions, including a special judges’ reception.
The tournament went ahead without local support from the Lake Vermilion Resort Association and the Lake Vermilion Sportmen’s Club. Airis said the reputation of other fishing tournaments, especially bass tournaments, had soured some lake residents and business owners on the idea of hosting tournaments locally.
The tournament attracted 160 fishermen, most of whom came up to the lake prior to the tournament to scope out the fishing hot spots. In addition to Bay View and Vermilion Dam, many other local resorts filled beds due to the tournament, and local marinas saw increases in gas sales and repair business due to the event.
Half a million dollars impact
According to Bob Mehsikomer, president of Simply Fishing Inc., the tournament and the pre-tournament fishing trips had an economic impact of $500,000 -$600,000, based on independent surveys done by their group.
“Right now we are negotiating to bring it back to Vermilion,” he said, “But we do have two other markets that are campaigning for it.”
Mehsikomer said they are looking for more support from local businesses and individuals who would be willing to volunteer as judge boats.
“We could use help from lots of the smaller businesses,” he said, “Not just large corporate sponsors.” This year, corporate sponsors included Gander Mountain, Ranger Boats, Shimano and Beckman Nets. Bay View Lodge and Vermilion Dam also provided financial support, he said.
“We need to get it out there that muskie guys aren’t bass guys,” he said, “They fish differently. They manage their resource. Muskie have the lowest population biomass in the system.”
Walt Moe, president of the Sportmen’s Club of Lake Vermilion, said his impression of the tournament was very positive.
“This was probably one of the best run tournaments I’ve seen,” he said, “with the least impact to the lake.” Moe said the Sportsmen’s Club would be discussing the tournament at their next meeting, but that so far, he hadn’t heard any negative comments about the tournament’s impact on the lake, the resource or local residents.
Mehsikomer said this was the first large muskie tournament they had sponsored in the last six or so years.
“This was the largest, richest muskie tournament in the history of the sport,” he said, “nothing rivals it.” The prize money, which equaled 100 percent of the entry fees, meant an $80,000 top prize. Prizes could have been as high as $200,000 depending on the number of boats entered.
The tournament will be televised, nationwide, in January, on the Sportsmen’s Channel, I-Life Network, Fox Sports and possibly TV-41 of Minneapolis.
“There could be a million viewers who see the show,” Mehsikomer said.
The decision on whether or not Vermilion will host the tournament again next year may be made as soon as later this month, when Mehsikomer travels back to Vermilion to meet with the two host resort owners and other possible sponsors.
Anyone interested in helping sponsor the tournament or who wants more information on working in a judge boat should contact Bob Mehsikomer at 651-429-3351, Simply Fishing Inc., 1890 Center St., Hugo, MN 55038. Or visit their website at www.simplyfishing.com
Vermilion Dam Lodge - Owners Quickly Recover from Storm
Owners quickly recover from storm
By CHARLES RAMSAY
Published: Friday, August 23, 2002 3:00 AM CDT
LAKE VERMILION - Trees and branches strewn around the resort grounds, no power and rising water on Wolf Bay, up to the bottom of one of the lower docks might have seemed daunting to some.
But Vermilion Dam Lodge partners Ed Tausk and George Wronowski quickly mobilized a bulldozer and chainsaw crew to clear away debris from the July 4 superstorm and grabbed generators to keep power available to guests. Although several did leave right after the storm, the rest stayed, some even booking a reservation for next year.
Dedication to service has been key for the two, who took over the historic lodge in May 1998. Both come from service-oriented backgrounds, Tausk formerly a mechanic and in management with Northwest Airlines and Wronowski with a Chevrolet dealership. The two studied the industry, talked with long-time resort operators and settled on the lodge when it came available.
After closing at summer's end last year, they oversaw renovations to the main lodge that added a new roof, carpeting, heating system, upgraded kitchen and freezers and winterized six cabins for first-time cold-season opening earlier this year.
The results seem to have borne out the partners' marketing approach.
"Today, we've got to find opportunities for revenue,'' Tausk said.
While guests to resorts in the past might not mind if the water didn't work in their rustic cabin, today's families want a wilderness experience along with "the comforts of home,'' he explained.
Cabins range from one to six bedrooms, screened and decked, with dishwashers and microwaves. Many have Jacuzzis and whirlpools. A full-service dock, boat and pontoon rentals, canoes and sailboats, a beach and heated in-ground swimming pool also are offered.
Spring and summer bookings of the lodge's 15 cabins are oriented for families, with the bar and restaurant in the main lodge closed. Fall and winter bookings cater to anglers, hunters, fall color enthusiasts and snowmobilers.
"We allow the snowmobilers access to the property,'' Tausk explained, which gives them an opportunity to view the Vermilion River cascading over the low dam, even in winter. Snowmobilers can continue up the frozen parts of the river toward Crane Lake as well. The lodge aims to be a stopping-off point, with bar and restaurant open, fueling on site, a heated shop for repairs and cabins available.
"We want to become one of the premier resorts of Northeastern Minnesota,'' he said.
They have history working for them as well. The place was the first resort on Lake Vermilion, operated by local author Adelyne Shively Tibbetts' family as Hunter's Lodge in the early part of the century after the site ended as a logging camp. Guests took a steamboat from Tower, then switched to canoes.
Then, as today, wildlife adds to the experience, from occasional moose or bears to more frequent deer, otters, geese and grouse. Bass, walleyes, northerns and muskies are pulled from the Vermilion River and Wolf Bay.
"We love it,'' Wronowski said. "Ed enjoys fishing and being outdoors and I love to hunt.''
On Lake Vermilion, it's not too late, or cold, to fish
On Lake Vermilion, it's not too late, or cold, to fish
By Staff Writer Doug Smith
Published: November 5, 2006
It's huntin' season.
But don't tell that to diehard muskie anglers, such as Ed Tausk, who have been braving bone-chilling weather and icy waters to catch monster muskies on Lake Vermilion recently.
Tausk, co-owner of Vermilion Dam Lodge, and friends have caught five 50-inch muskies over the past two weeks on the west end of the big lake, including a 55-inch whopper with a 27-inch girth that weighed an estimated 50 pounds.
"It's late fall, and most guys don't want to be out there, but I think the fall is the only time you really have a shot at these open-water fish,'' Tausk said. "In the fall, these fish are bulked up - real tankers.''
There have been five 55-inch muskies caught on the lake this year, he said.
Tausk and friends have been catching - and releasing - the big fish by trolling 14-inch muskie lures, simulating the tullibees and ciscoes that the muskies are chasing.
"We went out the other day and caught a 47-inch muskie, a 42-inch muskie, a 46-inch northern and a 41-inch northern - all on the same day,'' Tausk said.
A neighbor landed a 54-inch muskie with a 28-inch girth - a fish that could have challenged the 54-pound state record muskie. The angler released the fish.
Between Lake Mille Lacs and Vermilion, "someone will break the state record,'' Tausk predicted. "It's going to happen.''
The muskie action this fall is about over on Vermilion. Tausk said the lake could freeze soon.
Ripley deer harvest
Bow hunters bagged a record 514 deer this fall at Camp Ripley Military Reservation near Little Falls. The previous record was 484 deer killed in 2004.
Archers harvested 243 deer last weekend and 271 the previous weekend. At least 16 bucks weighing at least 200 pounds were taken.
About 4,300 hunters participated, and hunter success was slightly more than 11 percent, similar to last year. The largest buck taken last weekend weighed 220 pounds and was killed by James Schuett of Pillager. The largest buck registered during both hunts weighed 244 pounds.
Duck season fading
The cold front that blew through the state last week pushed ducks into - and out of - the state. Wetlands and some lakes froze in many areas, especially the north, ending hunting on some waters and making access difficult on others. Hunting pressure was low in many areas. The warmer weather this weekend could reopen some waters, but the question is whether there still will be ducks around.
Turning in poachers
Now you can report poachers via the Internet. The DNR and Turn in Poachers (TIP) has launched a new online service to report "non-time sensitive" natural resources violations that don't require an immediate response from an officer. See the DNR's website at www.dnr.state.mn.us for information or to report a violation. For cases that require more immediate attention, call the 24-hour TIP hotline at 1-800-652-9093.
So far, no avian flu
Testing for avian flu continues on up to 100,000 wild birds around the nation. About 2,000 waterfowl in Minnesota were sampled this fall by state and federal officials, and none of those tested positive for the Asian avian flu strain, officials said last week. Some hunter-harvested waterfowl were included in the samples. The disease, which has killed birds and humans elsewhere in the world, hasn't been found in North America. But there is concern that migrating waterfowl could help spread it.
No online licenses
No, you still can't buy a hunting or fishing license online from the DNR. But that convenience is coming, likely yet this fall. Customers been unable to buy licenses online at the agency's website since spring after officials determined more privacy safeguards were needed. Officials wanted to ensure that protected information, such as addresses, couldn't be obtained by those using the site. Officials had hoped to have a revised system operating by September, but reworking and making it user-friendly has proven difficult. Meanwhile, customers still can purchase licenses via phone by calling 1-888-665-4236.
New wildlife plate
Minnesota motorists who support natural resource conservation soon will have another license plate option. A panel of judges has chosen six potential Critical Habitat license plate designs from more than 70 entries. The final design will be selected later this month, and the new plate will go on sale in early 2007. You can see the plates, and comment on them, at www.dnr.state.mn.us.
Did you know?
- The Minnesota Waterfowl Association has moved to a new office at 901 First Street N. in downtown Hopkins. The group's new phone number is 952-767-0320.
- A hunter told conservation officer Joyce Kuske of Little Falls that his gun case string had broken and that he had ripped a strip off his underwear to tie the case closed so he wouldn't have an illegally cased firearm.
- A confused - or maybe hungry - Canada goose near Thief River Falls continually tried to walk into a local restaurant.
"The bird was fixated on something inside and was quite persistent about getting in,'' reported conservation officer Jeremy Woinarowicz.
- Steve Merchant, a 20-year DNR veteran and current forest wildlife program leader, has been named wildlife program manager for the agency.
- The state's corn harvest is nearly complete, which is good news for deer and pheasant hunters.
Minnesota Fishing Opener from Lake Vermilion
Only in Minnesota is suffering so in fashion
By Staff Writer Dennis Anderson
Published: May 15, 2005
Poets have written of May that flowers and love alike bloom in this month. Yet anglers who fished giant Lake Vermilion on Saturday, opening day of the state's inland walleye and northern pike seasons, likely encountered neither.
The cold, rain and wind saw to that.
Our bunch had sidled to bed about 11 Friday night, hoping, at the outside, that the persistent drenching that hung low over the northeastern part of the state most of that day would subside by morning.
Or at least that snow wouldn't fall.
Instead, when the alarm rang at 5 a.m. Saturday, the lake surface in front of our cabin lay still dimpled heavy beneath a slanting rain.
So gradually did the morning grow light, the sun seemed reluctant, ashamed or both to fulfill its obligation.
Yet what is a Minnesota fishing opener if not an opportunity for anglers to set themselves apart from the rest of the population - if only by their willingness to suffer so publicly?
Pushing off from our docks were four boats, each with passengers leaning into the cold, teeth clenched.
I guided one craft, Steve Vilks of Stillwater was at the tiller of another, and Bob Kowalski of Vadnais Heights and Dave Kelley of Stillwater captained the remaining two.
Our intent, of course, was no different from that of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who on Saturday headed up the state's annual Governor's Opener.
The governor also was on Vermilion.
The difference was that the governor was on the south side of the lake, doubtless in the skilled hands of a local guide. We were on the north, headquartered at the end of a long road, at Vermilion Dam Lodge.
``It's worth a try,'' Steve said just before we left the cabin, as he and I ran our fingers across a waterproof map of Lake Vermilion, planning our attack.
Initially, we patrolled a point only about a mile from the lodge, trolling in about 12 feet of water.
Most of us employed jigs and minnows, admittedly not an overly creative approach.
But our prey were only fish, and walleyes at that, and part of the process of catching any fish, walleyes especially, is a certain willingness on their part to play the fool, no matter the bait and rig presented.
So while we could have chosen sliding sinker rigs instead of jigs (as we did later in the morning), or even Rapalas or other crankbaits, the best bet, initially, at least on most walleye fishing openers, is to tie on a 99-cent jig, preferably one chartreuse in color, and affix to it a fathead or other minnow.
Assuming a walleye is willing to bite, that should prove attraction enough.
But no fish bit.
Well, OK, a few did.
But basically, as the dark day unfolded, the picture on our end of Vermilion, assuming a certain imagination on the reader's part, was one of fishless boats drifting by one another in the cold rain, with passengers in each saying nothing, only nodding or shrugging.
Finally, at 9 or so, in need of a hot breakfast and the encouragement it would offer, we headed back to the cabin, where Steve's wife, Cindy, Bob's wife, Gina, and my wife, Jan, together with assorted kids who couldn't be tricked into departing the cabin at first light, awaited, essentially bemused.
That was the question.
The answer would have been ``no'' for the bunch of us, had I not acted on a tip from one of the lodge owners, Ed Tausk, and briefly anchored atop the last drift leading to Vermilion Dam itself.
This ploy, fortunately, paid off in the form of two lunker bucketmouth bass, one caught by Clint Vilks, age 12, and the other by my son, Trevor, who will be 12 on Monday.
Bass are legal fare in northeast Minnesota, beginning with Saturday's walleye opener.
Both were taken on Shad Raps.
So, yes we did, we said, we caught something.
And we sat down to breakfast.
All day Saturday, we were out, sometimes one or two boats at a time, other times all four.
The weather never really was acceptable. But neither - and this is the part of the fishing opener that makes it an event unto itself, and a culturally unique one at that - did it seem to keep anyone off the water.
Surely, had the day been sunny and warm, thereby inspiring the aforementioned poets, more anglers would have spent more time on Lake Vermilion.
But the weather notwithstanding, there seemed no shortage of people willing not only to bear the cold and rain, but to grin and bear it.
Jimmy Christesen of Chisago City was one such angler.
Staying also at Vermilion Dam Lodge, Jimmy and a friend began their walleye season at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, and were rewarded a short four minutes later with a 4-pound walleye.
``Took `em trolling a shallow crankbait,'' Jimmy noted.
At day's end Saturday, Jimmy didn't have a lot more than that to show for his efforts.
Nor did I.
My biggest fish of the day weren't even walleyes.
Sneaking back Saturday afternoon to Clint and Trevor's largemouth bass hole, I hooked two bigmouths myself, dandy specimens, both.
A warmup, I hoped, for hotter fishing action to come.
That said, there's only one opening day a year, and that was Saturday.
We didn't fill our livewells, but neither did we stay in the cabin.
Like others in this part of the state, we fished - bent low against the rain as we drifted past other boats, trading nods and shrugs, but saying little.
Lake Vermilion is one of Minnesota's largest lakes - and one of its best. It offers anglers walleyes, bass and toothy muskies, all in a wilderness setting near the Canadian border.
By Staff Writer Doug Smith
Lake Vermilion's walleyes were playing hard to get.
A flotilla of 20 fishing boats bobbed like a flock of mallards in a narrow channel bordered by tall pines one crisp morning last week.
It was a well-known walleye hot-spot, but on Minnesota's opening weekend of fishing, the walleyes were mostly no-shows.
``Pretty slow,'' one angler said to another as their boats drifted past.
``Yup,'' came the response. ``But they've gotta be down there.''
No doubt they were. Vermilion - one of Minnesota's largest and prettiest lakes, has an impressive population of walleyes. Fishing in recent years has been excellent, and this year is expected to be no exception.
But with a cold spring and water temperatures in the mid 40s, our group of seven anglers found Vermilion's walleyes tough to entice.
``At least it's not raining,'' said Mike Porter of Minneapolis, bundled in a jacket and rain gear to stay warm. He finally landed our first walleye after three hours of futility.
Fortunately for us, Vermilion has more than just walleyes. It's a diverse fishery with smallmouth and largemouth bass, muskies, northerns and panfish. Though only a few walleyes responded to our opening weekend invitation, the bass weren't as shy.
``Get the net,'' said Mike Pashalek of Minneapolis, his rod bent in half. ``Whoa. It's a nice one.''
After a short battle, he landed a dandy 4-pound smallmouth, then slid it back into the water. ``I always let the big ones go,'' said Pashalek, who has been fishing Vermilion for 18 years and spends several weeks there each summer.
A sparkling gem
At a whopping 40,000 acres, Vermilion is Minnesota's seventh largest lake behind only Lake of the Woods, Leech, Mille Lacs, Rainy, Red and Winnibigoshish.
Vermilion stretches 24 miles across the Arrowhead Region. It's a classic northwoods gem with granite ridges, pine-studded shores and amber waters. It resembles lakes in the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Some 365 islands dot its waters, and with 313 miles of shoreline, Vermilion is a maze of bays, channels and points that offers a bewildering number of fishing opportunities.
``That's what makes Vermilion unique, it's a diverse body of water,'' said Ed Tausk, co-owner of Vermilion Dam Lodge, where we stayed. ``There are narrow channels with strong currents, so it's almost like fishing a river, and there are large bays.''
Tausk's resort overlooks the lake's only water outlet and the Vermilion Dam, a small concrete wall at mouth of the Vermilion River. (A sign out front declares it's the ``best resort by a dam site.'')
Tausk said the place is a former logging camp that evolved into a hunting lodge, then a resort. It reportedly is the oldest one on Vermilion.
The swift-moving water near the dam is conducive for bass fishing, and we caught several there, both smallmouth and largemouth.
``Vermilion has always been noted as a good smallmouth bass lake,'' Tausk said. ``What's really coming on strong is the largemouth bass - we're seeing some excellent largemouth fishing.''
I fooled a nice 2-pound bucketmouth with an orange Rapala, and Porter caught a half-dozen largemouth and smallmouth on a white Mister Twister. He also landed 19-inch and 22-inch walleyes on leeches, and clearly out-fished the rest of the group.
``I'm hot,'' he said with a grin.
A couple hundred yards behind us, a bald eagle swooped down on outstretched wings, gracefully snatched a fish from the water's surface, and flew off with dinner.
While Vermilion's walleyes and bass are well-known, more anglers are showing up on the lake these days to search for muskies.
The lake likely had some natural production, but muskie stocking by the Department of Natural Resources in the mid-1980s has established a solid population that anglers have noticed.
``It's really become a phenomenon,'' said Duane Williams, DNR large lake specialist for Lake Vermilion. ``Five or six years ago, it was off people's radar. Now people from all over the country come here to fish muskies.''
Last year, 14 percent of anglers on the lake fished for muskies, according to a DNR survey. ``It has been discovered,'' Williams said.
In 2002 the DNR netted muskies to assess the population.
``We caught a lot of muskies in the mid to upper 40 inches; the largest we saw was 54 inches,'' Williams said. There is some natural reproduction occurring.
He said fears by some anglers that muskies might harm the walleye population have been unfounded. ``As muskie fishing has developed, we've had record walleye numbers,'' Williams said.
Near sunset one evening, as a strong, cold southwest wind buffeted our boats, we drifted for walleyes off a rocky point, using minnows, leeches and crawlers.
``Got one,'' Jack Rendulich of Duluth told his fishing partner, Dennis Luxem of Woodbury. ``This one has some shoulders,'' he said as his rod bent nearly 90 degrees. ``I don't know what it is.''
It was evident it wasn't a 2-pound walleye - or even a 6-pound northern.
After a seven-minute struggle using 6-pound test line, Rendulich reeled in a eye-popping muskie - we guessed perhaps 45 to 48 inches long - then quickly released it. (Muskie season doesn't open until June 5.)
``I've never caught a fish that big,'' said a still-bewildered Rendulich.
At the end of a long day, our group had averaged only about one walleye apiece, but we hooked 14 bass, a decent northern and the inadvertent muskie.
For many anglers - us included - slow fishing doesn't put much of a damper on the opener. It's a time to relax, get back on the water, renew friendships, play some cards - and eat.
Some groups undoubtedly caught more fish than we did, but none ate better.
We gobbled down stewed pheasant, wild rice and baked potatoes for a pre-opener dinner Friday, and ate grilled marinated duck and pheasant, deep-fried fish and potato slices Saturday night. Then, after fishing for a few hours Sunday, we had more fried fish along with scrambled eggs, bacon and hash browns for brunch.
We had hoped the walleyes would be more active, but we weren't alone in our fishing frustration. We saw few fish boated.
``From the reports I heard, it sounded pretty slow,'' Williams said after opening weekend. ``We've had a lot of cold weather up here, and the water hasn't warmed up much. Often we see better fishing around Memorial Day weekend.''
But some anglers did OK. Two at our resort returned with six walleyes, and we heard reports of others on the southern end of the lake doing better.
Tausk said the first week of June can be excellent for walleyes, as can the second week of September. June and late August are great times to catch smallmouth bass on Vermilion.
``But we see action here all summer,'' he said.
Bluegills in the lake can provide some hot summer action for kids, he said.
Said Williams: ``The fish are a little small - 6 to 7 inches. But they are abundant. In the next few years, there should be some pretty good bluegill fishing.''
To go along with some pretty good walleye, bass and muskie fishing.
Doug Smith is at firstname.lastname@example.org