Minnesota is the number one ruffed grouse producing state in America, and it’s not a bad place to fish either. In a state of plenty, the Lake of the Woods Region is arguably the best bet for a cast and blast. There is so much public land to hunt, and so many square miles of water, you’ll never run out of places to chase birds and catch fish.
Lake of the Woods is located in the northern reaches of Minnesota and stretches into Canada, ranging into both Ontario and Manitoba. It’s the sixth largest fresh water lake in the United States behind the five Great Lakes. It is over 70 miles long and 70 miles wide. The lake has 65,00 miles of shoreline and over 14,500 islands. The area around the lake abounds with public lands rich with game, especially grouse.
“Grouse prefer early successional young forest habitat and Minnesota has more of that than Michigan and Wisconsin combined, so there is no shortage of places to hunt,” said Ted Dick, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Forest Game Bird Coordinator.
Earlier succession trees are those that grow in higher densities with an abundance of sunlight. So when aspen comes in after a disturbance, whether it’s a windstorm, fire or timber harvest, it grows up thick and dense offering protection and food.
Jason Dinsmore is a good friend of mine who works for the National Wildlife Federation in the Great Lakes Region. He and I recently decided to try our hand at some public land ruffed grouse hunting. Jason is a Minnesota resident and much more experienced grouse hunter, so he knew how to use the DNR website to locate a grouse management area just a few miles from Sportsman’s Lodge on the Rainy River, where we were staying.
Along with Dillon, Jason’s Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, who was a stud in the thick timber, we walked onto the public land blind with no previous knowledge of the area and no one to give us any pointers. The conditions were terrible. It was raining, so the dog had a hard time locating birds, and the wind was whipping pretty good. I busted brush like a buffalo, just straight ahead at a steady pace. We walked out two hours later sopping wet with four grouse in hand, two killed apiece, after flushing a dozen. That hunt was joyful misery.
Serious fishermen recognize Lake of the Woods as one of America’s premiere fishing destinations. With every cast, you don’t know what you’ll hook into. Northern pike, perch, sauger, crappie, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, lake trout, sturgeon, and muskellunge are all a possibility. However, it’s walleye that make Lake of the Woods famous. Anglers visit Lake of the Woods with expectations of catching loads of walleye and with the realistic hope of landing one of the giant lunkers that make the lake famous.
On this trip, I wanted to check a bucket list item and boat my first sturgeon. I was able to do so on a charter boat just a few hundred yards down the river from the lodge. The Rainy River dumps into Lake of the Woods just past Sportsman’s Lodge. A better setting would be tough to find for fishermen to stay. The tactics were real simple, drop a wad of night crawls tipped with a half-rotten dead minnow on the bottom and wait. In mone morning, my partners Jason and Lotte Houser and I boated 6 sturgeon and a couple of accidental keeper-size walleye.
The home base for Lake of the Woods is Baudette, Minnesota. Known as “The Walleye Capital of the World,” this quaint little town of just over 1,000 residents could also claim to be some sort of grouse capital. You can find everything you need for your own cast and blast adventure including lodging, boat rentals and guides in and around Baudette. I highly recommend Sportsman’s Lodge. This is one destination I know I will return to many, many times. For more information about Lake of the Woods visit the website www.LakeoftheWoodsMN.com
See you down the trail…