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A Day of Adventure at Gunflint Lake

 Tom Broughton

The very word, adventure; evokes feelings of excitement, happiness, road trips, exploring new country, hiking, fishing, wild animals, and a basic love for the outdoors. Adventure was instilled in me at an early age. My father would take one month off from his bank job every year and we would load the 56’ Buick Roadmaster, with our 16’ foot Shasta travel trailer in tow, and head West. Exploring all of the major National Parks, and stopping in all the Western states.  We would stop to set up camp for a week or just a few short days, exploring, hiking, climbing mountains, horseback riding, observing nature, and having the time of my life. That’s when I came to the realization; that there is so much more out there than our daily lives in the city. My parents also had a small cabin on Deer lake, in Wisconsin. It was close to where my Grandfathers’ farms were located and that gave me weekends and summers to create my own adventures. I think at times, I really miss my childhood and how fortunate a life I was born into.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) always had a calling for me when I lived in Minnesota. It has over 3 million acres of pristine woodland forest and chains of lakes, one connecting to another by small creeks, rivers and portages along the Canadian border.

On one particular week, in the early summer, my daughter and I headed up the Gunflint Trail out of Grand Marais, along the big lake they call Gitche Gummie. The trail leads into the heart of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). It is maybe 50 miles long and ends at a beautiful camp grounds at the mouth of Saginaw Lake. A beautiful cascading river cuts down the edge of each campsite, delivering a soothing song, to rest the mind, body and soul.

We decided to rent a small boat on Gunflint lake at Hestons Lodge, to go fishing, exploring, and observing nature. The lake is several miles long and the last lake that allows motorized boats. At the very eastern end of Gunflint lake, there is a small channel that takes you down a meandering creek to the head of this rapids that lead up into Northern Light Lake.

As we were headed slowly towards the rapids, a large female moose ran across in front of our boat with two little calves in tow. They were magnificent to say the least, and gone as quickly as they appeared. When you reach the rapids that lead up to Northern Light lake, you must pull the boat up the rapids from the shore using the bow line. It can be a bit challenging, but the outcome at the mouth of Northern Light lake is nothing but spectacular.

There are a few islands on the lake, as in most shield lakes, and that’s where I headed to fish. As we approached the first island, a Bald Eagle took flight from her nest, maybe 100 feet up in a large pine overlooking the lake. We continued past and as the boat quickly approached the second island, a Loon jumped off her shore nest and flew away, keeping a close eye on her one egg. Their eggs are gold in color and quite large, she was swimming nearby. I finally found a spot to set up for fishing, between the main shore and the last little island. I had two poles for myself, one for large Northern Pike and Walleye, yet another light weight with 4 lb. test to cast for small mouth.  I took out an old antique Heddon silver lure, that was from my deceased father-in-law’s collection from the 20’s and attached to my ultralight. The lure was in a polished silver with 4 small arms, each little arm had a treble hook attached.  I said as I threw it a mere ten feet, “this one’s for you, Harry boy”. As I retrieved this lure on the one and only cast, and enormous fish came up from the bottom and ripped the lure off the line. My daughter who was watching screamed and said, “dad did you see the size of that fish? All I saw, was this large copper colored back as it was headed back to the bottom of the lake. What a fitting end and testimonial to this wonderful piece of American handcrafted art. Yes, a fishing lure. Oh well!  I will never see one of those again, I mean lures. Ok, fish too.

As we began fishing and having fun, I could hear this loud pounding or drumming sound coming from the mainland forest. It echoed across the water and I was saying out loud; “what is that noise?” Suddenly, the mother moose we had seen earlier appeared, running up and down the small bit of beach rattling and grunting. Then it occurred to me, this is where she was taking her young calves to eat breakfast and she wanted us gone. Moose eat off the bottom of lakes and she was going to show her young how it’s done. Amazing!

We spent the next few hours floating, fishing, talking, and enjoying the nature abound around us. Catching and releasing all the fish we caught mostly Northern Pike and a few Smallmouth.  As we left the lake to call it a day, we floated down the rapids to the meandering creek below. I thought, what a great day with my daughter.

As we approached the eastern shore of Gunflint Lake and enormous wind hit us square in the face. The wind was blowing directly out of the West down the entire length of the lake. I had to think, is it worth the risk of heading back in such choppy cold water. The temperature was dropping and it was getting late in the day. We had only brought our fishing poles and tackle box. Oh boy! I asked my daughter, “Are you up for this?”, after all the boat is only 14 feet long with a 15 Merc on the stern. “Ok, let’s give it a go!” I didn’t want to spend the night without shelter or a fire.

As we headed the boat across this large bay, I knew when we turned around the far point to head West, we would lose the shelter of the land. We had our life jackets on and I told my daughter, hold on tight, are only chance in this small boat is to hug the shoreline until we reach the end of the lake. I said, if we capsize swim to shore and don’t worry about the fishing gear. As we turned to the West around the point, the waves slammed the small boat and almost blowing us completely over, bow to stern. My daughter was holding on tight to the gunnels of the boat and at times seeming almost straight above me. I hugged the land without grounding the engine and fought for every foot, mile after mile. Every cold wave that hit the boat, blew completely over me in the stern and I was getting hypothermic, but I knew I couldn’t quit. My daughters’ future depended on it.

Once we cleared that first point on the lake, I was committed. No turning back for this stubborn fool, and probably in hind sight, a risk not worth taking, but; I was young and naïve.

As we approached the end of the lake finally, after fighting huge waves and wind, I was exhausted. At that point, the sun was rapidly going down and I had limited time to head around the west end of the lake and go with the wind back down the southern shore line to the resort.

It was almost dark when we reached the dock at Hestons’ resort, Mrs. Heston was standing out on the dock and expressing her relief at the site of our shivering bodies. She told us that the weather service had issued a wind advisory and storm warnings for the arrow head region. She said, “I would not have let you on the lake had I known this storm was coming.” The relief was written on her face and I am sure, on mine as well.

Later that evening as we drank hot cocoa and sat by the fire, I knew we truly had an adventure filled day. My daughter still to this day, tells her friends about our adventure on Gunflint Lake and the Gunflint Trail.