Winter is dragging on. It's early March and the snow in my backyard is piled so high, it covers the fence. I'm eating venison chili in front of my sun lamp when my cell phone dings. It's a text from my friend Julie Collman: "Time for brookies!" And just like that, the seemingly eternal cloud of winter lifts.
Late-winter ice fishing for brook trout in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has become a tradition I look forward to every year. In March, the days are getting longer, the sun is higher in the sky, and the fish are generally cooperative.
Julie and I typically set a date and begin sending each other names of lakes we've been researching on the Department of Natural Resources' LakeFinder website. We're looking at stocking reports and netting surveys to determine how likely we are to find mature DNR-stocked brook trout. Julie's husband, Bob Baker, is a fellow brook trout fanatic who has years of experience on lakes in this area, so we listen closely to his recommendations.
This year, we've settled on a couple of lakes that tick the right boxes: They have promising populations of brook trout and they're not too far from the edge of the BWCA outside of Grand Marais, where Julie and Bob live.
Our preferred method is to drive to the nearest road access, snowmobile to the edge of the wilderness—where motors are prohibited—and then snowshoe in to our lake, pulling our gear on sleds. Without the snowmobile, the hike often wouldn't be doable as a day trip.
On departure day I am out the door by 6:30 a.m. with Julie and Bob. It's still dark out as we drive back roads, steaming travel mugs of coffee clutched in our hands, watching out for moose through sleepy eyes. Ahead of us, those brookies await.