Just when you think you’re ready to pack it all up and move to a
golf community outside of Phoenix, the first signs of spring
appear. Robins chirp, Canada geese nest, and because of melted
snow, your backyard resembles a duck slough.
This, however, probably means you are too late for the hot
ice-out lake trout bite in our northern extremes. To be specific,
our destination in 2000 was Pipestone Lake in northwestern
Early last May a group of Outdoor News staffers and friends took
a trip to Happy Landing Lodge on this beautiful lake, located just
six hours north of the Twin Cities. Some of the guys have been
fishing the lake on and off for more than 27 years.
You’ll find Happy Landing Lodge via boat and one portage about
an hour from the entry point on Clearwater Lake. The portage
between the lakes is a boat lift on rail over a few dozen yards of
land. Once on Pipestone you weave your way through a series of
shallow water marker buoys and islands enroute to the lodge. To
avoid damaging your prop on an underwater reef, bring a good
Fly-in trips also are an option, but schedule them in advance.
Some people drive as far as International Falls and catch a
puddle-jumper from there.
The lake consists of hundreds of islands, sharp granite ledges,
and enough structure to resemble the Richter scale of a Magnitude 6
earthquake. Because of this variety of terrain, it’s a massive
playground for visitors in search of many species. Though noted as
a very strong lake trout lake, with fish consistently caught in the
4- to 8-pound class, it is also a world-class muskie lake. One
party caught and released a muskie last year that exceeded 50
inches in length. The lake also holds walleyes, smallies, and
largemouth bass. Smallmouth action also can be hot during the
Then there’s the lakers, our fish of choice.
All about timing
As all Minnesotans know, the weather in the upper Midwest during
early spring can be very unpredictable. One day is sunny and 60
degrees, the next in the 30s. Because of this, timing for the trip
Immediately following ice-out typically is the best time to find
lakers in shallow water. When the ice leaves the lake, the upper
layer of water warms fastest, bringing the fish into the shallows
in search of baitfish and a livable temperature. The fish will
spend up to a month in this area, and if you time it right, expect
some fast-paced action.
Our plan of attack is simple: Troll plugs and spoons in 30 feet
of water or less. Sometimes the fish are suspended, but bouncing
your baits off the rocks on occasion means you’re in their zone
near the bottom. The other option, often used during the lazy hours
of the mid-day, is to treble-hook a cisco, drop it into deep water,
and free spool your way into shore. Attach a small piece of toilet
paper to the line near the tip of the rod, and you can easily see
when a fish takes the bait. This method of still-fishing can be
very effective because lakers are scavengers, and always search for
a meal on the bottom. Leave your bail open because these fish can
peel off a lot of line while a lazy angler naps.
Our 2000 trip coincided with some excellent early May weather.
We had four days of consistently sunny days with temps in the 60s.
But because of an already mild early spring, the fish were harder
to find. Many fish already had left the shallows for late spring
Some fish were caught on plugs, mostly chartreuse Shad Raps and
Husky Jerks, but many fish were caught while soakin’ our word for
still-fishing during the hour or two designated for shore
Speaking of lunch, there’s nothing better than
fresh-from-the-water trout dipped in batter and fried golden brown.
Other shore lunch items include fried potatoes, baked beans, and
canned corn for side dishes. It doesn’t get much better than a
beautiful day in Ontario, fresh fish, good company, and nature at
its finest. These simple pleasures always seem better when they are
unconnected from the hustle of our everyday lives.
Time your ice-out lake trout trip right and you’ll be home in
time for the walleye opener.
What a way to start out the spring!
The accommodations are among the best for such a secluded
With two huge meals in the morning and evening, plus shore lunch
options during the day, it’s hard to imagine ever being hungry at
Happy Landing Lodge. And the beauty of this expansive log A-frame
dining room is a far cry from the atmosphere of the metro area.
The spacious cabins accommodate parties up to 10 people, and
ensure a fine view of the lake. Aside from the refrigerator/freezer
in your cabin they also offer chest freezers in the cleaning room
for your fish.
The 17-foot Lund Outfitter rental boats at the lodge are
equipped with 50-horse Honda outboards.
Aside from the excellent fishery at Pipestone Lake, there are 12
other fishing lakes within a day-trip distance of the lodge,
including Yoke, Straw, and Bartley. On some of these lakes, boats
are available on a daily-rental basis. It’s perfect for the angler
who wants to portage into an adjacent lake for a fishing