MN anglers find plenty of fish on Ely lake

Ely, Minn. (AP) _ Butch Diesslin derricked the fish aboard his
16-foot Lund on Basswood Lake. The fish, a pale green, couldn’t
have been more than 4 inches long.

Diesslin, a longtime Basswood angler from Ely, gave the fish a
long look as he grabbed it.

“Technically,” he said, “it’s a walleye.”

Yes, it was a walleye. A scale-model walleye, perfect in every
detail. A miniature version of what we hoped to find a few more of
on this August morning.

Diesslin tossed the fish back. It was the last walleye we would
see all day.

Diesslin and seven others had spent the previous week on
Basswood, boat-camping on the sprawling border lake.

“Last week when we were up here, it became apparent that
walleyes weren’t going to be easy to catch,” said Diesslin, 66.
“So, we switched to panfish. Everybody was happy to eat panfish and
have the action. We caught a lot of bluegills and crappies and a
few walleyes. We ate some panfish and northern pike and some
smallmouth bass.”

Make no mistake. Walleyes are the preferred species for most
anglers on Basswood, by far the most popular fishing lake among Ely
residents. It’s very dependable in the spring, when walleyes
congregate near flowages and in shallow bays.

Typically, the walleyes move to submerged reefs by this time of
year.

“This year, we seem to be running a month behind as far as
feeding patterns,” Diesslin said.

That’s why we brought along leeches and night crawlers and
minnows. That’s why we fished shoreline breaks, weedline edges, the
weeds themselves and submerged reefs that topped out from 17 to 9
feet below the surface. We jigged. We trolled Lindy rigs. We used
every form of bait in the boat.

We caught fish all day long and could have had ourselves a fine
shore lunch of fried fillets – none from walleyes. We caught
bluegills, several northern pike, several smallmouth bass and even
one largemouth bass. It was hard to call it a bad day of
fishing.

We saw only a half-dozen boats all day long, and about that many
canoes. Basswood lies near the middle of the 1.1-million acre
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It was in a canoe that
Diesslin first got acquainted with this country back in 1958. He
came up from St. Paul as a Boy Scout to what is now the Northern
Tier National High Adventure Base in Ely. By 1962, he was a guide
at the canoe base and guided for eight years. He worked for the
base until 1979 and remains an adviser.

He also taught physics and computer science at Vermilion
Community College in Ely for 28 years.

Through his guiding, Diesslin became well aware of what visitors
to the border lakes found so compelling.

“The natural beauty, for one thing,” he said. “The silence. How
clear the night sky is. And the air quality.”

All of those complemented the good fishing that residents and
visitors found on Basswood Lake. Like many Ely residents, Diesslin
remembers Basswood when it was dotted with resorts and cabins. He
knows where lilacs still grow at a former resort site near
Washington Island. He can show you where Leo Chosa had his trading
post, where Basswood Lodge once pampered guests and where anglers
bunked at Peterson’s Fish Camp.

All of those places, and many more, were burned or hauled out
log-by-log when the area was made a federal wilderness in 1964.
Anglers were still able to use motors, though, and despite further
motor restrictions in 1978, much of Basswood remains open to motors
up to 25 horsepower.

Access to Basswood isn’t unlimited, however. Like camping
permits for canoeists, day-use motor permits for Basswood by way of
Moose Lake are issued under a quota system by the U.S. Forest
Service. Diesslin managed to draw seven day-use permits for
Basswood this summer. Each allows him to come up in his boat
accompanied by three other boats. The permits are free, except for
a $12 reservation fee.

In addition, fishing boats have to be portaged into Basswood
over a commercial truck portage, or by attaching a set of wheels to
the boat and pulling it by hand.

Because of the quota system, fishing pressure on Basswood is
less than on comparable lakes such as Vermilion, Mille Lacs and Big
Winnibigoshish.

“It’s a productive lake,” Diesslin said. “There’s lots of food,
lots of structure variation. It goes from 100 feet deep on Bayley
and North bays, to an awful lot of shallower water, so there are
good growing grounds. Because of the sheer size of the lake, there
are lots of places for fish to be. You can’t fish them all.”

Shallow bays produce excellent crappies. Weed beds hold, as
Diesslin says, “hand-stretching” bluegills. The lake produces
trophy smallmouth bass up to 21, 22, 23 inches. The state record
northern pike was caught here long ago. Deeper bays hold chunky
lake trout. And walleyes are plentiful.

“Basswood is noted for its quality – the number of large fish,
the good average size,” said Duane Williams, large-lake specialist
for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at Tower. “It’s
an excellent walleye lake and exceptional for northern pike. You’d
probably have a greater chance of catching a trophy pike than in
most other lakes in the state.”

The lake has good forage species, and it’s big enough that fish
can spread out, Williams said.

“Basswood has all the ingredients,” he said, “plus the fact that
it’s a little harder to get to and has limited entry.”

Diesslin has three more Basswood permits to use this summer.
He’ll be back, hoping to find walleyes and more.

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