We drilled the last few holes of the day out in deeper water. The 7-foot spot I’d been fishing held a healthy 21” rainbow earlier that Larry Stromback hooked into, but had been deathly silent during my watch. I reeled up, grabbed my electronics and headed towards the new water. Quickly I had red lines targeting my jigging spoon and before long, one bit and gave me the strongest fight of the day. The fish bent my rod and even took some line as my drag whined. While this stout rainbow trout wouldn’t tip the scales as my largest for the day, the longer retrieve would offer the most excitement. As the fish flopped on the ice, the decision was made to call it quits and we headed back to Brainerd with buckets chock-full of colorful trout. That capped my day as a non-resident in my resident state of Minnesota.
So technically I was more of a “non-member” than a “non-resident” during my time on the Red Lake Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. But as I purchased my fishing permit, the “non-res” box was checked and away we went deep into the wild country. We drove down roads that were little more than two-track trails that dipped, curved and wound their way through tall pines and hardwoods, giving you the feeling of escape. Traveling far away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
“Not much for traffic back here,” Stromback said as his pickup lurched across a low spot, bouncing us across our seats. “It’s pretty secluded.”
That seclusion is part of the area’s attraction. Large tracts of forest, pocked with over 30 small lakes that average 60 – 100 acres.
“There’s a few of them that we just can’t get back to at all,” explained our guide, Darwin Sumner. “The lakes are semi-remote with a lot of wilderness area.”
The trees parted and the first lake we’d try appeared at the end of the road. Unlike our excursion the week before, this one wouldn’t require a long drag through the woods. Within minutes we were popping holes and dropping jigs. There was one other group of fisherman on the lake. 3 people sharing a hub-style house just 50 feet from the landing. We wouldn’t have to go far on the lake to find hot spots-something I’ve noticed about designated trout lakes. The fish may prefer certain depths at different times of the day, but otherwise they’re cruisers and can be fished all day long.
“It doesn’t matter,” answered Jamie Dietman, when asked about the best time to target trout. “You don’t have to be there right at sunup. You can have breakfast and then go out. They bite all day long.”
Dietman makes multiple trips to the Reservation to chase these prize fighters each winter. Once you connect with one yourself, you’ll understand why.
“Pound-for-pound there’s not much else that fights like a trout,” Dietman said.
I was hooked after making trips up to the Ely area last winter and doing battle with feisty rainbows and angry lake trout. The rod bends and head shakes are how addictions get started. And also the reason Dietman goes back year after year to fish with Sumner.
“I met him four or five years ago at the Camp Confidence Fishing Classic,” Dietman said. “He does a lot of kids events that I’ve helped him with.” In return, Sumner introduced him to world of Red Lake trout lakes.
“Anytime I get someone who wants to go fishing, I’ll take them fishing,” Sumner said. He’s been guiding for over 30 years and is one of around 10 guides that can access this area. To fish one of the lakes within the 1,258 square mile Reservation, you must hire a guide to take you out.
“We get a lot more people coming here to fish now,” Sumner said. “Our Department of Fisheries has gotten a lot better at managing the lakes and stocking them.”
The two big lakes, Upper and Lower Red Lake get most of the attention as non-members pull huge amounts of walleye out of Upper Red Lake each year. But the smaller lakes on the Reservation can offer world-class fishing with much less pressure for those that give them a try.
“You don’t have to deal with all the people that you do on public water,” said another member of our group, Jim Eide. “It’s definitely interesting.”
Eide, Stromback, Dietman and I were joined by Tammy Dietman, Jamie’s wife on this trip. Other than myself and Stromback, they’d all made this trip before.
“This was my third time up,” said Tammy Dietman. “I limited out,” she added with a smile.
We all would limit out with smaller fish being released to tug lines again another day. Maybe that day will be when we return later this year.
To hear more about fishing on the Red Lake Reservation, tune into Northland Outdoors Radio this week.
To fish on the Red Lake Reservation with Darwin Sumner, contact him at “Fishing@paulbunyan.net” or by phone at 218-766-8406. A guide and a fishing permit are required.