Kristina VanHove’s fishing rod bent hard and the tip started to jump up and down. She hovered over a hole 30 yards from where I was fishing and had hooked into her first rainbow trout. Stefanie Hurt was stationed 30 yards in the other direction and we simultaneously sprinted over to help. After a short period of furious reeling, the water in Kristina’s hole started to bubble as the fish neared the surface. Then, without warning, the rod tip snapped up and the jig that was embedded in the trout’s mouth popped loose. It flew out of the hole and laid on the ice, bare.
So close. But as trout will often do, a second chance would be offered.
“Who fishes for trout on Red Lake?”
Overall, this was my third chance to travel to the Red Lake Reservation since December to target stream trout with Darwin’s Red Lake Adventures. Fishing on this reservation requires a special license and a guide to bring you on the four designated trout lakes that opened up to winter fishing in 2013. Red Lake manages these lakes and provides an extensive stocking program that continuously feeds them with rainbow and brook trout. It’s still a relatively unknown opportunity as Upper and Lower Red Lakes get most of the attention here.
“We actually thought we’d be fishing Red Lake,” explained Kristina. “And our biggest question was: Who fishes for trout on Red Lake?”
In all, there would be nine of us driving up from central Minnesota, with this being a first-time trout experience for half the group. After picking up our license in town, we headed down a narrow road to a small lake tucked deep in the woods.
“Oh boy, where in the world is this guy taking us,” she said as the truck went down the minimum maintenance path.
“It’s such a rare experience,” said Stefanie Hurt, from Women in Need of Kindness (W.I.N.K.). Trout fishing can be a challenge and finding a good place in the region to catch a handful can be downright impossible. “I went into this with a goal of catching just one trout, but left with my limit!”
The higher success rates are what attracts fisherman — myself included — back to this area. The buckets full of fish we bring home along with the surroundings that we catch them in. This is the first year that I’ve targeted trout more than traditional species like crappies, walleyes and perch. To me, the landscapes might be the number one reason I go.
“We were back in the middle of nowhere it seemed,” said Ted VanHove. “I even got a little sunburnt!”
“It was so far back in the woods, it was beautiful,” Kristina VanHove explained. “Closed off from the entire world, it was so peaceful.”
You can fish for stream trout in the numerous waterways that carve their way through the bluffs of southeastern Minnesota, or the tributaries that drain into Lake Superior on the North Shore, and there are lakes scattered around the pine-laden and rocky-edged coniferous biome of northeastern Minnesota that are stocked each year by the DNR as well. But this vast section of wilderness on the Red Lake Reservation can offer the feeling of getting away from the world and the unique experience of buying a non-resident license in a state that you might be a resident in.
But, back to the fishing. A day of good trout fishing can change someone’s perspective on the sport.
“They were extremely fun to catch,” said first-timer 13-year-old Trevor Slaybaugh. “I was not expecting that big of a fight.” The lack of area lakes that can provide similar fishing have kept him from targeting them before.
“You can catch those in Minnesota?” Kristina wondered when the idea of fishing for trout came up. “I had no clue!”
She quickly found the appeal — and challenge — of trout fishing after losing that first trout at the hole. Determined, she loaded her jig with fresh bait and quickly dropped it back to the bottom, where once again, that hungry fish snapped it back up. Once again, Hurt and I dropped our rods and sprinted over, this time with Sumner in tow. I snapped pictures, while Sumner knelt to land the fish and Hurt offered moral support. Once again, the hole bubbled with the watery chaos only a trout can deliver. The fish came screaming out of the water, spit the jig and begin flopping on the ice. We whooped and hollered, then watched in disbelief as the fish bounced it’s way back to the hole and slipped away down under the surface. Despite Sumner’s attempt at recovery that lead to a wet sleeve up to his shoulder, the fish found freedom.
“I figured I was done for the day,” Kristina said. “That fish was teasing me and he won.” But she wasn’t done yet.
Cheeseburgers in Paradise
For the next few hours, we’d drill holes around the shoreline of this 100-acre lake and drop lines hoping to attract more active fish that were in cruising mode.
Rainbows averaging 14 – 20 inches, along with a few bonus brook trout would be caught by the group spawning a flurry of high fives. As the sun went higher, the warm temps had the crew peeling layers — a luxury not often enjoyed during a day of ice fishing. Shelters were never considered for this trip, but neither was sunscreen. A decision I regretted the next day.
We broke for lunch without leaving the ice — or our fishing holes. Jamie Dietman fired up a small grill within arms reach of his rod and began flipping burgers with a flattened aluminum can and a set of needle-nose pliers.
“You could call him a McGyver of the grilling world,” said angler Matt Hurt when describing Dietman’s utensil of choice. “The Red Bull spatula was a very ingenious way of making due on the ice.”
We moved to a second lake in the late afternoon after the bite began to slow. Lines were dropped and jigs jigged in vain. We were close to a limit, but the fish had gone MIA and we began thinking about the drive home. Well, most of us anyway. One angler had redemption on her mind.
“I felt like an epic failure,” Kristina said. “I was struggling.”
The outlook was bleak as no one had caught a fish for a couple of hours, yet she bounced from hole to hole, trying to find the lucky spot that would break the spell. She walked over to one of the pre-drilled locations and took a look.
“I called it ‘The Dirty Hole’ because it had a lot of muddy runoff in it,” she said. “I dropped my line and instantly felt a tug.”
After a short fight, she had a nice rainbow laying on the ice — this time a safe distance from the hole. From across the lake, I could hear the celebration and see the commotion.
Not content with catching just one, she dropped her line back down the same hole.
“I didn’t celebrate too long as there was still plenty of fishing time left,” Kristina said.
And quickly she had a second fish on the line. This one, too, was landed safely and set aside. These would be the only two fish our large group would catch in the afternoon.
“What a moment!” Kristina said. “I had this rush of accomplishment run through me. Total redemption.”
Ask any angler about “the one that got away,” and they’ll have a story. Ask Kristina about hers and she’ll tell you about “the two that didn’t”.