On a postcard June morning, Duluth’s Bill Beaudry slipped his big Crestliner into the waters of the McQuade Small Craft Harbor on Lake Superior northeast of Duluth. He welcomed aboard two sons, a grandson and a great-grandson for a morning of trolling. He eased the boat past two families of Canada geese and onto the endless blue of Lake Superior.
“What a beautiful morning,” said Beaudry, 80. “The fish gods are with us.”
This must have been something like Beaudry had envisioned nearly 30 years ago when he first began lobbying for something — anything — like this modest harbor with its bulwark of rock and concrete breakwalls. Perhaps nobody fought harder or longer for such a facility than Beaudry.
“I spent 23 years of my life working on this,” he said.
The McQuade harbor, built and managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, was dedicated in July 2008 and has proven extremely popular with big-lake boaters and anglers. Beaudry has seen the 67-vehicle parking lot filled and rigs parked up and down McQuade Road on the busiest days.
Always a fisherman, Beaudry had tried launching into Lake Superior in all kinds of ways before. Back in the 1960s, he’d slide a 14-foot aluminum boat down a rocky shore behind the old Club Saratoga and try to get the motor started before too many waves rolled over the transom.
As years went on, he would launch bigger boats in the Duluth-Superior Harbor and make long runs onto the lake in search of salmon and lake trout. Like other anglers, he made his share of harrowing runs back to Duluth when the wind shifted and the waves rose. He made those treacherous passages through the Duluth ship canal when building seas and refracting waves turned the canal into a white-knuckle ride.
Beaudry will talk about all of that if you ask him, but mainly on this June morning, he wanted to find surface water warmer than the 40 degrees just outside McQuade. His son Andre angled the 24 ½-foot Crestliner — “Luck of the Irish 4” — toward Duluth and Minnesota Point.
“Whattaya have?” father asked son.
“Forty-two,” the younger Beaudry responded.
We forged on. When we found 45-degree water, we began putting out nine lines running minnow-imitation plugs and a couple of spoons. The lines ran mostly near the surface, with a couple of downrigger lines at 11 and 17 feet. Assisting Bill Beaudry with the rigging were son Dan Beaudry of Duluth and grandson Jon Ries of Duluth.
Ries had brought along his 7-year-old son William, a budding angler ready to crank in the first fish. That happened soon enough, when a small lake trout tripped a release in a patch of 46-degree water. William planted the butt of the rod between his legs and went to cranking in earnest.
We released the fish to let it mature, but William was pumped.
“We got one,” he said.
Trolling on a pleasant Lake Superior day is about as laid-back as fishing gets. The Beaudry clan sat or stood in the sun, munched on Andre’s smoked coho salmon and told stories of long-ago trips on the big lake or up the Gunflint Trail. Fish — brook trout, walleyes, lake trout, salmon — were always the main storyline.
“Fish!” someone would yell, and one Beaudry or another would grab a rod.
William would bounce to the stern, take the hand-off and go to cranking. Only one fish proved too much for him, and he handed the rod back to Andre. That one got away.
Not far away, the freighter Atlantic Huron rode at anchor, waiting to enter the harbor to fill its 736-foot belly with coal. Nearby, charter fishing boats and smaller craft plied the same water we fished, hauling aboard an occasional fish.
Earlier, Bill Beaudry had described the contentious process that finally resulted in the DNR building the McQuade access. Representing a group called Share Our Shores, Beaudry had gone to countless meetings and had spent many a cold winter night knocking on doors in Duluth and Lakewood townships, explaining his vision for a safe harbor between Duluth and Knife River.
“I could really see the need for it,” said Beaudry, who worked for the U S West telephone company. “It was so apparent there was a great need for small-boat access on Lake Superior, to get boats in and out.”
Beaudry was named to a mayor’s council in 1991 to consider a small-craft harbor. The earliest proposals for an access at Duluth’s Brighton Beach or near 75th Avenue East failed. A safe harbor would be both a convenience for boaters and a safe harbor when Lake Superior got rough, Beaudry said.
Persistent and constructive, he never gave up.
“Someone said, ‘How long will you keep pushing this?’ I said I’d work at it until I couldn’t do it anymore, and then my kids would work on it, and then my grandkids,” he said.
When the McQuade access was finally built, Beaudry’s work was finished.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I was very grateful. It turned out so nice. I have received calls from several people who had been firmly against the project. They wanted to say how nice the project was. They complimented it. They said it’s a nice addition to the area.”
It has proven popular not only with boaters, but area residents and tourists.
“McQuade is beautiful,” Beaudry said as we trolled. “It’s just a great place to launch a boat. This morning, when we launched, there was a lady walking her dog on the easterly breakwall. A lot of folks come down there just to be near the water and enjoy the scenery and the fresh air. Boaters love it. It’s easy access and easy to get in and out of. It’s really doing its job.”
Beaudry credits many others who put in so many hours to make McQuade a reality — Al Katz, Owen Christensen, Bill Majewski, Cheryl Erickson, Lennart Johnson, Jim Oberstar, state legislators and DNR employees.
“I just cannot express my gratitude to all kinds of folks who kept us going down the road on this,” he said.
Meanwhile, William reeled in a coho salmon and a few more lake trout. He was working hard.
“My arm is sore,” he said, “like when I broke my arm.”
Bill Beaudry took the helm for the run back to McQuade. The harbor was just as calm and peaceful as when we’d left it. For Beaudry, it must have felt almost like coming home.