Fly Fishing the Boundary Waters
Fly Fisher/Guide/Fly Tier
Jim Blauch has guided the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota for the past 20 years. If you want solitude and crazy smallmouth bass fly fishing listen in and Jim will spill the beans on this great destination.
Learn more about Jim Blauch...
Imagine yourself fly fishing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, one of the most beautiful group of lakes in the country. The fish are abundant and the scenery is simply breathtaking. Nothing could equal the heavenly feeling of catching your first trout of the day while slowly floating these very pristine bodies of water. However, like many other fishing venues, everything isn’t so perfect. What could possibly prevent you from enjoying this dreamlike fly fishing experience?
Listen to our interview with our very experienced guest, Jim Blauch, and learn how to be successful in fly fishing the Boundary Waters. Jim enjoys being close to nature and has been fly fishing almost his entire life. A native of Pennsylvania, he has been diligently hooking and re-hooking river small mouth bass and anything else that wanted to bend his pole. He holds degrees in wildlife management, chemistry, environmental studies, and has a graduate degree in environmental biology. He is a Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructor and is affiliated with numerous company pro-staff programs including St. Croix and Ross. Jim is the owner of Moose Track Adventures Resort Outfitters and Guide Service and a very useful resource of information on the flora and fauna, natural history, and ecosystem ecology of Northern Minnesota. He is well-acquainted with and enjoys guiding in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
According to Jim, the Boundary Waters is technically the area that covers International Falls all the way to the Pigeon River - right around the Thunder Bay and Minnesota border. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a 1.5 million acre of federally protected wilderness area where restrictions have been placed on any development and any motorized traffic.
Jim says that the Boundary Waters is very pristine. "Combined with the Quetico Provincial Park, which is the Canadian side of the Wilderness Area, you have over 2.2 million acres of canoe area and federally protected waters that are pristine," he says. He fishes in the area because of this.
"Boundary Waters hasn’t been really changed for the last 200 years. It’s been protected. Some areas require some effort to get into, but you can get some into some places in the Boundary Waters that are very low-impact fishing. When you’re out there casting your fly on the water and you look around and you are the only people on the lake, that’s a good feeling. I call it solitude," Jim says.
The Boundary Waters networks into several numbers of waterways or lakes. According to Jim, the species of fish that can be found in these lakes vary. "There are particular lakes that are better for certain species of fish," says Jim. Trout requires a very oligotropic lake - a deep and clear lake with low nutrients and maintains a cold temperature.
Other types of lakes in the Boundary Waters hold a diverse number of species including lake trout, small mouth bass, northern pikes, and walleyes. "I would say 90 percent of the lakes hold all the species of fish except lake trout," Jim says.
With regards to the best time for fly fishing in the area, Jim says, "It seems that June is probably our best fishing month." However, he added that this is not to say that the other months don’t produce very nice fish too. "Our most stable weather conditions are July and August, and that’s typically the busier of our season," Jim added.
The Boundary Waters is covered with ice during winter. Jim says that you can start fly fishing after the ice goes off anywhere from mid April to the first week of May. "Just after the ice goes out, it’s an incredible opportunity for something different - fly fishing for lake trout. It’s something that most people don’t even think about doing but it sure is fun. You have to hit it just right, just after the ice goes out and right at fishing opener. Until that water warms up, you can find good size lake trout within that upper 20 feet of water."
According to Jim, the Boundary Waters is restricted by the use of permits. "Everybody that enters the Boundary Waters Canoe Area needs to have a permit and it goes per group," he says. "Each entry point going into the area only has a certain number of permits available per day."
Jim says that getting a permit can be difficult for the really popular canoe routes as well at certain dates. "If you’re looking at July 4th, there could be difficulty getting a specific entry point permit." However, he furthers that if there’s no available permit, there are over 500 lakes within 20-mile radius of Ely which are good fly fishing alternatives even though they are not within the Wilderness Area.
Although kayaks are becoming widely used in the area, canoes are usually the mode of transport when fly fishers go into the Boundary Waters. Jim’s advice is to get a canoe that is easy to maneuver. "I like a wider canoe, a little bit flatter bottom. Of course you’re going to lose speed, but that’s okay. I’m not out there to set a world record. I like to be able to cast, travel, and carry an awful lot of weight with me because I like to eat well when I’m out there."
Jim’s strategy in fly fishing unfamiliar lakes in the Boundary Waters is to look at the contours and the topography of the lake. "If I have not fished a lake, what I do is try to find the bottom structure of that lake and correlate that with the time of the year I’m fishing. I can also take temperatures throughout the entire water column so I can find out what’s going on."
Listen to our complete interview with Jim Baulch and find out more tips on fly fishing the Boundary Waters.