Barb Carey talks with Lady Captain Cassy Geurkink, the Only Woman Charter Captain on Lake of the Woods
The Woman Angler & Adventurer Podcast with hosts Angie Scott and Barb Carey meet with Captain Cassy Geurkink, a lady charter Captain on Lake of the Woods in Minnesota.
Cassy’s passion for fishing started as a small child. Her parents were tournament anglers and she and her sister grew up in the boat. She grew up fishing on Mille Lacs Lake and fished whenever she could.
After her father moved to the Lake of the Woods area, Cassy came to visit and fell in love with the area. The vast waters of Lake of the Woods is a special place and she wanted to be on the water as much as she could. She went to work in the office at Border View Lodge and, shortly after, asked to be able to work as a Captain. She went to school to get her captain’s license and has worked as a regular charter captain for the last 5 years.
Cassy is the only female captain working on Lake of the Woods, and even though some customers are initially hesitant, they soon find out that Cassy can put them on fish and create a wonderful experience on the water.
Listen in at www.thewomanangler.com/26 as Barb talks to Cassy, you will learn a bit more about fishing from her story. She may even give us some secret fishing tips, she is so successful for a reason!
If you find yourself in the Lake of the Woods area, call 1-800-PRO-FISH and request to book a trip with Cassy!
The Woman Angler and Adventurer podcast can be found at www.thewomanangler.comand on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher, Sound Cloud, You Tube or wherever podcasts are found!
Barb Carey, founder of WI Women Fish shows off the day’s first sturgeon, caught from a Hobie Pro Angler.
By Mike Pehanich
Sturgeon ancestry dates back to the dinosaurs. But catching these giants from a kayak, is a fresh new sport!
For us outdoor folks, Northwoods travel comes with great expectations. Anticipation grows feverish when the destination is a renowned fishery.
My destination this August was the Rainy River, fabled for its seasonal runs of walleye, cherished as the fertile connecting water to the diverse fisheries of Rainy Lake, its source to the east, and Lake of the Woods, the million-acre drainage to the west.
I arrived at River Bend’s Resort (www.riverbendsresorts.com)on the Rainy River, a short boat ride from the river’s mouth at the southeast corner of Lake of the Woods. My imagination waxed rosy with visions of walleye gobbling jigs, cartwheeling smallmouth bass, and lightning-quick attacks from northern pike and musky.
However, my hosts from Hobie Cat, the resort and Lake of the Woods Tourism had added a new wrinkle. They had relegated the game species the area is noted for to back-up roles. First we would challenge lake sturgeon, known more as a fish of mystery and an evolutionary survivor than as a target for sport fishermen.
My hosts had added another twist to the hunt. We would take the ancient brutes on from Hobie kayaks.
Anatomy of a sturgeon
One look at even an artist’s rendering of a sturgeon is enough to tell you that its family roots reach deep into the geological past. Credit its gift for survival to crude yet efficient characteristics acquired early in its evolution — a streamlined body built on bone and cartilage; a tail strangely fashioned for speed and maneuvering; an oddly tapered snout; an armor-like exoskeleton highlighted in younger specimens by a jutting serrated backbone; a complex set of sensory and feeding organs in its nose including barbels to locate desirable forage; and a highly functional snout made to stir up lake bottom and suck in food like a vacuum.
Sturgeon grow BIG, too, a trait that makes any species more desirable. Paul Johnson, the resort owner who served as both our guide and host, has witnessed catches of sturgeon up to 62 inches in length and 75 pounds. The river’s hook and line record, caught just this past May (2018), measured 75 inches in length and weighed well over 100 pounds.
Our Rainy River sturgeon had a comeback story to tell as well. Before the middle of the 20thcentury, overharvest and pulp mill pollution had endangered sturgeon populations in the region. Common sense initiatives set the stage for a mighty comeback. Environmental regulations led to improved water quality, and enlightened conservation measures and catch-and-release practice ushered in the robust, invigorated population found in the Rainy River and adjacent waters today.
It is a species more than worthy of protection. Sturgeon can live to a ripe old age, with some able to live 150 years or more and reach weights in excess of 200 pounds.
A sturgeon breached 50 yards offshore within minutes of my arrival at River Bend’s Resort, leaving no doubt that this was sturgeon country.
“In peak season in April, it’s boat-to-boat across the river along the Minnesota portion of the Rainy River,” explained Paul Johnson, who with wife Brandi owns River Bend’s and Walleye Inn resorts in Baudette, Minn.
Minnesota opens limited “keep” seasons for sturgeon in spring and summer, but most fishermen are content to release their quarry after doing battle. “A lot of sturgeon fishing’s popularity has to do with the size of the fish,” continued Johnson. “Most anglers aren’t targeting sturgeon to keep them. They just want the opportunity to catch these prehistoric monsters.”
Despite the clear presence of sturgeon in the area, local guides opined that we would find bigger numbers upstream near the town of Birchdale.
We launched our kayaks — a couple of Hobie Pro Angler 14s and i11S inflatable models along with several of the new Hobie Compass kayaks — above Birchdale. Two sets of rapids made for a scenic and modestly adventurous start. From there, we eased our way toward prime sturgeon haunts, catching smallmouth bass, walleye, sauger and northern pike along the way.
Breaching sturgeon gave our party of eight a fair hint of where to anchor, though we wished we had had sonar units to pinpoint holes and other key feeding areas. We spread out along the river, and settled in for the game of patience known as sturgeon fishing.
Tackle and technique
We geared up with tackle tailored to a big fish brawl – mostly medium heavy to heavy rods and reels spooled with 50- to 65-pound braid.
Terminal tackle consisted of a swivel, short monofilament or fluorocarbon leader of no less than 20-pound test, a #2 to #4 circle hook and adjustable bell sinkers from one to four ounces in weight.
Our bait selection was an unglamorous mix of two to three nightcrawlers and recently thawed emerald shiners, the latter added “extra scent for the sturgeon to find the bait,” in Johnson’s words.
The art of anchoring
We learned quickly that anchoring a kayak for sturgeon fishing in a moderately swift stream like the Rainy River is damn near an art form all its own.
“We use a breakaway buoy anchor and an anchor trolley system,” explained Kevin Nakada, the Hobie pro who guided us through the paces of this new skill. “With the system, you can position the kayak to fish comfortably in the current yet detach the kayak quickly from the anchor to fight the fish.”
The buoy anchor consisted of a 3.5-pound anchor and several feet of heavy anchor chain that more than doubled the anchoring weight. Sixty feet of anchor rope ran from the chain to the buoy, a conventional bumper buoy generally used to protect moored boats from banging into a dock. A 7-foot tagline, terminated with a bowline loop, ran from the buoy to the anchor trolley, a pulley system positioned on the starboard sides of our kayaks. The trolley allowed us to position the anchor tagline at the starboard stern of the kayak. Anchored thus, we could fish comfortably downstream without our kayaks struggling sideways in the current.
Barb Carey, founder of WI Women Fish, a Wisconsin-based organization dedicated to teaching women to fish with skill and confidence, earned the first hook-up. Sturgeon on, she freed her kayak from the buoy anchor and took off on a summer sleigh ride.
All of us within earshot rallied to her shout, detaching, too, from our anchor tethers and pedaling the Mirage Drives to close the quarter mile or more distances between us. The sturgeon made sure we had time to witness Barb’s battle and photograph the prehistoric fish.
Sturgeon are bulldogs in battle. They dive deep, pull drag and put serious strain on tackle. The highlight of many sturgeon battles, however, is a surprising aerial display.
Barb’s fish obliged with a writhing perpendicular leap. The sturgeon’s hang time drew cries of excitement from the convergence of kayakers. The fish’s size and profile doubled the excitement.
Even a modestly proportioned sturgeon possesses considerable strength, evidenced in the tugboat rides it took the kayaks upstream and down. Interestingly, the drag of the kayak allows the angler to battle these big fish even with limited line capacity.
Paul slugged it out with another sturgeon an hour later. Then action lagged for the rest of the afternoon.
Evening was closing in when writer Jody Rae’s rod bent into a throbbing arc. Whoops and hollers signaled a special fish, and we all converged on the day’s closing action. When the fish finally tired after a long battle, Kevin Nakada snared it with a tail noose. He carefully led the subdued fish the short distance to shore where Jody and fish posed for photos.
It was a fitting end to a fabulous adventure, a meeting with a fish from prehistory on legendary water during the dawn of a new sport.
Paul and Brandi Johnson, owners of River Bend’s and Walleye Inn (www.riverbendsresorts.com)resorts in Baudette, MN, run guided fishing trips for sturgeon as well as for other Lake of the Woods and Rainy River sport fish (walleye, northern pike, sauger, perch, smallmouth bass and crappie). Hobie kayak rentals are available as well. Contact Lake of the Woods Tourism (www.LakeoftheWoodsMN.com ; 1-800-382-FISH ) for additional information on sport fishing, lodging and area activities.
We have been having high temperatures in the teens and single digit temperatures at night here in Missouri and that doesn’t count the wind chill index.
In my old age I don’t like being cold so I’ve been day dreaming a lot lately about going fishing some place where it’s nice and warm. But, I’m not thinking about warm beaches, blue oceans and saltwater fishing. I’m thinking about calling my friend Joe Henry, the Executive Director of Tourism at Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods, and booking an ice fishing trip to “The Walleye Capital of the World”.
As I write this on a Sunday morning in southwest Missouri the temperature in Baudette, MN, is minus 29 and the high is going to be minus 18. Plus they have a wind chill warning. So you’re probably saying “You got to be crazy Whiteley because there is no way you can be warm fishing in temperatures like that.”
When someone who has never been ice fishing thinks about it they imagine sitting outside over a hole in the ice bundled up in so much clothing you can barely move and still being cold. At Lake of the Woods people from all over the country come to experience ice fishing because instead of fishing in the cold you fish in the warm.
After you check-in to your toasty warm resort you get into heated track rig transportation. They take you across ice up to several feet thick to your personal ice fishing house that has been placed where the guides know the fish are. The ice fishing holes have already been drilled for you and your fishing equipment and bait are waiting. Once inside your insulated ice fishing house you will be taking off some of your clothes because the thermostat is set at a very comfortable 70 degrees.
Now the fun begins! You pull up your seat, grab your fishing rod and lower your bait into the hole. It usually doesn’t take very long before you feel a tug on your line and set the hook. Usually a delicious walleye comes up through the hole but it could also be an equally delicious sauger, yellow perch or crappie. You could even be surprised with a huge northern pike.
Joe tells me that you might hope that tug on your line is an eelpout. A member of the cod family and also called burbot, it is affectionately known as “Poor Man’s Lobster” because of its firm flesh, high fat content and mild, buttery taste. Take the backstrap and tail meat from the fish, boil it in either salt water or 7UP and then dip it in melted butter just like you would lobster. It’s an ugly fish with a large belly and eel-like tail but locals say their true beauty is in the eating.
Ice guides will come around and check on you and at the end of the day they will pick you up in the warm track rig and transport you and all your fish back to the warmth of the lodge. They even clean your fish and the resort will cook them up for you if you would like.
You might want to even catch a transport back out on the ice to check out the famous Igloo Bar at Zippel Bay Resort. This popular spot offers a big screen TV, a full bar and limited hot food menu. For a small fee you can even ice fish in the bar.
For a really special experience consider staying in one of the sleeper fish houses with a furnace and cook stove fueled by propane as well as comfy bunk beds. Joe says, “It’s like ice camping but in the warmth and with all of the amenities. Spending a few nights on the ice i
s cozy and good for the soul. It is so neat stepping outside of the fish house on a clear night and seeing stars and the Milky Way like they have never been seen before. The sky is absolutely awe inspiring and if you’re lucky, you might even see the northern lights.”
I think a sleeper fish house is what I want to do. Imagine with me catching fish all day, cooking them up on the stove, enjoying the night sky, getting a good warm night’s sleep out on the ice, and then getting up the next morning in my underwear and catching more fish. Now I am sure you don’t want to think about that last image so O.K., I’ll wear a bath robe.
This beautiful area of Minnesota offers great fishing year round with anglers traveling thousands of miles to fish these waters. Besides the fish already mentioned you can also catch smallmouth bass, muskie, lake sturgeon, lake trout, lake whitefish, tulibee, as well as white suckers and redhorse which is another story for another time.
I was at an Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers conference at Sportsman’s Lodge in Baudette, MN back in September of last year and all of us writers and even our wives caught lots of walleye, sauger and even lake sturgeon while fishing the Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River that runs by the lodge.
The warm winter ice fishing though sounds like something really special that needs to be added to my “bucket list” so I am going to call Joe at (800) 382-FISH (3474) as soon as I finish this article and book a warm ice fishing trip to Lake of the Woods, Minnesota.
After looking at all the pictures Joe sent me of him with fish it is obvious he has a really tough job. I might just have to ask him if he needs a good Lake of the Woods Assistant Director of Tourism to help him out with all those fish.
If you want to try warm ice fishing or the great fishing at other times of the year you can go to their web site at www.LakeoftheWoodsMN.com for more information.
2 bottles (12 oz. each) medium-bodied ale (3 cups)
4 pounds red-skinned potatoes
8 slices thick-cut bacon
1/4 cup butter
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Bring beer to a boil in a 5- to 6-qt. pot that can hold a steamer basket snugly. Meanwhile, cut potatoes into bite-size pieces and put them in a steamer basket. When beer boils, put steamer basket of potatoes in pot, cover, reduce heat to low, and steam until potatoes are tender when they are pierced with a fork (about 15 minutes).
2. Meanwhile, cook bacon in a frying pan over medium heat until crisp. Drain bacon on paper towels, chop, and set aside. Pour off fat in pan, but don’t wipe out or rinse. Return pan to medium heat and add butter and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions start to brown (about 10 minutes).
3. Meanwhile, put potatoes in a serving dish, reserving beer in bottom of pot. Add 3/4 cup beer and reserved bacon to onions, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of frying pan.
4. Pour bacon mixture over potatoes, add pepper, and stir gently to coat. Add salt to taste. Serve hot or warm.
Recipe is courtesy of Lake of the Woods Tourism:https://lakeofthewoodsmn.com/bacon-butter-potatoes/; Phone: 1-800-382-FISH (3474); Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Where is the guide?” was my second question. My first question was, “Which boat is mine?”
The boat was one of many 27-foot long Sportcraft walleye charter boats neatly tied-up to the Border View Lodge docks on Lake of the Woods, Baudette, Minnesota.
This was my first experience going out on a walleye charter. I really was not excited, a walleye charter never did sound like my kind of fun fishing.
I was attending a conference at Lake of the Woods in Minnesota and fishing buddy, Dave Barus, a skilled Lake Erie angler, had arranged this Walleye Charter. Going out in a big boat on big water with six anglers and a guide did not appeal to me. By the end of the day, I found out it was not only productive, it was great fun! It was a very enjoyable way to spend a day on water…in the rain!
Tom at Border View Lodge answered my first question, “Your boat is the one in that slip.” “The one with the girl in it?” I asked. “Yes, that is your boat.”
The girl, Cassy, answered my other question. “Good morning, I am your guide. Get in and we’ll get going.” My first thought was this local trip has been engineered as a tourism publicity moment with a lady guide. Preconceived notions are not good things, but one crept into my brain that Cassy did not look like an experienced or hardened north woods woman. Of course, I really can’t describe what an experienced north woods woman should look like.
Cassy had a very serious look on her face as she readied six anglers and their gear, nosed the boat out into the river current and headed for the open water on Lake of the Woods. I would come to understand this serious look latter in the day, it was pure focus.
My thoughts turned back to Border View Lodge. Part of the charm of fishing in the North Country is visiting a new lodge. All have a charm of their own. Border View Lodge had a special charm that makes any angler feel at home the minute you walk in the door. Wood paneling, fish mounts on the wall, dining area overlooking the docks and river and friendly people saying welcome.
Border View Lodge is a family owned and run business. The original lodge was a commercial fish operation when burbot was harvested to make cod liver oil. Around 1962, Border View became a fishing lodge serving anglers. In 1981 the current family purchased the resort. Today, Mike and Lisa Kinsella run the resort, oversee nine guides and 10 launch boats. In the winter they have 60 Ice Houses on the lake. Border View is a full service resort for people that like to fish and the resort has amenities all anglers like. Mike has a variety of packages to fit the needs of any group. Call Mike at 1-800-ProFish, tell him what you want and he will take care of you.
Another glance at our guide, Cassy, and the same serious look was locked on her face as she stopped, put out the anchor and baited up six rods with a jig and minnow.
It wasn’t long before the first walleye hooked up. A nice walleye and as Cassy skillfully netted it I noticed the serious look was replaced by a huge smile. That was it, serious look when getting clients loaded and handling the boat, but all smiles when the bite starts. That is my kind of guide!
The rest of the day made me smile. I went from never wanting to do a walleye charter to, “Can’t wait to do this again.” We hooked more than 75 walleye and sauger, some to 28 inches long, and we put six fish apiece in the cooler. Cassy kept minnows on the jigs – baiting every one with her secret hook-up method, netted every single fish, and kept everyone fishing and in conversation. Quite a feat.
So much for pre-conceived ideas!
Cassy Geurkink is currently the only lady guide in the area, we found this out when we returned to shore, AND, she is considered one of the best guides on this part of the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods. Cassy grew up fishing and hunting with her dad Tom who is also a guide. Before becoming a guide, Cassy worked at a Chevy Dealer in the Minneapolis, St Paul area. Cassy eventually worked her way up to the Sales Manager position. She would visit Dad on the weekends and started not wanting to go home. Cassy left the car dealership and for a season worked in the lodge office. But, as she says, “I am an outdoor girl and wanted to be outdoors.” To be a guide on a waterway that borders another country, you have to have a Charter Captain’s license which involves study and a lengthy Coast Guard test. So I started studying and passed the tests.
Cassy now guides four to seven days a week. On days off, she takes her 7-year old son Finley out jig fishing. Cassy said the best part of guiding is meeting different people. She says, “Guiding teaches you even more about fishing.” She learned how to be patient and how to help people catch fish. When Cassy first started guiding, a lot of guys looked and said, “Oh boy a girl guide.” Now many of those have become regular repeat customers and ask for Cassy. I can understand why. Pure dedication, highly skilled, not afraid to try new things and focus with a smile.
Cassy puts you on the fish and makes a happy boat. If you can book her, say, “Oh Boy,” because you are going to have a great fishing day.
Catching fish with Cassy explaining the details, the options, the reasoning behind using chosen jig colors, that was pure fun. It was an education in fishing. We pay for the fishing, the fun and instruction is free. Can’t wait to do it again.
Hot Lure: 3/8 Ounce Jig (hammered gold/pink) Tipped with a Minnow
Angler Qwest Pontoon Boat Rig was Safe and Extra-Comfy
By Forrest Fisher
Brad Dupuie and Roger Nieson treated several friends from the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW) to a short afternoon “Angler Qwest Pontoon Boat fishing trip” for walleye and sauger on Lake of the Woods near Baudette, Minnesota.
With the lake in turnover mode and the water with a tea-like water color, we still landed over 30 fish, keeping 18 in the 3-hours.
We dropped lines with simple jig/minnow rigs and VMC jigging spoons in 26 feet of water off the Rainy River outlet to the lake. The technique that produced good fish was to release the jig straight down alongside the boat, let it hit bottom, then lift sharply about 6 inched to one-foot, then let the jig flop back to bottom, wait 5 seconds, then lift about 4-6 inches off bottom and wait. Repeat every 20 seconds or so. Slam, dunk!.
The Angler Qwest pontoon boat was not ordinary, powered by a 200HP, 4-stroke Merc that used very little fuel (regular gas). The well-outfitted boat could outrun (speed) more ordinary 27-30 foot fishing craft designed for six anglers and a charter captain.
The boat featured extra special build items that included a teak floor, live wells, rod holders, deck wash-down hose, measuring board table, sidewall cupboards, set up for downriggers, welded stainless steel fixturing all around, side-deck grill options, all equipped to handle 4-ft waves in the Great Lakes. AND, it travels at 45 mph!
We had 8 of us friends on board too. Rods were 6-7 feet lightweight open-face spinning reel rigs with 8-pound monofilament line, though many anglers use lightweight braided lines tied direct to the jigs. The stained water color allows the line color of any type.
All of us enjoyed a great time fishing out of the Sportsman’s Lodge in Baudette, Minnesota, where special fall rates are in effect or the next few weeks. Visit http://sportsmanslodges.com/ for more information on lodging.
Musky fishing exciting! There is always one place where you can almost always find cooperative fish that will provide an exciting trip.
Any muskie hunter knows that Lake of the Woods is one of the best fisheries of muskie. Anglers come for miles around to fish our trophy waters. So make your plans as the 2017 muskie opener on Lake of the Woods for both the Minnesota and Ontario sides of the lake begins this weekend, Saturday, June 17th.
Lake of the Woods is a world class muskie fishery with over 65,000 miles of shoreline and 14,552 islands.
The majority of muskie anglers are catch and release. Many resorts, especially at the NW Angle specialize in muskie guides. These muskie nuts keep a good handle on fish movement, lure preference, colors and areas muskies are prevalent. It is also a great way to save time really learning the nuances of becoming a better muskie angler. Check out a list of NW Angle Resorts who can set you up with some of the best guides in the business.
For those that just love the sport, here are some tips on safely practicing catch and release:
Careful Handling Makes Catch & Release Successful
A big muskie is an old muskie. Females require 14 to 17 years to reach 30 pounds. Northern pike grow even more slowly. Once taken out of the water and hung on a wall or carved into fillets, a trophy is not soon replaced by another fish of its size. So, the key to creating trophy northern pike and muskie fishing is catch-and-release angling. Unfortunately, some fish are mortally injured by improper handling and cannot be successfully released.
All northern pike and muskie are difficult to handle because of their slippery hides, lack of good handles and sharp teeth. Big fish are particularly troublesome because of their great size and power.
The first step to successfully releasing fish is to use artificials rather than live bait. The second step is to keep the fish in the water if at all possible.
Caught on artificials and handled carefully, nearly all fish can be returned with no permanent injury. Here are some effective methods, courtesy of Muskie Canada, for handling large northern pike and muskie:
·Hand Release. Grip the fish over the back, right behind the gills (never by the eye sockets!) and hold it without squeezing it. With the other hand, use a pliers to remove the hooks, while leaving all but the head of the fish in the water. Sometimes hooks can be removed with the pliers only; the fish need never be touched.
·Landing Net. Hooks can be removed from some fish even as they remain in the net in the water. If that’s not possible, lift the fish aboard and remove the hooks while the fish is held behind the head and around the tail. To better restrain large fish, stretch a piece of cloth or plastic over the fish and pin it down as if it were in a straight jacket.
·Stretcher. A stretcher is made of net or porous cloth about 2 to 3 feet wide stretched between two poles. As you draw the fish into the cradle and lift, the fold of the mesh supports and restrains the fish. This method requires two anglers.
·Tailer. Developed by Atlantic salmon anglers, a tailer is a handle with a loop at one end that is slipped over the fish’s tail and tightened. The fish is thus securely held, though the head must be further restrained before the hooks are removed.
If you must lift a big fish from the water, support as much of its body as possible to avoid injuring its internal organs.
Never grip a fish by the eye sockets if you intend to release it. By doing so you abrade its eyes, injure the surrounding tissue and may cause blindness.
Muskie anglers are a very passionate breed, often fishing from dawn to dusk. They also have the deepest respect for muskies and overall do an excellent job of making sure these ultimate predators return to the water unharmed.
Best of luck to all muskie anglers not only this weekend but this year. The muskies have been active this spring, are in good numbers and should be active.
For lots more info on where to fish, guides and lodging: