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Mackenthun Outdoors: Boundary Waters is Minnesota's wild ride

Jul 13, 2020 07:30AM ● By Editor

Photo:  Scott Mackenthun

By Scott Mackenthun - Special to The Mankato Free Press - July 12, 2020 

Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness has long been a great option for getting away from the grind of humanity and get back to nature.

Avid anglers know it as a phenomenal place for fishing. Without any development or human interruption on lakeshores or in watersheds, wilderness has complete ecosystem functionality. Fish have fully intact spawning, rearing and foraging habitats — all those necessary elements to thrive.

On developed lakes, those habitats slowly disappear, the marginal culmination of each successive change, often deleterious, to lakeshores and their watersheds.

BWCA fishing can be some of the best fishing, similar to Canadian fly-in fishing but without the extravagant cost. If you can outfit yourself, borrow gear or even rent what you don’t have, you can still go as far as you’d like, with physical fitness and endurance as your only limitations.

Fishing the BWCA does come with challenges. Since the area was designated wilderness, neither state surveyors nor commercial cartographers have plotted the lakes, meaning there is a great deal of guesswork to find structures and depths.

Anglers have to utilize others means for discovering the mysteries of various lakes. Many learned by trial and error, some mark their own paper maps after shooting depth with portable depthfinders, and some read shorelines for clues as to how the depth might vary. As remote sensing technology has improved, many have turned to aerial photography to search remotely for structure that might be seen through the typically crystal-clear water of the BWCA.

For the last half-decade, marine and recreational fishing SONAR manufacturers have produced depthfinder/GPS plotters with built-in processing capability. Instead of recording depths to a card and having to process those files on a computer, the head units can now build maps on the fly. For those enterprising enough, you can now create maps of your favorite fishing spots in the BWCA.

I’d coveted these units for a few years before finally taking the dive and buying my own Humminbird Helix. As is the case with most technology, in time the price drops as the technology becomes more mainstream, so I probably saved a little money during my wait.

The Humminbird Helix 7 draws about 0.8 amps, significantly more than my old black-and-white, liquid-crystal display depthfinder. With a typically 9-amphour sealed lead acid gel cell battery, you can get about 11 hours of runtime for the Helix 7.

For a multiple day trip, that wasn’t going to cut it. I was going to need more power. But as any BWCA veteran can tell you, the decision to pack an item or not, given that all equipment is carried in packs and bags, is a quotient of that item’s functional value divided by its weight. Lead acid batteries are heavy.

Thankfully, technology again has a modern solution. Lithium batteries, at half the weight of lead batteries, can provide steady power that won’t slowly give out like lead acid.

I picked up a pair of Dakota Lithium batteries, both 10 amphour. One was packaged in a “Powerbox”, a plastic ammunition box wired to adapter port, USB port and positive and negative female terminals. This ingenious adaptation helps power other BWCA luxuries — a hanging camp light and recharging cables to everyone’s phones, the latter being used on low power settings as GPS units, handheld flashlights and cameras.

The Humminbird was used to chart a few familiar haunts as well as pick up on some new honeyholes. In the past, where we had often consciously or subconsciously triangulated our position from familiar backgrounds like trees or points, we could now paddle right on top of a spot. This benefit shines brightest, pardon the pun, at night when you really can’t see much of anything.

Nighttime BWCA fishing can be some of the best walleye fishing of any trip, and knowing the terrain, as well as the fish, can be a real advantage. By turning down the backlight and shutting off some features, you can minimize ampdraw further, making your batteries last even longer.

Modern technology, not just for fishing purposes, has made canoe and backpack camping all the easier. Better canoes, better tents and clothing fabrics, better food … every part of the minimalist camping experience has been made easier with the invention of better materials or a better widget.

The same is true for fishing gear and, as highlighted earlier, fishing electronics. Some believe that wilderness trips should be embarked upon only with primitive tools for camping and fishing. I say to each their own. I won’t deny myself the ability to use modern equipment, short of what is prohibited within designated wilderness. Everyone is free to use what they prefer.

The non-motorized wilderness designation of the BWCA prohibits certain items — motors, tin and aluminum cans, glass bottles, portage wheels and sails — to name a few. The battles for wilderness designation and the rare motorized exceptions were arduous; it was hard to get people to agree to something back then and even more so now.

Not everyone believes in wilderness or wild places, or perhaps more accurately, some do but not in their backyard or someplace else. I tip my hat to those that fought the battles for the places that we can enjoy as wilderness visitors now and raise a glass to those that continue to fight to protect these places.

Scott Mackenthun is an outdoors enthusiast who has been writing about hunting and fishing since 2005. He resides in New Prague and may be contacted at [email protected].  To read the original article and more outdoors columns, follow this link to the Mankato Free Press website.

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