On certain lakes throughout the Northern Wilds, it’s worth forking over the necessary funds to hire a fishing guide or charter captain. On one particular lake, it can be a matter of life or death.
Just ask Darren Peck, the owner and charter captain of Lake Superior based Tofte Charters.
“When fishing on Lake Superior, changing weather conditions, equipment failure or lack of preparation can change a great day on the water into a life or death struggle,” Peck said. “Charter captains are not only experienced in catching fish, but also in keeping you safe and getting you back to the dock.”
Certainly safety should be the top priority during any fishing or outdoor adventure in Minnesota or Ontario. Following that, catching fish is high on the “hope it happens” list for many anglers who venture forth onto the massive body of water that is Lake Superior. And because the Big Lake is so expansive, deep and soaked in mystery, even die-hard anglers find no shame in hiring a guide or charter service when they go fishing on Lake Superior. After all, Minnesota’s portion alone of Lake Superior is 1.4 million acres, which is a tremendous amount of water to cover. By comparison, the rest of Minnesota’s combined fishable waters total 3.8 million acres. There are charter fishing establishments in Duluth, Knife River, Silver Bay, Tofte, Grand Marais and Thunder Bay to assist with narrowing the scope of an otherwise huge body of water.
The recipe for success while fishing Lake Superior often involves specialized equipment. Not every angler can afford or justify the expense of adding downriggers, heavy duty rods and reels, softball-sized weights and other deep water gear to their fishing tackle collection. Charter boats come with all the necessary equipment for fishing Lake Superior. Once the charter vessel and captain are hired, simply climb onboard and prepare for action.
Lake Superior brings visitors from across the globe coming to test its waters. Archie Hoogsteen, the owner and captain of Archie’s Fishing Charters in Thunder Bay, has chartered trips on Lake Superior for people from Russia, Holland, Finland and the Middle East during recent years. The common theme from most clients who book a trip is that without a guided service of some fashion, many anglers are simply lost with where to start, or even what the lake is all about. One guest of Archie’s Charters, a visitor from Saudi Arabia, could not believe Lake Superior was a freshwater lake due to its sheer size and depth. To finally convince the client he was not fishing in saltwater, Hoogsteen sought to collect evidence by filling an empty mug from on board his ship and dipping it in the lake.
“It blew his mind when I gave him a glass of water out of the lake and told him to drink it,” Hoogsteen said.
And drink it the man did.
When it comes to catching fish, lake trout are the top target throughout most of the summer. Salmon are also a target amongst anglers of Lake Superior. Though they are sought out later in the summer, catching the migrating salmon is a bonus, according to Peck. A charter captain with nearly two decades of experience working the waters of Lake Superior, Peck said coho and king salmon were much more abundant in the past than they are now.
“The lake has its ups and downs, some years are better than others,” he said. “The lake trout are always there. It’s the salmon that move in and out of the bay, so they can be iffy.”
As it goes with fishing inland lakes throughout the Northern Wilds, water temperature is key when you wet a line. This complexity provides another reason charter-fishing trips are of value. Charter captains make their living knowing where and when certain species of fish will be feeding in Lake Superior. They also have vast knowledge of the lake’s underwater currents and structure.
Depending on the weather, the Minnesota and Wisconsin shorelines near Duluth are typically very good in June for lake trout and salmon, because the surface water is a bit warmer than out on the main lake or farther up the North Shore. By August, surface water temperatures are at their warmest. Trout and salmon are deep and downriggers are the choice of equipment, according to Peck. Regardless of the time of year people hire a charter fishing trip, Peck said the purposes of the trip remain the same.
“Of course, most people want to catch fish,” he said. “But what I hope they take away from it is a great experience and memories to last a lifetime. Fishing with Grandpa or Grandma or spending time with good friends. That is what stays with you long after the trip is over.”
And when it comes to creating memories, Peck is a master of the trade.
“My daughter Katie is 11 years old now,” Peck said. “When she was six we started a Tofte Charters tradition that she catches the first fish of the season. I am not allowed to start the charter season before this happens. I look forward to that day every year.”
Hoogsteen said most of his clients are not only happy catching fish, but simply by experiencing a day on Lake Superior.
“Once they get out on the lake most people are amazed by the beauty of Lake Superior,” he said. “It’s something that you can’t experience anywhere else, fishing on the cleanest and biggest lake in the world. Fishing for salmon and lake trout or just sightseeing ocean ships and lakers anchored out front. It’s just beautiful.”
By Joe Friedrichs