GUNFLINT TRAIL—When it comes to guided fishing trips, every guide has their own way of doing things.
A lot of guides have a favorite lake or two where they like to take people and a tried-and-true method in a specific spot that is sure to catch fish. The client books a date with the guide and the guide takes care of deciding where to go and what to fish for based on what they know will work.
While that style of guiding may work for some, it is not how Vince Ekroot likes to run his guiding business. For Ekroot, it is all about making the trip right for the folks that he is with.
“When people call me,” says Ekroot, “I start by asking them what they’d like to fish for. If they have a specific fish in mind and it’s been working, then that’s what we do. If it’s not working, I tell them so and let them know what has been working.”
“I try to work with [my clients] and provide them with as many options as possible,” continues Ekroot, “because ultimately what we fish for is up to them. If they want walleyes, for example, I see if they’re willing to fish from a canoe—a short portage makes a huge difference when fishing for walleye.”
Ekroot has fished the lakes, rivers, streams and creeks of northeastern Minnesota for most of his life, and he has been operating a professional guiding business—Little Vince’s Guide Service—up the Gunflint Trail since 1987.
Ekroot is known as being one of the premier, if not the only guide on the Gunflint Trail who will take folks out fishing for stream trout on lakes. Rainbow trout and splake are the trout that he fishes for most these days, but he knows how to “do well” on 2-5-pound lake trout all summer long and how to catch brook trout in the spring and fall on “difficult to get to lakes” for anyone up for an adventure.
If clients are looking for something other than trout, however, Ekroot is happy to target more traditional species of lake fish like bass, walleye and bluegills. While the goal is usually to “put people on large numbers of eating-sized fish,” catching a trophy-sized fish is never out of the question on one of Ekroot’s trips.
“Little” Vince Ekroot was born in Duluth on April 23, 1958. Ekroot grew up in Duluth just up the hill from the hospital where he was born, attending Munger Elementary through the 6th-grade before being uprooted to the Gunflint Trail in 1969 when his parents purchased the Windigo Lodge (present day Poplar Haus).
“I started fishing at a very young age,” recalls Ekroot. “As a kid living in Duluth I would often walk up to Chester Park and fish for trout in the ponds and creek.”
“My father and his friends showed me basic fishing techniques,” continues Ekroot, “but I was pretty well self-taught on fly fishing.”
The move to the Gunflint Trail would prove life changing for Vince. While Ekroot’s dad was initially the one most excited for the family’s new life on Poplar Lake, it was Little Vince who took full advantage of his new home in the woods.
“[My dad] thought he’d have more time to fish after buying the lodge,” says Ekroot. “Unfortunately, it didn’t really work out that way. I, on the other hand, had way more time to fish, and would get my father to give me a ride down to the Greenwood River area to fish the creeks for brook trout.”
For a while, fly fishing for brook trout along remote creeks and streams in and around the BWCAW was Ekroot’s favorite way to fish. That is, until his father’s friend Ben Larsen introduced him to lake fishing for trout. According to Ekroot, after catching his first big brook trout with Larsen, he “pretty much lost interest in fishing for those little guys.”
To date, Ekroot has caught five brook trout over 5 pounds, and “well over a hundred” that weigh more than four.
Moving to the Gunflint Trail is also what got Ekroot his start as a guide. At 12 years old, Ekroot was already taking out clients to some of his favorite brook trout spots, carrying their canoes across portages and casting from the shore with either a spinner or bait while his clients went out fly fishing.
“Even at that age,” recalls Ekroot, “I’d generally out fish them by a pretty big margin.”
In the fall of 1976, Ekroot moved back to Duluth to attend college at UMD. After a tough four years in Duluth that ended without a degree, Ekroot married Christine Angelo and, in need of a job, decided to enlist with the Army and became an anti-tank gunner with the rank of specialist four.
One year of active-duty service later, Ekroot returned to school and finished his degree in 1984 at Bemidji State through the Army’s ROTC program. Ekroot then spent three more years of military service as a 2nd Lt. Military Intelligence and a year of teaching at Superior Senior High School before making a permanent move back north with his wife Christine to start a new life.
“When I returned north in May of 1987,” says Ekroot, “guiding became my full-time job and has been since. I made a decision that life was too short to be in a job that you didn’t love. Money wasn’t nearly as important as loving what I did, and I’ve always loved fishing.”
Despite loving his work and making a living in what some might consider a “dream job,” Ekroot is quick to point out that it is still, in fact, a job.
“It is not an easy job,” says Ekroot, “especially the way that I do it. I always like to go places a little off the beaten path, which often means portaging 12-foot alumacraft boats into lakes by myself.”
“Some people think that guiding is just going fishing every day and that every day is beautiful,” says Ekroot. “I’ve had to fish in pouring rain, strong winds, snow storms, 100-degree heat without a breeze… it’s not always rosy. Like I said, it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”
After 35 years of “putting people on fish” Ekroot still loves his work and has no plans to stop any time soon. To book a trip and limit out with Little Vince, give him a call at: 218-388-9942.