The Call of the Loon

Posted: Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

"I don’t know the reason, I stayed here all season. Nothing to show but this brand new tattoo."

- Jimmy Buffet

I’m not much of a Jimmy Buffet fan, despite knowing most of his catalog by heart. Nonetheless, certain sentiments hit home, and that passage in particular was poignant for me recently as I sat on the deck at Bay View Lodge in northern Minnesota. Bay View is located on beautiful Lake Vermilion, just south of the "end of the road" at Ely. In terms of picturesque locations, "Big V" is incredibly hard to beat in the lower 48; it’s also a place that I hold very near and dear to my heart.

Lake Vermilion on Trophy Room Zoom

On, I’m known as Smallmouth King, although that’s a bit of a misnomer. I rarely get the chance to fish these days with work taking up far too much of my time, and living in Germany surely doesn’t help either. Over here you need to take a two week theory class, in German, just to get a fishing license. After you jump through those hoops, you need to join a fishing club, which you have to pay for the privilege to join. After having done that, you can only fish waters that club has rights to. In most of Germany, and especially where I reside, there is a distinct lack of natural bodies of water. Most fishing is found in sand pits called "Baggersees". It’s there you’ll find old, wrinkly eyesores lining the shores in the summer with most visitors naked as a jay bird. It’s just not the kind of place I close my eyes and dream about. Vermilion, on the other hand, is.

Sunset on Lake Vermilion Zoom

Since I was kid, I’ve been going north at least once per summer, usually targeting the first or second week of June when the smallmouth are going absolutely mental, and the walleyes come up shallow. Back in the day, it was just automatic. My dad would pay for everything, and I’d just get in the truck. These days, as we all realize with age, to do something like that takes not only resources, but time. To put the two together is increasingly difficult as our relationships and professional obligations demand more and more of us. So you can imagine my satisfaction when, for the first time ever, I was able to call a fishing trip, business.

Tube Jigs for Smallmouth on Trophy Room Zoom

Sometime in mid-April, when the jones to get the lines tight and fill my lungs with pine-flavored air hit its peak, I started to look around for a cabin to rent on Vermilion. $800. $1200. $1500… per week. Say what?

Just to get to the lake I would likely spend thousands. I was down, but not out. What happened next was nothing short of poetry.

Rumor had it that there was a new sheriff in town on Lake Vermilion. A dude named Erik Lietz had just taken over the Bay View Lodge, a haunt I knew well with its sprawling deck and tiki bar that, when viewed from just the right angle, at just the right distance, resembled the Guns of Navarone. A true behemoth of a cocktail-and-chicken-wing-lovin’ leisure spot. And that’s to say nothing of the wait staff: Girls. Hot. Lots of them.

Bay View Lodge, Lake Vermilion on Trophy Room Zoom

But how could it be that I couldn’t find anything out about this online? I searched and I searched and all I could find was a nebulous confirmation in the Greenwood Township Council minutes in some lame PDF that had recently been published. I couldn’t believe that a sleeping beast like the Bay View didn’t have more PR muscle behind it. This place was coming back from a two year slumber and the world had to know!

I managed to get Erik on the phone after stalking him online to figure out his phone number – the Bay View’s number wasn’t published anywhere. I told him my story, sold it sweet, sprinkled fish guts and whiskey on top of it, and sent him links to my work. A few days waiting and the deal was a go: a website and a social media shove for two weeks on the lake. Wooooooo!

To be honest, though, I wasn’t entirely sure about our rather loose agreement until I drove down the long, winding gravel road to the lodge on the day the day I arrived, my father following behind me with his red Lund in tow. Thankfully Erik turned out to be a very cool, very "fishy" dude. A hardcore Lake Michigan salmon angler, and native Iron Ranger, Erik and I spent more than one night at his bar soaking beers, telling fishing stories, and talking about what could be, and what should be, at Bay View. We also ate lots of hamburgers.

Yes, I was living the dream.

Largemouth bass on Trophy Room Zoom

Paul Cownie, founder of Trophy Room, made the trek from Denver, by way of Des Moines, to join me at my cabin for a couple of days to soak some more beers, crush the fish, plus discuss future plans for our common project, Paul is one of my best friends, and in fact his whole family rate as some of the best people in my life outside of my own. It was great to be back in the company of an outdoor nut like him – and to think that if we keep doing things right, doing trips like this for a living could someday become a reality.

Smallmouth King and Trophy Room Zoom

The world seemed right. The sunburn across my forehead and nose stung sweetly. The spot on my hand between my thumb and index finger where a walleye had sunk its dorsal spines ached beautifully. The Schmidt tops popped, and the suds stoked my spirit to a righteous warmth. I was there, and I was supposed to be there.

When I was 14 years old my dream was to be a professional angler. That didn’t exactly work out, but somehow I’ve managed to do what I can with the tools at hand and get pretty close to the x ring. So here’s to Erik Lietz, Paul Cownie, Trophy Room, Lake Vermilion, Bay View Lodge, and most of all, to mother nature for providing me with my passion, and a reason to keep pushing. Sometimes we get what we want in this life, and it makes everything else tolerable.

Tight Lines,
Smallmouth King



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