We met Frank Fillo in Cedar Key, Fla., five years ago when he stepped off an airboat after a cold winter ride. He had just caught some red drum and was a happy fisherman.
Frank and his wife, Lynn, have gone to Cedar Key for a month each winter for many years. They went fishing with us in our 18-foot Lund Alaskan boat that we had brought down to Florida on a trailer. Since then, Frank and Lynn have also gone fishing with us in our new Florida panga-style fishing boat. Carol, our dog, Jack, and I have visited Frank and Lynn at their lake house in Missouri several times on our way south to Florida and north on our way back home.
This year, Frank had promised to bring his second cousin William fishing in Canada on Rainey Lake where Frank had gone many times. With Canada closed to us because of the virus pandemic, Frank booked a cabin at a resort on Crane Lake in Minnesota. Frank invited me there, so I went to Crane Lake for a few days last week.
I’ve been going to Canada fishing nearly every year since 1966. Some of my best summers have been spent working at Tinnerman Canoe Base for the Boy Scouts and at a nearby fishing camp in what is now French River Provincial Park in Ontario. The beautiful water, rock, wind-sculpted white pines, clear blue sky, the call of loons, gulls, white-throated sparrows and wood thrushes along the lakes and rivers on the Canadian Shield have become dear to me.
Since moving to Wisconsin 50 years ago, I’ve gone canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota and Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario. Unlike the French River and the coast of Georgian Bay Lake Huron, this is a vast expanse of wilderness forest laced with rivers and lakes. The lakes of the BWCAW and Quetico were scoured out of Precambrian Canadian Shield bedrock during glacial advances over the last 2 million years. Many types of ancient bedrock were exposed by the glaciers, including granite, basalt, greenstone, gneiss, some as old as 2.7 billion years. The BWCAW – Quetico area really feels like a wilderness with sheer cliffs, cascading waterfalls, moose, and wolves howling in the forest.
Just to the west of the Boundary Waters wilderness is the vast Rainey River system with Rainey, Kabetogama, Namakan, Sand Point and Crane Lakes, lying within the Voyageurs National Park on the U.S. side of the Canadian border, all flowing toward Lake of the Woods and on to Hudson’s Bay.
We stayed at an old-school resort on Crane Lake with log cabins and a main lodge with a dining hall and a phenomenal menu. The staff did well wearing masks and keeping safe distance between guests in the large dining area. Frank, William and I went out fishing in a comfortable Lund Alaskan boat equipped with a 60-hp outboard and an electric trolling motor. We caught walleyes, northern pike and smallmouth bass. I really enjoyed the smallmouth bass that hit immediately next to the rocks or logs along the shoreline.
We fished on the 3088-acre Crane Lake, on Sand Point Lake and in part of Namakan Lake. Crane and Sand Point Lakes have quite a few private cabins, some resorts and a houseboat outfitter. I hadn’t been there for many years and was a bit taken aback with all the boat traffic. There were many anglers like me and families there on Minnesota water because Canada is closed to us.
Despite the boat traffic, hot weather and thunderstorms, we caught some fish. I really enjoyed being back out on the water among the glacier-carved granite islands, towering white and red pines and the rugged beauty of the Canadian Shield even though it wasn’t Canada.