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Jim Junttila: Woods, Water and Worse

Island hopping for lunker lakers

August 13, 2010
The Daily Mining Gazette

After limiting out on e-mail and feedback from last Friday's fishing trip to Stannard Rock, thank you one and all for your kind letters, I thought I got the bluewater bug outa my system, but no such luck. So here we go again, off on another extended cruise to other remote, way-offshore Lake Superior fishing holes.

All are imminent hazards to navigation and magnets for fish and fishermen, where sunken shipwrecks provide excellent structure and forage. Some are just reefs, shoals and rocks without lighthouses or markers, treacherous waters teeming with trophy lake trout.

Our first stop is Isle Royale and its famous historic lighthouses on either end, Rock of Ages and Passage Island. We may even invade Canadian waters with side trips to Bateau Rock, Gull Islands and Superior Shoal, some of the fishiest waters you've ever seen.

Lake Superior is 350 miles long and 160 miles wide, covering 31,700 square miles. That's a lotta water to get lost in. In summer, the sun sets about 35 minutes later on the western shore than on the southeastern edge. It is the home of lost mariners, pirates of the Keweenaw and pirates of Canada, who smuggled contraband and booty, high-jacking and plundering lake freighters, private yachts and cruise ships, but pretty much leaving fishermen alone.

If you ask me, Minnesota and Canada got the short end of the deal when the feds went way outa their way, drawing the U.S. border northa Isle Royale and giving it to Michigan, specifically Keweenaw County. Look at the map; both Grand Portage, Minn., and Canada are about 18 miles away, the Keweenaw is about 50, and all for the Toledo Strip, but that's another story. That stellar piece of map-making is good for a column all by itself.

Rock of Ages Lighthouse, 3.5 miles offa the west enda Isle Royale and 2.5 miles offa Washington Island, is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, and coordinates, 47 52'00"N, 89 18'48"W, are the crosshairs for hot fishing. Built in 1908, the original light was a Second Order Fresnel Lens weighing 3,530 pounds with a 29-mile range, the most powerful light on the Great Lakes. It was automated in 1978, ending 68 years of lighthouse keepers. In 1985, a 300mm Tidelands acrylic optic was installed with a 17-mile range that can be seen from Grand Portage, Minn.

The original Fresnel lens is on display at the NPS Windigo Ranger Station on the west enda Isle Royale. Go see for yourself.

The small 1/10-acre reef sunk some pretty big ships before the lighthouse was built. The 200-foot Cumberland, a Canadian side-wheeled steamer bound for Duluth sunk in July 1877. In October 1898, the Henry Chisholm ran aground, broke up in a storm and sunk on top of the Cumberland; ostensibly where the expression "stacked deck" came from. (Actually, I just made it up. You've gotta keep an eye out for fiction in this column.)

On May 27, 1933, the 270-foot cruise ship George M. Cox, hit the reef in thick fog. The crew safely evacuated 127 passengers in lifeboats and life rafts that lightkeeper John Soldenski towed to the relative safety of the lighthouse where they all spent the night in very crowded quarters. The ship sunk near the other wrecks, attracting fish, fishermen and divers ever since.

Rock Harbor Light on Middle Island Passage hasn't been functional for years, but marks a great place to drop lines and troll RJs, Rapalas and Reef Runners in and outa Rock Harbor, past Pete Edison's, Conglomerate Bay and Caribou Island.

Passage Island Light, a Norman Gothic structure with a 44-foot octagonal rubblestone tower, coordinates 48 14'07"N, 88 20'59"W, is the northernmost American lighthouse on the Great Lakes. Located across a 3-1/2 mile channel from Blake Point at the northeastern tippa Isle Royale, home of the notorious trophy lake trout magnet, Five Foot Reef, a good place to cast crankbaits, snap-jig and geppu-bob cutbait, and do a little downrigging with Laker Takers, Finn Spoons, cowbells, flashers and flies.

Another of the farthest-flung, fishiest spots in Lake Superior, Gull Island, 48 15'44"N, 88 15'53"W, sits right smack dab on toppa the U.S.-Canadian international border northeasta Passage Island. Bateau Rock lies off in the wild blue yonder to the northeast. Superior Shoal, perhaps the most remote reef in Lake Superior is also in Canadian waters, midway between Passage Island and Otter Island (Ont.) and the tippa the Keweenaw and Marathon, Ont.

It's a long way to shore in any direction, but these fish seldom see a lure and bite on anything that comes along.

Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at



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