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Lake Vermilion offers much more than your average fishing destination

A 53-inch muskie such as one caught by Glenn Jaros is kind stuff thmakes Lake Vermilidream destination. | For Sun-Times

A 53-inch muskie, such as the one caught by Glenn Jaros, is the kind of stuff that makes Lake Vermilion a dream destination. | For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 23, 2013 6:29AM

COOK, Minn. — A bald eagle coasted over as Steve ‘‘Big Tuna’’ Statland and I motored slowly out of Spring Bay on Sept. 14 on Lake Vermilion. A few minutes later, a loon with two young floated off the boat before we made our first cast.

Vermilion holds the stuff of dreams.

I had wanted to fish Vermilion for years and finally was able to do so for a week as part of the five-team, 30-man contingent the Chicagoland Muskie Hunters chapter of Muskies Inc. sent to the Gil Hamm Memorial Chapter Challunge.


I give you Glenn Jaros. The fellow CMH member caught the fish of pre-fishing when he landed the biggest muskie of his life, a 53-incher, on a black-and-silver bucktail Tuesday.

‘‘The normal color for a sunny day,’’ Jaros said.

Nothing is normal about Vermilion.

How do you approach a sprawling body of water such as the 40,000-acre Vermilion?

I partnered with Statland, a Muskies Inc. Hall of Famer. Before we fished, he gathered information and marked maps from Hall of Famer Spence Petros, muskie guru Jim Saric, guide Chad Cain and CMH member Mark Podobinski.

There’s so much on Vermilion that looks fishy that it’s hard to assimilate all the suggestions and ideas.

Do you fish the reefs and rocky islands? Off weeds near deep water? Or balls of bait over deep water?

We tried it all, as did other members of our Grumpy Old Men team: myself, Statland, Paul Hortenstine, Brent ‘‘Bert’’ Cunningham and twin brothers Bob and Don Roman. At least a couple of us aren’t old, and most of us aren’t grumpy.

Hearing about Vermilion through the years, I assumed it was wild. It is, but it’s populated, too. Yet almost all the thousands of houses along the shoreline fit organically with the trees and islands. This isn’t the setting (or style of people) for garish, misfit homes on the lake shore.

Nearly all the islands big enough had small summer homes or cabins on them. It’s cool to cast a bucktail around an island with a wooden cabin tucked under the pines.

To capture the feel of
Vermilion, you have to talk about more than the fishing.

Loons and eagles dominate the water, but there are plenty of kingfishers, too.

On a morning walk, I saw a wolf sprint wildly across the road. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Statland dubbed me ‘‘Dances With Wolves.’’ I don’t know about that.

One lunch, Statland and I pulled out of the wind in a cove to eat our pork-cutlet sandwiches by a birch and point pine. We soon discovered two bald eagles were in the pine over us. There are so many bald eagles on Vermilion that we had an extended discussion about whether that many eagles indicate an imbalance in nature.

The fishing showed that maybe nature remains inscrutable.

The experts suggested black-on-black baits as the go-tos, but we did best on baits with color: a spotted gold Kickin Minnow, brighter spinners and bucktails, an orange/gold/black Bulldawg and a Jake in chartreuse and orange with black bars.

We mostly tried casting and trolling the reefs and rocky islands, but we moved the most fish along the deep water holding the massive balls of bait.

One highlight for me came Thursday, when I caught my biggest northern pike of 39.5 inches. I appreciate that, but in years to come that memory will fade behind the memories of Vermilion’s reefs and rocky islands with small cabins.

The setting is as good as the fishing on Vermilion.

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