Isle Royale–our guest blogger’s favorite place on earth

(Dear readers, how about welcoming another guest blogger?  This time it’s my husband, Barry.  He’s recently back from his favorite place on earth.  Want to guess where that might be?  Hint:  It involves boats, fishing and the Great North!  –Kathy)

Fog rolls into Washington Harbor, Isle Royale

Another Isle Royale fishing tournament is in the books.

And the crew of the “Miss Laurie” is back on probation again this year.

Isle Royale is a 45-mile long island 50 miles offshore from the Keweenaw Peninsula in Lake Superior. Thunder Bay, Canada, is 25 miles to the north. It’s a wilderness island, a U.S. National Park of boreal forest, rock cliffs, moose and wolves. Black bear and whitetail deer, so prevalent in the Upper Peninsula, Minnesota and Canada, don’t live there. It’s that isolated.

Cow moose and calves at Tobin Harbor, eastern Isle Royale

It’s also lake trout fishing heaven. My favorite place on earth.

Four and a half days each July the crew on Captain John’s 31-foot fishing boat convenes for the Isle Royale Boaters Association annual meeting and fishing tourney. It’s the highlight of my summer—with the possible exception of celebrating my wife (your blog host) Kathy’s birthday which often coincides on the third weekend in July.

About 30 boats arrive between Wednesday and Friday of tournament weekend and we have more fun than people should be allowed. The friends are wonderful, the fishing is fantastic, the food is superb and there are assorted refreshments involved. It doesn’t matter if the wind is howling (30 knots for three days last year) or the temp is in the 40’s (fishing in gloves, winter hats and deer hunting clothes three years ago), it’s always wonderful to be there. It’s a place that defines rugged beauty.

The four of us on the Miss Laurie have won the tournament two or three times in its nine-year history, but not for the last couple of years. It doesn’t matter. We take our fishing very seriously, catch a ton of the best-eating lake trout in the world, and enjoy every second of those precious days on The Big Lake, and nights on the dock. I have become the morning timekeeper for fishing days and we were never up any later than 4:10 a.m., brewing coffee on a grill in the pre-dawn darkness, the boat ready to head out for another day. It’s serious business. “The big ones bite early” is the mantra on the Miss Laurie.

Minnesota troller weighs some nice lake trout

That said, we’ve got to be the craziest crew on the lake. Hence, our probation has been invoked once again this year. “Aggravated Captain Abuse” is the current (and usual) charge. What’s wrong with wiping your fish-slimed hands on the captain’s pants a half-dozen times before lunch? Trust me, we have more fun than any four Yoopers (UP residents) on a fishing expedition should possibly have. We’ve been on double probation, double-triple probation, and until it was mysteriously revoked, lifetime probation. Losing the fish tournament and that half-full can we snuck in the captain’s sweatshirt hood before he bent over to wrestle something out of a storage locker did us in again this year. He still loves us, otherwise he wouldn’t invite us each year, right? Besides, he needs a crew to pull 500 feet of anchor line.

An Isle Royale fishing trip is not something we take lightly. Depending on which end of the island we beach her at, it’s either 90 miles or 80 miles, across Keweenaw Bay, through the Portage Waterway (Houghton-Hancock), and about 50 miles of open Lake Superior crossing. The good ship gets 1 mile per gallon. This year at Windigo (west end, 20-some miles from Minnesota and Canada) the Park Service concessions company had gas priced at $5.40 per gallon. That’s 80 gallons, just to get there. Don’t do the math. It will make your head hurt!

It’s worth every penny, especially when the captain is buying. Just being on the island is an incredible experience. We live in the northwest Upper Peninsula, which some think is wild enough, but the island, its forest trails, its rocky shoals, history of shipwrecks and rugged living is something else. The island has a long story of commercial fishing in dangerous waters, failed copper mining expeditions and logging. For the past 70 years it has been a protected wilderness park, the least visited national park in the U.S. with only 15,000 visitors per year. Most are day visitors or adventurous hikers who come on one of the four ferries that serve the island. We boaters are in the minority, especially with the fuel prices these days. The 2000 census listed no permanent residents on the island.

Sea plane ferries passengers from Houghton

When my time comes my request is to spread my ashes at the island. It’s illegal at a wilderness park, but what the U.S. Park Service doesn’t know can’t hurt them, right? PS—do it at night!

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
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38 Responses to Isle Royale–our guest blogger’s favorite place on earth

  1. Elisa's Spot says:

    Crematorium probation!!!

  2. Susan Derozier says:

    Barry – What an amazing adventure you share! I can hear the laughter, smell the coffee and feel the cold air in my lungs. It is so wonderful to know we still have these sacred wild places to experience. Would love to hear more of your experience! Thanks!

    • Kathy says:

      Susan–It is wonderful that we still have some wild places. And with the price of boat gas, this one has become less threatened! Seriously, before I started going out there, maybe 15 years ago the place was loaded with boats, and kind of a party atmosphere on the docks. That’s all gone now. Thanks for your comment.–Barry

  3. P.j. grath says:

    Rowdier than Hemingway, more light-hearted than Nevada Barr, Barry’s Isle Royale trip story was a treat. Thanks to you both, Barry and Kathy. Those lake trout look AMAZING!

    • Kathy says:

      PJ Grath–Rowdier than Hemmingway? Come on now! We didn’t drink that much–only 190 beers made the trip on the boat…let’s see, that’s four days, four guys…
      The lake trout really are amazing, as is the entire experience. I’d love to spend about a week there in February or March, just to see it. –Barry

  4. Susan D says:

    Hi, Barry! What a treat to find you here this morning, even though you left your heart in Isle Royale. Thanks for the great pictures, especially of the moose, and the fish! Have long wanted to hear about the annual excursion and you’ve given us a nice slice of what it’s like. I wanna go! I’m a fan of fishing, cold, rugged and wiping slimy fish hands on people. Yep, I’d fit right in. You painted a vivid picture of the adventure, including the hardships (which make it even more fun).I hope you’ll guest blog again and tell us more stories about boats, fish, crazy crews, and pranks! May your yearly trips continue for many, many years, and may your ashes someday pepper your favorite place on earth.

    • Kathy says:

      Susan–It’s always a special time on the island, and we have had some miserable weather years, but we fish hard and play hard anyway. In case you missed it, the July 20 issue of the Sentinel has a long column I wrote that actually contains an educational portion with island history, a shipwreck, etc.Thanks for your continued interest in and support of K’s blog! –Barry

  5. jeff v says:

    Hello Barry. Thanks for sharing . I have a special fondness for Isle Royale as well. Me and my dad backpacked across the island a couple of times some twenty odd years ago. It is as you desribe, a truly magical almost mystical place. My dad would often bring up our experience on the island and we would reminisce together. In the later stages of his Alzheimers it was still one experience he could recall somewhat. Our experience on the island brought us closer together and in fact lead to me and my wife eventualy buying property in Skanee. Not quite Isle Royale but a close second. Thanks again. By the way, dad’s ashes are scattered on the shore of beautiful Huron bay.

    • Kathy says:

      Jeff–Glad to hear the island has special meaning to you, too. It’s got to be a rugged place to hike. We have seen many hikers struggle out of the woods to come to the docks to filter water, etc. They sure go for a cold beer and some hot lake trout! –Barry

  6. Reggie says:

    What a thrill to read Barry’s words – he writes so eloquently, and the pics are sooo appealing, that he had me wishing I could go on a fishing trip, and I don’t even fish – or eat fish anymore, for that matter! 😀

    Nonetheless, I am *eagerly* looking forward to reading the next instalment… um… there WILL be a next instalment, won’t there, Kathy? Please? Could you beg him, if necessary?

    • Kathy says:

      Reggie–You’re such a loyal blog reader–thanks. I remember reading your book about your trip and your adventures along the way. Pictures of moose always go over big. It’s like what my first editor at a little newspaper told me 35 years ago: take pictures of dogs, kids and ducks!

      Maybe a next installment next July! –Barry

      • Reggie says:

        Thanks. “Dogs, kids and ducks” – got it. Making a note right now. 😉

        Barry – NEXT JULY?! You’re making us wait a WHOLE YEAR?!

        Kathy, dear Kathy, please could you use all your powers of persuasion to convince him that all your blogfriends long to read more posts written by him, and that a YEAR is quite simply far too long to wait.

  7. Charlotte says:

    Loved reading Barry’s story about Isle Royale and the fishing trip. I have always wanted to go out to Isle Royale but so far I’ve not made it. The pictures are great — especially loved the mama moose and calfs. Just to see a moose would be wonderful. As Reggie mentioned I would love another instalement.

    • Kathy says:

      Charlotte–Thanks for your interest in my island adventure. It’s a privilege to be able to go there, at least for a few days each summer. And this year the northern Lake Superior weather actually cooperated, except for 58 miles driving the boat back in pea-soup fog on Sunday. That’s what radar and chart plotters are for, as long as we can figure out how to use them! We made it.
      –Barry

  8. holessence says:

    Barry – How fun it was to read this post! And the photographs made it all the more delicious!

    (ahem…in the future, you may want to refrain from using “Miss Laurie” and “probation” in the same sentence — as you can well imagine, it sent a chill up my spine)…

    • Kathy says:

      “Miss Laurie” and terms far worse than “probation” have been used in the same sentence over the years! An old Texan out there likes to tell everyone, “I’ve been to goat-ropin’s and county fairs all over this country but I’ve never seen a crew like this!” –Barry

  9. Dad says:

    Hi Barry. Nice Blog!!!! DALE

    • Kathy says:

      Dear Dale–Now I know what Kathy goes through–I’ve been checking blog hits all day! Thanks for your comment. I treasure that day when we fished lake trout here, and will never forget the days we fished the back bay at your place in Florida. Those are truly memories.
      I hope you are on track to taking care of medical issues. Today I got a consult with a knee doc in Marquette for Aug. 16 (the day Kiah flies in to KI Sawyer) and it looks like things are in line for surgery on my knee. Jees–we must be getting old. . .!–Barry

  10. Claire says:

    It was a surprise to find this account of your,Barry’s, annual expedition into the wilderness. I really enjoyed your photos and it allowed me to travel to a bit of the world I am unlikely to ever get to so thanks for that.

    • Kathy says:

      Claire–Thanks for checking in to Isle Royale. We live in a pretty remote Northern place, but Isle Royale takes it to another level. I’d love to go there in deep winter, live for a week in one of the few cabins that remain, stoke the woodstove, ice fish and just see the place completely isolated. That may never happen. . . Just to get there you’d have to fly in by ski-plane. Only a handful for wolf-moose researchers ever do that. –Barry

  11. Now that’s living! Have read all about Isle Royale in my Wildlife Management classes but never this side of the place.

    • Kathy says:

      Scott–I don’t know about “wildlife management” on Isle Royale. There’s no management. They’ve been studying the wolf-moose dynamic for 50 years and haven’t got a clue. There are now only a handful of wolves on the island, and, I believe, only two breeding females. The moose have suffered, too, in recent years. With slightly warmer summer and winter temperatures they are stressed. They can have 100,000 ticks on them in summer, go crazy, and jump off cliffs to escape. It’s not all a nature wonderland out there. . .–Barry

  12. bonnie says:

    Enjoyed blog and the picture of the moose. Isle Royale sounds like a little bit of heaven. Thanks.

  13. Barbara Rodgers says:

    What breathtaking country and huge fish! Do you bring any of them home to freeze and eat later? Sounds like a great tradition for you guys to look forward to every year, and there must be some planning behind all the practical jokes! Or are they spontaneous ideas? I enjoyed your account, Barry!

    • Kathy says:

      Bonnie–Thanks for reading Kathy’s blog. It’s a bit of heaven, but it’s also truly brutal country. The fight for survival, from the trees and plants, to the large mammals, is always evident. It’s real wilderness. –Barry

    • Kathy says:

      Barbara, It truly is breathtaking country, and don’t forget, we’re coming from one of the least populated, rural, northern counties in Upper Michigan. We don’t have one of those three-colored traffic lights in our county of 985 square miles! And no, the crew on the boat doesn’t need any pre-planning for entertainment. We’re professionals! –Barry

  14. Barry is a great story teller, too! What a great piece: humor, fishing stories, and beautiful pictures. “The Sentinel” from which U.P. town? I have never made it to the Island, passed up a chance in college, for which I forever kick myself. Thanks for guesting blogging. You all have a loyal audience of readers, which is fun. Cheers from WI!

    • Kathy says:

      Jane–I’ve been the editor of the L’Anse Sentinel (between Marquette and Houghton, on Lake Superior at Keweenaw Bay) for 32 years. I’ve told a more than a few stories in my weekly column over the years. Our kids were born and raised here, and it’s kind of an enchanted life in the north. I start to panic if I’m somewhere where I can’t see Lake Superior every day–out the kitchen window in the morning, or the office window at work. Although Kathy never thought it would happen, we’re “hooked”. Got to go–fishing early tomorrow!–Barry

      • Susan Derozier says:

        Barry – My sister (Gretchen Powell) used to do a little newspaper out of White Pine, Mi! Just wondered if you knew anything about it?

        • Kathy says:

          Susan–I don’t remember a paper from White Pine, although there have been a few very small circulation papers in the UP over the last 30 years that I rarely saw or heard about. White Pine once had an operating (and polluting!) copper mine. That’s closed now, but a “green energy” company has bought its power plant and plans to burn wood waste, railroad ties, shredded tires, etc, to create electricity again. That company has retrofitted its first old plant in our town, L’Anse, and the reviews are mixed. “Green” energy can also be a giant incinerator! –Barry

  15. Barb says:

    WOW! Barry, those are some BIG trout! It looks as though they could tear an arm out of the socket. Loved the Moose sighting. Glad you put Kathy’s B-day right up there with trout fishing….

    • Kathy says:

      Barb–Those aren’t really big lake trout–not really socket-tearers, although they were all nice, red, leaners. That’s what we call them when they are lean, as opposed to “fats’ or , their scientific name, siskowets. The best ones have meat that looks as red or orange as salmon, before cooking.
      By the way, I would never miss my wife’s birthday, unless I was on the island!
      Yeah, there are moose out there, too, but we’ve seen quite a few here at home this spring and summer, too. Even Bullwinkles with early antlers. Thanks for reading K’s blog–Barry

  16. Brenda Hardie says:

    Hi Barry! Sorry this is so late, I’ve been away visiting my sister. Thank you for sharing your trip to the Wild Isle! I’ve never been there but have read and heard many stories and yours is now added to my collection! I am so grateful we have some truly wild places left around here…there are so few left. You made me drool…I miss having lake trout! Thanks again for the story of your fishing trip and the photos that allow me a glimpse of that beautiful, rugged place. Tell Kathy Hi from me…you two are a perfect couple..I could listen to your stories for a very long time! 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      Dear Brenda–K says you live in Minnesota. No lake trout? How about “eel pout”? I’ve heard that’s what you call burbot there–the freshwater eels that are so weird, but really good to eat, if you can get past them wrapping around your arm and just generally grossing you out! We call them Lawyers here because they’re crooked and slimey. . .
      Good thing you haven’t heard too many of our boat trip stories! Thanks for reading K’s blog. She and I appreciate every loyal reader.

      • Brenda Hardie says:

        Haha Barry! And EWWW on the eel pout…no thanks! Your comparison of the eel pouts to lawyers sounds rather fitting…sadly.
        Last time I had lake trout was when I was still married and was visiting the in laws up on Madeline Island. Yummmmy! We used to go up there often and every time we went I had my fill of lake trout and always brought some back for my Dad…smoked.
        Have a restful night you two! It’s finally going to be comfortable sleeping weather…thank goodness!

  17. Robin says:

    It was nice to get to know a little about you, Barry. Your trip sounds like loads of fun and those lake trout… wow! Those are some nice looking fish. 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      Robin–K tells me you are nearing the end of your year-long outdoor committment. I remember what an undertaking that was for Kathy. That was a lot of snowy, blowy days sitting on her butt under a tree! Congratulations. I’ll bet you never knew you had so much to say for a year!
      It’s truly a privilege to go to Isle Royale on a big boat and fish for days. We live a pretty great life here in the northwoods, but that’s one of the annual highlights for me. Thanks for reading. –Barry

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