Northwoods Fishing Tackle & Fishing Basics

boundary waters fishing tackle
Here is the detailed list you need for Quetico and Boundary Waters fishing tackle. Know what tackle to bring for each type of fish including Smallmouth bass, Walleye, Northern Pike and Lake Trout.

Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth Bass are pound for pound the best fighting fish in canoe country which is why they are so popular among anglers all over the country, and especially in the boundary waters. Bass become more and more active as the water warms and the temperatures increase. They spawn in very warm shallow bays and are very protective of their beds. Ideally they like to spawn in water temperatures of about 58 to 62 degrees. So usually by early to mid June the Bass really start hitting top water lures thrown into the shallow bays that warm the fastest. And the smallmouth stay active all summer long and are your best bet if you’re looking for some action during those hot summer days. Evenings can also produce some fantastic action in the shallows… it pays to eat dinner early and then go out from your campsite to enjoy the “night bite”.

Fresh fish cooking over a fire pit in the BWCA.Fool-proof bass fishing lure list…

  • Jig and power grub
  • Jig and leech or night crawler
  • Rapala Shad Rap (or any Rapala type floating crank bait for that matter)
    • Blue and white
    • Silver and white
    • Fire tiger
    • Orange and white
  • Mepps Spinners size #3 and #4
  • Silver blades work best
  • Beetle spins
  • Rebel craw (crayfish crank baits)
  • Spinner baits of any sort
  • Top water baits
    • Heddon torpedoes
    • Jitterbugs
    • Skitterpops
    • Buzzbaits

These are more than enough lures to try; mix and match and find out what works.

boundary waters fishing tackle for walleyeWalleye

Walleyes are a more finicky than the smallmouth, but they’re just as abundant. And according to most people, they’re the fish of choice for your dinner plate. Their soft, white, flaky flesh is delicious and you know what I’m talking about if you’ve enjoyed a meal in the past. If you haven’t, you should read up on how to get these Northwood’s treasures into your camp frying pan. Early in spring right after ice out is when walleye spawn. During this time they can be caught pretty easily in shallow water on rocky points or gravel beds. They also school in moving water, so this is a place to focus on as well. For the first few weeks after the fishing opener, this is where you’ll find the walleye; but as the water warms and spring turns to early summer, they move out into deeper water around reefs and sunken islands out in the middle of the boundary waters lakes. You’ll find them anywhere between 15 and 40 feet in the summer depending on the weather and if it is overcast or not. But they always come up in the evenings and feed on reefs, rocky points around islands and drop-offs. You’ll find this to be the best time to fish walleye in 10 to 20 feet when the sun is dropping and as night is setting in. The ideal water temperature for walleyes is 65 degrees. Walleyes are more nocturnal because of their sensitivity to light. So don’t waste your time when the sun is high in the sky on a clear day….this is the time to go fish smallmouth or lake trout.

Best Walleye Tackle list:

  • Live bait is always your best bet.
    • Minnows in spring and fall
    • Leeches in spring and summer
    • Night crawlers in summer and fall
    • (This isn’t always true, but can be used as a general rule)
  • Jig and live bait is a great choice most of the time. The smaller the jig the better, whatever it takes to get it to the bottom and nothing more. When there’s not much wind, 1/8 oz. is all you’ll want, 1/4 oz and 3/8 oz work well in windier days
  • A slip bobber proves to be very deadly in the evenings after you’ve located the walleyes, this is also the local’s favorite technique. But always locate a reef or sunken island first before throwing the line out. You can often times catch them right from your campsite in the evenings.
  • A Lindy rig or crawler harness is a good bet as well during all seasons.
    • Can be used with a spinner or without
    • Always use small hooks, #4, #6 and #8 hooks work well
    • A walking sinker with a three foot Snell is ideal
  • Crank baits in the evenings over rocky points and reefs can be excellent.
    • Silver, blue and chartreuse seem to work great
    • Use smaller baits in the spring and gradually get bigger as the summer goes on
  • Always fish the windward sides of points and islands, you can’t go wrong.

Follow these guidelines and you’ll have walleye on your plate in no time.

Northern Pike

Northern Pike are one of the easier fish to catch, especially in the spring time. They like to sun themselves in shallow, warmer bays in the spring. As the summer goes on they go a bit deeper as well, but you can catch them all year long by casting baits towards shore. You’ll often catch northern while bass and walleye fishing. They can be a nuisance if you aren’t fishing for them specifically because they can bite you’re line off if you don’t have a leader on. But never fish with a leader if you aren’t specifically fishing for northern. These are also an excellent tasting fish, but many people throw them back because they have a set of “Y” bones that are a bit more difficult to fillet around, but if done properly, northern can rival walleye in the tasting category.

Northern baits and tackle list:

Northern Pike caught in Quetico Park.

  • Everything listed for bass will work for northern as well, but you’ll want to choose bigger sizes if you’re fishing for them specifically.
  • Big Spoons (Daredevils):
    • Silver
    • Red and white
    • Black and white
    • Other colors work well also
  • Johnson Spoons
  • Big Jerk Baits
    • 6 to 9 inches in length works well
  • Big Spinner Baits
    • In-Line Mepps spinners of sizes #5 are big enough
  • Buzz baits can also work well in the spring time as well.

boundary waters fishing tackle for lake troutLake Trout

Lake Trout inhabit the colder, deeper waters and sometimes aren’t as easily caught. But if fished correctly can provide quite a fight and a good dinner to boot. The trout are always willing to bite your line, but getting the baits in front of their face is often times the hardest part in fishing lake trout. During the spring when the water temperature is all the same throughout the lake, trout can be caught in depths as shallow as five feet. But that only lasts a few weeks after ice out. They look for water temperatures of about 46 or 48 degrees. So during the summer months, trout can be found in depths of anywhere between 50 and 100 feet. Trout hang out on steep structure where they can have access to the deep water. So focus on sharp drop-offs while you paddle through the boundary waters fishing.

Trout lures and tackle list:

You’ll need heavy sinkers to get down that deep, depending on the wind conditions you’ll want a sinker of 1 to 2 oz. in weight.

  • Sutton spoons, silver in color
  • Jigging spoons
  • Swedish pimples
  • Dr. Spoons
  • Acme Kastmasters
  • Big shiners (live or dead)
  • Ciscoes
  • Big, heavy jigs of an ounce or more with a skirt
    • White
    • Chartreuse
  • Trolling with a big sinker and any one of these types of baits trailing on a 4 to 6 foot snell is a great method.
  • Often times on a calmer day, jigging with a heavy jig and shiner or a Griz Jig works well. Make a big, exaggerated jigging motion; the trout will often hit it on the way down.

General Boundary Waters Fishing Tackle, Bait and Items

Man catches a nice bass in Quetico Park.

Here are some things that you’ll want to have extras of in your Boundary Waters fishing tackle box:

  • Assorted size hooks
  • Split shot sinkers of different weights
  • Assorted colors of ball head jigs of 1/8, 1/4 and 3/8 ounces.
  • 6 to 10 lb. monofilament fishing line
  • Slip bobber rigs
  • Fillet knife
  • Walking sinkers 1/8 – 1/2 ounce.
  • Snap swivels
  • 2-way swivels
  • 6 or 9 inch forceps for removing swallowed hooks or treble hooks
  • Stringer

If you have accumulated most all of these things that have been listed here, you are doing quite well and are more than equipped for your boundary waters adventure. By no means do you need all of this stuff to catch fish in the boundary waters, but all of these methods do work, so choose a few and go with them.

The most important thing with BWCA fishing is to be confident with the method and the area in which you are fishing. If you get a bad feeling that a certain technique or area you are fishing in isn’t going to produce, try something new or move to a different spot. Many tips and techniques can be learned from fishing magazines and books. And you should consider reading some before you come on your trip as it will help you understand what the fish are looking for and it will give you the best possible opportunity to catch your limit and have a great time on your boundary waters adventure. The same techniques will work on most all of the different lakes. Look for similar structure from lake to lake and follow the wind, always follow the wind. With this you’ll do well in any lake.

Don’t forget to check the weather forecast before you leave to come fish the BWCA and plan accordingly.

Check out our BWCA Fishing Trip packages

Father-Son BWCA Fishing Trip
Father-Daughter BWCA Canoe Trip

If you have questions about the best Boundary Waters fishing, contact us.

Phone: 218-388-2216