With the steady rumble of the fifty-year-old V-8 engine and a cloud of ether, exhaust and oil around us, we loaded our gear into the passenger compartment of a tracked time machine called a Bombardier. A Bombardier is a vehicle designed to haul people and gear across snow. New Bombardiers aren’t available any longer; they peaked in popularity in the 1950’s and 60’s. Bombers, as they are affectionately called, are the preferred mode of winter transportation on Lake of the Woods.
They are old, they are loud, they sputter, they smoke, they stall and most of all, they are awesome! For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to ride in a Bombardier. Last winter, that wish came true. Along with our friends, Andy and Tonya, my wife and I booked a New Year’s excursion to the Northwest Angle for an ice fishing getaway.
We’re all avid ice fishermen, and self-sufficient on a lake, but occasionally it is nice to go on a tourist fishing trip where all of the accommodations are handled for us. No scouting, no drilling, no planning, just fishing. After a bit of research and a few recommendations from friends, we chose to stay at Sunset Lodge on Oak Island.
Without flying, there are two ways to get to Oak Island during the winter. One is to take a snowmobile from the south shore of Lake of the Woods across the frozen lake, but this isn’t the recommended method for first timers.
We chose the more conventional method. We drove into Canada on Provincial Road 310 through Sprague, Manitoba, and back into the United States in the part of Minnesota known as the Northwest Angle. The Northwest Angle is an intriguing portion of the United States that is locked between a jog in the Canadian Border and Lake of the Woods. When traveling back into Minnesota, there is a border crossing checkpoint called “Jim’s Corner.” From Jim’s Corner, you make a phone call to US Customs to log entry back into the United States. Next, we traveled to the shore of the lake and found a well-groomed ice road that led us roughly eight miles out to Oak Island, the home of Sunset Lodge.
Lake of the Woods has a very good walleye and sauger population and fairly liberal limits on a combination of the two. Saugers are delicious, especially when caught through the ice. In the area where we were fishing, there were a lot of probable fish species to catch: perch, northern pike, crappies, tullibee and eelpout. Our trip was focused on walleyes, perch and sauger, but a trip back for crappies is definitely on the list. The bite on Lake of the Woods is best at dawn and dusk, and there isn’t much of a night bite.
Our mornings started early. The air was very crisp with temperatures hovering around 0°, and every star in the sky was shining bright. We walked down to the bait shop with our fishing gear, met our guide for the day and loaded up into the Bombardier. The machines are equipped with bench seats along the sides and back. We all slid in and headed down the trail to our fish houses. We were fishing on the back side of the island, so we traveled on a snowmobile trail through the woods. The engine roared as we lumbered down the trail, guided by a modern GPS unit, the newest instrument in the 60-year-old Bombardier. When we hit the open ice, we cruised over snow drifts with ease.
After a twenty minute ride, we arrived at our rental house. It was about 10’ x 16’ with a window on each side, a hole in each corner, and a table and four chairs. The wall-mounted heater had the house very warm, so we quickly shed our parkas and bibs and moved into our new accommodations. The house was simple but functional, and there were gas-mounted lights on the walls, coat hooks and two holes drilled for each fisherman.
We didn’t see much action until the sun started to peek over the horizon, but the guides did a great job of setting the shacks on a high traffic area for fish. Once it started to get light, we started catching fish. Large schools of cigar-sized walleyes and saugers would swoop in and hit anything that moved. With each school we’d usually pluck out a keeper or two. We found that using larger lures and jigging aggressively a couple feet off the bottom triggered the larger fish in each school. Our best luck was on lipless crankbaits, but jigging raps and spoons also produced fish.
During the middle of the day, the bite would slow down, but a few fish would move through and keep us entertained. Around midday we’d catch a few walleyes and sauger but found more schools had a perch or two. Every couple of hours, the guide would swing by to see how we were doing and bring us fresh bait and lunch. As the sun headed toward the western horizon, the fish would again get very active. There were very large numbers of smaller fish, but we still managed to get plenty of eating-sized walleyes and saugers.
We booked a three day fishing trip, which was about perfect. We had two really good days, and one that was a bit slower. We managed to pack home our possession limit of walleye and saugers along with some perch and pike. The Northwest Angle is a beautiful, scenic area with great people, great fishing and plenty of Bombardiers. We had such a great time on Oak Island; in the blink of an eye we were back at Jim’s Corner, talking to the Canadian Customs and our winter vacation came to end.