LAKE OF THE WOODS, Minn. - David Stone of Roseau, Minn., had quite a surprise Saturday afternoon, Jan. 6, while ice fishing near Brush Island of Lake of the Woods on Minnesota's Northwest Angle.
Fishing in a permanent fish house, Stone was set up over 15 feet of water when he marked a big cloud of baitfish suspended several feet off the bottom on his electronics.
Stone lifted up the line on the rattle reel mounted above the hole and gave it a couple of jigs.
"He showed up high so I started to move my jig up, and he smoked it," Stone said, recalling the strike.
Because he was using a rattle reel, Stone had to play the fish hand-over-hand. It quickly became apparent he wasn't playing a walleye, sauger or perch.
A big northern or even a muskie would have been likely possibilities, but Stone says he wasn't expecting to see a lake trout in that part of Lake of the Woods.
Just goes to show, though ... you never know.
The lake trout stretched the tape at 38 inches, and while Stone didn't weigh the fish before releasing it, he guesses the big laker weighed 23 to 25 pounds.
"I used to go trout fishing and never got one that big," he said in an email. "What a great-looking fish."
Lake trout are common in parts of Lake of the Woods, including Whitefish Bay and Clearwater Bay in Ontario waters, which have the deep, coldwater habitat the fish prefer. Occasionally, the hard-fighting fish stray to shallower parts of the lake, especially in the winter, when they can find cold water anywhere.
Reports of lake trout in recent winters have come from other parts of Minnesota waters, as well, including Oak Island on the Northwest Angle, Garden Island and also near Springsteel north of Warroad, Minn.
In the fall of 2016, a Thief River Falls angler reportedly caught a lake trout on the Rainy River.
Still, the catches are relatively uncommon on the Minnesota side of Lake of the Woods.
Ontario's lake trout season opened Jan. 1, but the season in Minnesota on lakes outside or partly outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness doesn't open until Saturday, Jan. 13. A trout stamp is required to keep trout in Minnesota.
Stone said his wife caught a 26-inch walleye later in the afternoon, but the battery on the camera had died, and they were unable to get a photo. Fortunately, the battery held out long enough to get a photo of the lake trout. Stone says he's thinking about getting a replica of the big laker.
"Awesome experience," he said. "What we all dream about."