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As this year’s ice fishing season comes to a close, I thought I would share with you my most memorable ice fishing trip of the season. 

By: Danny Amundson

“Fish, you’ve won.”

That was the phrase stated as we packed up our gear from our last day of fishing up in Ely. We had fished sun up to sun down, with minimal success. But that’s the way it goes sometimes.

A couple months ago, we had been invited by Ben Putnam to do a little walleye and trout fishing. With the three day weekend because of Presidents Day, we couldn’t pass it up. So on Friday morning, my grandpa and grandma, Ron and Vicki Amundson, took off for our destination. My dad, Wade, and my other grandpa, Dick Vaerst, and I left right after school. Hopes were high as we left the hustle and bustle of the cities. None of us had ever caught trout through the ice, so we were pretty fired up.

We’d be staying at Veteran’s on the Lake Resort. If you haven’t checked them out, please do. They are a non-profit business that makes sure our veterans can enjoy the great outdoors.

Ben wouldn’t be available until the next day, so we’d be using a permanent shack not far from where we were staying. Reports of decent walleyes and perch were being told, so we thought we were looking at a pretty good day. My grandma would spend the day in town browsing some of the shops and checking out Ely’s Winterfest.

On Saturday morning, we quickly drove back into town to grab some bait. Then it was time to fish! My dad dropped me off at the shack first so I could drill holes and get it warm inside. After I drilled the first hole, I immediately dropped a line down with a minnow and the Marcum. Nothing. Not even a mark. But that’s OK. It’s still early. Everyone else arrived and a variety of lures were dropped down. Rattle baits, jigheads, minnows, and waxworms. Then the stories began.

“Remember that one time we chased the bear to the campsite of that guy that was making us mad?”

“And the time we fell out of the canoe and the northern was swimming inside?”

Yep. That’s my grandfathers. Every time you go hunting or fishing with them, you never know what stories you’ll hear. They never fail to entertain, even when the fishing isn’t all that great.

The morning came and went without a nibble. Now it was time to get serious. Almost all of us ended up changing a lure. At about three o’clock, I got a mark on the Marcum.

“There’s a fish down there guys. Get ready”

Just as I got done saying that, I felt a tap. I set the hook, and came up with nothing. I reeled up, and sure enough, I had no minnow head anymore.

I never heard the end of it from my two grandpas.

“I am so disappointed in you.”

“I was counting on you!”

“I really wanted to see a fish today, and you let me down!”

Of course they didn’t mean any of it. That’s what grandpas do, isn’t it?

Grandpa Ron (left) and Grandpa Dick (Right)
Grandpa Ron (left) and Grandpa Dick (Right)

That would be just about all for the day. Despite the lack of fish, it was still a great day on the ice. To me, success is not how many you get. It’s about how much fun you have trying to do it. How often do you get to fish with both of your grandpas at the same time?

The sun sinks down over VOTL Resort.
The sun sinks down over VOTL Resort.

We ran into town for dinner and met up with Ben to discuss our plan for the next morning. We decided we would chase Rainbow trout and Splake. Then we headed back to Vet’s on the Lake to recharge ourselves for the morning.

We would be up before sunrise, as we wanted to get an early start. As we were loading the truck, we looked out into the yard at the resort and there was a buck and a doe! This is the kind of stuff you don’t get to see sitting on the couch. Our drive wasn’t far, but it was savored as we were driving right into the pink and purple sunrise. It is these little things you remember from a trip like this.

Ely Fishing Trip Deer-1 (1)

We arrived at our lake and were met with the fact that we couldn’t drive on the lake. That was all right, as we only had to walk about 200 yards to get to our spot. There was nothing difficult about this setup. We drilled our first set of holes and got lines down right away. I put the Marcum down and immediately got marks. We were already off to a better start than yesterday. It wasn’t long before I had a bite. I set the hook and was awarded my first Splake. It wasn’t very big, but I was on the board! But that would be all of my excitement for the day. Ben would pull a few more out of the water, but none were very big either. My dad might have had the biggest one on but he lost it at the hole; at least that’s what he says.


“With the barometric pressure fluctuating the way it has been lately, the fishing is really up and down. You can have days like today where you hardly catch a thing, and you have days where you have your limit in an hour. And there’s no way to predict it.” Ben Putnam explained as we waited for another bite.

But like I said before, it’s not all about how much you catch. Being able to look around and see the beautiful snow covered pines is priceless. Watching the Gray Jay flutter around from tree to tree, keeping his eye on us. The water being so clear that I can see my lure twenty feet down. These are things you don’t get to see everywhere. This area is truly God’s country.

You can never get enough of the scenery in Ely
You can never get enough of the scenery in Ely.

We would have to leave the next morning, so our fishing was done. But we sure had a blast. It isn’t very often you get to have both sides of your family together like this. And we were able to do it in comfort too.

When people think of Ely, they immediately think of the Boundary Waters. I absolutely love the BWCA, but it’s not for everyone. On this trip, we didn’t have to break our backs just to have a place to sleep. There are places around the Ely area that keep you comfortable, yet you still get to enjoy the wilderness up there. Ely isn’t just for canoers and fisherman. There is so much more to do. Along with the canoe trips and fishing, there is some great hunting as well. There are endless miles of trails for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and even dogsledding. And for those who would rather stay in town, there are lots of shops to check out.

While we were up there, Ely had their Winterfest in full swing. Our favorite part of this was the snow carvings that were in the park. Those carvers have some real talent!

Ely Winterfest Snow Carving
An octopus in Ely?
Ely Winterfest Snow Carving
More Winterfest carvings.

Overall it was a great experience. Certainly one I won’t forget for a while. I can’t urge you enough to head up to Ely, whether it be in the summer or winter; both are great. If you’d like to fish with Ben Putnam and Ely Ice Guides either this winter or next season, get in contact with him. He’ll put you on fish. He also works with Boundary Waters Outfitters, so if you’d like to do a summer Boundary Waters trip, give him a call. He can set you up with everything you need.

Also if you haven’t already, check out Veterans on the Lake Resort. They are always looking for help. It is a great way to give back to the people who protect your freedom.

Make sure to find a way to explore Ely this year. You can’t go wrong.

All photos by: Wade Amundson




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