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BRAD DOKKEN: Embracing ice and snow on Lake of the Woods

I'm in catch-up mode after a few days out of the office that served up near-perfect weather. Perfect weather by late February and early March standards, at least.

It all started last Saturday, Feb. 24, when four of us set out by snowmobile on a trip across Lake of the Woods from Warroad, Minn., to Oak Island on the Northwest Angle.

Ice fishing and snowmobiling were on the agenda, and the conditions for both were ideal.

I first made the 45-mile snowmobile trek from Warroad to our destination at Walsh's Bay Store Camp on Oak Island in 2012 and vowed to make the trip again someday. That year, two of us snowmobiled from Warroad to Oak while two others drove to the Northwest Angle, trailering their gear and snowmobiles into Manitoba, back into Minnesota—checking through both Canada and U.S. border crossings in the process—and across the ice road from Young's Bay to Oak Island.

My friend and I who snowmobiled had been at the cabin on Oak at least half an hour when our fishing partners rolled in that afternoon.

I'll admit I felt mild unease during that year's trek across the lake because neither one of us on sleds were mechanically savvy. Had problems occurred beyond changing spark plugs, our options for remedying the situation would have been limited.

Fortunately, a mechanic friend had checked over both of our sleds before the trip, and the ride both coming and going went off without a hitch.

This year, we had a mechanic in the group whose expertise—again, fortunately—never had to be tested.

Making the trip from the south end of Lake of the Woods to the Northwest Angle by snowmobile puts the vastness of the big lake into perspective.The route last Saturday took us from the mouth of the Warroad River north to Springsteel, north along the Manitoba-Minnesota border past Buffalo Bay and along the west side of the lake past Stony Point and Driftwood Point.

Stunted tamarack trees dotting the boggy terrain along the undeveloped western shoreline reminded us we were passing through some truly wild country.

Snow was in the forecast that night, and clouds were building to our south, but visibility on the trek north to Oak was perfect. The miles whizzed by, and Oak Island appeared on the horizon seemingly in no time at all.

After spending last winter on the sidelines following shoulder surgery, it was great to put some miles on the sled again.

The trail from Warroad to Oak changes slightly every winter based on pressure ridges and other variables, but the Northwest Angle Edge Riders snowmobile club, which grooms and maintains the trail to the Angle, had done an excellent job of staking and signing the route.

There was no guesswork on where we were going.

Keeping a snowmobile trail system groomed and marked requires a tremendous effort by the volunteers who do the work, and the Edge Riders—along with every other snowmobile club that maintains trail systems—should be commended for their efforts.

We woke up Sunday morning to about 2 inches of fluffy snow that had fallen sometime during the night. All of us enjoy ice fishing, but there was no real urgency to get on the lake. Coffee and a meaty breakfast of sausage links—or "gristle lumps," as the chef in our crew calls them—were our first priorities.

Heading out to the lake shortly after 9 a.m., the trail across the island that twisted and turned through snow-laden trees on our ride from the cabin was nothing short of stunning.

This would be our routine for the next four days.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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