BY EILEEN PERSIKE
Throughout 50 years of fishing in “canoe country,” known more formally as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness along the border of northern Minnesota and Quetico Provincial Park in Canada, Rhinelander’s Craig Zarley learned a thing or two about fishing. Decades of trial-and-error canoe fishing through the wilderness area, which encompasses more than 1 million acres, has resulted in a pared-down tackle box and three short how-to books.
“The target audience are wilderness canoe travelers who are casual fishermen,” Zarley explained. “What I do with these books is teach a very simple way to fish up there, and it doesn’t depend on lures and equipment, but on having a basic knowledge of the fish you are going after and how to read wilderness lakes and based on that figure out where the fish might be.”
Though fishing lures can cost upwards of $10 each, Zarley said the entirety of his fishing gear totals about $20.
“I used to take a big tackle box and expensive lures,” Zarley said. “Over the years I learned I have to portage all that so I’ve made my box smaller and now I fish with only one lure for walleye, lake trout, bass and northern – and it’s a jig and twister tail. I just vary the size of the jig.”
“You think it’s magic, but it’s basically learning the habits of walleyes and developing an eye for reading the lake without the use of electronics.”
It was after he retired as a business journalist in 2008 that Zarley decided he wanted to write a book about fishing. His third book, “Catching Canoe Country Lake Trout: Quetico and Boundary Waters Trout Fishing Secrets,” was released in March and contains similar easy-to-follow tips as his previously self-published books, “Catching Canoe Country Walleyes” and “Quetico Fall Fishing Legends.” The books are sold at outfitters near Ely and Grand Marais, Minn., and locally at Book World.
“They are a quick, easy read, small to fit in your pack,” said Zarley. “They are priced at $12.95, because I couldn’t justify charging more when I was advocating using a 50-cent lure!”
But can a novice read his books and catch walleyes? Zarley says, absolutely.
“You think it’s magic,” he said. “But it’s basically learning the habits of walleyes and developing an eye for reading the lake without the use of electronics. You have to use your wits out there and with walleyes, just follow the wind.”
In reviews of his books found on Amazon, another outlet Zarley uses for selling his secrets, one reviewer wrote that after reading the first book, she and her family caught more walleye that ever before, and that “my son said this feels like cheating. We had a blast (and walleye for breakfast, lunch and dinner).”
Zarley said he doesn’t make much money on his books, but it’s like “a little annuity that pays for (my) fishing trips.”
Mostly, he is trying to encourage more people to go to the Boundary Waters area. Perhaps part of the magic of catching fish lies in the beauty of the surroundings.
“It’s the largest wilderness area in North America,” Zarley added. “More people need to see it.”