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North Woods 'Bills and 'Eyes

Bluebill hunting and walleye fishing on Ontario's pristine Lake of the Woods
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There are more than 14,500 islands in Lake of the Woods and many more partially submerged rock bars that will rip the transom out of a boat. Navigation can be treacherous without a good map, planned route, and experienced boat captain. French fur traders mapped out the route we're following in the 1600s en route to the Rainy River.

We arrive at the camp early in the afternoon. There are six rustic cabins and a main office on this island that may be 200 yards long. After we unload the gear, I'm introduced to the Minnesota volunteers. They've just returned from hunting and are plucking a few bluebills, a goldeneye, and a vagrant scoter that wandered into their spread. They're loud and jovial, and offer stout handshakes and Canadian beer.

Bob tells us that although fried walleyes are on the menu the first night, the guests of honor are still in the lake. "Everyone needs to get two fish for his supper," he says. "If you can't do that, you don't get to eat. But we know of a decent spot to go."

The boat ride to the Sundbergs' favorite fishing area is a lengthy one, but I'm pretty hungry so I don't complain. When we get there, it's teeming with keeper walleyes. We drop minnow-tipped jigs over the side of the boat until they hit bottom, reel up a half turn, and wait for a bite. It usually doesn't take long. Bruce, Pat, and I earn places at the table.

Later, we're discussing hunting strategy and telling "Ole and Lena" jokes over a meal of butter-fried walleyes. I'd be hunting with the Sundbergs the following morning at Eagle Point, a spot they have been hunting for 10 years.

"You'll see how Eagle Point earned its name tomorrow," Bob says. "There's always an eagle there, and I guarantee he'll steal the first duck we shoot before we can get to it."

We're hiding in the brush on Eagle Point shortly after daylight the next morning with a dozen worn cork decoys bobbing in a slight chop. "There he is," Chad says, pointing to a tree line on the other side of the bay. There's a big bald eagle perched on a limb, eyeing our decoy spread.

"He must have heard the boat coming and gotten ready," Bob says.

This spot hasn't been hunted in a year, I think to myself. Can an eagle remember something like that for a year?

"Buffleheads!" someone whispers. Two of the speedy little ducks are 20 yards shy of gun range and closing the distance fast. A single shot folds the lead bird just as they pass over the decoys. Before we can make the initial steps toward the boat to retrieve it (the water is 10 feet deep), the eagle glides from its perch and handily plucks the bufflehead from the water. The point is aptly named.

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