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Fish Scouting: Minnesota Troop Enjoying Annual Escape to the Lake

Led by Alex Adams of Virginia, Boy Scouts from Troop 129 in Britt make the climb up a portage after a morning of lake trout fishing on Moss Lake along the Gunflint Trail north of Grand Marais, Minnesota, on March 3, 2013. The troop makes an annual winter trip to Gunflint Trail. (Sam Cook/Duluth News-TribuneMCT)

Led by Alex Adams of Virginia, Boy Scouts from Troop 129 in Britt make the climb up a portage after a morning of lake trout fishing on Moss Lake along the Gunflint Trail north of Grand Marais, Minnesota, on March 3, 2013. The troop makes an annual winter trip to Gunflint Trail. (Sam Cook/Duluth News-TribuneMCT)

Moss Lake, Minn. — The American flag and the Troop 129 Boy Scout flag had just been placed in mounds of snow on Moss Lake. The troop’s flag ceremony was about to begin when another flag pre-empted the formalities.

“Tip-up!” one of the Scouts yelled.

Sure enough, a tip-up flag had snapped into vertical mode, signifying that a lake trout had taken the minnow dangling on the line.

You may recall that a Boy Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. They’re also quick, especially when they see a flag flying on a tip-up.

Joshua Baumann of Virginia, a senior patrol leader, was the first one at the flag. He gave the line a tug. Nothing.

“He’s gone,” said Baumann, 14.

Baumann was one of 11 Scouts from Troop 129 in the Britt area taking part in this third annual escape to Moss Lake, just off the Gunflint Trail north of Grand Marais last weekend. They stayed at cabins on Aspen Lake, courtesy of Golden Eagle Lodge on nearby Flour Lake. The Moss Lake Adventure — the Scouts will earn an embroidered patch for this — is a good learning experience, says Scoutmaster Patrick Baumann of Virginia.

“It’s just far enough for them to get an appreciation for how big our world is,” he said. “And it’s close enough for them to understand our world is shrinking, and we have to take care of it.”

The Scouts had risen at 5 a.m. on a Saturday and marched over the one-third-mile portage to Moss Lake. Several parents drove snow machines and pulled sleds full of fishing gear. The temperature was about 18 below zero. Clouds of exhalation hung in the morning air as the Scouts hiked up the portage.

The Scouts had to hike another three-quarters of a mile across Moss Lake to the designated fishing hole. By the time they arrived, Ben Kalinowski, 13, of Chisholm was wearing white frost on his eyelashes. Avery Frazee, 12, of Tower looked like an old man with his blond hair frosted white.

It was nippy.

After the flag ceremony, the patrol leaders gathered up their troops and got down to work. Some gathered wood. Some set up a fire area on shore. Others readied a lunch spot. Troop 129 is a finely tuned bunch. They had met the night before to go through their duties.

Power augers buzzed. Heaters were coaxed to life. Parents erected fishing shelters and started jigging.

At intervals, the cry would ring out: “Tip-up!” A couple of Scouts would scurry across the ice to check a tip-up. Whether you’re a Tenderfoot or an Eagle Scout, racing to a sprung tip-up is an exercise in great expectations. That little flag tells you that something in the darkness beneath 21/2 feet of ice has toyed with your minnow. The fish, presumably a lake trout, may have simply snatched your bait. Or he may be swimming away with your hook in his toothy jaws.

Still panting, the Scout would lift the tip-up from the hole. He would grab the line and pull gently, hoping for resistance. Most of the time, the fish was not there. Upon inspection, the Scout would find the minnow stolen.

Ben Haurunen, 13, of Iron scored first. His airplane jig was in stall mode in 30 feet of water when a lake trout came by and impaled himself on it. Haurunen knew what to do, and soon he had the fish dangling from his line for inspection by his fellow Scouts.

That started a streak of steady, if not fast, action through the morning, and in time the Scouts managed five keeper lake trout of about 2 pounds and released a few more small ones.

Ice fishing is a novel experience for some Scouts, Patrick Baumann said.

“Maybe half of them fish,” he said. “A few of them have never done ice-fishing before.”

The day was cloudless and warmed into the mid-20s. In lulls between fishing, the Scouts gathered in small groups to discuss the merits of various snowmobiles. Some went for a long hike up the ridge among the old white pines.

Bill Keute, 13, of Virginia and Alex Adams, 13, of Virginia found they could break off plates of crusted snow and stand them vertically in random rows to create art. It looked like a white-on-white cluster some ancient civilization might have left behind. Keute knew what to call it: “Snowhenge.”

By noon, when the fire was kindled, the boys were ravenous. They clustered around the fire to roast hot dogs on sticks. Some found it hard to wait until the dogs were fully cooked.

When Justin Schutte, 11, of Virginia pulled his dog out of the fire, it appeared it had just come out of the package. He took a bite of it right off the stick. Someone asked him how it was.

“Cold,” Justin said. “But good.”

After lunch and a closing flag ceremony, Troop 129 shouldered its packs and headed for the portage. Along with their gear, they carried good memories of the day.

“It’s really fun, mostly because of the fishing,” Schutte said. “I had never seen a lake trout before.”

“It’s a fun time to be with everyone else. You connect with them,” Kalinowski said. “And it’s relaxing, being a normal boy, rough-housing.”

Only one member of the entourage suffered a setback climbing the steep hill out of Moss Lake on the way out. Ascending the hill on his snow machine, Scoutmaster Patrick Baumann lost two of the lake trout when they bounced out of his sled.

Not to worry. Baumann’s nephew and one-time Eagle Scout Zachary Baumann, 21, of Golden Eagle Lodge went back to pluck the lost lake trout from the portage.

Proving that a Scout is helpful. And kind. And loyal.