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Fishing trip to Red Lake Indian Reservation offers mixed bag of fish from shore on the Red Lake River

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Strong winds and looming clouds were no hindrance to Red Lake Nation fishing guide Daris Rosebear, who landed this 24-inch walleye June 15 while fishing from shore near the headwaters of the Red Lake River on tribal lands. Rosebear, of Red Lake, Minn., operates Rosebear Guide Service on the reservation. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald) 2 / 5
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Daris Rosebear has reason to smile after landing a slab crappie while shore fishing June 15 near the headwaters of the Red Lake River on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. Rosebear operates Rosebear Guide Service and offers guided trips by boat to several small lakes within the reservation and from shore on the tribal portion of the Red Lake River. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald) 4 / 5
The dam at the headwaters of the Red Lake River where it flows out of Lower Red Lake is a popular shore fishing spot for tribal anglers and nonband members who buy a special license and hire a tribal guide. The river for several hundred yards downstream from the dam is limited to shore fishing but offers a mixed bag of species, including walleyes, northern pike, crappies, perch and freshwater drum. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald) 5 / 5

RED LAKE, Minn.—The wind was howling—again—and rain a couple of days earlier likely had made the backroads muddy and treacherous.

Trying to get a boat into the remote lakes open to nontribal anglers on northern Minnesota's Red Lake Nation lands would be a challenge. Getting a boat in the water might be doable, but getting it out again on the primitive, muddy accesses likely would be a different story.

Throw in the ever-present wind, and even on the small tribal lakes—which offer fishing for everything from rainbow trout, brook trout and lake trout to largemouth bass, pike, walleyes and panfish—controlling the boat would be tough.

No problem, that, Daris Rosebear said. We'd just fish from shore.

A tribal guide for parts of the past seven years, Rosebear, 27, of Red Lake, operates Rosebear Guide Service and offers guided fishing trips on some 30 small lakes within the boundaries of the Red Lake Indian Reservation.

The tribal waters of Upper and Lower Red lakes are open only to enrolled members of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, but nontribal anglers can fish the small lakes if they hire a tribal guide and purchase a nonresident license.

That's where tribal guides such as Rosebear come into play. Rosebear ran the fishing program for Seven Clans Casino near Red Lake until they discontinued the service in May 2016, and he decided to venture out on his own.

"They just laid me off, and I went on my way," Rosebear said.

Fortunately, he'd just bought a truck and a new Alumacraft fishing boat before the program ended so the transition to self-employment was relatively smooth.

"Pretty much all the fishermen came back," Rosebear said.

Building a base

Gradually, through a Facebook group that has more than 600 members and regular posts, Rosebear says he's been able to build a client base. He's one of a dozen or so band members offering guided fishing trips on the reservation and has hired up to four additional guides to accommodate larger groups.

"I like guiding, and I like fishing," Rosebear said. "I'm a nonstop fisherman—even on days off."

All species in the small tribal lakes are open to nonresident anglers from mid-May through October, but in recent years, ice fishing, which is limited to rainbow trout and brook trout, has become especially popular on the reservation lakes.

Rosebear said some 500 anglers fished with him this past winter, and he invested in a half-dozen portable shelters, along with electronics and three gas augers, to meet the demand.

"Most of them come from the Grand Rapids area," Rosebear said. "A group even came down from Canada. It was cool—they brought me some moose meat."

Rosebear's plan on this blustery June morning was to fish from shore below the dam at the headwaters of the Red Lake River—Miskwaagamiiwi-zaaga'iganiiwi-ziibi in Ojibwe—where the river flows out of Lower Red Lake and begins its 193-mile journey of twists and turns through bogs, prairies and farmlands that eventually ends at the Red River in East Grand Forks.

The river downstream from the dam is limited to shore fishing for the first several hundred yards.

Besides offering a break from the relentless wind, Rosebear said, shore fishing had been good. As proof, he showed off a photo of a 14-inch crappie a client had caught a few days earlier. The crappie boom in state and tribal waters of Upper and Lower Red lake might have peaked in the early 2000s, but there still were slabs to be had, Rosebear said.

Throw in the potential for numerous northern pike, respectable perch and even the occasional walleye, and the river was a good Plan B. The beauty of river fishing is you never know what you're going to catch.

"It's real easy," Rosebear said. "Kids can catch fish out here, too."

Not much company

Most days when shore fishing, Rosebear says he likes to be on the river at first light to beat the crowds—especially on weekends—but only a few anglers had braved the clouds and wind to fish on this day. They were closer to the dam—nowhere close to Rosebear's preferred fishing spot.

Shore fishing below the dam typically stays good into mid-July, when the weeds get too thick and the fish move downstream, Rosebear said. The river was up after heavy rain earlier in the week so weeds weren't a problem.

"I'm not sure how long this will hold out here, either," Rosebear said. "I've been getting guys that have been going to Upper Red for crappies, too, and I've been bringing them over here."

It took less than a minute to catch the first fish of the day—a respectable perch. The perch wasn't "Devils Lake jumbo" caliber, but it was big enough for a fillet.

Rosebear says he prefers perch to walleyes as table fare.

"I don't have any perch in the fridge," he said. "I have nothing but walleyes."

That would change by day's end, and the next few hours passed in a relaxing cadence of cast, reel and repeat. This was easy fishing—a floating jig tipped with a minnow.

Cast-reel-repeat. Cast-reel-repeat. Cast-reel ... fish on!

This was a good place to be a pelican, apparently, and the big birds would peacefully drift downriver, scooping up the occasional fish along the way, before flying back to the dam and repeating the ride.

Swallows literally filled the sky, at times, swooping down from their mud-hewn nests below the bridge.

Typical of river fishing, we caught a mixed bag of fish. Perch dominated the catch, but Rosebear also landed four slab crappies from 12 inches to 14 inches and two walleyes, the biggest measuring 24 inches.

Northern pike and the occasional freshwater drum rounded out the species list.

The lack of fishing pressure likely boosted the catch, Rosebear said.

"I think just because there wasn't too many people pressuring it this morning we got into the fish," he said. "We caught closed to 20 perch, four crappies 12 inches and up and two bonus walleyes."

Not bad for a Plan B.


If you go

• Nonresident tribal licenses to fish the small lakes on the Red Lake Indian Reservation cost $10 daily, $25 weekly and $50 for the season and are available at the Red Lake Law Enforcement Complex in Red Lake, Minn. Bring correct change.

• For more information on Rosebear Guide Service, check out the Facebook page or contact Rosebear at (218) 214-0018.

• More information on fishing the small tribal lakes is available at

-- Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. 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. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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