Family fishing in a Northwoods paradise

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Worth the trip: Travelers, including Terry Henson, to Lake Vermilion in Tower, Minn., come primarily to catch impressive-sized walleye, along with smallmouth and largemouth bass, northern pike, muskie and lots of pan fish. | Supplied photo

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National Geographic magazine named Ely, Minn., and the surrounding area one of the world’s Top 50 scenic destinations that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.

Many Northwest Indiana residents — drawn to its pristine wilderness, crystal clear lakes, great fishing and abundant wildlife — have taken the magazine’s advice and traveled more than 600 miles year after year to the beautiful area that includes Lake Vermilion Resort.

According to Nancy Dougherty, executive director of Lake Vermilion Resort & Tourism Association, families from the Chicago and northern Indiana area are the second largest group to travel to the northern Minnesota destination, after residents of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.

“It’s the experience of the Northwoods that draws you. You open the door and take your first breath of fresh air and are overcome by the smell of pine trees,” said Mike Lantry, owner of White Eagle Resort (, on Lake Vermilion, who formerly lived in Valparaiso and Homewood, Ill. Lantry said he visited the area numerous times, beginning as a child, before calling it home.

“You stand out in front of your cabin and look out at the lake through the trees, hear the cry of the loon,” he said of the experience.

Fishing and families

The 40,000-acre Lake Vermilion, located about 20 miles from Ely in Tower, Minn., is the seventh largest lake in Minnesota. It’s home to walleye, smallmouth and largemouth bass, northern pike and plenty of pan fish, Dougherty said.

“Muskies have been coming strong the past few years and we’re getting known for having some pretty large ones, but people primarily come for the walleye,” Dougherty said.

She said Lake Vermilion has 365 islands that visitors can explore and fish from. She said the islands provide protection from strong winds, so die-hard anglers can try their luck even on windy days.

Those staying in one of the many lodges and resorts around the lake have the best of fishing and boating worlds. They can stay on Lake Vermilion and fish from a pontoon or other motorized boat, or they can access the famous Boundary Waters Canoe Area — one million acres of tranquil water and wilderness that include more than 1,200 miles of canoe trails. Unlike Lake Vermilion, the BWCA does not allow motorized vehicles.

Dougherty said Lake Vermilion is a family destination. In fact, many of the resorts accommodate family reunions, with larger cabins that can sleep up to 15 people. She said they come in a variety of price points. Some of the resorts have organized children’s programs.

Lantry agreed, saying people head up there to relax and reconnect with their family. “We’re a program-oriented society. We have our kids in all kinds of programs,” Lantry said. “Lake Vermilion gives parents a chance to reconnect with their kids and have good, wholesome fun.”

More than just fishing

Lantry said fishing is the primary reason most families come to Lake Vermilion, but there are plenty of other activities.

“It’s not all about fishing. One man from Hebron brings his camera with him and takes nice pictures of the wildlife. He took a beautiful picture of a loon; I don’t know how he got that close to it,” Lantry said.

He said visitors can take a boat to one of the lake’s islands and go berry picking or exploring. There are many hiking trails and some beach areas. People can water ski, kayak or canoe.

There is plenty of wildlife to see, including bear, deer, fox, wolves, loons and eagles.

“The eagle population has become just fantastic,” Lantry said.

Getting away from the resort, families can watch from a safe location overhead as volunteers feed wild bear at the Vince Shute Bear Sanctuary in nearby Orr, learn all about wolves at the International Wolf Center in Ely or travel 2,400 feet below the surface at the Soudan Underground Mine State Park.

Dougherty said there also are several state parks including the newest, Lake Vermilion State Park, which is just getting underway.

And for those looking to step out of the wilderness for a while, there are the Fortune Bay Casino, restaurants and shopping.

More information is with Nancy Dougherty at (218) 666-5850 or online at