ON CASS LAKE, Minn. - Brian Brosdahl had gotten stormed off a different lake the previous evening as a massive front of wind and rain and lightning oozed its way across northern Minnesota. That wasn’t a danger one Monday morning on Cass, but fishing conditions still were far from favorable.
Unless, of course, you enjoy fishing in screaming west winds on the backside of a cold front that had dropped the water temperature by 9 degrees in two days.
“There aren’t going to be a whole lot of landing nets out anywhere today, I bet,” Brosdahl said. “If guiding is work, days like today are workdays.”
A veteran North Woods walleye guide, tournament pro and fishing promoter from the hamlet of Max, Minn., Brosdahl, 45, is among the most recognizable faces in the business. Known to all as “Bro,” the burly guide with the red goatee and “Burl Ives-ish appearance” - his words - has been plying the waters of northern Minnesota for more than 20 years.
He also pitches the wares for fishing companies such as Frabill, Northland Tackle and Lakemaster, the maker of GPS map chips. Pick up just about any fishing magazine - especially an ice fishing magazine - and chances are Brosdahl’s smiling face and reddish beard will be on its pages.
As if he’s not easy enough to spot already, Brosdahl last year landed a deal with Kellogg’s - yes, that Kellogg’s - to promote the company’s Eggo waffles while on the water. Brosdahl last year drove a Ranger fishing boat wrapped in the unmistakable yellow-and-orange labeling of Eggo waffles and soon will have a new rig.
The deal doesn’t include free waffles, Brosdahl jokingly laments, but the company covers his entry fees in the FLW pro walleye circuit.
No wonder, then, that he can’t make it out of a bait shop without being recognized.
“It just goes to show you don’t have to be pretty to make a living in the fishing world,” Brosdahl says, adding with a laugh. “Of course, I like to think I’m one of the pretty ones.”
Brosdahl could have fished dozens of smaller, more protected lakes, but Cass got the nod, even though we’d be rocking and rolling. The 16,000-acre lake is teeming with walleyes, he said, and they hadn’t been pressured as heavily as fish in other nearby lakes.
Also yet to occur was the mayfly hatch that traditionally hampers fishing for a few days every summer as the walleyes gorge themselves. The hatch had given walleyes on other lakes lockjaw in recent days, Brosdahl said.
“Cass has good numbers of fish and two islands to break up the wind,” he said. “If you weigh all the options, it’s not as rough, the flies haven’t come out yet, and there’s less boat pressure.
“You can catch fish on any lake during a cold front, but a lake that isn’t ’flied up’ or had a lot of pressure lately is the lake I want to be on.”
For obvious reasons, there wasn’t a line at the boat ramp when Brosdahl launched his 20-foot Ranger - sans Eggo adornments - for the trek across the windswept expanse to an area he was sure would give up walleyes even in such rough conditions.
“I’m not scared of rough water,” Brosdahl said. “I’ll do 6-footers. Boat control is the key; your presentation better be slow enough.”
The technique, Brosdahl said, was simple: He’d drive around until marking fish, and then we’d drop a jig or a live bait rig tipped with a spot-tail shiner in front of their noses.
Years on the water had given him that confidence, and at Brosdahl’s request, we’ll leave it at that.
Every guide has their secrets, after all.
Back-trolling bottom bouncers and shiners into the waves produced a couple of bites but no walleyes, and Brosdahl decided to head for another one of his secret spots and switch to jigs. He marked a pod of fish hugging tight to the bottom, and the first walleye of the morning was in the boat faster than you can say “L’eggo my Eggo.”
Sorry, couldn’t resist.
“Cass is an amazing producer of fish,” Brosdahl said. “The walleyes the tourists sit on all day will bite sometimes, but probably not today.”
The wind was stiff but not unbearable and almost remarkably, every pass produced a walleye or two.
Brosdahl wasn’t surprised.
“I knew we’d catch fish today,” he said.
The road north
A native of Brooklyn Center, Minn., who grew up hunting and fishing, Brosdahl began exploring more northerly parts of the state when he was 16 years old. Those were the days before GPS technology, and Brosdahl and a buddy would buy lake maps and hit the road in his old Firebird and start exploring.
Big panfish were his passion - still are - and Brosdahl says they’d sometimes hit 10 lakes in a weekend.
“Our party and our fun, if we had any money, was to put gas in the tank and drive north and find a new area,” Brosdahl said.
Eventually, the North Country hooked him for good.
“One day, I woke up and said I’d love to wake up every day Up North,” Brosdahl said. “Not just visit there - live there.”
The Brainerd, Minn., area was the first stop in 1992. Brosdahl later moved to the Walker, Minn., area, where he met his wife, Heather, whose parents owned a resort on Leech Lake. Before long, he was guiding full-time and rubbing elbows with some of the movers and shakers in the fishing industry.
Brosdahl says he expected to be single for life until Heather came along. They’ve been married 19 years.
“If you don’t have the support of your wife, you’re not going to get very far in this business,” he said. “She has supported me all the way.”
Besides guiding and fishing tournaments during the summer months, Brosdahl logs thousands of miles during a winter promotional season that begins in October. Sports shows, seminars and store appearances all are part of the gig.
He’s been a regular guest on fishing shows such as “In-Fisherman,” “Lindner’s Angling Edge” and “Midwest Outdoors,” helped design a series of “Bro’s Bug” panfish lures for Northland Tackle and worked with Frabill experts to develop the “Bro Series” line of ice fishing rods.
“Being on the road promoting is like walking into a bait shop - only some places are bigger - and talking shop with people who love the sport as much as you do,” Brosdahl said. “There’s good people everywhere. It’s just a blast to talk about fishing.”
Spend a day in the boat with Bro, and it’s clear he has a gift for gab. On that Monday, though, he also played the role of “walleye whisperer,” coaxing out a limit of 16- to 20-inch fish along with a couple of 25- and 26-inch beauties that were released to bite another day.
Not bad for a day spent fishing in the teeth of an inland hurricane.
“I considered it a fun ’walleye chop’ because wind and chop is better than ankle-biting black flies and hot, blistering sun,” Brosdahl said. “We did well because when you have a pattern that produces walleyes, stick with it.”
Even when the wind howls.