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Learning the Lake: Kabetogama's "Tom Cod Bay"

In the summer of 1993, I made a call to Harmony Beach resort and spoke with Tim Watson. Our college newspaper had a summer job on Lake Kabetogama working as a "dock boy" (which we later referred to as "harbor engineer"). I knew my family had relatives and a long history in northern Minnesota's Lake Kabetogama region. That phone call changed my life.

My mentor, my friend, my "uncle", Tim Watson is someone that has guided and helped influence me get to where I am today. Born and raised in the area, the Watson family called Ray, Minnesota home and operated the Watson Store. A general story that supplied boots and gear to groceries. Tim often reflects on the history of Kabetogama, early settlers, and stories of individuals or families that many of Kabetogama's islands and bays are named after today. I recently asked him to tell me about TOM COD BAY.

Many of you don't realize that Voyageurs National Park was established in 1975, and long before that, the Kabetogama and Ash River area has long been known as a fishing destination to anglers all over the world. Often referred to as a top 10 walleye destination, the beauty of the area with numerous islands and undeveloped shorelines is what captures people.

So long before the National Park, this area was all about the logging industry. In 1911, the dam and Kettle Falls/Squirell falls was built. Water on the Namakan Basin (Kabetogama, Ash River, Sand Point, Crane Lake) raised 7-10 feet from its previous water level. Early settlers were trappers, loggers, farmers and fisherman. "Tom Cod" was an early settler that farmed, trapped and lived off the land in the bay we call Tom Cod Bay today. Yes, that's right, that area once was farmland with a small creek flowing into Kabetogama. Thank creek, known as Tom Cod Creek is still around today, and dependent on winter snow, spring rains and controlled water this area is a "slough", a "bog", a "shallow bay".

Tom Cod Bay is shallow, with a dangerous rock in what I call the center of the bay. Around that rock (that sticks up above water typically) anglers will find a combination of sand, gravel, and rock. Often a summer fishing destination, this area can hold walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, and yellow perch. Around that rock, heading west you will find a heavy thick weed line that extends north and south some distance. Northern pike frequent these week lines and can be fun and aggressive for anglers looking for actions. Prior to the weeks, walleye fisherman can find roaming walleyes post spawn cruising this snagging bottom. Remember, this area was woods, and farmland a little over 100 years ago. Along the shoreline, much of this area is considered a Tamarack swap or bog. The bushes and Tamarack trees area actually on watery mix of moss, brush, and grasses. Along that shoreline edge, this bog creates a tunnel for bait fish to swim from Tom Cod Creek out into the main body of Kabetogama. Be aware that this area is a mess of branches, stumps, and unforgiving snags. Fisherman will troll or look to find fish along weed lines or small areas that have changes in the lake bottoms substrate. Personally, I love a strong east wind, as food and microorganisms bring baitfish into Tom Cod Bay, where you find baitfish, you will find walleyes and predator fish. Depths never get much over 12-15 feet, with most of Tom Cod Bay closer to 5-8 feet deeps. A mix of grasses, weeds, and gravel provide structure for the fish moving in and out of the area.

A native American, I'm unsure if Tom Cod was this early settler's true name, or just what he was called. But I like to think that today this area represents someone that loved and lived off the land. Sandy Point looks out over Tom Cod Bay and is the closest resort to this area of the lake. So, if you are staying in a modern cabin or fishing on Kabetogama, I hope you take a minute to reflect on those that were here long before. Set the hook, smile and tell someone the story of Tom Cod, a beautiful bay in the northwest portion of Lake Kabetogama.

Thanks to Tim Watson for always being willing to tell me some of the history of the area and sharing his vast knowledge with me.

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