From on the air to on the water
WILLIAMS, Minn.—Curt Quesnell barely has a chance to get his boat up on plane before he reaches one of his favorite Lake of the Woods fishing spots on a crisp Monday morning in late September.
So much for the adage that fishing always is better on the other side of the lake. For Quesnell, this side of Lake of the Woods near Long Point has been just fine, thank you very much.
It's been that way for the past month, he says.
After several days of stiff wind, Mother Nature finally was granting a reprieve. A southerly breeze put just enough chop on the water to keep the walleyes active—we hope-- and minutes after leaving the harbor at Long Point Resort, we're bouncing jigs and frozen shiners off the bottom in 24 feet of water.
"It's a good spot to spend the first couple of hours every day, and if you have to move, you move out to 30 feet," Quesnell said.
Best known to many as a longtime voice on TRFRadio—Thief River Falls radio stations KKAQ-AM and KKDQ-FM—Quesnell retired last September after 37 years with the company, pulled up stakes and became a Lake of the Woods "local" in January.
He and his wife, Deb, now live near Long Point north of Williams.
They bought the place eight years ago as a weekend getaway, did some expanding and remodeling, and it's now their retirement home.
Minutes from the boat ramp, their place in the woods also is a perfect location for Quesnell's new retirement gig, Curt's NCOR Guide Service.
NCOR stands for "North Country Outdoors Radio," a brand he established as host of a longtime radio show that focused on Lake of the Woods. The show was a perfect fit for Quesnell, an admitted Lake of the Woods fanatic.
"I got to know more and more about the fishing on Lake of the Woods just from the people I had a chance to talk to every week," Quesnell, 62, said. "And the last few years I was still working, I thought, 'Boy, when I retire, I'm going to guide.' Because I fish every day anyhow, and that can get expensive.
"I had a fairly solid brand going with (NCOR) so I thought I'd keep it," he said. "It just seemed like a great way to get started in a new business."
This past spring, Quesnell took Coast Guard training and obtained his captain's license and all of the other credentials required to legally guide on Lake of the Woods. He also got a fish-packing license as a convenience for people who fish with him. Guiding out of a 20½-foot Crestliner Raptor with a 300-horse Mercury, Quesnell cleans the catch at the end of the day and provides everything but lunch.
It's a more intimate alternative to the charter boats that resorts along the south shore use to shuttle anglers on the big lake. A jovial guy to begin with, the radio personality with the booming voice obviously enjoys being on the lake and sharing time on the water with others.
"Everyone's been really nice," Quesnell says of his inaugural guiding season. "How to handle a difficult person might be a challenge, but it's fun—you talk fishing. I haven't had the real good fisherman that told me how to fish all day yet."
That's a good thing, he adds; guiding is a retirement job, after all.
"I'm not feeding my family with this—I will take someone to shore," he said with a laugh.
"The only thing I don't like about it, really, is the worry about the wind, and the fact that, geez, if I don't have a fish in the bucket in an hour and a half, I'm going to be pretty cranky all day. But on the other side of the coin, when we do catch that fish, I'm so happy."
Fall is favorite
Fishing on Lake of the Woods was good all summer, Quesnell says, but fall is his favorite time to be on the water. So much so that he quit deer hunting to spend more time fishing.
"A few years ago, I realized how good the fishing gets out here in the fall, and that's one of the reasons I started a guide service," Quesnell said. "We're close to shore, windy days can happen a lot more in the fall than even in the summer here, but we're so close, we can fish in some pretty big winds and be comfortable.
"And in the fall, the fish just keep getting more aggressive, fatter and they bite better as the weather gets colder."
Rainy River and portions of Lake of the Woods closer to the mouth of the river get much of the attention in the fall. Quesnell says he'll trailer to the river if it's too windy to get on the lake, but it has to be pretty rough before he'll take a pass on Long Point.
Most of the time, Quesnell says, he has that part of the lake to himself in the fall.
"By mid-October, if you see another boat all day you say, 'ooh, what's going on?'" he said. "It's really nice. I fish fish until it finally gets so cold you can't take it any more."
Turning the bow of his boat into the south wind blowing out from shore, Quesnell holds the boat in place with his MinnKota SpotLock trolling motor, a remote-controlled piece of wizardry that essentially takes the place of an anchor.
He leaves his rod in the holder most of the time, letting the waves do the jigging until he detects a bite. I prefer holding the rod, intent on rhythmically—or perhaps mindlessly—bouncing the jig off the bottom until I feel something interfere with the motion.
Sometimes, it's a distinct thunk; other times, the bite is barely detectable.
That's jig fishing in the fall.
"I don't hold the rod too much because I always get on them too quick" with the hook-set, Quesnell said.
The fish start small, but grow larger as the day proceeds. We spend the first couple of hours in 24 feet before Quesnell moves out to 30 feet. We're never far from shore, and we never have more than a half-dozen or so boats in view, most of them a mile or more away.
By early afternoon, we've sorted through numerous smaller fish to keep a limit of 15- to 18-inch walleyes and three bonus saugers. Quesnell releases a couple of "slot fish" up to 23½ inches that fall within the lake's 19½- to 28-inch protected slot.
I lose what might have been the biggest walleye of the day—twice I have it on, and twice I lose it—along with another heavy fish that leaves me wondering what might have been.
That's fishing, as the old saying goes, and that's what keeps you coming back.
Reluctantly, we call it a day and prepare for the long—ahem—ride to shore.
That takes all of 5 minutes.
"We haven't been whacking them steady, but boy, about the time you think something should happen, then it does," Quesnell said. "It's been a good day, that's for sure. If a person is ever unsatisfied with fishing this way, they probably shouldn't come fishing. They shouldn't have the option."
If you go
• Curt Quesnell of Curt's NCOR Guide Service on Lake of the Woods operates out of the Long Point area north of Williams, Minn.
• Guiding out of a 20½-foot Crestliner Raptor, Quesnell is a Coast Guard licensed and certified captain and can accommodate up to three anglers. Bait and tackle are supplied for those who don't have or don't want to use their own, and Quesnell, a licensed fish packer, cleans and packs the fish at the end of the day.
• Quesnell markets his guiding business with a Facebook NCOR page that includes photos, fishing reports and video he shoots and edits from his time on the water.
• For more information, go to facebook.com and do a search for NCOR tm and leave a message or contact Quesnell at (218) 689-8826.