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Good days or bad, Curt Quesnell tells it like it is on Lake of the Woods

Curt Quesnell of NCOR Fishing Guide Service has developed quite a following on YouTube with his regular NCOR Lake of the Woods video segments.

Curt in his shop.jpg
Curt Quesnell of NCOR Fishing Guide Service on Lake of the Woods sits in his shop near Long Point north of Williams, Minnesota, on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. Quesnell, who mostly guides in the summer, is gaining quite a following with the weekly Lake of the Woods fishing reports he posts to his YouTube channel.
Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Herald

LAKE OF THE WOODS, Minn. — Curt Quesnell likely has one of the best fish stories to come from Lake of the Woods this winter. He even had it on video.

“Had” being the key word in this case. Quesnell accidentally deleted the video clip before he could post it to his YouTube channel.

The video most certainly would have gone viral, he says.

Quesnell, who runs NCOR Fishing Guide Service on Lake of the Woods, was ice fishing off Long Point near his home north of Williams, Minnesota, on a recent Monday earlier this winter when he went to release a small sauger he’d caught while jigging with a rattlebait.

NCOR stands for “North Country Outdoors Radio,” the Lake of the Woods report Quesnell hosted as a longtime Thief River Falls radio personality until retiring six years ago and moving to Long Point with his wife, Deb. When he decided to start a guiding business as a retirement gig to pay for his fishing habit, he opted to stick with the NCOR brand.


Titled “Mink Sink, Swim on Burbot Catch,” the 1954 article featured commercial fishermen who were netting the “voracious predatory monsters” through the ice on Lake of the Woods for use as mink food.

But anyway, we digress; back to the fish story.

Somehow, Quesnell says, when he went to release the sauger, it hooked the rattlebait, sending fish, rod, reel and rattlebait into 27 feet of water never to be seen again.

Or so he thought.

“The whole thing was gone in a second,” Quesnell said. He watched it sink to the bottom on his electronics, a Humminbird MEGA Live imaging unit that is one of the most whiz-bang pieces of fishing electronics on the market today. He tied on a big treble hook in an attempt to retrieve the rig, but no luck.

“The next day, I tried again, but I finally gave up,” Quesnell said.

Whiz-bang new fishing electronics such as Humminbird's MEGA Live imaging unit take all of the guesswork out of what's going on under the water.
Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Herald

Happy ending

Fast forward nine days, when something fishy showed up on the screen of Quesnell’s MEGA Live once again — a small hump on the bottom of the lake just inches below his jig.

“I thought, ‘Could that be that reel?’ — to show you how good the MEGA Live is,” Quesnell said.


He hooked on a rattlebait with two treble hooks, dropped it down the hole and immediately pulled up not only the rod and reel, but the small sauger still hooked to the lure.

The fish had been swimming around with the rod, reel and rattlebait the whole time.

“A week and two days later, he was still pulling that rod around,” Quesnell said. “I unhooked him and he swam right away.”

Quesnell, who is developing quite a following on YouTube with his regular NCOR Lake of the Woods video segments — he now has more than 2,100 subscribers — recorded the entire encounter on video with a GoPro camera.

Later that day back in his home editing room, Quesnell dragged the two clips from the GoPro’s SD card into his editing program.

“That didn’t really take them off the SD card,” he said. “So I made the video — it was awesome — and rendered it down.”

Assuming the video was ready to post, Quesnell recalls, he deleted the clips from his SD card, only to discover the clips he’d dragged into his editing program were gone.

“If I’d moved it over to my desktop, I’d have had it — I’d have been done,” he lamented. “I spent three hours trying to figure out how to recover them, but you can’t recover something off an SD card.


“Yeah … that was awesome video.”

Back on the ice

Quesnell shared this tale of woe Monday morning, Jan. 16, another hazy day on Lake of the Woods. While he does book the occasional ice fishing excursion — nine so far this winter, with the possibility of one or two more — Quesnell does the vast majority of his guiding in the summer. Living right across the road from Lake of the Woods affords him the luxury of ice fishing nearly every day. He tries to record and post at least one NCOR Lake of the Woods video report every week, setting up two cameras and going through all of the rigmarole required to gather enough footage for a report — all within the confines of the 8x12 fish house he calls “Old Blue.”

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Curt Quesnell's 1996 Chevy Blazer converted into a tracked vehicle is parked in front of his fish house near Long Point on Lake of the Woods on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. Quesnell, who lives just across the road from Lake of the Woods, is on the ice for a few hours most days throughout the winter filming Lake of the Woods video reports for his popular YouTube channel.
Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Herald

Most days, Quesnell hits the ice at first light in his converted 1996 Chevy Blazer tracked vehicle and spends the morning fishing and recording video. Unless he has customers, of course; then he fishes all day. If he catches enough fish for a video, he’ll head off the lake by noon and back across the road to his home, produce the video in the afternoon and post it that evening.

“If it doesn’t happen in the morning, in the afternoon I’m tired of it, and I won’t (shoot video) anymore,” he said. “So it’s best if I have two decent hours of fishing, then I can go in and do production in the afternoon and get the video out that day.”

Quesnell now has enough subscribers to his YouTube channel that he can monetize his videos — a process that requires at least 1,000 subscribers — and make a few bucks by posting his Lake of the Woods reports to the popular video platform. He has subscribers from as far away as Australia, Sweden and the United Kingdom, and the videos he’d posted in the past 28 days had gotten nearly 35,000 views as of Monday.

Ice fishing content has been the big driver in boosting his subscriber base, which has more than tripled in the past year, Quesnell says. The videos he posts in November, December and January are considerably more popular than his summer content.

“Mostly, it’s what’s going on this week on Lake of the Woods, and if I catch some fish along the way, that’s the money shot right there,” he said. “Big or little (fish), it doesn’t matter. That happens quite a bit up here.

“It’s nothing too fancy. I’m not traveling the Ice Belt bringing you to different locations.”


But oh, Quesnell laments, if he only hadn’t lost the video of retrieving that rod, reel and sauger he’d dropped down the hole nine days earlier.

“I could have been a contender,” he joked.

Spotty fishing

Walleye and sauger action — at least where he fishes — has been spotty, of late, Quesnell says, and that is reflected in his YouTube reports. This hazy January Monday was no exception. “Lookers” outnumbered “takers” on our electronics, and the eight or so saugers we landed were too small to keep.

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Curt Quesnell lands a small sauger Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, on Lake of the Woods.
Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Herald

Normally, Quesnell says, walleye and sauger action stays fairly steady through January; this year, not so much.

“It’s gotten worse the last couple of weeks,” he said. “I was catching three nice fish every morning.”

There’s still that potential, he says, but it’s happening less often.

“I think that’s what you’re going to get,” he said. “You’re going to get a bunch of little ones, and then once in a while, you get a couple of nice ones.”

Viewers appreciate the honesty, he says.


“This will go down as the worst day of fishing we’ve had here,” Quesnell said, joking that it could have been worse.

“We didn’t get hooks in our fingers or anything,” he said.

The next morning, Quesnell is back on the ice and lands a 16.5-inch walleye in the first 15 minutes — of course — followed by another nice keeper a short time later.

Curt with 17-inch walleye 1.17.23.jpeg
There had been no-keeper size fish the previous day, but Curt Quesnell caught this 16½-inch walleye just 15 minutes into the morning Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, near Long Point on Lake of the Woods.
Contributed/Curt Quesnell

He was just about ready to wrap up his video shoot and call it a morning when he saw this “great big blob” on his electronics just below the ice that looked like a school of baitfish.

It wasn’t.

“It was a great big fish, and it came right to my bait, looked at it and kind of swam off to one side,” Quesnell said. He could actually see the shape of the fish, which was “really long,” on the MEGA Live.

“You could see the fins and everything on it, and it turned around and smashed my jig,” Quesnell said. “I set the hook, and he was on there, and I thought, ‘Oh boy, this is going to be great.’ And I had him on for 10 seconds. He popped off, and when he popped off, the jig shot up out of the hole. So I had him right there.

“It was big – big, big, big.”


What does he think it was?

“Another great missed opportunity,” he said.

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Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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