Outfitters come home to Duluth boat show: Superior native stakes claim as Alaskan charter fishing captain
DULUTH -- Corey Verdoljak was a carpenter, building houses for 20 years, when he decided to do something completely different.
The Superior, Wis., native and his wife, Brianna, pulled up roots from the Twin Ports to stake a claim in Alaska as a pilot. Only he found something he liked even better than flying.
“Fishing,’’ he said without any hesitation.
Settling in the incredibly scenic oceanside town of Homer, at the south end of the Kenai Peninsula, the Verdoljaks started Alaskan Adventures Guides and Outfitters, a charter fishing service that specializes in halibut, salmon and rockfish.
If you are dreaming of open water and big, big fish, Verdoljak can probably set you up. You can meet him Wednesday through Sunday at the 53rd annual Duluth Boat, Sports and Travel Show and Deer Classic at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center — one of hundreds of exhibitors, many of whom are Northland natives.
Most of us have who spend time in the outdoors have dreamed at some point about living in and working at the outdoor adventures we love best. Most of us don’t make the jump, but the Verdoljaks did.
“It’s been fun. It’s a lot easier on the body than building houses,’’ Corey said of his outfitting business that offers various ocean fishing trips from May through September.
“I have always wanted to do this since I was a little kid,” he added, noting it wasn’t all big fish and easy money. “It was a very difficult first couple seasons, but it’s all going well’’ now.
Verdoljak said his biggest surprise is the amount of year-round work off the water that it takes “from maintenance to permits, licenses and insurance.”
Now six years into the charter fishing scene — with a new 32-foot aluminium boat purchased in 2016 with twin 300-horse motors — Verdoljak, 42, this year is planning to put his pilot training to work, offering day trips for fly-in fishing to some of Alaska’s inland streams and lakes. He’s got a Cessna 185 on floats ready to go.
“We’ll see how it works,’’ he said.
Verdoljak, his wife and 20-month old son still get back to the Northland each winter, now with a place in Brule. But he admits he’s spending more and more time in Alaska each year.
Most of his customers are from the Midwest, he notes, and many are from the Northland. He gets a lot of customers through his face-to-face interactions at the sport show. About 40 percent of his bookings are repeat customers, he noted.
“Duluth is the best show for us by far, better than Minneapolis,’’ he said. “There are a lot of talkers down there. They don't necessarily go on fishing trips, they just like to talk about them. Up here, people really want to go.”
Once you get to Homer, rates range from $275 to $390 per person, per day for charter fishing. For more information, see Verdoljak at the boat show or go to fishandflyalaska.com.
Cotton couple loves Ontario resort lifestyle
Robin Soderlund said the last dozen years “have been the hardest I’ve ever worked. It’s the most physical job I’ve ever had. But we’re probably the happiest we’ve ever been.”
That’s what spending much of the year on a Canadian Shield lake will do to your disposition.
Robin and husband Wayne Soderlund purchased Barker Bay Resort on Lower Manitou Lake in Ontario 12 years ago and haven’t looked back. Born and raised in Duluth, the couple have lived in the Cotton/Canyon area since 1975. Robin, now 65, was a nurse. Wayne, 64, was in the logging business. They decided they wanted to try something completely different.
They looked for five years before finding “the right place.” It was Barker Bay Resort, a boat-to (or fly-in) resort just over an hour’s drive from the border at International Falls, then a 20-minute boat trip to the lodge. You can bring your own boat or they will pick you up at the landing.
They are open in winters for trout and pike ice fishing and stay open into each autumn for bear and grouse hunting. Sandwiched in the middle is a long summer of lake trout, smallmouth, pike and musky fishing. (There are some walleyes in the lake, too.)
“There’s been a big surge in our winter business. I think a lot of people like the adventure aspect of having to snowmobile in,’’ she said. “And the fishing has been great.”
The lodge has four cabins nearby and operates two outpost cabins five miles down the 32,000-acre lake lake that has 55 miles of fishable water.
Robin Soderlund said a big proportion of their business are repeat Northlanders who come back year after year, not just for the fishing but for the northwoods wilderness experience.
“There are only three small resorts on this huge lake, and a few cabins, so it’s very quiet, very remote. You get a very wild experience,’’ she said. “I think my favorite part of this is when people go home happy, and looking forward to their next trip, not just because they caught a lot of fish but because they loved the whole experience. The lake, the wildlife, the sunsets.”
It’s the view out the lodge window every morning — winter and summer — that Robin loves most about the resort lifestyle.
Wayne has been a good fit as the fix-it-person and jack-of-all trades while Robin has handled the sport show circuit and her share lodge work. Most of the time they are the only employees at the resort. There are no dock boys or housekeeping staff.
“It’s a lot of work. We don't get to fish very much because we are always working,’’ she said. “But that’s okay. It is such a beautiful place. It’s worth it every morning to get up and look out at that lake.”
If the couple has any regrets it’s that they didn’t make the move to the resort business when they were younger. “We were already in our 50s and it took us a few years to get it all figured out,’’ she said.
The couple has been pitching Barker Bay Resort at the Duluth boat show for at least 10 years, she noted, along with shows in Chicago, LaCrosse and Minneapolis. The Duluth show seems to produce the best results, she noted.
Rates at Barker Bay Resort range from $65 per night/per person for a housekeeping cabin in winter to $85 per night/per person for housekeeping cabin our outpost cabin in summer. A full-service American plan with meals, transportation to and from lodge to the boat landing, and a rental boat and motor is $235 per day/per person.
For more information see Robin Soderlund at the boat show or go to barkerbay.com.
More at the boat show:
Lowrance Electronics University
Lowrance Marine’s “Electronics University” is back at the Duluth sport show this year. Attendees can learn from the experts at Lowrance as they lead a hands-on workshop using Lowrance HDS GEN3 Touch units. Sessions will include instruction on everything from routine setup and product use to news about leading technologies such as CHIRP sonar and Insight Genesis Mapping. You’ll also hear about newly released products. Classes will be held at noon and 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at noon Sunday in Gooseberry Room 1. To reserve your spot call Marine General 218-724-8833. Registration at the show will be at Marine General’s booth on a space available basis only. Class sizes are limited so register early. Cost is $25 per person (in addition to show admission) but includes a $25 certificate redeemable at Marine General.
Extreme raptors show
In 1996 Master Falconer and Wildlife Rehabilitator Jonathan Wood founded Raptor Project Inc. training and caring for the largest traveling collection of birds of prey in the world, with raptors from a wide variety of habitats and countries. Since 2011 he’s produced the Extreme Raptors Show, featuring the world’s largest collection of birds of prey. Shows are at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and at 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Free with show admission.
“Deadliest Catch” star Johnathan Hillstrand
Fans of the Discovery Channel’s hit TV Series Deadliest Catch can meet one of the stars, Johnathan Hillstrand, at the sport show. Hillstrand is captain and co-owner of the Time Bandit, a 113 ft commercial crab fishing vessel. Hillstrand was born and raised in Alaska and began fishing at the age of seven and became a full-time fisherman after high school. He will be meeting guests at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday and noon, 3 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday. Free with show admission.
Pheasants Forever Youth Village
Pheasants Forever is educating and getting youth involved at the Northland Outdoors Duluth Deer Classic by bringing in their Pheasants Forever Youth Village with a safe archery and sling shot games. Free with show admission.
If you go
53rd annual Duluth Boat, Sports and Travel Show and Deer Classic
- What: Check out the latest boats, campers, ATVs, resorts, outfitters, hunting and fishing equipment, how-to seminars and much, much more.
- When: Wednesday through Feb. 17. 5-9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb 17.
- Where: Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, 350 Harbor Drive.
- Additional information: Adults, $10; students age 6-17, $6; under 5, free. Parking at the DECC is $5. Discount coupons for $2 off adult tickets Wednesday-Friday are available at several Duluth area merchants or at minnesotasportshow.com.