A morning on the water with Doug Burns
Your local fishing guide for the Iowa Great Lakes!
For those of us who love getting outside and spending a day on the water chasing fish, we are fortunate to live in such a great community with endless opportunities to do so. As an avid fisherman all my life, I grew up walking the creeks and rivers of north central Iowa learning the ways of the water, where to cast and what to look for in order to land as many fish as I could. So when my wife and I moved to the Iowa Great Lakes in 2017, the lakes were a bit intimidating for a guy who loves to fish but doesn’t have a boat and doesn’t know a lot about fishing lakes this size. I don't know answers to questions like where the rock beds are, where the weed lines are or where the fish are moving to at any particular time of year.
I decided to get a hold of a local fishing guide by the name of Doug Burns. Doug has been a fishing guide since 1986, when he started at Lake of the Woods—This is way up in the Northwest Angle, this is the Northernmost Point of the United States. He worked as a dock attendant at a resort called Sunset Lodge, where guests either had to fly or boat in just to get to it. His job was to run luggage, coolers, fishing gear or anything else the guests of the resort needed help unpacking to make their stay on the water as enjoyable as possible. Until one day, two older gentlemen that were staying at the resort wanted a fishing guide to take them out and catch some walleye. The resort’s fishing guides were all booked solid for the day and there weren’t any available. So, they asked Doug! Doug has been a professional fishing guide ever since. Just as he did in Lake of the Woods, when Doug moved to the Iowa Great Lakes in 1999, he learned everything about the local waters.
If you have never been out with a fishing guide, Doug makes the experience as simple as possible. He texted me the day before on which boat ramp to meet him at and our starting time. If you live on the lake, he will pick you up right off your own dock or wherever is most convenient to your location on the water. I pulled in a little early, saw him waiting at the dock, jumped on the boat and off we went. Although I brought my own fishing gear, it became clear that was not necessary. Doug had everything anyone would ever need to conquer the day. Leading up to our trip, I told Doug that I loved fishing for Smallmouth Bass. After we left the boat ramp and got to our first spot, he parked the boat right on top of them and within minutes we were reeling them in. If you’ve ever fished with me, you know I can get a little jumpy when I can see giant bass in 10 feet of crystal clear water. “Patience, Max. Patience,” Doug said, as he maneuvered the boat into the perfect position to cast. He knew where they were, where they were going and what they were biting on. This believe it or not, changes by the day or even hour in some cases.
As we went from spot to spot, it became obvious that Doug knew West Lake like no other. In less than two hours of being on the water, we had caught five different species of fish in five different spots on the lake. We caught Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Black Crappie, Bluegill and Northern Pike—all of which are abundant in our lakes. As well as the massive Muskie we had cruise through our Smallmouth spot.
All of the excellent fishing aside, I enjoyed hearing Doug discuss his passion for educating people on how to fish. When he is guiding first timers or beginners that don’t know exactly how to cast, set the hook or reel in a fish, he is happy to help them learn so by the end of the trip they know how to do it on their own, while getting the full experience of the excitement fishing provides. He wants them to enjoy fishing for a lifetime.
Along with helping his customers, on Tuesday’s during the summer, Doug hosts a kid’s fishing clinic on the Fillenwarth Beach Resort dock for their guests, helping the kids catch fish. The topics he also discusses and demonstrates are: teaching about the types of fish, where they are, why they are there, how to tie a fishing knot, how to bait the hook, how to catch them and how to take them off and let them go; helping keep the sport alive for generations to come.
So, if you are interested in getting out there or taking the family fishing but don’t know where to start, I encourage you to spend a morning or afternoon with one of our local fishing guides. It will provide family fun for all ages and all levels of fishing experience. From the pro anglers down to beginners, we live in the perfect place to go out and catch some fish. Doug is out guiding all summer and into the fall, when he then heads for warmer weather when he can. I asked if he does guided ice fishing or any ice fishing at all to which he replied “Nope! Ice is for drinks!”