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Techniques & Advice

Techniques & Advice, The Lowdown

Tips to improve your travel photography

October 13, 2011
A man sits on a step in Bhaktipur, Nepal

With the advent of the digital camera everyone has become a photographer in one form or another. From the professional carrying the Canon 1Ds to the amateur with the built-in SmartPhone camera, the majority of people can capture an image at anytime. And whether your destination is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or Timbuktu, here are a couple simple tips to think about before you press the button.

  1.  Fill the Frame – Once you have chosen your subject think about the elements that surround. Does all that sky enhance the photo or is it not necessary? If I remove all those trees branches and zoom in on my subject will it be a better photo? Now fill up that frame with your subject and let the background clutter fall away. And remember: the most powerful zoom lens you have is your feet, so get close to your subject.
  2. Rule of Thirds – There is an old saying among old photographers: “Dead center is dead boring.” When you are framing a photo draw mental lines, and divide it like a tic-tac-toe board. This works if you are framing a photo horizontally or vertically. Now, try to get your subject to fall on one of those lines you have mentally drawn. Better yet, get your focal point right where two of those lines cross. And for all landscape shots, get the horizon off the centerline.
  3. Not every photo has to be posed – The best travel photographers talk and interact with the people they are photographing. This not only creates a rapport with the subjects, but also gets them to relax and let down their guard. Great photos are captured when people are at ease and their most natural. A big smile or a cheesy grin becomes an image which is just that.

Next time you pull your camera out of the canoe pack give one, or a couple of these tips a try and see if you like your photos more. And when you capture that really special image from the trail send it to us here at Duluth Pack and we will post it online. Who knows you might even win our next photo contest and become a Duluth Pack celebrity.

Techniques & Advice, The Lowdown

How to: Winterizing an outboard engine

October 7, 2011
Outboard Engines

What an amazing stretch of weather for October in Minnesota, makes it hard to even think about the cold weather looming. But, at some day in the near future the wind will begin to blow and the lakes will begin to ice and we will have to have the boats ready for winter.

And while many of us here in northern Minnesota are canoe-centric, there is a great number of people throwing canoe packs in fishing boats and using outboards to chase fish around the lakes. Let me run down the process to winterize a two-stroke outboard engine.  Leave the four-stroke I/O’s for the pros.

  1. Add SeaFoam and/or StaBil to the last tank of gas for the year. This will protect the fuel system and the remainder of the gas for the winter.
  2. Pull the fuel line and drain the carburetor at the public access before you pull the boat out of the water. This will keep old gas from gumming up the fuel pump and carburetor.
  3. Get the engine straight up and down at the ramp or back at the garage while winterizing. This drains any water that may be holding in the cooling system or lower unit.
  4. Pull the hull plug and all the plugs from live wells and bait wells in the boat. More than once I have seen a boat that not only still has the hull plugs in, but also has full live wells. If that were to freeze it would really do some damage. More importantly, it is now illegal to trailer a boat in Minnesota without removing the live-well or hull plug. If you are stopped, and the officer finds you in violation you may pay some hefty fines.
  5. Drain the lower unit of gear lube. I do this as I accomplish the following tasks to give it some time to drain.
  6. Remove the spark plugs and induce fogging oil into the cylinders. I know this may seem like overkill on an engine that mixes gas and oil, but the fogging oil is heavy and will inhibit rust in the cylinders. With the plugs back in roll the engine over once to spread the fogging oil.
  7. Disconnect and charge the battery. Use a small zip strip to tie together the positive cables and negative cables. If you have a warm, dry basement put it there, but a full charge will help it get through the cold weather.
  8. Put new gear lube in the lower unit. I like to use a pump to induce the lube into the lower vent hole; you must fill it up from the bottom. When full you will see it start to peek out the upper vent hole. Put the upper vent plug back in first, MAKE SURE THE VENT PLUGS HAVE THE LITTLE TEFLON GASKETS, now remove the pump from the lower vent hole and HUSTLE the lower plug back in.
  9. Store your boat in a safe place, and prepare for the snow load if outside.
If you have a better way or a different way of winterizing you outboard, feel free to leave me a comment. I am always looking for new ways to improve my method.
Now get ready for ice fishing!


Techniques & Advice, The Lowdown

How to remove the Y-bones from a Northern Pike

September 23, 2011
A fisherman goes after the y-bones on a Northern

It has to be one of the toughest skills to learn as a fisherman, getting those annoying y-bones out cleanly from a Northern Pike filet. Speaking for myself, I have not conquered the skill, so I have called upon a master fisherman to provide some expertise. Realizing there are several ways to filet a fish, this just happens to be the way I was taught. The instructions below will be a paraphrase and combination of two styles.

Personally, I like a very sharp knife with a thin blade. I have two Rapala knives and I prefer the thinner blade which seems to be sharper and much more flexible. Some people prefer a blade not as sharp, this is really a personal preference.

1. Filet the fish as you normally would, taking the ribs out and leaving the skin on. Hold your knife vertically and take a quick swipe of the filet to expose the remaining bones. Important to remember that pike bones angle upwards toward the spine of the fish.

2. You will see two lines on the fish, one solid white and one broken (these are the tips of the y-bones), approximately 1/4 to 3/4 of an inch apart. Between the solid white line and the y-bones cut vertically 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep from the head of the filet to the start of the anal fin.

3. Just outside of the broken line (y-bones), cut 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep from the head of the filet to the start of the anal fin. Go easy here, you don’t want to cut through the bones.

4. Going back to the y-bone line cut you just made cut 1/2 inch horizontally following the bones to their end. There is a gentle twisting motion to the knife as you follow the y-bones, slicing gently.

5. Now go back and cut again, making 1/2 cuts until you get to the end. Do not slice through the skin or come out the end of the filet, remembering that the bones should end about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch from the skin.

6. On the solid line slice horizontally on the underside of the y-bones working from head to tail. Again, use that twisting motion as you follow the y-bones. You will see your blade through the opening side of the previous cuts as you work. Continue this until all the y-bones have been removed.

As with everything, this takes practice to become proficient. While I am still working on this skill my filets are looking less like something the dog has chewed on and something more worthy of the fry pan.

In the canoe pack I like to provide extra protection to my good knives, filet or otherwise. A good, hard case will do two things for you; 1. it will help keep those expensive knives from dulling or bending while in the pack. And 2. the hard case will keep the very sharp blades from exiting the canvas utensil roll or side of my Duluth Pack while bumping across a portage.

Enjoy, and fish on!

Techniques & Advice, The Lowdown, Trip Planning

Dear Bears, keep your paws off my canoe packs

July 29, 2011
This large black bear would love to peek in your canoe packs

It’s Blueberry Festival weekend in Ely, Minnesota! And, being that blueberries are one of the favorite treats of our big, black friends it is time for another bear report from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Two weeks ago a bear on Disappointment Lake tore into a food pack that was hanging from a tree. Bears are determined and don’t care that Cinco de Mayo has passed; therefore they love to play piñata with a hanging canvas backpack.

Please make sure your hanging pack is well off the ground, as much as 12 feet or more. Also, keep the pack away from the tree trunk. A hungry bear will climb the tree and reach out or climb out to get your pack.

Better yet…throw your food pack in the canoe when you leave for the day.

Yogi and Boo-boo are much smarter than you think. A bear on Basswood Lake came into camp and was able to crack open a bear-resistant container. According to the North American Bear Center in Ely, a bear will make 40 attempts at a food source before giving up. More proof that there is no such thing as a “bear-proof” container.

Like humans, bears are creatures of habit, when they find a campsite, or a series of campsites that have food they will make regular rounds. One such bear is on Malberg Lake, he just keeps coming around looking for a handout. And while he may not find or take anything, he visits camp multiple times.

Many bears have just simply lost their apprehensiveness around humans. There is a bear in the Upper Basswood Falls area that has been trying to get invited to a campsite breakfast. Last week, one group of campers didn’t feel like guests early in the morning, so they left without telling the bear.

Keep your camp clean. Hang your food pack. And NEVER take food into the tent.

Have a great time on the water, and send me some photos!

Paddle me back to


Techniques & Advice, The Lowdown

The Duluth Pack experts head out on Lake Superior

July 27, 2011
Three kayaks of Duluth Pack experts head for the sea caves

Duluth Pack experts head out on the water

It is hard work being an expert in the Duluth Pack store. Between the canoe packs, the paddles, and all the camping gear there is a lot to know to provide customers with the best outfitting service in Duluth, Minnesota. No store or staff knows their stuff like the pros at Duluth Pack. From the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to the Superior Hiking trail, to any adventure you can dream they will give great advice.

Naturally then, with so much wonderful gear at their disposal the Duluth Pack staffers want to take it out and play.

Last week ten of those store experts headed out to the Mawikwe Bay Sea Caves (formerly the Squaw Bay Sea Caves) for some kayaking and canoeing on Lake Superior. About four miles to the northeast of Cornucopia, Wisconsin are sandstone cliffs which have been eaten away by thousands of years of wind and water. Today you can explore by boat the caves and arches carved out of the amazing red rock.

Please check out the photo gallery contained below, it is a sunset not to be missed. And, be sure to stop by the store at 365 Canal Park Drive, the experts on the water are also the experts on the trails.

Take me back to

Techniques & Advice

Duluth Locals – Check this out tonight!

January 20, 2011

chris_3Until you have heard the booming of the lake ice in the winter you can’t fully appreciate how our wilderness changes after everything freezes. The woods don’t feel as dense when the underbrush is gone, and as you move over or through the snow things invisible in summer become visible. Now you have the chance to see what the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) and Quetico Provincial Park look like in the winter and stay warm by the fire at the same time.

Adventure photographer Chris Gibbs will be giving a free presentation entitled “The BWCA and Quetico: Under a blanket of snow” at theDuluth Pack Store in Canal Park on Thursday, January 20th at 7:00 p.m. Chris is an outdoor photographer with a passion for the winter and the scenery the cold provides. He spent parts of three winters traveling on skis and snowshoes to capture the iconic canoe destinations seldom seen, now under a blanket of snow.

Listen and watch as he shares his stories and his photos of the great open water locations frozen over, or reduced to just a trickle by the sub-zero temperatures. Photos include the Lower Basswood Falls, Warrior Hill on Lac La Croix, and the Native American pictographs scattered throughout the region.

This should be a real experience for any Minnesotan who revels in our winter.

By: Brad Putney ( a good photographer in his own right!)

Techniques & Advice, The Lowdown

What’s SUP?!

October 25, 2010

SUPWhat is SUP? It’s all the rage! SUP stands for Stand Up Paddle (boarding).  I got to try it and it’s a blast! You can do it on flat water or whitewater. All you need is a board (rent one to start off), paddle (Bending Branches makes a great one here), PFD, and a helmet (for whitewater).

When I asked a few SUP experts (and by expert I mean SUP’in in the Grand Canyon) about rules, they were quick to say there are no rules! Just relax and have fun, it’s easy and civilized.

Paddle strokes, squaring up to waves, readingSUP the water; that will all come with practice.  Flatwater is sup3a good place to start. Figure out your center of gravity, face foward and when you feel comfortable head out to find some waves.


Gear Talk, Techniques & Advice

Hawk Ridge – A gem in Duluth

September 20, 2010

sharp-shinned hawkThis past weekend, was Hawk Weekend in Duluth, MN.  A time when hundreds, even thousands, of migrating birds pass above Duluth each day, hesitant to cross over Lake Superior on their way South.

In the brief time I was there we spotted, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk (3,939 that day) and my favorite, the American Kestrel.

Duluth Pack has been a fan of birders for years with our Haversacks (perfect for bird books and binoculars). Old and new fans alike are enjoying our  Binocular Cases and Binoculars by Steiner.

If you are in the area this Fall I would recommend a trip up to Hawk Ridge!


Techniques & Advice, The Lowdown

Kekekabic Trail – A test of endurance

July 23, 2010

TrailheadRecently our Duluth Pack canvas cutter, Jeff, embarked on a journey with a friend to hike the length of the Kekekabic Trail. The Kekekabic Trail is a challenging one, to say the least. It is a 40 miles trail the travels up and down through the Boundry Waters Canoe Area (BWCA).

The maps for the trail are found here (Kekekabic Trail Club wesbite).  On the first section from the Fernberg Road to Snowbank Lake, half way you encounter a large clear cut area.  Snowbank Lake to Parent Lake, this section was extrememly brushy.  Parent Lake to Disappointment Lake had well marked spurs along the trail. Their first night camping after 11.5 miles lead them to Moiyaka Lake and a very nice camp spot.

lakeThe second day they headed past Hachet and Thomas Lakes for a nice break, then through some very wet marsh’s to Strup Lake for another nice break spot.  The next section had a lot of ups and downs, yikes! This section is also home to the highest point on the trail. The campsite at Loki and Harness Lake was not desireable and the rest of the day was spend going up and down and then up and down some more! Day Two did bring the best campsite at Agamok Lake after 15.5 miles.

The third day they headed through 8 miles of the Ham Lake Fire burn down area, this section had a lot of overgrown parts as well.  They found a campsite near Bingshick Lake, woke up the next morning and hiked the last 3.5 miles out to civilization!

ticksOverall they thought the trail was overgrown, rocky, and often hard to find. They also encountered more water hazards then expected and scores of mosquitos and wood ticks! They were glad to be finished!

Thanks for sharing your story and photos with us! Now back to work!

I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking!turtle


high spot  lake view