Shipwrecked, but not for long: Two fishermen survive scare in northern Minnesota

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The 15-mile trek across Long Point to Big Traverse Bay on vast Lake of the Woods is Bob Brott’s top jaunt to fish for walleye.

Rain or shine, the six-hour drive from Bob’s Eden Prairie home to the resorts is always worth his while.

“Lake of the Woods is one of my favorite lakes in the state--and in the country,” he said.

The journey across the Lake’s bays for a coveted catch is one he’d made in his 1974 Glasspar at least 10 times before.

“This was the last voyage of this boat on that lake,” he said. “I have a lot of good memories with it, but I wanted to get a bigger boat that was more equipped for big water.”

During his most recent trip on July 31, Bob was joined for the first time by his cousin Gary Soucie of Nebraska.

“I’m grateful he was with me,” Bob said.

That’s because after their big catch, as they headed back to Lake Point, Mother Nature threw them for a rocky loop. Bob’s bilge pump failed and his boat began to take water as rogue waves took over.

“It happened fast,” he said. “Within a couple of minutes the boat capsized.”

Gary remained calm throughout the ordeal as Bob was in disbelief--angry more than anything at himself, because he simply forgot to run a routine safety check before turning back.

But by the time he realized why his boat overturned, there was no time for regret, only action.

“Gary had the presence of mind to grab the life jackets and he tried to dial 911 at the time on his phone," Bob said. "By that time our phones were saturated because we were submerged."

The cousins clung to the old Glasspar over rough waves and shifting winds. Bob estimates it was around midnight when they finally made it to the shore of uninhabited Big Island--where they were stranded for two days.

“The most uncomfortable part was the two hours of dawn and the two hours of dusk when the mosquitos were just ravenous,” he said.

On the island they build a lean-to, lit a fire and survived on berries, crayfish and boiled lake water in a washed up soda can. While stranded, Bob sustained a second degree burn to his left foot after he accidentally spilled the boiled water after he stepped on a hot coal buried in the sand. 

But he persevered, and so did Gary.

The men braced against the steamy daytime hours and chilly nights as they longed for one of the 75 boaters that passed in the distance to spot them.

“We had a big fire going and some flags, but we were just out of eyeshot for them," Bob said. "I prayed pretty much the whole time I was there that we would be rescued.”

On Aug. 2, just as the men grew desperate to communicate with the outside world, Bob’s prayer was answered.

Two Royal Canadian Mounted Police who patrolled the Minnesota-Ontario border just so happened to spot the glimmering speck in the distance, Bob’s Glasspar, on curiosity alone. Help was on the way.

The Mounties were Jeff Prevett and Stacy Morton.

“They were very gracious," he said. "They were glad to see us and glad that they could help us and we were of course elated to see them. We’re very grateful for that. I can’t think of another time when I was so happy to see another human being as then."

Back on the mainland--even as he recovers from the burns to his foot--Bob considers himself blessed.

“To me it was an exercise in spiritual awareness and growth," he said. "It’s been taken care of now, the swelling is down and I’m not going to lose my foot so I’m thankful for that too.”

With a new lease on life, the 55-year-old shares his ordeal in the hopes he spares other boaters the lesson that nearly cost him his life.

"If you take those safety precautions for granted you can get yourself in trouble real quick and that’s what happened to us,” he said.