Tales from a city: Crosby


This mother loon carried her offspring on her back as they swam around Rabbit Lake. (Photo by Kevin Fitzgerald)

Hello, everyone, I am taking over again for Harold as he is busy this week and cannot write his article. I will be continuing to talk about some experiences and history of Minnesota towns and this week we are heading north to the once busy mining community of Crosby, known as the head of the Cuyuna Range. I was recently up there for a weekend to soak up some sun and try my luck at fishing, and realized how beautiful a place it is up there, boasting some of the clearest water in lakes and nature almost untouched by man.
Crosby is known for a couple of reasons, but the main reason is mining. Iron ore was abundant in this region and many towns popped up overnight due to the fact that many wanted a piece of the action. The town was actually named after George H. Crosby, who was an important business man in the mining community in that area. Besides George H. Crosby, another notable figure was Karl Emil Nygard. The city of Crosby in 1932 voted in Nygard to mayor, making the city the first to have a communist leader in Minnesota. Another reason why people may have heard about Crosby is the Milford Mine disaster. On February 5, 1924, a new tunnel was being created but the explosives were set off too close to Lake Foley, trapping and killing 41 miners when the water rushed in from the lake. It was the worst mining disaster to ever happen in Minnesota. Crosby even had its hands in on the fledgling steps of space flight and exploration. In August 1957, Dr. David G. Simmons, who was a 35-year-old Air Force Major, climbed to 102,000 feet on a test flight that was shot from the 400-foot deep Portsmouth Mine Pit Lake in Crosby. The test was called Project Man High and was one of the first test flights for space aeronautics. All of these highlighted points made Crosby what it is today, and makes it a very unique and aesthetic mining town rich in history.
A couple of weekends ago I was invited up to Crosby, more specifically Rabbit Lake, which is five miles north of town. The lake is split into West Rabbit and East Rabbit Lake separated by a county road. Most of the lakes up in that region were mining projects that, after their use, were filled with water to create a lot of the lakes seen today. Some may have noticed just by the names of the lakes up there, such as Portsmouth Mine Pit Lake and Clinker Lake, that they were mines before they were bodies of water. When driving up there my friend had told me to keep an eye out for deer, and boy was he right! We saw seven deer on the trip up there, some lucky enough to have been caught by my eye and we were able to slow the truck to let them pass. If people aren't paying attention in that region it could be catastrophic for the front end of a car or a deer making its way to another part of the woods. When we got there, the water was up by a huge amount, causing some of the dock sections to float away and their jet ski was just hanging on to its lift. Lucky we did not have to go find a jet ski in the dark that night. I had brought my fishing pole for the weekend, but I told myself I would talk to the bait shop in the morning and see what was biting from them. That night I noticed the sounds of loons almost like a ballad of frogs howling through the darkness. That call, though eerie and morbid, is one of my favorite animal calls in the world, besides the bugle from an Elk, which I would have to put in the first spot for favorite animal noises. The first time you hear an Elk bugle it definitely sticks with you. My friends who invited me up told me the lake is filthy for Loons and many man-made Loon nests are scattered around the edges of the lake to support the Minnesota State Bird.
The next morning we headed out to grab groceries and get whatever else we needed for the weekend. We stopped at the bait shop and I talked to one of the shop's employees who told me a chartreuse jig with a skirt and leeches were the hot bait for all the lakes in the area. We got back and unloaded, finally being able to head out on the boat for some sun and to try my hand at fishing.
The first thing we looked at was to see if we could get to East Rabbit from West Rabbit which was separated by a bridge. We took the pontoon over there and the closer we got the more it did not look good for getting to the other side. we flipped around and I decided to start fishing a little. As we were coming back out of the channel I dropped my line in and trolled behind the boat. Not even two minutes in I felt something and looked back to see my jig still cruising behind us (the water is so clear you can see your bait from a distance) and then a flash of white. Fish on! I got it up to the boat and the pound and a half northern was easy to get into the boat without a net. I would have liked to have kept him for some fish tacos for dinner but decided to keep trying my luck and let the fish go.
The whole weekend I tried to catch anything else but nothing wanted to play. The lake is one that is hard to fish, since the weed edges and banks are steep, often dropping from eight feet to anywhere from 20 feet to 50 feet in the blink of an eye. I can see how these lakes were mines at one point due to these drastic drop offs, steep cliffs and deep holes. There is a part of East Rabbit lake which we couldn't get to this year, but we saw last year which was the deepest part of the mine, dropping off from 10 feet to 150 feet. My friends showed me on their fish graph, and it is pretty crazy to see. It went from 10 feet, to 60 feet and then 150 feet which showed the almost vertical drop off in the lake. Most of the weekend we spent on the boat, catching up and enjoying the wildlife and loons that were almost as dirty as the mosquitos up there. We saw one pop up ten feet from the boat with a perch in it's mouth and he immediately brought it to a fledgling loon, who swallowed the fish in one giant gulp. We also saw (what I think is rare to see up close and in person) a little bump on a loon's back. We got up close to it and saw the little black fluff ball hanging out on mom's back. Yes, a baby loon getting a free ride from mom! When we got up close the baby was having fun jumping off and then climbing back up, which was humorous when the first attempts failed for the little one. Mom wasn't too happy though, giving us a guttural whistle and call, which we took as a warning and a "stay away" from the parent loon. We stayed at a good distance and was happy to experience something like that.

The weekend was a fun one and that area is just a beautiful piece of Minnesota wildlife. The lakes have very little traffic on them, cabins don't surround the sides of the lakes and nature is still very abundant. I recommend heading up to that area if anyone is looking for a getaway weekend from the hustle and bustle of city life. The DNR has a great website to check out lakes, fishing regulations and other unique wildlife advice in Crow Wing County. Enjoy this hot summer week and the weekend is right around the corner! Go out and experience something new in the land of sky-tinted waters!

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