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The call of the water: Boundary Waters canoe guide

Ramsey Dowgiallo to present at Ultimate Sport Show

in Grand Rapids

Howard Meyerson | The Grand Rapids Press By Howard Meyerson | The Grand Rapids Press
on March 18, 2013 at 6:23 AM, updated March 18, 2013 at 2:29 PM

Ramsey lining the canoeRamsey Dowgiallo was 17 years old and sick with pneumonia when he first read about Minnesota’s Boundary Water Canoe Area wilderness. His mother bought him a book about it. He long had been a fisherman and outdoor enthusiast.

But it would be another 13 years, before he would get there, the result of a chance invite by a friend. Dowgiallo had long since forgotten about the book.

His trip to the 1.3 million-acre wilderness region, with its boreal forests, Canadian Shield lakes, wolves, wildlife and abundant fishing, seemed to capture his imagination. One might say he heard the call of the wild.

“I fell in love with it,” said Dowgiallo, a Detroit native who lives in Novi and now spends six months a year in Ely, Minnesota., where he operates Wilderness Journey, an eight-year-old outfitting and guide service in the BWCA.

“There is a huge history in just the portages. Some are 400 to 500 years old. They were used by the natives and by the fur traders. There are 40 different pictograph sites, major waterfalls, and it’s just a gorgeous and very addicting place,” said Dowgiallo, a presenter at the Ultimate Sport Show, opening at DeVos Hall in Grand Rapids on Thursday. He will give two hour-long talks about the BWCA at noon and 3:30 p.m. on March 23.

The BWCA is the historic homeland for the Ojibwa people. It has more than 1,200 miles of canoe routes and extends nearly 150 miles along the U.S/Canada border adjacent to Quetico Provincial Park to the north and Voyageurs National Park to the west. The area was set aside in 1926 by the U.S. Forest Service, which sought to preserve its wild character. Congress then added it to the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1964.

Dowgiallo, now 50, makes 10 to 12 trips into the wilderness each season, guiding individuals and groups who want to savor its varied treasures. He sometimes goes for as long as 10 days at a time. Typically, though, his trips are four or five days.

Most, he says, initially come for the fishing. But many of those find something special there and return in subsequent years with the intention of shooting wildlife and other nature photographs, much as he did.

“The fishing there is incredible,” said Dowgiallo, who grew up fishing with his father and grandfather. “But as time went on, I became a wildlife lover and photographer. I am amazed by some of the things we see. Last year, we saw a dozen wolves trying to take down a 10-point buck on the first day of a trip.” Read More




A place for the outdoor enthusiast — Outdoorama in

Novi offers seminars, conservation, recreation


Ramsey Dowgiallo catches two fish at the same time while fishing Canoe Area in Ely, Minn. Photo contributed by Ramsey Dowgiallo

By Luke Towler, For Digital First Media

Posted: |

Ramsey Dowgiallo takes a minute to enjoy the scenery of Canoe Area in Ely, Minn. Photo contributed by Ramsey Dowgiallo



Ramsey Dowgiallo will be at the Outdoorama all four days. For more information, visit

At first glance, he thought he saw a goose floating in the water.

But when he and a couple in their 60s went farther down the bay and peered through binoculars, they realized it was 10-point buck swimming away in fear.

“All of a sudden, the interior shoreline erupts in a howl,” said Ramsey Dowgiallo, 51.

 The howl came from wolves who were surrounding the shoreline in the Boundary Water Canoe Area in Ely, Minn., a 1.3-million-acre wilderness area with more than 1,000 lakes and rivers.

The deer eventually made it to a place where “it didn’t see or hear a wolf,” Dowgiallo said, and he and the couple continued on their 22-mile trek through the various rivers and lakes.

He’s been guiding people through the BWCA for nine years through Wilderness Journey, an outfitting and guide service in Novi. It’s not an easy voyage: There are several portages in which people carry their gear across land from one lake to another, and the average roundtrip is 40 to 50 miles, lasting around five to seven days.

Some of the people go there to fish or to take pictures or both. There are 40 different sites that have pictographs made by the Ojibwa tribe. Some of the pictographs, some as old as 400 years, depict moose, men with spears, handprints and canoes, Dowgiallo said. On the trip, you may see otters, moose, eagles and, of course, wolves. Read more




Outdoors: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness a

meeting point for Americans, Canadians to share


January 5, 2014

  Ramsey with a hog

Ramsey Dowgiallo, of Novi, towing a canoe. Dowgiallo, a Boundary Waters Canoe Area guide and outfitter, will be at the Ultimate Fishing Show next weekend. / Courtesy of Ramsey Dowgiallo
By Lydia Lohrer

Detroit Free Press Special Writer

After paddling for hours in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), guide Ramsey (Rams) Dowgiallo takes an afternoon nap. The divide between the USA and Canada where he rests marks a watery line between timeless nature and the modern world.

A wolf howl awakens him. It’s confusing; wolves don’t howl during the day. A gray wolf pup tumbles from the forest, apparently unaware of the rule. Dowgiallo’s heart skips a beat, and he gestures to his clients. They stare in breathless silence.

The pup raises his voice to a squeaky, plaintive howl. Then another wolf appears — 150 pounds of pure black — and joins the pup’s mournful call. No one moves to get a camera and miss the moment.

When the music stops, a rich, expectant hush hangs in the air. The wolves are searching for their pack, not at all concerned about humans nearby. The pair progresses down the shoreline, then stops to plea for their family once more. No one stirs.

Dowgiallo lives in Novi, but spends half his year guiding anglers and adventurers through a million-acre wilderness in Minnesota. He credits his late father, Paul, as the fishing buddy who inspired his explorations here.

“Dad worked for the Detroit Free Press until 1993, in the days when hiring the deaf was a prerequisite for working around noisy printing presses. We communicated in sign language, and he taught me to value nature,” said Dowgiallo, who will be part of the Ultimate Fishing Show next weekend. “We had so many great times on the water.”

Nonetheless, his first expedition to the Boundary Waters was a challenge. “I had hiked all over, fished all over North and Central America, so I thought I knew what I was getting into. I did not,” he said. “I wasn’t prepared for the weather, and didn’t have the right gear.”

He went back anyway, again and again, honing his knowledge into an art form. Now, Dowgiallo can head into the bush with only a gallon of drinking water and emerge well-fed.

“The fishing is spectacular,” he said. “It’s mostly catch and release, unless you want to eat them on the spot. There’s no refrigeration.”

During June, according to Dowgiallo, it takes about 5 seconds for a fish to hit a top-water lure and 5 hours for it to spoil. In August, the pike leap to attack hooked bass and walleye as you reel them in.

The Boundary Waters Area hosts lake trout, walleye, northern pike, smallmouth, largemouth, perch, crappie, whitefish, sucker and sturgeon. Eagles often steal fish from the campsite before Dowgiallo can get them cooked.

Nine years ago, he took his nephew, David, to the BWCAW. The boy said: “You should be a guide.”

Dowgiallo knew he was right. He wanted to share the experience. They selected the name of the business, Wilderness Journey Outfitters, before they made it home.

It didn’t take long to build a client base. Dowgiallo has the right stuff: nature interpreter, skilled survivalist and outstanding cook.

 Kristin Camorlinga of Wilmette, Ill., a client, said: “Ramsey was the best role model I could have dreamed of, teaching my boys the right attitude about the rigors of camping and portaging, yet maintaining a sense of fun and adventure. His joy and enthusiasm were contagious.”

Today thousands journey from Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and as far as California for the Dowgiallo experience. Many come for the fishing, others to hear wolves and loons, see deer and eagles. To traverse waterways used for 500 years by the Ojibwe, and see the ghostly memories of a nearly bygone people captured in pictographs scattered over glacial rock.

 They want to learn to start a fire with a bow drill, which gear will keep them safe, and how to paddle expertly. With Dowgiallo they can. They’ll also be treated to his library of stories, regaled with the intensity and joy of a true wilderness devotee.

 “Did I tell you the story about the couple in their 60s? They were hoping to see some wildlife,” Dowgiallo said. “It was windy and our destination was a lake surrounded by gnarly big bays, a lot of work to get there. They wondered if it was worth the effort.

 “We arrived and saw a 10-point buck swimming across the lake. It swam in one direction, stopped and turned. Then it changed course again. All of a sudden the shoreline erupted in howls. A dozen wolves scattered around waiting for the deer to become a shore lunch. After 40 minutes of swimming, it escaped. The wolves shrieked in frustration. I asked the couple if the journey was worth it, but I knew the answer.”

 There was the time he had to paddle through flames. A forest fire billowed to nearly 100,000 acres. Dowgiallo brought his clients in safely.

He swims with otters and moose and has accrued more than 13,000 wildlife photos.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has 2,200 campsites, 1,170 lakes and offers endless opportunities to experience nature.

 To plan your own wilderness adventure, go to or talk to Dowgiallo at the Ultimate Fishing Show.

 Contact the author at

Now keep in mind these are not trips that can be booked today where you can just leave tomorrow.  It takes time and planning.  The seasons on some of these trips are only a few months long.  If you are interested, contact us ASAP so you can get your week booked and prepare for your trip of a lifetime!

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