Superior angler who drowned Saturday was experienced on St. Louis River
DULUTH - Adam K. LaPorte knew the St. Louis River. He knew its currents and the changing effects of wind and ice.
Yet LaPorte, 37, drowned in the St. Louis River after his Jeep broke through the ice Saturday near Kilner Bay, off the Superior Municipal Forest south of Billings Park.
"It doesn't make sense," said his girlfriend, Angela Anderson of Superior. "He was such a smart outdoorsman, never taking any kind of risk. He respected that water so much. He was the one who would look out at the ice fisherman between Barker's Island and Minnesota Point and say, 'Gosh, I couldn't trust it.' "
"It's just a freak accident," said his friend, Dustin Carlson of Duluth. "He was very, very experienced. He knew what he was doing. He just wasn't aware of how the ice shifted underneath him."
A few days earlier, LaPorte had been out there and the ice was still OK, despite the rain and runoff. He knew the sandbar where his SUV went through was there. What he didn't know was that the runoff and currents had created extra thinning ice, Carlson said.
"You would think he'd know that, but he was there fishing the week before," Carlson said.
On Monday, friends remembered the Superior resident as a helpful, friendly man passionate about fishing and the outdoors.
LaPorte, a professional muskie guide during the summer, was leading three men in separate vehicles to a crappie fishing spot in Kimballs Bay when his Jeep broke through the ice, said fellow muskie guide Carlson.
"It's one of the hidden spots of the bay and a good crappie spot, and that was what he was going after," Carlson said. "He felt it was safe to be there, otherwise he wouldn't have been there."
The men following LaPorte reported the accident shortly after 7 a.m.
Carlson visited the site of the accident with LaPorte's family on Sunday.
"There's over 2 feet of ice, and literally 3 feet away there was just a skim of ice and you could see the water underneath," he said.
Rescue personnel reached the spot where LaPorte's vehicle broke through and sank in 12 to 14 feet of water about 8 a.m., after having to shuttle divers to the location using ATVs and snowmobiles.
"One of my sergeants was the first one in the water, and he could only get within 20 or 30 feet (of where the vehicle broke through) because the ice was only an inch thick there," Superior Police Department Capt. Chad La Lor said. "A lot of times the divers will go right through the hole the vehicle made. He could not get anywhere near that close."
Visibility at the river's bottom was zero, forcing the divers to work totally by feel as they recovered LaPorte's body.
The accident also killed LaPorte's dog, Bailey, an 11-year-old golden retriever and LaPorte's constant companion.
"She was in the boat 24/7 with him," Carlson said. "She went ice fishing with him. She loved muskie fishing and would sit in the front of the boat."
A licensed guide for more than 17 years, LaPorte grew up in Vilas and Oneida counties in northeastern Wisconsin. He had lived in Superior for several years. Last year he joined forces with fellow muskie guides Carlson of Duluth, Pete Brzezinski of Superior and Bob Benson of Chetek, Wis., to form Northland Muskie Adventures to guide anglers in Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin.
"He would do anything for you," a shaken Brzezinski said of LaPorte, who had been over Thursday to help hang drywall in Brzezinski's basement. "He would work a full day and then come over and help."
Brzezinski said LaPorte worked well with people.
"He was second to none, top-notch" when guiding, he said.
"Part of guiding is educating people," Carlson said. "He was a great instructor. He loved teaching people about the outdoors in general, not only about muskie fishing, but just about anything. "
"You don't like to think about it, but if Adam was going to go out and pass away, he was doing what he loved to do. He was going out fishing," Carlson said.
For Anderson, it's a comfort knowing it happened quickly, that he didn't suffer and that he was on the water he loved with his best friend.
"He's going to be missed like crazy," she said. "He touched so many people."
Authorities are reminding people to be extremely cautious when deciding whether to drive vehicles onto ice. Ice conditions -- especially on rivers and areas with springs and currents -- can be very unpredictable.