Day 1 of 7
Sunday, August 31, 2008 My daughter Jamie and I were up fairly early. Our gear was packed and ready to go from the night before, so loading and setting out was a quick process. We left home at 7:00 AM and made our planned stop at Caribou for coffee and muffins. One additional stop for ice for the cooler and we were on our way. We hit two detours within the first hour, but eventually were on I-90 headed for the Wisconsin border from Illinois. Only 8 ½ hours to go. Our drive was pretty uneventful and we arrived in Ely just before 4PM. VNO welcomed us and chatted a bit with my daughter, who had been on a trip with her new fiancé, just 3 weeks prior. There was a small mix-up with finding our reservation folder, but since we were headed out for supper, they had everything back on track when we returned. Since the bunkhouse was full, they had us put up at the Ely Motel for Sunday night. We checked in, and headed to the Ely Steakhouse for a very nice supper. We planned on hitting our entry point (Moose River North) early the next morning, so VNO gave us our equipment pack, our personal pack, and strapped our canoe to the top of our vehicle that night. We’d visit them in the AM to pick up our food pack and bait. We stopped at the gas station across from the Ely Motel to pick up breakfast: Fig Newtons and power bars. We settled in at the motel and packed our personal gear. We were ready to go and turned the lights out shortly after 9PM.
Day 2 of 7
Monday, September 01, 2008 We wake up at 5:30AM. I take a quick shower while Jamie gets dressed. We are ready to go by 5:50AM. We head to VNO for our food pack and bait, and John gives us some last minute tips regarding Iron Lake. Our plan is to head to either Agnes or Boulder Bay (Lac La Croix) today and then on to Iron on Tuesday. As we leave VNO for the entry point, Jamie realizes she is still holding our room key. We make the short drive back to the motel and place the key in the drop slot, then backtrack to the Echo trail. We initially miss the turn-off, but recover quickly and reach the Moose River North entry point at about 7:15AM. By the time we unload our gear and park our vehicle, it’s almost 7:30AM. We planned on starting at 7AM, so we’re a bit behind schedule. We are double portaging and as we start our first trip, another group is unloading their car. We cross paths as we return for our second load. We hit the water close to 8AM. It is a beautiful morning with blue skies, but it’s already starting to get warm…I think it eventually reaches the low 90’s. We’re a bit concerned about traffic, especially groups coming out after the holiday weekend. This is borne out as we pass 11 groups headed out as we head in. We cross 9 beaver dams, although only 5 require “pull-overs”. We stop at a vacant campsite on Nina Moose Lake and use the latrine. We feel fortunate because it is fairly windy and the wind is directly at our backs. The groups exiting are having a tough time paddling directly into the wind. We reach Agnes Lake and paddle towards the north end. We find a beautiful campsite on a high point and decide to stop there for the night. I set up camp and Jamie cooks hotdogs for lunch. By the time we eat it is pushing 2:30PM. Jamie sets up her hammock and takes a nap. I’m anxious to do a bit of fishing, but it’s pretty windy and there are whitecaps on the lake. I fish from shore and catch one bass in about an hour. Eventually I hang the other hammock and stretch out for a while. When Jamie wakes up, we lay in our hammocks and talk for an hour or so. We decide to get up and venture out for some fishing. The wind is blowing directly onto the point we’re camped on and it seems like the perfect place to start. Unfortunately, it’s blowing too hard. We have problems paddling into the wind and keeping the canoe in one place. We get far enough up wind and drop the anchor, but we’re blown off of our spot. Even the anchor won’t hold us in place. We eventually give up and head for the lee side of the point. It’s quiet there and Jamie catches a couple of pike and a bass, but that’s all we get that night. We head back to our campsite and decide to skip supper due to our late lunch. We’re in our tent reading by flashlight before 8:30PM, and both fall asleep within an hour.
Day 3 of 7
Tuesday, September 02, 2008 I’m up at 6:15AM and hobble out of the tent. My lower back has stiffened up during the night and it was an effort getting upright. I head down to the lake and get water for coffee and for making Gatorade for our nalgenes. After moving around for a bit, my back loosens up and I’m feeling pretty good. The really great news is that my shoulder is not bothering me at all. The rotator cuff surgery I had in mid April seems to have been successful, although I just finished physical therapy a week ago. The doctor said I’d be OK for this trip, but I was viewing this trip as a good test of where I was. So far, so good. Jamie is up by 6:30AM and starts cooking breakfast. This is our only “cooked” breakfast of the trip: Bacon, eggs, hash browns. I start taking down the tent while she cooks. Breakfast is outstanding! We clean up, pack up and are on the water by 9AM. While packing, a couple of Grey Jays fly into our site and scour the firepit looking for any leftovers. Jamie snaps a few pictures. Today should be a fairly easy day. We negotiate the 23 rod portage into the Boulder River and the 65 rod portage into Boulder Bay with no problems. We paddle Lac La Croix in constant rain and occasional heavy wind, making our way to the Bottle Portage. At the far end of Bottle portage, there is a group that is just getting ready to leave (headed to Iron Lake). There are two areas they can take off from and have chosen the one to our left. It is apparent that the water is very shallow and very muddy. They have a choice: pushing the canoes out in shin deep mud and getting in the canoe once it can float; or trying to get in the canoe first and using the paddles to push through the mud. They opt for the latter, which appears to work OK. When we return, with our second load, we decide to have a quick lunch before heading on. We eat our summer sausage wraps adjacent to the foul smelling bog we are about to navigate. Jamie walks out as far as she can (probably 20 feet or so) and gets in the canoe (no easy task). I push a bit further out and then get in the canoe. We are almost floating, but need to paddle through a short shallow area before we reach clean water. We hang our feet out of the canoe to clean the mud off. As we reach the entry to Iron Lake, we are initially concerned. It is a sea of boulders and it appears as though we’ll need to carry everything across. As we paddle a bit further, we can see a small opening where water is flowing out. It looks navigable and as we are able to paddle through. It is drizzling fairly steady and as we enter Iron Lake, the rain picks up. We are soon paddling in a downpour, but it is actually an enjoyable paddle. We intend to head down the western shore and grab the 2nd or 3rd site. The 2nd site is occupied and we head for the 3rd site, on a south facing point. We paddle back and forth looking for the site, but no landing is apparent. Eventually, we dock the canoe on one side of the point and Jamie climbs up to have a look. There is a site up there, but the logistics of landing our canoe and carrying gear up to the site is such that we decide to travel on. We are intending on spending 3 nights here and don’t want to fight with this landing for 3 days. We continue on and head for the island campsite at the southern end of Iron. We locate the campsite and it is really nice. I would call this a 4 ½ to 5 star site. We are extremely happy to find this site unoccupied. Well, almost unoccupied. On a stump in camp, there sits the skull of a deer, complete with antlers…which my daughter promptly dubs “skeletor”. Skeletor becomes our campsite companion for the next two days and I notice Jamie seems to have an abnormal attraction to him. We set up camp during a break in the rain. It is starting to get colder and Jamie starts a campfire, no small feat after all the rain we’ve had. We change into dry clothes and have a supper of Polish Sausage. We clean up and head into the tent. Wind and rain would have made fishing miserable tonight and we are tired from a fairly long day of travel. We make notes in our journal, read by flashlight and fall asleep. Jamie wakes me up at 10:30PM and is not feeling well. We go outside and walk about 30 yards from the tent where she throws up dinner. She immediately feels better. As we walk back to the tent, I hear a sound and shine my flashlight…right on skeletor. We have a good laugh at that, then go back in the tent and fall in to peaceful sleeps.
Day 4 of 7
Wednesday, September 03, 2008 We wake at 6:30AM and have rye bagels and coffee for breakfast. It is still very windy and overcast. It looks like it could rain at any time. It’s also relatively cold…probably around 45 degrees. We try to head out onto the main lake, but it’s way too windy. There’s a trough between two islands that we want to try, but we can’t stay in one place. We fish there for a bit, but even with the anchor down, we drift. We eventually head to the lee side of our island and fish along a sheltered shoreline. Jamie catches two small pike and a nice bass. The sun is finally shining, although clouds blow through occasionally. We move out towards the main lake and stop near a small sheltered bay and fish from shore. Jamie catches a pike that jumps clear out of the water and another bass. We notice an old dead tree on an adjacent shoreline and decide we’ll stop and collect firewood before we head back to our campsite. While collecting firewood, we hear a fish jump and turn to see the ripples. Jamie gets her rod, casts, and immediately hooks another small pike. We have more than enough firewood for the night and head back to camp for a lunch of trail mix, teriyaki jerky, power bars and Gatorade. After lunch, we head out to fish. It’s still windy, so we pull up on the shore of a nearby island to fish from shore. There is a shallow, quiet area where we pull up and as I get out of the canoe, I can see a turtle that’s almost two feet in diameter. Jamie can’t see it until she puts on her polarized sunglasses. It’s surprising how well it blends in with the sand and rocks. We try to get a picture, but even though the turtle is only in a foot or so of water, you can’t see him because of the reflection on the water . We catch nothing in a half hour of fishing and decide to move to another island. There is a fairly distinct point from this island and we fish from about 5PM until sunset. We catch about 15 bass and a couple pike. Jamie hooks a large pike and gets him all the way to shore. As she bends to pick him up, he makes a large jump and snaps the line. I think there was a bit of slack in the line, as I could hear the “snap” and her drag was set properly. She’s really upset, as this pike was probably 36” long and fat. I fillet two bass and we head back to camp. I start the campfire while Jamie gets the stove going for dinner. By the time the campfire is going, we are preparing dinner in the dark with flashlights. We eat our fish dinner, corn, mashed potatoes and wild rice soup in full dark and by flashlight. It’s a wonderful meal and as we finish, the mice come out to help us clean up. They are VERY bold and before our clean up is done, they have not only found a few kernels of corn, I find one taking one of them taking kernels of corn straight from Jamie’s hand. We do a quick clean of our dishes, bury our leftovers, hang our food pack and flip our canoe. There are at least a billion stars in the sky, so we watch the fire burn down a bit before extinguishing it and retreating to the tent. We debate what to do for our last 3 days. The original plan was to leave Iron Lake on Friday, spend Friday night on Agnes Lake and exit on Saturday. We decide to leave Iron Lake on Thursday, because we are concerned about traveling straight in to the heavy winds that we’ve experienced that last few days. However, we really want to see Curtain Falls. Now the question becomes whether we pack up and paddle to Curtain Falls with all of our gear or if we visit the falls and return afterwards to break down camp. After a bit of debate, we decide to break camp in the morning, paddle to the falls and the paddle to either Tiger or Boulder Bay on LLC. Breaking camp and paddling with our gear will save us a time and effort. After our decision is made, we read for a while and then fall asleep.
Day 5 of 7
Thursday, September 04, 2008 We rise early and have a “no cook” breakfast (power bars, orange Gatorade and fruit snacks). We are on the water by 9 AM. The paddle to the falls takes about an hour. We troll shad raps the entire way and as we near the falls and Canadian water, we reel in. I discover that I have a small (about 12”) walleye hooked…too small to even put a noticeable bend in my rod. We reel in, but leave the depthfinder on. As we pass the last point on the US side, we begin to mark fish in 30 to 35 feet of water. We decide to wait and fish that area on the way out. As we paddle our way upstream, we see two canoes coming through a small set of rapids, to the right of a small island. We head to the left of the island, but quickly realize that we won’t be able to paddle through there. We head back around to the opposite side and find that will be difficult as well. Eventually, we pull up to a rock outcropping, unload our packs and carry the canoe across to calmer water. We paddle up and through the next set of rapids. We pull over into calmer water and realize that we’re not going to be able to paddle any further. I’m not thinking and/or not paying close enough attention, because I don’t realize that there is a portage to the falls. We’re very close to the portage and we actually don’t realize it until we’re home. I look at pictures and see the portage behind us. We depart, assuming that we are being turned back because of low water. This will become our reason to make another trip here in the near future. We paddle back towards Iron Lake and as we get a short way, we begin to mark fish in 30 to 35 feet of water. We drop anchor and tie on jigs with leeches. It’s about 11 AM. We catch fish immediately. We reel in 6 walleye (all between 12” and 14”) in about 20 minutes and then I catch the largest crappie I have ever seen. ..between 16” and 17”. We catch a few more crappie and the things shut down. We reel in and start our trip to LLC. It’s almost 12:15PM. We reach bottle portage about 2 PM and as we enter LLC we see multiple motor boats. The first is a tow boat from Zup’s, but there are a few fishing boats out as well. We find a campsite near Tiger Bay and pull in at about 3:45PM. Jamie cooks Mac & cheese with hash browns, while I set up our tent. We have a great supper and after cleaning up, decide to fish for the last hour of daylight. Today was mostly cloudy with some sunshine mixed in, but it is quickly cooling off as daylight fades. We stay close to camp and finally turn in at about 8PM to read and fall asleep.
Day 6 of 7
Friday, September 05, 2008 I am up at 6 AM and boil water for coffee. It’s a beautiful morning and the water is calm. I decide to tie on a top water lure and cast for a bit. As I head toward the lake, Jamie comes out of the tent. She sees my first cast hit the water and get engulfed by a 2 lb. bass. I catch 2 bass on my first 3 casts. Jamie gets her rod and joins me. We fish for about an hour and catch a few more bass. I miss a nice bass that may have been in the 3 lb range. We are in no hurry today. We will make the short trip to Agnes and stay there for the night. We have coffee and Jamie pumps water for Gatorade while I start taking down the tent. We have oatmeal for breakfast and by the time we clean up and pack, it’s 10AM. We paddle towards Boulder Bay and stop to fish a few spots where we mark fish on the depth finder. At each location we catch a few fish, a mix of walleye and crappie. The portages into the Boulder River and Agnes are uneventful. At the end of the portage to Agnes, it starts to drizzle and we break out the raingear. Again, we fish jigs and leeches wherever we mark fish. We catch more crappie and walleye. I would guess that while traveling today we have caught a dozen walleye and 6 or 7 crappie. The site we’d like sits at the SW end of Agnes on the last point. It is occupied when we get there, so we wind up taking the campsite immediately north of the entrance to the Moose River. Not a great site, but it is close to our exit point from Agnes. There is an adequate landing for our canoe, a decent fire pit and a woeful tent pad. It takes me 15 minutes just to decide where I should place the tent and in what orientation. I finally realize that there is no good way, it is more a question of which way we ‘d like to slant while we sleep. We decide to sleep with our heads “uphill”. We eat a late lunch and go out to fish the nearby point. The occupants had been fishing the south side of the point, but move to the east side as we approach. This is a good size lake and we don’t want to crowd them, but we only have a couple hours to fish and don’t want to spend most of it paddling. We eventually find a spot near further north. We paddle a bit until we mark fish. We are in 22 feet of water. We drop anchor and then our jigs. In two hours we catch 16 to 18 walleye and 6 crappie. None of the walleye are over 15”, but the crappie are all very decent fish. We are not cooking this night, so all of the fish are released. We return to camp and pack all of our fishing gear. We have decided to leave early in the morning rather than fish. It is our hope to see more wildlife if we leave early, possibly even a moose and we are willing to give up a morning of fishing toward that end. We cannot find an adequate spot to hang our food pack, so we leave it in plain sight with our cookgear on top of it. We are pretty much ready to go for the morning. A traveling breakfast and lunch are near the top of the food pack and our nalgene bottles are full. We turn in by 9PM and read by flashlight until we fall asleep.
Day 7 of 7
Saturday, September 06, 2008 We rise at 5:30AM and pack. We’re on the water paddling before 7AM. The Moose River seems a bit higher than it was on our way in. As we paddle through the “wetlands” area just out of Agnes, we see movement in the water ahead of us. Jamie thinks it looks like snakes in the water, but as we get a bit closer, a head pops up and we see that it’s a group of 5 otters. They seem disturbed that we have interrupted their breakfast. They paddle to the side, all the while watching our every movement. Periodically their heads come full out of the water and crane back and forth watching us. We watch for about 5 minutes and Jamie takes a short video on her digital camera. They are grumbling as we slowly paddle past them. We find out later that Jamie’s 2 minute video has become a 15 second video because her memory card filled up shortly after she started recording. We paddle on and about 15 minutes later see another group of 4 otters. They swim alongside us (from a safe distance) for about 100 yards or so, checking to make sure we leave I guess. When we reach Nina Moose Lake, Jamie notices something swimming along the far NW shore. It’s a large animal and both of us are thinking “moose”. As we head towards the Moose River inlet, it appears that we are heading on a collision course with this animal. We have almost the full length of the lake to paddle. As we get closer, it becomes apparent that it is too small to be a moose. We finally see that is a deer and that we are indeed headed toward the same location. Just before we exit the lake into the Moose River, he exits the water up on to shore. We get a pretty good look and snap a few decent photos. Our quest to see a moose is unfulfilled, but in no way dampens our trip. In fact, it will be a reason to return next year. The rest of our exit was uneventful, and the heavy rain waited until about 3 minutes after we started driving away from the entry point. Cold beer and showers were wonderful, as was lunch. We drove straight through to the Chicago area, arriving home just before 1AM. This was my first trip on a river in the BWCA and it was really a great route. It was a very nice mix of rivers, lakes, reasonable portages, good fishing and great scenery/wildlife. We saw many bald eagles, otters, loons, deer and various ducks. It is our second trip together and we have become good traveling companions. I have noticed that our paddling is more efficient and our work in camp is better coordinated. The really exciting thing is that our conversations were not about if we would return, but rather when we would return!