Day 1 of 8
Saturday, June 09, 2018 We woke to a drizzly morning and immediately had to don the rain gear which was conveniently at the top of my son Doug's backpack. We scarfed down some muffins, bananas, blueberries and coffee (which we grabbed in a thermos the night before from an Ely gas station). Dave and Joe drove the trucks over to EP 16 to drop one off while Tony, Tristan and Douglas started tackling the 480 rod opening portage. This portage wasn't nearly as bad as it was last year when I did it with my wife, as conditions were pretty dry. We got all of the gear down to the water and soon enough, Dave and Joe were coming down the trail with the last of our gear. I had to run back 450 of the 480 rods because Joe and Dave accidentally left both sets of keys in my truck (we needed Joe's keys to make the trip with us so that we could drive his truck back to get mine when we exit). It wasn't a big deal, just set us back a few minutes. The paddle up the Stuart River is so scenic. The river winds a lot, which lends itself to surprises around some corners. Unfortunately, we did not sneak up on any moose, but we did see lots of waterfowl and beavers and one large beaver dam that we had to portage around. The final portage into Stuart is an easy one that gradually falls to the waterfall which is a nice one with lots of rock formations and cool spouts. We set up camp at the island site on the south side of the lake, although, there was only one other group on the lake that day, so I'm pretty sure we could have had our pick of the remaining four sites. The island site was sufficient and has a nice and easy landing on the north side of the point. We set up camp and got out for some evening fishing after a dinner of stuffing with foil pack chicken and gravy. Immediately, Joe hooked into a monster Pike, I guess it to be about 35 inches, but gerthy, definitely over 10 pounds. Of course we released her, but with the new regs (2 Pike, none between 30-40 inches), we couldn't have kept her if we wanted to. We caught a few smaller walleye and released all of them, Douglas was so busy pulling walleyes in that I hardly had a chance to fish much. Good problem to have. After a while we decided to head back to camp and have a fire and cocktail as everyone was pretty beat from the first day's work. It was a hardworking first day, but well worth it.
Day 2 of 8
Sunday, June 10, 2018 I woke just after sunrise and was able to get a small time lapse shot of the sun just above the treetops. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day and that's great because we wanted to move to Iron Lake. We ate a breakfast of skillet eggs with peppers and bacon wrapped in soft tortillas with some hot sauce. We had four portages and three lakes to cross to get to Iron. We paddled over to the 320 rod portage into Fox Lake, which I knew would be the most challenging portage of the trip for our group. There's lots of step over's, lots of muskeg and lots of hills to navigate along this mile trek. It took our group about an hour when it was all said and done. I started to get nervous about finding a campsite on Iron because when we got to Fox Lake, there was another group there just leaving camp towards Iron Lake. Then we got to Rush Lake and the lone campsite there was occupied, then on to Dark Lake and luckily there was nobody there as we paddled past the campsite. When we got to Iron, there was a group paddling by, fishing, must have been trolling for Pike as they were moving pretty fast. We paddled out to the Peterson Bay site, occupied, then we moved on towards the small cove site to the NE of Peterson Bay, occupied. Joe and Tristan paddled west to check out the sites on that end of the lake while Doug, Dad and I paddled north to try the sites on Three Island. They were occupied, So we checked the two sites on the east end of the lake and they were both taken. We were paddling into the wind this whole time and it was beginning to exhaust us, so we decided to eat a snack and start drifiting back towards the middle of the lake to try and find Joe and Tristan and hope that they had better luck finding a site. As we drifted to the west side of Three Island, we saw a group leaving the cove site directly south of the western campsite on Three Island. We jumped on it. What a feeling of relief, I really didn't want to do any more portaging today. We waited a few minutes for Joe and Tristan and when they didn't show up, I went out to find them. They were on the west side resting after finding every site occupied. I led them back to our site and we ate a well deserved, late lunch. This would be our home for the next 4-5 nights. ~Fox Lake, Rush Lake, Dark Lake, Iron Lake
Day 3 of 8
Monday, June 11, 2018 After the relief of finding a site and settling in, it was time to do some serious fishing. I have been to Iron on numerous occasions and it is one of my favorite locations, so we started to hit up some of our favorite hot spots on the lake. Fishing was pretty slow to start, but we were able to pull in enough Walleyes and Smallies to make a dinner out of it. Douglas wanted to do some exploring, so we hiked around our site and up the shoreline of Iron lake and were surprised to find several old lures, and some trash along the way. Dougie really likes exploring the trails and even bushwacking off trail a little to find cool stuff. it makes me a little nervous at times, but he never seems to stray to far... I think I need to lighten up and let the kid be a kid. After a glorious sunset, we headed to the tents for a relaxing night of sound sleep.
Day 4 of 8
Tuesday, June 12, 2018 We woke to another nice day in the BW with sunshine and cool temperatures. After an oatmeal breakfast and some discussion, we decided to head back into Peterson Bay for some fishing today. It was a good call, as Douglas and Tristan punished the Walleyes and Crappies! Tristan caught two 16" + crappies that was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Once again, we had enough fish to eat, so the rest of the day was spent relaxing and exploring our surroundings. I took the canoe out with Douglas paddling the bow seat and he was a natural. I'm really looking forward to watching him grow in his canoeing ability. We paddled past the International Boundary Markers and Douglas thought it was super cool to paddle into another country...as did I the first time I did it. The clouds started to roll in as the sun set and the weather radio was indicating a storm or two could roll through so we battened things down and hit the sack. Around midnight, the skies opened up and a pretty good thunderstorm rolled through, lots of rain and some lightning accompanied it, but nothing to get worked up about. Douglas slept through the whole thing.
Day 5 of 8
Wednesday, June 13, 2018 Today, we decided to head up to Curtain Falls and check out the sites and do some fishing up there. We ate breakfast and started the 15 minute paddle over to Curtain. If you haven't seen this waterfall, you're missing out. It only drops about 15 feet, but after the first drop there are several smaller cascades and heavy rapids over the next quarter mile. Its really quite gorgeous, and even though I've seen it multiple times, it never ceases to take your breath away. We took a nice photo at the top and then proceeded fishing all along the length of the waterfall and rapids. We didn't have much luck, but were able to pull a few fish out of the eddies at the bottom of the falls. Dad fell asleep on a rock while fishing, par for the course, and Tristan was sight fishing smallies in just a few feet of water by the portage landing. We also had the pleasure of viewing a snapping turtle about the size of a trash can lid sunning herself on a rock as we fished. She didn't even move when we paddled past to head back to camp. We only saw one other group the entire time we were at the falls, which is rare as this area is usually pretty busy during the day with border route travelers. We were treated to a fish fry and another gorgeous sunset again. We retired with full stomachs and content souls.
Day 6 of 8
Thursday, June 14, 2018 Today was our last full day on Iron, so we did a whole lot of relaxation and hanging out. We didn't even head out fishing until the afternoon. Fishing was slow again, but we finally hooked into some action back in Peterson Bay and caught enough to have another fish fry to celebrate our last night on Iron Lake. We ate and watched the sunset as we packed things up for an early departure in the morning as we planned to camp on Agnes our last night before heading out the Moose River on Saturday. One thing we noticed today, is that for the first time all week, there were a few empty campsites on Iron.
Day 7 of 8
Friday, June 15, 2018 We took our time packing up and hitting the water in the morning today. We pulled out from our campsite around 10 am and headed west. Rather than taking the Bottle Portage into Iron, we used the longer, 240 rod portage past the beaver pond on the west end of Iron Lake, which dumps out into Lac la Croix right next to the Ranger Cabin. I was hoping to see a moose at the beaver pond between Iron and LLC, but as we got to the pond, we saw another group leaving the pond in front of us so the chance at seeing wildlife was gone. On a previous trip with just my wife and I, we had the pleasure of a cow and two calfs wading in the beaver pond. When we got to the Ranger Station, there was a group of four that was heading the same direction as us and planning to camp on Agnes. I was starting to get nervous that maybe we wouldn't find a sight on Agnes, if it was anything like Iron. We headed down the Boulder River and the 115 rod portage into Agnes. This is a beautiful portage, especially on the Agnes end, worth a photo or two. As soon as we got to Agnes, we saw lots of canoes, and as we paddled south out of the NW bay, all of the sites to our right were occupied, but the lone site in the NE corner of the lake was vacant so we jumped on it. Most of the other sites on the lake appeared to be occupied, so we considered ourselves lucky. We'd find out later that this site was probably vacant for a good reason. I'd consider this site a 4 star, it's got kind of a crappy landing, but the kitchen, tent pads, view, and fishing potential were all great. At first, we just stopped here to eat lunch and decide if we should paddle out today as rain was in the forecast. Joe and Tristan seemed to be leaning towards coming out a day early. However, after seeing the great site and the weather holding off for the time being, we decided to stay the night. Douglas was elated. If it were up to him, we'd move sites everyday. I like that tripping style too, maybe he and I will cover some serious ground in the future.... Voyageurs Challenge perhaps? I've wanted to do it solo for a while now, but haven't been able to make it work, but maybe in a 4 or 5 years Doug and I could do it. Anyway, we explored camp, fished a little with no luck, lounged around and ate some mac and cheese for dinner. It was a very relaxing, rain free evening. As we packed up for the night, I took a look in the food pack and saw that we packed perfectly. There was enough oatmeal and coffee for the morning and one emergency rice pack in the food pack, that was it. I've always been in the Cliff Jacobson line of thought about food packs, seal everything up tight, stash it back in the woods, far , far from camp. I've never had an issue. On this night I got lazy, and I stashed the food pack down by the lake about 100 feet from the kitchen with a rock on top. At 2 am, I heard the bear knock the rock off the pack and I shot up out of my bag and grabbed my headlamp, but not my GoPro. LOL. I nudged my dad who was super slow to wake up, I told him a bear was getting at the food pack and I was getting out to scare it away. I told him to get his pistol (which was in a pack by the kitchen) and meet me out there. I came out just in time to see the bear trying to pry the top off of my Quetico Superior Hard sided food pack. He/she quickly dropped the pack when I hit it with the light, but I had to yell at it to get it to run off, which it did shortly after. After it departed, my dad comes walking up with the pistol and almost steps in a huge pile of bear scat, right next to our kitchen. The bear roughed up my pack a little and chewed a whole in Doug's nalgene bottle, but didn't get any food. I stayed up for an hour or two after this incident, built a fire, moved the food pack and hung out until I got tired. The bear never returned. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I didn't stash the food far enough away from camp, but I don't think it would have mattered. This bear was clearly habituated to this campsite and we learned later that there had been several bear encounters on this site in the last month and most cases resulted in the bear getting food. Trouble. Agnes has always had bear issues, so I should have been more vigilant, but I got lazy on our last night and there was very little food left. Oh well, it provided some excitement on our last night.
Day 8 of 8
Saturday, June 16, 2018 After last night's excitement, I was dragging a little. We didn't have a lot to pack up, so it was quick work getting on the water. We paddled across Agnes with an ominously cloudy sky, but we were anticipating making good time as we were on the water by 9. That changed quickly. Shortly after getting to Nina Moose Lake, it started raining and on one of the last portages before the EP, the lightning started. We hung out on a portage about a mile from the entry point for a good hour as a storm blew through. Doug was cold and wet and not happy, so I spent the whole time trying to brighten his spirits, which was a chore because I was wet and tired too. We rallied and right around that time the weather cleared just enough to get on the water again. There were about 4 groups waiting on that portage by the time we decided to give it a go. Less than an hour later, we were loading canoes and headed to DQ in Ely for a well deserved lunch and treat. We made it home before the girls bedtime (8 pm) and I crashed hard on my own bed that night. This trip left me hungry to explore new territory, which I'll be doing in July with a hockey buddy of mine. We're heading in off of the Arrowhead Trail and heading up the East/West Pike and Pine Lakes. Watch for that trip report as well.