Day 1 of 4
Sunday, September 22, 2019 I headed out from home at 6:30am to pick up my solo canoe and catch a ride to the entry point from Sawbill Outfitters. I was well ahead of schedule, so I stopped for a quick bite at the Coho Café at 10:30 before continuing on to Sawbill. I was finally on Baker Lake by 12:45. It was warm for the middle of September, in the low 70’s, but there was an off-and-on drizzle, which I didn’t mind. The portage from Kelly to Burnt is one of the toughest that I have experienced. Just like I had read in previous posts, it was very rocky and wet. I met two hunters on the portage who were looking for grouse. Since I was double portaging, it took me 45 minutes to complete. I had worked up a good sweat, but I was paddling on Burnt before 3:00. I checked three sites that I had considered, and only the south-facing peninsula site (site 925) was available.
The drizzle had stopped for the time being, so I took advantage by putting up the tent and getting the rain fly on. Always a bonus to have a dry tent. I finished setting up camp (tarp, collecting water, and rigging the food pack system). I tried the lacrosse ball on the end of the thinner rope technique that I had read about in a previous post for getting the ropes over the branches, but it was not the magic fix that I was hoping for. Every year I consider a bear barrel. There were two huge trees that had blown over, roots and all, near where I hung my pack. The roots were still holding soil and rocks, and they created a large wall. Glad I wasn’t here for that.
I was sipping coffee by a fire by 5:15 (thanks to the previous tenants who left some collected wood in camp), and ate a dinner of parmesan noodles and chicken at 7:30. To my delight, the clouds had started breaking and it was clear by 8:00. I am always amazed at the night sky in the BWCA, and it is one of the things that draws me back. I crawled into my tent at 9:30. I had purchased a new 20 degree bag and 2 ½ inch sleeping pad for this trip. I quickly fell asleep with my hatchet by my side for insurance. That red squirrel had been giving me the stink eye! It rained off-and-on through the night.
Day 2 of 4
Monday, September 23, 2019 I was up before the sun, had breakfast, set up my poles, and was on the lake by 9:00. I was trying some new lures and setups that I had read about in previous posts. I did not get a single strike. I returned to my site for lunch, and after lunch I went to a few nearby islands to scavenge for firewood. I went back out to fish at 5:30 for a few hours. Again, no strikes. I have to admit, I was frustrated with the lack of fishing success. I had dinner, red beans and rice with ham, and settled in at the campfire. It was a completely still and clear night with no moonlight to diminish the stars. It was one of the best evenings of stargazing I’ve had. This definitely helped to relieve my fishing frustrations. The Space Station went overhead around 8:00. The loons were also very active. I hit my tent around 10:00 with the intention of heading out on the lake before sunrise the following morning.
Day 3 of 4
Tuesday, September 24, 2019 Day 3: I was up again before the sun and immediately out on the lake. My inability to get a strike continued, even though fish were jumping all around me. They were obviously hungry and so was I. I returned to my site, had breakfast, and was back out on the lake by 10:00. I resorted back to what I normally use when fishing the Boundary Waters, floating Rapalas. The wind was strong out of the south and I was trolling around the islands in the center of the lake. Within 15 minutes, I’d landed my first smallmouth. I thought it was a snag at first and it put up a great battle. I love the whiz sound the drag makes when the fish dive! I kept it and the next fish (a walleye on a floating Rap?) for dinner. I returned to my site for lunch. The wind and gusts had really picked up, so I remained in camp the rest of the afternoon. Clouds were building, and in mid-afternoon, I could hear the rumble of fighter jets maneuvering nearby for about an hour. I was disappointed I could not see them. I also had been hearing a chainsaw and machinery running all day to the south. I know I was not deep into the BWCA, but this took away slightly from my solitude. I took advantage of the warm weather to clean myself up. I fished from shore in a few spots and caught two more smallmouth. I started making dinner (fish, potatoes and baked beans) around 5:30 as it looked like rain was imminent. The rain started around 6:30 and continued off-and-on. I discovered how lonely a solo trip can be in the evening in the rain underneath a tarp. I had not properly prepared myself for this possibility. I was in my tent by 8:00, read for awhile and fell asleep early.
Day 4 of 4
Wednesday, September 25, 2019 Day 4: In the morning, there was clear sky in the few breaks of low-lying clouds. I was hopeful for a dry day. After breakfast, I hit the lake. Again, I trolled, as the wind was building from the west. I caught two more smallmouth, two northerns, and another walleye. I stopped at the north-facing peninsula site across from mine to stretch my legs. Right at the landing stood a lone birch that some clown had chopped all the way around its trunk like a beaver would do. This would be dangerous to someone and/or their canoe when it eventually blew over. Made me think they should give IQ tests before handing out entry permits. I had trolled the islands again and the perimeter of the northern arm of the lake. As I was nearing my campsite around noon, I heard the rumble of thunder. I got around the point to where I could see to the west and there was a thunderstorm blowing in. I got back to camp and climbed a nearby hill to look further west, and there were thunderheads popping. I had originally planned to leave on Day 4, but then extended a day at the last minute in case the weather was great and I hadn’t wanted to leave. I had a decision to make. Pack up and leave soon or ride out the evening, possibly under the tarp again in the rain, just to pack up in the morning. I’d had a good morning of fishing, which left me content. I would pack up and leave today. I rode out the thundershower under the tarp having lunch. The rain had stopped by the time I was done, and I began breaking down camp. In less than 2 hours, I was paddling west. There were off-and-on periods of rain followed by sun, but the whole time it was blowing hard out of the west. After rounding the southern point on Smoke, I got blown sideways twice by gusts of wind, and I struggled in the steady wind to get righted. By the time I reached the landing, I was exhausted. To top it off, I had to basically do the splits to get out of the canoe and onto the boardwalk at the landing, as I was unable to get alongside it. IMO, it was definitely not laid out with a solo canoe in mind. I passed the time on the portage to Sawbill counting my steps. 653 steps to traverse the portage for anybody who’s wondering. The paddle on Sawbill was nice, once I turned south out of the bay. I was headed south on the Sawbill Trail by 4:15. I was surprised to see that it was only 51 degrees. I had only been wearing a t-shirt for my paddle. Shows how hard I was working in the wind. Right over the round hut as you leave the outfitter was a rainbow. It was the cap on a very rewarding trip.