BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 22 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 12
Elevation: 1381 feet
Trout Lake - 1
I guided my dad in the SW Pocket
August 15, 2023
Number of Days:
Then, it hit me. Out of all my co-workers, peers, and even those crazed Ely-ites I called friends; no one had been to "The Pocket". The Pocket is isolated to the SW of the "traditional" BWCA. This is because Highway 169 to Tower cuts this section of the park off from the main one. I looked over a map of it and counted the few lakes. I poked with my finger on a big fisher map: Trout, Pine, Cummings, Crab, Big Moose. Wow. There were a lot of lakes to work with, and for the entire summer I had been ignoring the possibility of an expedition into somewhere where none of my friends had been.
I went to grab my laptop and checked for permit availability. Usually this is where your dreams get crushed. It is better to book an entry point a few months before the trip. So, my well-loved style of off the cuff planning was not shining. Somehow, every permit for the day I wanted to go out was open. Something I had never seen, nor expected. This much availability made me wonder how many folks actually go out here. You'd expect in Mid-August to be practically fighting for a crack at a permit. I was expecting to do a trip outside The BW to be honest.
That is because my dad was coming, and if I couldn't go big with him I was seriously gonna just go home. I originally wanted Rose or maybe I guess another Lac trip. They both were taken, and the closest entries would take a few days and too much time to get to those aforementioned lakes. I was quite unsure of my dad's ability anyhow. It had been 4 years since he had even been in a canoe, and he had only been in The BW once. Also, 4 years ago. After a few phone calls, we settled on Trout and agreed to go on this little expedition of curiosity. I finished up my job for this summer, packed our gear, and headed off on the 15th of August.
We arrive at the put in and I'm frankly put off. Since Trout isn't directly accessible by road(at least to my knowledge) you put in on busy Lake Vermillion. There's giant ferries towing automobiles back and forth over water, loud boats zipping by, and a whole lot of people in general. I had almost forgotten Vermillion was a completely public lake, and this detail came back and bit me hard later.
Nonetheless, we loaded into our borrowed red we . no . nah Sundowner, and set out for the voyage. As we pushed off from the nice beach landing I became very aware of our first obstacle. Waves. Even though the wind was relatively tame; the gusts were coming from the south/southwest. This means the wind had most of Lake Vermillion to run on and gain speed before hitting us. To compound matters even worse the wind was a tailwind. Wait. That should be good news right? No! If you have ever paddled in a ferocious tailwind you know that the waves come up under you and steer you into precarious situations. If you aren't careful the waves will position you sideways, and then wind holds you there while the next wave slams you side on. A frustrating situation for sure. Most of Vermillion I was using a J-Stroke or paddling on the same side as my dad. In the rough waves, and at times where I couldn't position us fast enough I just used my paddle as a rutter. We made it through, and our gunwhales only got wet once or twice.
After a five mile or so paddle on Vermillion proper you reach Trout Lake. Well the portage into it at least. It is not a bad one, and rather short. Then after showing my portage skills off to my dad we plopped into Portage Bay. How Original. It was Trout Lake though, and about 5o'clock in the evening. My guide senses were tingling because usually you would want to be arriving at a campsite at 5 or preferably a little before that. Campsites are usually more occupied later into the day, and paddling in the dark is bad news.
I ran what I call a circuit around the lake's campsites. This instance starting east and working the circuit up north in hopes of finding a campsite. The first campsite we found still perplexes me. If you can even call it a campsite. I found what looked like a fire grate or clearing. I hopped out in excitement as the first campsite you find is usually always taken. When I crested the shoreline's slope and looked at the "campsite" I was disappointed. It looked like folks had illegally stayed here. There were remains of fires and flat areas with pressed down vegetation. No fire grate present. I returned back to the canoe with bad news for my dad. We continued running the circuit northwards.
We ran into a couple more campsites; all of them being taken. Then I had a choice to make. Cut west and go into West Bay and pray there is an open site, or press north past Five Sister's Island chain and find a campsite there. I choose West Bay, and choose correctly. We stumbled upon a campsite that was almost too secluded from the waterline. A classic BW pine needle ridden site awaited us. That is after braving one of the worst landings I'd seen all summer. It was 730 by the time we arrived. That was do-able. If we worked quickly we could eat and not be swarmed by the evening mosquito horde. Thanks to the previous visitors, we had ample firewood and got cooking quickly. Mac N Cheese supper was served promptly along with some complementary Cup O Soups. All before the horde even started. Great. While the water was boiling we had even had the time to set up the tent. Also great. A perfect first night, despite the circumstances.
We woke up to a beautiful, but still windy morning. Camp was broken efficiently, and breakfast was hardly even eaten. Just a few handfuls of a granola melody. We set off at 915 and headed north. Today our goal was Chad Lake. Again, the wind tempted and toyed around with our canoe. The ferocious tailwind I mentioned was still bothering us as we sailed north through the island chain. The Five Sister's Island offered us wind protection. As we left them I was dissapointed to have to work again to maintain a straight bow. We passed Norway Point and hugged that eastern shore for protection. We eventually reached the mouth of Pine Creek.
An interesting area for sure. You land on a shallow submerged sandbar, and if you go too far and closer to the opposite side of Pine Creek; you will miss the portage. Like I did. The portage starts on the sandy beach and I should've been looking for it coming in. From our angle way left of it, it was impossible to see the start of the portage. Unless, you bush-wacked and creek-walked until you found it, like I proudly did. Upon finding it, we retreated out of the beginning of Pine Creek and took the portage around a beaver dam. I was expecting worse, but Pine Creek met my expectations. Being a two-time Larch Creek Veteran I was briefing my dad that we might encounter a few beaver dams, bottlenecks, and shallow areas. None of this I mentioned, we ran into. Pine Creek was a deep black color, oddly cool, and far wider than I had imagined. Beavers had only been able to dam up the portages from what we saw, and the switchbacks the creek offered weren't as winding as the map even showed. It was pleasant. We even saw a nesting mallard, a few fish break the water, and another canoe group.
Chad Lake was going to be our first big portage and challenge. I was giving my dad the food pack and I carried the canoe and personal packs each on separate trips. I would be doing a 400+ rod portage instead of a 200. Nothing I couldn't do, just very time consuming. I didn't feel like overloading my dad or myself, and this felt like an appropriate compromise. The portages in this area are breath taking. Large dips and dives of the terrain, and interesting scenery and overlooks. So even though I was dissapointed to have to double portage, I did enjoy the scenery.
Chad Lake Portage is interrupted by an impressive beaver pond. The pond is elevated from the lake. So canoeing over to the dam it seems like you are sitting on a giant rim overlooking Chad Lake. The pond has been there for awhile as the dam was overgrown with shrubbery and the water was deep. Small fish and fresh life could be seen poking though the moss and lilly pads. After the view, we finished the portage and ended up on Chad Lake. We rode the shore to the portage and took the adjacent campsite for night two. This campsite was windswept and it rained off and on as we set up camp. We ate dinner in full view of the sunset as we fished. We lost two fish and caught a lot of rocks. Disappointing, but we still had a few more days to fish.
We slept in the next morning, no big deal. Just one portage and maybe half a mile of paddling to Buck Lake. We had a breakfast of my famous Hashbrown and Tuna Mix-Up and set off lazily at about 11am. We rounded the corner to the Buck Lake Portage. Another "long" portage and another time I would be doing two trips for our gear. I loaded the food pack on my dad, flipped the canoe and set off.
The portage was spectacular, and appeared to be used more by the animals than by people. In areas the trail gave way and you guesstimated for a rod or two where the trail was. I spooked up a covey of quail and encountered the same grouse twice using the trail. Despite the serene and amazing portage we would run into our first problem here. Every trip has a major problem, sometimes a few of them. A major problem, by my definition is an issue that needs tending to immediately or there will be immediate negative consequences. About halfway through the portage you reach a sloped area of a granite shelf. It had rained and it was rather slippery. I took a quick slip on it myself and landed safely on my butt. I continued the portage, and didn't think to tell my dad about this obstacle. He took the same rock, but landed on his knee and ankle. Ouch! There was our major problem. Nothing was broken, but he couldn't walk on it. We were out a man, and that meant I was solo for now. I could get us out of The BW if need be, but I was going to give it a day and see what happens. I allowed him to carry nothing, and forced him to rest once we reached our campsite on Buck. Great. I thought this trip might just be over.
It is odd how in The BW sometimes the best and worst parts of a trip happen in one day. Because that is exactly happened. I set up camp, and we decided to go fishing on the canoe this time. It was a little windy, but we could deal with it. Carefully, I directed my dad down to the landing and into the canoe. He was doing a little better, but still in pain. We set off, but not before I caught a 4lb Pike right from the landing. Walking into the water to land the beast; that I caught without a leader.
After that initial excitement we went left of our campsite in a small rocky bay. The wind was pushing us around. I was fishing for Perch since I hadn't caught one yet, and was excited when I felt a big fish on my line. I pulled out a massive Bluegill of all fish, and put it on the stringer. We fished here for a little longer. My dad was happily reeling in Bluegills on a bass lure! They were massive. I eventually paddled us over to the opposite shore and let the wind blow us back. This weedy bank held monsters. My dad had two big fish on. One a decent Smallmouth, and the other; a mystery fish that pulled our canoe around before wrapping itself in weeds and snapping the line. While fishing here, I was reeling in my shad rap and was frightened to see a Pike bigger than the one I caught chasing my lure. I would've jumped out of our canoe if it had attacked my lure that close to the boat. I hate when fish surprise you like so. After this, we had an amazing meal of mash potatoes, fried onions, and fried fish.
The next morning, I was ambitious. My plan was to take Buck Creek into Pine Lake then back into Trout. Google Earth showed pictures from this summer and Buck Creek looked full of water and easily navigable. Easy day right? I thought as we allowed ourselves to sleep in. We left regrettably late that day and headed down to Buck Creek. The Creek seemed navigable for about 200 yards. Then went bone dry. I thought maybe we could portage beside it to Pine Lake. Bad idea since my dad's ankle and knee could be seriously injured. I scouted alongside Buck Creek for awhile looking for any sign of navigable water. Nothing, as I excepted. Both options to use Buck Creek were out of the picture. We didn't have enough time to choose an alternate route or come out at Crab. We had to turn around and redo the route. Great.
A low point of the trip for sure. I was half expecting this to happen, but I believed Google Earth a little more than I should've. If I had paid attention to the water line on the rocks of the lakes I would've noticed the region had lost about a foot of water. That foot of water would have allowed us passage into Pine. I felt pretty stupid unloading the canoe and doing the Buck to Chad portage for a third time. This time I would be carrying everything. I double packed food and personal/gear pack, and would be coming back for the canoe. That was an overload on me and I ended up spraining my ankle and pulling a muscle. We pulled into the same campsite on Chad, defeated. We napped in the afternoon, and by evening deiced to take the canoe out for some more fishing. We fished late and caught only a few, but we weren't planning on a fish dinner anyway. We settled in for Vigo Beans and Rice and turned it into a hearty stew with onions and summer sausage.
I went to bed aware that tomorrow would be a slog. When we woke up we broke camp quickly. This was our take out day in Vermillion. Sounds easy for a group of canoers, but for me and an injured dad it sounded like torture. I bravely loaded the canoe and paddled to my fate at the Chad to Pine Creek portage. It was here where my mood lightened. Our food pack had gotten lighter, and overnight my dad's situation had healed. He offered to take the food, and I told him to go carefully. We smashed that portage, and in good spirits too.
Pine Creek was over in a heartbeat, and a beaver even paid us a visit as we neared the portage. My dad still doing ok, once again carried the food across the portage. On that same beach we enjoyed our last lunch of the trip before tackling Trout Lake. Trout was less windy than before and offered little challenge in completing. It was Vermillion that would be once again the challenge.
I cannot write down in words my hate towards motorized watercraft. Like I mentioned early in the story, I had all but forgotten that Vermillion was a populated, public lake. On a Saturday in late August that fact was plain obvious. Boats everywhere. Speed Boats, Jet Skis, Pontoon Boats, Fishing Rigs, Boats Tubing, Boats EVERYWHERE! To complicate things, we had a headwind coming out. The waves remained the same as when we put in, and were compounded by wakes from boats. Boats that circled us and often sped by too close. It was seriously a dangerous situation and very hectic. We ran the north shore until we had to cross at St. Marie Island. This proved to be rather difficult. It probably took twenty minutes to pass, and we had to avoid twenty or more boats and their wakes while we crossed this windy straight. We managed to do it, and safely.
From then it was a straight shot to our put out. Rather easy paddle, but it was still a windy day and waves were an issue. We eventually made it to the beach and were greeted by a few female Mallard Ducks. A symbol I will now associate with good luck. We should've flipped on Vermillion, and we almost did. Thank Duck we didn't!
Overall it was an interesting scouting expedition. I think Trout to Crab would be interesting next time. It is a kind of forgotten about area, but there were people around. Not quite as remote as I had hoped, but still The BW. Still an adventure that I loved, and time spent with my dad.