BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 08 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 6
Elevation: 1364 feet
Shell Lake Basecamp
June 14, 2009
Little Indian Sioux River (north)
Number of Days:
The next morning we are up bright and early and get breakfast at the only place which seems to be open in all of Ely. Then we go back to V.N. to pick up our bait before heading off for the 1-1/2 hour drive to the trailhead. Leeches no problem, but bad news on the nightcrawlers. Refrigerator had froze up and they were all dead so we get ready to head across the street to pick up some elsewhere. As I'm heading out the guy says that the ones from the middle of the fridge were still alive and we could have them, he even throws in an extra box for free. Nice guy. Now we are officially off!!!!!
The day just couldn't be nicer. I had worried about cold or rain or wind or all of the above but the weather was just beautiful and we had a great drive out to the put in, getting more and more excited as we drove. We unload the car, see our canoe waiting for us as promised, and carry our first load down to the river. When we get back to the parking lot for another load my brother asks where are the paddles and life jackets? I don't think too much of it at first, but as we turn the canoe right side up and don't see them underneath or anywhere nearby growing disbelief turns to panic! Of course there is no cell phone signal, so we have no choice but to drive back to town till we get one. Well, by the time I have a signal we are back in town anyway so we go back to V.N. in person only to discover that they don't drop off paddles or life jackets due to fear of theft. Okay, many of you are probably thinking "Everyone knows that", or "What a pair of greenhorns". But why would the lady initiate a detailed conversation about paddles the previous day if it wasn't to find out what we wanted so they could drop it off?! And the guy who gave us our bait in the morning; he couldn't have casually asked "So, you have everything you need? Don't forget your life jackets" Or something like that. Anyway, although we are both pretty pissed off, me more than my brother, there is nothing we can do. The day is still beautiful when we finally make it back to Little Indian Sioux, only it's three hours later in the day than it would have been. And now instead of the leisurely paddle with the occasional cast that I was anticipating it has turned into a "We better hurry if we hope to get a decent campsite". We are basecamping so we want to find a good one we can keep all week.
But the paddling is a delight, and the weather is beyond perfect. We enjoy the slow river paddle and are pretty impressed by the long beaver damn we pass at one point that stretches all the way across the river, except where it has been broken through on one end to allow canoe passage. The portages are not too bad, especially since we triple portage. My brother his giant duffel bag on one trip, and his monster sized duffel bag on the second trip. Me my backpacking backpack and misc handfuls of gear on trip one, and food bag and misc articles on trip two. The third trip we alternate carrying the canoe and paddles. Not the speediest travellers, but hey, we're on vacation! :-) (everything from the orange bag forward is mine, behind the orange bag are his two duffels and gear. who brought more stuff? :-) )
At the portage between the Pauness lakes we see a mid sized cooler sitting in the middle of the landing, but no one is in sight. We carry our gear across on trip one, and notice that there is no one on the other side of the portage either, and no one in sight on the lake. We go back to the beggining for load two and it's still deserted, so I take a peek inside. It's full of food, so obviously it wasn't abandoned on purpose. We don't know who it might belong to so we leave it there. After we travel across the other pauness lake (upper or lower I don't remember which was which) we come to the loooonnnnggg portage to Shell. While on this portage we meet an older man and a teenager. At first I think it's a grandpa and grandson, then I realize that when my newborn son is a teenager I will be 60, so I guess it was probably a father and son. :-) To get their cooler back they not only had to hike back across the portage between the Pauness lakes, they had to paddle across lower pauness, and carry their canoe back across the lengthy portage to Shell lake!! In their shoes I would have been plenty frustrated!!!! I was impressed though by their demeanor: there was not one sign of blame or anger between them. I would have expected one of them to at least give a little eye roll while pointing to the other, or a finger twirled in a circle by their head to indicate the other one was senile or forgetful. But nothing of the sort. I was moved at the mature uncomplaining way they handled a potentially frustrating situation. I bet they had a very enjoyable week together.
The portage between Pauness and Shell is a long one, 2/3 of a mile, but we are finally on Shell lake. Based on my research we were hoping for one of the sites on the northern island in Shell, but as we pass by we see that it is taken. We wind around to check out the bottom site and it is open so we grab it. But we quickly realize I was mistaken: we have the less desirable middle site, not the highly rated northern or southern site. But since we have seen other paddlers on the lake with gear filled canoes still searching, we realize beggars can't be choosers and we better stay put and be glad we have a home for the night. I hope the man and his son found a good site before dark.
We set up camp, and start a fire to cook our italian sausage for dinner. Then I just have to get some casts in! Soon I get the first fish of the trip; no lunker but at least now we know there are some in here and they can be caught. Dinner is delicious, the weather is still great, and soon we retire.
After a breakfast of eggs and that pre-cooked bacon (glad I brought it!)we quickly agree that this camp is not going to be our home for the week. Also we discover that every one of the worms in our 3 boxes of worms is dead. We decide to break camp and check out Little Shell or Lynx, both of which have good campsites according to my research on this website. As we approach the short portage between Shell and Little Shell we pass the campsite in that bay. It's deserted so we check it out and it seems pretty good. Since we don't know if we would find empty sites further on we decide to grab this one and make it home. By the time we are all set up and settled in it is afternoon, so no time left for a major day trip. I fish from camp and quickly catch another lunker. During our afternoon of canoe fishing my brother catches of all things, a LARGEmouth bass in the bay right by our campsite! I believe these are quite rare in the bwca, so we were not expecting that at all. It was a good sized one too, as you can see in the photo. The day has been beautiful, and bug free which is quite a pleasant surprise. One bonus feature of this camp is a nearby small rocky island, which we quickly dub "Fish Clean Island". It is only a few minutes paddle from camp, and we figure that cleaning our fish there is better than cleaning them at camp and possibly attracting bears. We do this for the next three nights, and while there always catch a few more fishing from it's shore. Before we finish the minutes long paddle back to our campsite the seagulls and an eagle have picked up the remains. Quite an enjoyable sight, and a good feeling to know we are helping an eagle get it's dinner. Fried fish for our dinner, and then another early night.
We awake early to a beautiful sunrise; this makes 3 sunny days in a row. I can't believe our luck! Especially for a mid June trip. After breakfast of a pot of coffee and a breakfast bar we head to the south end of Shell for some morning fishing. This becomes the pattern for the week; coffee and breakfast bar at sun up, fish for a few hours around Shell, then come back to make brunch before heading out for the daytrip of choice. Fishing is pretty slow, and this perch represents our only success for a long time. Not long after this though I connect with a large pike, and am able to land it. I know it's not huge by the standards of large northerns, but it's far bigger than anything I catch in the ponds around my home in the Chicago suburbs and I am very satisfied. Only two fish this morning, but as long as one of them was this big I am very happy. Not ten minutes later though my brother Ken ties into something really big!! He got it close to the canoe, but unfortunately it broke free before he was able to get it into the canoe. Not sure how he would have done that anyway, since we had no net. I don't know if this picture does it justice, but here it is. The rest of the day we explore Little Shell and Lynx, and catch enough fish for dinner but nothing spectacular. [paragraph break]I wake up in the middle of the night and am happy to see stars since the light polluted skies at home are pretty bad. I go down to the shore for a better view but since the moon is up the sky is too bright to really take advantage of the remote location so after a while I give up and go back to bed.
After a few minutes my brother lands the first smallmouth on a topwater lure, while I get nothing with spinners and rapalas. He quickly gets another, and another, while I continue to get nothing. I guess these fish want topwater, and topwater only. We make a circuit of the entire lake back to the shallow bay, and the entire time we are nailing smallmouth on anything topwater. My brother is throwing the cigar shaped lure with propellers (a devil horse?), and I am catching them on poppers and buzzbaits. This is pretty much the first time in my life I have caught fish on topwater lures, and boy is it fun! Especially since the action is so consistent. We stop for lunch at the lone campsite on this lake, which I would describe as a great place to have lunch, but a horrible place to camp. I don't think there was any place I could rightly describe as a tent pad, and the landing was an abrupt transition from water to a steep hill; no place to pull up a canoe to get out or unload easily.
I see a strange looking flower here, which I recently identified as a Lady Slipper Orchid in a book about the ecology of the region. After lunch we make another circuit of the lake with the same result; smallmouth after smallmouth. What a fun afternoon. Domo Arigato, Lake Agawato! (sorry; had to say it...) No northerns though, which seems odd. I wake up in the middle of the night again to a clear sky, and this time it's a bit earlier and the moon hasn't risen yet. I'm able to do some star gazing in a darker sky, and am amazed at the number of satellites I see. It seems I can point the binoculars at random and 3 out of 4 times there will be a satellite moving through my field of view. And the number of stars in the binoculars is amazing; almost like fuzz. Cygnus the swan is overhead as is the milky way; a particularly dense field of stars.
The paddle out is pleasant and uneventfull till we get to the Little Indian Sioux river. This must be a popular day to leave, because the portages are backed up several groups at each one. I don't mind because we are in no hurry, the weather is nice, and I can get in a few last casts. No luck though, and eventually I snag on a heavy log. Luckily I have fireline so I pull hard and it starts to move slowly back to the canoe so I can get my lure back. As the log gets closer and starts to rise through the green soupy water it starts to look less like a log, and more like a log with two eyes and a front end like a northern pike! About 1 second later my lure snaps out of the water and the "log" sinks back into the depths. This is the last contact I have this trip although I do make a lot more casts to the weeds hoping for one last fish. We make it back to the put in, carry all our gear back, load the car and head back to V.N. to return our gear. Then back to the Adventure Inn to shower and re-pack the car for the drive home tomorrow. The guy at the front desk is very nice, and seems genuinely concerned that we are satisfied with our stay. For the price I was expecting a bored teenager at the desk and a thumb jerked in the direction of our room, but the guy was acting more like he was welcoming us into his home rather than a motel. For what it's worth I would recommend staying at this place because professional behaviour and service deserves to be rewarded. Oh, not two minutes after we get our room the rain comes down like a monsoon! We don't even unload the car even though it's parked 5 feet from our door. I guess if it's going to rain on a trip, this is the best time for it! :-)