BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
May 18 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 6
Elevation: 1364 feet
Return to Iron Lake
June 09, 2019
Moose/Portage River (north)
Number of Days:
Curt pulled into my driveway in Neenah, WI about 7:00 AM, as we had packed the vehicle and secured the canoe the night before. A few minutes later we were on the road headed towards Cook, MN to pick up our EP 16 permit. The 6 1/2 hour drive passed quickly and the increased gas mileage of Curt's Outback was a much welcome change from my Traverse which normally made this trip.
Saturday was a hot day, the warmest of the year so far, and we watched as temperatures climbed into the mid to upper 80's across northern WI. As we hit the hill headed down towards Superior, the temps started to drop, a quick reminder that the cold and wet spring had yet to warm up the big lake. Temps bottomed out at 58 degrees as we crossed the bridge into Duluth, a 30 degree temperature drop in about 15 miles of travel. They of course climbed just as quickly as we got away from the lake, and were back in the upper 80's by the time we reached Cook.
We picked up our permit at the La Croix Ranger District office in Cook, both noting how much more relaxed the staff were there than in either Ely or Tofte. We told them that, and they knowingly smiled, admitting they just don't get the traffic that those other stations get, and "enjoyed" dealing with people and their permits. Kudos to them for all of the info and their awesome conversations. After the permit was secured, we drove around, eventually having dinner at T. Pattens Cafe in Orr, then grabbed a couple of drinks at a very busy Sportsman's Last Chance outside of Buyck before heading down the Echo Trail to Lake Jeanette.
Once at Lake Jeanette, we set up camp, swatted at swarms of gnats and waited for the mosquitoes to show up (they never really did) so we could get to bed at dark. I forgot how long the days were up there in June, and was glad the mosquitoes stayed away as we spent a couple hours lounging around the big rock overlook at Lake Jeanette campground, listening to frogs and checking out the sights of the lake and night sky and watching the squirrels chase each other around the campsite. The next day rain was forecast for the morning, so we wanted to get an early start and be on the water before that happened. Sleep came only in bits and pieces as it always does for me the first night of the trip, but it had been a good travel day with no issues or rushing around, and truly set the tone for our entire trip.
Sunday we woke up at 5:00 AM, packed up the minimal amount of gear we had taken out and made the short 20 minute drive from Lake Jeanette to EP 16. The parking lot seemed really full, never a good sign, but not at all unexpected. We unpacked the gear, double portaged to the Moose River and were on the water paddling by 6:45 AM. We always get an early start on travel days. The rain looked like it would hold off for a while, so we pushed hard, hoping to get to Boulder Bay before the rains did.
We had the absolute perfect travel day, which never happens in the BW (at least for us). Everything was in our favor. The 2 short portages on the Moose River were easy and dry. The third (unmarked) portage wasn't needed, as we were able to skip over some logs without unloading. The only beaver dam that slowed us down was a simple pullover. With the current pushing us north and a decent tailwind through the wider sections of the river and all across Nina Moose, we made excellent time. On the first portage between Nina Moose and Agnes, a group headed out grabbed our extra two bags from the portage and turned that portage into a single for us. (Thank you, whoever you were. Thank you more for setting that example for the younger kids you had with you!). We did pass a couple other exiting groups on that portage and the next one as well, and they all said the same thing- fishing had been good but they were all windbound on Agnes on Saturday, and glad to be only paddling out in a slight headwind. At the far end of the second portage towards Agnes, we ran into a MN DNR Conservation Officer, a first for us ever in the BW. He checked our licenses (since he could see our fishing gear) and wished us a good trip. I know these guys (and their Forest Service counterparts) are few and far between, but we were glad to see him out there as we all know how much that is needed.
We passed through Agnes riding what had now become a solid tailwind and took the longer portage into the Boulder River. Curt managed to step off the fully submerged boards on the Boulder River end of the portage, only to sink up to his hip in the mud. Luckily his other leg found solid ground and didn't sink much, and after a few seconds of struggle, he pulled himself back up onto the boards. Note to others: stay on the boards or very close to them- that's some deep stuff and doesn't make your canoeing partner smell so good.
Once we hit Boulder Bay, we checked out all three campsites in amazement. There was no way we thought that entire area would be empty (one site filled later that afternoon). We settled on the northernmost of the three, and it is truly a gem of a site. It had everything we were looking for and more. We also found a wooden replica of Thor's hammer left by the fire grate (someone had a lot of time on their hands...). These type of camp projects by previous visitors don't really bother me, and for me it added to the site's ambiance. The first rain drops ended up being only about 30 minutes behind us unpacking our canoe, so we quickly set up our tents, got our gear under cover, and ate lunch in the light sprinkles. We had made it just in time, and were pretty happy about that.
It was still fairly warm in the rain, somewhere in the mid 60's, and we had lots of energy left due to our easier than expected journey that day, so we decided to go fishing. We did the 65 rod portage SW from our campsite back into the Boulder River, and headed over to the falls coming from Agnes. By that time, the rain had picked up along with the winds, and temps started to fall. We fished for a while, caught a few, and then the unexpected happened. I asked to be done fishing. This was a fishing trip. That's not supposed to happen. I was wet, and had gotten cold, really cold to the core. Temps had dropped into the lower 50's and while I had put on my raincoat, I still had on my nylon pants and Keens, and being wet from the waist down for a couple hours took its toll. I told Curt we needed to go back as I was shaking and not feeling so smart about the way I had dressed, so we headed back to camp against the wind, tired and cold. I climbed into my tent, put on dry clothes, and curled up in my sleeping bag for a couple hours until the rain stopped. By that time I was thankfully plenty warm again.
We finished our camp chores, made dinner, checked out some areas around our camp, and settled in for the evening. There was enough of a breeze making chop of the bigger parts of Boulder Bay that we stayed close to camp fishing during the evening, and caught a couple fish near the islands to the NW of our site. All in all it was a great first day, and we were excited to see what the fishing would bring the next day when we had more time to figure out patterns and be out of the rain.
Most mornings, we are up by 6:00 AM as neither of us like to sleep in, and Monday was no different. The sun had already been up for a couple hours anyway, so out into the chilly morning air we ventured. Every day of this trip other than the first and the last, the nights dropped to the mid to upper 30's, which took a day or two to adjust to, but didn't really bother us as we had the proper gear to handle it with no issue. We ate a quick breakfast and started fishing our way back down the Boulder River the way we had come the day before. We didn't have much luck, but fishing was not the first focus for this morning- exploration was. We turned off into the Dahlgren River and fished our way up to the the first rapids, catching a small pike and a decent smallmouth bass, along with a nice 20" walleye right below the faster moving water. We checked out the pools above the rapids (no luck) and got some close up pictures of a pair of loons that were very interested in a nearby beaver lodge. I looked for a nest, but didn't see one there, and was glad I hadn't disturbed them in that process.
After taking a short break, we pulled our canoe up to the Dahlgren portage and walked to the other end, where our "big adventure" for the week would begin. I had planned on us getting to Batista Lake for months, and hoped to get a canoe there. That didn't happen, but we did make it overland through the woods by compass and GPS, and visited a lake few people see these days. You can read more about it at the following link or search for "Visit to Batista" in the trip planning forum.
After our visit to Batista Lake, the winds had really picked up and we decided to try and fish the current areas of the Boulder River to the NW of that portage. A stray storm cloud came up and dumped heavy rain and wind on us for about 30 minutes, so we tucked into quiet bay area full of grass and weeds and caught a few fish while the weather cleared up. After that, we paddled up the other part of the Boulder River past the "rapids" marked on the map (they were underwater and not even noticeable). In a narrow section of river past that, we found a couple holes and Curt's jigging found several nice walleyes. I switched to a jig and managed to catch one as well (I'm not a jig fisherman, but when in Rome...). We fished all the way back to the falls coming out of Agnes, but by then even the Boulder River was whipped up to whitecaps and we couldn't stay where we wanted to be at all. We called it a day for fishing and headed back to camp to make dinner.
After a well deserved walleye dinner we explored the bluffs next to camp. They gave some great views of that area of Boulder Bay and are definitely worth the few minutes it takes to head up there. We packed up the extras around camp and prepared for an early morning push the next day. The breeze off the bay and the lack of mosquitoes led to one of our best campfire nights of the trip, and somehow about 1/3 of the bottle of Captain Morgan and one of the bottles of Coke disappeared that night. Funny how that happens after a long day on the water.
We woke up a little earlier on Tuesday, sometime between 5:30 and 6:00, quickly ate breakfast, packed camp, and hit the water. Rain was again in the forecast, making getting moving and set at our new destination a priority. We were headed over to Iron Lake, knowing we might have an issue finding a site on that lake. Once out of Boulder Bay and past Tiger Bay, we switched course due to favorable wind direction and headed up to Warrior Hill. We paddled along side the length of it, looking for the pictographs and never found them, only to remember a short while later that they are a couple miles further north up the island. Oh well, we didn't have time to backtrack as we wanted to get across Bottle Portage and into Iron to find a site as early as possible. We met a couple groups on the Bottle River, one of which had left the northernmost site just a few minutes earlier. We filed that info away in case we needed it, but headed through the rest of the lake searching for a site- the next 2 west side sites looked full, 3 Island's sites were full, as were the sites south of 3 island and the site on the island north of Peterson Bay. We pushed back north and east and found the site near Curtain Falls also full. We checked the bay south of there, and took the farthest east site on the lake. Thankfully it was open, because we really didn't want to head all the way back to the NW corner of the lake (which we found out the next day from talking to people ended up being taken by another group behind us while we were searching for a site).
At first the site did not impress us, despite its out of the way location and its sandy beach landing. Over the next few days it really grew on us and in the end I would stay in it again. However, it is small, we had just enough space to set up two tents on the slightly sloping tent pads and the kitchen area was kind of a train wreck (later rectified). A bigger tent or larger group would be pretty uncomfortable at this site. We also gave the site the nickname "Protozoa Bay" as there was nowhere to get water for cooking or dishes from the edge without scooping up literal thousands of tiny aquatic creatures. We're still not sure what they were (water fleas, maybe, but they seemed too fast for that), but we just made sure to boil our water a little extra longer and filter water well away from shore.
We also had our one negative moment of the trip at this site- another tandem group was looking for a site and had banked on our site being open so they could get up early and head to Crooked the next morning. They said "every site was full", but there honestly was no room at our small site. We in the end turned them away as it was still only 11:00 am and they could have easily pushed on to Crooked yet that day (and probably did). If circumstances had been different- a bigger site, later in the day, bad weather approaching, our answer would have been different I'm sure.
After taking longer than planned and spending some extra energy trying to find a site, we took it slow in the early afternoon and just hung out at camp. Bad choice, as that nice part of the day turned into a steady rain by mid-afternoon. So we did what you're supposed to do on rainy afternoons- we slept. And damn did it feel good! We woke up around dinner time, refreshed and ready to go. We ate a quick meal, then headed out to fish a nearby island/reef area, which became our go-to spot over the next 3 days. Other than very early in the morning and in the late evening, this reef area was always windy/wavy, and I would have loved to fish it with less wind, but it sure did produce when we could hold on spot. We caught several nice pike (32" was the biggest), a couple smallmouth bass, and plenty of walleyes both jigging and trolling rapalas around it. The best part- it was close to camp and required almost no work to get to it.
We took in an amazing sunset on the water that night, fishing until almost 10:00 PM. We headed back in and finished the night with more stories, introspection (aka bullshitting), campfire time, and Captain and Coke. We stayed up a bit too late that night, but oh well, maybe our bodies with let us sleep in for once.
Did I say sleep in? Um, no chance of that happening. I was up the next morning around 5:30, and could still hear Curt lightly snoring in the tent next to me. I got up, walked around camp a little to shake off the morning chill, and got the coffee going. Curt was awake just after 6:00, so we just started our day out a little earlier than planned.
We fished our magic reef, caught a few more fish that we released, then headed over to Curtain Falls and spent the rest of the morning and early part of the afternoon there. We fished near the portage in the current, caught more fish, then beached the canoe and headed up the portage trail, first checking out the short portage to the bay north of there where we caught a smallmouth that was on its bed, then up the main portage to the top of the falls. We caught a couple more smallmouths above the falls, took some pictures, then headed back down, going down to the waters edge to fish some eddies and pools along the way. We didn't get any fish that way, but probably would have if we would have given it more time.
We spent more time fishing from the rocks near the portage, found 2 more willing walleyes, then headed down below most of the current to the deeper pools more towards the lake. We didn't spend a lot of time there, but again the walleyes cooperated and we boated a couple more. We decided to head back to camp, get some lunch, and see what else the day would bring.
What the day brought was motivation to fix the very junky, broke down, uneven and trash filled kitchen area at our site. We removed all the logs, kept the decent ones and rebuilt it from the ground up using the rocks we found underneath all the mess to balance and stabilize the seats. There were at least 6 leftover logs when we were done, so we made a "gear rack" near the tent pads for future groups to set packs on if they wanted. It was better than tossing them back into the forest. We picked up a lot of trash, everything that you can imagine that gets dropped between rotting logs over the course of years. Forks, lures, wrappers, fishing line, tent stakes, and more. It all went in our trash bag, and the forks will come with us on future trips as a reminder of our project. It took a few hours to do it all, but it was a great way to pass the beautiful afternoon hours in the sun.
We ate dinner, hit the magic reef for a while and caught a couple small pike, then followed the waves and wind into a small cove near our camp and found the walleyes stacked next to a deep shoreline dropoff. Twister tails did the trick again and we caught several nice eater sized fish. Having already eaten dinner, we released them all to be caught another day. They would have made for one great meal though! We headed back to camp, listened to the weather for the night and got a little suprise- we were under a frost advisory! It had cooled off considerably towards sunset, and with a clear sky, we could tell the forecast was probably going to be accurate. We had a campfire and finished off the Captain. Well, Curt finished it, without any coke to mix it with, and only cherry Mio as an option, I passed that opportunity on to him. We turned in late again after a good campfire, and looked forward to our last full day on Iron.
Thursday was already here and we were just hitting our Iron Lake stride. I woke up at about 4:15 just to look outside and use the bathroom, and there was no frost. Yay? It was still damn cold, and if I had to guess, it was about 33-34 degrees at that time of the morning. After falling back asleep, I "slept in", not waking until about 6:30 and temps were already much better by then. After coffee and breakfast, we loaded up the fishing supplies and lunch, and started making our way west across the lake to the opposite side to fish a reef we had both had much success on in the past. It was fairly windy, but we kept our lines in as we traveled and caught a couple small pike while trolling. Once we located the reef, which was harder to find than we expected due to the water being higher than when we normally visit, we made several passes with the wind trolling and casting the reef. We hooked a couple fish there, but nothing spectacular, and not enough action for the amount of effort we were putting in to fight the wind. We landed on shore on a rocky point to the southwest of the reef, stretched our legs for a while, and then decided to head towards Peterson Bay. On the way there, I hooked into 2 pike in the 22-24" range, but both fish were foul hooked and felt much larger than they turned out to be.
When we eventually reached Peterson Bay I was already tiring from the paddling we had put in for the day, which is not normal for me. We fished sporadically through the bay, hoping to find panfish, crappies, or some smallmouth, but we really didn't catch much. We went all the way back to the rapids that go into the Beartrap River, which had much less current and depth than we had hoped. We didn't catch anything there either, and started the trek back to the main part of the lake. We hit a couple other spots while trolling our way back to camp and didn't get much to show for it. When we got back to camp, I laid down and took a long rest. It felt hot (funny thing to say when its only 70 degrees), but after the cold morning, it was a very nice change. I was glad for the breeze and the sleep it let me have.
In the evening after dinner, we decided to give Curtain Falls one last shot. We hoped to spend most of our time fishing the deeper pools below the outflow, but when we got there two other boats were already fishing. We went up towards the portage and fished there and did well again, each catching a couple walleye before we called it a night. We packed up camp as we knew we were leaving the next morning for Agnes and tried to get to sleep a little earlier so we would be well rested for the travel day. Rain was in the forecast for overnight and a portion of Friday as well, so we wanted to be prepared for that.
Friday was an early wake-up day, sometime around 5:30 or so we got things moving. We packed up our gear, loaded the canoe, and pushed off shore well before 7:00. That's when the rain started. It didn't rain hard, just enough to get us a little wet, but it lasted most of the way through Iron Lake. It stopped right as we reached Bottle Portage, and by the time we made it across to LLC, the skies were blue again. Too bad we didn't sleep in one extra hour...
We made our way across LLC, through Tiger Bay, and back into Boulder Bay before the winds started to pick up. It was a light but steady headwind and slowed our progress a bit through Boulder Bay, but by the time we made it through the two short portages into Agnes, the wind had really picked up. Forecasts said the wind was going to be 10-15 mph from the south, then switch in the afternoon to the same but out of the north. Well, we fought whitecaps and rollers all the way from the north end of Agnes until we reached the nicer site on the SE part of the lake on the point. It was a mess. Food everywhere, all over the rocks and in the water as though the previous occupants had decided not to eat and just tossed it all. So much rice and noodles, it was sickening. We had no way to clean it up, but we did pick up the other trash and a pair of gloves that were left at the firegrate. We were not going to stay in a site that messy and risk having a bear visit, so we continued on and took the site in the west corner of the southern bay.
The campsite itself was just ok, but that's all we needed as it was a one-night stop before our exit day on Saturday. The tent pads have some pretty good slope to them, and the landing is rocky and slippery. The fire area also faces away from the lake, which we found strange, and was probably the part we liked least about the site. We set up camp, ate lunch, then lounged around camp for a while and at some point I took a much needed nap.
That turned out to be a big mistake, as when I woke up, the wind change had happened. Curt mentioned it had been almost calm while I slept, but by the time we got everything settled and headed out to fish, the wind, now out of the north and blowing down the full length of the lake, had whipped up plenty of whitecaps and 2+ foot rollers. We tried to fish, but it just wasn't worth it, so we landed on a rocky outcrop in our bay, explored for a while, and headed back to camp. Since we didn't have anything better to do, we gathered a bunch of firewood, had a campfire for a few hours, and just talked about the trip and how things had gone, what we would do different, and what we wanted from future trips. It was a good way to end the week, but a little disappointing as we both had hoped to take advantage of the good fishing on Agnes. We went to bed satisfied with our trip, but a little sad to have to head back to reality the next morning.
When your in the BW, and have an 8 hour drive home (for me) and 11 1/2 hours (for Curt), you get started pretty early in the day. We woke up before 5:00, broke camp and got on the water by a little after 6:00, and made it back to the EP around 10:00. We passed several groups on the way in, mostly on the portage at EP 16. It brought a little smile to my face to see a few dad/son pairs just starting their trip, as Father's Day was the next day. It made me look forward to seeing my kids just a little bit more, and that thought helped make the long ride home go more quickly. We packed up the car, loaded the canoe, and said goodbye and thank you to the BW for a great trip. Both of us will be back again later this summer (Curt on a solo, me with my youngest son), so we knew it would be a short goodbye. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and can't wait to get back again in August!