BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
May 19 2022
Number of Permits per Day: 6
Elevation: 1364 feet
EP16 - I-R-O-N Lake Fishing Expedition
July 24, 2020
Moose/Portage River (north)
Number of Days:
Over the last couple seasons my Dad and I had talked about taking EP16 up to Iron or LLC to take a shot at the great fishing opportunities up there. For all the trips we have taken up to the BWCA in the last 25 years we had yet to hit any EP's west of Mudro. My research had also indicated that the fishing up around LLC, Iron, or even Crooked was some of the best. Our attempts at getting a last minute permit for EP16 in 2019 failed and forced our hand at doing the tried and true Seagull-SAK-Sag loop so for 2020 we were determined to get a permit that worked for everyone in the party and we were lucky enough to grab one for entry on the 25th with me, my dad (Captn Tony), my uncle Jon, and my cousin Nick.
We had one goal in common - get up out of the crowds, find some solitude, and put on our fishing caps and catch some fish!
Day one prior to entry we booked up a camp site near our entry point at Fenske Lake so we could get up early and head out. The campground was surprisingly full (or not surprisingly for 2020) but we had a nice site to get all our food packed up since we met my uncle and cousin up there and relax prior to the morning. We enjoyed a couple Castle Danger Cream Ale's in the sticky heat. If anyone recalls the night of July 24th it was about as hot and muggy as I have had up there. Hopefully it would cool down in the coming days.
We got up bright eyed and bushy tailed and headed to EP16 on Saturday morning. Upon arrival at the entry point it was easy to tell that this was going to be a super highway of people going in and out as the parking lot was overflowing with vehicles.
We unloaded our kevlar's and the rest of the gear and made our way down the long, but flat, starting portage to the Moose River. A man going down the portage path the opposite direction told me we had a lot of fishing rods to which I responded "Well yeah, you need a jigging rod, a slip bobber rod, a trolling rod, a rod for northern/bass, and a back up rod in case one breaks!"
We got on the river and began our long river paddle towards LLC. The water appeared to be quite a bit lower than usual but was still adequate enough to allow us to go over many of the beaver dams on the trail or at least enough room to scootch the Souris over a few of them on our journey. What really tipped us off of to the low water was the small trickle of water going over what were supposed to be rapids or waterfalls. Aside from the low water it was a nice quite journey with a little rain to keep us cool on our journey.
We each setup a single rod at the second portage in the event we would have some opportunities to cast on the water to our day 1 destination of Boulder Bay on LLC. Nick caught a smallie under one of the portage "rapids/boulder fields" and I was able to pick up a small walleye coming out onto Agnes using a drop shot with a ring worm on a hook.
We continued on, very nervous about finding a camping spot as Agnes was about as busy a lake than I have ever seen in 25 years of coming up here. We opted to skip the Boulder River route believing that we would save time just portaging from Agnes straight to LLC to Boulder Bay.
After a long day of paddling we began our short search for a camp. We had labeled a couple 4 star camps on Boulder Bay and to our luck they were both open. We opted to stay at the western most spot. Time to setup camp.
It was my supper night so I made buffalo chicken mac n' cheese with instant pudding as dessert. Wow, did that hit the spot. It was good to get some energy into the system before we headed out to find some fish.
After supper we rigged up our fishing poles. Our first goal was to head to the Boulder River since we had read some past forum comments about how good the fishing can be there and some guys on the portage said they hammered all kinds of fish in the river but upon going part ways up the river we discovered that it was very shallow and did not appear to be what would be a desirable depth for walleyes or the larger fish. So either the reports for early season and the advice we received was incorrectly given to us.
We believed for the end of July that, for the most part, the larger fish would be out in deeper water suspended over reef's or near deeper drop off's. We left the River and headed out past the bay since it was only at most 8 ft deep. I picked up a couple small walleyes dragging a gold and purple Flicker shad with a 1 oz weight to bring it deeper and Nick ended up catching a 16 inch walleye with a Lindy rig off a point. Not a great first night of fishing but we weren't skunked and our final destination was still ahead of us.
So with full bellies it was time to hit the sack and dream of good days to come.
I prepped a hearty breakfast of warm instant white rice in milk w/brown sugar and cinnamon while Captn Tony caught some smallies from shore on leeches and slip bobbers. We enjoyed the quite beauty of the morning in the BWCA before we packed up and prepped our fishing rods for fishing on our way to Iron Lake.
Our initial fishing thoughts from reports was to target around 15-20-25 ft of water for the walleye and so we rigged our rods with Flicker shads and put a swivel about 3 ft in front of it with a 1 oz. clip on weight to get it down to the deeper depths. The plan was to troll through spots that looked to hit our fishing parameters on the way through Tiger Bay to Iron Lake.
We swung around the corner prior to Tiger Bay with a friendly light wind pushing along a steep rock ledge. The trusty Garmin Echomap 93SV showed us at 22 ft so we ran the canoes 22 ft on the quick drop off and BAM! something hits the line. 24 inch walleye. We circle back and hit the contour again and BAM! 4 pound smallie. We let the wind drift us over a 10-15 ft point right after the drop off and my Garmin is showing me stacks of fish. We go over the point half a dozen times and the party picks up some more smallies and some small walleye. We should have stayed at our camp and focused on Tiger Bay a little bit more! But, no, we are determined to get to Iron Lake where we can try out our fishing knowledge on our researched spots.
So far weather is great and all insects, aside from stable fly's, are really a non-issue.
We see a few other canoes on their way out as we continue to the Bottle Lake portage. Due to the low water this year, the end of Bottle portage is a mud hole. We do some head scratching to figure out the best way to get all our gear in the canoe and stay clean and finally admit to ourselves that we will be getting muddy. So we step through the stinky mud trying to avoid a shoe falling into the brown abyss and get items loaded.
Back on the water! We clean our shoes over the sides of the canoe and carry-on. A little bit later we are sitting on our furthest destination - IRON LAKE -
We have a laser focused agenda to try and get to Petersen Island where there is a 4 star camp spot but as we checked other camps as we went along we saw another group coming behind us. None of the camps looked all that great and we wanted to try and get to a remote spot to put us close to a lot of the contours we had been scoping out on our maps.
As we drew closer to the Petersen Island spot I figured that we wouldn't get it because we have had great luck in getting the spot we wanted for years and years and that luck was bound to change.
As we rounded the corner for the camp we see people at the camp! I KNEW IT!! Our luck had finally went the other way and we would be looking for something closer to Curtain Falls, which was frustrating since the camps were quite a ways apart and we were pretty tired from prior days paddling. WAIT! COULD IT BE? I see someone carrying a pack down to a canoe. yes! Yes! YES! they are leaving. What luck again, we end up rolling into Petersen Island camp just as the other group is leaving.
What a great camp, the reviews weren't lying. A great fire pit, nice pads for a couple tents and space between the pines to set up some relaxing hammocks. We made it in time for some lunch before Nick and I decided to put the fishing gear in the canoe and explore a little bit. Unfortunately the wind had picked up quite a bit and it was making trying to fish the deeper unprotected waters difficult to navigate. We fish around Petersen Island pulling some cranks and pick up a couple small pike and a bass.
We decide to call it a day and relax to a nice supper of fish and rice. Our wills to fish were not strong enough to overcome the winds that we saw whipping around the island. We decided to fish around the point of the island with slip bobbers and leeches and picked up a couple small walleye before we went to sleep.
Day 4 we woke up to the sun starting to come up but the wind in a calm mood. We quickly got dressed and got on the lake determined to start our quest for fishing greatness!
Our group headed for a presumed well known reef on the lake. Captn' and I worked the west east side with a more gradual grade and were focusing on the 13-16 ft range while Jon and Nick worked the end of the reef and were in a little faster sloping grade where they fished 20 ft or so.
My canoe started with slip bobbers with jig heads a leeches and instantly bobbers starting dropping and we started picking up really nice smallmouth. This was followed up by the sporadic walleye in the 15 inch range. We motioned for Jon and Nick to get over and we both anchored down and caught walleye at a good rate for about 30 minutes. As it began to slow I decided that slip bobbering wasn't really giving us a good gauge of where the fish were actually sitting since we were in one small spot around this whole reef area so we pulled the anchor and let the very small breeze push us along the reef and we casted 1/4 oz. jigs with leeches while I tried to keep us at the 14-16 ft. depth range. This was the key! We started to catch multiple walleyes each time we went down this contour! We would cast our jigs up wind and let them sink and just drag them enough to avoid snags and the fish would snatch them up. What a great start to our target lake! we got some nice sized pike and smallies mixed in as well.
The sun was up and we were getting hungry. We knew we had fish for supper now so it was time to go back and grab some breakfast and do some exploring of the lake.
We enjoyed some warm cup's of joe and and dad did blueberry pancakes with the wild berries we had found on the island.
A group decision was to scope out another well known fishing spot and tourist attraction, Curtain Falls, which was located on the east side of Iron Lake. We put away breakfast and headed to the falls. The wind had picked up quite a bit by this point so we did try to fish on the way but the wind, again, was making it challenging. I was glad we had grabbed the Petersen Island camp because all camps all the way to the falls were taken.
When we we arrived at the falls we were not surprised to see that the falls, though still a strong current, wasn't necessarily what it normally was based on the low water. This made us question whether the fishing would be as good as we had heard it could be at the falls. None the less, we made a quick lunch at the base of the current going into Iron and threw out some jigs and spinners. We quickly caught some smallies and I picked up a walleye using Mepp's and also jigs. The bite wasn't to fast so I opted after finishing up my PB & J to use the shore and the rocks available to walk up closer to the top of the falls to see how the fishing was. I presumed that not as many people took the time to walk and fish the pools between the lake and the base of the falls.
I arrived at what would be the second pool and switched over to a burnt orange jig head (worked in the morning on eyes) and a black ring worm. Instantly I started pulling in smallmouth in a variety of sizes from less than a pound to the 3 pound range. THIS IS GOING TO BE A GREAT DAY! In fact this could be one of the best days of fishing I have had in the BWCA.
After a couple bite offs from what I'm presuming are pike, I decide to move up to the third pool and hope that the guys back at the canoes are catching fish and not just wanting me to come back so that they can head back to camp.
"The fishing is to good, they can go back without me. I will swim back to camp HAHA"
As I began to fish the third pool I was using the ringworm and catching fish. I picked up some smallies, a pike, and a walleye! But after about 7-8 fish it seemed to die down. I switched to a rebel crawdad noticing the smallies were spitting out red residue, presumably digested crawdads but I only caught one fish on them. They weren't working real well. As I sat there contemplating what I could switch to the rest of the group hollered at me from up at the actual falls. They had cut around me on land to scope out the falls. I holler over to the "how are you guys doing?" They respond that they have caught some fish and Jon had caught 3 more walleye back to back at the first pool! I was happy for them as one of my primary goals of this trip was to make sure that I could get Jon and Nick on some quality fishing. Jon hooked into a pike from afar while I was still contemplating what to use.
Dad, decided with the wind he was ready to head back to camp and worked his way back to the canoes. The other three of us decided to fish but Jon and Nick stopped at my spot as I recalled to them how the fishing had been and what I had been using. I asked Jon what he had used to catch the fish and he said he had added a spinner attachment to his a swimbait.
Hmmmmm......that gave me an idea. I quickly pulled out my arsenal. Clear water with a tinge of brown from the tanins----so gold jig head with a gold spinner attachment. What else? Hmmmmmm.....well leeches always work well and the water is clear let's go with a black Powerbait twister tail......
BOOM! This lure was the ticket. Casting this out in the pool and slowly retrieving was it. Just like that I was on them. Bass, walleye, it didn't matter they all wanted what I was serving. It didn't take long before Jon and Nick had the same thing on and they were catching fish. I hope Captn' was enjoying his nap because he was missing out!
I'm convinced there were crappies in there to, unfortunately we weren't able to hook into one.
We headed back to camp into the wind towards camp to take a breather and prep for supper which consisted of some fresh walleye and soup. Just what we needed to replenish our energy after the wind.
So far, we haven't seen anyone on the lake aside from near the falls. It felt great to get away from everything happening in the world and detox on nature and fishing.
Next destination on our list was heading down through Petersen Bay to the falls of the Beartrap River. We had read that the fishing for all species would be great in the bay and since the wind was still raging on Iron this would give us a reprieve.
So after supper we switched up canoe partners, I went with Jon and Captn' went with Nick. Unfortunately the bay was not what we had imagined. It may have been a great place at normal water levels or in the early spring during spawn but this place wasn't going to produce what we wanted to catch, namely walleye and hoping for some large crappies. None the less, we paddled through the shallow grasses of the bay and past numerous beaver dens to the the falls which were barely spitting out water.
"Oh well, we have a story to tell and have seen the bay let's head back it's getting dark"
Jon thought he would put on a his "secret lure" and do a final cast next to the rock ledge at the "rapids". WHAM! 3.5 pound smallie! Okay that's a fluke, Jon just got lucky. As we continued down the shallow bay anytime we passed some rock's Jon would cast and hit smallie after smallie. I couldn't believe it. His lure was working! This Wh****r P***er :) :) is the real deal! (as of today two are added to my Amazon wish list HA)
We got back to camp as the sun was down and mosquito's came to satisfy their blood lust and hit the sack. We sat in the tents and reminisced about how great the days was and couldn't wait to get out tomorrow.
Up and at it again on Day 5, Me and the Captn' headed to the reef to pick up some walleye's and Jon and Nick, slightly behind us, decided to take a detour to the reef and fish around an island to catch a monster pike with his "lucky" 12 inch swim bait. Lucky because he may have caught a 20+ lb laker with it on a lake in the BWCA on it a couple years ago :)
While Uncle Jon was unbeknownst to us fighting and eventually losing his pike of a lifetime on his "lucky" lure (rumor has it that it was close to 40"), me and dad we continuing our fishing conquest on Iron and catching that nights walleye dinner.
We headed back to camp mid-morning for our coffee and pancakes. The wind again was making mid-lake fishing tough so we opted for casting to shore in our canoes for some smallies and pike. I threw on the legendary Zulu rig and it produced but who on this forum would expect any less from that setup. My dad was struggling to keep the canoe controlled in the wind so he was nonchalantly dragging a large tail dancer behind the canoe when he picked up a dandy 4.25 pound smallie.
The wind became to much and we headed back for lunch.
Dad and I decided to rest and climbed into our hammocks and recoup while Jon and Nick headed out to fish some more. These guys like to fish! I like these guys!
After my nap I explored the island and stumbled on a huge patch of blueberries which was a surprise to me since it had been so dry here. I picked as many as I could before I went to camp to prep my mind and body for a tasty meal of walleye and mash potatoes w/pepperoni.
Discussions for the final night of fishing on Iron resulted in the young bucks in one canoe and the seasoned brothers in the other. Jon wanted to continue on his conquest of a trophy pike so they went off in search of that while me and Nick went to explore a reef that had been discovered that morning that was not on any maps. As we went back and forth over this newly discovered reef I threw down a marker so we could visually see where the end of it was. we trolled over with cranks and were able to pick up a couple walleyes and as we went over the drop I could see fish stacked up on the sonar. It was time to anchor. We dropped anchor, loaded a leech on our jig heads and began to bring in walleye and smallies. What a great end to Iron Lake.
Day 6 was a travel day to get us closer to the entry point. We packed up our gear after a quick breakfast of oatmeal with wild blueberries and set off.
The wind was in our favor this day and the weather was nice a cool. We opted to take a different route on the way back to keep things fresh and after the horrid, muddy Bottle Lake portage we opted to go straight south from there and take the ranger station portage on LLC which would result in us back on Boulder Bay and very close to where we camped the first night. We paddled the boulder river and took different portage than we did on entry to get to Agnes. Another mud hole portage. It was abundantly clear at this time that although these portages may normally be muddy they were a mess with low water.
We made it onto onto lake Agnes in time for a later lunch. The lake was clearly full of campers as we say 5 canoes just canoeing on the lake. We were on the northeast side of the lake so we made our way down the side of the lake and finally found a open spot on the east side. I don't even know if this could have a star associated with this spot. Terrible spot, time to bust out the two-way radios and split up. Nick and I jump in the canoe and head across the lake to the west side to find a better spot. We found an empty camp across the lake but again, absolutely terrible. On our third attempt we found an acceptable camp site (maybe a 2 star?) littered with stable flies but at this point we couldn't be picky. We setup camp, made friends with a curious chipmunk, and relaxed for a bit.
We had alfredo and noodles for supper and rigged up for our final night of fishing.
I jumped in with Jon and we decided to troll across the lake and see if we could pick up a roaming pike on the way to a reef that we had seen on the depth charts. I did pick up a medium sized pike out deep on a 25 ft. rattling crank bait but that was it.
We arrived at the reef and fished around it as we tried to learn the grades and contours. I picked up a very nice smallie and two walleye while Jon continued his conquest with his secret lure and continued to entice pike and smallmouth to bite. It was amazing what this lure could do as the sun went down. Nick and Captn' came over to scope out what we were up to and they caught a couple fish as well. Nick caught his personal best walleye soon after at 26 inches which also had a bonus lamprey attached to it. This is the first I have seen a fresh water lamprey, they are an interesting creature.
We still had a lot of miles to cover so we got up early, again had oatmeal and headed south on the moose river from Agnes, through Nina, and back on the river. The water seemed to have lowered even more since our entry as we were getting hung up more on the beaver dams and the grass was slowing our canoes down which didn't seem to be as big of an issue on the way in.
We were glad we had chose to go in on the 25th as there were many groups coming in the day we were coming out. After a longer than expected exit we got to the final portage at around 2:30pm. The group coming out next to us offered us some PBR's as we packed up, we said our good bye's to Nick and Jon and hopped in on our way back to Iowa.
What a great trip! I had not been up with cousin Nick before and he was an excellent addition to the group for trips. I'm looking forward to my next trip with this group again. The weather was fantastic, the fishing panned out as we had hoped and nobody got hurt.
I have begun to lose track of how many times I have been up in the BWCA now but I am still awed by the beauty that this wilderness provides. I appreciate the opportunity to wake up in the mornings and feel like you are the only ones on the planet, hear a fish splash in the distance, see the fog raises to the sound of a loon, while sitting next to camp to the sound and smell of a crackling fire.
As this trip ends others are already in my head as I bring my maps out to see where I want to explore next. Maybe it's time to visit Isle Royale or shoot for another grand slam in the Quetico? Hard to say where I'm going but easy to say I will be back!
Cheers to all and thanks for reading!
*Credit to Jon and Nick Lyon for some of the pictures*