BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 18 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 6
Elevation: 1166 feet
On the Water- Monday July 20th-
On the water late considering how far we need to go today. Up the Horse river to the falls by 6pm. Started raining and NO campsites available. Mudrow-Alruss-Tin can Mike-Horse Lake-Horse River-Basswood. 13 miles by water. (not counting portages)
Tuesday July 21st-
Rain all night, all morning and all day. Went north by petroglyphs, table rock and the the Crocked Lake Narrows across Thursday bay to campsite. Basswood-Crooked Lake-Wednesday Bay-Thursday Bay. 11 miles in the rain.
Wednesday July 22nd-
Up early and calm winds to take advantage of, considering the big water we have to cross. Found beaver dam to lift over and did a portage from hell between Pandos lake and Chippewa Lake. VERY steep and slippery after rain. Many mud holes. Then the mile portage after Wagosh Lake to Gun Lake. Never saw another soul in a canoe or campsite the entire day! Thursday bay-Friday Bay-Pandos Lake-Chippewa Lake-Wagosh lake-Gun Lake. 11 miles by water.
Thursday July 23rd-
Finally had a dry night. got everything dry!!! A few portages today to Fourtown Lake campsite. Easy day by comparison. Gun Lake-Fairy Lake-Boot Lake-Fourtown Lake. 6 miles. Put the long miles at the first of the week for a buffer for contingencies!
Friday July 24th-
Last day. Stormed last night bad. A few portages today with one bad one between Fourtown Lake and Mudrow lake. To entry point by 1pm. Ready for a hot shower! 4 miles
45 miles by water
13 miles by portage (3 trips each)
58 miles total.
Hot Summer Nights on Crooked Lake
June 07, 2021
Number of Days:
Our alarm was set for 4:30, but I was wide awake by 4:00 and making last-minute checks of our gear and reviewing the route on the map. Because of concerns of low water levels on the Horse River we decided to take the alternative route to Crooked, one with the 320 rod portage. I had traversed that portage two years earlier, but that was at the end of a trip, when the food barrel was mostly empty. This year we would be double portaging that route with gear and food for an entire week, and the temperatures were predicted to be in the low 90s...
With a quick breakfast in the bunkhouse of breakfast burritos we had made in advance, we drove to the entry point and had our canoes in the water shortly after the sun broke over the horizon. It was going to be a glorious day and I felt so at home being back in canoe country. The paddle down Pickett Creek and across Mudro Lake went smoothly as I got used to paddling a solo canoe with a double bladed paddle. As is generally the case, the portages between Mudro and Fourtown were a pain in the you know what but we got through them and had smooth paddling, with little wind, across Fourtown, Boot, Fairy, and Gun lakes. Before we knew it we were ready to tackle the long portage between Gun and Wagosh. By that time the temperatures had climbed into the uncomfortable range and so we rested a bit and had some lunch and chatted for a while with another group of three paddlers who were coming out of Crooked and who had just finished the portage that we were mentally preparing ourselves to undertake. The heat and the weight of the full food barrel made me realize that no amount of off-season conditioning can fully prepare you for the rigors of a wilderness canoe trip. But step-by-step the three of us double portaged two canoes, a food barrel, three portage packs and our fishing gear across this lengthy portage. I think that the hardest part of the portage was the heat and the lack of wind. Thankfully we had all be keeping ourselves hydrated throughout the day, and forcing each other to keep drinking water.
We had hoped to spend the first night on Lake Wagosh, but we quickly found that the only campsite on the lake was occupied, so we continued to the next portage and on to Nikki Lake, where we found the sole campsite to be available. We set up our tents and skipped putting up our Nemo screen shelter since we were planning on breaking camp first thing in the morning. After a quick dinner of brats on tortillas which we grilled over the fire, we retired to our respective tents. It was a clear night and still a hot night, with little wind movement, so we kept the flies off the tents, but kept them stored right inside the tents. I remember waking up around 2:00 in the morning and looking up at a glorious night sky filled with more stars than I had seen in years and thinking to myself how blessed I was to be in a setting where I could witness such a wonderful sight. After enjoying the starlight for a period of time I fell back to sleep, only to be awaken shortly after 3:00 by the sounds of the three resident swans that we had seen earlier in the evening. They were trumpeting something fierce, and flapping their wings against the water in what seemed like unscheduled nighttime flight maneuvers. As I looked up in the sky I noticed that the stars were no longer visible and I soon saw flashes of heat lightning in the sky, illuminating heavy cloud cover. As I started to hear the rumble of thunder I called over to my buddy in his tent and the two of us quickly got up in the dark to put the flies on our tents just in time before the skies let loose with a tremendous thunderstorm. Thankfully we had battened down the hatches in time to keep ourselves and our gear dry and we each rode out the storm in our tents.
It didn’t take too long to dry our tent flies the next morning, and after heating more breakfast burritos that we had packed in frozen, we broke down camp and prepared for our second day of paddling, with our goal of finding a good base camp location at the top of Friday Bay. The paddling and portaging from Nikki Lake to Crooked Lake was relatively uneventful as we even had a slight tailwind to help us paddle up the length of Friday Bay. I was making good time paddling the solo canoe, so once we reached Crooked Lake we decided that I would paddle ahead to locate an open camp site at the top of Friday Bay. Before I started paddling north we reviewed the map and had a plan as to which sites I would look to first and then we set up a meeting location. As I paddled up Crooked Lake I was enjoying the beauty around me and getting into the rhythm of efficiently paddling with the double blades. However, because of the warm weather it wasn’t long before I had depleted my two 32 ounce Nalgene water bottles and I resorted to the old “dip and sip” method of filling a water bottle in the middle of the lake. Staying hydrated continued to be a major theme on the traveling days of this trip.
The first site that I had hoped to secure was taken and since it was the farthest site up on Friday Bay I began my backtracking to check the availability of the alternative sites that we had discussed. Luckily it didn’t take long before I found a prime island site that turned out to be an ideal location for our group, with a good landing spot, a nice kitchen area and with plenty of room for two tents and our screen shelter. As I unloaded my two packs from my canoe I spied my buddies in their tandem and they quickly saw me and we were able to get all our gear unloaded and decide on the layout of our camp for the next four nights. One of the first tasks, after getting tents set up, was to filter a good supply of water for the three of us.
I had upgraded my filtration system from my old stand-by pump to a Platypus 6 liter gravity filter and that turned out to be one of the best gear acquisitions in years, as we quickly had a 5 gallon jug filled with fresh filtered water without anyone getting worn out trying to hand pump the water. It was such an equipment upgrade that I was literally mesmerized watching how smoothly the water flowed from the “dirty” container into the clean container. With a basecamp arrangement, coupled by the hot weather, I knew that we would easily stay hydrated during this trip.
After taking some time to get settled into camp and rest a bit from paddling, we pulled out the rods and reels and tackle and got ourselves rigged up for some afternoon fishing. Our explorations near our campsite showed good promise as we reeled in a good number of smallmouth bass and a few pike. I pulled ashore at one point and loaded my canoe with several nice pieces of beaver driftwood, which we sawed into a nice stack of firewood for our evening meal.
Despite the high temperatures during the first two days of our trip, the New York strip steaks which I had seasoned and froze before the trip were a perfect temperature for our evening meal, as the water bottles that they were packed around were still frozen. I had purchased an “Ice Mule” soft-sided cooler that did an excellent job of keeping our fresh food for days 1 and 2 cold and/or frozen until it was time to use them. So we ended our second day of our adventure, having found our base camp and having gotten a good start at fishing, with a fireside meal of grilled steaks and mashed potatoes. After savoring our meal and enjoying the tranquility of another night in the wilderness, we retired to our tents for a restful sleep without any storms.
We started today with a hearty breakfast of pancakes and since the waters on Crooked Lake looked calm, we decided to make the trek over to Saturday Bay, to explore some new territory and hopefully find some active bass. Alas, as is often the case, it didn’t take too long before the winds started to pick up strength. As I paddled across the top of Friday Bay I quickly discovered that my solo canoe did not have enough ballast in the stern, as I had to really dig in hard to maintain a somewhat straight course. Once I realized the situation I charted the shortest course to a protected shoreline, where I pulled in and found an ample supply of rocks to level my load so that I could stay on course. This was something I hadn’t had to do in the past when paddling a tandem canoe. By the time we got to Saturday Bay the wind had picked up a bit and kept shifting directions, making the fishing difficult, particularly for me in my solo canoe. I did use my anchor bag quite frequently, picking it up to position my canoe in a new location and then dropping anchor and casting from my new position. We picked up a fair number of bass in the 15-17” range and a few decent northerns, but the wind and the sun made for a challenging day, particularly as the wind continued to pick up speed as the day progressed.
By late afternoon we rendezvoused our canoes near the entrance to Saturday Bay and decided that the strong southerly wind was going to make for a challenging paddle back to camp. After reviewing our maps we planned our route back to basecamp, noting how best to stay sheltered from the wind, and looking at areas where we could pull ashore if necessary.
The journey back to our basecamp went well until we reached he northeast corner of Friday Bay. At that point we were exposed to the full force of the wind as it whipped its way up Friday Bay. Seeing lots of whitecaps rolling up the lake I nosed my canoe into the shelter of a point that offered protection from the wind. We decided at that point to wait out the wind in this sheltered area that included a small cove and some flat rocks that made for a good resting spot, using our PDFs as pillows. While my buddy and I were resting in the sun and discussing how long we would wait out the wind, his 15-year old son, Gabe, was casting in the calm water of the cove and soon landed a couple nice bass.
After resting at this spot for a good 30 minutes I decided to explore the point of this peninsula. There was a small rock island about 60 feet past the end of the peninsula and so I rigged up a jig and decided to cast into the current between the point and the island. I was only halfway through my first retrieve when a walleye took my hook. Not having a stringer with me I released the fish. But when a caught a similar walleye on my second cast I hollered to my friends to bring a stringer. It literally took me about six casts before I had four nice eating sized walleyes on a stringer. I then caught and release another dozen walleyes over the course of the next hour. My buddies were having similar success, as we had clearly stumbled upon a school of walleyes hanging in the current off this point.
While this walleye frenzy kept us all occupied for a good hour, we noticed that the wind was starting to let up, although not by much. We also noticed that the sky in the west had turned black as an ominous bank of thunderheads was rolling in just a little too fast for our comfort. After looking at the time, and the waves that were still rolling up Friday Bay, we decided that it was time to load our canoes and make a dash across the bay to some islands that would offer shelter from the wind and give us the easiest route back to camp. Although we had all been looking forward to fresh walleye for dinner, we decided that weather conditions weren’t going to make it possible to spend the time filleting the fish on our stringer, nor did we want to paddle across the bay with a stringer towing behind a canoe, so we released the fish and watched each one swim strongly back to the deep.
The wind was still blowing hard as we crossed the bay, but it had definitely let up some from earlier in the day, and both canoes were spurred on by the dark clouds that were rolling in close behind us. We made it back to camp and put our canoes safely away for the day and I quickly rehydrated a meal of hamburger helper while the others made sure that everything in camp was secure and either in a tent or under the screen shelter. As we ate our dinner and put away dishes thunder was rumbling to the north of us in more intensity. There would be no evening of sitting by the water and relaxing. Instead we retired to our tents just minutes before the sky opened up with a torrent of rain, interspersed with lightning and loud cracks of thunder.
Thursday morning rolled around and the storm from the night before was replaced by sunshine. Although we received a much-needed dousing of rain, we were thankful that everything in camp was in order and dry. Breakfast was oatmeal today, which we were able to prepare, eat and clean up in quick fashion so that we could get back on the water to find more fish. Appropriately, we decided to focus our attention, that Thursday, on Thursday Bay. I had fished Thursday Bay before, so I went over the map with my partners and gave them suggestions for which bays to focus their attention, and we made plans to meet up near “little current” late afternoon. I was going to dawdle around camp a bit before heading out for fishing and I was going to focus on some other areas in order to give my buddies some space for fishing and taking advantage of the solo canoe.
I explored some small bays between Thursday and Friday bays and I had some good luck with smallmouth bass using a Whopper Plopper on the surface. It is definitely a thrill to watch a bass hammer a top-water bait, and the small bays that I initially fished were well protected from any wind, making my presentation more enticing. After working my way through two bays and having good luck with the fishing, I paddled over to Thursday Bay and went straight over to Little Current, which had very little current going through it compared to when I had been there two years earlier. The lower water levels were definitely noticeable at that landmark. Since my friends were fishing down in Thursday Bay proper, I headed east of Little Current and fished the islands and little bays that led toward Wednesday Bay. The fishing was good but a little slower than it had been earlier in the morning. As it was getting closer to the time when we had planned to meet near Little Current I paddled my way north and drifted down “Big Current” to get an idea of how the water flow compared to Little Current. I decided to switch to a jig, thinking that I could hook into a walleye or two as I lazily drifted through Big Current. While the water looked very fishy I had no strikes, and there was another canoe at the bottom of Big Current so I focused on staying out of their way, since they were ahead of me.
At the bottom of the run I pulled in my line and started paddling toward Little Current when I spied my partners who had pulled ashore near a vacant campsite. They weren’t exactly sure where “Little Current” was, so I told them that we were close and that they should just get back on the water and follow me. Since they had to get loaded back in their canoe I decided that I might as well drift my jig while I waited for them to catch up to me. That turned out to be the most fortuitous decision I made on the entire trip, because I had only had my jig in the water for a minute or two when it was struck hard. I set the hook and initially thought that I had gotten hung up on the bottom. But soon my rod was literally doubled over and line was zinging out of my reel, causing me to slightly adjust my drag. I knew at that time that whatever was on the other end of the line was quite a fish. It took me several minutes to work the fish to the surface, as it made two or three strong runs, reminding me of some of the salmon and trout I used to catch on fly rods when I lived in Alaska. When the fish finally showed itself I was amazed to see the biggest smallmouth bass I had ever seen in person and at that point I said a quick prayer that the fish wouldn’t go airborne and spit my hook. After a couple more short runs the fish was ready to land and thankfully I was able to maneuver the rod and my landing net to quickly bring the fish to the canoe. At that point I told my friends that we need to paddle to shore for pictures before I released this amazing bass. So I straddled the net handle under one leg and picked up a paddle and pointed my canoe to a good landing spot. Once I got out of my canoe and took a closer look at the fish in my net I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I fumbled through my backpack and pulled out my tape measure. A couple measurements confirmed that this fish was 21” in length and had a girth of 15”! Not only was I fortunate to land such a fish, but I did so with my buddies watching from their canoe, so that they were able to share in the joy that I was feeling at that moment. My friend Terry and I had fished a lot together when we both lived in Alaska and he had been with me when I caught my largest rainbow trout and my largest dolly varden and I had watched him land a couple halibut that weighed close to 150 pounds, so it was a special moment that he was able to share with my that day. After taking lots of pictures I released this fish back to the water and as she flipped and swam back into the deeper water I hoped that she would bring someone else as much joy as she brought me that afternoon.
After we released my bass we headed over to Little Current and spent about an hour catching some nice bass and a couple walleyes. However, we were unable to put enough eater walleyes on the stringer for a meal, so once again we released the fish and paddled home for a dehydrated dinner. As we sat around after dinner, listening to a chorus of frogs, I kept thinking how lucky I was that day, not only with landing a fish of a lifetime but simply being in a wilderness environment, connecting with nature and with good friends.
Despite the windy conditions we ended up having pretty good luck fishing, while also enjoy our last day so deep in the BWCA. Since our plans were to paddle about halfway back to our entry point, our evening activities focused on getting gear organized and packing up whatever was not going to be needed in the morning. When I zipped up my tent that evening our camp was halfway packed and I said a quick prayer for calm water in the morning.
Sometimes things work out just right, for when I climbed out of my tent shortly before sunrise I saw that we had clear skies and no wind. Before climbing out of my tent I stuffed my sleeping bag and liner into my compression bag and opened the valve on my sleeping pad. While the air was running out of the pad I quickly closed up the compression bag holding my clothes and gathered any other loose items in my tent and placed them in their proper stuff sacks. A quick roll of my sleeping pad had all my gear put away so I took that gear from my tent and put it into my portage pack. I hung my tent fly over our laundry line to let it dry while I took down the rest of my tent and began preparing breakfast. I was pleased to see that my partners were similarly progressing with taking down their tent. While I prepared breakfast they took down our screen shelter since there were no clouds in the sky.
After a quick breakfast did one more walk through of our campsite and after confirming that all gear was loaded in our canoes we slid our craft into the water and began our trek south down Friday Bay. Although this bay had sent us seeking shelter on two other days, that morning it was blessing us with calm water and just a slight breeze to keep down the temperature. Our trek to the first portage went without a hitch. Although we had lightened the load of the food barrel, we redistributed gear to keep loads close to equal. I also elected to carry our water container, which still had about a gallon of water after we filled everyone’s water bottles. I knew that it was going to be another hot day and I was willing to carry that water so that we could easily refill water bottles to stay hydrated. Our goal that day was to paddle past the mile long portage between Wagosh and Gun Lake, so that we had that beast behind us. Ideally we would find a decent campsite on Gun Lake where we could relax for the rest of the day. Our journey that day went pretty smoothly, as we traversed the portages more efficiently, being blessed with a nice breeze that kept the temperatures more within reason for us. I had a good lead on my partners as we doubled portaged the mile-long trail between Wagosh and Gun and we decided, as we finished the first leg of that portage, that I would load my canoe after I finished my second lap and paddle ahead to scout and hopefully find an open campsite on Gun.
As I put my canoe into the water on Gun Lake and loaded my packs into the vessel, I realized that the breeze that had been keeping my cool during the portage had turned into a strong gale of wind that was funneling right down the barrel portion of Gun. I really had to dig in deep with each paddle stroke to keep my canoe moving forward. Based on intel that I gathered from a group that had just crossed Gun from the other direction, I knew that the first two campsites I had hoped to get to were already occupied, and as I paddled by them I confirmed that tents were up and canoes were on shore at each site. So I paddled around the bend and was ecstatic to find one open campsite left on the lake, which, upon closer inspection, was a gem of a site with nice tent pads, an open area for fishing, and a sunset view, which we had been lacking at our basecamp site on Crooked Lake.
I pulled ashore and unloaded my gear to claim the site, and then I just sprawled out on the rock face near the lake to rest for about an hour before my partners came paddling around the point. They took a slower pace on their last leg of the portage, but they also struggled to paddle against the same wind that I faced while traveling down the barrel of Gun. We took a walking tour of the campsite and decided on tent placements and spent the rest of the day lounging, fishing from shore, and eventually swimming (and washing off a couple layers of grime). At the end of our last full day in the BWCA the three of us sat on a large flat rock and watched the sun slowly dip below the horizon.
Today was takeout day, which is always a day of mixed emotions for me. While I’m always looking forward to a big bacon cheeseburger and a good shower, there is always a part of me that would rather remain behind in the wilderness, exploring lakes and trails for the first time and living a more peaceful pace of life. But these trips into the wilderness always come to an end, and as the trip leader I always want to make sure that we safely finish each trip. So we loaded our gear after a hearty breakfast and continued our journey back to the Mudro entry point. We paddled out of Gun and then across Fairy, Boot and Fourtown without any hitches, but as we started the 3-stage portage between Fourtown and Mudro, Mother Nature wanted to make sure that we had things to remember the trip by, so the sky which had started without nary a cloud earlier that morning suddenly turned dark and then opened up with a torrent of rain that kept us soaking wet until we got back to our vehicle.
All in all it was a great trip. We had extreme heat, some heavy downpours, some windy days and some amazing wilderness meals and epic fishing. Even though we were all soaked as we loaded canoes back on our vehicle, we were already planning on a return trip.