BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 26 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1324 feet
"This trip will be taking off from Fall Lake up through Newton Falls portage onto Pipestone Bay campsites. 3 day, 2 night trip into the wilderness.
A Trip to the South Arm of Knife Lake
May 31, 2008
Number of Days:
We arrived in Ely at 4am after making the 4-hour drive from my north metro home. While catching a cat nap along one of the town's quiet side streets, I was suddenly awakened by a shadowy figure staggering past my window. It was a young man, probably in his mid twenties. After glancing off a wall, he crossed the street, bounced off a hedge and disappeared around a corner. The gentleman had either been over-served, or was sleepwalking. At any rate, his timing could not have been better. Who needs an alarm clock? It was just after 5am. We stopped in at Voyager North Outfitters, picked up our permit and purchased some bait. Friendly folks at VNO! After Mike had watched "the video" (his punishment for staying home last year), we were off to Williams & Hall Outfitters on Moose Lake for our tow. After arriving, we unloaded the truck and carried the canoe and our packs down to the loading docks. It was still a little early, so we spent some time on the beautiful log deck of the lodge overlooking Moose Lake. Around 7am, the manager came out to meet us and arranged to put us on the first tow out. The tow boat operator secured the canoe to the boat's rack while we loaded up our packs. Soon we were motoring across Moose, then Newfound and finally Sucker Lake. We pulled into the Birch Lake portage at 8:15am. After unloading the tow boat, we crossed the short portage to Birch and put in. Travelling northeast, we made our way through Carp, Melon and Seed Lakes, finally reaching Knife at 11:15am. We stopped for a photo of the "Rainbow Rock" and paddled around Isle of the Pines. After having lunch at a campsite on the south shore, we continued east to the middle of the South Arm. Much of the central South Arm appeared to have suffered blowdown in the 1999 storm and more recently had been burned. We arrived at our target campsite nearest the 130 rod portage to Sema at 2pm. It was a great site - flat, spacious and even had a sandy beach out front. This would be home for the next two nights. After setting up, we headed out for some fishing just south of our campsite around some small islands. But we had only limited success, picking up a pike and a whitefish. We headed back to camp for some dinner. Venison brats were on the menu. They were roasted on sticks over an open fire. We enjoyed the campfire and pleasant weather before retiring to the tent for the evening. We were beat. The push in and lack of sleep had finally caught up to us.
After a bacon and eggs breakfast, we hit the water. We were hopeful for better fishing than we had experienced the afternoon before. This time out we targeted the group of islands northwest of camp. I picked up a nice 17.5 inch smallmouth in front of the campsite next to the 30 rod portage that leads north to Knife Lake. The water was still very cold and the fish seemed lethargic with very little fight in them at all. While jigging a GULP minnow past the eastern most island, I tied into my very first BW lake trout - a nice 24-1/2 incher. And unlike the other fish we'd caught, this fish fought back! After a quick photo, the fish was released. Mike had never caught a lake trout and wanted to cross it off his list. We now had a mission. It was mid morning and we decided to portage into Sema Lake. The portage to Sema was located just south of our campsite. I had read Sema held lakers and we thought the lake's smaller size would give us a good chance of hooking up. I had read nothing about the nasty portage we would encounter. The first section was an uphill quagmire of boot-sucking mud and running water, then 50 rods of rocks and roots, ending with another section of running water and slippery rocks. Sema is a bowl shaped lake. Without electronics, we would have to locate the fish the old fashioned way. We trolled flashy spoons along the northern shoreline without any luck. We took a break to stretch our legs and walked the portage to the ponds that lead to Spoon Lake - viewing scorched hillsides along the way. After returning to our canoe it was decided our strategy would be to just let the wind drift us across the middle of the lake, back to the portage. We would jig our spoons as we drifted along. Soon Mike had a fish on, but lost it. Next I felt a tug, set the hook and boated a nice 2 pound lake trout. As we neared the portage shore, Mike caught his first laker. He released the fish, and with our mission accomplished, it was time to head back to camp for lunch. BW pizza was on the menu. Delicious! Later in the afternoon, we trolled around our area of the lake enjoying the nice weather and escaping the pesky black flies that had unfortunately appeared back at camp. Toward sundown, we spotted a cow moose in a back bay right behind our campsite. She was lying down in the water. She stood up and as she sauntered up the bank, a calf appeared at her side. They turned and looked back at us as we slowly paddled away.
Moving day. We broke camp at 8am this morning. Our destination (we hoped) was the narrows campsite on Cherry Lake. We worked our way up through Amoeber and Topaz, both very picturesque lakes. There was some evidence of blowdown on the latter. The water levels on this route were high and both ends of the portages were generally flooded. Around 11am we entered Cherry. We were immediately taken by the canyon like feel of the lake, surrounded on all sides by high hills or towering cliffs. Both campsites on the lake were open. We opted for the site on the narrows. It was a sprawling site with two separate and level tent pads well away from the fire grate area. There was a grassy, pine needle carpeted canoe landing just down the shore from the main camp. The fire grate area was open and airy. This was a great site for a large group. We would make it work :-) It was tacos for lunch, then we headed out on the lake to catch some fish for the frying pan. Although the fishing was slow, Mike boated a fat lake trout which we later enjoyed with some garlic mashed potatoes. That evening, we had a nice campfire before hitting the hay.
The next morning we spent some more time exploring the east end of Cherry Lake. We paddled the entire shoreline and discovered a small spillway on the north shore that originated on Lunar Lake high above. We walked the portage to Lunar, a very tough 45 rodder with alot of elevation. After a rocky hillside climb, it levels off in the middle section through a marshy area, then twists straight up a rocky outcropping. It then follows an old creek bed before ending at a beaver dam. Once back at camp we had lasagna and garlic fry bread for lunch. In the afternoon, we decided to check out the west end of the lake and came across two gentlemen in a tandem canoe that belonged to a group of six from Green Bay. While we were out exploring, they had moved into the site on the west end of the lake. They also had found the fishing to be slow and had caught just one walleye between the six of them. As we trolled back to camp, Mike tied into a large fish. However he lost it along with my Syclops spoon when it snapped the line on a run. And we never even got to see the thief!
We tore down camp early the next morning by 7am, heading for Hanson Lake. The group from Green Bay had mentioned that the Cherry/Hanson portage was a bastard. We were anxious to get it behind us. The 110 rod portage contained alot of elevation changes, more than any other on our route. It was definitely a challenging portage, but we took it slow and soon were pushing off the other end of the portage onto Hanson Lake. Hanson was quiet and seemed completely void of people. We dropped our packs off on the campsite just around the corner from the portage, and crossed the deserted lake. It was our plan to explore the Pitfall Lake PMA which lies just to the east of Hanson. We portaged and paddled our way to Link Lake where we were greeted by a pair of eagles. As we passed through Gift and Fish Lakes we entered an area completely burned. It was not until Nawakwa Lake that we saw living mature trees again. As we retraced our route and re-entered Fish Lake, a cow moose and calf swam across the narrows in front of us. With so little cover, they wasted no time putting distance between us. After exiting the PMA, we picked up our packs on Hanson and turned south to portage back to the South Arm of Knife Lake. This was one pretty portage. The Hanson end has a couple of large cedar trees slinking way down over the lake, their roots creating giant root balls. The portage follows a pond, then a large creek to a wonderful waterfall seemingly in the middle of the forest. At the base of the waterfall grow two giant twin cedars. The whole area around the falls is lush with green vegetation. Beautiful! At the Knife Lake end of the portage there is a nice sand beach. We pushed off and made our way towards Toe Lake where we intended to spend the next two nights. We crossed the short portage into Toe and paddled up to the site - what a beauty! We landed the canoe, unloaded and went right to setting up the tarp since rain looked imminent. Just as the tarp was secured and all the gear had been moved under it, the rain arrived. It began slowly, then came down in buckets. We realized our good fortune as we sat staring out over the rain swept lake from our dry haven. What a difference a few minutes makes! As the rain continued to fall, I made a large pot of Bear Creek wild rice soup. It really hit the spot on this cool, wet afternoon. We cleaned up the dishes, and then, with the rain having moved out, we got around to the business of setting up camp. We now were able to take a better look around and noticed all the blowdown on the hillside behind the campsite. It must have really been something before the the storm of 1999 took out so many large mature trees. Later we trolled the boggy shorelines of Toe Lake, catching numerous pike and smallmouth bass. The beavers were very busy, with two active lodges on the lake. Later, back at camp, Mike got a fire going and we dried out before turning in for the night.
It was caramel fry bread for breakfast this morning. Awesome! After breakfast we headed out the north portage of Toe to fish some islands to the east that we had passed the day before. They looked fishy and they didn't disappoint. And the fish were much feistier now than they had been earlier in the trip. We landed 16 walleyes and several nice smallmouth bass in an hour and a half, keeping a couple for the stringer. Back at camp, fresh walleye was on the lunch menu, along with Stove Top stuffing. It doesn't get any better! After we'd cleaned up the dishes, I tossed out a bobber and jig tipped with a leech right out front of the campsite. Before long, I had pulled out a pike, a smallmouth bass and a couple of blue gills. We made a wood run to one of Toe Lake's two islands. After depositing the wood at our campsite, we headed back up to the island area on Knife that we had fished successfully earlier that morning. We caught and released another 8 walleyes before heading back to camp. Mike got a nice campfire going (he's a bit of a pyro). We stayed up a little later this night, talking and listening to the night sounds of lake country in early June.
It had rained overnight - alot. There was about two inches of water in the cook pot that had been left outside. We packed up and were on the water by 7am. We exited Toe via the southern portage back into the South Arm of Knife. We paddled the short distance to Eddy Falls. After taking some photos at the falls, we walked up the portage to Eddy Lake. The portage offers a nice vista of Knife Lake. We then made our way back to the canoe and began the long paddle west across the South Arm. With an east wind, we made great time. Walking the charred portage back to Bonnie Lake gave us a chance to rest and stretch our legs. Continuing on our journey to the southwest through Knife, we noticed several groups of canoes coming in from the area of our next destination, Big Knife Portage. We passed through Seed Lake, Melon Lake and Carp Lake, before finally arriving on Birch Lake once again. The wind had now changed direction and was blowing out of the southwest and its intensity was building. Battling a strong head wind, we passed by several water logged campsites on the east end of Birch before settling on one at mid lake located on a small bay. We pulled up on shore and unloaded the canoe. The sky was threatening rain again. Tired and hungry, we struggled to setup the tarp in the gusting wind. Next the tent went up. We kept lunch simple - Ramen noodles. It hit the spot, but we were beat. We decided to wait out the wind and rain in the tent and took a short nap. We needed it. The entire time the wind whipped and the rain pelted. We woke up two hours later and scrounged the campsite for fire wood which wasn't easy to come by. As it turned out, it wouldn't be needed. There would be no fire tonight, the wind and rain saw to that. There was no way we were going to be able to get out on the lake to fish under the windy conditions. The time was instead used to organize our gear and get everything in order for our exit the next morning.
The wind was still blowing hard the next morning, but we decided to give fishing a go since it would be our last opportunity. It was a battle and the twelve fronts that had moved through seemed to have given the fish a severe case of lock jaw. We fished unsuccessfully for an hour, then headed back to camp. We watched several more groups coming in, riding the southwest wind toward Knife. Our exit route would take us in the opposite direction unfortunately. Now completely packed, we weighed our options. The wind wasn't letting up and we had a date with a tow boat to keep. We loaded up the canoe and pushed off. We hugged the shoreline whenever possible. It got intense. The waves broke over the bow as we bobbed up and down like a cork. At times we made no progress, but kept digging. Eventually, as we entered the more protected bay that ended at the portage to Sucker Lake, the wind lightened and we could relax a little and rest our tired arms. We landed the canoe, crossed the portage and waited for our tow. We were a couple hours early. Several groups crossed the portage as we waited. A friendly tow boat operator out of Canoe Country Outfitters pulled up and waited with us. He was looking for his 11am pickup. When they didn't show, he headed up to Prairie Portage - their other exit option. Our tow boat arrived a half an hour early - at 12:30pm. We loaded up the canoe and our gear, then hung on for the bumpy 40 minute ride back to Williams & Hall. No way would I have wanted to paddle the lengths of Sucker, Newfound and Moose Lakes in this wind. On this day, the tow fee was money well spent. Once back at Williams & Hall, we packed up the truck, then enjoyed a complimentary beer and shower. Good folks at Williams & Hall! Soon we found ourselves at the Ely Steakhouse where we enjoyed a cold beer and a burger, before making the drive home.