BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 05 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 27
Elevation: 1356 feet
Moose Lake - 25
Appeasing the fish gods
June 15, 2010
Snowbank Lake Only (28)
Number of Days:
Myself and my other buddy Dag, both had to work a half day before leaving for Ely. Longest morning of my life! I began planning this trip in December and bought the permits in February. I told myself I would plan this trip so meticulously that nothing would be forgotten. Fat chance.
Everything was loaded in the truck and ready to go the night before. I got off work at noon, picked up the 15'5" royalex Bell Star from the U of M rec center, loaded it on the truck, grabbed my other buddy Kid, who was waiting for me at my triplex in Minneapolis, picked up Dag from Maplewood, and began the 4 and a half hour jaunt from the Twin Cities to Ely. We stopped at an off ramp in Pine City to tighten up the straps on the canoe. About 10 minutes later, Dag pulls a tick off of his back. He didn't step more than 2 ft from the truck on the off ramp. Amazingly enough, that would be the only tick anyone would find for the whole trip.
After checking into our motel in Ely (Adventure Inn, nice, cheap place, definitely recommended), we headed over to Spirit of the Wilderness outfitters and spoke with Jinni (sp?) about getting all of our gear ready, nicest people there. We dropped off the Bell Star, grabbed our packs and other miscellaneous stuff, brought it back to the hotel, and then had a much deserved dinner at the Ely Steakhouse. I hadn't been to Ely since 2006 and hadn't realized how much I missed it till I was walking on Sheridan again. I later found out at the end of our trip that the Ely Surf Shop had closed. I couldn't believe it, the place had the best malts EVER! After we stuffed our packs (which had way more than they should have) we passed out around 3am and were up by 6am to be at Spirit for our drop off and tow.
A quick Subway breakfast, a stop at The Great Outdoors to speak with Jim about some laker tips and to grab a pound of leeches, then back to the outfitters for our drop off and tow. We get dropped off at the portage leading into Splash Lake. It's slightly overcast and about 70 degrees with almost no wind at all, very ideal conditions. I took the royalex canoe solo while Dag and Kid took a 17' Alumacraft rented from Spirit. After a quick and easy 25 rod portage (the guys were surprised at how easy it was, since I had told them portages were no cake walk) and then 1 more 5 rodder, we were into Ensign, this one we were just able to carry the canoes with everything loaded. I had a specific campsite in mind, and it was only 11am, so I was fairly confident we'd get it. After about 20 minutes of paddling, Dag and Kid really started to develop that important rhythm between bow and stern and I was quite impressed. Soon the zigzaging stopped and they managed to pass me up.
Finally our camp site was in view, from the back end at least, and I saw no canoes or tents. Awesome! I pull my canoe up, follow the trail to the actual campsite on top of the huge rock. This one will work PERFECT! The guys pulled back over to the actual landing spot and out hops Dag from the bow onto the flat rock extending about 5' just under the water, perfect landing. As Dag and I are looking up the rock at our new home for the next 18 hours, we hear a loud splash behind us and turn around to see Kid completely submerged save for his leather fedora which was resting perfectly with the bottom of the brim on the water, still on his head, flailing his arms about under water. He claws his way back to the landing outcropping with an incredulous look on his face. I guess I forgot to tell him to make sure there is something solid to step on when getting out of a canoe in the water, as the 5' rock outcropping abruptly turned into a 7' drop off. At this point Dag and I are laughing hysterically while Kid has an embarrassing grin on his face and he's soaked from hat brim to toe, but the wet gear holds up and all that is lost is a pair of sun glasses, and maybe a little bit of pride. I now inform them that the bowman is first in and last out.
We're all eager to get camp finished and start casting lines, so we set up shop and head out for some fishing, and Kid strikes first with a small northern, but that's about it for the daytime. I love Ensign, it's a great lake and I haven't been on it in 10 years, brings back a lot of Camp Buckskin memories. After dinner of brats and taters we decide to make use of the of the leeches and head out looking for some wallys. After doing some extreme exploring through an uncharted stream, Dag finds a rocky little bay and says "Hey, I'm gonna drop a leech down there." This bay holds the entrance to a 205 (or 240) rod portage into Boot Lake and we fish just off to the right of the entrance. Dag doesn't have his bobber and leach in the water for more than 30 seconds and BAM, 20 inch wally just like that. Next thing you know, we're slaughterin the eyes. They were biting in 6'-12' of water. Must have caught at least 20 in a 2 hour time period, most between 15" and 20" the biggest was 22." We paddled back across the lake to the camp site with walleye in tow on the stringer, put them in a makeshift live well someone had made on the shoreline, and prepped for a fish fry. MMMM hmmmm, there is nothing like fresh walleye fillets wrapped in tin foil roasting on some hot coals smothered in garlic powder and lemon jui...ahhh crap, I forgot the garlic and lemon juice, then I realized I forgot the maple syrup for pancakes, and the baked beans, and ALL THE CONDIMENTS!!! Which of course are not needed, but still nice to have, so all we got is Franks Hot Sauce and salt and pepper. Still delicious. With our bellies full, and content with a night of successful fishing, day 1 comes to a close.
We awake about 8am, which is later than I hoped. It takes us almost 2 hours to break camp, eat breakfast and get moving. I'm confident that we'll develop more efficient ways to break down camp and get started as the trip progresses. As we paddle across Ensign, I'm mentally preparing myself for the 55 and 105 rod portages that await us. The 55 rodder into Ashigan goes fairly smooth. I'd heard Ashigan was a decent smallie lake and was very tempted to throw out a couple casts, but with the wind in our faces I decide against it and resolve to fish all evening for lakers on Ima. The dreaded 105 is just up ahead. This portage was a hassle!! Mostly uphill, ankle deep mud, sharp rocks and fallen trees. We try and single portage the whole thing in one trip, but end up dropping a couple packs halfway through.
We stop at Cattyman Falls for some exploration, pictures and a quick lunch. A couple guys with their son/nephew ask if we might have a couple leeches they could use for fishing, so I load about 2 dozen in a bag and wish them good luck...we must remember to appease the fish gods. There's still a good 10- 15mph wind in our faces coming out of the east, which seems a little strange, but I know I'll be thankful to have it at my back tomorrow.
The channel on Jordan leading up Ima is absolutely gorgeous and we take our sweet time going up it. After an easy 5 rodder we're at Ima Lake. Just off to the right of the portage is a filleted walleye carcass sitting on a rock. The thing was HUGE! Easily 8-10lbs when alive. While I'm a bit disgusted that someone would leave the fish there to rot, at the same time I'm hoping it's a sign from the fish gods telling me that there are big ones in Ima waiting to be caught. After briefly getting lost (this is where I learn how handy having a compass is) we settle on the back end of an island on the far side of Ima, after seeing that almost all sites had been taken. I would rate this one 2.5 out of 5. Nothing special. As we start to pull our canoes out of the water, I glance across the lake, and a look of dismiss crosses my face. Big, dark rain clouds approaching. I estimate that we don't have more than an hour before it hits us, so we throw up the tent, filter some water and throw all the gear in the tent. Dark clouds are now above us but no rain yet, so we take a couple of casts from shore. It was here we notice the air is thick with mayflies, there must have been a huge hatch close by because there are thousands of them, and about 10 ft from shore you can see fish fins exit and return into the water as they feast on the falling flies. We would later come to find that this hatch would dictate the outcome of fishing for the rest of the trip. After about 5 or 6 casts the rain starts to hit pretty hard, so we bee lined for the tent and there we would remain for the rest of the night. So much for laker fishing on Ima. But what fishing time was lost was made up with a nice steak and potato dinner in the tent cooked on our camp stove, and reciting endless movie quotes till we couldn't laugh any more. We fall asleep to thunder and rain.
The next morning dawns bright and clear...AND WINDY!! On top of that, the wind has shifted directions and is now coming from the west! After a quick egg-a- moob breakfast and water refill, we attempt to cross Ima. The wind is pushing in our faces at about 30-40mph and I'm solo in a 15 ft canoe. Regardless of how proficient a canoer I am, I get tossed around quite a bit and end up paddling backwards for most of the crossing of Ima. By the time we reach the portage into the Jordan channel, my shoulders, back and arms are on fire. I'd estimate it took us almost 40 minutes to cross all of Ima, and we still had a ways to go. The other guys seemed to slice through the waves for the most part, and I would end up seeing their backs for the remainder of the time on the water.
I really enjoyed the portage from Jordan to Cattyman, it's fairly easy after the first initial hill and the scenic view over what looks like a great smallie bay is very pretty. We snag a couple of good panoramic pics on Adventure with Disappointment Mountain looming in the background and stop at the beginning of the Adventure to Jitterbug portage for a few casts in front of some inviting looking lily pads, and Dag manages to reel in a 6" (yes that's right, six inch) northern on a Mepp 4. We easily portage over to Jitterbug, and as I'm launching my canoe from the portage and am getting ready to sit down, the left bottom of the canoe hits a hidden rock under water and my sturdy skiff lurches to the right. My hands are gripped firmly on the gunnels at this point, and in a split second I realize that I have to decide if both me and the canoe are going in the water, or just me. Since the food pack was situated in the bow, and all my fishing gear was in the boat...I let go of the gunnels and over I went, straight into 3 ft of water and a ft of muck. At least the food and the inside of my canoe were saved. I gather myself and attempt a second and more successful launch as my buddies are snickering at me. That's 2 for 3 gone overboard.
The portage from Jitterbug to Ahsub was well hidden, and if it had not been for a photo of it that I had seen in Koda’s trip report , I would have missed it entirely, as the other canoe with my eager friends in it had already blown past the channel to the portage and were already on the other side of Jitterbug. This is one reason why we brought 2 way radios, they help a lot. A passing group on Jitterbug had informed us that they had come out of a very windy Disappointment and that every campsite they passed was taken. We agree to grab one of the sites on Ahsub and make Disappointment early tomorrow as that is supposed to be our layover day. Low and behold, both sites are taken. As we cross the portage from Ahsub to Disappointment, there is a group of about 8 camped out at the other end, the older gentleman explains he doesn't want to take the younger kids out on the lake just yet, and we quickly see why. White caps as far as the eye can see, and the wind is now a howling gale directly in our faces. We set up shop next to them, eat a quick lunch of turkey sandwiches and trail mix, refill the water supply, and wait, and wait, and wait. No let up. It's now close to 5pm and we don't have any other options, as backtracking is out of the question, so we strap on the PFD's and off we go. It took us almost 45 minutes just to cross about a quarter of the lake, and just as the other group said, every campsite is taken. At this point we're tired, sore and hungry for a hot meal, we've been paddling for near 6 hours and we're beyond exhausted, and the waves are now coming over the gunnels, so without much of an alternative, we find a break in the trees with a nice big rock landing, and get ready to set up camp at a non designated site.
While I know this is against the rules, and if caught, we would accrue a hefty fine among other punishments, but we really didn't have much of a choice. There was another campsite about 50 yds to our left, and amazingly there was what seemed like a recently used trail from our spot to this campsite. After making sure our close neighbors would be okay with us setting up shop down the trail from them, as was the courteous thing to do, we pretty much blazed our own trail and made a decent campsite out of it, there was also charred remains of an existing fire pit there so apparently we weren't the first.
There was another campsite just across the bay from us, and about 3 times that evening and night, we heard yelling, banging on pots and pans, and loud whistles being blown. We would find out sooner than later the purpose for all the ruckus. After an amazing dinner of creamy cheddar potato bear creek soup mixed with red beans and rice and ramen noodles, we take a few unsuccessful casts and head into the tent just after dark. What a hectic, yet memorable day.
At about 4:30am I'm awoken by what I believe to be the sound of a breaking branch. It's still drizzling out and I listen intently to make sure I heard what I did. Sure enough, it's something trudging through the forest. I quietly get out of my sleeping bag and peer out of the small mesh opening in the front of the tent, being careful not to step on anyone. The lake is to my right and the forest to my left. I look at Kid to see him looking back at me with wide eyes, Dag is still passed out unmoving. We both know each others thoughts...bear. Just as we thought, out of the woods rumbles a medium sized black bear, sniffing around curiously. I nod and whisper "bear" to Kid, and he grabs his 4" paraframe with a white knuckled grip, and I realize we have a bag trail mix in the tent. The rest of the camp was bare as we cleaned up everything before going to bed. Our food pack is suspended about 12' in the air, 5' below the branch, and 6' from the trunk. But after a minute or so of finding nothing, and surprisingly not even concerned with our food pack or our tent, he moves on back into the woods down the trail toward the other campsite, where I saw their food pack suspended what I believed to be about 25' up. The whole incident was pretty innocent, and seeing a black bear was pretty darn cool, nerve racking, but cool nonetheless. I try my best to go back to bed and we're all up by 7:30am.
It's still an on and off misty drizzle with light gray clouds across the whole lake, which is almost like glass on this much calmer day. I like days like this, very serene. We cook a quick breakfast of Dino Eggs oatmeal (YUM) and pack up camp. We're much more efficient at this point and camp is broken in less than an hour. We wave good bye to our neighbors down the shoreline who tell us they're headed out for a full day of fishing, which makes me even more eager to find our campsite and do the same. It's not until later in the day that I realize I probably should have mentioned the bear to them.
We find an empty campsite on the west end of the lake not a 15 minute paddle from our makeshift one, but this one is small and not very appealing, yet we don't know what all is taken, so Dag stays behind and Kid and I head out looking for a better one. After combing what we believe to be the rest of the lake for all campsites with no avail, we head back to the one Dag is waiting at. Just as we turn around, rain hits us. Just a slight drizzle but enough to get us pretty wet. This is when I realize that a $5 vinyl rain poncho doesn't hold up very well as it rips straight down the middle the first time I put it on. So Kid and I paddle in the rain. To be honest it was kind of exhilarating, and it felt great to have someone in the bow for the first time this trip, I missed having the extra power up front. So Kid and I are hauling it back to the camp site in the rain, but both of us have pretty wide grins on, this is definitely cool. We approach the campsite and get out and are ready to unload, I'm going over the map one more time and realize there is a campsite directly across the lake from us that we never checked. So I make sure the other guys have a radio and push off solo to check it out, it's only about 5 minutes from our spot, and I troll with a deep diving tail dancer, but no luck The campsite is located on the other side of a small peninsula, and as I approach, I see a huge bald eagle perched on a branch just above the campsite, which incidentally was open. I manage to get about 25 ft from him before he flew off. I take this as a good sign from the fish gods. The campsite is fantastic! Wide, spacious, plenty of tent spots. So I radio back to the guys and tell them to head on over. As I'm scouting more of the site, I over hear on my walkie another group. They are saying they landed at the campsite that was just across the bay from us last night and we find out what all the whistling, banging and yelling was for. I hear one guy talking to another that the previous group had left a note. Rather than make this story any longer than it already is, you can read this thread about what actually happened. I'm fairly confident that this yogi was the same one trudging through our campsite at dawn this morning.
The guys paddle over and approve of the site. After camp is set up we take to the waters to catch fish! But no go. We fished all day, and all night, all I got was a small smallie and a rock bass on a skitter pop. Mid day we head back to camp and go searching for wood. We end up splitting a fair amount of logs and only using about half of that, with the intent on leaving a nice, big, dry pile of logs for the next group who stumbles upon is awesome site, someone has also left a small blue candle next to fire grate, which we light. All this to appease the fish gods. Apparently it wasn't enough. Pretty sure the recent mayfly hatch dropped fishing down to nil. Dag and I walleye fish across the lake in as many bays as we could find until sunset with not even a single bite on the leeches, and then paddle back across a glassy Disappointment. The sunset is gorgeous from the boat. As the day comes to a close, we sit back and enjoy a few cups of hot chocolate before retiring.
We're up at 7am and after a quick breakfast and a fast take down, we're headed to our pick up location on Snowbank. I troll through all the remaining lakes with no luck at all. My mind is on a hot shower and a soft bed. Pretty bummed I didn’t nab a laker on this trip, but I get over it soon. Planning for your next trip usually begins right after the first one ends, and this is no exception. Spirit of the Wilderness picks us up about noon and I give our remaining leeches to a group just entering. SOTW provides us the hot shower at least. This is when I learn that the Ely Surf Shop has closed...blows my mind. We stop into The Boathouse for some good food and delicious micro-brewed beer. We cheers to a successful trip, then its back home to the cities. This was definitely an adventure of epic proportions and we already have plans to come back mid Sept.
Things learned on this trip:
-I will never again paddle solo unless on a solo trip. Great for gear dispersement and fishing, but too slow to travel and not enough power to fight the wind.[paragraph break] -OTB's are fantastic water boots.[paragraph break] -Perishable foods are a big hassle, and I’m still up in the air if the deliciousness is worth it.[paragraph break] -Iodine takes too long. Gravity water filter for next time.[paragraph break] -Invest in decent rain gear, it's worth it.[paragraph break] -No matter how tough we think we are, double portaging the big ones saves a lot hassle and arguing.[paragraph break] -A sleeping mat will do wonders for my back.[paragraph break] -We need to fish even more.[paragraph break] -A fishing net is great to have for netting big fish, and a wonderful security blanket, but a pain in the a$$ to carry if you’re not catching big fish. Needless to say, the latter was our case.[paragraph break] -Permithrin and a Thermacell are phenomenal for bugs! Both work wonders.[paragraph break]