Day 1 of 6
Wednesday, July 11, 2007 The car was packed the night before. My 21 year old daughter Jamie and I were up early and on the road by 5:30AM. We stopped for coffee and chatted for a couple of hours while we drove. We had planned this trip 10 months earlier and were both pretty excited that it had finally arrived. She told me she hadn’t slept well the previous night because of the excitement. 2 hours into our drive she climbed into the back seat and went to sleep. She woke up a little before we got to Eau Claire. The last part of our drive was through pockets of rain, some of it a bit heavy. We arrived in Ely about 3 PM and went straight to VNO, where we checked in, went over our gear, trip planning, fishing areas, bait, etc. Looking out the window, I noticed a torrential downpour. Sure hoping things clear up for the next day! We got the key to the bunkhouse and went up and packed our personal gear into the pack that VNO furnished. Crap! I think I brought too much stuff. The pack must have weighed 70 pounds. Oh well, guess I’ll be getting a little extra exercise this trip. We set out for supper, which was very nice. Jamie ordered a filet and I had a strip steak. The filet was outstanding, but the strip steak was fair at best. We had a couple of beers too, which was nice after the 9 ½ hour drive. We walked through town a bit and bought a deck of cards and a fifth of rum for the trip. We stopped at the coffee shop and then browsed through a few of the shops in town. We headed back to our bunkhouse and turned in for the night after watching a bit of TV and checking out the weather forecast.
Day 2 of 6
Thursday, July 12, 2007 Met with John from VNO at 6:30AM. He was packing the van for our drive to the Moose Lake entry point. Our tow to Birch Lake was set up for 7:30AM. It was a grey, dismal looking day. It was fairly cool and looked like rain. We reached Moose Lake in a short time and transferred our gear into the tow boat. In 15 minutes, we were at the short portage and in 20 minutes we were paddling Birch Lake, headed towards our first destination: Knife Lake. We had placed our raingear at the top of our packs, which was good because it looked like we were going to need it. Within a half hour it started drizzling. We were to spend the rest of that day’s journey alternating between overcast skies, light rain, sunshine (not a lot, though), and heavy rain. I had my raingear on and off at least three times, maybe more. The forty rod portage to Carp was muddy, but otherwise uneventful. I kept a special eye on Jamie, since this was her first trip and she had never carried a pack that large or heavy before. We double portaged and she did just fine. Three 15 rod “nuisance” portages were coming up. On the third of these, we were walking our canoe through some shallow water, just before the portage when I got the brilliant idea to remove my rain pants. The first pant leg got caught on my shoe as I was pulling it off and I fell full force onto my knee. Luckily, the bottom was small gravel rather than larger rocks. I spent a little time picking stones out of my knee, washed it out and we proceeded on our way. It was bleeding pretty good, so we broke out the first aid kit and bandaged it. We made the 75 rod portage into Knife Lake, where we intended to stay at least 2 days, unless the fishing was too good to leave. We wanted to make the South Arm that day. It was very windy and progress was slow. It began to rain and we put the raingear back on. After a couple hours of paddling it started to rain harder. We paddled the last 45 minutes or so in a downpour. None the less, it was enjoyable. I could tell that Jamie was getting tired, so we picked a campsite just short of Thunder Point. By the time we carried our packs up to the site, the rain was lessening. It was about 2PM. We set up camp and took an afternoon nap to get out of the rain for a while. After dinner (fresh steaks) we went out and fished for a bit. We stayed near camp due to the weather and fished a bay behind our site. Jamie caught one smallmouth trolling a leech on a spinner rig. We saw an enormous northern in shallow water, near some downed trees. Jamie asked me if it was a fish and I told her it was a log (which I believed). Then the log saw our canoe and turned and swam away. Must have been 40 inches at least. Later we were casting jigs with twister tails and Jamie’s got bitten off. I think it could have been that same pike, since we were in that area. We saw lots of squirrels, a couple of pine marten, two otters and a very large rabbit. We went to sleep about 9PM. It was pretty cold overnight and later I heard it got down to 38 degrees. I’m glad we brought the fleece jackets.
Day 3 of 6
Friday, July 13, 2007 We were up before 6AM. We decided to make breakfast while it wasn’t raining, since it looked like it could rain at any time. Fresh eggs, bacon, sausage, coffee. Done and cleaned up before 8 AM. Again, the wind and threat of rain kept us close to camp. We were getting lots of short strikes on jigs and leeches. Probably missed 5 fish before I finally caught about a 2 lb. bass. We decided to canoe over to Thunder Point and hike to the top. We had lunch (Bagels and cream cheese) at the landing and then hiked to the top. We got some great pictures and then paddled back to camp. We put up our hammocks and Jamie read for a while. I just laid there enjoying the day. It started to rain about 2:30PM, so we quickly took down the hammocks and went into the tent. Jamie decided to nap while I read. It rained non-stop until at least 9:30 that night. At about 3:30PM, I put my raingear on and went down to do some fishing from shore. Jamie decided to continue napping. I cast for a bit with no luck, then decided to put on a slip bobber and a leech. The bobber went under almost immediately, but nothing was there when I set the hook. This happened at least 4 times and I was getting frustrated. I always hook leeches just behind the sucker and figured the fish were just grabbing the tail and pulling the leech off. So I hooked the leech in the middle and cast back out. This time when the bobber went down, I set the hook on a beautiful, fat smallmouth that probably weighed 2½ to 3 lbs. I carried her up to the tent to show Jamie (and to lure her out of her slumber) and she insisted on taking a picture. I caught 3 more bass and then went back into the tent to read. We made dinner in the rain at about 7PM, ham and cheese sandwiches, which were really not very good. I think it was a result of cooking in the rain and hurrying things. We should’ve set up the tarp. Jamie got sick before we went to bed. She thought it was the cream cheese from lunch. I woke up at 10:30PM and had to rush up to the latrine. Maybe she was right. Cold again at night…probably 40 degrees or so. Our return route is to supposed to be through Vera to Ensign, but we were going to base our decision on the fishing on Knife Lake. If it was good, we’d stay on Knife and retrace our entry steps, then paddle through Sucker Lake to our pick-up point near Splash Lake (the exit from Ensign). We decided to travel to Ensign on Saturday.
Day 4 of 6
Saturday, July 14, 2007 We woke up at 6AM and I discovered my sunglasses were broken in half. Nothing a little duct tape can’t fix. Jamie had fun with that for a while (at my expense). We broke down camp and packed everything up while boiling water for coffee. The sky is overcast. We want to get an early start because Ensign is a busy Lake and it’s Saturday. Also, we have a couple of major league portages on either side of Vera. VNO told us the first portage (into Vera) was muddy, and that was before 2 pretty solid days of rain. We’re a bit apprehensive about what we might find there. We leave camp at 8:30AM and see our first glimpse of the sun in a while. We troll shad raps as we travel. We each catch a smallmouth en route. We find the portage trail and I help Jamie with one of the packs, then I hoist the canoe and we take off. Jamie surprises me when she pulls out her cell phone and I find out she downloaded my favorite CD (You & Me by Joe Bonamassa). I know many people frown on music, etc. on a trip like this, but it sure put a spring in my step. The portage is muddy in spots, but not too bad, The first half is pretty much uphill. I think I remember reading that it rises something like 100 feet over the first half of the portage. I hear Jamie up ahead of me say “You’re kidding me!”. I look up and see a very steep rise (50 degrees or more?) that we’re going to have to climb. Tough footing because everything is wet, but we make it up. We walk a bit and everything seems to be leveling off. Jamie has a great idea to drop our gear at the perceived halfway point and go back for the rest of our gear. This way we can cover the tougher part of the portage with relatively fresh legs. On the way back, we find a patch of blueberries and pick a couple handfuls. Jamie has a black and yellow snake cross in front of her on the trail. We reach Vera in roughly an hour, without incident. Jamie is really invigorated. I’m so proud of her and she’s feeling proud of herself too. The sun is finally shining so we decide to take a swim. We load up and paddle Vera, seeing two other groups on our way to the portage to Ensign. We reach the trail and stop there for lunch. The weather is alternating between periods sunshine and overcast. The portage to Ensign is tough, but not as tough as the one into Vera. This one is muddier though. It’s probably 2PM when we reach Ensign. As we start for a couple campsites recommended by VNO, we notice a lot of sites already taken. We troll as we go and I catch a nice smallmouth just off one of the islands. The two sites VNO marked at the east end of Ensign are occupied and we head further east to check out a third. That one is occupied too. We reel in our lines. This is no time to fish, we need to find a site. There are only two other sites to the east, so we make a decision to head back west, where there are many other sites. We are seeing lots of sites occupied, but finally see a site directly on a point and it appears vacant. We start paddling in earnest and as we get closer confirm that the site is open. Very nice site, so we unload and set up camp in a light drizzle. This time we set up the tarp. It starts raining harder around 4 PM and we cook/eat under the tarp. We’re a bit tired and decide not to fish that night. The rain sends us into the tent and we’re asleep by 9:30PM.
Day 5 of 6
Sunday, July 15, 2007 We’re up at 5:45AM. Instant oatmeal and coffee for breakfast. We packed our lunch and fishing gear and left for a day trip to Cattyman falls. We trolled as we traveled and I caught a really nice smallmouth, maybe 3 lbs. Although we wanted fish dinner that night, we had some traveling ahead of us, so we let her go. Portaged to Ashigan Lake (55 rods) and from Ashigan to Gibson (105 rods). Jamie wanted to carry the canoe this time, so I carried our day pack and the loose stuff. We left our gear at the portage to Cattyman Lake and hiked up to the falls. Really beautiful area, and the falls were definitely worth the trip. It was mid-day and the weather was picture perfect. Blue skies & bright sun without a cloud in sight. The first time we’d seen that on our trip. We started back to Ensign. We fished a bit on Gibson (below the falls) and Ashigan, but had no success. It’s pretty windy by the time we get back to Ensign. We troll back to camp, but don’t catch anything. We each snag bottom a few times but never lose a lure. It’s tough to get back over the snag with the heavy wind. We make it back to camp by 2PM. I read for a while and Jamie takes a nap. We head back out to fish at around 4PM. We’re both anxious for fish dinner and figure we’ve got a few hours to catch it. It’s still pretty windy. Jamie catches a nice northern and by the time we get it to the canoe, we’ve been blown within 10 feet of shore. We paddle the rest of the way in and I filet the northern on a rock on shore. We’re not near any campsites, so the remains get carted up into the woods. We’re both getting hungry, so we decide to troll back to camp, but don’t catch anything. Dinner is fried fish, corn, mashed potatoes and garlic bread. We burn the garlic bread and it’s pretty much inedible. The rest of dinner is outstanding. We build our first campfire of the trip and have hot cocoa by the fire. Neither of us has a desire for the rum we brought along. In fact, we’ve had maybe 4 drinks between us. More than ¾ of the bottle will make it back with us. Jamie tells me that this is her second favorite vacation that she’s ever taken and that she’s not ready to leave. She asks if we can come back next year and stay at least a full week. She left the planning for this trip up to me, but wants to help plan our next trip. Today was a great day, probably our best of the trip, and had a nice ending. Neither one of us wants to leave the next day. We crawl into the tent and read by flashlight for a bit before falling asleep.
Day 6 of 6
Monday, July 16, 2007 We’re leaving today so we get up at 5:45AM and we’re on the water fishing by 6:15AM. We troll shad raps to start. I catch two pike and Jamie catches one. We return to camp at about 8AM. Jamie makes breakfast of french toast, hash browns and coffee, while I start to break down camp and pack. I have the tent down and packed, the sleeping bags and pads rolled and packed and most of personal gear packed when breakfast is ready. We eat and Jamie cleans dishes while I continue packing. A knot on our bear rope gets wedged between a small branch and won’t come free. Jamie wants to climb up and get it, but the main branch is at least 15 feet up and I don’t think it’s a good idea. Eventually, we each grab an end and pull away from the branch and it comes free. We’re almost fully packed when a couple pull up and politely ask if we are leaving. We tell them we’ll be on our way in about 15 minutes. They thank us and say they’ll wait in the bay around the point, which I thought was very nice. We waived to them as we left and they paddled to our now vacated site. We fish on our way to the portage out of Ensign and I hook something large. After a struggle to get it near the canoe, I see the fluorescent tie that I had used when we were fishing slip bobbers. The fish is within about 8 feet of the canoe. It turns and makes a run and I come with an empty line, lure and all is gone. I believe the line was cut on a gill plate, because we were in twenty feet of water and the line was cut clean. I wasn’t using a leader, so if it was a northern, it could have been a bite off. I sure wish I could have seen it anyway. We made it to our first portage at noon. We decided to fish a bit since our tow wasn’t until 2PM. The sun was beating down pretty good and it was getting hot. We fished for a half hour and decided to head to the portage. We saw a group enter Ensign and stop for lunch immediately after the portage. 5 canoes and 10 people, they’re illegal! Two people in the group are speaking German and someone is translating to the other people. As they get out of their canoes, one of the German guys falls in the lake. We had a good laugh. We negotiated the last portage and arrived at our pick up area by 1:15PM. We were definitely having mixed emotions as we waited for the tow boat. It will be nice to head home, but we are not ready to leave. The tow boat arrives at 2PM and we are in the VNO van and headed back to their place by 2:30PM. The cooler in the van had cold soda and beer. Jamie and I each choose a cold beer, which goes down very easy. We empty our personal pack into the car, grab the bags with our fresh clothes and head for the showers. Jamie was having a craving for Pizza and VNO recommended Wise Guys. Their pizza was very good. After eating we shopped for souvenirs for everyone back home and then got on the road at about 5:30PM. Jamie is prone to car sickness and after being on the water for 5 days, she had a rough time with the drive. We made about 3 hours when I needed to pull over. She left the pizza on the side of the road and we continued on our way. Within 15 minutes she was feeling sick again, so we found a hotel in Spooner, Wi. and got a room for the night. We would get up early, have breakfast, and drive the final 5 hours the next day.
Next year’s trip will be in September. We have already started to talk about our trip options.