BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 23 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 8
Elevation: 1191 feet
Snowbank Lake - 27
First Trip to the BWCA
June 13, 2015
Number of Days:
Finally we were heading up to Moose Lake to get checked in at Williams and Hall. Blayne got us all checked in and soon the canoes were loaded heading for the parking lot/launch at Snowbank. I was starting to get a little nervous as this was the first time I had ever been in a canoe. Everything was loaded and soon we were heading east across the lake towards the portage to Disappointment. The wind wasn’t bad at all and it was a relatively easy paddle. I found my “canoe balance” early and felt comfortable the entire week. Pulling up to the portage it was quickly decided that two of the more experienced in the group would bust their butts across the portage and head for two of the desired campsites on Disappointment while the rest of us, including myself the newbie, would catch up later.
Here is where things got interesting and I received my baptism to portaging in the BWCA. I made the mistake of volunteering to carry the food pack and the canoe at the same time. Now one by themself would not be an issue. But having never done either alone the two together was way too much for this guy. I made it about halfway before having to drop the canoe thus having to come back to get it. Rob and the other members of the group are proud to make single portages so I felt like I was getting off on the wrong foot. I thought I was in a little better shape than I that but found out quick I better work on my cardio before the next trip. In the end it wasn’t that big of a deal but I was a little nervous as to how the rest of the week was going to go portaging to different lakes they had in mind.
After three long months it was nice to finally be on Disappointment. Rob had wanted the island campsite but it was unavailable. Fortunately the first site on the south side of the lake was and it definitely is a nice one. Plenty of room for three tents, lots of open space, a nice campfire setup, two nice tree layouts for hammocks, and room enough for everyone to have a seat. We were originally planning on staying here for 3 nights but later in the week decided to basecamp in this spot for the remainder of the trip as fishing improved. We quickly set up camp and gathered water for the purification system so everyone could top of their drinks. Then it was time to hit the lake.
Entertainment around the campsite was provided by an extremely friendly snowshoe hare. He would hang around all week and was absolutely fearless.
After reading Quetico Mike’s Zulu fishing article I couldn’t wait to give the elastomer plastics a try. I had been telling Rob for the past few weeks that I had the secret bait and I was going to kill the smallies on it. While waiting for everyone to get their gear ready I waded out to just above my ankles in my muck boots which proved to make everyone jealous for the week. I casted out the Zman Jerkshadz in Pearl White and caught a few smallies before leaving the campsite. One being a nice 2 pounder. That first afternoon the sun was high in the sky so we mainly fished smallmouths. I was impressed with the Zman soft plastic easily landing over 15 bass including a few nice ones over 3 pounds. Rob tossed a Floating Rapala and his results were nowhere close. Ironically it was the only time we fished strictly for bass the entire trip as the longer we were there we were able to narrow in on the walleye and we both love to walleye fish. I would highly recommend the bait to anyone heading into the BWCA and will for sure pack them again as I think the smallies would provide lots of action if other species were slow.
The first night we managed to catch 3 nice walleyes that we put on the stringer for the next nights fish fry. We probably could have done a little better but got a late start after cooking steaks on the grill. It felt good to hit the tent that night since it had been a long day and I hardly got any sleep driving thru the night to get to Ely.
Day 2 started off a little slow but we did put 3 more walleye on the stringer. As the week went on it was apparent that Rob and myself were really the only two that were here to fish. Everyone else was happy fishing a little, hiking around camp, and just relaxing in a hammock or around the campfire. That was fine with me since everyone else has different reasons for tripping I suppose. The other guys did manage a few smaller pike and one nice smallmouth so there was going to be plenty that evening for dinner. I love fried fish but there is something magical about fresh walleye while camping in the BWCA. It went down so smooth with sides of ramen noodles and corn. A little Cajun spice was added to the noodles for a little extra kick. Fishing after dinner was slow and it was easy to see that we really weren’t in tune with the walleyes just yet.
On Day 3 we decided to start out right in front of camp looking for what we thought was a hump that rose to about 5 feet surrounded by deeper water. I felt a little ashamed after realizing we were in the wrong bay to start with that in fact the hump we were looking for was a little farther east down the lake. We did manage a few walleye. We searched the bay out and did manage to make contact with a few willing fish. Slip bobbers and leeches were proving to be a good combination providing plenty of hookups from smallmouth and walleyes. Weather was starting to turn with wind blowing in and rain coming down. We paddled to the north end and thru some rapalas out. We tried to stay close to shore along the first drop. I enjoy “canoe trolling” and had good success all week long with either Blue Husky Jerks or Gold Original Floating Rapalas. In fact this night I limited out on walleye in short order primarily trolling these baits including one decent 23” walleye picked up around a hump on the north end. Dinner was military surplus MRE(s) which was another new experience. Evening discussions revolved around what the plan was going to be for the next day as we were considering heading into Ashigan the next day for smallmouth and then over to Ensign to finish out the week.
A few other members did well for smallmouth saving some for a picture before releasing them.
Rob and I woke up early grabbed some oatmeal and headed out on the lake to fish before everyone else woke up. We paddled back north looking for the hump I had caught the nicer walleye from the night before but found no takers. We decided to head back to camp and see what everyone else wanted to do. When we got there two other members had just left telling the rest of the group they would be back after a couple hours of fishing. Rob and I grabbed an apple and a granola bar and said let’s get out there because we weren’t going to catch anything from camp.
We tossed out our trolling baits and paddled across the lake to the northern shore then headed west. We came to a channel between two islands and Rob nailed a walleye. We were on our way to a spot he had done well in trips past. I said let’s turn around and go back thru there to see what happens. Right about the time we went over the spot he caught the first fish we both hooked up with walleyes. We decided to drop anchor and break out the leeches and it turned out to be the best decision we made all week. By my estimation the anchor hit the bottom around 11am and we didn’t leave until 2:30pm. I figured we easily boated over 40 walleyes and just as many smallmouth including some real studs including one that Rob caught that went well over 5 pounds. Most of the walleyes were in the 15-18” class with a few right around 20”. I’ve caught walleyes all over the mid-west and Canada and for the life of me the ones in the BWCA are definitely more feisty. After you set the hook they dig for the bottom. About an hour before we left two other group members came paddling up and we positioned them close to us and the vicinity of the fish. The action for them was just as impressive and they stayed for a few hours after we left. We headed back to camp to rest a little and made plans for dinner. When we hit camp the two that left earlier were there and we told them about the action we had and they headed out for the same spot. They also got in on the action. Catching fish is hard work and I took a quick nap before cleaning fish for dinner.
That night we all decided we would finish out the week on Disappointment as we had a good idea where the fish were. I’ve always told everyone I’ve fished with you never leave fish to find fish. We would only have two days to fish Ensign and a half day would be spent just traveling to get there.
The next day proved to be our last day of fishing. We were hoping to paddle out Friday but the Nissan Pathfinder that tagged the deer was officially totaled and we would have to spend time in Ely making arrangements for a rental car which was proving difficult. So by heading out Thursday that would make sure there was plenty of time for the three members driving to Chicago to make the necessary plans. I was a little upset about leaving a day early but understood. The good fishing made it even harder to leave but hey I had one more day to fish before leaving the next morning and I was going to make the most of it.
Rob and I headed straight back to the spot we nailed them at the day before. We picked up some walleyes (keeping enough for our last night’s dinner) but didn’t do nearly as well as the day before. All 6 of us were near the same spot and I figure we caught around 20 or so. The smallies had definitely moved in and took over providing us with all the action we wanted. Again leeches were the bait they wanted and it was fun watching all their aerial maneuvers. Most of the time at least one in the group had a fish on. It was safe to say we had located the spot.
The next hour proved to be pretty eventful. My slip bobber slowly went below the surface and it looked like a classic walleye bite where they slowly suck it down. I set the hook and made a few quick turns of the reel taking up the slack. After that it was game on. I told Rob if this is a walleye it is by far the biggest one I had ever caught. That doesn’t say much as I my 3 biggest Walleyes were just over 28” each. The fish kept digging and stayed near the bottom. I finely made some ground up on it and as it got closer to the boat we say that it was a very nice northern pike. Now things got exciting as we were not prepared to land a fish this size from a canoe. We had no net in our canoe so we briefly talked about rowing 30 yards to shore and beaching it. One of the guys in the group did have a net and they paddled over. After a few tries I was able to finally lead it into the net (being held by someone in a different canoe) and the fight was over.
We admired the pike and laughed about how we were able to land it. Jim in the next canoe snapped a few photos of me but they didn’t turn out the best. Oh wells I have the memories to last me a lifetime. I quickly cut off a piece of fishing line and stretched it nose to tail so I could have an accurate measurement later on. Being the largest northern I had ever caught a replica may be in my future so I wanted a size close enough for a taxidermist to order the correct form. I got the fish back in the water and moved some water over the gills. She revived pretty quick then slowly swim back down to the bottom where just 5 minutes before she came up from. I sat in the canoe for a few minutes just relaxing and enjoyed the moment. The next day when we got to Williams and Hall we measured the piece of line to be right at 43".
We fished for another hour and started to make the paddle back to camp. Since we were the first ones to leave I suggested hitting a spot on the south side of the lake that showed a good inside turn on the lake map that I had brought with. Within a few minutes of setting up the bobber was down again. After a few cranks the drag started singing. This time it was a nice walleye and proved to the largest of the trip. I cut off another piece of fishing line that later measure out just over 28". Still can’t get over that 29” mark but you can’t complain when you catch your largest northern and match your best walleye within an hour of each other. A quick photo and she also went back to the lake.
On the paddle back to camp it really had stopped bothering me that we were leaving the next morning. It had been a great morning and the last two days had rivaled anything I had ever experienced anywhere fishing wise. I was already thinking in my head about the next trip.
Fish was on the menu the last evening and the batter was Shorelunch in Cajun flavor. It was amazing to say the least. Rob and I decided to try a few different spots we selected from the map and they turned out to be a pleasant surprise as well. We picked up about a dozen walleyes letting them all go. I also nailed another nice pike around 34” after seeing him break the surface a few times chasing some smaller baitfish. He was eager to smash the trusty husky jerk on the second cast.
We slept in the final morning and broke camp. The paddle across Disappointment to the portage went smoothly but from the wind direction we knew once we hit the main lake section of Snowbank things were going to get interesting. I handled the portage like a champ and came back to help a few others in their group which proved to be a nice redemption on my part from earlier in the week. Snowbank had some rollers as we were paddling into a crosswind. We eventually reached a point where the wind got to our back and it was a nice cruise into the launch which was busy. I was extremely jealous of those that were heading out on their own adventures. I was eased knowing what was in store for them and knew for sure that they were probably as excited as I was the day we entered off Snowbank.
It felt great getting a shower at Williams and Hall. We were out by 1pm so we got to spend the afternoon in Ely. We did some shopping, had a few drinks, and hit the Ely Steakhouse for a great ribeye. The last stop before hitting the bunkhouse at Williams and Hall was Dairy Queen for desert.
I guess this is quite a long report but it for sure was a trip that I enjoyed. I’ve already got a few ideas for next year but wouldn’t be the least upset if I end up back at Disappointment.