Day 1 of 8
Monday, June 15, 2020 – I left home before 10am, planning to get to Piragis and pick up my permit and some Canoe pants. Peter could not get here until the 16th, so the plan was to get up here, have a good night sleep, and be ready for the trip the next day. Made it to Ely about 5pm, took care of business and headed to Fall Lake Campground for the night. There were two open sites, so I grabbed the one by the lakeshore. After setting up the Eureka Timberline 4, I decided to check out the Lake One entry as I had never been there before, even though I had gone through Snowbank for trips in the past. After checking everything out, I decided to do a return trip to Ely for a Burger and HF Sundae. As I settled into my sleeping bag at Fall Lake, I was grateful for a good first day.
Day 2 of 8
Tuesday, June 16, 2020 - I was up about 5:30, struggled with Acid Reflux during the night, and did not sleep well. So much for getting here early to have a great night rest. Got my pack ready for the trip and realized that I had forgotten my Sawyer water bottle with filter. Not only did I forget my Sawyer, but I grabbed the wrong fishing rods! Went to Call of the Wilderness and got two new rod & reel combos (Fenwick w/ phlueger reel & and Zone 13). Really like the phlueger. Still had some time to burn before Peter would get to town, so I checked out the South Kawishiwi Campground. First time I had been south of Ely, really enjoyed the drive and the campground seemed nice enough if I cannot find something closer to put in someday. Met up with Peter at Lake One Entry to drop off my truck for take out and then to Snowbank for put in.
We decided to take the single portage to Disappointment. At the end of that first portage, I ate some of the grapes I brought with and proceeded to regurgitate them. Peter thought I was sick and wondered if we should continue. I assured him it was just what it was, and I was fine. No more trouble the rest of the trip. Long paddle across Disappointment (as if there is a short paddle option). We proceeded through the small lakes to Jordan, then through the Jordan narrows to Ima. We had not seen any open campsites to this point. We met a family with younger kids before Jordan, and they were tired and looking for a campsite. There were some open sites on Ima and the family seemed in good spirits. We continued across the big lake and then struggled to find the portage to Hatchet, but found it we did. It is a tough portage, but rather enjoyable, from the narrow opening in the cliffside, to the steep climb and then the stone steps down to Hatchet Creek.
It was after 8pm and I was getting tired, but we were so close and Peter convinced me to push on. We made it by the first portage on Hatchet Creek without finding it, and then came to the short one at the bend by the short rapids. Quick pullover and then a few more portages brought my first view of Thomas Lake into sight.
It was 9:30 as we started paddling towards our destination campsite. About twenty minutes later we pulled ashore, relieved that the site was open. This would be home for the next 5 nights. After setting up camp, eating a good meal, and cleaning up, it was bedtime. I was exhausted and ready for sleep when peter said he saw lights (UFO?). I said I was too tired to visit with Aliens and to just say hi for me before drifting off to a good night’s sleep. It had been a long day!
Day 3 of 8
Wednesday, June 17, 2020 - This was a very trying day, as we fished hard all day long, and by dinner time it appeared we were going to be skunked, until we caught some fish after dinner. Twelve hours earlier, we started out with pancakes and eggs and brown sugar water (another last as I bring syrup from now on). After sitting around for breakfast, I made the following video which covers most of the previous days adventure and our disagreement about how much fun that had been. [paragraph break] https://youtu.be/FhLGuE-7-XM [paragraph break] About 10am we left camp to fish and explore the west end of the lake. We checked out the campsites on the southern shore and worked our way west to the Kiana portage (which we would take four days later). I walked the portage to Kiana while Peter caught some minnows – wished we had brought a minnow net with. We fished around the bay seeing if anything was interested while looking for the campsite listed on the peninsula that forms part of the bay. We had luck finding neither and headed along the shoreline to the north looking for more campsites. This was about 3pm in the afternoon and the winds started picking up, and the corresponding waves. This was an interesting paddle and we eventually made it to the North side of the string of Islands and escaped the waves. Once back to camp, I scouted around the island looking for birds and whatnot to take some pictures. Finally about 6pm we had hamburger, veggie, potato mix for dinner. Excellent filler to keep us going through the evening and into morning. After clean-up and hanging the food pack, we made our way back on the water and found some success with the walleyes as the sun found the horizon. Fortunately, we had decided after our trip in 2018, that it was best to eat dinner before fishing, as cleaning and cooking fish after dark was an invitation to the blood sucking flying critters, and we were not fans of those creatures. Hence all Walleyes were returned to the depths of Lake Thomas, hoping to be caught again later.
Day 4 of 8
Thursday, June 18, 2020 - Woke up about 6am, Peter was still sleeping, first time ever that I got up before him, probably last time. We decided to fish the morning and got into the walleyes, keeping two for breakfast and letting the others swim away! Back at camp, Peter made walleye and cornbread with cranberries. We quickly cleaned up and headed back to the lake for more fishing.
We ended up fishing along the South side of the islands down the middle of the lake and also the south shore down to the narrows to Fraser, while stopping at the campsite 1186 in a SE bay tucked away. It had a decent landing and an elevated kitchen. Decent site that I wouldn’t hesitate staying at for a night or two.
Fished over to the narrows and then went through and back as I had never been through there and it looked cool on videos I had seen previously. We then headed North up the East shore of Thomas and the first campsite had many people there having a good time, or so it appeared from the canoe. We fished the North side of the islands until we got back to camp. It was another long, hard day of fishing with little to show for our efforts after breakfast. Peter prepared the hamburger with vegetables and potatoes. That is turning into an easy meal and quite filling and rejuvenating after a long day on the water. While eating, a visitor entertained us by depositing some eggs in our campsite. We cleaned up and headed to bed before the mosquitos got bad.
Day 5 of 8
Friday, June 19, 2020 - Up at 6am, 5 days in a row – I must not be feeling well! Peter had Pancake and eggs ready and then we went out for some fishing and then returned to camp for a short time. I was looking for the elusive White-throated Sparrow – the bird that can be heard but not seen. This bird is my nemesis, I hear them everywhere, but have no pictures to show for it. Turned out to be a yellow-rumped Warbler.
Soon we were back on the water for some fish and before we knew what happened, we were catching walleyes on Fraser. Soon it was time for a break and we headed to Campsite 1398 as Peter had stayed there with his daughter in a prior year. This was a nice site and we would stay here the following year.
We had some snacks and then worked our way to the Sagus portage, stopping for a few pictures of campsite 1400 on the east end of Fraser right before the portage. This was also a good campsite but the landing to the kitchen was a rather steep climb. After a short break, we headed to the portage and were fishing on Sagus within the hour.
Sagus is a pretty lake with neat rock structures and more importantly friendly walleyes. I documented catching 5 walleyes to Peters 3. The Sagus Walleyes were much darker in color than the Fraser & Thomas Walleyes.
We soon decided it would be prudent to begin our journey back to Thomas while we still had light. However, we could not leave Fraser without checking out campsite 1395, which is on a peninsula on the West end of the lake. My pictures and remembered impression was that it is a nice campsite.
We headed to the narrows and I was treated to great picture opportunities with an Eagle. I was surprised to get a few really focused pictures as we were moving toward the bird. It seemed like we never got very close, but better lucky than good. Then after getting through the Narrows, a turkey vulture landed in the tree.
After messing around for a while, we headed back towards camp trying to catch a trout. We did get a few walleyes that we kept for dinner, but it was late and as we ate, so did the mosquitos! I believe we learned our lesson; it is best to eat dinner before going out for fish in the evening, unless you want to donate blood at dusk! We quickly retreated to our tents after dinner.
Day 6 of 8
Saturday, June 20, 2020 – Pete made Pancakes w/eggs and asked if I was hungry. I said I was hungry but afraid to exit my tent due to the swarm of mosquitos that had taken up resident under the fly! I braved it, got out, removed the fly, and had breakfast. Fortunately, the mosquitos went wherever mosquitos go during the day and did not bother us during breakfast. After breakfast and cleanup, we got back out fishing again and caught a few for dinner.
After a while we came back to camp for a rest, and I again searched for the White Throated sparrow. I could hear him but could not get a picture. As usual, the squirrels were everywhere (I see squirrels) and I took several pictures as proof.
About 11, we headed out looking for the elusive trout, and after several hours Peter felt a tug on his line and pulled in a nice Laker.
We got back to camp about 2pm and had trout and corn cakes for dinner. About 5pm we went back out and fished the rest of the evening. We got back to camp and immediately took refuge in our tents. I think I updated my journal, but it had been a long day and can’t recall for sure. It was time to work our way out of the BWCA. The plan was to get to Lake 3 or 4 and then get out on Monday. Of course, plans are always subject to change when in the BWCA.
Day 7 of 8
Sunday, June 21, 2020 – Today we began the Journey out of the BWCA, it had been a wonderful 5 nights on Thomas with great day trips to Fraser and Sagus. But all trips have beginnings and endings, and our trip was ending soon. We were hesitant to leave, and had walleye and pancakes for breakfast. After we got everything packed up, we headed to the Kiana portage. This was an interesting lake, and like all lakes we visit, it would be nice if we had days to explore and see if there were any fish or interesting items to capture digitally, and sometimes to enjoy without taking the picture. Reminds me of the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” where the Sean Penn character has been waiting to capture the Snow Leopard on film and when it comes into view, he tells Walter, “If I like a moment – I don’t like the distraction of the camera, I like to just stay in the moment”. Sometimes I wonder if I miss part of the moment trying to capture it. But then again, I sometimes think I enjoy the moment more by capturing it. It is amazing how many times we have stopped to take pictures of insects. The amazing part of my trips with Peter (besides getting to eat fish) is that we both have grown from them. Peter has learned to slow down and enjoy the journey and I have learned much about the wilderness from the science teacher. Back to the journey, we made it through Kiana and reached Insula about 3pm. There was a merganser sitting on a rock, and as I waited for Peter, I took many pictures, but nothing I was happy with – lost opportunity. But it was me and the Merganser for a good 10 minutes. We paddled up the long arm of Insula and as we got into the main body of water, the wind picked up, we turned the corner and saw campsite 1323 and made the decision to stop for the day at about 4:30.
The sun was out and the campsite was beautiful. Soon I was taking pictures of flowers and insects, even though I had no idea what their names were, I captured a Clear winged moth and a common threaded-waist wasp. Still not sure what the flowers were, but some day I will be more interested in that. After having another great dinner and getting set up for the night, we went out for some evening fishing. As we paddled out from the beach, I cast into about 2 feet of water, and as Peter said “you won’t catch anything up there”, I hooked a 20” walleye and he shortly caught another. We worked around the corner we had come from into the Kawishiwi river channel and Peter hooked something big, but we never did see it, and the bite ended. We got back to camp and slept our final night in the BWCA for the trip.
Day 8 of 8
Monday, June 22, 2020 - We started the day with breakfast and were blessed with a Merganser family swimming by (my favorite picture of the trip). Fortunately, I am lucky with the camera and a few of the hundreds of pictures turned out ok. We hit the water by 8:30 and were soon to the south side of Insula (the burn area). Peter let me work on my navigation skills, and I only took us in the wrong direction once, but quickly corrected course and we reached the portage to Hudson. May last picture of the trip is us going over the portage.
After traveling through Hudson, we stopped for a quick snack on the Lake Four side (a small pond) and we saw a group paddle around the island, go by us, and keep going. It appears they thought we were on a campsite and ended up doing a full circle plus. Fortunately it was a small pond. We made it through lake four and when we hit lake three, Peter asked if I could paddle on the right side. I switched, took two strokes and said “no” as I switched back to the left side. We continued on lake three to campsite 2220, where we stopped to filter some water (sure wish I had my Sawyer filtered bottle to drink as I go) and stretch our legs. We contemplated staying for the night and paddling out on Tuesday. Unfortunately, we made the wrong decision and paddled on. On Lake Two, we paddled on top of a slightly submerged table rock and were stuck. I froze, not knowing what to do, and Peter said “don’t do anything, I will get us off”. Being the nimble one, he was able to free us without an unplanned swim and soon we were on lake one. Again we discussed staying for the night, but we were so close that we just pushed on, getting to EP30 just after 7:30pm – 11 hours. Our trip was a total of 15.7 miles paddling and 2 miles of portages, which had an estimated time of 7.5 hours, and I thought we were cruising. Too much enjoying the journey and not enough going hard. We loaded up and drove to EP27 to get Peter’s truck, loaded everything in the right vehicles and headed for home. We learned our decision was bad as Peter pulled over and took a long nap before getting home, and I stopped at a rest area outside of Grand Rapids and slept for two hours, getting home just after 3am. Last lesson of the trip, “it really sucks driving in the dark, and extends travel time driving 40 mph through deer country!” PS – Lesson didn’t stick, as in 2021, we did the same thing, paddle from Fraser to EP27 and drive all the way home with a nap in Grand Rapids – some things never change!