BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 09 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1249 feet
North Kawishiwi River - 29
Chronicles of a Day Tripper
August 23, 2008
Number of Days:
‘Want to come with?’ That was the 4 word email I sent to my brother Jack who live in Ventura, California on Monday afternoon, just 5 days before this whole adventure begins. His reply on Tuesday, ‘Sounds interesting. The wife is ok with it, the kids are furious.’ Well in the next two days, we both burned up the internet getting flight prices, checking on places to stay, etc. As it turned out, the flight price was ok, but all the other costs would have made for an awfully expensive 4 day fishing trip for him. So after all that, I’m back to the solo trip I originally planned and I find myself sitting down in the truck for the drive to Rice Lake. This year I made a new rack for the front of the canoe to rest on and eliminated the front tie down straps. I had tested it for about a mile, but didn’t quite know how it was going to react to interstate speeds next to a semi or something so the first few miles once I hit the Tri State Tollway were pretty tense. The new rack, though, was probably more stable that my old way of strapping the canoe down and had the benefit of no distracting straps in front of the windshield or buzz from the top strap. In fact, I called this the best piece of new gear for the trip because it worked so well on the road and it made loading and unloading the canoe so much easier. Once my fears about the canoe rack are gone, I really settled in to the drive. The weather was really stinking hot and that may have been one of the reasons I drove all the way to Osseo, WI non stop. I must have been pretty dehydrated to go 330 miles without so much as a potty break! I stopped in Rice Lake, checked in to the hotel, and had dinner at the local Culvers.[paragraph break]
I got on the road again just before 8:00am for the final run up to Ely. Nothing notable happened until I got through Virginia and onto highway 169 to Ely. I’m sure I stopped for coffee somewhere along the way, but I sure can’t remember where! Just after I got through Virginia things got interesting for a few short moments. As I rounded the curve off the exit ramp I found no traffic in front of me and never took the cruise control off so I passed the Minnesota state cop that was, of course, sitting just over the next hill at around 67 mph in a 50 mph zone. I can't believe I didn't get a ticket for that. He must have had somewhere else to go at the time. I arrived in Ely around 11:30 so I had some time to blow before I could check in to the campground. I stopped in town as close to the Sheridan Street webcam as I could get and called home. I got my wife online and even though I was parked up the block, she was able to see Murphy (my canoe) on top of my truck. I got out of the truck and walked over toward the webcam and the next frame had me standing at the intersection. Barb saved that frame as well as a couple more frames that the webcam captured to document my arrival in Ely and then sent them out on email to other people like my brother Jack, that were interested in my trip. From there I stopped at Voyaguer North outfitters to look for a long sleeve T-shirt. It was 57 degrees and they were predicting frost in the morning so I needed something a little bit warmer for during the day. They didn’t have anything I liked so I abandoned the idea and decided to tough it out. I left VNO and, even though it was still pretty early in the day, I headed over to the campground. I knew from the reservations site that the site was occupied the previous night and that they may not have left yet, but I figured I would check anyway just in case. [paragraph break]
When I got to the campground, the site was empty. It had not been vacant long enough for the hosts to go through and clean it up, but other than some leftovers in the fire pit, it was fine so I set up my home for the next four days. The hosts came along and were wondering if I was the previous tenant, but I let them know I was the new guy and that the site was good to go.
Once camp was set up, I headed out for Lake One right around 2:00 hoping to be fishing by 3:00. My first cast hit the water at 2:56 just below the second rapids down the river and just like my last two trips, I caught a smallmouth on my second cast. I caught about 4 more before the wind and current dislodged me so I moved over to the other side and wedged myself into some rocks. I got a few more smallmouth over there, got dislodged again, and moved back over to where I was originally. I wedged myself in again and things went absolutely crazy. For nearly an hour I was catching fish on almost every cast. Right around 4:15, the action just stopped. I had one of the first smallmouth on the stringer for dinner and took it with me over the portage and back to the first set of rapids. I didn’t stay long there, but I did catch a walleye that finished off my dinner plans.
I got back to the campground around 5:15 or so, filleted the fish down by the lake, had a dinner of lemon pepper baked fish and mashed potatoes, and cleaned everything up by 7:15 or so. I watched a movie in the tent, called home, and wandered around down by the lake stargazing, finally going to bed around 11:00. Given that they are predicting frost tonight and then a warm up, I am going to change my plans. Instead of getting up really early and going up the North Kawishiwi River when it’s good and cold out, I’m going to sleep in and head to Pipestone Bay.
Portages – 3 portages totaling about 30 rods. Miles paddled - 2 Weather – sunny and cool, 57 degrees when I arrived, hi around 75
I got up around 7:00 to 44 degrees. Not quite cold enough to turn on the heat in the tent, but it was close! I had breakfast and made my lunch before hitting the water. The water was perfectly calm and the fog rising as I got Murphy down to the lake.
I heard a lot of boats out on the lake as early as 6:00 and they all seemed to be headed the same way I wanted to go. I didn’t think that a Monday would be that busy, but the boat traffic was constant all morning. I paddled over to the Newton Lake portage, there were two boats at the landing putting on their portage wheels. Seeing as I'm daytripping, I blew past them onto and over the portage and found two guys in a canoe over on the other side. We leapfrogged each other all the way down Newton Lake, which turned out to be a long paddle. When we finally got to the portage into Pipestone Bay, the armada was even bigger. One of the boats at the Newton portage had passed us and was there, another boat was catching us, and there were a couple of canoes already there. I waited for one of the groups to clear the portage and then moved through as fast as I could, only to find no parking on the other side of the portage, there were more boats and canoes spread all over the place. I found a spot over on the very edge of the landing and got in and out of the way in a hurry. I paddled all the way up to the falls and took some pictures, they were definitely more impressive than Newton Falls.
Unfortunately almost the entire area around the falls was very shallow. I fished around and found one deep hole, but only caught a few rock bass so I headed to the opposite shore that went straight uphill and climbed up the cliff to get some pictures and video of the falls from the top. As I climbed up, I kept thinking that this is one of those activities that I really shouldn’t be doing when on a solo trip.
Once I got down off the cliff, I paddled over to the closest campsite and had some lunch while watching more canoes going in both directions. From there I fished the deep hole along the far shoreline, catching a few rock bass that should have been walleye and slowly headed back to the portage. I ended up fishing longer than I wanted to simply because there was a constant flow of people over that stupid portage. When I did head over the portage there were three canoes on one side and four on the other. I made it a point to be the last one in and the first one out. I got really tired and hot paddling back down Newton Lake. It was probably close to 80 and there wasn’t much of a breeze for once. I stopped at Newton Falls, had the rest of my lunch, then filled my anchor bag with rocks and went out fishing some more. I caught 8 nice smallmouth over on the west side of the current. The whole time I was there the traffic was constant. There was no time that I could not see another canoe somewhere on the lake. Just as I was leaving about 10 guys showed up and were fishing from shore. I talked to one of them when I got on the portage, it was their first day at Vermillion Community College and this was a class activity. They were given one of about 4 different outdoor activities to go do. In addition to the guys fishing, there were even more people on the portage that must have been there for the same reason, they all looked like they were out for a walk in the park. I made it back to camp around 3:15, got cleaned up, and drove to town for bait, booze, and some gloves. My new paddle was giving me blisters so I bought a pair of biking gloves used by BMX kids. They turned out to be perfect. They were padded on the inside, fingerless, and just netting on the outside so they covered my blisters, didn’t get my hands all sweaty, and dried very quickly. Back at camp around 5 for chicken tacos and then got everything ready for an early departure in the morning. There was a sign on the bathroom doors announcing a stargazing event at the boat dock so around 9:30 or so, I headed down there. It turns out a professor of astronomy from Arizona State was there I was the only one there with him that night so I got a one hour personal lecture. I learned a bunch from him, including that he probably went to high school with mom!
Portages – 4 portages totaling about 360 rods, plus up and down from camp. Miles paddled - 11 Weather – sunny and warm, lo 44, hi 76, no wind.
Well, I almost got out of bed on time. The zipper on my sleeping back separated during the night and I got cold! Around 4:15am I took the fleece blanket I brought with for warm nights and covered the sleeping bag with it to ward off the 48 degree breeze going up my shorts and reset the alarm from 5:15 to 5:45, then later just turned it off. I ended up getting out of bed at 5:45 anyway, made coffee and brushed my teeth, and was out of the campground by 6:00, only to turn around because I was wearing the wrong shoes! Instead of entering at Farm Lake, I drove to Pickerel Lake and entered there. I crossed Pickerel and got about half way across the portage when I had to drop everything and move a tree that had fallen over the trail. I finally got on the North Kawisiwi river about 7:00 and paddled right into the rising sun and a light easterly breeze. I made really good time all the way to the first portage, double portaged it seeing as it was so shor and then single portaged the next one ending up at the Murphys portage (namesake of my canoe) at 8:15. I stopped at the landing and got some rocks for an anchor and then went out fishing. I hooked up half a worm and threw it over the side and before I could even close the worm box and make a cast, I had a smallmouth on. It hit the worm that was just dangling in the water! I caught that one, plus three other smallmouth and a pretty good pike but fishing wasn’t really that hot. I tied on a rapala and casted the shoreline and got 2 more smallmouth plus I missed something huge. I stopped back on shore for a breakfast bar and then went back out fishing. I was a little worried about my bait supply and switched to Gulp! worms and it turned out that about 2/3rd of a green one with a twister tail was the hot bait of the day. I lost count of the bass I caught in the next hour or so before I headed back to the portage landing for some lunch of tuna fish on pita and trail mix. While I was there I ran into a group of 9 women in 4 canoes that were coming through who were very impressed with Murphy. They were long gone by the time I had finished my lunch and noticed that they had left a kneeling pad and map behind. I thought about running after them with it, but wasn’t real sure if the stuff was theirs because a man and woman had come through going the other way earlier in the day. I also wasn’t sure that I could catch them. I decide to leave the stuff there in the case the owner came back for it and started for home. The wind had been picking up all day and I was starting to get concerned about it because it was really blowing hard up in the trees but it didn’t seem to be that strong down at ground level. Instead of moving directly down to the next portage, I finally stopped at the portage to Greenstone Lake. This is something that I’ve wanted to do for years and have never done. I will also never do it again. The portage goes absolutely straight up. It must have gained over 100 feet in elevation before it finally leveled off on granite rock. There were no rock cairns or anything to mark the path, you just had to guess which way it went until it got back into some grass or something. It is, by far, the hardest portage I have ever done, and I was only carrying a camera! Greenstone Lake is beautiful though.
I’ll bet that it is just loaded with fish too, seeing as the only way to get to this place is nearly impossible. Given the size of the thing, I wouldn’t know where to even begin fishing the thing if I ever did figure out how to get in there without killing myself. Once I got back from that death march, I stopped and fished around the next portage for awhile and, as usual, the wind was exactly wrong. I got a pike, as usual for this spot, and a couple of bass and moved on. I fished in one of Barbs favorite spots near the next portage. That place is so much fun! There are always some big, feisty bass in there. I almost had a huge pike too, it attacked a bass I had on but let go before I got it up to the boat. Judging from the teeth marks in that bass, it was huge. It was a decent size bass and the marks went from the belly all the way to the dorsal fin. If I had a sharpie I could have drawn the outline of the pikes mouth on the back of that thing. After a few more bass I moved on. I planned to stop at the area called Deadmans and as usual the wind made it really difficult. I caught a couple of bass way up in the current and swore to myself I would come back tomorrow and fish nothing but the area from the first portage back to Deadmans in the morning when there was no wind and kept swearing that to myself all the way until I hit the portage back into Pickerel Lake. Man that is a tough portage after being out all day and fighting the wind the whole paddle back. My legs were just Jello. Once I got back to camp I walked down the steps to look at Fall Lake and could hardly make it back up the stupid steps. After thinking about it for awhile, I decided that I needed to change my plans. There was no way I was going to make a loop from Wood Lake like I had planned for tomorrow. That route would have been about 11 miles of paddling and 7 portages totaling over 800 rods. I took an Advil and decided to hit Lake One down to the small waterfall instead, had some chicken and oriental noodles for dinner, and flopped in the tent for the rest of the night. It clouded up about sunset so I didn’t get to test my new astronomy knowlege and then while I was on the phone with Barb I thought I saw lightning but never heard any thunder. Later that night it absolutely poured for about 4 hours straight and, of course, I had a leak in the tent right above my head. At least I got the zipper on my sleeping bag fixed just in time for the warmest night of the week.
Portages – 9 (including the 320 rod Greenstone hike), 630 rods. Miles paddled - 9 Weather – sunny and warm, inch of rain overnight. Lo 48, hi 78, strong PM breeze from the west.
The rain eased up about 3am but I could hear the wind high up in the trees all night long. According to the campground hosts, we got over an inch of rain overnight. I got up around 7:20 to a cloudy day. It was sprinkling and 62 degrees. The sprinkles didn’t last too long and I left right around 8:00 wearing the right shoes this time. The Lake One landing was strangely empty this morning and I had a pretty strong wind in my face, of course. I figured I would paddle down to the portage I was at on Sunday and then decide if I would go any farther in the wind. Once I got through there I decided I had enough gas to make it down to the next portage. Wouldn’t you know it, along the way, I ran into the group of women I met yesterday going the opposite direction. They were pretty surprised to see me and it turns out that it was their map and knee pad that was left yesterday. I felt kind of bad for not trying to run them down yesterday, but based on my condition last night, I think if I would have run down that 220 rod portage I would have been dead before I got back to Pickerel Lake. It took about an hour and a half to get to the small falls from the entry point. I took some video and pictures of the falls and carried Murphy over to fish below them even though I didn’t have much luck fishing in here the last time we were through. There has got to be some good fish in here, but every time I come here the weather has just changed and I think it shuts down the fish. Today I caught two pike and two bluegill. I was less than excited with either species on my hook. Right before I gave up on the area, I caught a smallmouth so at least all hope was not lost.
The next rapids looked completely different than I remember it from the three other trips I have taken through the area. I have only been here in the higher water months when the water splits around an island and runs into this little bay from two different directions. Today one of those rapids was completely dry. I floated around in the wind and the current and got a good bass and another snot rocket of a pike. The hot bait today was a white jig and a Gulp leech. So much for the theory of matching your jig color to the color of the sky because the sky was pretty dark and even sprinkling occasionally and I was using a really brightly colored jig. Of course, about the time I decided to head back to the spot I was at on Sunday and use the wind that I fought all the way here to my advantage, it died. The weather must have really killed the fishing because the same spot that produced at least 20 bass on Sunday gave up a total of 1 today. I was determined, though, not to quit fishing until I caught more bass than pike so I headed over to the rapids that runs into Confusion Lake and caught one more bass. I got back to camp about 4:30, had some chili and mashed potatoes for dinner and sat there wondering where the time went. On Sunday evening I was wondering what I would do with myself and now the trip is essentially over before I knew it.
Portages – 7 portages, 100 rods. Miles paddled - 6 Weather – cloudy with sprinkles, lo 62, hi 72
I didn’t get up real early, but early enough that I could have some breakfast and still get over to Newton Falls for an hour of fishing before I had to pack up and leave. Fall Lake is completely different today than it was on Monday, there is no traffic. It took me exactly 20 minutes to paddle over the portage and another 5 minutes or so to make the 80 rod portage and grab some rocks for an anchor. I paddled around the corner and found two guys fishing in a boat but they weren’t very close to where I wanted to fish so I paddled by and anchored about the same place I was on Monday. I only had an hour and a pretty beat up bait supply after being unrefridgerated for the past 5 days, but I caught 4 bass and a walleye. The walleye was a surprise, it was only the second one I’d seen all week and I have never seen them in this spot. I thought about offering it to the guys in the boat after the commotion that went on over there when one of the guys caught a small pike, but I let it swim. As 9:00 approached, I had to call an end to it and headed back to the campground for the long journey home. I packed everything up, showered, and hit the road just after 10:30. I took the long way home by heading down highway 1 and the north shore of Lake Superior instead of going through Virginia. This route is longer both in miles and time, but much more interesting. I also took a different route through Duluth and Superior, using the I-35 bridge instead of the highway 53 bridge so I could end up on route 2 and visit Pattison State Park. The park isn’t much, but it does have a very nice waterfall in it.
I stopped in Tomah, Wisconsin for the night and headed the rest of the way home the next morning.
Great weather again! Although this week is busier than the week after Labor Day when I usually take this trip, the weather has been much better the two years I’ve used it.
No need to go to Pipestone Bay again. Too many people and not enough fish. It was nice to discover some place new, but not worth the effort.
Next year go for PBJ over tuna fish for lunch. That foil packed tuna gets pretty nasty by the second day.
Fishing was great!
Greenstone Lake? Impossible.
It was awesome having a personal astronomy lesson. Too bad there were no northern lights…again! I thought I had it this time, there was no moon to block them.
I need to make trips so there is an easy day in between hard ones. The Wood Lake loop would have killed me after two hard days in a row.