BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 26 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1249 feet
North Kawishiwi River - 29
Paddle with Dad: Lake One to Insula
June 25, 2017
Number of Days:
The alarm on phone buzzed and I rolled over in my sleeping bag. It was 5am and it felt like I’d just laid down. Well, I really had. The trip had really began for me a day earlier when I woke up in my Twin Cities apartment, played an Ultimate Frisbee tournament all day, packed the car, tied the canoe on, and left on 35W at 10pm. I’d arrived at my little brother’s studio+ in Duluth around 1am and spent a few hours asleep on the kitchen floor next to my dad. Now we were all waking up, my little brother for work, and me and my dad we headed up to Ely and the BWCA.
My dad drove up the north shore as I slept more until we stopped in Two Harbors for breakfast at McDonald’s. As we turned away from the big lake it began to rain on and off hard enough to slow our progress up Route 1. We reached Kawishiwi Lodge and Outfitters around 9 and picked up a few last essentials including jigs, leeches, a fishing license for Dad, and info about the dangerous rapids between Lakes One and Two (take the long way around). Lastly, we repacked in the boat house and got on the water at about 10 or 11am.
The paddle started off wonderful! The rain was a warm, slow drizzle and we were in awe as we adjusted out minds and bodies to the quiet and solitude. That first awe and excitement is always so sweet. My navigation skills took a bit to come back and we had some confusion finding the portages to Lake Two. By the time we were paddling into Three, though, I had the hang of it again of how the map distances correspond to real world distances. As we reached the far end of Lake Four the rain increased in intensity and the temperature began to drop.
We handled the three portages from Four to Hudson in quick succession. They weren’t bad, but they were soaking wet with big puddles of chilled rainwater. We put on more layers before paddling across Hudson. That helped but the wind was picking up and the rain was only getting harder. We paddled hard against the wind and simply to keep warm. The portage into Insula is beautiful, but we didn’t have the time, energy, or body heat to appreciate it.
On Insula we were paddling through the still-comparatively-barren burned area. We were feeling a bit barren ourselves as we were running out of energy, cold, and our extra layers were wet by now as well. We headed east for two miles around the big, misshapen island and the large, bulbous peninsula. As we rounded the peninsula and headed north we were now looking at fully green shores, untouched by the fire. However, we were also headed directly into the wind, which seemed stronger than ever. The rain was harder too, and it was colder. Frankly, it was miserable. Finally, we could see our site, #1337, and finished the final push.
We landed, and went straight for the tent. We were legitimately concerned about hypothermia at this point and new we should get dry and warm as quick as we could. Once the tent and rainfly were up, we each peeled off our GORE-TEX and wet layers and climbed into sleeping bags. We ate nuts and trail muffins, drank copious amounts of water, and were finally warm enough to fall asleep.
We probably napped for couple hours and when we woke up the rain and wind had both slowed. We set up a tarp for a kitchen area, hung a bear bag, and made dinner. Dinner was chicken from a bag and vegetables we’d chopped at home all spiced, steamed, and stewed in the same pot. Some delicious and warming broth at the bottom! We ate under the tarp as the day’s last grey light faded – there was no chance of getting a fire started.
Monday, June 26, 2017
We woke to a bright and shining morning. First thing I did was tie on a jig and put it out with a leech. I caught a nice smallie in the shallows just feet from camp. When my dad returned from the woods with the bear bag, we ate breakfast and then set about drying our clothes and gear in the sun. We took it easy that morning, still tired from our paddle in stayed dry and walked on small trails around the peninsula on which we were camped. We came across a (snapping?) turtle who looked like she was laying eggs.
That afternoon we paddled out into the chunk of Insula adjacent to our site. I trolled a Deep Tail Dancer as we circled The Rock. When we rounded the southern end I hooked into sizeable pike and fought it for a while as the wind picked up. Although it’s not saying much, this was probably the biggest pike I’ve hooked and I was surprised by how many runs it made. Meanwhile the sky was getting darker as a squall headed towards us across the water. Finally, I thought the fish was ready to come in and I held the line as I reached for it with my undersized net. One more big thrash and I knew my mistake as the line snapped. At the same instant the squall hit us, a cold wind picked up and it started to rain. The bright sun of that morning was nowhere to be seen and the water was dark as the exhausted pike rolled on its surface with the Tail Dancer t-boned in its mouth. We fought the wind and managed to keep the fish in view long enough to make a pass and I had its nose in my net, but my little trout net wasn’t deep enough and the weight of its tail against the water flipped the whole fish out. We scanned the choppy surface as we were buffeted by the wind but we couldn’t see the pike anymore. As quickly as it had come, the darkness and rain moved on and the warm sun shone down on us again. I vowed to buy a bigger net.
If anyone more experienced than me knows (or can guess) what becomes of fish that break off with big lures in their mouths, I’d love to know what you think. Sure, I wanted to retrieve my $11 lure, but I was more concerned about the pike. If it didn’t die of exhaustion, I assume it starved unable to shake out the solidly lodged hooks?
Disappointed by my ineptitude and careless damage to the resident of the beautiful place I was visiting, I sat around dejectedly. But it’s hard for me to stay sour for long up there and soon it was time to cook dinner. I set about preparing a boil-in-bag Indian dish. I heard a shout from the water and went over to see my dad with a fish on. He’s not a fisherman but had brought a pole along to join in with me. After he landed the nice smallie he told me with wide eyes how he had seen the fish feet from shore. He had put a leech on his jig and tossed it out nearby, assuming it would be ignored. He was amazed that the idea of fishing had actually worked. He was exhilarated and it was a great feeling to watch.
We had a fire that night with dinner and a still evening provided a peaceful view of the sun’s last rays.
I was up early and tried to repeat our shore-fishing successes, but had no luck this time. I did manage to spot a big hare at the edge of camp and get a blurry picture. We ate a quick breakfast, packed ourselves some lunch, and headed out. We paddled north through the small passage, east passed Eagle Island (my name, given for the gang of bald eagles perched on dead trees on the island’s southern point), around Williamson Island, north through the narrows, and finally east to the portage to the Kawishiwi River. We spent the middle of the day fishing the rapids.
I had a pretty good few hours. I caught two eater-sized walleye using the TGO method to swirl a leech in the end of the rapids. I caught a personal best smallie at just over 18 inches – also on a plain leech and hook. And finally I hooked a pike just under 30 inches. This was on my lighter rod with lighter line and I was standing on solid shore, so I took my sweet time fighting this one. When he finally let himself come into the shallows the hook was just barely tucked into the corner of his mouth. It slipped right out when I pushed. I pointed him towards the deep water and he swam down slowly but directly. I love that thrill of a good release as much as I love the catching. This one felt especially good after f@*$!ng up the last one.
Unfortunately, my dad didn’t catch anything. Worse than that, I was just sort of in my own world and didn’t help him get anything. He came out to fish with me, not to watch me fish. We talked about it later and I apologized for ignoring him.
On the way back to camp, we stopped at Williamson Island. I’d read about it on these forums including the story/history/legend the Williamson family made this their annual getaway and carved their name in the rock. It’s a beautiful place and I resolved to come back and stay there (see my trip report from 2018!).
Over a walleye dinner we had some really good father son talk. I talked about my girlfriend and told him of the problems we were having. He told me about getting back to rock climbing and hiking after a bad fall and broken leg the past fall. It was good to be up there with him. Then it was night, we went to sleep, and prepared for our travel day out the next morning.
We were up early and on the water with a gray morning. It was warm enough and calm, making for a beautiful paddle through the burned southern half of Insula. This time we noticed the bright pink/purple flowers amidst the gray.
As we went it got darker and cooler. On Lake 2 it began to drizzle. On Lake 1 it was raining hard and the wind had picked up. That last mile or two dragged on and on. We didn’t want to leave, so we were working against ourselves as well as the elements. By the time we got to the EP, it was pouring and we were soaked to the skin and cold. It seemed the BWCA wanted to send us off the way it had welcomed us.
We had a sauna and shower at Kawishiwi Lodge and bought T-shirts. (Well, we left money for them after the proprietor on the phone told us to reach behind the counter and choose our favorites.) We drove slowly in mist and rain back down to Duluth. We met up with my brother for dinner at Va Bene Caffe – a delicious Italian feast! It’s not often the three of us get some time together, so that part’s worth including. Next time my bro will come with us on the trip.