This was somewhere around my 20th solo trip, and it might have been one of the best ones ever for weather and bugs. EXCEPT for my entry day, when NW winds were gusting up to 25 mph straight down Kawishiwi to the EP 37 landing. I was ready to go at 12:45, but prudence and my advanced age (66) dictated that I not try to shove off sideways into foot-high whitecaps and try to bring the bow into the wind in 3 or 4 quick, easy strokes. :-)
So I waited . . . and waited . . . and waited . . . . I killed time wandering around the NFS campground and talked to another solo canoer (her first solo) who was also nervous about the wind and waves. She also thought she was coming down with COVID! Yikes, not a great time to be starting a trip. I'd probably reconsider myself.
On one of my loops around the campground, I checked out the water access to campsite 5 and decided it was good enough and calm enough in that protected bay that I could at least work up a head of steam, get centered into the wind, and bull my way northwestward. The wind seemed to be abating ever so slightly, so at 3:45 or so, I shoved off. What a grind. I think it took me an hour to reach Square Lake. In calm conditions, I probably would have done it in 30 minutes.
Fortunately, my extra work was rewarded by being able to float down the river past both portages from Square to Kawaschong. I think it was a combination of a ton of rain this season and two beaver dams near Kawaschong that allowed an easy bypass of the two portages.
Kawaschong suffered from severe damage in the Pagami Creek fire some ten years ago, as did Square and Townline lakes and the very southern shore of Poll virtually up to the water's edge at the south portage landing. So that area looked a bit desolate even though new growth was filling in the landscape nicely. 100-ft-tall burned trees stand as stark reminders of the power of Mother Nature.
Portaging this route is moderately difficult at most. All trails are well-traveled and relatively flat. This was one of the first trips in recent memory where I didn't have one or two killer portages--either a mile or one with 100 feet of elevation change and rough, rocky put-in and takeout spots. It'd be a great intro route for a group with kids because the lakes aren't too huge, the river areas are always fun to paddle, and they are a nice change of scenery. Also a chance to see moose in the swampy river areas.
And don't forget the beavers! Two dams I mentioned earlier are near the outflow into Kawaschong but are relatively easy lift-overs or short carries to floatable water. A couple of dams between Polly and Koma also require lift-overs. I didn't see any beavers other than in the shadows at dusk, but I heard a few tail slaps during the trip.
My first-night campsite was the east site in the middle of Kawaschong. Nothing special, but it had a decent landing and flat tent pads. The wind stayed strong until after sunset. Despite that, the bugs were the worst they'd turn out to be the entire trip. Mosquitos for about an hour. Thankfully no black files or no-see-ums. Sweat bees abounded, as did hordes of yellow moths that took an instant liking to my tent and were always eager to follow me inside.
Temps were 70s down to 50s the first three nights, then Friday and Saturday, Sept. 2 & 3, dropped to 60s for highs and 40s lows. When I returned my rental gear to the outfitters Sunday afternoon, the 4th, they told me there had been frost warnings in the Finland area. I believed it because my nose told me early Sunday morning that my tent was a lot colder than 40 degrees.
Woke to dense fog covering Lake Polly that Sunday morning. Couldn't see 100 yds across the lake. Eerie! Sadly, I missed Saturday night's Norther Light show because this old man turned in too early (9:30, and I guess the show started about 10:30).
Polly makes a great base camp lake, as does Malberg. On my second day, I made it to Malberg and stayed for two nights. The campsite was the one just east of the T intersection on the north shore. Great site! Generous landing areas, good kitchen, one perfect tent pad back up the hill about 20 yards and sheltered with lots of trees. Also several other decent tent pads. The site is near the start of the channel, so breezes are accessible from the southwest, west, and east, and the channel makes for a cozy view and protection from most strong winds. I also caught a nice SMB from shore.
On my layover day, I fished the eastern arm of Malberg from my site and back. No luck. That evening, I paddled to the NW bay, and checked out a few sites. The one on the east shore is spectacular! A wide sandy beach has room for probably 20 canoes, has 3-4 good tent pads and one perfect tent pad, 4-square log seating around the fire grate, and a nice view to the west. If your group is 6 or more, this would be a perfect site, and great for kids because of the easy swimming in the beach area.
Fishing for me that night in the NW bay was excellent. I worked the east shoreline back toward my campsite and caught a nice SMB but lost it just as I was about to net it. Then I caught a 20" incher (estimated) about 10 minutes later. Working the curve where the shore heads east, I caught maybe a 4-lb northern some 10 minutes after that. For me, 3(4) fish in 20 minutes is great results.
After my layover day, I headed back to Polly and landed on the far southern site on the west shore within view of the portage to Koma. Another great site. The landing is not spacious but shallow gravel with some flat rocks. Nice kitchen area with elevated fire grate (so much easier on old backs not to have to crouch or kneel so low to build a fire. One perfect tent pad back in the woods and totally sheltered. Several other decent tent pads make this another good site for larger groups. Plenty of trees for tarping options. The only negative is the kitchen faces straight east, so the morning sun glaring into your eyes is a minor annoyance. Also, this site sees a lot of traffic to and from the portage. But most canoes stay far away from the campsite shore and don't create a big ruckus.
On my Polly layover day, I fished and collected shore wood for campfires. Had zero luck in the bay just to the north of my site, but that evening caught in quick succession a small walleye, SMB, and northern around the point that divides the southern end of the lake into two bays. Once again, I was shore casting toward structure and the edge of reed beds. That was the secret to my success in Malberg--all four fish were caught right on the deep edge of a bed of reeds.
After my two-bug infested trips in 2021, I was blown away by the lack of bugs despite the wet summer. Only used my head net once for a short time on my first night on Polly. Otherwise, the short burst of mosquitos on Kawaschong was the only other time I noticed the little nasties. I was able to sit in short sleeves by the fire every evening and not worry about getting bitten. The skies were clear each night, so the stargazing was superb. I wish I could've stayed up later until it got pitch dark to see the Milky Way in its full glory, but one must trust one's inner clock to know when rest is needed. I've usually overdone my solo trips and regretted the aches, pains, and exhaustion. This trip was just about right. A short entry day (albeit taxing paddling into the gale), then a modest distance the next, a rest day, a modest return distance, another rest day, and a modest final day exit.
The only other weather issue was a short thunderstorm Friday morning, Sept. 2, that delayed my departure from Malberg by 45 minutes. Didn't cause me to miss out on my chosen site on Polly, so all was well.
I had Malberg to myself at least one night, maybe both. Polly was about half full as I paddled south toward my eventual campsite, and a few groups came across the portage into Polly as I set up camp. The next day, Saturday, was quite busy with groups coming in. And going out on Sunday I encountered groups coming and going (it was the day before Labor Day, after all). I expected it to be more crowded the entire trip, so I was pleased I had essentially 3 nights of solitude (I'm pretty sure I had Kawaschong to myself on Tuesday night, Aug. 30).
I highly recommend this trip for an easier, less crowded alternative to the routes out of Sawbill (Cherokee and beyond, for example) that offers a nice variety of small and medium lakes, river travel, beaver dams, decent fishing, stark reminders of what forest fires can do, and more solitude than you might expect, even during one of the busier weeks of the season.