BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
October 04 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 7
Elevation: 1653 feet
Kawishiwi Lake - 37
Strangers in Paradise Part Deux
July 11, 2007
Number of Days:
I was a good 15 minutes late picking up Shady this morning. Rather than heading straight for the Sawbill Trail we had a planned stop in Ely to pick up my paddles (accidentally left behind on my earlier June trip-but a convenient excuse for another trip!). I am ever thankful for the short drive from the TC. I wouldn’t hesitate to take a 2-3 day trip if that’s all time allowed. Voyageur North Outfitters provided the paddles, a permit and a pound of leeches. After winding down Highway 1 and a few forest roads we were at our entry point 37, Kawishiwi Lake and it still wasn’t much after noon.
Shady was familiar with the area we were paddling and we were aiming for a campsite on Lake Polly Wednesday night. Dodging storms we made our way across Kawishiwi Lake and my trusty ultra light 17’ Alumacraft made quick work of the beaver dams between Kawishiwi and Square lakes. Low water extended the first of two portages between Square and Kawasachong, but still they were short, easy, dry trails. We made it across Kawasachong just as the thunder started. Although we got wet the portages to and from Townline were uneventful. We arrived on Polly late afternoon 4-5ish and although our first choice campsite was taken we found shelter on a small site on the large north facing eastern peninsula (third campsite on the right as you head north). While small the campsite did have a couple nice tent pads and a decent tree to hang the food pack. I picked up a small waldo and smallie in a half-hearted fishing attempt from shore. We dried out and had a dinner of Kielbasa, beans and rice, before crashing early.
We had only a short paddle to the first of 3 portages along the Kawishiwi River leading to Koma Lake. Again all of the portages were in good condition, with rare muddy spots. With the rains to come conditions certainly may have deteriorated. On the third portage, some 120 rods we encountered a momma Merganser and her 7 chicks. The chicks scurried along and tumbled down the root stairs of the portage which was quite amusing! Momma flew off when she saw us but eventually everyone reunited on the water.
Thursday was another day of dodging rain. We paused to fish briefly below the falls on Malberg and hooked up with a couple bronze backs but we needed to keep moving. Our goal for this evening was to setup base camp on the Kawishiwi River northwest of Malberg and day trip/fish from there. We made our way through the Malberg narrows and encountered a few anglers who reported little fishing success. In preparation for a strong-ish wind from the NW we stopped for a sandwich lunch on the southern point campsite of the west arm of Malberg. We made easy work of the Malberg wind and short portage into the river. The skies parted and we paddled downstream to the island in the middle of the Kawishiwi River hoping to find vacancy. And we did.
We setup camp on the northern island site and it proved to be a great home for the next 4 nights. The site featured three large tent pads, a shore-edge rock outcropping perfect for fishing or pumping water and views of the western sky.
Between squalls we got a chance to get out fishing. Shady hooked up within seconds (literally) of commencing our troll. A nice eater waldo. We picked up another smalleye trolling the bay but our real goal for the evening was a cache of firewood. We struck the firewood jackpot and discovered enough dry cedar wood for a little cooking and 4 nights of campfires. Back at camp the cook whipped up a delicious chicken, stuffing and mashed potato dinner. I’m stealing this recipe! The rains held off the rest of the night and we had a beautiful cool night for a campfire. We were anxious to get out on the water and really pound the fish the next morning.
We were looking to avoid the bad luck of this Friday the 13th. The am skies were less threatening and after some pancakes we hit the water in search of waldos. We located fish by throwing diving crankbaits, anchored and then broke out the leeches and slip bobbers. Luck was with us as we caught about a dozen small walleye (all 14-18”) and kept a few for dinner. We caught just as many smallies and boated a half dozen pike to boot. We also had front row seats as an eagle swooped in to grab some dinner. It was a pretty amazing sight! This particular bald seemed to be monitoring our fishing success-waiting for a released fish to go belly up.
By early afternoon the skies were looking less friendly though and we raced back to camp-just in time as it would turn out. I got the fish cleaned and Shady readied a fire to cook our foil lemon pepper walleye. We huddled under the tarp with our tasty dinner and endured about 4 hours of heavy rain. The weather gave us plenty of time to get further acquainted. As luck (word of the day) would have it (not!) the rain seemed to wake the mosquitoes. From here on out they were fierce. We did our best to smoke out the skeeters with a nice campfire before turning in.
After a buckwheat pancake breakfast, we decided to paddle downstream this morning and fish the area below some rapids. Fishing a floating jig and leech above a split shot I had the hot hand and landed a series of really nice smallies (to ~18”). In the current below the rapids they put up a heck of a fight! At one point I yelled over the roar of the water, “Man, I love this kind of fishing!” Shady sarcastically responded “What [kind of fishing is that]? When you’re the only one catching fish?” My hot hand cooled but with some persistence I caught the walleye we knew was hiding down there. Throw in a few pike-it was a great morning!
We fished right through lunchtime but we had a snack before heading back upstream to camp. While eating we met a group on the move. Seriously! As we understood it, they had put in on Moose Lake (assuming the popular one near Ely) Wednesday, rounded American Point (Saganaga n’est-ce pas?) and were back to this point nearing Alice. I don’t know whether to believe it or not, but it sounds like an almost superhuman haul. Shady and I agreed that their apparent trip leader looked like a guy from the “Strangers” group photo-far left QPassage (QP)?
For the second day in a row we had rain throughout much of the afternoon. After dinner the sky stopped dumping and we got out and fished topwaters for smallies. Shady fooled a beautiful 18.5” Smallmouth with a skitter pop. Storm clouds were mounting on the horizon but fortunately we saw no more rain on this trip. We had a nice sunset to go with our campfire.
We decided to revisit our most productive water this morning, which would be our last dedicated fishing day. Within minutes we were on fish and we quickly had three walleyes on the stringer. Our friendly eagle was again intently waiting and watching for an easy meal.
Here comes the obligatory “one that got away story.” Shady was soaking a leech and having far more success than I on this day. But the fishing slowed down after our early success and we were getting ready to pull up the anchor and move a bit. Don’t let him tell you otherwise, Shady didn’t even realize his bobber was down. When he FINALLY did, he picked up the slack and set the hook on what appeared to be a decent fish. But when the aerials started we quickly realized this was a trophy 20+” smallmouth. He battled the fish for a couple minutes, getting it nearly to the boat. But the hook eventually yielded and his monster smallmouth got away. Based on what I saw, I have no doubt this was a 20+” fish.
Although the fishing was a little slower, we were treated to another close encounter with the eagle. This time s/he launched into flight after a 6 or 7” smallmouth struggling at the surface. I was able to catch some of it with my digital camera’s movie feature. While the resolution could be better there are a few pretty cool frames.
After dinner we were cleaning up around camp when Shady commented on a splashing sound from across the river. Sure enough, there was a big cow moose eating, drinking and wading in the small bay directly across from our campsite. We sat and watched her for a good while, but eventually we launched our canoe for one last evening of topwater fishing. She seemed wholly unconcerned with our presence and spent probably an hour and a half dining before returning to the woods. I think we landed a couple small bass but it was just a beautiful night to be out, with a clearing sky and our friend the moose nearby.
We settled down by a fire to take in the peace and quiet. We had seen only 3 or 4 groups in our time camped on the river until…must have been 10 pm when we heard THEM round the bend. With all of the headlamp and flashlight activity you would have thought aliens landed. They proceeded to setup camp right across the bay from us. We could still hear pots and pans loudly clanging after 11 pm, and a pathetic wolf howl imitation rang out from their direction sometime after midnight. Tacky…at best.
After a quick oatmeal breakfast (I love me some blueberries and cream!) supplemented with freshly picked wild blueberries we broke camp. We would play it by ear this day. At the very least we wanted get back to Polly to make for a leisurely paddle out Tuesday. But after last night’s racket our patience for crowds was running thin.
The morning light revealed that our noisy neighbors were a group of 8. The paddle and portage back to Malberg also revealed that only 1 of the 5 campsites leading up to our bay was occupied so I am left to conclude the group’s stealth (not) escapade was stubborn and needless. Forgive me if I sound a little self-righteous, but aside from being inconsiderate I consider their paddling in complete darkness dangerous.
We encountered groups heading the opposite direction on nearly if not every portage between the river and Kawasachong Lake. Still we were paddling fast and making up portage time with our lightened food pack. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and for once we weren’t paddling into a headwind. When we arrived at the portage from Polly back to Townline Lake it was very congested so we stopped at the neighboring campsite on Polly and feasted on everything that was deemed to be weighing us down. At this point we were both daydreaming about the comforts of home and the push was on for the parking lot at Kawishiwi Lake.
That is, if we ever get off of Polly. Some of the same boats that barricaded the portage before we pulled over for lunch remained now as we waited 20 yards offshore. There was gear strewn everywhere-four boats worth. The teenagers among the group seemed to recognize how slow and obtrusive their group was, but lacked much direction. Their apparent trip leader however remained deliberate as ever, or just oblivious, taking time to grab a leech and bait his hook. The only thing less sincere than his half*** apology was my “no problem” response. We waited another 15 minutes until they finally cleared out. Once offshore I took great pleasure in seeing their “leader” steer his boat directly into the western shoreline and a fallen tree.
We encountered many more groups on the way out, a few just as unorganized, but none so casual or negligent. We also passed an inspirational married couple probably in their late 50s or early 60s that I wanted to hug. They single portaged no problem (wife packs front and back including what appeared to be a 60#+ food pack, husband with Duluth Pack 3 or 4 and MNII), and stated they had 60+ trips together. I can dream of being so fortunate.
In spite of our complaints about the noisy group and the crowded portages we agreed that this trip was a wonderful success. It probably couldn’t have gone better. Shady and I got along great and always seemed to be on the same page. I look forward to paddling with him sometime soon.
We completed the long haul back to Kawishiwi Lake in record time. Loaded up the truck (the once empty parking lot now FULL) and headed for Shady’s traditional Pizza Hut dinner in Two Harbors. We were back in the cities around 10:30 pm and I got the chance to meet the neighbors slim Shady hangs with. In a strange coincidence, it turns out we have a mutual friend, his neighbor, so I guess we weren’t really strangers after all.