Boundary Waters Trip Reports, Blog, BWCA, BWCAW, Quetico Park

BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

October 23 2021

Entry Point 38 - Sawbill Lake

Sawbill Lake entry point allows overnight paddle only. This entry point is supported by Tofte Ranger Station near the city of Tofte, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 25 miles. Access is a boat landing at Sawbill Lake. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.

Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1802 feet
Latitude: 47.8699
Longitude: -90.8858
Sawbill Lake - 38

Sawbill/Cherokee, Covid-19, Bucket List, Solo Loop

by fishonfishoff
Trip Report

Entry Date: May 29, 2020
Entry Point: Sawbill Lake
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 1

Trip Introduction:
Every other year, our core group of guys head to the BWCA/Quetico area and have great loop trip adventures. Last winter we decided we are instead going to do a September trip to Maine to canoe the St Croix River. This will be fun but I still love the BWCA area trips. With the Covid-19 pandemic my work schedule went "wacko". I've had a bucket list solo trip on the agenda for years and since I'm north of 60 years old, my time to do get this done is getting narrower. I found a window of opportunity at the end of May/beginning of June that could work. Some fast scrambling found me booking a reservation for Sawbill Lake so I could do the Cherokee Loop trip. After some debating, I decided on renting a Prism from Sawbill Outfitters.

Day 1 of 8

Friday, May 29, 2020 Friday, May 29, 2020 First things first- I apologize for my writing skills, I'm just an average man!

I left my home in Ohio for the 13-14 hour trip to Sawbill Outfitters. Everything went smooth GPS took me to Caribou Trail East of Tofte instead of Sawbill Trail in Tofte. After some miles on Caribou, it told me to turn left on Rice Lake Road for like 8-10 miles, big mistake. The "road" was more like a snowmobile trail in the woods which was not a good experience for my wife's Honda CRV. I did make it to Sawbill Outfitters but there was times I didn't think I was going to make it! Talking with Sawbill, I was very impressed with their Covid-19 plan in place. My normal waking time is 4:15 Ohio time (5:15 MN time). Knowing this, they let me have the Prism as long as I didn't use it until tomorrow. this would allow me an early start before Sawbill opens and hopefully a lake which is very calm. Leeches were bought and put into my Gatorade Leech Locker. My sleeping arragments for the night was the Honda in the Sawbill parking lot.


Day 2 of 8

Saturday, May 30, 2020 I was awake by 4:30 MN time and the moon made it very light out! Breakfast was a big cold meat sandwich and water. The canoe was loaded and I shoved off at 5:30 into Sawbill for the long paddle straight north. Guess what, no calm lake, winds were from the north at what I'm guessing was 10-12 MPH with stronger gusts. It took a while to get used to Prism and I was glad it was loaded down for stability. By the time I paddled close to the portage towards Cherokee Lake, I thought the winds could be just as bad or even worse in Cherokee. The decision was made to use the 2 Star campsite #915 just east of the portage and just relax for the day, after all this was supposed to be a relaxing trip! I set up camp and used my hammock for the first time! Cooking is not my specialty (eating is), but I rehydrated some sloppy joe and made some homemade buns with self rising flour. It turned out pretty good.........for me.

Canoes seem to come and go to the Ada lake portage in the afternoon which made me wonder how much luck I will have finding a spot on Cherokee. Using the TGO method of fishing from shore did have a little success with walleyes which would be my breakfast in the morning. I crashed into the tent about dark, tired from the lack of sleep the last 2 nights.


Day 3 of 8

Sunday, May 31, 2020 Morning came and much calmer waters. :) Fried up and ate the walleye,then packed up camp. The quick paddle to the portage and I'm ready to do my first portaging for the trip. Our core group always single portages, but doing the solo and the fact, I brought way way way too much stuff, I plan to double portage. Something I tried for the first 2 days was Muck boots. I then switched to cheap water shoes which were "MUCH GOODER". This meant I had to carry the Muck boots about the entire week! I'm glad I found out ahead of time about doing 1 long portage vs the 2 short portages just north of Ada Lake. Cherokee Lake was in view and some little bigger wave action. With the gusting and swirling winds, there was many time I had to really dig in with my kayak paddle to keep the canoe from turning all the way around. Campsite #888 was marked on my map as a 4 star and it was open. Very good campsite which I felt guilty occupying it all by myself. Set up camp and relaxed in the afternoon. I did not see another canoe all day which led me to decide to make this a 2 night stay. I tried fishing from shore with many different methods, but no luck.


Day 4 of 8

Monday, June 01, 2020 Awoke in the middle of the night and stepped out of the tent for some star gazing since the moon prevented much of this on my adventure. I looked up in a small opening in the treeline and I saw the Big Dipper. All the other stars were block by trees, so pretty cool. Daylight came and dead calm waters. I had the canoe rigged up with depth finder, rod holder and all the accessories for some serious trolling. Paddling around in the Prism for about 1/2 hour without the weight of the packs made me very nervous!!!! I'm thinking if I hook a big fish or get stuck on bottom, there is a chance of a tipover. Being on a solo, I decided that canoe fishing would be out of the picture. This means I would be carrying all the extra fishing gear (estimated at 20#) without using it. Went back to camp and thought about what a lady said on a portage yesterday about rain coming in today. The water was still somewhat calm so I broke camp and headed towards North Temperance Lake. The first portage into Sitka Lake may have been the most physical of the trip. Doing the portaging I had time to think about the weight I was carrying and how to better distribute the load. My total load was between 140-150#. Like I said, I way way way overpacked. I started hoping somebody on a portage wanted to buy my extra fishing stuff at a very cheap price. Just got to the North Temperance Lake entrance and the rain started. My goal was campsite #905, closest to the South Temperance Lake portage. It is open and a quick tarp is set up.   Rain continued for about an hour so a made a deluxe pizza on the campstove. Camp was set up after the rain and I checked out area. This still has major evidence of the previous blowdown . This site seemed almost as good as the Cherokee site, so I will stay 2 nights. Fishing again was unproductive, so I hit the hay after finishing off the last of my Old Tennesee Smoky Caramel Whiskey.


Day 5 of 8

Tuesday, June 02, 2020 Morning was beautiful with glass smooth waters. I threw my entire fishing tackle box at catching fish with no luck. I am baffled at my lack of catching fish using the TGO method with leeches. Early mornings and towards dark were my main fishing times. Depths of 3-20 feet were used in many places sometimes letting it drift for 50 yards with no action. I tried keeping it close to the bottom and many times I did get stuck on bottom. Maybe the moonlight and bug hatch affected their feeding pattern? A nice warm afternoon allowed me some personal cleanup time which was refreshing to say the least. Pretty much relaxed all afternoon. The hammock is a blessing vs the logs and rocks option! Planning my next day's portages was a pleasure sitting in this beautiful campsite. I did not see any canoes all day.


Day 6 of 8

Wednesday, June 03, 2020 Time to head south. Quick oatmeal breakfast and I am off. Ran into "PORTAGE99" on the portage south of South Temperance Lake. She seemed like a very strong willed women who was also on her first solo trip. I admired her courage and hoped she had a great trip. At the south end of Jack Lake I took time to visit the abandoned gold mine west of the portage trail. It was pretty cool, but being solo, I wouldn't even think of entering the mine! Did the last portage into Kelly Lake. The northern narrow part of Kelly Lake got me thinking about the lack of wildlife I have seen so far. No bear, wolves, or moose I could see, but I have not seen even 1 bald eagle! I did see the trifecta of mini-bears yesterday (chipmonk, red squirrel, and mouse). I did see an otter on Jack Lake. The plan of going solo involves little noise and a lot of wildlife, so far this plan isn't happening. I'm sad to say the best part of my journey is over as I enter the main body of Kelly Lake a lot of canoes are coming into my view. Luckily the #825 campsite east of the Burnt Lake portage is open. I rated it as a 2, mainly because it is low and is pretty run down. Tried some fishing from shore again with very little luck. A few canoes passed by and they seemed to have the same luck as I. Tried sleeping in my open hammock but 2 stubborn mosquitoes made the tent option much better.


Day 7 of 8

Thursday, June 04, 2020 Only one portage today, into Burnt. Had my sights on 3 campsites. The 1st one was impossible due to the wind and waves. The 2nd one had a canoe pulling up to it. The 3rd and most sought after sight was # 925 closest to the Flame Lake portage. This was rated 4 stars and probably could be 4 1/2 stars! Great site with many shore fishing options. I landed on the south side in a quiet marshy area with very few rocks. Tried making a calzone with the flour and it came out pretty good, not great. This is where one of our core group (Brian) excels. We just stand back and admire his campfire culinary skills. I'm not on a schedule, so I may stay over an extra day, just because of the site.   Relaxing in the hammock I noticed a hummingbird landed on my clothesline for about 1 minute. Later, about 20 dragonflies started darting around a swarm of bugs. It reminded me of a WW2 movie with all the fighter planes, but no sound. Did pick up a nice smallie in the evening. I noticed a couple canoes fishing off my east shoreline, one about 100 yards away, no problem. On my west shoreline there was also 2 canoes. One came within casting distance of me while I was fishing. I'm thinking this lake is how big? Why not give a fellow fisherman a little elbow room?


Day 8 of 8

Friday, June 05, 2020 Woke up to rain which the tarp kept things dry. Fishing again was slow. Thinking about the canoes last night and all the canoes on Kelly Lake, I knew the best part of the trip was over (Cherokee and North Temperance), now it seemed I was just camping. If I left now, I could get back to Ohio Saturday which would allow me to get things cleaned up before work on Monday morning. I hated to do it but I packed up and headed to Sawbill Lake. Everything going good until I get to the portage out of Smoke. There is a channel about 12' wide up to a wooden platform all in a marshy area with about 4' of water. I tried every way possible to get my body close enough with the 16' Prism so I can get out with no luck. I finally just jumped in. I made it to the entry point and their was 3-4 groups coming and going. Probably 20 people or more scrambling around in no particular order! I unloaded my stuff and carried the bare canoe back to Sawbill, it felt like a feather! Putting stuff away I gave one of my "Death Grips" (sorry Old Scout) to a young man who said he was coming back up here in a couple weeks. I probably made over 100 of these for us and also for the local Boy Scout Troop. Settled up with Sawbill and was going top take the mandatory shower but the showers were closed! :( Drove to the Janesville Il area and crashed for the night. Finished the drive Saturday morning.

Short story long: I'm glad I did it and would do it over again if I could. The trip was harder than expected but going solo is and I packed too much. I loved the solitude of the middle of the week compared to the crowded end lakes. I thought I would catch more fish and see more wildlife, but that is a chance I took. People I have to thank is my paddling core group for getting me trained for this adventure. Most of all is my wife for letting me go on these outings no matter how crazy they are! We've been married for 37 years (i think) and hasn't left me yet! "I think she enjoys the alone time. without me." Now I got to start thinking and packing for our Maine trip! Thanks for reading my chicken scratching nonsense. FISHONFISHOFF


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