BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 24 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1802 feet
Sawbill Lake - 38
September 03, 2020
Number of Days:
When planning started for this trip back in January, we had initially thought of going all of the way to Cherokee Lake the first day. As we closed in on our trip dates we conceded to our not-young condition (and reduced ambition) and revised our plan to instead target Smoke, Burnt or Fire. Now, after seeing all of the people and being challenged a bit by the wind, we decided to just grab an open site on Sawbill and base-camp there the rest of the trip. This would mean zero portages--a first for me, but with a bit of extra gear and a trip-priority of relaxation, this approach had a lot of appeal. Besides, Sawbill looked like a beautiful lake and it seemed a bit of a shame to not fully enjoy it by just passing through.
As we paddled by a site on the eastern shore, just before we got into Sawbill's wider north end, we chatted briefly with a couple there who informed us that they were soon leaving and if we wanted the site we were welcome to it. With the sites we could see up ahead already looking occupied, this seemed like a good opportunity so as this couple left, we moved in. It was nice to have the "site-scramble" part of the trip behind us and we prepared to settle in for the next few days. The many groups we soon saw passing by confirmed that grabbing this site was a wise decision. While the landing to this campsite was not the greatest I'd seen and it had not received very much praise ratings-wise, the site really wasn't half bad! There was a very nice rock "porch" along the lake and plenty of open space. The fire grate had decent seating and the surrounding trees provided good protection from the still-pesky wind (the cool September days meant no breeze would be needed to blow bugs away). Tent pads were decent and the new style latrine--square with a lid--was set well back in the woods, assuring privacy and that no nasty odors would drift into camp.
Once supper time rolled around it was time for Craig to again show his cooking prowess. Our fresh steaks and hobo-dinner vegetables cooked over an open fire were delicious! When the sun went down, finally the breeze subsided as well and a nice evening fire along with some star gazing ended a great first day on the water.
Just for something different, I decided to start casting a Dardevle spoon and quickly felt a snag in the rocks. Except, the "snag" started moving ("rock" bass?). Then the pulling got pretty intense and I told Jeff to get the net. As I got the fish near the canoe it went on a run and zinged line off of my reel. I tightened the drag and again worked it near the boat and again this fish ran still zinging line against the increased drag. For a third time I worked the fish in near the canoe and this time got a glimpse of a light tan-colored thick body that exceeded three feet in length. After another jerk or two this beast began to tire so I was able to get it in close enough for Jeff to reach it with our short-handled net. I just managed to get the huge head (and nasty teeth) above the surface as Jeff got the net to it. Then, with one final thrash of it's head, the fish ripped it's mouth free of the lure and was gone. Dang! No fish, no photo, but...still plenty of fun! It's not thought that Sawbill has any muskies but with the behavior of this fish and it's color (much lighter than a typical northern) that's almost what we were thinking. I was not able to note any side markings or other features to distinguish it as a muskie so it was likely "just" a big feisty northern. At any rate, what a thrill! I was eager start casting that Daredevle again but then I noticed the lure. This fish had pretty much destroyed the hooks, bending them way out of their normal configuration. Time to re-rig. The next hour of fishing produced nothing for Jeff or me and since we already had a great story to tell we decided to get out of the wind and return to camp.
Craig had released the one keeper bass he caught and all Steve was able to do from shore was another small northern so instead of a fish fry we were going to be eating the freeze-dried food we had brought as back-up for supper. This was actually pretty tasty (Mountain House spaghetti in red sauce) and set the tone for another nice evening with a fire and, as before, a break from the breeze and glass-like water once the sun set.
Since fish was on the menu for supper again we decided that another attempt in the canoes was needed, so off we went into the choppy water, rock anchors at the ready. This time Jeff and I decided to check out a few inlets around the corner to our north while Craig and Steve went back again to the previous day's islands. The area that Jeff and I fished looked promising with lots of structure and variations of depth but the weather front that moved through must have given the fish lockjaw and we couldn't even manage a nibble. While sitting in a protected little bay, we could see white caps forming in the more open part of the lake so we decided a return to camp was in order in case the waves got any bigger yet. We were able to hopscotch along some islands on the way back which lessened the amount of bounce that we had to navigate through. Steve was lucky enough to haul in a nice-sized bass where they had fished but that is all he and Craig brought back to camp.
Before supper, Steve decided to make one more attempt at shore fishing and got excited when he saw a swirl near his bobber. It was soon revealed that the swirling in the water was a curious and playful otter who was just as interested in us as we were in it. It continued to pop it's head up out of the water as it gave us one quick peek after another. It seemed that this animal wanted to come ashore, which it actually did at one point but after getting another look at us, it was back in the lake again. We were impressed with how big these creatures actually were and admired the sleek swimming movements it displayed. After a visit that we both seemed to enjoy, the otter moved on to explore new territory.
With just that one fish, which we did clean and fry up, more freeze-dried food would be needed for everyone to get enough to eat. This time it was some curried vegetables from Backpacker's Pantry--again, not bad!
As the evening progressed the wind continued to increase. At one point it looked like the horizon to our west was on fire with a big column of smoke billowing up. I wondered if there had been a lightning strike from the day's earlier storm. It soon was apparent, however that the "smoke" was just the clouds being quickly moved by the wind and the orange glow was a pretty sunset. As darkness fell we enjoyed another fire but it did not last long since the strong breeze meant plenty of air for the flames and the wood we had accumulated burned up quickly. Before turning in for the night, I decided to make one last "pit-stop" in the woods a bit behind our tent. As I turned around to go back to the tent I was quite startled to see that the otter had returned and was standing there watching me from just a couple feet away!! As soon as we made eye contact (and I had jumped about two feet off the ground!) it casually ambled back down to the water. When I told the guys about it they laughed at what a sight I must have been as this critter startled me.
Once we were in the tents we could hear the wind continue to blow, and in fact get stronger even though it was now well after sunset. It continued to howl all night and at one point brought some light rain with it. Some of the gusts really shook the tent and we started to worry about the possibility of a tree or two coming down. Fortunately that never happened and we were able to get some shut-eye even with the noisy gale moving through the forest.
When breakfast and packing were complete, we loaded up and started our return to Sawbill Landing. While the breeze by now had only subsided some, it blew from our backs and made our return to the landing an easy one-hour paddle. COVID-19 meant that post-trip showers were not available at Sawbill Outfitters this year so we simply got our gear loaded onto our transportation and we were on our way home. We did stop for lunch at Camp 61 in Beaver Bay (I hope we weren't TOO stinky!) which gave a chance to asses the trip over some really tasty sandwiches and satisfying cold beverages, with which we toasted each other for a successful outing, a great time and a job well done.