Part 1 of 5
Tuesday morning was beautiful - sunny, little wind, and cool. After Leslie treated us to a wonderful egg casserole and moose sausage, we drove to EP 41 hoping we'd see a moose crossing, but only a deer and and a fox. We quickly geared up our canoe and George parked his truck. Nice parking lot with plenty of room. We set off from the EP at a bearing of due north at about noontime, looking for a campsite on the northeast somewhere near the portage to Echo. Our plan was to base camp and fish the east end of the lake as well as Echo. It was a very calm day, and paddling was easy, as it was the entire trip. Our goal this year was to make it doable with my back fusion and hammertoe surgeries. Although the conditions were perfect for an easy paddle, it was still a tough workout for me. George was on the stern and his paddling skills our at the expert level, so he more than made up for my recuperating condition. Brule Lake is simply beautiful, and the islands dot the east end nicely. I'd love to explore the entire lake one year, but this was not the year for that. We paddled north and passed a few camp sites that were taken. We wanted the camp site # that was nearest the portage to Echo, just to make life easier for a day trip the next day. Our bearings were a little off, but when we turned the corner at a point, we knew immediately that we were in north bay. As we turned right around another bend we saw our camp site, pretty well hidden by some trees. It was camp site #938 and was open. As we beached our canoe we noticed how it opened up some and made our stay a nice one. In order to enjoy the sunset we just had to move our chairs down to the shoreline and sit there. We worked on setting up our camp site and I filtered enough water to fill my 10 liter dromedary and found enough wood laying around for some nice campfires. We were ready to do some fishing by about 4:00, and we set out to see the bay in its entirety and do some casting and trolling. We had packed some brats for dinner, so our plan was not to have to catch dinner. We paddled around the north end of north bay doing some trolling and casting. About a half hour later as we neared the portage to Echo we saw a huge tree in the water by some rocks at a small point. George and I knew this was an interesting spot (I think George's eyes must have got very big). He casted right at the base of the tree, and BANG! After a nice fight with a couple jumps, George had our first fish of the trip, an 18-inch smallie. We looked at each other, and it didn't take us long to decide to save those brats for breakfast. I put his smallie on the stringer, and we moved on. We passed the portage and stayed on the side of our camp site. This bank looked a little steeper, so I decided to change to a deeper running lure and troll at about 10 feet. I caught a bass and a couple real nice walleye, and George also caught another bass and a walleye. nothing huge, but good eaters. We now had plenty of fish for dinner and were able to release George's 18-incher. At about 6:30 we went back in and went for a quick swim. It felt so good, and I was surprised how great it felt. I'm used to going in June, so I was expecting very cold and only got cold. Changed into my dry clothes and hung clothes on the clothesline that we had put up. George cleaned fish, gave me a refresher on cleaning fish, and I gathered more firewood. George started our stove. We used my double-burner Coleman stove this year, and it worked perfectly. Had a nice dinner of fish and a mountain of peas with Lesley's magic New Zealand seasoning. After gorging ourselves, we cleaned up and sat around watching the sunset. Oh, I hit the sleeping bag earlier than George and read my book I brought for the trip. My meds help knock me out and I sleep well. George went to his tent about a half hour later. I heard some distant thunder far off, and about a half hour later it moved in on us. We got a nice thundershower for a few hours that night. It was the only rain of our trip. Perfect timing!
Part 2 of 5
Our 2nd day was as beautiful as the first. We awoke to a sunrise with a wet camp. Got up and going, made a campfire so that we could stick a few brats over the fire for breakfast. Amazing how scrumptious they were being cooked to a perfectly seared-brown tasty serving. Got cleaned up, enjoyed the campfire, and talked about our plan for this day. We decided to explore and fish Echo Lake. We geared up for a day-trip and headed out. It is a very short paddle from 938 to the portage to Echo. A very short time later we finished the simple portage and had our fishing rods loaded as we pushed off into Echo. We spent the next 5-6 hours trolling and casting at good looking spots. George found plenty of fish on his fish locator as well as some great structure. We caught smalllies and walleye and kept 4 nice eaters for dinner again. We were sharing the lake with only a couple canoes, and the day was rich with seclusion, good fishing, and great weather. Once again, not much if at all any wind to deal with. We felt really good carrying those 2 bass and 2 walleye across the short portage and got back to camp quickly. Cleaned fish, cranked up the stove, filtered some water, and cooked our fillets as well as boiled water for some string beans. Once again we were stuffed to the gills (pardon the pun). We moved our chairs down to the shore and watch a great sunset again. To our delight the skeeters had not been menacing yet, and I am thinking August is a pretty good time to trip. Hit the tent early and listened to the night settle in with a few loons calling.
Part 3 of 5
Another beautiful morning for Day 3! Were we in heaven? This weather has been as good as it gets. Got up and got into the routine without too much hustle. Cranked up the stove and we prepared some oatmeal that was Lesley's special mix, filled with all kinds of healthy stuff including oatmeal. It tasted great and filled us up nicely. Filtered the dromedary full of water for the day as well as our water bottles for the day trip. We talked about today's plan and decided to paddle and fish to the east end of Brule Bay. We also wanted to check out the portage to Vernon, which we'd noticed on trip reports that there were some falls that might be nice to see and cool off in. We'd had 2 enormous fish dinners, and we decided that we'd release everything and eat some Mountain House freeze-died meal tonight. We'd brought 4 different meals and decided on Beef Stroganoff for dinner later on. We got started paddling, trolling most of the time, and we discovered as we paddled and fish our way east that it was a long way to the east end. We didn't have much luck fishing, but really didn't focus on it much, knowing that Mountain House was going to be dinner. A few hours later we were at the end of Brule Bay. We found the portage and discovered that it was very steep up and down to Vernon. As we walked, carrying only camera and trail mix, we could hear voices of people having a good time somewhere ahead to our left. The entire time we could hear the falls. They were somewhere off to the left. This portage turned into a real tough walk up and down. As we started down, we noticed a less-traveled path to the left, and we decided that maybe it was a trail to the falls. We walked a bit and began working harder to follow this path, which really seemed like we were now bush-pushing. As we got to the water, we saw nothing but rapids spread into a few streams. It was obvious that we did not use the correct path to the falls. We went back up to the portage and finished walking down to Vernon. We concluded that there must be another way to those falls that we missed. We dejectedly walked the portage back to our canoe. The mystery of those falls, we just don't know. Maybe someone that reads this report can straighten us out on where we went wrong. We were very tired when we got back to the canoe and realized that we still had a very long paddle back to our camp site, probably an hour and a half at our pace. We paddled most of the way back without fishing much. Got back at ~ 7:00, and the routine this night did not include cleaning fish. We got the stove going and quickly boiled 3 cups of water. We used 2 in the bag of beef stroganoff and 1 to cook some more peas. It wasn't long and we were feasting on some relly good beef stroganoff. We also decided to have our dessert that we packed. We brought along a package of freeze-dried cinnamon apple crisp made by Alpine. Boil a cup of water and let the bag do the cooking. After cooking put it on a plate and add the crisp provided in a small packet inside the package. 10 minutes later we enjoyed a very tasty dessert. I decided to clean out the bag to save it for tomorrow morning's breakfast to cook our oatmeal mix. Seems much simpler and saves cleaning out the pot. We cleaned up, enjoyed a campfire while talking about future plans. At this time we were both thinking alike but didn't want to cut this perfect trip short. I was very interested in George's fishing lakes that he often goes to, and George had one undisclosed lake in mind. We were both in favor of paddling out tomorrow and moving to another undisclosed lake somewhere in Cook County to do some more great fishing. George was confident that he could put us on some fish from prior trips he'd experienced. We did a little packing inside our tents and went to sleep early after another beautiful sunset.
Part 4 of 5
Day 4 was another beautiful day - not a cloud in the sky. We both awoke and finished packing our inside the tent stuff. We got the stove going and boiled some water to cook oatmeal out of the Alpine package. 10 minutes later our oatmeal was ready and just as tasty as the day before. I'm a little surprised how hot it still was after it sat there for a good 10 minutes in the zipped bag. I'm convinced that this freeze-dried stuff is a great way to go. The time you save cooking and cleaning can be used doing other things, and the days are so packed that saving a little time just makes lots of sense to me. We packed up the rest of our gear and then packed the canoe for our paddle out. The lake was still and we paddled at an easy pace with our south bearing. Easily finding our way back to the EP, we landed and George went to get his truck while I pulled gear out of the canoe. We then packed up the truck and headed out. We decided to go home and get George's trolling motor since most of our fishing would be out of the BWCA in our next undisclosed lake. Got back to George's home and re-packed the back end of the truck for a day trip including the fishing gear, some trail mix, med kit, water bottles, rain gear, and of course the trolling motor and fish locator. We got to Gorge's undisclosed lake and fished for about 5 hours. George took me to his 3 or 4 "A" fishing spots, as well as some "B"s. We did some trolling. We caught quite a few nice walleye. Late in the day we got to the part of the lake where the BWCA kicks in, so we found a spot to ditch the trolling motor for awhile. George took me to one of his "A" spots and my first cast resulted in an immediate hit. As I fought the fish, it stayed down, so we thought it was a walleye. The tug on the line was really nice, and we soon found out why. George netted my 20" walleye as we both got a little crazy with excitement. We turned back towards our put-in and paddled back with an air of satisfaction. We had accomplished just about everything we were hoping to this year, and it actually happened so quickly that we had a couple days to spare on our original plan of 6 days out and back.[paragraph break] We packed up the truck and headed back to George's home. Saw another fox as we were driving. When we got back, I was amazed at how Lesley and George just both had this system of getting things ready for cleaning fish in the kitchen sink and cleaning up. Lesley had already planned a fish fry. Lesley had everything ready for George's return - it's like she just knows he's bringing fish home. If you ever see their fish freezer you'll understand better. I emptied the truck and packed most of my gear back in my car for the trip home. But I wasn't going home for a few days, and the fun was just beginning!
Part 5 of 4
The next 2 days we had lots to do. 2 things were on our schedule, and there was some preparation involved. Much of the first morning was dedicated to leisure ready. Lesley was glad we came back early because now she had company that night for a drive down he Gunflint to Tuscarora Lodge where Jerry Vandiver, known on this website as "One Match," would be performing. This was a real treat for us and I did not realize that our plans changing made possible an amazing part of this year's finale to my trip.
But there was an afternoon of stoking to do before that evening's delight. George and Leslie were beginning to prepare their backyard brick pizza oven for a pizza party that would be 2 nights away. The Northhouse Folk School had a class in their back yard a number of years ago and built the most wonderful brick oven. George and Lesley were truly experts at this kind of party prep. Lesley had been making pizza dough for 16 pizzza crusts, as well as preparing all the fixings for a party of 12. George now had to start this 2 day process of warming the layers of bricks so that the inner layer and outer layer were both about 600 degrees F. George and I painstakingly threw logs in the brick fireplace for about 4 or 5 hours, talking about everything we felt like talking about, and drinking a few Bent Paddle beers while doing so. It was tough work, but it had to be done. And we would have to do more of it the next afternoon! We finished our work at about 4:00 and got ready to drive about 30 miles up the Gunflint. Beautiful late afternoon for a drive. We arrived at Tuscarora Lodge and enjoyed a brief walk around the shoreline - the lodge is a very beautiful place. Jerry Vandiver, "One Match," had been out canoe tripping, finished his solo paddle, and was ready to perform for the community before continuing his short summer tour of the north country. As we finally went into the dining area where Jerry would be performing, we met Jerry and talked a bit. What a great guy! We quickly found our seats as the dining hall was being transformed into a music hall. Not as nice as the Gand Ole Opry, but Jerry would do his thing regardless. For the next few hours I was just in Country heaven. Jerry sang a number of songs as he talked and explained to us how he was driven to write many of them. His paddle songs really tell the story of what we all enjoy so much on our paddling trips. He then introduced 2 college-aged young people who were going to jam with him for the rest of the evening. The young man was an excellent mandolin player and just loved what he was doing. The young lady was a concert violinist who had not done country before their afternoon rehearsal. For the next hour or so we were treated to a jam session that I can't say enough about. They played together like they'd been together for years. Please pardon me for not remembering their names, but I'm pretty sure we'll be hearing more about them. George and Lesley and I headed back to their home that night with the contentment that has to be felt and not explained. I was also thinking about tomorrow's last day in the north country and the work we'd have to do again sitting around George's campfire circle warming that brick oven and drinking more Bent Paddle. I was confident that I was up to the task![paragraph break] So I retired that evening and read in bed for awhile. "White Fire," a Pendergast mystery, was getting very exciting and it would be fun finishing it when I got back to St Louis. The next morning we got up late (at least I did), and had some fruit and toast on the deck for breakfast. The party was to start at 6:00, so we had the entire afternoon to get that brick oven perfect for cooking those pizzas. I also finished packing my car for the next day's drive home. Lots of good conversation, a good beer or 2, and I also prepared George's fire pit for a party campfire. His in-ground pit is simply a semi tractor-trailor wheel that is buried and lined with some rocks around the edge - a very novel idea and looked perfectly in place inside some split log benches that surrounded it along side the brick oven. Lesley had prepared tables on the huge screened-in deck for everyone to make their pizza and take it out to the oven, where Lesley would then cook it. As everyone arrived that evening, the pizza-baking process began and worked like clockwork. 3 people at a time went up to the deck and got their pizzas fixed up with about 2" thick of goodies to bake on Lesley's prepared crusts. Lesley then had 3 pizzas baking at a time, and one looked more scrumptious than the next - works of art they were. Pizzas were done in about 5 minutes. We filled up and enjoyed our conversations for the evening. Some folks had driven all the way from Chetek, WI for the party. They parked their big camper in George's driveway and spent the night right there. I went to bed earlier than the rest, as I had a 4:30 get-up time and was driving on the road by 5:00 am. It was an uneventful safe drive home and I was back in St Louis by a little before 6:00 pm to get into Club Fitness just before they closed to the $10 a month members.[paragraph break] This year's trip was one I'll never forget, and throwing the Jerry Vandiver night and the pizza party night into the wonderful canoeing and fishing experience will keep me content for another long winter and also looking forward to my next visit to God's country. I have to give a public holler to my wonderful friends and hosts, Geroge and Lesley, for having me in their wonderful home again. God bless them!