BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 19 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1498 feet
Ram Lake - 44
First solo BWCA trip- Solitude Interrupted
May 16, 2019
Number of Days:
My son had an orthodontist appointment at 8:30, so I knew I wouldn't get the early start I normally would. But anybody who tries to schedule an appointment at that office knows you gotta take what you can get. There was a slight mix-up with may permit at the Forest Service office in Grand Marais, but I managed to get my canoe on my back at just about 3:00.
On the first portage out of the parking lot, I encountered a patch of snow on the trail; this did not surprise me much since that area received several late and heavy snowfalls, the most recent being not much more than a week before my arrival. A few aged footprints indicated others had gotten there first. On the portage between Ram and Kroft lakes, however, the untarnished snow drifts hinted I was the first of the season to get that far. Hints turned to proof when a deadfall over the trail required some cutting in order to pass.
Once in my chosen campsite on Little Trout Lake, I settled into the absolute and unspoiled solitude. There was not much time left for fishing, but I paddled around a bit, casting and trolling without any strikes. Nightfall found me nestled tight in my sleeping bag, in complete silence; insects were still dormant, it seemed, and the songbirds largely hadn’t migrated that far north yet.
The next morning was darn cold; intricate ice crystals had formed in the water with my leeches overnight. In order to warm myself up, some paddling seemed in order. Just a little distance down the shoreline, a 19-inch lake trout struck my chartreuse shad rap. That trout- while large for one guy to eat- made a splendid breakfast after it was roasted over a campfire, right on the fire grate. In fact, it was the most tasty and most perfectly done trout I’ve ever had.
Stuffed but invigorated, I packed up camp and prepared for the long portage toward Misquah and Vista Lakes, where more lake trout and walleyes waited, respectively. Another, more massive deadfall near the beginning of the portage made me reconsider my plans. It was obvious no one had cleared the trails yet, and other roadblocks seemed inevitable. After much internal debate, I reluctantly turned around, reclaimed my campsite, and prepared for much more trout fishing.
After setting up camp, I packed up the canoe so that I might be out on the lake for the rest of the day. My first stop was on the east end of the lake, where a handsome rock outcropping promised a good view of the lake. As I coasted past the island, a human voice jolted me out of my blissful solitude. A group had landed there and was setting up camp- loudly. They were shout-talking around the entire island, and I was thoroughly irritated. I mean, I couldn't necessarily expect to have the lake to myself, but the least they could do was keep their voices down, and that's one thing they seemed incapable of.
I continued to the lookout point and snapped a few pics, but my balloon was deflated. By the time I got back down to the canoe, the six of them were scattered around the lake in their three canoes. I commenced fishing, all the while trying to avoid them as they circled the lake's shoreline. Their voices could frequently be heard, both as one paddler talked to the other, and also as one canoe called out to another. I wasn't completely sure they even knew I was there, and I was getting really peeved.
That afternoon another trout impaled itself on my lure, this time a blade bait pulled behind the canoe over deeper water. It was a smaller specimen, but the prospect of catching and eating my limit of lake trout in one day was a new and irresistible milestone. I steered toward my campsite, and as it happened, I coasted in just as one of the other canoes passed by. "YOU CATCHIN MUCH?" one of them called out. I did not respond vocally. I looked his way, then made a hand gesture that suggested I'd had a little success. This seemed to get the message across that I wasn't enthused about talking. I didn't hear their voices for the rest of the day.
That second trout was fried over another campfire. Mine was simply fried in the pan with the skin down, like a sunny side up egg. It was...okay. I suspect those who try lake trout and say it wasn't good probably tried to bread and fry it like walleye or something. In retrospect, I wish I’d brought tin foil to bake it in with perhaps onions and/or potatoes. But since I’d anticipated frying walleye over the fire, tin foil had been left behind in the interest of simplicity. We live and learn, and next time I'll probably opt for roasting again.
Thoroughly satisfied, I spent the evening in the campsite. It occurred to me I could still fish even though I couldn’t keep, so in an impromptu experiment I rigged up a slip bobber and tossed one of the leeches I’d planned to offer the walleyes into about 5 feet of water. Sure enough, in the waning minutes of daylight, the bobber bobbed and I set the hook on the biggest trout of the trip: a gorgeous 21-incher. The icing on the cake was the fact that it was caught on an old fiberglass rod of Grandpa’s, on the eve of his birthday. A memorable sunset capped off what I call a “one-percent day.”
The next morning started at 5:40, same as the one before. There was no plan to awaken so early that day, but it was clear I was done sleeping. It’s amazing how soon my body adopts a new sleeping schedule. Anyway, I climbed sluggishly into my canoe and began casting toward the shallows with a gold shallow-running Shad Rap. It took a little while, but eventually my lure seemed a little too alluring to my next fish, a 12.5-inch laker. It was promptly released in the hope that it might still be there to greet someone else in a few years.
At that point, I’d caught four trout on Little Trout, and I felt satisfied. I was growing tired of seeing their three canoes and hearing their voices, albeit occasionally. I was beginning to feel like moving on. Mentally, I had settled in for another night on Little Trout, but Ram Lake contains lake trout and also rainbow trout, which would be a nice bonus fish. Besides, one of my goals was to take some fish home with me, so more time fishing that lake would mean a better chance for fulfilling that request from my wife and kids. I packed up camp and paddled my way off the lake with chartreuse Shad Rap in tow.
Just yards from the portage, I set my paddle down to reel the line in. At that moment my rod began to bounce, and I thought, “A moment too late; my crankbait is hitting the rocks.” I was proved wrong by an 18-inch lake trout. By the time I had let it go, I was about 1 canoe length from my point of departure and well within sight of those other guys on the island campsite. They were completely oblivious to my catch. It was a good way to end things there, and I may just go back before too long.
I spent the afternoon trolling, casting, jigging, and otherwise probing all points of Ram Lake. The wind and waves were the most acute up to that point of the trip, and it was exhausting work. The antidote turned out to be the campsite I chose that was on the east side of the lake and mostly sheltered from the north wind. It is perched up on a rock face that plunges into the lake, maybe 15 feet above the water, with a great view of the lake and the sunset. I thought there was a good chance of finding a trout patrolling in front of that mini palisade, so I casted different lures time and again while I set up camp and ate supper. Sure enough, a lake trout attacked my small crawdad-colored Husky Jerk, and I attached it to my chain stringer. The plan was to collect some snow from the woods in a plastic shopping bag, plant the gutted fish in that icy bed, and hoist it in the air with my food bag for the night. It happened just that way, but was delayed by an even more spectacular sunset than the night before. I didn’t mind much.
The next morning started early once again, but I was not in much of a hurry; the wind was still howling, if not worse than the day before. It seemed I better not end up on the other end of the lake, lest I should become stranded downwind. I sipped at my coffee while I did what casting I could do from shore, but that wasn’t working.
I snuck my canoe around the point and fought my way to the extreme northeast corner of the lake. After some time, I had covered the less-windy portions of the shoreline and was resigned to heading back to the campsite. On my way past the point, I made a cast across it, more or less in desperation. Something hit my floating Rapala, jumped twice, and threw the hook. I ducked back into the shelter behind the point and wedged the canoe against a log so I could keep casting. It dawned on me that a jumping trout would probably be a rainbow trout, which caused me to want it more than anything. Cast after cast produced nothing. Then another strike, jump, and spit. My blood was on fire with frustration and rage. I could not stand the thought of giving up; clearly that fish was active and there to feed, and it seemed only a matter of time until I would prevail. I grabbed my other rod, adjusted the bobber, and sacrificed another leech in my quest to take that trout. The better part of an hour was spent working all the parts of that point with no more action. Despite my sheltered location, the wind and cold were slowly having their way with me and my body began to shiver uncontrollably. I dislodged the canoe and set it slowly into motion.
In one more desperation cast, I tossed my Rapala far over the point. Something hit it with gusto and fought me every inch of the way. When I could see it was another lake trout, I could have been disappointed, but knew that second laker would fill out my limit and make a good consolation prize. It was a very respectable fish, and I was more than happy to lay that fish alongside the other one in the bag of snow and call it a trip.
With enough time left in the day for a trout dinner at home, I didn't waste much time packing up camp. As I rode the wind down the shoreline, a fisherman on shore waved and asked if I'd had any luck. With only moments to go until I left the wilderness, I gave up on trying not to talk to other people. I simply said, "okay," and continued. I was glad I didn't snub him because he came down the trail and into the parking area while I was packing up. He turned out to be a nice guy, and apparently has fished that lake every day of the first week of the season for many years. [paragraph break]
Having had my best trip ever to the BWCA (despite what I consider violations to my personal space), I was simply aglow all the way down the Gunflint toward Grand Marais. I picked up some smoked fish and the best cake donut I've ever had, and continued to process my experience all the way home. The sights, sounds, smells, and overall flavor of that place at that time of year have been permanently stamped in my memory. I will be forever grateful to those who had the wisdom and foresight to preserve that place for me.
Inspired by that landmark trip in my life, I made a short video that features the sights, sounds, and silences of my trip: https://youtu.be/MhFvw8oUhMo