BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 27 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 4
Elevation: 1864 feet
Lizz & Swamp Lakes - 47
Poplar to Gaskin and Meeds
August 05, 2018
Lizz and Swamp Lakes
Number of Days:
After spending our Saturday afternoon wandering the rainy streets of Grand Marais and then sleeping at Flour Lake Campground along the Gunflint, we were up early and at the Poplar Lake landing around 6:30 AM. We got on the water quickly and paddled through Poplar, checking out the many cabins along the route as we headed towards the portage into Lizz Lake, where our Boundary Waters excursion would officially begin. We had our sights set on getting to Gaskin as quickly as possible, and hoped to snag one of the highly rated sites on the eastern side of the lake. Paddling through Lizz, Caribou, and Horseshoe was fairly uneventful, although we did get passed by a small group single portaging. When we arrived on Gaskin, we were a bit disappointed, as that group had taken our first choice campsite, and all others on that end of the lake were also full. We pushed to the west end of Gaskin, checking a couple sites along the way and ended up at #634, which turns out to be a pretty amazing campsite. Funny how things just work out sometimes.
We set up camp and quickly noticed all the moose sign around camp, including tracks, moose droppings, and some cedars that a bull moose had clearly had some sort of argument with. Judging by what we saw, the moose won that fight. We spent the afternoon and evening fishing areas around camp and trolling some of the deeper water and reefs we had passed over, and to our astonishment, we caught nothing. Well, we caught some 8" smallmouth bass, but that was it. We never count on fish on our entry day though, so it wasn't a big deal. We went to bed that night tired and ready to really figure out how to fish Gaskin over the next couple of days.
Today was all set to be the best fishing day of the trip. Slightly overcast skies, light wind, and perfect temperatures. We fished hard, all day. We caught exactly zero fish that we could keep. The biggest pike was around 14" and the biggest bass was about 9". So, what do you do when the fish just aren't biting? You head to a burned area of Gaskin, check out a campsite that pretty much no longer exists, and find the biggest blueberry patch you've ever seen.
Seriously, we could have picked blueberries the rest of the day. It's a good thing too, because when you pack your food based on having fish to eat, the extra calories from blueberries at least helps to offset the stomach rumblings a little bit. It was early in the trip, so to get around not having fish, we decided we would eat our chicken packets with dinner instead of saving them for Wednesday as we had planned. We would just catch fish on Wednesday and swap that in to make up for it. It was a plan we had executed just fine in the past, and we were confident in making that decision.
The highlight of the day was a short bushwack excursion out of the southwest end of Gaskin (near the burned campsite) and over to Larsen Lake. Due to finding no area to land the canoes, and what seemed to be a tough up and over hill climb, we brought the fishing gear along but not the canoes. I discussed this short bushwack in another post here on BWCA.com, but here is the summary, originally posted in a thread titled "Larsen Lake" on 8/10/2018.
"We just got home today. Fishing took a sharp dive downward with the rain on Sat/Sun and Gaskin just didn’t cooperate while we were there other than 14-16” Pike. We did however make it to Larsen on foot, and took a few pictures.
I wish we would have brought the canoe, as it was only 200 yards the route we found after reaching Larsen to get back to Gaskin.. We went the hard way to reach Larsen (canoe would not have made the hard way), but the much easier way on the way back along a well established game trail would have worked. We did bring our rods, and fished for about 15-20 minutes with no luck. The mucky and brushy shoreline isn’t real conducive to shoreline fishing, and after a few snags, we gave up. My guess is that the lake holds fish, but with the dark stained water and no canoe, it’s only a guess how deep the lake actually is and what might be there. It was a fun bushwhack though, glad we were able to pull it off fairly easily with a compass and a little help from the game trail.
Here are a couple of pictures from the northern-most bay on Larsen. First picture is looking to the WSW towards the main body of the lake while standing in the middle of that bay. Second picture is looking more directly SW towards the bay on the south side of the lake. The rocks out a bit from shore in that picture are where we were able to stand for a while to fish. There is a small set of cliffs towards the eastern corner, behind where the pictures were taken, that give a nice view of the eastern end of the lake."
Tuesday Tyler and I decided to day trip into Winchell to check out the sights on that lake. There was only a light wind, and wanting to avoid having to paddle on Winchell after the winds picked up, we left right away in the morning. Curt stayed behind to fish Gaskin. When we got to Winchell, we started trolling straight south across the lake from the portage, and almost immediately I hooked up with a fish. Maybe it was just Gaskin that was the issue? Nope, what felt like a nice fish ended up being a foul-hooked 10" smallmouth bass, and it was the only time either of our poles bent despite trolling down Winchell's south shore for about 3 1/2 miles. We did stop at the waterfall along the south shore where Tremble Lake flows into Winchell, which was a nice break and some beautiful scenery. Somewhere near that waterfall was a random and fairly small weedy area, and Tyler hooked into a very large pike. He was able to get it close to the boat, and our guess was the fish was somewhere in the 38-40" range. Unfortunately Tyler wasn't ready for the pike's big run, and even though his drag wasn't set tight, the quick change of direction near the boat ended with a snapped line. We continued along the south shore areas to the Winchell bluffs, and climbed to the top for some breathtaking views of the lake and the surrounding area.
On the way down, only about 100 feet from the shoreline, the unthinkable happened. I fell, and knocked myself out. I posted about this as well after we returned, in a thread titled "It CAN (and just might) happen to you" on 8/12/18. My initial post to that thread is below:
"Most of us think we are careful. We plan, prepare, and try not to take unnecessary risks while in the wilderness. We think that will prevent accidents. 99% of the time, we are right. That 1% of the time doesn't enter our minds. Well, that changed for me on my recently completed trip.
At the bottom of the cliffs on the south side of Winchell, I was stepping from a moss covered rock to another rock a little higher than the one I was on. It was one easy step away, something I've done 1000's of time. I have no memory of what happened next, but my 17 yo son thankfully was only several steps behind me and saw it all. I slipped, fell, and lurched forward. I crashed into the side of the rock ahead of me, my head hitting the rocks about waist height, and crumpled to the ground. I came to as he reached me (2-3 seconds?) and reached into my pocket to try to answer the phone that I thought was ringing. There was no phone. In that 2-3 seconds I had imagined a phone call as well as my wife's voice telling me I had missed a call. I then realized my head hurt, and those were the first words out of my mouth. I was dazed and slightly bleeding from my cheek, ear, and arm all as a result of the rest of the fall after my body went limp from hitting the rock with my left eye area.
All in all, I was lucky. I did not have a concussion (yes, I did follow up with a doctor after the trip, again talked about in the other thread). My memory from just before that accident, as well as right after the accident was still fully intact. Other than some initial dizziness and a headache for a couple days, I was able to continue my trip as planned. I did end up with one hell of a black eye. It could have been much, much worse, and even with help from my son, it would have been a chore to get back to our site which at that time was about 4.5 miles of paddling and a portage away. If I had fallen harder, or on a more jagged rock and cracked my skull, our small first aid kit (which was with us) would not have done much. It will be a learning experience to draw from for years to come, but really was nothing more than what it was- a freak accident doing something I'm likely to continue doing.
Please, be careful out there at all times and don't take for granted how quickly a seemingly safe activity can turn into a potentially bad situation."
The rest of the day went by fairly uneventfully. We tried fishing later that afternoon and evening, and again ended up with not a single fish to eat. Dinner was a zero meat protein meal, and to make up for it, we ate the "extra" meal we always pack (rice and beans) along with our mashed potatoes, noodles, and applesauce. Talk about carbo-loading! Our bellies were full, but now our margin for error in relation to food was reduced to a couple extra packets of oatmeal and some extra trail mix. We needed fish, every day, the rest of the week. We went to bed knowing that we would be leaving to get to Meeds the next morning, and hoped that the change of lakes would also bring a change in our fishing fortunes.
This was a pretty standard travel day for us, other than my black eye and bruised ego. The temps were getting up there a little bit, making it just hot enough that the short paddles and medium length portages became a bit of a sweaty ordeal. We traveled through Henson, Pillsbury and into Swallow, with some very pretty portages in between. We took a quick swim break in Swallow to cool off before pushing into Meeds. We saw plenty of moose sign along all the portages, and while we were hoping to see a moose, we never did. Once on Meeds, we chose the middle campsite as both it and the western campsite were open when we arrived, and it turned out to be an above average site with a nice double bay canoe parking area with a sandy bottom. After setting up camp and eating an early PB&J bagel lunch, we hit the water to find the fish. It didn't happen. As we prepared for another fishless dinner that night (remember that chicken we ate Monday...oops), we decided we would exit the BW a day early. That allowed us to eat Friday's side dishes along with our planned dinner (sans fish) today and save Friday's lunch (bagels and peanut butter) to go along with Thursday's dinner in case this "no fish" thing happened again. It was a bittersweet decision, as we never expected lack of food to be a reason to leave early. We wouldn't have starved by any means, but we all agreed it was a good decision. We went to bed that night a little downtrodden by the sequence of events so far that week, but we had one big adventure planned yet for the next day that we were looking forward to.
Knowing full well that our BW trip was nearing its end, Tyler and I decided to pass up the opportunity to fish for most of the day, and instead attempt our planned bushwack into Moon Lake, just west of Meeds. We got on the water early on a windless morning, took in some beautiful scenery, and headed back on the portage into Swallow. From there, we portaged to the west end of Swallow to start the process. I posted about this in a thread titled "Moon Lake near Meeds on the east side" on 1/16/19. It's a great thread with lots of information in it if you think you might want to get there. This is what I said:
"I did this bushwack in August 2018 with my 17 year old son, with much the same experience as Willfess provided. The difference is the creek was low enough and overgrown enough that when we went, we could only follow it for a couple hundred feet at most. After that, we walked the creek, and actually slid our canoe over the small trees that were completely arched over the creek, using the branches to support the weight of the canoe and just pushing it along, 10-15 feet at a time. It was tiring, but way easier than trying to weave through the forest, although it certainly would have possible that way too. When we got to the beaver dam, we put the canoe back in the water above it and were able to paddle/pull against the trees in the flooded forest until we got to more open water that led up into Moon. If you check Google Maps and see the open areas to the east of Moon, we were able to paddle that entire length, and saved a whole lot of extra work. If that wasn't an option (no beaver dam, really low water), that would have been a horrible area to get through as its very boggy and mucky. Luckily we didn't have to worry about that.
We stayed for a couple hours, caught a dozen or so pike in the 16-23" range, lost one bigger fish that was in the upper 20's, mabye 30", and ran into one of the most confused and angry beavers I have seen in my time in the BW. It was clear he wasn't used to dealing with humans in HIS lake. The lake is very dark stained, so we weren't able to see much below the surface, but there were sufficient weeds and we couldn't troll crankbaits without getting hung up, so most of the lake is fairly shallow (less than 15', most way less). We checked out the "campsite" area, which you can find marked on some maps. It wasn't much, but there is still evidence of fire use, maybe from people visiting in winter. We also found the narrow passage between the 2 parts of the lake, and paddled into the northern portion to explore. We didn't fish that portion of the lake, just the southern portion.
It was a fun experience to go where few others go, and despite the extra work to get in there, we really enjoyed it.
After our triumphant return from Moon Lake, we headed back to Meeds to talk with Curt. You're not going to believe this- HE CAUGHT FISH WHILE WE WERE GONE! Well, he caught 2 nice jumbo perch and a medium Smallmouth in about 5 hours of fishing, but after 4 days of no fish to eat, it was practically a feast! We tried fishing a little after dinner, and Tyler and I found some submerged rock areas that should have held fish, but produced nothing more than a crazy photo op. All in all, this was the best day of the trip as the Moon Lake bushwack had been our goal for the last several months. We sat around the fire that night, talked about the trip, changes and plans for our next visit, and just soaked in our last night in the BW. We did some stargazing, packed up the non-essentials, and went to bed fulfilled.
It's exit day! Well, tomorrow was supposed to be exit day, but since you've followed this trip report this far, you know we're headed out a day early. We decided to take the Meeds to Poplar portage and I'm glad we did. I like a challenge, and this portage certainly gave us one. It's long and has quite the changes in elevation along its length. But we again saw lots of moose sign, got to cut through a regrowing blowdown/fire area and see the very edge of where the fire had touched Poplar Lake. We all agreed that the people in the cabins on that lake had to have been worried when that fire made it over to Poplar. After a quick celebratory dip in Poplar Lake to cool off, were were again on our way. We saw a few otters swimming playfully along one edge of the lake, and were surprised by an older couple taking their morning swim well away from their dock and along a good stretch of the lake. We passed a couple groups on the main body of the lake, and ran into 2 other large groups at the boat landing. After wishing them well (and better luck than we had), we walked to the truck, got everything loaded up, and started the 8 hour process towards home.
While this trip didn't exactly go as planned, it was still very enjoyable. There are lessons to be learned on every trip, and I was proud of our perseverance through a tough week. A couple meal planning adjustments are on the way for our 2019 trip for sure! Despite our lack of fishing success on every day but one, I would definitely recommend this area if you haven't been through the lakes around the Poplar EP. We know the fish will be there when we decide to come back!