BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 09 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1670 feet
Cross Bay Lake - 50
Serenity and Cirrus
August 15, 2023
Missing Link Lake
Brant Lake (52)
Number of Days:
Funnily enough, I spent a good bit of time researching campsites on Tuscarora Lake before our trip, but we opted to breeze right through Tusc with our sights set on Crooked Lake. A couple shorter portages and a paddle across Owl Lake later we arrived on Crooked and made camp at the site on the North West side of the lake. A decent site for a smaller group with only two tent pads that sat sunk down in the dirt North of the fire grate area. Lots of trees to hang our tarp and hammock from. Dinner was some freeze dried backpacking meals, quick and easy after a long day of travel. Bugs unfortunately were pretty rough causing us to retire to the tent fairly early, the soft hum of mosquito wings buzzing around us all night long.
A short paddle over to Jerry and a quick hop out of the canoe to bring it across the mucky beaver dam and we had arrived at our destination around 11am. The goal for the day was to catch ourselves some dinner, and Jerry Lake did not disappoint. It’s a long skinny lake, fairly shallow, tons of lily pads, and absolutely loaded with Pike. I rigged up our rods with what I figured was the best tackle for the job. For Mimi, a black Whopper Plopper lent to us by my friend Pat for the trip. Less likely to get tangled in the weeds and would provide for some awesome top water action. For me, a weedless booyah jig with a dark green frog plastic. It was a fairly windy day with the storm on the way so we dropped anchor (a tied up basketball net with a rock from shore), and began casting in the first bay. First cast, Mimi had a big splash but didn’t hook the fish. No matter, if that was any indication we were in for some good fishing. I dropped my jig into the water a few feet from the boat and within seconds it got taken by what I can only imagine was a pretty large Pike. This thing took off, started spooling out drag, and almost instantly my line snapped. Back home, I’ve been fishing exclusively with fluorocarbon, but opted to go with 8 lb mono for this trip since I didn't want to deal with tangled lines during the precious time we had. Lesson learned, a simple trilene knot with 8 lb mono wasn’t going to cut it against the bigger fish out there. I tied up some leaders made from a swivel and 20 lb fluoro and began doubling up the line on the trilene knots, no more issues. [paragraph break]
Meanwhile, Mimi had some more top water action with the plopper, but still wasn't able to hook it. She cast it out again and it landed smack dab on top of a patch of lily pads. The pads dragged it under where it got stuck in something, most likely a log. Sorry Pat, I’ll buy you a new one. I tied on a spinner for her and she tried that a few times but was pretty discouraged at this point. Since the goal was to catch dinner, she set down the rod and was content letting me do my thing while she relaxed in the front of the boat with Josie. We moved on to the center of the lake which was more of the same, prime Pike habitat. Working our way along the weed edge, I sorted my way through tons of smaller Pike looking for some eaters. I hooked a medium sized one pretty deep, and while he was a questionable eater, by the time I got the hook out there was no question, he was dinner. We got one more eater shortly before we had to pack it up with the storm on the way. This guy had no intention of being on the menu and sliced my fingers up pretty good as I tried to land and string him up without a net. [paragraph break]
With our Pike dinner in tow, we made our way back to camp and I filleted them to the best of my abilities. We were going to have to eat around the bones, as it was my first time filleting Pike. The plan was to just roast them over the fire and eat them with some chicken noodle soup. Looking up at the sky, I foolishly thought maybe the storm wasn’t going to hit us after all. We started the fire and a few minutes later… total downpour. That time spent figuring out how to hang a Tarp came in mighty handy here. We grabbed our firewood, tied down the canoe and made our way under the tarp as quickly as possible. It wasn’t the finest setup in the world but it held up enough to keep us mostly dry. [paragraph break]
Once the storm had passed, I set out to start a fire in our sad, soggy excuse of a fire grate. Digging out the ash revealed more water underneath, this wasn't going to work. I had an idea though, off into the woods to locate the largest downed tree nearby. I peeled off a sizable piece of bark, a nice dry platter to build the fire on would hopefully do the trick. It worked like a charm and we soon had a fire going to warm our chilled bones and finally cook dinner. By the time we were ready to eat, it was dark and the bugs were ruthless. We ate dinner in the tent, cleaned up and went to bed pretty early; it was off to Gillis in the morning.
This was our second travel day of the trip, but we had made solid ground on day 1 so it was just one portage over to Gillis to find a new site. On the way out of Crooked, I tried out the trolling rig that came highly recommended from other BWCA fishermen. A three-eighths oz blue and silver Little Cleo tied to a three way swivel with a weight hanging off one end, trolling in the 30 - 40 foot range. My heart began racing when the rod tip bent much farther than a normal trolling bend. Was this our first Lake Trout? Could it really be so simple? As I reeled in the fish didn't have much fight in it, mostly letting me drag it through the water. Pike… It was the biggest one yet, but not really what I was aiming for. A good feeling nonetheless, when you try out a new rig and it works. We ran into another couple at the portage who we had met earlier in the trip. The woman exclaimed to Josie that she had a feeling they had been following in her footsteps. They went off ahead as another two groups rolled up behind us, busy portage. Gillis Lake has 6 or 7 sites and with so many groups on their way I wanted to make sure we got a decent site. The one on the Southeast corner of the map was circled as one with good reviews, but it’s the only one on that side and if it was taken we'd have to paddle across the whole lake directly into the wind coming from the Northwest. I decided we would take a sharp left immediately after the Portage and go through what looked like a skinny strip of water leading to the Western side of the lake. There were 5 or so sites along this strip, so we'd be sure to find something.[paragraph break]
Little tip, if you see a very small portion of water on your map in the BWCA, it most likely is impassable by boat. To our dismay this plan backfired and there was a little beaver dam blocking our path. At this point the groups we were trying to get out in front of had moved out onto the lake in the proper direction, and I really didn’t want to turn around. We made a sketchy short portage pass of the dam. In retrospect I’m glad we went this way though, as we paddled past three small islands on the western side of the Lake. This area was shielded from the wind with a big mound looming over it from the North. One of the islands had a pristine sandy beach, and we decided this would be the location of our day trip the following day. [paragraph break]
The island campsite nearby was open, however it didn’t look all that great. It would be a good last resort if everything else was taken, but we could do better. The next closest site was taken so we moved on following along the northwestern shoreline of Gillis. The following site was occupied by our friends from the portage earlier. I looked around and got a little jealous, it’s an awesome site with a huge rocky point nearby that you can explore. We exchanged some words on how well they did and we moved on to the next site along the shoreline. This one was open, with a massive sloping rock greeting you as you paddle up to it. It was to be our home for the next two nights. While I wasn't initially blown away, the site had some charm. It’s a really big site, with a long walk back to two tent pads and the latrine. The fire grate is situated on top of the sloping rock face, with a possible small tent pad behind it (albeit on quite an angle). There’s a short path you can take to the left that leads to a good hammock spot right along the shore, and another possible hammock spot near the tent pads. While it wasn’t an A+ site, it really grew on us as we settled in. The big rock face is perfect for jumping into the lake, and in my opinion it has to be the best shore fishing site on the lake. You could easily fit four people on that rock casting out into 30 to 40 feet of water along a drop off. Later that night only confirmed my suspicions, as we saw many Trout surfacing. [paragraph break]
I got my Cleo snagged while casting, so Josie and I took a trip out in the canoe to un-snag it and troll the drop-off a bit. No luck on fishing this evening, but we still had all day tomorrow to catch that elusive Laker. Dinner was some of my favorite freeze dried meals, Good To Go’s Mushroom Risotto, and Peak Refuel’s Coconut Curry. They went surprisingly well together. Sunsets were lackluster on our trip due to Canadian wildfire haze, but it luckily cleared out for some quality stargazing. One shooting star each and Mimi was content packing it in for the night.[paragraph break]
Not the type to dump water on full logs, I stayed up late burning every little piece in the fire grate to ash. It brings me joy to “clean out” the fire pit and leave it bone dry so it’s super easy to get a fire started the next day. At that point a small dump from the Nalgene and a stir with the fire poker is plenty to put the fire out. Mimi got a little worried that something happened to me and came out to check. We slept under the stars with our rain fly half off, covering the feet side of our tent.
We took our time eating breakfast, there was no rush since we weren’t traveling on this day. It was a beautiful day, scattered clouds but mostly blue skies, mid 70’s and a nice breeze blowing from the southeast into the bay where our campsite was located. I rigged up the rods, one for trolling with a cleo, one for casting with a spinner. We set out for the day with our eyes set on that lovely sandy beach we had seen the day before. Nothing quite like taking over an island in the BWCA and claiming it as your own for the day. [paragraph break]
As we paddled up to the island I noticed something incredible, there was a rainbow in a perfect ring surrounding the Sun. A friend had shown us a picture of this phenomenon before, but we couldn’t recall what this type of cloud formation was called. Some research after the fact revealed them to be known as cirrus clouds, and the rainbow “halo” is formed due to the Sun's light refracting off millions of tiny ice crystals present in the thin veil of clouds. A true sight to behold, and it was gone almost as quickly as it came. [paragraph break]
We landed right on the sandy beach and laid claim to this island as our own private getaway for the day. There were a few people landing at the portage nearby, but this little corner of the lake stayed mostly quiet for the day. Exactly what we were looking for, solitude is one of the main goals for our wilderness trips. The next few hours were spent swimming, soaking up the sun and eating lunch on our island.[paragraph break]
We departed around 2pm and gathered firewood off the shoreline nearby, a little tip I had picked up from one of the Friends of the BWCA videos on youtube. The sun bleached wood washed up on shore is perfect for a fire. Good size, bone dry, easy to chop, all piled up in one neat spot to gather. Let the beavers do the dirty work for you.[paragraph break]
It was do or die time fishing wise. Lake Trout tacos was one of the main goals of the trip, and we had tortillas and rice packets waiting back at camp that I didn’t want in my pack on the way out tomorrow. All of the trolling up to this point I had done with the rod precariously wedged in between my legs, instructing Mimi that she didn’t need to paddle, as paddling too hard would blow the lure right past any fish. It dawned on me that Mimi had a perfectly good set of hands in the front of the boat. Holding the rod up front was a good way to keep us both involved, and ensured my St. Croix didn’t end up at the bottom of the lake. I slowly zig-zagged the boat across the deepest parts of the lake, occasionally instructing Mimi to drop or raise the lure a couple feet. As we pulled to within 30 feet of camp. I told her to begin reeling the line in but to stay alert, as a fish could still hit while she was reeling. Right as the lure came in to view along the side of the boat, FLASH... FISH ON! Mimi kept tension on the rod and pulled it up to the boat like a seasoned expert. It took off one time and spooled out drag with that signature hiss that will get any fisherman’s (or in this case, fisherwoman’s) blood pumping. She reeled it in one more time up to my side and I pulled it into the boat, being extra careful not to lose it as we were without a net. I was grinning from ear to ear, as I hastily tried to string this beauty of a Lake Trout up. The chaos wasn’t over though, and there was some extra pressure to get her strung up quickly. In the frenzy of the moment, I had let my paddle slip off the boat into the water. By the time I had the fish strung up and back in the water, the paddle was out of view. We slowly made our way back towards camp and Mimi spotted it within a minute or so. Thank goodness, our journey out would have been miserable with only one paddle. [paragraph break]
Finally able to take a breath, we landed back at camp and admired the beautiful fish that Mimi had caught for our dinner that evening. For it to happen in that way, right next to the boat, her first fish of the trip, a freaking LAKE TROUT! It was way cooler than if I had hooked the fish myself. Could this day get any better? [paragraph break]
I began the task of fileting the fish, it was my first time with a trout but it went pretty well. They are surprisingly not very slimy or smelly like Pike, Bass or Panfish. I see why it's such a sought after species. The second filet was a thing of beauty, the pinkish-orange shrimp fed flesh glistening in the sunlight. I tried to separate the flesh from the skin, but had a little trouble and ended up just scaling it. The trout was breaded with Shore Lunch’s cornmeal flavor, which stuck much better than any other flavor I’ve used in the past, sans egg. It was pan fried over the fire with some vegetable oil, and served in a warm tortilla with Mexican style rice and cholula. It was around 6:30pm and we were playing with house money now, it was all gravy. Our evening plans included some tea and a paddle out on the water to catch the sunset. [paragraph break]
We landed back at camp just as it was getting dark. Unfortunately for Josie, she was a little slow on the dismount and fell into the water as her momentum pushed the boat away from shore. Poor thing was soaked and shivering right as it got cold and dark. She ran off to hide in the pine tree that had become her favorite spot to hang out, my best guess is because it offered some respite from the biting flies. I dried her off with her towel, one of the few items we brought exclusively for her, and got the fire going asap. She was shivering and the mosquitos were starting to come out so I wrapped her in my rain jacket and pulled my bug net over her head. No qualms from her, she knows by now that Mama and Papa have her best interest in heart. We cuddled by the fire for a while but she continued to shiver, so it was off to the tent to warm up in Papa’s sleeping bag.[paragraph break]
With Josie all settled, I rejoined Mimi by the fire. Right about this time, the wolves began their symphony. It was a call and response from opposite directions. One, your classic howl at the moon call, and the other, a response of short, quick, high pitched articulations. What struck me as truly fascinating though, was that a group of birds (loons?) chimed in right as the wolves began both times. Adding their own call to the mix. Is this some sort of evolutionary phenomenon? A warning that there are wolves nearby? Or, do they just hear beautiful sounds and decide to chime in with their own sound, not to be outdone. Either way it was stunning, and the reason you want to keep awfully quiet at nighttime in the BWCA. [paragraph break]
With the fire rightfully reduced to ash, we retired to the tent to spend another night sleeping peacefully under the stars. Our perfect day had come to an end. Tomorrow, it was time to pack up and make our way out of the Wilderness.
It was a staggering nine portages from Gillis back to the Lodge, mostly uphill. I foolishly thought we would be able to make it out around 2pm. Between the heat and the uphill climb though, it basically took us all day. If I were to do this route again, I’d definitely try to get the Brant Lake entry permit and enter through this side. It’s admittedly very beautiful, but we were trying to make it out as fast as possible with a dreaded nine hour drive looming over us. Entering through this way would offer a beautiful entrance into the BWCA, and most importantly would be a downhill affair on fresh legs. [paragraph break]
As we paddled up to our last portage of the day, a group of people staying at the Lodge sat on the shoreline. They informed us that they had just seen a Moose not too long ago but it had run off. They left soon after, to allow us to finish off our trip in peace. I half-jokingly exclaimed to Mimi that they had scared OUR moose off. It would have been the cherry on top of a stellar trip, but no matter. We decided we would take this last portage very slow, and move in silence. This was a nice change of pace as we had spent most of the day pushing onward. There is a creek that runs from Round Lake to West Round Lake and evidently it is a hot-spot for wildlife viewing. Walking along the path, I suddenly heard Mimi exclaim “there’s a wolf!”, in an urgent but quiet tone. He was out of view from my vantage point but as he caught wind of us I could see him scamper off into the forest behind him. It wasn’t the Moose that has eluded me on my three trips to the BWCA, but seeing a wolf was pretty damn cool too. A fitting wildlife sighting after the serenade of howls we had heard the night before. We arrived back on the shores of Tuscarora Lodge around 6pm, and drove through the night, arriving back in MKE at 4am. Kwik Trip came in clutch with dinner and caffeine, per usual.