BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 27 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 5
Elevation: 1498 feet
Missing Link Lake - 51
Tuscarora - Little Sag - Gillis Loop
May 27, 2020
Missing Link Lake
Number of Days:
Up at 6 AM sharp, prepped our gear and loaded the cars with everything being left behind. Boxed breakfast (in place of their standard French toast breakfast) was delivered just before 7 AM. Very well done and they even accommodated the vegetarian in our crew. Really good coffee and they left more coffee on the Dining Hall deck for refills.
Departed Tuscarora outfitters at 7:30 under overcast skies with a breezy NW wind. Across Round Lake and across the 137 rod portage to Missing Link Lake. This portage is pretty tough considering the length. Rocky, hilly and wet. Just enough to get the blood pumping at the beginning of the day.
Missing link Lake is a weird little lake with a couple decent looking campsites. We make our way through Missing Link and land at the portage to Tuscarora. We load up and start the long slog across the portage. Just as the first; it’s rocky, hilly and wet. We stop twice for a break and welcome the sight of the blue lake through the trees, one last steep decline to Tuscarora and we have completed the beast. At this point the sun is getting brighter, the humidity increasing and rapidly getting warmer. We take a brief water break and continue on across Tuscarora. The paddle across is very quiet, I think all of us were thinking about the tragedy that occurred on that very lake just a few days prior. Tuscarora is a beautiful lake and I understand why it is a destination for a lot of people. We have our sights set on Little Sag this particular trip. Quick portage into Owl and we quickly get to the Crooked Portage. At the landing their are 10-15 Lake Trout hunting baitfish in the shallows leading to the creek. Not something I have seen before. This got us excited about the potential Lake Trout fishing that awaits us over the next 6 days.
We quickly made our way through Crooked, Tarry, Mora and into Little Saganaga. Since it was still early in the afternoon (1:30) we checked out five different campsites and ultimately decided on Site 814. It’s a beautiful sight. It was perched up on an East facing rocky point and had several nice tent pads and a good landing. We could also fish from shore, swim and see the sunset from the top of the site through the trees. After spending three windy days on this site we were glad this is where we were staying. Sheltered from the West winds but enough of a breeze to keep the bugs at bay.
After eating lunch and getting camp set up we headed out to do some fishing. Picked up one 2 lb Lake Trout trolling the nearby islands and released it. Saving our fish dinner for another night. Retired back to camp for dinner and a nice fire to cap off a hearty day 1.
Dinner - Zatarain's Jambalaya with Brats
~Round Lake, Missing Link Lake, Tuscarora Lake, Owl Lake, Crooked Lake, Tarry Lake, Mora Lake, Little Saganaga Lake
A few notes about campsites we checked out.
#531 - Tough landing, beautiful West facing view but tent pads aren't great and with a strong westerly wind this site would not be fun to camp on.
#813 - Again, not a great landing, perched above lake level, very protected from the wind but was buggy when we stopped to check it out. Overlooking a cool part of lake. Didn't even explore for tent pads.
#820 - Very exposed to the west wind when we were there, didn't get out of the boat to check it out.
#821 - Very nice site facing the East. Well protected from the wind. Like the others it was elevated off the lake.
Woke to a light rain around 7:00. A casual morning of coffee and breakfast and then packed up lunch and headed out to explore and fish. It was pretty windy that day so we stuck close to the islands and picked up one nice trout trolling and two more from camp later in the day. We had several more follows fishing from camp.
We processed the two Lake trout. One was cubed up and put into Cache Lake Foods Fish Chowder and the other was cooked in tin foil over the fire with butter, fresh herbs and lemon slices. I am personally not a huge fan of Lake Trout but the other guys really enjoyed the fire roasted Trout. The fish in the chowder was very good.
Late night around the fire and a forecast for strong winds led to the decision to stay another night before heading onto Gillis for our last two nights.
Breakfast - Cache Lake Tex Mex Scramble with tortillas
Dinner - Cache Lake Fish Chowder with Lake Trout, Fire Roasted Lake Trout
~Little Saganaga Lake
Wind blew all through the night and into the morning and continued all throughout the day into the evening. This was definitely a rest day. We didn’t touch a canoe all day. Casual coffee, breakfast and morning fire stretched into chopping and splitting wood, fishing from shore and cribbage in the afternoon. A nice excuse to do nothing and just enjoy the scenery.
Breakfast - Cache Lake Egg & Sausage Scramble with tortillas
Dinner - Cache Lake Chili Mac, Cache Lake Chocolate Pie
~Little Saganaga Lake
Woke up early and broke down camp while the coffee percolated. Ate a quick pancake breakfast and said good bye to our temporary home. We battled a little wind as we head north to the portage into Virgin Lake. Our plan was to fish West Fern and Powell Lakes on our way into Gillis or possibly Bat.
Virgin Lake portage was like all of the others along this route, rocky and hilly. Took a quick break at the crest of the ridge mid portage and made our way to the lake. We were officially in the burn area. I’ve never traveled through a burn area and it was a really cool experience. Beautiful to see the regrowth of the forest in that stage.
Across Virgin and into West Fern Lake where we rigged up our fishing rods and set off trolling around the lake. West Fern is a beautiful lake with green blue water. We fished for a few hours and picked up a nice Trout that went on the stringer. We searched for the two campsites but were unsuccessful in finding either one of them. We decided we better get going if we were going to get to Gillis or Bat and wanted to make sure we had a sight for the night, not knowing how busy it would be since it was the start of the weekend.
Across the portage and into Powell, we searched for the campsites and contemplated camping there, but the only site we could locate was perched high up on a rock and was getting basted by the wind. This site would do in a pinch but not for us on this day. We headed onto the portage and into French Lake, checked a site but decided to venture on to Gillis. Sites on the North and West sides of Gillis were taken. We could have headed north to the site near the portage to Bat but instead we opted for the longer paddle to check out the Eastern Camp (#507) outside of the burn area. Luckily for us, it was unoccupied. This would be home for the next two nights. West facing site with a great view and numerous flat tent pads. Landing is a little tricky, but the rest of the camp made up for it. Got camp settled and fished from shore a bit. Had a couple of bites and follows but weren’t able to land anything. Dinner was started and we cut up the West Fern Lake Trout that we had hauled all the way to Gillis. This trout was a much different color than the Trout from Little Sag. A deep pink flesh, and the flavor was similar to a salmon. It was delicious and much better tasting than the Little Sag Trout.
Breakfast - Blueberry Pancakes
Dinner - Cache Lake Foods Spaghetti
~Little Saganaga Lake, Virgin Lake, West Fern Lake, Powell Lake, French Lake, Gillis Lake
Today is all about exploring Gillis and fishing. After coffee and breakfast we pack up lunch and head out. The wind has finally died down a little bit for the first time all trip. We explored the cliffs near out site and then head to the bay leading to Crooked Lake portage. Sat on a the large rock leading to the bay and caught several small Trout. After a break and snack we traveled to the Southwestern bay to check out the campsite. It’s a cool little site but only has one nice tent pad but it is very large and near the fire. Once back on the order the wind made for nice drifting back to the main part of the lake. Had a deep diving white and silver Reef Runner. As we approached the large island in the main part of the lake I got a big strike. Fought it for a minute or two with very little shaking. As the fish neared the surfaced he freaked out and shook the hook loose. The one that got away…I don’t know how big it was I just know it was bigger than the ones we had been catching. The other canoe in our group had a similar experience. We were told that all of the Trout in Gillis were the same size. After those two experiences we are convinced there are some big Trout in Gillis. We picked up a trout a little later for the stringer near the large island. Headed back to camp after a full day on the water and played some cribbage before roasting the other trout and making dinner.
Our last night was beautiful. Calm, beautiful sunset and a great fire from the cedar wood we collected while out on the lake. A perfect end to a pretty perfect trip.
Breakfast - Cache Lake Biscuits and Gravy
Dinner - Parmesan Noodles + Tuna Packets, Mashed Potatoes, Fire Roasted Lake Trout
Wanting to get back to the cities at a decent time we woke at 5, quick breakfast and broke down camp. At 6:45 we were off for the 8 portages back to Round lake via the Brandt Lake EP. Portages were fine, a few of them very buggy and wet slogs. The stairway landing on Gotter was missing 2 steps in a row, making the climb to the flat area a little tricky. Some of these lakes have cool features but not much to note along this route. Back to Tuscarora outfitters around 10:15. We split up the gear, pack the cars and head back to the cities with a quick stop at Northern Waters Smokehaus to stock up on smoked fish. It was a great trip. 3 layover days with 3 travel days, the perfect mix for our group.
~Bat Lake, Green Lake, Flying Lake, Gotter Lake, Brant Lake, Round Lake
A FEW RANDOM THOUGHTS:
Tuscarora Outfitters is awesome. We only used the bunkhouse and breakfast but we’re all very impressed. Kind and helpful, the grounds are really nice and the facilities are clean and updated. Would definitely recommend staying here.
It was our first time in this area and we are all looking forward to being back in the near future.
Talking to groups on the way in and reading reports the week prior to our trip we were expecting big crowds. We came across very few people the whole trip.
Bugs (mostly black flies) were bad, but not as bad as expected.
If traveling from Little Sag to Gillis, I would highly recommend traveling through the Virgin/West Fern/Powell route. It’s very cool seeing the turndown areas.
Portages along this whole route were tough. Rugged, rocky, hilly and mostly wet portages made for some challenging travel.
We ate 3 different Trout from 3 different lake and they all had different flesh colors and taste. The one from West Fern was by far the darkest/red and most flavorful.
CACHE LAKE FOODS:
Overall Amazing! We used their meals for a lot of our menu and were impressed.
Breakfast scrambles - Excellent. We brought shredded cheese to add and wrapped the scramble in tortillas. Great breakfast and packs very small.
Biscuits and Gravy - Really really good. The biscuits are tedious to cook over a pocket stove due to the heat but the patience is worth it. Gravy is excellent.
Blueberry pancakes with Powdered syrup - Really good, the powdered syrup was so much easier than packing in real syrup although it was a little runny, we could have used less water than was recommended.
Fish Chowder - Better than expected, would be fine without he fresh fish, but with it it was excellent.
Fry Bread - All of the breads we had were very good and welcome additions to the meals, especially the fish chowder.
Chili Mac and Spaghetti - Good, not great. The sauces were difficult to break down and incorporate but the flavor was good.
Chocolate pie - Really good. Easy to make.
[All of the items were vegetarian and many used meat substitutes, the meat eaters in the crew didn’t even seem to notice.]
NOTABLE GEAR THOUGHTS:
Nemo Cosmo 25L Insulated Sleeping Pad: First time taking a pad with a pump and I will never go back to a mouth inflated pad. This pad is excellent. Easy to inflate and not noisy. It can get a little springy if over inflated but that is easy to avoid.
Xtratuff 15” boots: I usually wetfoot with Chaco and wool socks. Decided to try these out for this trip. They are awesome boots. Got a little swampy on the long travel days that were hot and humid, but overall I loved them. Comfortable and great traction on the wet rocks. Will definitely use them during shoulder season trips in the future. The only drawback with the boots or any other dry boots is that you need to know the water depth limit you can step out of the canoe in. I had one instance of stepping over the top of he boot. Took a day in the sun to dry out. Thinking about making a mark on the paddle blade so I can test the depth before stepping out.
Nemo Bugout Shelter: It was fine. Enough coverage to hideout from the small amount of rain we had. A couple of times we retreated to escape the mid-day black flies but it was annoying going in and out with chair/gear using the corner zip. We opted to pack it in without poles, we used trees and 1 stick which worked well. Didn’t like the design of it overall with 2 of the corners being very low. Considering we usually go in mid-May I probably wouldn’t bring this again.
Fjallraven Abisko Lite Long Trekking Trouser: I wore these the entire trip start to finish. They are the ideal paddling pant for me. They have breathable sections and are reinforced where they should be, plus a couple of zip vents on the side. It got really warm a couple of days and I was comfortable. One the cold nights I threw on a pair of merino long underwear and was plenty warm. They do come with a metal gaiter attachment on the cuff to attach to shoelaces, I removed that right when I got them. That wouldn’t work stuffed into a dry boot. They may have stopped making them cause I am having a hard time finding another pair, can only find zip-offs in this model, which I refuse to buy.
Cotopaxi Sueno Sleeping Bag: Favorite sleeping bag I have owned. Super comfortable and the engineering is superb. From the foot vent to zipper backing the prevents a stuck zipper, stuff pocket for pillow. Really excellent bag. Stuffs down super small, I can fit the bag, Nemo pillow and Sea to Summit pillow in a small Sea to Summit compression bag.
Wenonah Sling-style, clamp-on Portage pads: These are hot garbage. Started falling apart on the long portage to Tuscarora and were in pieces by the end of our first day. None of the metal parts are welded and they basically just fell apart. The rest of the trip the canoe was carried with the pads along duck taped to the portage yoke. Superior or Borquin style pads are the only way to go in my opinion.
Voyageur Maps: These are the premier maps in my opinion. The most recently manufactured, so they seem to be the most accurate. They have great historical information that is fun to read on an off day in camp. Backside has a large overview map of the entire park. DNR fish sample info for each lake on the map.