BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 18 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 4
Elevation: 1500 feet
Brant to Tuscarora via Little Sag Route:
Bat - Mud
Gillis - burn area is evident:
Peter - first lake trout:
Little Sag - green trees again!
Mora - gorgeous divide of burn and green
Tuscarora - second lake trout!
Missing Link - with lighter food pack, the portage is OK
Fifth trip up the Gunflint trail
July 21, 2011
Number of Days:
We woke up extremely early in the morning due to the usual excitement of setting out on an adventure. This of course was aided by having two newbies in the group. Our favorite outfitters provided the usual great breakfast, we went over route plans, watched the video and away we went to our entry point on Seagull Lake. After a bit of confusion as to where the entry point was (we knew because we had been there the last two years but had a hard time convincing the young driver), we were finally on the water a little after 9 am.
My wife and I were in one canoe and my brother and friend in the other canoe. They are both avid outdoors people and have paddled many times so we had no worries about them handling their boat. Notice I said handling, not steering! Neither one had used bent shaft paddles or paddled kevlar canoes. With my brother trying to steer, my wife and I got a good laugh out of the zig-zag approach of trying to cross Seagull Lake. The wind seemed unusually high for so early in the morning so we hugged the eastern shore and hid behind Threemile Island for the length of the lake.
Eventually however, you have to hit the open water and the wind was howling creating small whitecaps. We dug in, pointed the canoes dead into the waves and plowed through them. My wife never ceases to amaze me when we hit a challenging piece of paddling and soon enough we were at the 105 rod portage to Alpine.
Our goal was to meet my parents on Ogishkemuncie sometime in the afternoon. They were going to get there the day before, stake out a good campsite and hang a yellow flag for us to see from a distance. Because of the wind and the distance we had to paddle, fishing was pretty much non-existent during the travel spare a few casts into "fishy looking" areas.
The paddling from Seagull-Alpine-Jasper-Kingfisher and onto Ogish was just that, paddling. After all, we had a goal to meet which is not usually our style in the Boundary Waters. It was our third trip to Ogish so we knew the area well and where to find the portages.
We arrived on Ogish, ate some quick snacks and continued on our way. The only hard part of our planning was having to paddle up to every campsite to see if it was "reserved" for us by my parents. We were not sure how easy it would be to see the flag from the water. We had decided previously to have them grab the site at the entrance to Spice lake if they could and that's eventually where we found them. They were out exploring at the time we arrived but they returned about 30 minutes later. We exchanged hugs and relaxed for awhile, it had been a pretty tough day of paddling especially for the non-steering canoe! My parents had come in through the Brant Lake entry point and had enjoyed many days of near solitude and apparently great lake trout fishing. All caught with the same deep-diving red crankbait.
After a great dinner, I went out fishing with my father and my brother took out my mother. We hit a spot that we had good luck with on previous trips and pulled in some nice smallies but were looking for walleye. It was our first experiment with a drift sock and all I can say to anyone who canoe fishes, BUY ONE! We paddled back towards camp switching to topwater lures and caught a few more smallies. Then to our surprise, as my father was reeling in a fish we assumed was a bass (still fishing with poppers), we realized he had caught a decent sized walleye. The BWCA never ceases to amaze me.
Some of us wake early in the morning to head out fishing looking for a fish breakfast (which at this point we all agree is our desired time to eat fish). We bring back three smallies and a walleye for frying and a little taste testing. Scott and Zach do not prefer to eat fish but are willing to give it a try. Obviously this will be the freshest fish they have ever eaten. Almost all of us seem to prefer the smallmouths, I know everyone will find that strange, although the walleye was delicious as well.
Our goal today is to find a nice site on South Arm of Knife Lake and we are anxious to get rolling so we can arrive on Knife before the heavy winds start that we experienced last year. My parents are continuing their journey in another direction so we pack camp and part ways. It was a great idea to meet up with them in the wilderness. An easy yet busy paddle through Annie, Jenny, and Eddy allows us to arrive on South Arm at about 10 am. After the portage we are relieved to see calm waters on the lake and we proceed southwest with the intention of staying relatively close to Thunder Point so we can do a sunset hike. After about a 3 1/2 mile paddle we choose a wonderful site on the northern shore with a sheltered cooking area and nice hammock hanging trees.
I brought along a snorkel and mask just for fun on this trip so I took a dip looking for lures/artifacts in the water. Much to my surprise the fish were not at all startled by my presence. I spotted both small and largemouth bass hanging out along the dropoff. This will come in handy later in the trip.
We relax all afternoon, just swimming and fishing from the campsite then cooked chili and cornbread for dinner before heading out to fish for the evening. Fishing was slow, we only reeled in a few smallmouths, so we headed in to avoid the ever increasing buzzing from the woods. We head to the tents to the sounds of raindrops on the tarps.
The rain was persistent and medium-heavy through the night and I awoke at about 7:00 to secure the tarp that I heard flapping around. The skies looked ominous and we decide early in the morning to stay here another night which will give us a chance for an evening paddle to Thunder Point if the winds subside. A big breakfast of eggs, bacon, and pancakes is served with syrup being prepared on a homemade ultralight stove that Zach brought along. It worked well for heating syrup and water.
After lunch, Jes, Zach and I choose to scale the hill behind our campsite to see what kind of vistas we can find. It turns out to be a great idea because not only did we get great views of the lake and surrounding areas but we also found the most blueberries ever assembled in one area! We couldnt help but trample them as we walked, there was no way around it. Zach happened to have a sandwich bag from lunch in his pocket so we loaded what we couldnt eat into it for breakfast the next morning.
The wind and waves have let up so we decide to venture west to Thunder Point and take a light dinner with us. We first explore Bonnie Lake to cast our lines and see if we can catch anything. Jes catches the world's smallest bass and pike on the same lake (so she says) and when we arrive at the portage to Spoon Lake we decide to have our dinner and paddle back out to Thunder Point. We make the hike up the hill with about a half an hour to spare and spend the next minutes taking in the beauty, listening to the distant loons and watching the sunset over Canada. The paddle back to camp is by a made easier by a beautiful moonrise.
My brother and I get out of the tents before dawn to try our luck again with the fish. We coax a few more into the canoe but still nothing too substantial. However, this morning we a greeted with a beautiful sunrise as well as a rainbow that seems to end right above our campsite. We head back to camp to have breakfast and pack up to head towards Amoeber Lake. Breakfast is granola and the blueberries and raspberries we collected yesterday. Delicious!
Two portages later we arrived at beautiful Amoeber Lake. We were here the year before and although the fishing wasn't anything to write home about, it is gorgeous. We hope for the island campsite but are disappointed to see it is already occupied so we opt for the same site we had stayed on previously. We all take a quick swim after setting up camp and proceed to just lounge around the rest of the afternoon.
Both canoes head out after dinner for an evening paddle and some fishing. We find the same stunted smallmouths we encountered last year, lots of them but all in the 7 - 12 inch range. The eagles and loons are very active this evening which is almost as entertaining as the fishing. An average sunset ends what has been overall just a relaxing day in the BW.
Morning number five dawns clear and calm. Zach, who apparently loves to sleep in, does not stir as the rest of us crawl out of our tents. Fishing this morning was more of the same, lots of smallies but at least this morning we did end up catching a few decent ones while working a reef in the middle of the lake.
The fishermen of the trip are ready to find some bigger fish so we decide to move on with the intention of out next campsite being on Ester Lake. The first portage of the day is 20 easy rods to Topaz Lake where we just cruise, fishing along the way, and catching the occasional pike or smallie. The 5 rod portage to beautiful Cherry Lake is a breeze as well and with no wind to speak of, the day is easy paddling. Near the far eastern end of Cherry, the water rushing from Lunar Lake to Cherry Lake sounded like a waterfall. We did not hear that the year before but probably because this year was a wet spring and summer. The 110 rod portage from Cherry to Hanson is not for the weak. It is definitely an up-and-down portage that probably keeps those travelers with heavy loads from attempting it. However, I am proud to say that my wife and I blow through it and leave the two "man" canoe in our dust on the trail.
Hanson Lake to Ester is a nice, easy paddle although we are a bit tired from the last portage. Jes and I press on ahead to see if we can secure the campsite that we had scouted the year before on Ester. As we rounded the bend we could see that is was available and we were there waiting for Scott and Zach when they arrived. It is truly a "gem" of a site in our eyes. Beautiful view, wide open with plenty of tall pines, a good landing area, and flat tent pads. It will be home for a few evenings.
Swimming and snorkeling are on the to-do list this afternoon. It is hot and we all worked up quite a sweat on the last portage. This is the spot where the "redneck fishfinder" made it's appearance. I had noticed on Knife Lake that the bass really could not care less if they had a human floating above them so we decided to attempt to catch them with one person fishing from shore and the other person snorkeling and pointing down to where the big fish were. It was amazing to watch the reaction of the fish as we used different jigs/lures in an attempt to catch them. Quite an eye opener for any fisherman. Some things they were highly attracted to and others they were indifferent to. Anyway, to make a long story short, we did this for a few hours and actually caught a few fish. When we bored of this technique my brother decided to tie a string around his wrist, put on a drop shot weight and use a artificial leach and attempt to catch them with this method. It was highly effective and we all laughed hysterically every time he emerged from the water with another catch. Unreal! I highly recommend this experiment if others are so inclined to try it. We caught some of the action on video but I cannot load videos here. Maybe I'll post a link to youtube later.
Apparently I needed some rest because my brother said he tried to wake me up to go fishing and I refused to budge. We finally crawl from the tent at about 8 AM and have a quick, easy breakfast of sugared rice and dried fruit. Not a lot was planned for the day except some exploring of neighboring lakes.
Zach and I head towards the outlet of Totem Lake to see if bushwhacking was possible. Possible, yes, but probably not without sinking quite deep into the muck so we head to another nearby lake. We scout the contour map to see where the easiest access might be and get a good idea. We head through the woods first without the canoe and arrive at a small, peaceful lake so we decide to go grab the canoe and fishing gear. It wasnt the easiest trek but not impossible. We put the canoe in and paddled the shoreline thinking it looked awful "pikey". All we had was a couple of spinnerbaits and at last I got a nice strike. I reeled in a nice sized largemouth bass and deduced that, if there is one, there has to be others. We continued to catch largemouths for an hour or two, about 10 total, before we decided it was lunchtime. Only 3 of them were over 12 inches but they had great markings. We are very happy that we decided to go off the beaten path.
Meanwhile, the men of the trip want to give the "chef" a break and decide to cook a simple dinner of mac and cheese with summer sausage. Unfortunately, the "chef" was awakened to the exclamation "UH OH", as dinner mysteriously ended up in the dirt. See what guys get for trying. We have extra food so no biggie and after dinner we head to the Pitfall PMA for some evening fishing. As we enter Gift Lake there is a campsite with 4 aluminum canoes and a mere 2 women to be seen. There is also only one tent and tarp set up. It all seemed very odd. We continue on making it to Fish Lake and catch a fair share of Northerns before heading back out. Both Jes and I notice something large and red on the opposite shore from the campsite on Gift but don't mention it to each other until later. Come to find out Scott and Zach had paddled the far shore on Gift and both agreed they saw some sort of structure erected back in the woods. We still wonder what was going on with that situation.
Scott and I head to a fishing spot that had been productive the year before on Hanson Lake and succeed in catching a fair amount of smallmouths, a few that we keep for breakfast bagels. My first disappointment of the trip came when I was jigging for walleye and thought that I had hooked into something nice. As it came out of the depths at first glance it looked like a medium sized pike, so not wanting to mess with it I gave it slack to see if it could unhook itself. To my shock, it began rolling over and over until I realized it was a lake trout. Just at that moment, it broke off and it was gone. It would have been my first ever laker. I was really bummed but that's what I get for being lazy and not wanting to unhook a pike. Lesson learned! But at least we had a nice, fresh breakfast to look forward to. Over the years my father has taught me to cut some nice filets and my mother has taught Jes how to prepare them. Thanks for always teaching!
Our original plan for the day was the daytrip to Lake of the Clouds but the weather didn't look too promising so we decided to be lazy. And we were! We all slept, read and slept some more until the afternoon when Zach and I went out fishing for a bit. My second disappointment of the trip happened to occur on the same day as the first one when I must not have tied a very good knot to my drift sock and it came undone. Much to my dismay, the wind was blowing too hard and we could not get the canoe turned around in time as I watched it slowly sink to the depths of Ester Lake. If you are ever trolling the area near the small island just to the west of northern island campsite, maybe you'll snag it. It's lightly used!
The wind is now too tough to fish in, so we head to camp for a dinner of Santa Fe chicken wraps with blueberry cheesecake for dessert. We settle in around the blazing fire to relax for the evening before calling it a night. I think it's the first time in 5 trips that Jes has not even hit the water for a short paddle, now that's a relaxing day.
Maybe we rested up all day yesterday in anticipation of our long paddle planned for today. We wanted to make it to Red Rock Lake if the wind would cooperate with us. We pack up camp quickly and make our way to the first portage, 80 rods, that will lead us to Ottertrack Lake. The wind is blowing from the west which will surely bode well for us during our trek today. The second portage, monument portage, affords us the opportunity for some photo ops and we snap a few of each other straddling the border with Canada.
It was a beautiful paddle from Swamp Lake and onto Saganaga Lake, weaving our way around islands and watching the loons fish. The peacefulness came to an abrupt end however when we reached the point just south of Cache Bay and saw the waves on Saganaga. We were in for a straight forward, no break, head down and just paddle until we reach American Point. The waves were large and basically coming from the northwest meaning they were broadsiding us every time. We reached American Point, rounded it and headed south with the wind squarely at our backs. What a relief. Deciding we earned a lunch break, we stop on a rocky shoreline and have chicken salad bagels with jerk seasoning, delicious and well deserved.
It's always strange to be back on motorized waters and we see plenty of boats out today. After lunch we make our way southwest to Red Rock Bay, and eventually take the up-and-over portage to our destination of Red Rock Lake. We are pretty spent from a hard morning of paddling and although we have made good time, are all ready to set up camp for the night. We pass on the first couple of campsites on the northern end of the lake and eventually choose the one right where the lake narrows. It's nothing to write home about but it will do for the evening. The usual setting up of camp is now old hat, even for the new wilderness canoeists, and chili is served for dinner once again.
The wind subsides in the evening hours so we take our usual fishing excursion where we tangled with some decent sized bass and one large Pike. The loons are very noisy this evening and the sunset is wonderful. It's amazing how it went from so turbulent to complete serenity in a matter of a few hours. We figured we paddled about 12 miles, and with that tiring thought in mind, we all hit the tents early.
It is easily the warmest of all the mornings we had experienced this year as I crawl out of the tent to greet the new day. Scott and I head out fishing, leaving Jes and "the sleeper" to stay in their slumber a little longer. We have our best morning fishing yet and catch and release numerous smallies and pike as well. An eagle follows our canoe up and down the shore. I'm sure it is hoping that one of our fish doesn't make it off the hook in very good shape but we leave him still wanting.
Breakfast is waiting when we return from fishing and we eat and pack up to move to Alpine Lake for the last two nights of our trip. As we are preparing to shove off, there are actually 2 canoes waiting to take our site at 10 AM. They must have really wanted that site I guess. We had day tripped to Red Rock a few years back and I suppose we did not realize how easily accessible it is from Saganaga. Plenty of camp chairs and coolers at the surrounding sites. Oh well, to each their own.
We get to the 48 rod portage to Alpine and are greeted with our worst mosquito problem of the whole trip. We portaged rapidly in order to get back on the water and away from the bugs. Parting ways, our two canoes went out in search of a suitable site, and after vetoing a few, we decided to stay in the same location where we had stayed the year before. It is in such a nice location we just couldn't pass it up.
Ready for an afternoon swim, Zach and I decide it would be interesting to see if we could flip and canoe in deep water and upright it and get back into it like we did years ago in boys camp. The video of the entire event is very interesting and we finally accomplished our goal on our second try. We realize that we are not as young as we used to be!
Scott and I head out to see if we can catch dinner, and we do, but I forgot the stringer so fresh fish would not be on the menu for the evening. Instead it was a boring old backpacker meal, but it was still yummy. The bugs were very nice to us in the evening and we built a fire and enjoyed each others company after watching the sun go down over the water.
Our last full day of the trip started out like almost all of the others, clear and calm. It has been a trip with a good amount of wind but little rain to speak of. All four of us get up and head out for a sunrise and a little fishing. Fishing is a little slow and I catch my wife nodding off in the front of the canoe. She isn't a morning fisherwoman. She talks me into getting off the water and heading in for coffee and breakfast. We did catch a few nice ones, however.
It warmed up nicely throughout the day but the storm clouds began to roll in along with the distant sound of thunder. We swam a little to cool off and fished around the island for awhile until the light rain started. It wasn't a heavy rain, just enough to be a nuisance. We all huddled under the tarp during the intermittent showers while reading books and waited for the rain to end. After a few hours the clouds began to break up and blue sky was seen overhead. The fire was started and we cooked dinner early enough for the fisherman to head out for one more night.
The spot we had located the day before proved very successful this evening and we hauled in plenty of bass. The sunset that evening was easily the best of the trip and for a few minutes the fishing stopped so we could just enjoy the scenery and take pictures. Right around dark I tied on a buzzbait my brother said was his favorite looking for one more lunker. The bait lasted all of three casts as a massive strike from a pike removed it from my line. We hadn't caught a pike in two days and there it was, the only time I've used a buzzbait with no leader in the BW and pow, its gone. Lesson number two learned!
One more morning of fishing results in plenty of hooked fish and nearly one hooked fisherman. Large pike have a tendency to be feisty and the one my brother hooked that morning made up his mind to jump from the water, into the canoe. I guess he really wanted someone to handle him. Thankfully I was wearing pants and not shorts otherwise I might have had a hook embedded. With the crisis averted, we headed back in to pack up camp for our quick paddle to the docks.
Our only portage of the day brought us to Seagull Lake and what a difference from earlier in the trip. The waters were smooth as glass and we were not at all sad to see that. We paddled peacefully across the northern side of the lake passing the cliffs on Seagull and approached the take out point. It's always a time when I am torn between wanting to continue on and just wanting a hot shower and a soda. All good things must come to an end and that's the approach I've come to take with the last day of a journey.
We had to wait for a good amount of time for our transportation to pick us up and while we waited we amused ourselves by observing another group who was just entering on that day. They had more "stuff" than I could ever imagine bringing into the wilderness. We assumed they were not traveling very far, probably not even off of Seagull Lake but who knows.