BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
May 09 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
Alpine Lake Bro Basecamp - Lots o' fish
September 02, 2018
Number of Days:
The plan was simple for this trip. Bring as much fishing gear as we could fit in the canoe, find a spot to base camp on Alpine lake, and catch a bunch of fish. So we launched out of Seagull Lake, and took the tow from Seagull outfitters halfway across the lake to where motors are no longer permitted. The jon boat that we took made me laugh because it reminded me of my dads jon boat that Seth and I borrowed for a trip to Eagle Lake Wisconsin. On that trip we almost sunk that jon boat when all of our gear weighted it down so much water was coming in over the gunwales, we aren’t sitting much higher in the water this trip.
Cutting the lake in half by using a motor was a great move. We unloaded all the gear, and still using our old aluminum canoe, packed it full and started the paddle. It was a fast, easy paddle to the portage of Alpine and we took our time the three trips it took us to get all the loose fishing equipment and that beast of a canoe across the portage. Just as we reached Alpine with our final trip it started to pour, we took a tarp out of the top of one of our packs (lord knows we have enough tarps) and hunkered under until the storm blew over. Just like that, the skies and Alpine Lake had both opened up for us. Yeah, we ended up on the 5 star site right on the peninsula and put a flag in that baby as ours for the rest of our trip.
The trip in went just as planned. The benefit of packing in all that gear is you can turn a wilderness campsite into a wilderness camp, and have it become pretty dang comfortable to stay for the week. We did just that by setting up our big tent, cook shack and other tarps amongst bickers and laughs as only two friends doing this for seemingly the millionth time can do.
The water up here would put a 5$ bottle of smart water to shame. The filtered lake water is truly the best drinking water I’ve ever had, credit to an amazing ecosystem and testament towards the continuing advocacy for keeping it this way. So, speaking of drinking- I’ve found the best. I call it Minnesotan mudd. Mix some whiskey with powdered Arnold Palmer iced tea mix and add some (glacial spring) water. The outcome: great campfire time. Oh and the fish, or should I say: fire baked fish topped with butter and lemon paired with coal-roasted potatoes with butter and shredded cheese topping. This meal after a lot of paddling and moving gear it was to die for, fried fish is a food I could eat every day for the rest of my life and die happy.
There was no way I was going to wake up to the 5:30 alarm so I dismissed that sucker and woke up much later than originally planed as the sun started to bake the tent. We got at fishing right away and found a nice little spot not too far from our site that the fish were in. The portable fish finder worked, well seemed to be reading close enough, and sometimes would work better the harder you’d hit it. It was useful to know about how deep you were floating down the lake; back home we would call that trolling. Only fishing a couple hours, we pulled in three 18” smallies and were hook shook by a couple more. Seth caught a pig of a 20” male walleye and soon our stringer was full for the feast that was soon to be had. (Don’t worry, we kept two small largemouth to eat for the night – I love fresh largemouth and northern when prepared correctly and nobody will ever change my mind)
We got back to camp early and decided to set everything up for the long haul. We would make this campsite and this lake ours for the week. The cook shack ended up being plenty big to fit all the cooking gear comfortably and offer good headspace out of the elements while we made our food. As it turned out, I forgot an attachment for my Coleman two-burner stove so we ended up using a jetboil and campfire the rest of the trip. This was only inconvenient a couple times, not including packing the two burner stove and 5 gallons of propane all the way out here (and back) for nothing. The gravity water filter was working great and the water tasted absolutely amazing but the whiskey tasted even better tonight. I love it up here. The aforementioned meal of fish and potatoes we made over the fire mixed with some whisky after a lot of paddling and moving gear was to die for. No cook stove needed.
I can’t begin to try to describe my feelings when I look at the stars, and it’s only magnified out here where the sky is so bright that each star takes on its own individual identity. The literal sparkling iridescences is hard to describe as the stars dance and change color so bright that it may help to have sunglasses. I lay there asking the same questions as all people that came before me have asked, their stardust bodies inspired by distant lights are felt with me. The closest wording I can come up with to describe this feeling is genetic memory. I can’t understand it, but maybe that is what my definition of genetic memory ends up being. Something to do with the stars and this wonderful universe that is impossible to understand, I’m happy to be a part of it.
Today was a wash. We knew there would be at least one rain day, the weathermen had forecasted it weeks ahead of time and probably the reason for so much of my tarp talk. I had been looking forward to this rain day, thinking it would be a good day to do some writing and chores around camp, but what I had forgotten is how dreary rain days around camp make you feel.
Everything got moist. Our tarp over the cook shack held nicely, but it quickly became claustrophobic and felt cramped sitting under the green canopy. While out fishing, I noticed that our camp neighbors had to readjust their tarp to make room to stay underneath as well. Its funny, before the rainstorm it looked like a really cool setup and I took mental notes how to make it, but quickly erased them after figuring it looked cooler than the practicality it provided. Even with a tarp and rain fly over the tent and a tarp under the tent, water still found a way in our set up as well. The tent wasn’t an escape from the all-day soaker and our clothes and sleeping bags paid the price.
Back home rain is calming. Its way too comfortable, convenient, to have a stable roof over your head, a way to heat your house, and an ample supply of food to eat on a Netflix binge. It’s much too easy to take that for granted. Try looking into a fire, any fire, and tell me that doesn’t mean more to you than logs burning. Whether it is a bonfire back home, or a fire out in the wilderness it signals the same sensations and feelings in me. Security, warmth, dry, more genetic memories.
Mountain espresso is part of my gourmet wilderness portfolio. Crushed Folgers and boiling glacial water mixed with whipped butter topping. Wakes you up, makes you poop.
It was nice to sleep in and wake up to late morning wind and sun. After a couple mugs of mountain espresso we strung clotheslines around camp, completely cleaned the tent and hung our life up. We let the wind and sun do its magic and ate a big breakfast of poptarts, snickers and oatmeal. It was hard to be motivated to do anything with it being so nice out and the wind made any canoe trip too difficult so I flopped out on paradise rock and let my skin dry. Paradise rock faces west and on a nice day like today catches a gust of crisp early fall wind that is soon heated again by the late summer heat off of the rock. I bet the sunset off this point will be amazing tonight, and the stars…
Today was the first day we were able to pattern and track down the small mouth in any numbers. The first couple nights we fished our honey hole near camp, almost exactly 15 minutes before dark, the bass started coming to the surface to feast. They look like giant snakes breaking the top of the water, but never exposing more than their thick back. It didn’t take much skill to throw shad crank baits towards the water snakes appearing and they started hammering our lines. As quickly as we could throw the lures we were reeling them in. Within minutes, maybe seconds, we had 5 in the boat, three of them tournament winners 18.5-20”, 4+ pounders. Then, the 15 minutes were done, and so were the feeding fish. We kept two of the smaller ones to fry up tomorrow. For you fishermen that are laughing at us for eating two 14” smallmouth come over to camp Storm and I promise you I will change your mind.
Seagulls are an incredibly adaptive, and misunderstood animal. The ones most people see in the Walmart parking lot should be considered a completely different species than those up here fighting with the eagles for food. The Walmart seagulls, like so many of us, have fallen into an artificially comfortable lifestyle. With their false sense of security, Walmart seagulls think they feel the same accomplishment as wilderness seagulls.
With fish already in the bag it was another lazy morning around camp, I can sleep for days here. We ran into our real first problem so far this trip, we ran out of whiskey last night. Minnesotan Mudd is way too good, next trip, more whiskey! With my camp stove out of commission we made a nice, hot coal fire and made an all out fish fry with French fried potatoes on a cast iron. Wow was it good. I wasn’t too sure how cooking it on the fire with the oil would be but we kept a close eye on it, didn’t have any grease fires, and the fish and chips turned out amazing. I could eat potatoes, oil and fresh fish for literally every meal.
I resisted the urge to fall into a food coma and we cleaned up camp and tried our hand at fishing during the afternoon. We planned to venture to the other side of the lake, but when we were on the water the wind seemed a lot stronger than it was at camp. 200 yards out from our camp there were a flock of seagulls eating surfacing shiners off the top of 50 feet of water. With it being as windy as it was we took a scouting row out with the canoe in the chop. Paddling between the jumping shiners in the middle of the lake, hoping the fish were chasing the same shiners as the seagulls. We trolled holding our rods between our legs in the classic boundary waters troll through the middle of seagull alley. You know in the lion king when Timone and Pumba go bowling for buzzards? We were literally paddling through buzzards. Straight into the wind, straight for each seagull perched above the jumping shiners. I had a bite and the fish got off, it’s a lot more testing to land a trolled fish in a canoe, rather than my bass boat. Soon, Seth pulled in a nice smallie and we felt accomplished at finding fish in an unlikely spot.
Rowing for buzzards was fun, but a lot of work, and the wind seemed to have died down a bit so we then trolled our way over to the other end of the lake. We found a bay with nice structure and a gradual drop and tossed some lures. Within a couple hours we had a handful of northern each. Seth had a mid-20’s in the boat trying to get it unhooked when I had a big strike. I tried to play it as he was able to get his fish back in the water and as soon as he had a hand on the net, my pike shook the hook. I had a look at it, not a trophy, but a mid 30 incher that would have been a new personal record for me with northern. Wait this is a fishing story; it was at least 50”. We drifted to an island and I hooked into another monster small mouth on the same jerk bait Mr. Northern had just swallowed. This was the biggest smallie of the trip, 21.5” 4.5 pounds. – He will look good as a replica on my wall. Seth lost a nice mid 20’s walleye next to the boat just as the sun had finished setting. It was too dark, and we were done losing fish while casting over each other’s lines so we headed back home
(Not so) Humble brag right here, Ive caught so many smallmouth that my Iphone will no longer accept my thumbprint. In this, Ive realized IPhone thumbprints don’t work with working hands, yet all of America has the latest Iphone. Show me a man with a flip phone and it shows you a workingman. We woke up early this morning for two mid-vacation millennials and went back to newly named ‘Pike Bay’. By now we have given up on finding the walleye in this lake, and have had our fun with smallies, so today we will be northern fishermen. We drifted through the bay five or more times and by the end of the morning hooked into around 10 small northerns, nothing over 25”. Half surprisingly, we didn’t stumble into any smallmouth either. It was hot out this morning, not a cloud in the sky and no breeze on the lake. By 1:00 the canoe was acting as a UV mirror and we were both crispy from the sun and ready to go back in. We had scouted some fire wood on beaver island (there were 2 beavers asserting that it is THEIR island by slapping their tails as we drifted by each time) and went there to chop some wood for tonight, and stock up enough to leave some for hover is lucky enough to find this site after us. I love the humble tradition of leaving wood by the fire for a tired paddler, or food in the cabin for a lost wanderer; to me no human act is more pure. I get my first burn of the year walleye fishing on memorial day so it is only fitting the last skin burn of the year comes labor day fishing. After a day like today it is hard to believe fall is right around the corner. It was a great afternoon for a bath and to play with our chipmunk friends who, by now, have become pretty domesticated. We left a handful of trail mix out for them and watch as they run about collecting the peanuts and M&M’s.
I feel like we are finally starting to sync with the areas rhythms, but sadly it is too late. We are smart by now about our secret night small mouth bite so we didn’t put the canoe in until 45 minutes before sunset. Waiting for the surfacing of the smallies, we tossed a couple lures and Seth hooked into a big northern. On the attempt to net it, we realized that the northern was too big to fit into our net (note to self, if you are portaging a net portage a big one). The northern jumped next to the boat and shook the hook. No nice northern pictures to post, I guess you will just have to take this ol’ fisherman’s word for it again.
Then, there they were. We rowed 25 yards right up next to where the smallies began surfacing. They smashed the shad raps, we couldn’t help each other net and unhook because we were getting doubles left and right. Then, all too quick, the 15 minutes was up. Thanks for the fun smallies; this will be a spot I will tell stories about for the rest of my life.
As a fisherman, I have never had a problem sharing where and how I am able to have success with people I know will treat the land and resources with respect. As an outdoorsman, I make it my mission to talk up the outdoors, the beauty, peace, ease, if you are reading this you probably already know and can think of a better word. There are people who haven’t seen stars or drank pure (gravity filtered) water, gone without cell reception or even seen a wild seagull. Share your experiences with those you love, and pass on that love to them. I hope this trip report reaches some 15 year old out there looking to plan their first boundary waters trip. Spread the love; spread the love of the wild.
Why didn’t we decide to take the Jon boat lift halfway across the lake on the way out? I told you we still know nothing. After the easy portage across Alpine, Seagull Lake was nasty. The wind was hootin’ and there were whitecaps across the entirety of the lake, I didn’t notice how big the lake looks on the way in. I don’t think Seth and I would have made it on our first trip but we were able to Island hop across the lake and actually made pretty good time as we only almost tipped the canoe like three times. Seagull outfitters was a shining, golden, beacon as we pulled up winded, but finally done fighting the wind. Seagull and Alpine lake are beautiful, in their own way, just like every other lake I have visited in the BWCA. I love this place, and its good to be able to post this in a group that loves it the same. Its even better to share it with life long friends, and the people you love. Time to plan our next trip, thanks for reading.