Day 1 of 8
Monday, September 21, 2020 Got up early for the long drive from Michigan to Grand Marais MN. I wanted to get to GM before dark so I could take in the town a bit. The drive was uneventful. I checked into the Aspen Inn and headed into GM for dinner. Ate outdoors at the Gunflint Tavern, which was decent. Then took a walk out on the pier and island. Neat area, awesome sunset. The weather is 70s and sunny, not bad for late September. Hope it holds for a few days! Thanks to my lovely wife for not giving me any crap about leaving on her birthday!
Day 2 of 8
Tuesday, September 22, 2020 Was up early- couldn’t sleep. Too excited! Arrived at Seagull Outfitters at 8am. Took about an hour to get up the Gunflint. Saw a red fox on the way up. Had to wait on the boat driver to get to work, so didn’t leave as early as I’d have liked. He dropped off a father/son combo at the Red Rock Portage first. They were from Louisville KY, and they were part of an 18-man group going into Red Rock Lake. Then he dropped me off on the little island just east of American Point. I was paddling by 10:30. This trip I'm paddling a rented 15' Wenonah Royalex solo canoe. It was a great boat! There were a number of people around between there and the first portage into Swamp Lake (took me 1.5 hrs to get there). It’s a short portage and there’s several canoes behind me, so I hustle my gear across, get it out of the way, and get out some lunch. I hear a commotion back on the other side and I go check it out. One of the canoes has flipped! It was a couple from the Twin Cities- their dog flipped them. I run and bring my canoe back and paddle out to help. Another couple from Nebraska was behind and also helped. Eventually everything gets to shore. Luckily, it’s a warm day, and they had their life jackets on. I give them some chocolate as they dry off and take stock. All they lost was a pair of prescription sunglasses. Thank goodness it's 75 and sunny out! Next is Monument Portage- actually a very cool portage.[paragraph break]Into Ottertrack Lake I go. All the campsites by the first portage and Monument Portage were taken, which worried me. Tried to find the Benny Ambrose cabin site, but no luck. Found an old campsite and trail, but that was it. Checked out the 4-star site at the west end of Ottertrack. Nice site and I was tempted, but I want that portage behind me. So, I do it and take the site on Little Knife right at the portage. No one is around, so what the heck. It’s 4:00 and I’m beat. I set up camp, do firewood, and grill up my steak. I get out briefly to fish but by 7:30 it’s pretty dark and I go in. I had two hits on the blue orange Rapala Husky Jerk, but neither stuck. I saw one small pike and a few little smallies off the campsite. Marked lots of lakers down deep- 35’ and deeper. Maybe tomorrow! The water temp was 61 degrees. Gorgeous evening, calm and still. I have a nice fire and enjoy my new Helinox chair, which my wife got me for my birthday. That chair is a game changer! I'll never go again without it. So glad to be here! ~Saganaga Lake, Swamp Lake, Ottertrack Lake, Little Knife Lake
Day 3 of 8
Wednesday, September 23, 2020 Got up to a beautiful, calm, sunny day at 6:30am. I eat breakfast and break camp, and I’m paddling by 8:40. Heading for the S Arm! I decide to troll. I put on a Cabelas crankbait (Wally Diver knockoff) that was really good in the Quetico last year. I’m over 100’ of water going across Little Knife and fish on! Laker, right? Nope- nice smallie! I land him, 17”. Then further up the shoreline I get another, this one 18.5”! Took 1.5 hrs paddling (trolling) to get into Knife Lake. I troll through Knife but get a little turned around at one point. I finally realize there’s a short portage into the S Arm. A guy who had been fishing nearby showed me. Nice map skills dummy! It was only like 50’ so hard to see on the map. I get one little pike on the blue-orange husky jerk trolling up the S Arm but that’s it. I take the campsite to the west of Eddy Falls, set up camp, and relax a bit. Nice site. Then I head over to check out the falls. Not much flow and no real fishing potential. A little disappointing. I portage into Eddy Lake. I didn’t plan well. Didn’t bring raingear, headlamp, or any food. Plus, I have to triple portage it even with just fishing gear. Not smart. Anyhow, Eddy Lake is supposed to have nice pike and smallies in it. Couldn’t prove it by me. I have one fish take a wimpy shot at a Pop R, but that’s it. No fish for me to eat tonight. Eddy Lake has potential- the shoreline is covered in downed timber, making it look like smallie heaven. Maybe at a different time of year? It is deep with steep drops though. I mark what I think are lakers deeper than 35’. [paragraph break]I get back to camp around 6:30. It’s been calm all day, but now a nasty east wind kicks up. That’s the one direction my campsite is exposed to. Figures. It’s now overcast too- at about 4pm some clouds had rolled in. I finally get my mac and cheese cooked up. I find a spot out of the wind and eat while I send my wife a msg on the InReach. There were mice at my site yesterday. When I woke up this morning, I found out that they had chewed a hole in my food bag and eaten part of an apple. Thank goodness that’s all they got, although they did also chew up some paper towels. Now on this campsite, there are mice at my feet while I’m trying to eat! I string a line and hang my food bag. Hopefully that will deter them. As I’m getting ready to go into the tent, I see a small owl flying through my site. He roosts in a tree right above me. I think it’s a saw-whet owl. Very cool! Hopefully he’ll get those mice! No fire tonight- too windy. No stars either, so I’m in the tent by 8:30 to read and journal. I’m reading "1984" on my son's recommendation. As I’m getting into the tent, I have an abdominal muscle cramp up. Never had that before. It was incredibly painful, but it goes away after a few minutes. For that few moments, I felt very alone out there! As I’m laying in the tent, the mice are running all over the exterior of the tent. Thankfully not inside the tent though. ~Little Knife Lake, Knife Lake, South Arm Knife Lake, Eddy Lake
Day 4 of 8
Thursday, September 24, 2020 I wake up around 730, to the same E wind and overcast. Slept decent last night which was good after the ab thing. I’m in no rush- today is base camp day. I string my tarp up for a windblock so I can make breakfast in peace. Works well. I make a big ole pancake. I take a few casts off the campsite with the Husky Jerk and I hook but lose a smallie. Where there’s one there’s usually more, right? I ready a worm/bobber rig. First cast- bobber down! A 14” smallie. Perfect for dinner. 3rd cast- bobber down again! This time it’s an 18” smallie. Just a slab. Awesome. Let him go. I try for awhile more but get no more bites. So, I get ready to head out. I thought about going back to Knife, but don’t want to risk having to paddle my way home against a strong E wind. So, I paddle into the wind, up the N Arm of the S Arm. I check campsites on the way. As I head across the deeps, I put an ounce of lead on with the hot lure from yesterday. No bites. At the 2nd campsite, I switch to an 11D Flicker Minnow, silver color. I don’t troll 5 min and I get a decent 15” smallie. Then, right away another bite, this time a 29” pike. Then another about the same size. I’m onto something here! As I near the next campsite, I get another one. This one is 30” and fat! It gives me a jump that a smallie would be proud of. I also miss a couple of bites. Finally, I get to the portage into Hanson and walk it. Nice portage. The waterfall isn’t much, not much flow. Takes me 8 minutes to do the portage. It’s a little less than ½ mile in length. The troll back to camp sucks. I get one good bite in the “hot zone”, but it doesn’t stick. I stop and try to jig some fish I see on my sonar in 30’ of water- possibly walleyes. No luck though. When I’m over the deeps I stop and try to jig some lakers? I can see down 60-70’. No luck with that either. I do get one hit trolling across the abyss, but it doesn’t stick. Rats! I check out the other campsite near Eddy Falls- mine is better. I get back to camp around 5:15 and have a great fish fry with mashed potatoes. After dinner I try the worm/bobber again. I get one wimpy bite, but he won’t stick with it. It has basically calmed down for the most part, so I have a nice fire and write. Only saw one canoe all day today. They came out of the Eddy portage and headed for Hanson. It’s surprisingly not busy! Had no problems with mice tonight. Perhaps the owl got them? The weather today was partly cloudy with an East wind pretty much all day until evening. It was around 60 degrees.~South Arm Knife Lake
Day 5 of 8
Friday, September 25, 2020 Last night it got completely calm and still in the middle of the night. It was so quiet that I could hear what I think was a beaver breathing and splashing around down on the lake! I’m thinking beaver because at one point he “plunked” his tail. No stars though, it was overcast.[paragraph break] Wow today was a tough day. I’m in the tent now by 8:30. Luckily, I’m warm, dry, and well-fed. Wasn’t easy though. Woke up to a calm, partly cloudy morning. Had a nice pancake breakfast, broke camp and loaded up. But I decided to try a few casts with the worm/bobber before going. It paid off. First- I get ripped off twice in a row by something big. Pike I guess. The third bobber down sticks though. And it’s a 20” smallie! Awesome fish. I let him go, can’t eat that one. I paddle over to the N arm of the S arm and then troll the “hot zone” from yesterday. No bites this time though. I do the portage- it really is a nice portage. The landing on Hanson is neat- some leaning cedars make a kind of dock, and the old cedar roots make a cool platform. As I paddle away, the sky darkens, and I hear thunder. I stop at the first campsite on the north shore to have some lunch. It starts to rain as I eat, so I don the raingear. After I eat, I take a few casts with the worm/bobber rig. Bobber down! I get a perfect dinner smallie and another little one. I also lose a bigger one. Not bad! I start paddling again, in the rain. When I get into Ester, I check out the first four sites. The first three aren’t what I’m looking for- they either have puddled tent sites or poor tarpology options. The fourth is taken by a big group with multiple tents, tarps, etc. They aren’t there at the moment. So, I gamble on the site by the Ashdick Lake portage, which is the last one on the lake. It is still pouring rain. Luckily the Ashdick site is workable. I get my tarp set up, so I at least have a dry spot to work from. But man is it hard to motivate in the pouring rain! I take a walk on the Ashdick portage. Not a great one, probably one of the rougher ones I’ve seen so far. Eventually the guys on that other site come back. They’d been over by (or on) Rabbit Lake. I have a clear view of their site, which is maybe a mile away. The rain continues. I hold off on putting up the tent, wanting it to stop raining first. Good luck with that… It finally lets up a little, so I give it a shot and put the tent up as fast as I can. Doesn’t matter- it gets soaked. Now I can hear my neighbors from across the lake and see that they have a fire, which I’m jealous of. No way I’m getting a fire tonight. It’s amazing how well sound carries over water. Finally, I make dinner under the tarp, using the overturned canoe as a table. Nice fish fry with mashed potatoes. At least that’s good! Finally, at about 6:30, I see the sky beginning to lighten to the north. But it’s still raining here! Then the sun actually comes out and I see a brilliant double rainbow! So cool. Once dishes are done, I take a few casts, but get no bites. I wind up using my Dad’s ancient orange tarp to cover the floor of my tent, since it’s soaking wet. At least I’ll be warm and dry tonight! I had used dish towels to wipe out as much water as I could, but that orange tarp really saved the day. My rod case was also huge today- I extended it as the center pole of my tarp, and that worked really well, helping the tarp effectively shed water. Now my neighbors crank up the music- I hear Metallica, Def Leppard, and some rap I don’t know. It doesn’t bother me. I guess I’m a bit lonely! One good thing about today- even though it rained a lot, it wasn’t cold. I’m guessing it was maybe 60 degrees today. And the forecasted 20mph wind never happened either. I didn’t love the lightning, but the weather certainly could have been worse!~South Arm Knife Lake, Hanson Lake, Ester Lake
Day 6 of 8
Saturday, September 26, 2020 Didn’t sleep great last night. Too damp. But it isn’t raining in the morning, so I’m out of the tent a bit after 7. There’s a nice breeze, so I string a line and start drying stuff out. I keep at it for a while. I have a nice pancake breakfast- I’m in no rush. Then the sun even comes out. Hooray! I’m packed up and paddling by around 10:20. I nearly get swarmed by hornets at the first portage. They’re living in a hollow log right there and I lean my canoe against it. Yikes! I get away just in time. The portage wasn’t bad. It's nice to be back on Ottertrack, what a gorgeous lake. As I approach Monument Portage, I hear voices behind me coming up the lake. When I get back for my second trip, they’re there. Eight of them in four canoes. Turns out it’s a class from Northland College. They’re 9 days in on an 18-day trip doing the border route all the way to Lake Superior. As I get on the other side after my 2nd trip, there’s four more canoes there too. A traffic jam in the BWCA! Nice folks- they wait for the college kids to finish. I chat with them- they’re from Wisconsin and Illinois. One guy is a UWGB prof and is planning to lead a trip with students next year. At the portage from Swamp into Sag I stop for a lunch break. A chipmunk takes interest. Soon though, a kestrel swoops in looking for him. He hovers literally 10’ from me. He doesn’t get his prey, so he heads off. Very cool to watch though. Now I’m looking for a campsite. There’s two just before the lake opens up near Cache Bay, and I’m hoping to get one of them. The first is taken by a couple of dudes from Arkansas, but the 2nd one is open. I’m home! It’s about 2:30. I set up camp. It’s overcast with some sun, but I’m worried about rain. Gee, wonder why? The clouds to threaten, but it doesn’t rain. After camp is set up and I’ve sawn and split a good firewood supply, I try the bobber/worm off the campsite. I was planning on just eating mashed potatoes tonight, but down goes the bobber. I get it, a perfect eater sized smallie! Fish fry tonight! It’s amazing how low the water is. At least 2-3’. I hike along the shoreline both ways a bit. I get my fish cleaned and then take a troll out into the main lake. I don’t catch anything, but man that lake is massive. And gorgeous. It’s cool to see Cache Bay right over there. So many memories from Quetico trips going through there. I come back and have another great fish fry dinner. I get camp cleaned up, have a nice fire and I write. Eventually it starts raining, so I head for the tent. Today the temperature was maybe around 60 degrees, with a westerly breeze. [paragraph break]The nights are definitely long this time of year. Lots of tent time. The weather really plays on your psyche. Last night in the rain was tough. So was the night with the east wind ripping through my camp unexpectedly. I used the InReach a lot more than I thought I would. It helped me keep my spirits up, especially on those weather days. Next time I need a more uplifting book to read. 1984 was pretty darn depressing! On the nice days though, I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve seen quite a few folks, but it wasn’t overrun with people. Another cool thing is how many people have their fingerprints on this trip. My wife for sure with my awesome new chair! My daughter too- I've had her catchy pop songs going thru my head all week. My Dad- I’m using lots of his old gear. Also my son, I have some of his gear as well. He's been with me on Quetico trips for the last ten years. He's in college now, so couldn't pull off a September trip. My buddies James, Dave, and Mike too, who have let me borrow gear and I know are thinking of me. I know my Mom is praying for me every day, which I really appreciate. The message on one of the Dove chocolates (that my wife got me before the trip) I had at lunch today said “Smile! Someone is thinking of you!” I know a lot of people are thinking of me and I’m lucky for that. I never did make it to the western part of Knife Lake, which is kind of a bummer. These shorter days (and being solo) make it tough. I’d have needed another couple of days to do that. Hopefully someday I can see Thunderhead and Dorothy Molter’s Island. Ester and Hanson are both gorgeous lakes, but I never really got to fish them. ~Ester Lake, Ottertrack Lake, Swamp Lake, Saganaga Lake
Day 7 of 8
Sunday, September 27, 2020 Got up around 7, broke camp quickly and was paddling by about 8:15. Made it to the American Point island pick up spot by about 9:15. Two canoes with 4 young ladies show up a little later. Amazing- these are all 20 something young women. Very cool! They’re from Minnesota and Montana. Their scheduled pickup is 10am, while mine is 11am. But the boat driver takes me with them, so I get out an hour early. I take a shower, talk to Deb at Seagull Outfitters for a bit, and buy some swag. Then I head to Trail Center and get a good lunch. I was starved! I get a chicken sandwich and an awesome chocolate malt. The drive down the north shore sucks. It is overrun with people. There are accidents, traffic jams, etc. It takes forever to get to Duluth. My wife talks me into getting a hotel room in Marquette so I don’t have to road warrior it all night. Good call. ~Saganaga Lake
Day 8 of 8
Monday, September 28, 2020 Got up pretty early and got out of there. The rest of the drive home is uneventful, other than I see a wolf cross the road right in front of me near Seney. It was pretty close. Very cool! I get home around noon.