Boundary Waters Trip Reports, Blog, BWCA, BWCAW, Quetico Park

BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

July 28 2021

Entry Point 55 - Saganaga Lake

Saganaga Lake entry point allows overnight paddle or motor (25 HP max). This entry point is supported by Gunflint Ranger Station near the city of Grand Marais, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 55 miles. No motors (use or possession) west of American Point. Access to Canada (the Crown land and Quetico Park). Large lake with many campsites and easy access. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.

Number of Permits per Day: 17
Elevation: 1184 feet
Latitude: 48.1716
Longitude: -90.8868
Saganaga Lake - 55

A River Runs Through It...

by TeamTuna06
Trip Report

Entry Date: June 04, 2012
Entry Point: Saganaga Lake
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 2

Trip Introduction:
This was originally planned as my wife's first trip up the to the northwoods. When it looked like she wouldn't be able to get away from work for this particular week, she told me that I should ask my dad to take another trip. I brought my dad (TM) up for his first trip last year, and we had an awesome weeklong basecamp on Saganagons in the Quetico. I knew that he'd be excited to head back up...especially early in the fishing season when the bass would be more aggressive. After a quick phone call to confirm, the trip went from "Wife's first trip" to "Father and Son, back for more." Like last year, we decided on a complete outfitting from Deb and her staff at Seagull Outfitters. She runs a truly first rate outfit and is a pleasure to deal with...I'll be a customer for a long time. Also like last year, we decided to leave Saturday afternoon and shoot for Spooner, WI...stay over there, and get an early start for the Gunflint Trail Sunday morning. All in all, another great trip with my dad...good company, good fishing, and (mostly) good weather. What more could a guy ask for!?

Day 1 of 5

Monday, June 04, 2012

Up and at 'em...bright and early 5:30am wake up call. We stayed at the Seagull Bunkhouse last night so we just have a few last minute packing items before our 7am tow to Honeymoon Island just East of American Point. We slept rather well (considering the kid on Christmas Eve mindset the night before putting in) and ate a quick breakfast of cereal and fruit. After a quick shower I transfered some homebrewed beer into a 64oz. plastic juice bottle for the first night. I thought it'd be cool to bring some homebrew on the trip this year, and I brewed an Oatmeal Brown Ale for the occasion. I loosely modeled it on Surly's Bender, and thought the name Boundary Waters Brown fit well...turned out to be a treat after portaging all day and the mini hurricane that hit our camp...more on that later!

After a quick tow out to Honeymoon Island, we loaded up and were on the water around 7:30am. Big Sag was glass, with not a hint of wind...lucky us! I got a purpledescent Tail Dancer in the water and we headed around American Point and SW towards Bay 1.

The paddle towards the smaller water on the West of Saganaga was relatively uneventful. Good because there was no wind...Bad because there were no fish. We continued trolling through Bay 1 with no success. After bringing in the line with no success, we stopped briefly on a small island just before the narrows leading from Bay 2 into Bay 3. Spotted a Lady Slipper just up from the shore, first I've ever seen. Before getting onto I probably wouldn't have noticed/cared at some of these smaller details of the trip. I'm glad I do now.

After our quick break, we were back on the water passing through the narrows between Bays 2 & 3. Really cool area...neat paddle. Lots of good rock structure under the surface and some really "fishy" looking areas. We were planning on trying to make decent time into Ester to get our camp site of choice so we made a note to fish this area on the way out and kept moving. Soon we were at the lift over from Saganaga to Swamp. Uneventful, had about 15 feet of rock to lift the canoe over...back on the water in 10 minutes or so. right around 10:30 we made it to Monument Portage. As we did last year, we were planning on double portaging on travel days and single portaging on day trips. The portage was rather uneventful...mostly dry with some muddy areas early on (heading from East to West). I took the canoe (Alumacraft Quetico...hey, a guy has to get his weight training in sometime right?) and the barrel/tackle bag/rods. TM took the two Granite Gear packs and the paddles. 30 minutes or so and the first real portage of the trip was behind us. We chatted briefly with two other groups. One were a pair of guys in a kevlar canoe headed towards Knife...nice enough, but not overly chatty. The other was a father with his two daughters from Arizona headed for a fishing day trip into Ottertrack. He said that his daughters had caught a couple of four pound bass, so we talked fishing for a bit. Nice guy. Headed towards the Ester Portage by 10:30 or so.

After a quick 20 minute paddle around the corner, we arrived at the Ester Portage. I was obviously stoked to get the aluminum beast back on my shoulders, and TM was looking forward to some more hill climbing with heavy packs. Upon landing we noticed some fresh scat of some sort right on the rocks by the water. It was in small clumps probably 3" in diameter...probably 3-4 of them. We had a decent go of it on the way over to Ester. For some reason I thought the big pine at the top of the hill was the halfway point of the portage, so you can imagine our joy at seeing water a few steps later. There was less mud here than on the Monument portage...not too bad overall. Another 30 minutes and we were on our home for the week, Ester Lake!

The North end of Ester immediately after the portage is a cool area. Fairly narrow and close's a nice little paddle. As we rounded the turn and headed South towards our goal of the North Island Site, we caught a little bit of the SW wind that was predicted for the day. At this point the water temps were around 65, about the same as in Sag during the paddle in. We made quick time across and headed down the the island's North site. We were in was open...Great Success!! We paddled up and proceeded to get camp set up. It was right around noon by the time we got to camp, and about 12:30 by the time we got the tarp and tent set up. So here we were: camp set up, having a couple of Boundary Waters Browns (which were reeeediculously good), talking about where the bass assault was going to begin. Nothing wrong with that right? Wrong. It was about this time that Hurricane Ester decided to blow in from the ENE and ruin our fun. Between the wind gusting to around 15mph and the 1"-2" of rain that it dumped in the course of 90 minutes, a good time was had by all. Well, I guess that's why God invented Gore-Tex right? For those of you wondering why I named the trip report as I did...this is why. We literally had a mini creek running through our camp (conveniently under our tent...sweet) and down to the water. A River Runs Through It...F-you Brad Pitt.

After the rain, we were soaked...muddy...and in surly moods. What better way to shake off the fact that our tent is sitting in a puddle and we have a river running through our camp than by paddling down to Hanson and ripping some lips! We got onto a nice plastics and topwater bite on Hanson and noticed that the water temps were around 5 degrees warmer on Hanson than on Ester. Thusly, the bass were more active. Caught a few nice ones in the 17" range and called it a day. TM caught a small perch on the way back to camp to bring the species up to 2. We got back to camp, aired out our tent and chose another tent pad. We got a makeshift innie set up and slept dry...not to bad, considering. Great first day!

Lakes: Saganaga Lake, Swamp Lake, Ottertrack Lake, Ester Lake, Hanson Lake, Ester Lake


Day 2 of 5

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Day 2...Time to rip lips and take names. Order of the day, tubes and topwaters! We got up and had a quick breakfast of bagel/cream cheese and coffee and were on the water by 8ish. We had done well last night on Hanson, so we decided to head back down there to pick up where we left off. We picked up a handful of bass on the north end of Hanson. This time I'd have some competition as TM remembered his polarized glasses. He forgot them yesterday, and I had a field day popping bass that I could see cruising that he couldn't. After an hour or so and a handful of bass we headed down towards the West end of the big island to fish some of the rock piles in that area. We caught some more, but nothing huge so we decided to head over towards Link Lake and the Pitfall PMA. As we headed over and passed a group of Amish guys kayaking. They seemed nice enough, and said they were from Missouri. They were camped out on the East shore Hanson site and said that it was an ok site. I got a nice 18" smallie on a Heddon top water and we headed off to Link.

We were told that Link was a decent Northern Pike lake and that it also had ok numbers of Smallmouth Bass. We went up and over the quick little portage, stopped for a quick sandwich, TM caught a little buck LM, and were on a narrow stretch of water that led into Link.

We fished around the island on the north end of Link and caught a few smallish Northerns on tubes and leeches. We headed down towards the rapids heading into Link from Gift and did pretty well throwing out leeches and little swimbaits. At one point I think we went 6 or 7 in a row. Mainly smaller fish with a few bigger 16"+ fish thrown in. We were going to try to hit Bullfrog, but there were a couple decent trees over the little creek down to it that we didn't feel like dealing with. After a couple of hours fishing on Link, we heded back over to Hanson and headed onto Ester to get dinner figured out. We were having steaks - since due to the deluge from Hurricane Ester neither of us were interested in cooking last night. Steaks, mashed potatoes and peas for dinner, with Bushmills and cigars for dessert. Yessir. Other random Day 2 occurances: We returned to camp and discovered a butterfly hoarde and two rabbits with massive white paws that seemed to planning an alliance to overthrow the new camp occupants. We'll have to keep an eye on them....not that they pose a threat to....Team Tuna!

Lakes: Ester Lake, Hanson Lake, Link Lake, Hanson Lake, Ester Lake


Day 3 of 5

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

We decided last night whilst smoking cigars (and not getting bitten by bugs) that we should head up to Ashdick today. Up around 7am, breakfast of bagels/cream cheese & coffee and we were on the water by 8am. We trolled and jigged for lakers on the northern side of Ester on the way over to the Ashdick portage. There was zero wind and I figured that we should take advantage of the decent conditions. As with Day 1....Good: Zero wind....Bad: No fish. Around 9 we headed over to the Ashdick portage and fished the bay adjacent to the camp site to let the portage clear. While we were grab-assing and trying to jig for lakers two canoes headed over the portage. After a few fish on Zoom flukes (weightless with Gamakatsu G-Lock hooks) we headed over the portage. Not too bad...although after the recent rain from Monday, there was a decent amount of mud. The steep descent into Ashdick had some slick rocks, but we got across ok. This was the first buggy moment of the trip, but with Permethrin on our clothes and head nets they were manageable. Once on Ashdick, we paddled past the other two boats who were fishing on the South end of the lake. My research on the DNR Lakefinder site showed that most of the rocky bottom was on the North end, so we passed by them and headed to the North end of Ashdick. It also appeared to be deeper near the Northern end. After a quick 20 minute paddle, I tied on a Zoom top water frog and went to work. There was a good amount of wood, and it looked like prime Largemouth water. A few casts later my hunch was confirmed with my first BDub Green Bass.

After fishing around the north end of Ashdick and doing pretty well, we decided to check out the north campsite for a lunch stop. We passed the other two canoes on the way over. There were 4 mid-twenties paddlers (3 dudes and a girl) heading towards the Ashdick to Swamp portage. I wished them luck and off they went...hope it wasn't too muddy/buggy.

We had some salami and cheese sandwiches and hit the water for more bass. We found an isolated rock that TM pulled a decent 18.5" bass off of with a crankbait. We paddled arould some small islands and I managed a 19" bass on the Zoom Fluke. Saw a monster bass cruising (20+ easy) but we were drifting too quick and I managed to get hung up on some wood when I tried casting for it...Murphy's Law of Fishing. We continued down the Eastern bank of the lake and TM pulled off a 30" pike with a 3" Berkley Ripple Shad on a 1/8oz. jighead. It proved to be the biggest pike of the trip, good fight on 6lb. test. With clouds on the horizon, we headed back towards the portage back to Ester. With some decent cedar logs in the canoe that we found once back on Ester, we paddled into a stiff South wind back to our campsite. We took it easy in the afternoon and strung a few smallies for dinner. After cleaning them, we noticed they all had black spots throughout the filets, and we decided not to risk it. Beef Stroganoff in a bag (surprisingly, pretty good) with the Bushmills/Cigar usual. Pretty good day, no rain...biggest pike and Bass of the trip (both SM and LM), and great weather. Still relatively no bugs, and the campsite is finally starting to dry out. Kind of.

Lakes: Ester Lake, Ashdick Lake, Ester Lake


Day 4 of 5

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Up we have a date with Rabbit Lake. Over cocktails last night I was expressing a little disappointment over not having caught any walleyes or lake trout. I told TM not to worry though...because tomorrow was my birthday and if we were going to catch any lakers, it'd be on my birthday. I'm so smart. Quick breakfast and on the water before 8am. We paddled over to the Rabbit portage and were over in 15 minutes. It climbs quickly up from Ester before leveling out towards Rabbit. We paddled across with the goal of fishing the points that dropped into deeper water. No action for the first hour or so...wind was blowing a bit, but not bad. After a while, I tied on a leech and we paddled up to the point, parked the canoe in the shallows and cast out to deeper water. While retreiving my leech I saw a fish follow, and thinking it was a bass I let it drop and watched the fish hit it and turn. That's when I saw the spots...laker on! After a quick fight I netted my first laker ever...a 17" fish that was promptly invited to dinner. A little later I happened to look to my right and see a flash under TM's swimbait. He let his bait drop and another fish hit his bait. I thought it was a bass until I saw it double over his rod (6'6" St. Croix M action). After a good 3-4 minute fight I netted his fish, a nice 20" laker. Happy Birthday to me!

We paddled to the southernmost site on Rabbit and had lunch, salami/cheddar on wheat. Ok site, not bad...but I've seen better. Now with dinner on the stringer we fished a bit more and decided to portage back into Ester. After the portage, we cleaned the fish and set about getting dinner ready. Lake Trout confit, with a tamarind balsamic reduction...micro greens with a cilantro vinegarette, with creme brulee for dessert and some Turkish espresso to finish. Ok, maybe not....howabout fried lake trout, with potatoes and onions, whisky, and smores for dessert. Yeah, that's a little more birthday dinner I've ever had. Great end to an awesome day.

Lakes: Ester Lake, Rabbit Lake, Ester Lake


Day 5 of 5

Friday, June 08, 2012

Last day...sad to see another great trip come to an end, but looking forward to getting home to see the wife and dog. We had planned to get an early start to portage into Ottertrack by 8am. We left our site shortly after 7 and made our way towards the portage. We were over by 8:15 and decided to head West to check out the bay where the Ambrose homestead was. Ottertrack was glass...looked like another great travel day ahead.

We paddled towards Monument Portage and got dumped on right as we were pulling into Mud Bay. Portaging in rain gear...not too bad. Back in Swamp by 10:00am. At the dock side of the portage, we ran into Janice from Cache Bay Ranger Station. She said that she had some time off and was planning a "little two day trip" down to PP and up the Man Chain. I think she said it was 57 miles total, and that if she were 10 years younger she'd just do it in one day. Wow. Kudos to you, madam. After we got back on the water we got really close to a loon family. The male was trying to swim away (I'm guessing to draw us away from the female and the baby) while the female stayed relatively close. We sat within 20 feet for about 10 of the coolest moments of the trip for me. After a while Loon Jr. hopped on Ma Loon's back and we paddled off. So cool.

Relatively uneventful paddle out. Picked up a little SE wind after we got out of Bay 1, but we didn't have issues. After a quick lunch stop on one of the island sites near the bay just West of AP, we fished the bay and picked up the last few fish of the trip. I heard some noise on the bank and caught a brief glimpse of a fisher right by the shoreline...didn't have a chance to get the camera out. Around the corner we went and finished off the trip where we began, at Honeymoon Island. A quick tow back, a couple of cold beers and showers at Seagull and we were on our way back to reality.

Another great trip with my dad...looking forward to many more.

Lakes: Ester Lake, Ottertrack Lake, Swamp Lake, Saganaga Lake


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