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

BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

July 19 2024

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: 15
Elevation: 1184 feet
Latitude: 48.1716
Longitude: -90.8868
Saganaga Lake - 55

Father's Day Saganaga

by zvance88
Trip Report

Entry Date: June 08, 2024
Entry Point: Saganaga Lake
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 2

Trip Introduction:
After our first foray into the BWCA and numbered lakes last year, my father and I decided to venture a little deeper into the lakes surrounding Saganaga. We were rewarded with rain, wind, insects and four sore thumbs from the insatiable hunger of post spawn smallies.

Part 1 of 3


The Power of Positivity Friday June 7th - Sunday June 9th

I plan my trips to the BWCA during the long Minnesota winters with enough time to think, plot, prepare, choose an entry point, change the entry point, set expectations, lower expectations, and gather supplies.

My father, turning 64 this year, committed to come back to the north woods this summer with the intention of having an adventure, finding some lost youth, but mostly catching smallmouth bass. He has dragged me on the water to pursue his passion for bass fishing since I can remember, just as his grandfather dragged him on the water back in the 1960's on the Currituck River in North Carolina.

He and my mother arrived after a long road trip from Florida on the evening of June 6th. We set to work packing our camping gear, our food, and fishing supplies. I typically prefer to try to find my limits, both mental and physical, during trips like this; however, this time, I wanted to maximize the time spent fishing rather than paddling in to a destination. I arranged a tow in to Red Rock Lake with an outfitter on Sag and I thanked myself for it. I was concerned that a shuttle would detract from the experience. It didn't. with rain and a 30 mph headwind on Sag, I was not exactly safe to paddle. With three deaths already in the BWCA this year, my mind reverted back to my high school shop class - "Safety First, Bro."

Back Story Upon moving to Minnesota in January of 2022 and discovering there was a largemouth bass population in a lake near my home, I decided to reteach myself how to fish. I set myself up with a spinning rod and an old canoe and got to work. In the winter of 2023, I decided I wanted to teach myself to fly fish. Unknown to me at the time, Minnesota has a vibrant fly fishing scene with access to almost any type of fresh water species you could imagine. I purchased a used fly rod on Facebook Marketplace, brought it on my first BWCA trip, and hooked up with my first smallie on a fly standing in moving water on Lake 4. It is safe to say, at that point, I was hooked. End Back Story

During our shuttle drop off on the portage from Saganaga to Red Rock lake, I heard our boat driver say to his colleague words no angler entering the Boundary Waters wants to hear - "Watch that rod..." then an audible crack. My spinning rod had lasted an hour into the trip. Luckily, my dad brought a spare telescoping rod and my fly rods were intact in their hard shell cases. Forgiveness was granted. Accidents happen and there is no undoing that which is already done. During my preparation for BWCA trips I discovered that the best thing to bring with you is a positive attitude. If I could only bring one thing - it would be that... and a life preserver, and an extra rod.

We loaded the canoe, portaged, and went to find the first agreeable camp site which happened to be the northern most on Red Rock Lake. It was a fantastic site - 4.5 out of 5 stars. We passed another group on the way there and inquired about the fishing... "Not so great - we have caught two" was their solemn reply. With thoughts of a skunk on our minds, we set up a tarp and tents and sure enough, it began to rain. I went into my tent to unpack my rain jacket from my carefully prepared apparel dry bag and came up blank. I had left it on the coat rack to grab on the way out of the house. As I looked around camp trying to maintain a positive attitude I spotted an extra garbage bag. Three carefully placed holes later - I became Bradley Cooper from Silver Linings playbook for the rest of the week. At least I was dry and my positive attitude was still intact. ~Saganaga Lake, Red Rock Lake

 



Part 2 of 3


Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan Monday June 10th - Thursday June 13th

The morning of Monday June 10th was not warm. I cannot say exactly how lacking in warmth it was, but I do remember my feeling like 6 of my toes were not present after a morning nap in my sleeping bag during a rain storm. In North Carolina, where I grew up, there were only two months a year when one could not wear flip flops. In Minnesota, there are only two weeks a year, reliably, when it is safe to wear flip flips. Minnesota produces the most hardy people I have ever met. I quickly learned, the best thing to do when you are cold is to get moving. The second best thing I learned from the people of Minnesota is - Don't feel sorry for yourself (you chose this, remember?)

With firewood processed, the wind blowing 20 mph, and rain spitting on Bradley Cooper (the name of my rain jacket...vest...garbage bag), we decided to put the canoe in the water and get fishing. While it was difficult to cast accurately, the fish didn't seem to mind. They were post spawn and hungry. There are a few strange and noteable side effects to a tight line for an angler. Very suddenly, you are no longer cold, wet, hungry, nor sore after the magic of a bent rod and the act of detaching a few fish from your hook. It seemed our neighbors on the nearby campsite we had seen a few days earlier were fibbing.

The weather continued to improve throughout the week. We continued to learn about the eating habits of the aquatic wildlife along with the eating habits of the mosquitos. The fish were all hungover in the mornings from too much Boundary Waters bourbon and late night partying, sticking to deeper and darker waters. They would hide in the shadows of down timber during the afternoons coming out to strike if your bait was close enough. They were most active during the evenings from about 7:30 – sundown preferring to move into shallow water to feed on hatching insects. We continued to trade off with one person angling and one person positioning the canoe. I learned from a friend last summer that fishing out of a canoe, raft, or drift boat is a team sport and to treat it as such. If you put one in the boat, everybody wins.

Thursday evening, something pretty spectacular by my standards happened. We finished dinner and headed into a shallow back bay to fish topwater poppers and a jitterbug. There was no wind and the angle of the sun had the pine forest alight with vibrant green color. The water was a dark glass reflection of our surroundings. We heard the steady hum of dragonflies zipping around us – hopefully eating mosquitoes. Amid the occasional click of the bail on my father’s spinning reel and gurgle of his jitterbug, we started to hear splashing. Turning our heads, we both witnessed a sizeable smallmouth bass launch itself out of the water, fly two feet into the air and inhale a passing dragonfly. My dad had a moment of stunned amazement and said, “I have never seen anything like that in my entire life.” My head was stuck somewhere down in the canoe looking for my fly box. I was hoping I had remembered to throw my dragonfly pattern meant for trout in with my other flies. With relief, I located the fly and quickly tied it onto the end of the leader on my floating line.

We sat for a few moments watching fish launch themselves out of sparse lily pad groups to catch more dragonflies. My dad positioned me near a clump and after a couple of false casts, I let the line fly. It dropped amidst the pads, wire leader and all, with a bit of a thud. Any self-respecting stream trout would have seen through my ruse immediately and refused the fly thinking to itself: that is not the right color dragonfly, it landed harder than it should have, those wings are not quite straight, that metal thing sticking out of my meal’s mouth doesn’t seem quite right, I was expecting seven segments on the thorax, not six.

Smallmouth bass are not trout. Bass are greedy, aggressive, and opportunistic. I counted to ten. Nothing happened. I watched my fly sink below the surface. Thinking that my fly had taken on water and with the intent of casting again, I held the tip of my rod in the water, stripped the line a foot for good measure, and watched in amazement as the end of my line seemed to start moving off to my right. “That’s odd” I thought, my instincts telling me I had snagged a lily stem. The smallmouth on the other end of the line was probably just as confused as I. Thinking it had just had an evening snack and finding itself with a new lip piercing, it launched out of the water and the fight was on. With the fish safely in the net, my dad and I both began to laugh simultaneously… out there on the water by ourselves. With our quarry released, we continued back toward camp. She was not the largest nor smallest fish landed during the trip but the most memorable. I thank her for that memory I will always cherish. ~Red Rock Lake, Alpine Lake ~Saganaga Lake, Red Rock Lake

 



Part 3 of 3


Three Part Harmony Friday June 14 – Saturday June 15th

We chose to venture deep into Alpine Lake on our penultimate day in the wilderness. It is a short portage from Red Rock into Alpine, especially when you only have your fishing gear and a portable lunch. We brought detachable outriggers on the trip and used them while angling. While bulky, they allow one person to stand and cast accurately while the other moves the boat into position. What outriggers do not allow is for one person to stand and cast accurately and a 63 year old man with a bum knee to stand up simultaneously. Sure enough, with a week of paddling experience under our belts and a full plate of confidence, my dad decided to stand up while I was standing and had line in the water. I looked over to see him… his wet smiling face… wedged between the outrigger and the canoe covered in clear Alpine Lake water. I had asked him at least 10 times at that point if he wanted to give the fly rod a few throws. He kept declining, reiterating to me that he would have fallen in the lake at least dozen times had he tried to stand and throw a fly. He was right.

It was a perfect day for a full soak with shining sun and temperatures in the 70’s. We headed to the portage between Alpine and Sea Gull wanting to see if running water between the two lakes held any fish. We made it and stashed our canoe on the Alpine side of the portage, preferring to wade in the shallow water. Rocks in the Boundary Waters are two things – ubiquitous and slippery. I thoroughly embarrassed myself by unintentionally fully immersing myself (with PFD on) in water that was 18’ deep. Maybe none of us are as young as we were.

We packed all but our breakfast and tents on Friday night expecting a tow out the next morning at 11:00 a.m. I often spend the first two days of any trip very focused on whatever task is at hand not dwelling on the world I left to fend for itself without me. I spend the rest of the time missing my wife and two little boys. I had thought about asking my dad during our trip what the worst part about getting older was. Unprompted, that evening he declared in his matter-of-fact way, “You know, the worst thing about getting old – my mind tells me I can and should do all of these things - but my body says no. I have had an amazing time but honestly, I am a little depressed.” Upon reflection, that statement made the entire ordeal, Bradley Cooper included, worth the trip. I cannot recall ever hearing my dad express the complexity of pleasure mixed sadness in such a raw and human way.

Ready to return, our tow arrived at the portage at 11:00 a.m., exactly. An hour’s ride later, we were back in the vehicle sharing a stashed bag of pickle flavored potato chips my dad had knowingly left under the seat.

I do not typically give up my fishing spots. It takes investigative time, planning, execution, and risk to find places like this. I realize I may have given up some secrets to some extent. For anybody willing to put in the work to get to these lakes, I implore you, respect the resource. Angling takes on an entirely different and deeper meaning when you merely attempt to see things from the viewpoint of a fish. ~Red Rock Lake, Alpine Lake

 

Lakes Traveled:   Red Rock Lake, Alpine Lake, Red Rock Lake, Alpine Lake,

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