Part 1 of 6
George and I woke up on Tuesday and got ready for our trip. I was initiated into the Lesley world of cooking. She fixed some eggs and waffles with maple syrup, and we heartily stored a few calories for our first day. George cranked up the pick-up truck, and we shoved off on the Gunflint Trail, heading for Bearskin Lodge. George had made arrangements to leave his car there, so we used their beach as our put-in for our canoe. A 20 minute drive and a quick carry to the beach had us loading the canoe. We had 3 large packs (2 personal and 1 gear), a couple chairs, our fishing gear (4 rods, 2 tacle boxes, a large landing net, and a stringer), a 30 liter blue barrel for a food pack, and a day pack for day trips. As we shoved off and started paddling, the water was calm and the weather was nearly perfect. There was a slight west wind in our favor, bright sun, and cool temps. It took us ~ an hour to paddle the length of East Bearskin. We found the portage to Alder without any difficulty, and began our first portage of 52 rods. The portage was very simple with a gradual rise up and drop down at the beginning and end. There were some beautiful pines in the middle of this portage. George and I were hoping to double portage without pushing it too hard, and that's the way it worked out. We snacked on a bunch of trail mix that I'd brought along for the trip and some bacon jerky. The bacon jerky is a fairly new treat that I got at Wal-Mart and Sam's. It's very tasty - I like it much better than beef jerky. We geared up again and paddled the length of Alder. About another hour of paddling and we arrived at the portage to Canoe Lake. A very simple 25 rod portage got us there quickly. As we geared up the canoe again, we looked across Canoe Lake and saw that our target campsite was open, and we paddled over to it. Our plan was to use this camp site for a base camp while we fished in lakes nearby. We got out and took a little walk around and planned our camp set up. There was a small pile of firewood near the camp fire area. We had lots of tent pads to choose from. George chose the west end of the pine area for his tent and I took a spot with the path to the throne nearby. We set up our tents and held off on doing a tarp. Weather looked good to us for a couple days. We sat down and relaxed for awhile, had some lunch that Lesley made for us - some really good sandwiches with ham cheese and her sweet spread that she makes from scratch. I filtered some water for our cooking and for our drinking bottles. There was a hanging tree out over the water that I called the "multi-purpose tree," and I could stand on it over ~12" of water to filter. After a short rest, I decided to work on our supply of firewood. George brought a nice camp saw and axe, and they were fun to play with. I found some wood around and there were some to work on. It was a very cool day, so a campfire was in order. We made a nice campfire, and we sat awhile to enjoy it. A couple minutes later 2 eagles flew by right over us. They were gliding and hunting their meal. Pretty soon it was time to cook our first dinner. George has a tradition of brats on the first night, and we both cooked a couple on the open fire. The evening was cooling quickly so we both added a layer while we were sitting. We enjoyed eating and talking for a couple hours, then decided some shore fishing off the camp site was in order. George quickly went for his favorite lure and stared casting. A little while later I joined him. As we finally began to think of ending without catching one, I threw in my last cast and "bang!" It was fun seeing that fish strike on top water, and George netted it for me. We had a 2.5 lb smallmouth to admire and release right before it was getting dark. We sat up for a few more minutes and planned our next day. We were planning on going into Paddle Lake to fish awhile. We both headed for our tents with a confidence that we both enjoyed again. George's stroke a few years ago and knee surgery a couple months ago had given him some doubts. He had just got out of his wheel chair 2 weeks ago. My 3 surgeries on my wrist, shoulder, and knee a year and a half ago as well as recently diagnosed fibromyalgia and spinal stenosis had given me some doubts. We were now ready for a great week!
East Bearskin Lake, Alder Lake, Canoe Lake
Part 2 of 6
It was 33 degrees and sunny when we woke up Wednesday morning. Lesley had packed her own oatmeal mix in our breakfast bag. We had enough for every morning, and when I ate it, I understood why. It was very tasty and of course oatmeal is a great way to start the day. I did some more filtering, filling the kitchen water jug and topping off the drinking bottles. Once again we decided we didn't need a tarp yet, so we saved that for later. We got the canoe loaded for a fishing day trip into Paddle. Since we hadn't been on these lakes before, we weren't sure whether or not we would be able to paddle into Paddle, line our canoe, or portage. The map seemed to show promise of paddling, and we discovered that was indeed the case - just a little current running where the lakes come together. As we entered Paddle Lake we immediately started fishing the shorelines from the east end towards the west. George caught a small smallmouth that we released. Then he caught a beautiful 3.5 lb smallie that we put on the stringer. As we fished for the next 4 hours, and snacking on dried fruit, trail mix, and bacon jerky. George caught a small keeper and a 2.5 lber, and I caught a small keeper and a 2.5 lber. We had enough on the stringer now that we could let go the 3.5 lber, so we did. That smallie happily swam away. It was well past lunch time, and we were hungry, so we went back to our camp site, cleaned our 4 smallies, and feasted on smallies with a package on dried corn and peas. That combination really did it for us, and we sat awhile and shared stories, George talked of his tripping experiences, his days as a master sergeant in the air force, and his daily routine around Cook County. I talked about experiences tripping on the west side of the BWCA with students, and some memories of days playing college baseball and football, as well as my present day experiences coaching high school boys basketball. I also saw those two eagles again, swooping, soaring, and hunting on the other side of the lake. We went out on Canoe Lake again late in the afternoon, and fished another couple hours. I was converted into a topwater approach during the first 2 days. My good fishing in the BWCA has always been size 7 or 9 rapalas, and now I was using George's go-to lure. He very graciously traded me one of his favorites for one of my rapala tail dancers. I also gave him a glass rap that I've had good success with during the last 11 years. George finished the day catching a 28" northern. We were beginning to wonder whether or not Canoe Lake had northerns, and this fish gave us an answer to that doubt. We released him and went back to a campfire, with more story-telling until after 11:30 to end the night. We were ready for the third day which was going to be a day trip into Crystal Lake!
Canoe Lake, Paddle Lake
Part 3 of 6
Our second night was a little warmer due to the cloud cover, and we awoke to a cloudy morning on day 3. Once again we had Lesley's famous oatmeal mix for breakfast. We decided to set up a tarp to put things under. I really enjoy trying to set up a real tight tarp with as few knots as possible to untie. I use a trucker's hitch to tighten things up and wrap around trees without tying down, just looping under. We roped together a long beaver stick with a short one to make a perfect size to prop up the tarp in the middle, and we tied a rag around the top to cushion the end on the tarp. I worked awhile on our firewood pile, which was now pretty large. We then geared up the canoe for another day of fishing. We had our 3rd day of east wind, but mild. George had been saying that east wind means fish west ends, so we decided to portage to the west end of Crystal Lake and start at the west end, fishing shorelines. The portage to Crystal was very simple, 51 rods in length, and without all gear. As I finished the portage, I saw 2 loons on Crystal doing thier fishing routines right at the west end. Lots of structure made the west end look like a great fishing spot. George caught a few small bass right away. We both caught a 2.5 lber and George caught another, all smallies. At lunch time we sat on the shore line and ate cheese the rest of our cheese and sausage, with an apple. We took 3 keepers back to camp for dinner. We fished for about 5 hours this 3rd day. As we got back to camp we noticed threatening weather. I turned on my weather radio and we heard storm warnings for the evening and next day, so we started up a camp fire for cooking and sitting around. We got some intermittent drizzle that evening, but nothing like some areas around us that night. We found out later that there were some very heavy rains and winds in the area. So it was a repeat cooking of bass with peas and corn. I think I could eat that about 4/5 nights a week if I had a choice. By the time we cleaned up, the fire was inviting us for more sit and talk, and the shoreline was asking for some casts, so that kept us going until dark. As we sat around the fire we discussed the next day and rest of our stay. We had originally decided to make this a 5 or 6 day trip. We now made that decision for a 5 day trip so that we could get back to George's home and do some day trips to some of George's favorite undisclosed lakes outside the BWCA. That left us one more full day of base camping, and that would be a day trip to the falls, which I had been looking forward to since reading trip reports on this website!
Canoe Lake, Crystal Lake
Part 4 of 6
Day 4 was a cloudy day with a little sunshine and some gentle rain at times. I woke up to a foggy morning - so foggy that we could not see across the lake for about the first hour while we had breakfast. Now this breakfast was special. We reached down deep into the breakfast bag and found Lesley's pancake mix. There was enough for 2 breakfasts, but we ate it all. I mixed the batter, and George flipped the pancakes. We were using a campfire to cook, so we just moved the pan around to cook evenly. We also grabbed the omelette meal that we packed and cooked it too. George was very adept at cooking all corners evenly with the campfire. We feasted this morning and were now stoked with calories for our day trip to Johnson Falls. We cleaned up the kitchen and geared up the canoe for a short paddle to the other end of Canoe Lake to the Johnson Falls portage, which is actually the portage to Pine Lake. We made that paddle in about 10 minutes and hit the shore. All we had was a day pack to carry, so we hid our canoe and paddles, and started our hike. The walk was long, up and down, and I would not want to do that portage with lots of gear. When we got to Pine Lake, we continued on a path right near the water that led us along the lake and then along the creek up the hill to the falls. The map on this site shows the portage to Pine as 461 rods, which would be about 1.4 miles. I'm not sure it was that far, but the total hike to the falls is pretty long. We stayed at the falls about an hour and enjoyed more trail mix, dried fruit, and bacon jerky. We stuck our feet in the water to see how cold it was, and I was surprised that it was not ice cold, but just cold. Had it not been for high water and fast-moving rapids close by, I would have taken a dip. On the way back to Canoe Lake, I stopped long enough at Pine lake to put my feet in the water so that I could say I visited another lake. We got back to the lake and got back in our canoe for that short paddle. When we got back to camp, we had some peanut butter and jelly and decided to fish on Canoe Lake one more time for a couple hours. We caught a couple smallies that were very small, and right before we got done, George once again talked about the east breeze and we should go to the west end. We paddled down to the west end and trolled around a bit. After about 30 minutes we were on our last turn towards the campsite, and I hooked a good one. This time it did not break water, so I knew it might be a walleye. George netted it and said, "It's a walleye!" It was plenty big for both of us to eat at dinner that night. This would prove to be a big meal because we were both looking forward to the Mountain House meals I had brought along in case we struck out on fish for dinner. So we got back and had 2 big walleye fillets and a big lasagna in meat sauce Mountain House dinner. We boiled the two cups of water for the Mountain House and put it in it's cooking bag to cook. It's so easy. While it was cooking for ~10 minutes, we cooked the walleye. Then we feasted again! We cleaned up and as we stuffed ourselves back into our chairs by the camp fire, I was thinking I was in heaven after such a great day. We talked again until well after dark, fished a few casts from the shoreline. and went to our tents with the last day of packing and heading back where we came from.
Canoe Lake Canoe Lake, Pine Lake
Part 5 of 6
Day 5 began with another drizzly rainfall, and as we got out of our tents the rain was ending. We would have to pack a wet tarp and tents this time. I packed everything in my pack after I got dressed, then took down and packed my tent. More of Lesley's famous oatmeal mix was on the stove in a few minutes. We cleaned the kitchen for the last time, and George began working on his packing and the gear packing while I worked on taking down the tarp and packing it. Our hope was to be fully packed and shove off by 10:00, and we were 15 minutes early. Once again we would double portage, and it was slightly easier without that full 30 liter food barrel of food. However, we filled it with some clothes and gear, making our big packs each a couple pounds lighter. A 9:45 start and quick portage put us on Alder for a long paddle. We both were not as energetic as the first day, but we did have a slight east wind for the fourth straight day, so we just paddled a little slower and the wind helped us some. When we got to the portage to East Bearskin, I had my last chance to enjoy those big pines on the trail - a very nice site after spending so many years looking at Ensign rebuild it's hillsides after the blowdown. One more paddle to enjoy, and we didn't mind a bit slowing down and enjoying that last hour of strokes. When we hit the beach at Bearskin Lodge, George went up to move his truck while I began carrying everything up to the spot where we would load. I finally got to carry George's canoe - that 38 lb Kevlar was sooooo nice! We were both smiling as we finished packing the truck and tying down the canoe. George and I went into the Lodge to look around a little and talked with Paul, who runs Bearskin Lodge. That young man is very nice and we talked about a number of things. I noticed a chipmunk running around inside the Lodge, and Paul said he's tried 3 times now to figure out how that guy is getting into the Lodge. I think they have a new pet! [paragraph break]Most trips are uneventful after getting out of the BWCA, but my stay was still loaded with adventure!
Part 6 of 6
When we got back to George and Lesley's home on Day 5, we were definitely ready for a shower and relaxing sit on his comfortable recliners. It was good to feel clean again. Lesley was bubbling with questions and very excited to hear about our adventures, and we gladly recounted them and really enjoyed having an eager listener to talk to. Lesley had a wonderful dinner of venison stew waiting for us. She does the deer hunting and their freezer is loaded with venison steaks and walleye steaks. We sat after dinner and planned the next 2 days of day trips. Tomorrow would be a relaxing day with a long drive around Cook County, seeing the sights. I went to bed in their beautifully finished basement. I finished reading my Jack Reacher book the 12th in Lee Childs's series.[paragraph break] I woke up the next morning at 8:00, and was treated to another Lesley special - this time an egg casserole. She mixed 5 eggs with mushrooms, bacon, ham, freshly cut asparagus, red and green pepper, milk, sharp cheese, a little dry mustard, and cream of mushroom soup. It was sinful! I had noticed a cooking library downstairs near my bed, and I am sure Lesley could cook at any restaurant in the world. [paragraph break] George and I took off in his truck, and during the next 2 days we drove up the Gunflint Trail, over Greenwood Lake Rd, up and around Shoe Lake Rd, down the Arrowhead Trail, over Esther Lake Rd, and back to the Gunflint. Then over to Devil's Track Rd, up Ball Club Rd, over The Grade, and back. George literally showed me about half of Cook County and dozens of lakes. When we drove into one lake we saw 9 soft shell turtles crossing the gravel road. We saw quite a few deer along the way, and moose tracks along the roadside. It was a marvelous drive through a very remote area with almost no traffic, other than wildlife. [paragraph break] We called Lesley on the way back, and she met us at The Trail Center Restaurant on the Gunflint Trail. They treated me to dinner in a beautiful country-style restaurant with a great menu. While we were eating I noticed a couple men with a Cardinal shirt on, and asked them if they were from St Louis. Yes they were, and we were soon talking about their trip they had just finished into Canada, and up the falls chain. The father of the 2 just talked our ears off with his experience, and he was fun to listen to. Lesley went home before we did, and she saw a moose on the road. We went back a little later and talked about tomorrow's next day trip of fishing at an undisclosed lake where George has had some great fishing days. I was excited. We got back to George's home, and I started packing everything except fishing gear and a couple sets of clothes. By the next morning I was virtually ready to go fishing for a day and packed to go home. I was prepared to stay out all day if fishing was good, and George was going to put me on some good ones! [paragraph break]When I woke up for my last full day in Minnesota's Cook County, we ate a great breakfast, and I must honestly say that there were so many great meals Lesley cooked that I can't remember what this one was. We got our fishing gear backed including changing his Kevlar to ultralight aluminum so that we could use a trolling motor in an undisclosed lake that was not in the BWCA. We drove quite a while seeing some deer along the way. We targeted George's lake of choice with a plan B nearby in case the wind was a little nasty. As it turned out, wind was 5-15 that day and George felt that with the trolling motor doing most of the work, we'd be ok. We trolled around the lake and casted the shorelines during the next 5 hours, catching some small bass and a couple keeper walleyes. As we were trolling back to the points where we got the walleye, I felt a "bang" and the fight was on. I thought for sure I had a huge walleye because the fish never broke water, staying down until it was in close and saw the landing net. Then the fight was really on! He really fought, pulling half my rod into the water. I eventually brought him back up and missed the landing net with my first pull, then pulled him into the net as George was scooping the net toward the fish. Then George yelled out, "It's a muskie!" I caught my first muskie ever. This was no trophy, but my second biggest fresh-water fish, only being surpassed by an 18 lb northern I caught on Ensign about 5 years ago. George was delighted for me, and then said jokingly, "I take you to my favorite lake, and all you do is bring in a muskie which I have never caught!" As we finished this beautiful warm day, we cruised into our put-in and the rush began. After an entire week of almost no bugs, we were now swarmed with skeeters - they were all over us. We packed up as quickly as possible with a great sense of urgency. When we got into the truck, it was full of skeeters. We opened the windows and George drove swiftly down the gravel road while I tried to whip the skeeters out the window. It wasn't long before we had a skeeterless truck and we drove back to George's home with 2 walleye in the trunk, which George cleaned and put into the freezer at home. We showered up and Lesley was anxious to serve us the finale of meals - a chicken and wild rice casserole that was from somewhere in our universe but not earth. We sat around and talked awhile, I finished final packing, and went to bed early for an early start to a ~13 hour drive home. I got up, said good-bye and hugged the Gradeks, then drove to Duluth and stopped at the Duluth Grill for breakfast ( great egg omelette with has browns). I had left The Gradek home at 6:00 and got home in St Louis at 7:00. Saw 8 deer between Grand Marais and Duluth.[paragraph break] Well, I can honestly say I thought I'd never meet someone who loved fishing more than I, but George does. I can't tell you how much fun it was getting to know a wonderful couple who are so at peace with nature and in particular northern Minnesota. Their hospitality was precious to me. I hope our chance encounter on line has turned into a wonderful friendship. Thank you George and Leslie!
Canoe Lake, Alder Lake, East Bearskin Lake
East Bearskin Lake,