BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
October 04 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1276 feet
Little Isabella River - 75
Samantha's Introduction to the BW
May 20, 2009
Little Isabella River
Number of Days:
With the car packed and food in our stomachs Samantha and I started our journey to the Boundary Waters at 7pm. Since I had just gotten off work and she would do better driving in the daylight she took first shift and I took the first nap of the vacation 10 min into it! Driving from Edwardsville Illinois to Ely would take around 14 hours of driving.[paragraph break] I had planned on taking shifts that would put me in the driver seat around big cities or any possible navigational blunders that might be waiting for us on our journey that lied ahead. With the Garmin plugged in and our first of many stops programmed in we were off! I dozed in and out for the next hour then went into a pretty good sleep. At about 11 PM I was lightly tapped and I heard this little voice coming from the drivers seat "what's a toll road?". Samantha had not been on many vacations with her parents and she had only been out of the state a few times, knowing the only toll road we were to come upon was near Chicago I knew that was my sign to take over the wheel and navigate through the tollways and joining her on saying hello to Wisconsin. As I opened my eyes and started to sit up I saw the last toll booth pass by us in a blur on the right and a sign that read "Missed your toll? visit illinoistollways.com". I am glad they made that website with such an easy name to remember as I would need to remember it so when I got to a computer I could log on and pay for Samantha's first experience with a tollway.In her defense the Garmin told her to stay in the left lane which was the iPay lane. We crossed the border and stopped for some snacks and drinks then she handed over the controls to me while she caught up on her sleep.
With Samantha fast asleep I started going through plans for the next 24 hours. Our adventures would get us to North Country Canoe Outfitters in Ely at about 2 PM today. 14 hours away! We got to Superior, WI at about sunrise and stopped for breakfast at the Perkins right on Lake Superior. I had told her about the iron boats and had her listen to a Gordon Lightfoot song on you tube months before. She was amazed at the size of the ore boats in the harbor and was asking questions so fast at times I could not get out an answer. We finished our breakfast and head up the north shore to Two Harbors.[paragraph break] I had made some plans to take her to Gooseberry Falls State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse on the way to Ely. She had fell back asleep by the time we arrive at Two Harbors, MN. Driving as smooth as possible I tried not to wake her with bumps and sudden stops. We pulled into the parking lot at Gooseberry Falls just as they were opening. Samantha was still kinda groggy as we walked the path to the falls. As we got closer her eyes started to light up and I could see that her excitement level was getting ready to shoot off the charts. We spent two hours exploring and taking self pictures at the park. [paragraph break]
We then proceeded to head north to Split Rock Lighthouse. Samantha decorates the house with little lighthouses and had never been to a real one. I thought this would be a good stop for us to visit. We took the tour and enjoyed the air off of the lake. We walked down to the shoreline to get pictures of the lighthouse and hear the sound of the waves on the rocks. We both had worked ourselves into an eating frenzy after another 2 hours of touring. We gandered in the gift shop and then we were off to Ely. Before we lost cell coverage I dialed up my friends John and Kathy at North Country Canoe Outfitters and let them know we were with in 2 hours of seeing each other again. It had been 2 years since my last trip and I could not wait till the next morning.[paragraph break]
We arrived at NCCO at 2 PM. As I parked the car and got out to stretch I was greeted by Gennis his golden retriever carrying a stuffed animal. I said hello to my friend Gennis and tossed his toy for him. John came out and greeted us and showed us to our cabin. We then walked up to the gear house and went over gear, watched "the movie", and then John grabbed the maps and we went over routes. John went over portages, possible campsites, fishing hotspots, day trip ideas, and exit possibilities. We shared some stories of Samantha running her first tollbooth then we headed into Ely. We stopped in to the Wolf center I had told Samantha so much about. After about an hour we headed into town to walk around and shop. We eventually made our way to Burntside Lodge for some dinner and drinks then headed back to Ely and then to John's to repack gear and get some sleep.
We set up our departure time for 7 AM. Up at 6:30 and eating breakfast at 6:45! I was very excited and I could see Samantha getting a bit nervous. There were two other groups getting ready to depart as well. One was going into Crab/Cummings and the other were busy packing and getting ready to leave. I talked to them while eating a quick breakfast. We sat at John's pavilion and watched Gennis trot by with a pair of socks, heading away in a hurry. I was laughing and telling Sammie about Gennis on my previous visits to NCCO while Kathy and one of the other trippers was trying to convince Gennis to let go of the mans socks.[paragraph break] We loaded our packs into the van, filled our water bottles from the fish house sink, Gennis jumped up front with me and our driver, Sammie hopped into the back and we were off! We got to EP #75 at about 8 am and with a little help from our escort we got a last picture of us and in the water at 8:20. [paragraph break] The Little Isabella River was peaceful and memories started going through my head of previous trips. Samantha was wanting to see a Moose and I was hoping that I could help her out with that. We were approaching the first of many portages we would be facing alone when Sammie started trying to be all she could be in the bow of the canoe. I told her that I would put us into a good spot to unload the canoe and all she needed to do for me was watch for rocks and limbs under the surface. We unloaded and I grabbed the canoe and a pack and started my way to the other side of the portage. I reached the other side and set everything down and headed back to help Sammie with the rest of the gear. I was walking back and I could hear something coming my way just over the hill. As I crested the hill I knew I had my work cut out for me with breaking in a first timer. There stood Sammie with two packs,3 paddles,2 tackle boxes, 1 fishing pole and yes... that's a fishing net over her head! I held in every bit of laughter I could and simple asked if she had gotten everything else. She seemed a bit upset when she told me "No, I could not find a way to get them other two fishing poles." What a trooper, if she can keep that up I wont have to carry anything! [paragraph break] With her first actual portage behind us we quietly paddle on to Quadga lake. We had not yet reached the portage and you could already hear the Isabella River roaring. We pulled up at the portage and unloaded the canoe for a trip across the quick 75 or so Rods to Quadga. The lake was a welcome site to my eyes. I had not been back here for 20 years and I had been itching to visit for a while. We got about 75 yards away from shore and I grabbed my water bottle. I had told Sammie not to drink out of the little Isabella but when we hit Quadga she could join me in a fresh drink from the lake! We were both ready. I showed her how to properly dip for water then took a break to enjoy the cool lake water. The lake seemed empty but we found that the campsite we had hoped for was taken. We did not let that bring us down and headed for the second choice. We had camp set up by 1:30 P.M. and even though I was ready to do some heavy fishing Sammie was thinking NAP! [paragraph break] I woke about an hour later to some faint noise. It was voices and they were not in my head, they were by my canoe. Not to be quick on the draw I eased out of the tent to take a peek. In the hour I was asleep the lake campsites had filled and a father and his young son were trying to make their way to a campsite on campfire lake via the Pow Wow Trail and our latrine trail. I gathered my fishing gear and got the canoe ready while I waited for them to come back and tell me if they were staying on campfire lake or paddling on. I talked it over with Sammie and asked her thoughts on them bunking up on one of the spare tent pads at our site. She was fine with it and so was I but we were relieved I would not have to offer it to them, they found the campsite on campfire to be available. I was fishing the bay when the boy walked by and asked if he could fish there in the bay. I told him he had better grab a pole before I catch them all! The little bugger had a nice dinner northern on his 2nd cast! I enjoyed the smile on his face as he and his father walked by with the gear and his fish to get their camp set up.[paragraph break] Not to be out done by an 10 year old Sammie and I hit the water casting. I fished for a few hours catching nothing but Largemouth after largemouth. I got a good one for dinner and the rest was for fun. We played peek a boo with a few loons and then headed back to camp. The wind had settled down and the bugs seem to disappear after the fire was going. Even though we had steaks for a main course we both would have rather had more fish to eat. The first day in the BW was over. I was afraid the rest would be just as fast.
We woke to the wind rustling the rainfly during the night. Sammie just rolled over and went back to sleep. I took note of the wind direction and mentally went through a quick count of trees that were upwind of us. Nothing big, we were safe. I woke a few hours later and started packing gear. We had a first days breakfast of bacon and eggs and got set to go. The wind at our backs we checked the time and headed for the portage. I seen the father and son had not yet made it to their canoe as we were paddling away. I hope they had a good trip.[paragraph break] Sammie was excited when we crossed Quadga in a mere 8 min. There was a couple gear bags on the portage off to the side. I told Sammie to put ours across from theirs and not to get them mixed. Theirs looked much heavier than ours! We got across to the Isabella River and as Sammie was catching her breath I casted a few times into the rapids. I landed a few fish and set them back and we were off to Bald Eagle. We made good time paddling down the Isabella River watching for wildlife (Moose). I noticed the amount of otter slides and had a feeling fishing would not be good to me here. I casted a few here and there while we paddled down the river but the fish wanted no part of it.[paragraph break] We got passed by a couple heading into Bald Eagle and a couple day trippng from Bald Eagle. Small talk revealed Bald Eagle was not even half full and the campsite I was aiming for was taken but the second choice was open. We headed for our next landmark the BFR (Big Freakin Rock) just before the portage to Bald Eagle. We tackled the portage and as I was loading the canoe on the Bald Eagle side I looked up to see a bald eagle soaring above us. I got Sammie's attention and pointed up. She got to see her first and not even close to her last bald eagle of the trip.[paragraph break] We headed on our way with clear skies and and a decent wind in our face. Being on Bald Eagle a lot I knew of the wind and the waves very well. I was planning on taking the west shoreline up to the far end of the lake to grab our home for the next 2 days. We rounded the bend and I could not believe my eyes... just a ripple on the water. It was 11:30 and there was just a ripple on bald eagle? did I take a wrong turn or what? Crossing Bald Eagle took right at an hour and as we rounded the island on the north side I seen our destination was open and awaiting us. We made camp had a quick lunch and were back in the water. I was hoping Sammie would get a few fish on the line today. I paddled us around the bays picking out spots to fish. I had landed a couple small northerns and was getting ready to head for a point about 80 yards away from us when I told Sammie to toss the lure up on the bank and real it back from shore. I seen the water have a slight roll and her line went tight. As her voice got louder and more high pitched she worked it towards the boat. I netted it and got a good picture of her and her first northern before putting it on the dinner line. Now she can tell everyone she caught dinner at least one night. It did not seem to matter to her the fish avoided her like the plague for the rest of the night. I caught a couple here and there and we headed back about 5 to get the fire going and dinner started. I had promised her after the first night that I would not do any more late night dinners. We ate, did dishes, and talked about our travels then watched the sun set just over trees. Tomorrow would be a day without the packs and full of fishing. With the sun down and the wind calm we had a nightcap and headed to bed.
As I opened my eyes and heard no wind, I thought to myself it will be a beautiful morning on bald eagle. I nudged Sam and after a quiet growl I decided I would venture out of the tent alone this time. The sun was up and the fog was rising off the glassy lake. The ground squirrels were racing around trying to find any crumbs they could sniff out. I got the food pack down and got ready to make breakfast. I had chose pancakes for my breakfasts this time to see how they cooked and settled in my stomach. To my amazement they cooked nice and there was nothing really to clean up other than a quick rinse. The grizzly I woke up next to had made it out of the tent to fallow the smell of food in the air. We had an enjoyably breakfast and started to get ready to head to Turtle Lake.[paragraph break] We did a short 3 min paddle to the portage an as I turned around there was an older couple coming towards us in a hurry. It was the day trippers from the previous day we met on Isabella River. They seemed like they could hold their own on a trail so I let them go ahead and portage before us. I gave them what I thought was a good head start before I made the journey to the other side. I was wrong. They were almost to the end when I caught them. I slowed down and let them gain some distance so we would not be tangled up at Turtle lake landing. they had just shoved off when I came to the water. I had the boat in, pack in, Sammie in, and we were off to catch some fish. As we passed by them we made some more small talk and I suggested that they at least walk the portage to Clearwater to get a view. With that we were off! I did not waste anytime getting to the spot I called "Northern Bay". I had fished this lake a few times before always with results. We went over two spots and I thought the fish finder was going to blow up. It was beeping like crazy. Say no more I dropped a line and let it sink for 3 seconds then gave it a good pull to set the spinner in action. Sammie caught a few nice rocks and a tree or two but I felt she had it in her for one good one in this lake. The first time I went fishing with her she got an 8 lbs channel cat out of a farm pond and instead of using the real she took off running with the pole. The line snapped and we got to watch the bobber float around the lake still attached to the fish for the next three hours till the greedy thing bit again. I was hoping she was not going to try that trick in the canoe. We laughed at each other and enjoyed the day while we casted in every spot we could get a line into, and some that we should not have. She got hung on a rock under the surface and as I paddled her up to get free I seen a shadow go under the boat. I felt my stomach drop. we had just chased a huge northern out from where she had gotten hung. I casted a few times while she got settled back in from getting hung. I thought to myself why not, and casted backwards off my shoulder for a hail mary. I heard the Mepps hit the water and started reeling it in. I turned and there was a big northern fallowing it to the canoe. I told Sam to cast out across my line and get to reeling. The northern whirled and took off away from the canoe. I casted out in the direction it headed and after about 4 cranks it felt like I had a barge on the end of my line. My pole bent and my line racing through the water while Sammie was screaming "Its pulling the Canoe!" I took care in landing it and sending it back home after Sammie took a few pictures. I would have rather had her catch that fish but at least she got to see it. We continued to work around the bay and towards the portage to Clearwater when I seen the elderly couples canoe heading to our same destination. [paragraph break]We met up with them at the portage and talked about the fire that scarred the area a few years earlier. the portage to Clearwater was an interesting site. [paragraph break] The forest service had use the portage as a fire break during the burn so the South side of the portage is burnt and the north is green as can be. We reached Clearwater and got off the very buggy landing ASAP. The water in Clearwater is just that... Clear. You can see down about 15 feet sometimes more on a calm and sunny day. We headed to two large submerged structures I had found in previous years to do some fishing. We stopped at a small island in the middle of the empty lake to eat lunch and enjoy another site of a "Two Face Lake". One side burnt, the other untouched. I joked with her about leaving her on the rock in the middle of the lake if she did not share the food with me. I had made 3 lbs of deer jerky for our trip. This being the third day and it was nearly gone. [paragraph break] We checked the time and decided to head back to camp. Crossing Clearwater and turtle again on the way back to Bald Eagle was not nearly as fun as the first time. We were sunburnt and getting hungry but decided on one quick trip in bald eagle for some more fishing. We made it to a couple spots I located with the fish finder the day before and found it to be productive. With 3 canoes paddling around like sharks looking for food about 350 yards away, I was quick to do a snatch and grab and head back to the campsite with dinner. [paragraph break]We sat on the shoreline and watched the sun fade while we ate our meal and talked about the fun we had earlier that day. Tomorrow would be a short paddle to our next stop on the South Kawishiwii river. With any luck we will get across Gabbro without the wind being against us. We sat and enjoyed the night for a bit and then crawled into the tent for some much needed rest.
My watch alarm had failed to wake me or Sammie up. I opened my eyes to find the daylight pouring out of the sky. I was wanting to get a good and early start to beat the wind on Gabbro. I was to late. I could hear the wind blowing the trees just above us. I rolled out of bed and started the process of waking up my Sammie. She managed to get one eye open and a light growl before i could tell her that it was past time to get up and gone.[paragraph break] We got packed up and on the water later that I wanted. It was a little past 9 AM and I was starting to wonder what Gabbro would be like. The last time i crossed this lake i was solo, the wind was in my face, and the white caps were making for a difficult paddle. We had a very big bald eagle fly over us a few times. Sammie was trying to get a good picture of it, but it seemed to always catch her off guard. She was watching the skies hoping to get a flyby when I softly called to her. "Sam". She thought I had seen the eagle and was trying to get her attention drawn to it. "Moose". There was a cow with twin calves wading in the water just 75 yards in front of us. We had focused so much of our attention to the eagle we had not noticed them crossing the lake right in front of us. Keeping our distance we watched them round the bay and clumsily head into the woods after about 5 min. Sam was excited to get to see her first moose. So excited half of the pictures she took were out of focus or did not have any moose in them! She did manage to get a few shots. [paragraph break] We managed our way into Gabbro to find the wind was at our backs and pushing us across. This time I was to find the wind on our side.There were a lot of canoes on the water and nearly all the campsites where filled in Gabbro. I started to wonder if we would find open campsites on the South Kawishiwii. We made quick work of Gabbro and Little Gabbro. I took us to the portage to the S. Kawishiwii from Little Gabbro. We crossed the portage and made it to our campsite to find it was empty and awaiting us. I had chose to skip breakfast and have a brunch to make up for waking up late. With the oatmeal we ate earlier as a snack leaving our stomachs empty after a short period I made camp and got breakfast in us quick.[paragraph break] We enjoyed the wind break we got from the trees that surrounded the area. Food pack hung high, full stomach, tent up...time to fish. We took off to a spot I had caught lots at in previous years and had planned on that continuing. I set up the fish finder to get a depth reading and water temp. It beeped a few times as the depth dropped and a few fish had hunkered down on a ledge. I made note of their depth and location as we paddled onward to anchor. I set up our rigs and with in no time had dinner caught the rest was for fun. We moved to a spot I wanted to try out when i remember the ones we had crossed earlier. I cant forget those, the fish finder said they had size to them. I tossed out and counted as my lure dropped to a depth and reeled in a few times with no fish. The wind was blowing good and the temp was dropping fast. Sammie was getting chilled and hungry again. I tossed out my rig and reeled in one more time before pulling up the anchor. As we drifted out I could not resist another one last cast before i called it quits. FISH ON! It fought good, felt like it had nice size, this might be a decent fish to end the day with. As i got it closer it seemed to fight more. It ran twice and i had not even seen what it was yet. I called it out to be a 30 inch northern or a very nice walleye. I would never get a chance to see it. My line went slack and the fish was gone. I reeled it the rest of the way in swapped out a a pole for a paddle and headed back. OOPs one last stop! It was on the way so Sam did not mind to much but i could tell she would rather head back to camp. I quickly turned on the fish finder to locate the ledge. I dropped a line down while asking Sammie what time it was. I would not forget the promise i made on the first night of no late dinners even if i was wanting to get in some more fishing. I took an extra 15 min only catching one small fish. We headed to camp to enjoy what was left of our trip. I would make use of the stove one last time to make up for the extra time i spent fishing and to ensure i kept my promise. We noticed the arrival of a few dark clouds and sprinkles on the water.[paragraph break] With camp cleaned for the night we moved into the tent. We talked about our trip and things we would change if there would be a next time for us. She said next time we are going somewhere i have not been so it will be an adventure for both of us. She wants a new fishing pole, lighter gear pack (tent, bags,cook kit,stove), different yoke pads, longer net, and better shoes. Knowing i just got the go ahead to refit everything Losing the fish earlier did not bother me nearly as much as it had been.
We woke to find the rain had stopped but looked like it was going to cut lose on us. I got breakfast done and camp cleaned up while Sammie packed the bags and tent. Our food pack had managed to acquire some gear to even the loads out. Not looking forward to what would be our last day we drug our feet at leaving camp. Paddling out it had started to mist on us and at our first portage Sammie swapped out the rain gear. I decided i was not going to wear mine due to the fact it was just a drizzle and i was being stubborn. We crossed Clear Lake and entered the North Kawishiwii knowing the end was coming. I fished the spots that caught my eye as we passed them, landing nothing big. One thing i noted.. a drizzle for a 5 hours makes you feel like you have been in a down pour for 1. I was soaked and still stubborn, realizing the rain gear would do me no good to stay dry now i just left it off. We got to Farm Lake and did the "Point island bounce" to avoid entering Farm lake and adding to our trip. Our last paddle would find to be easy, wet, and depressing. The only thing that would keep me in spirits in the thought of buying new gear as soon as i get home. We made it back to North Country Canoe Outfitters by 2 PM on our last day. We took some much needed showers and headed into town to eat at Ely Steakhouse. We left nothing on our plates, finished some shopping, and headed back to John and Kathy's for some sleep.[paragraph break] We woke early in the morning to get started back home. stopped for the biggest and best breakfast I had ever had at Britton's Cafe. I make it a rule to try different places to eat when i vacation. no matter the cost. Brittons was excellent service and food, she told us "if we leave hungry its not her fault!" I might have to break that rule cause i'm going back there again! We did what damage we could to the mounds of food she put in front of us and rolled ourselves out of the booth. Feeling like a snake that just ate something 4 times my size I found it hard to get into the car. [paragraph break] We made decent time even though i had to stop and get my fill of A&W every chance i got. We paid the toll this time (I was driving) and made it home about 1 AM. I had new gear picked out by noon the next day and after shopping for a week online looking for deals we refitted and she wants to go back this fall!