BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 15 2019
Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1276 feet
Little Isabella River - 75
Isabella River - June 2005
June 09, 2005
Little Isabella River
Little Gabbro Lake (33)
Number of Days:
Into the woods we a go. Me, Ryan, my dad (Dave), and Scott set out around 7:30am for the Little Isabella entry point. The drive was uneventful until a momma and baby moose presented themselves along Tomahawk Road. Once we unloaded the jury-rigged mini-van, the first canoe touched water and the rain started. Not blinding, but enough to warrant the rain gear. It rained most of the day which posed a bad omen for the fishing ahead.
The Little Isabella River, as in previous years, proved uneventful. A moderate paddle and a westward direction then put us on the Isabella River and business started to pick up. We witnessed another set of mother and baby moose, a bull moose casually dining, and two whitetail does – doing whatever deer do. The portages were hell. Most along the Isabella River were around 40 or 50 rods, according to the map, but in actuality were worse than expected. This was due to the fact they were soggy and longer than charted. A couple times Ryan and I were duped into “up-and-overing” the canoe instead of packing up to portage, only to be fooled by the map regarding the distances and passable terrain. On top of everything, the mosquitoes were the worst I’ve ever experienced in the BWCA. I don’t know if previous soggy weather, or the current rain stirring them up, or any other factor was to blame, but it was so bad you couldn’t stop during a portage or they’d catch up with you. At times, when the portaging was tough, heavy breathing meant you were only getting about 80% breathable air and 20% mosquitoes (by volume). We managed, though. We came across a set of rapids, which looked 10 fold worse than they actually were and a short time later we were on Bald Eagle Lake.
As the rain blindingly fell, now, we were forced onto the East shore around 1pm to bail canoes and properly adjust all rain gear. Ryan and I were prepared and weren’t actually discouraged by the rain. My dad and Scott, however, I felt bad for because they were soaked through and cold to boot. As we ate a quick lunch, plotted our course, and unpacked the “warm clothes”, the rain stopped and we continued on our way. Dumb luck boated two small northerns and a smallie on a deep-red/orange deep-running crank along the East shore around 3pm. It looked like a good sign, as weather has killed many fishing opportunities in the past. Fishing was the least of our worries, though.
The portage from Bald Eagle Lake to Turtle Lake was easily the worst I’ve ever experienced. Needless to say it seemed longer than the map suggested (185 rods I believe). On top of that, the elevation changes were grueling and the terrain varied from large rocks to bog to section with flowing water through them. Although Ryan and I were expertly equipped and packed, we had to stop a couple times to rest. Once completed, we then doubled back to help Dave and Scott with their plastic, non-yolk having canoe. Each portage the whole weekend included doubling back by Dave and Scott as a result of the canoe they brought in. Even the terminal landing was horrible. There was no good place to put in and getting wet was inevitable.
After we set out, a quick scope of the campsites on Turtle Lake revealed the island site was by far the best. Great boat landing, elevated for a slight mosquito-negating wind, well shaded – it nearly had it all. Including fishing. It was positioned so it created a channel between the mainland and our campsite at the deepest point in the lake (10-15 feet). Although the lake contained solely northerns, they were the biggest I’ve ever encountered. The island did lack an ample supply of firewood, party because of the rain, but mostly due to rot of all downed trees. We often had to search other islands for useful wood. Once we initially landed, the gloom forced us to set up camp first thing, and we were out onto the lake by 5pm. By then the fishing had dried up with a couple lunkers splashing off shore throughout the evening taunting us. We cooked up a quick dinner and cashed in early due to the ass whupping we experience throughout the day.
Things I Learned:
·Rain has ears. It knows when to start and it knows when to stop just to piss you off.
·Don’t paddle with your head down, no matter how tired you are. Nature is everywhere.
·My dad’s not invincible anymore.
·I love my girlfriend and missed her more than I thought I would.
Distance In: 11.3mi (18.2km)
Ryan and Dave are the loudest snorers I’ve ever heard. Sleep didn’t hit me until after first light. Once awake (later than I had expected) I felt fine, though, and ate a quick breakfast to hit the lake by 10am. It rained on and off all day with a break in the clouds around 3pm. The northerns were few and far between at that point, making us really worried the fishing would be horrible all weekend. The ones we did boat were larger than the “snakes” we are used to so there was hope for salvation. The largest northern caught the whole weekend was from shore off our boat launch; easily 7 pounds. All the northerns in that area were also very heavy for their length, too. The textbooks were right in this case, as due to the overcast skies, black was the color of choice for most of the weekend. Plastic leeches on dark jigs, specifically. Scott, having never seriously fished before, nabbed a couple lunkers for himself, and pictures for his daughter. Early evening posed a chance for some topwater action and Ryan’s dark green Moss Boss was the bread and butter – until a monster snapped the first of many lines and ran off with leader and lure alike. Ryan still hasn’t recovered. RIP, boss, RIP.
A southern wind made the Northern shores the most productive, which soon died. After a mostly unproductive day fishing (albeit more productive than Day 1) we landed for dinner and then for good as heavy rain/wind looked like it was rolling in.
We fried up the 12+ pounds of fresh northern from the morning catch and ducked into the tents after the rain started around 6pm. After about and hour of ogling disgustingly ugly women in June’s issue of Maxim the rain actually stopped, resulting a few hours of daylight and a heavy wind. Instead of turning in for the night at 8pm again, some time behind the rod and reel from the boat launch were in order. A snapping turtle, just as curious about us as we were of it, kept us company. The dinosaur was about 2’x2’ and most likely at least 50 or 60 years old. In playing with the turtle, we almost missed a glimpse of the largest fish I’ve ever seen first hand (this still doesn’t say much, though). Easily a 3.5’ northern; and since all the fish in Turtle Lake were heavier than their length suggested, I couldn’t even come close to estimating its weight. It followed up my white Mr. Twister on a white jig a couple times, but never pulled the trigger. At this point it was a race against daylight and weather to land “Bessie” as I hadn’t a clue as if this was her regular hangout. We failed at nabbing her and it basically gave me a goal for the next two days.
Less wet and less frustrated, we called it a day. That portage out two days from then still looming in our minds, though.
Things I Learned:
·Don’t give up on a cast until it’s IN YOUR BOAT.
·How fish behave and how I would behave as a fish are completely different. I’m sure I’d get eaten by a delicious bass.
·Men’s magazines are more frustrating in the BWCA.
·Spend hard earned money on a good sleeping pad. Blowing up a leaking one every hour deprives you of sleep.
Wind. Oh god, the wind. We could hear it through the night, but didn’t accept it for what it was until we woke up to it blowing at 25mph. Basically we were grounded until late afternoon, which wasn’t all that bad as there were two other decent fishing spots on our island.
The food, too. Uhh. We packed too much this time. We never get it right; too much, too little, doesn’t matter. We gorged ourselves all day to 1) keep our strength up for the portage out the next day, and 2) to make our food pack lighter for the portage out the next day.
The next problem on the list was the expiration of both Ryan and Dave’s water filters. The cartridges needed replacing and we fell back on chlorine drops that were two years expired. Extra drops here and there and we considered it drinkable, especially mixed with Kool-Aid. Although it did leave us with more mix to pack out than we had expected. Damn that portage.
The fishing picked up on Day 3, though, so all problems were forgotten. We had considerable success with dark cranks, jigs, and plastics from shore due to overcast conditions. The size of both the fish and the rocks caused many lines to snap, but with luck, Ryan “caught” my busted snags, allowing me to retrieve a few jigs/plastics/leaders. Early in the evening the clouds and wind broke up making for a few sunburns and excellent topwater action in the many shadowy bays in Turtle Lake. Plastic leeches proved profitable, but the fun was a result of the only Moss Bosses we had left – chartreuse. Ryan and I boated a couple, and eventually I lost my boss t0 the teeth with fish, too. They must have been taking up a collection.
Wildlife continued to be entertaining as we saw a beaver tending to his lodge off the shore of the island across from ours, as well as a family of four snorting otters in a calm East shore bay. If you consider the bugs as wildlife, then the wildlife was booming. Not so much mosquitoes from our elevated camp, but noseeums, chiggers, whatever. I itched all over – bad. However, all in all it was another uneventful day.
Things I Learned:
·A tackle box should have at least two Moss Bosses. Two of which should be dark. If you only have two, two should be dark. Dark. Pancakes.
·It can’t rain all the time.
·A slow day in the BWCA is still better than an easy 8 hours at work.
Of course leaving the woods always produces the best weather. We woke up to a clear, calm, fog filled lake. We woke up before the sun did in hopes that we would pack up and make the paddle and portages before any adverse weather hit. I mean, we're talking 5pm early. It was worth it since that felling of dawn on a calm BWCA lake cannot be matched. A Douglas Adams line from "Life, the Universe and Everything" sums it up best: "There is a moment in every dawn when light floats, there is the possibility of magic. Creation holds its breath."
We left Turtle Lake and exited via the dreaded Bald Eagle/Turtle portage never having landed "Bessie". It actually went a bit easier since we were slightly lighter, and we knew what to expect. The path's condition had slightly improved since it hadn't rained in a few hours. There was still a small creek flowing through the middle of it and it was still rocky and very elevated, making for a daunting task.
The waters on Bald Eagle and Gabbro were perfect so we made excellent time. Again, we shot some rapids which appeared more violent than the ones on the Isabella River. Dave and Scott went first, running aground on the left side of the rapids, before instructing Ryan and me to take the middle channel. We thought for sure we were dumping, but all went fine and we continued through Gabbro and Little Gabbro to the exit point.
After a half an hour of searching for the exit portage (EP#33) at Little Gabbro, we found it on the west bank, as opposed to the map suggested south east bank. As during the exit we encountered a group consisting of three conoes, which included three "urbanized" teenage girls at the exit portage. I kept thinking how much of a joy they would have been had they done the trip we just encountered. It's one thing to experience trying times, but when someone is constantly complaining it ruins the whole trip. The 199 rod portage out was hell, also. There were many elevation changes, as well as boggy and rocky grounds. It was a real mettle tester to say the least.
As soon as we hit the road around noon, though, it rained most of the drive back to Madison.
Things I Learned:
·It’s good to be home
Distance Out: 6.6mi(10.7km)