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member (33)member
03/23/2019 09:28AM
Only been to the BWCA once 15 years ago and that trip was cut short and was not one I care to remember. Finally getting to a point in my life where I can get back into canoe tripping. Looking for suggestions on an area for my first real trip to the BWCA. I was looking at putting in at either Sawbill, Seagull, or Mudrow. Looking to make the trip a combination of paddling and fishing. Suggestions?
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member (24)member
03/23/2019 11:57AM
I typed this up on Reddit for another person wondering a similar thing, so here's my perspective on the Sawbill entry point with two good options (towards Phoebe, and towards Burnt). Cherokee is also great but I've not gone there FROM Sawbill, but rather Baker.

The landing at Sawbill Lake is the easiest you’ll ever experience. Canoe up to the middle of the lake and decide if you’re going east or west from there. Honestly? Both are phenomenal. I’m gonna give you my .02 so take it for what it’s worth, but I’d go towards Alton Lake and on to the Lady Chain (Beth, Ella, Grace, Phoebe) if you’re looking for solitude, fishing, and a chance to fall in love with the BWCA.

Let’s say you go Lady Chain route. The portage to Alton is also among the easiest in the BWCA. You can practically see the other side from the water’s edge. Fun fact: I saw a moose on the Sawbill side at 6am a few years ago. Once you get on Alton Lake, get off it again quickly. I hate this lake. Beautiful, but deep and dangerous with the winds. Lives have been lost on it. I’ve camped for literal weeks there but I head straight to the south end to get away from the windy points. It’s a hard lake to figure out for walleye, too, so I vote you skip it entirely. The portage to Beth Lake is easy to find in a back inlet and this portage is fun. It’s got an “elevation” feel to it without being a bear of a portage. The other end of it opens into Beth Lake and it’s a long, tubular lake with high walls that make it feel like you’re in an arena (to me, anyway). Never camped on it but the sites I had lunch at are nice. The portage north out of Beth to Ella is low, swampy, and prime moose country, but can get wet. Watch your footing on the Beth side as it’s a sloped rock face to disembark from your canoe onto.

I’d skip Ella unless you have a thing for more portages and small lakes (plus the Grace end of the Ella-Grace portage is a boulder field). It’s not bad, by any means, just an added loading point that isn’t necessary. The long portage from Beth to Grace is actually beautiful and just plan to take breaks. Grace is oddly shaped and feels like both a small lake and a large lake at the same time. I’ve done okay for pike in Grace but never done all that well for walleye. The campsite on the peninsula in the middle of the lake is a favorite. I’d be more than happy staying there for a week and never getting upset with the view.

From Grace it’s a portage to the beginning of a small river system that connects the Lady Chain together. Some fun smaller rapids but mostly just scenic views, moose sightings, and tons of beaver action in this area. I’ve hit on a big pike that was trapped in the main pool once before, too. Out of Grace you emerge into Phoebe, which is my personal favorite in this area (except for Hazel, but more on that in a minute) and it’s a bit of a destination so you may not be alone, but you should be able to find solitude. There are 8 campsites on the lake and I think 3 of them are island sites. Go for the one in the middle. Lot’s of good walleye in this lake, and you’ll get both great sunsets and sunrises. It’s a lake that lends itself to great day trips, too; you can go back into Grace, explore the southern inlets, or head up into Knight and Hazel for some fishing.

Let’s say you go visit Knight - bring a fishing rod to hit the smallies HARD when you get to the beginning of the river on the west edge of Knight Lake. The deepest spot on the lake is probably there (10-14 feet) and they pool up waiting for what the rapids brings them. My wife and I hit 20+ in about 30 minutes in 2016. Knight is shallow and weedy, and the one campsite is kind of a bummer. I’d skip it as a destination but it’s fun as a day-trip.

Push past Knight into Hazel to explore the beauty of this underrated gem. I love the size of this lake, and each of the 3 campsites are spectacular. Some solid fishing in here for pike and walleye. It’s a smaller lake, but it’s one that I always feel like I missed out on fully exploring it every time I leave it, no matter how long I was there. If you twisted my arm, I’d say the south campsite is the best. After Hazel is a river system up to Polly, but unless you’re doing the full loop and having someone pick you up at Kawishiwi Lake, that’s kinda pushing it. I’ll just say Polly has walleye and lots of fisherman to go with it. On the southeast arm of the lake, leeches on spinners will get you a stringer full.

One cool thing to note - on the route to Hazel from Knight, the river goes through a glacial boulder field and it’s actually really cool to navigate through. My wife and I once just jumped in and waded the canoe through and loved the challenge of it (and cooling off on a warm June day). If you want to check it out, it’s visible on Google maps - 47.875765, -91.032306.

This route is a good one. I’ve traveled Kawishiwi to Sawbill 3 times and done smaller forays into the lakes in between the two entry points at least a dozen times, so clearly something keeps bringing me back.

Okay, back to Sawbill. Let’s say you decide that east towards the Fire Lakes (Smoke, Burnt, Flame) are more your cup of tea. Head north and look for the bay to your right to find the portage. Kind of tucked back in there. Easy portage, a little muddy in places if I remember right, but the end is where it gets interesting. At Smoke Lake, you’ll hit the floating dock that only holds 200-300 pounds at a time so plan carefully for that. Smoke looks like a boggy lake at first glance, but once you get past the small island that is on the south end by the portage, it opens up and it’s character reveals itself a bit. There are some rocks on the bottom of this lake, so the walleye love the structure. It’s a busier lake, but you can still find a good spot to camp. I’m partial to the north shore site. I’m a sucker for large slab granite front porches to fish from!

Leeches and bobbers are your friend on this lake. It can get louder from the traffic, but it’s still in the BWCA so it’s miles ahead of most campgrounds. I also troll the point on the south side of the lake near the Smoke to Burnt portage landing and pick up plenty of walleye there. Rapalas (Firetiger) and Mepps #3 are always strong lures when not doing live bait.

The portage to Burnt is not memorable to me (it was portage #70 on a 10 day trip for my wife and I last time we went through so it’s a bit blurry in my mind) but Burnt is a solid fishing lake on the other end. Lots of pike and LOTS of smallies and walleyes. Unfortunately, last time I was there, I counted 12 canoes in just the northern bay area so it’s also well-known. I trolled the bay near the portage and in and out of the islands (landed a few, but kept inadvertently breaking the “4 watercraft/9 people” rule of the BWCA so we called it quits).

Last trip I skipped this part, but if you want seclusion, get on the water at Sawbill early and try to get in to Flame lake to get the solo campsite. It’s a beauty. I’d stay here a week easily. Some walleye and pike, but it’s not as well known for its fish. That’s what day trips into Burnt are for. There’s a small rock island on the east shoreline of Flame that is fun to use as a lunch spot if the site is full. Careful to watch for loon nests here.

Burnt into Jack/Kelly/Baker is a long and tough portage, and honestly, those lakes didn’t do much for me on a scenery or fishing level, but that could have been my perspective being jaded after 10 days in the wilderness and visiting them on a rainy day, too.

You can’t really go wrong in this area, in my opinion. Heck, even Sawbill has phenomenal sites. The one just north of the Smoke Lake portage is great; my dad, my brothers, and I spent a week there 10 years ago and had a great trip and never went more than 2 miles from our car.

Hope that helps provide some context. I’m envious of your trip plans and hoping I can get one on the books soon for myself (it’s tough when I live 10+ hours away these days).
distinguished member(1633)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/23/2019 12:31PM
Mudro and Sawbill are both really good options. What time of the year are you wanting to go?

Both entries are fairly to very popular so pure solitude might be harder to find unless you're willing to paddle/portage a ways. What are you wanting to catch? There are plenty of options, some harder or easier some with better fishing or campsites. Fill us in more on what you want to see or do (and what you want to avoid) and we can give better suggestions.
distinguished member(4360)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
03/23/2019 01:37PM
Sea Gull towards SAK is a great route for many reasons.
distinguished member(2084)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/23/2019 06:38PM
Glad you are getting back up there. We need a little more info: time of year, length of trip, fish species you care about the most, basecamp/travel every day or somewhere in between, big water/smaller water, number and length of portages willing to take, what's your general goal for the trip?

I know that I have several trips I could recommend and I know that everyone else will also have their favorites. With this info, we can get closer to designing a route that will be perfect your your long awaited return. Will this be solo, another paddler or a small group?

About time you got back up there, you will love it.
03/23/2019 06:40PM
I'm sure all the entry points would make a good trip.

Speaking from experience, I can say if you put in at Seagull, make your way to Ogish, Kek or SAK, your fishing should be more than adequate any time of year.
member (33)member
03/23/2019 06:50PM
Thanks for the detailed info smokechaser. That is actually the route we were supposed to do 15 years ago that I wish not to remember. We rushed to get to grace due to weather. We wound up leaving the next morning. It was supposed to be a 6 day trip. Why I had it on my list as to fully get to explore it and enjoy it this time and see what I missed out on.
Yea I feel you on the travel part, its a 20 hour drive for me to get to sawbill.
member (33)member
03/23/2019 06:55PM
I guess it would of helped to give some of that info :) It'll be a solo trip. I don't mind portages and putting in the effort to get somewhere if its worth it. Looking at the first 2 weeks of June. Id love to make it a 8-10 day trip especially since its a 20+ hour drive for me to get there.

Fishing wise, I spent the last 10 years heavily in the kayak fishing world so I love to fish, but left that due to the constant drama. Getting back to what I grew up in, a canoe and taking canoe trips. Species wise I like to fish for just about anything. I live around some of the prime small-mouth fishing in Southwest Virginia with the James and New rivers close by.

General goal for the trip is to get back to my roots if you will. I've spent the last 10 years busting my hump in a stressful IT corporate job to build a comfortable life for my family. I was involved in an explosion last summer, while laying in the ICU burn center at Wake Forest I vowed to get back to who I was. Thankfully I made a full recovery so now I am on a mission to make that happen. So I guess it a mix of solitude, adventure, fishing, and relaxation.
distinguished member(2423)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/24/2019 04:15AM
singlebladecanoe: "... I was involved in an explosion last summer, while laying in the ICU burn center at Wake Forest I vowed to get back to who I was. Thankfully I made a full recovery so now I am on a mission to make that happen. So I guess it a mix of solitude, adventure, fishing, and relaxation."

Whoa! Glad you recovered with a spirited sense of adventure intact. Hoping you have a trip that offers it all! Those are the exact experiences I seek when I'm out there--except at 68 yrs. old the hi-adventure stuff is off list. :D I love no-drama solos!
Happy Paddling!
03/24/2019 06:58AM
The 8-10 days and the willingness to portage gives you a lot of options out of most entries. The three basic types of routes are out-and-back, point-to-point, and loops, with some variations in each type. In the Sawbill area, I'm most familiar with EP #37, Kawishiwi Lake. There are several loops out of that entry and several point-to-point routes with a shuttle from SawBill Outfitters. The same is true of Sawbill. See my 2014 and 2016 trip reports for one loop and one point-to-point option.

The 2014 trip was a tandem trip and we had two cars, so left one at Sawbill and looped from Kawishiwi back to Sawbill through Malberg, Little Saganaga, and Mesaba. The shorter option on that trip was the Lady Chain from Polly. Sawbill will shuttle you to Kawishiwi. It is simpler to leave your car at the exit on a point-to-point route.

The 2016 solo was a Kawishiwi loop through Malberg, Alice, Fraser, Cap, Boulder, Malberg, and out the same way to Kawishiwi. There are some pictos on Fishdance near Alice. Another option would be north from Malberg to Boulder, Ledge, Makwa, Pan, Malberg. You could also extend that to Little Sag, exiting either at Kawishiwi or Sawbill.

Both will take you through a variety of lakes and varied scenery and offer some solitude.

There are also a number of options out of the Poplar (Lizz, Meeds, Skipper EP's), Cross Bay EP, and Round Lake (Missing Link, Brant EP's).

The first two weeks of June is not too far away, so there may be some permit availability
issues, especially with Mudro, one very popular entry. You can check availability

I live a long way away also (Morgantown, WV) and have been driving up since 2002, every year since 2006. I will email you a suggestion based on my experience for getting there and back, along with some information.

member (33)member
03/24/2019 09:53AM
Awesome thank you Boonie
member (33)member
03/24/2019 10:12AM
Just reserved my permit entering Sawbill June 2 exiting June 10th :)
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