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member (5)member
07/11/2019 09:13PM

Fellow minnesotan here, just moved back in June from Philly, PA. I have until July 29th before I start my career... anyhow I have a 4-5 day window to do a solo trip [july 15-19th]. Im an experienced fresh water fisherman, other than walleye. I'm planning a solo trip where my main goals are catching walleyes and enjoy solitude.

I have a fishing kayak (cheap) and plenty of fishing gear.

My initial plan is to go to Sawbill lake and camp on the lake day one, then portage to Burnt, possibly flame lake to stay for a couple days before it's over. I have a small tent and plenty of gear, I also have a cot tent that is quite nice for the first night.

Is this a good plan? Are there more isolated areas where I can catch walleye and feel "in nature". I have never been to BWCA before. Also, would it make sense to rent a canoe instead of using my kayak?

Thank you for your input,

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07/11/2019 11:43PM
It sounds like a great plan to me other than the kayak. But I guess it depends. Can you carry the kayak easily for 1765ft over rocks and thru some mud, and on a board over a swampy area? Thats what your first portage will be like. If your answer is yes then go for it. Canoes are built for this country and to be portaged. Though I have seen more kayaks while tripping, they don't look very fun to carry, and often I see a person on each end of a kayak. But I would recommend you rent a canoe if you have some experience in them. If not and you are going on your first trip to the Boundary Waters solo then take your Kayak. There are a lot of variables to your questions without much information.

I haven't fished the burnt, smoke, flame lakes but I can tell you than according to the MN DNR Lake Finder there are no walleye in Flame Lake. You might want to look at the web site and search the lakes you are thinking about fishing. This area of the BW is Cook County which you will need to know when searching area lakes. Here is a link to the site.

As far as solitude, well I guess it depends on what you consider solitude. You are picking the busiest time of the year for your trip, and you will not have time to get far enough away from an entry point and do a lot of fishing in 4 days to experience the least traveled lakes. But The BW is a lot less crowded than most places you've visited, and compared to Philly even the busiest lake will seem spacious.

I will say that even Sawbill can seem like it has a lot of solitude if you camp off the main canoe routes to portages. Say the bay off the NW end of the lake. This can be hit and miss though. You could go up there and find most of those camp site empty or they could all be full. There could be very little traffic up to the north portage into Ada or a lot.

I hope you have a great trip! And please do yourself a favor and ALWAYS wear your life jacket on your solo. I always hate reading about the experienced paddler, excellent swimmer that drowned in a link on this site.
07/12/2019 06:20AM
Your plan sounds like a reasonable plan. I hope it works out well for you.

I don't fish, but I do a lot of solos and seek solitude. I'm not sure which is more important to you - fishing or solitude - but it sounds like fishing is more your main goal and I can't tell you anything about that. It's not clear to me whether your BW overnight paddle permit is for the 15th or 16th, but it sounds like you plan to camp at the Sawbill campground the 15th vs. one of the first-come, first-served BW campsites, then enter on the 16th. I have camped at the campground several times, which is a nice one. Sawbill Outfitters are very knowledgeable and could answer your questions and give good advice.

I have always gone in Sept. and have no experience with your July time frame, but understand it's a busy time. Sawbill is an accessible and popular location and entry. It was so busy the last weekend of Sept. (very nice weather) that we were lucky to find a campsite for our last night when we exited there from Zenith. You would find much greater solitude beyond Zenith, if that's more of a desire, but I wouldn't advise going across that portage with a kayak. Even with a lightweight Kevlar canoe and lightweight camping gear, most people avoid it.

I don't kayak and have no particular knowledge of them, especially fishing kayaks. I imagine that portaging will be your biggest challenge, as Mike implied. Beyond that you'll want to find an open campsite as early as possible. Have fun!
distinguished member(2684)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
07/12/2019 07:31AM
Mike did cover it well. Solitude is a point of view and while it is a busy area and busy time of year the number of others you will see or have any contact with is very low compared to most places. And while I both kayak and canoe, portaging is the real question and if you can carry your boat over the conditions Mike describes, go for it. Otherwise find a route with only portages you can carry the boat or get another boat.

And do wear the PFD, thanks.

And now that you are relatively close, perhaps look at this trip as an opportunity to check out the area. Have you considered day trips to fish and camp in parks that are in the area. You could check out other lakes rather than only going into one area. You can always get a day permit and overnight permits might be harder to find. Enjoy!
07/12/2019 11:25AM
If you take the Yak get a good yoke to help carry it!
distinguished member (489)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
07/12/2019 11:44AM
Hi Casey, welcome home! Here are some thoughts in addition to the good ideas others have provided.

If renting a Kevlar canoe isn't an option, then I think your portages will be tough. This is a rocky, hilly area of the Laurentian Divide. If you take the 'yak, consider this: Go in early on the morning of your departure and get a spot on Sawbill. There are no "bad" sites - it's a beautiful area. Sawbill has great walleye fishing that is overlooked because people are moving through. So, grab a spot on Sawbill and, with your kayak, you could move all over its beautiful bays and you could easily do the portage to Alton, which has walleye and would be fun in a kayak (windy and big water).

Unless you head over the magic number of four portages into lakes that are accessible from other EPs only by the magic number four, you're going to see people - lots of people chilling and doing what you're doing. I think it's cool. The BWCA "crowds" are not an issue, but as others have said, finding a campsite can be. But with all the options and beauty of that area, I really think you'll be ok.

Here's another thought: Crescent Lake Forest Service has beautiful walk-in sites. Some can be reserved and others are first come, first served. You could day-paddle up Baker Lake EP39 and fish around that area, as well as Crescent. Baker also has a pretty campground with three sites.

From Sawbill, another easy portage option would be Kelso (no walleye, but easy to get there in a kayak and so pretty). It's a great area. "Crowds" are relative. Everyone is trying to get away in July. Just go and enjoy it. Wear your pfd! ;)
member (5)member
07/12/2019 02:09PM
Thanks everyone for your advice! Ive decided to rent a kevlar canoe and go for it. Also it will definitely allow me to carry more of my gear and portage further distance if needed.

Now the question is towards Burnt lake or Phoebe lake?

Again lots of great advice from all who responded here. And yep, going to wear my pfd the entire time.

thanks again
07/12/2019 04:42PM

I'm sure you will appreciate the Kevlar canoe on the portages. Just a suggestion - don't overload yourself. Too much stuff is the #1 lesson first-timers mention after their trip. Do you plan to double portage? I think it's the most common method and probably best as a plan on your first trip.

I haven't been across the Lady Chain - Hazel, Phoebe, Grace, Beth - but it's on my list of trips to do from Kawishiwi to Sawbill. One year it was the short option but with good weather we opted to loop north through Little Saganaga.

Hope you have good weather. Have fun!
distinguished member(2255)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
07/12/2019 05:27PM
minnmike: "I haven't fished the burnt, smoke, flame lakes but I can tell you than according to the MN DNR Lake Finder there are no walleye in Flame Lake. "
That may well be what the survey says, but there are plenty of past threads that suggest otherwise. I'm not good enough of a fisherman to say whether the walleye fishing would be better on the smoke/flame/burnt side or over on the lady chain, but from a purely visual standpoint I'd take the lady chain side. Because of a couple of tougher portages, I'd think it would be less crowded that the easily accessible smoke/burnt/flame.
Guest Paddler
07/12/2019 10:30PM
sns: "If you take the Yak get a good yoke to help carry it!"

I agree. There is a forum about kayak yokes in the "gear forum." I recently portaged a kayak across 180 rod portage with a home-made yoke and I do not recommend it!
member (22)member
07/13/2019 05:16PM
Sawbill, Smoke and Burnt are BUSY lakes. Had 8 canoes stop at my site on Burnt looking for place to camp. People were loud too. Will never stay on Burnt again. There were at least 3 walleye in Flame last August.
Manbearpig lol love that episode
member (5)member
07/13/2019 05:22PM
Hmm do you recommend I go on the lady chain? How was the fishing?
member (5)member
07/20/2019 11:47AM

here is a video of my trip if anyone is interested.
distinguished member (489)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
07/20/2019 12:49PM
Thanks for sharing. Looks like you really enjoyed the time!
07/20/2019 02:24PM
Nice video. Thanks for sharing. What did you end up doing for a route?
07/20/2019 07:20PM
Thanks for the video; looks like you really enjoyed your trip.
member (5)member
07/21/2019 10:36AM
sawbill to burnt
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