Fishguts 2008 Quetico Chronicles
This trip was long in the planning stage, and was on hold while I recovered from a heart attack in the spring of 2007. We started planning in earnest when the cardiologist gave us the O.K. Originally this was to be a father son trip with a good friend of mine and his son, but that didn’t pan out and it became just my son Thomas And I.
On June 16th we flew from Medford, Oregon to Seattle, changed planes, and continued on to Minneapolis. We rented a can and drove to Gardner, MN and stayed the night in the Super 8 Motel near Cabelas. June 17th. We had breakfast at a Denny’s Diner, all chrome and 50’s stuff, and headed over to Cabelas for the 8AM door opening. We shopped for an entire 2 hours getting: head nets, Fishing lures, pole, reel, line, insect repellant, T-shirts, sun glasses…..and more fishing gear.
Later on we met with Mark and went over the maps of our trip, checked out our 2 packs with all the gear and food. The office at Jordan’s has been re-modeled and is very professional looking. Mark added up our bill and Thomas paid it. The bill was less than we had thought, but the tow across Lac Lacroix was more than we expected due to gas prices. Thomas and I were getting ready to leave for town and we stopped by the office. Mark and the crew were having dinner in the kitchen (Walleye) and they gave us both a bite…..Yum! Good stuff! We went into town and picked up some tube baits at V.N. Outfitters and then went to dinner at Sir “G”’s (good Italian).
We spent the night in one of Jordan’s Bunk Rooms. It was pleasant with 2 of us in a 4-man room. We slept soundly and it got quite cool in the night so we enjoyed snuggling in the sleeping bags in the bunk beds.
June 18th. I woke up early at 5:30 AM and the sun was up. We had a leisurely pancake and sausages breakfast with coffee, syrup and orange juice. About 8 AM we loaded up the Jordan’s van with our 3 packs, 3 paddles, 3 poles, canoe seats, life vests and cameras and Mark drove us out the Echo Trail to Crane Lake. We had a 10 AM tow scheduled. We got to Scott’s Marina at 9:30 AM and our Zup’s driver was waiting for us. We had thought we were going on the Dawson Portage, but Zup’s put us on the Jet boat. We were by ourselves just Thomas and I that big jet boat.
Zup’s driver took us down Little Vermillion Lake to the Loon River and the two mechanical portages by the Loon River rapids, Beatty Portage and into Lac Lacroix and the short ride to Zup’s Resort. We purchased our fishing licenses here and Mark Zup issued us our Quetico Permit and took our camping fees. This saved us a trip to the Lac Lacroix Ranger Station. There seem to be few people going into Quetico this year so they have the time to treat us like kings. I bought a red Zup’s T-shirt.
While we were in the resort, they had moved our gear from the Jet boat to one of Zup’s smaller boats, and we had a new driver. She took us across Lac Lacroix and up the Brewer River to the Brewer Rapids. Our driver was able to navigate slowly up the lower rapids to the first big Brewer Rapids and Portage. She did a great job in the high water conditions, and we gratefully gave her a tip. As soon as the boat pulled away we noticed that we were being eaten by a swarm of mosquitoes. We madly searched through the packs for some Bug Juice!
Then it was time for our first portage. It was a short one and we single portaged it. The driver had warned us to watch out for the currant at the top of the rapids, so we did and had no problems. We paddled across Brewer Lake to the big rapids coming out of McAree Lake. There is a campsite right on the portage between Brewer and McAree Lakes and a party with 2 tents and lots of gear occupied it. There was no one in camp, so we hurried across to get out of there…..they had partially blocked the McAree end of the portage with one of their aluminum canoes. We then paddled across McAree Lake through a couple of narrows to Pond Lake. On McAree we saw some people, the last people we were to see for 6 straight days. There is usually a portage into Pond Lake but with the high water we just paddled through.
We were getting hungry so when we reached the portage into Little Gratton we had lunch first. Summer sausage, tortillas, mustard and lemon drink with water we got from the middle of McAree. The Gratton “Long Haul” portage or “Gratton Death March” is one of those Quetico Experiences…beware of portages with names. We decided to double portage this one in stages…carry one load about half way then go back for the second load. This is a 220-rod portage with all the best Quetico has to offer: mud, swamp, steep hills and rock gardens to thread your way through. We had a hard time guessing where the half waypoint was and ended up doing it in 3 stages. Oh! I forgot to mention the nest of downed trees totally blocking the portage about half way across. It was long and difficult but we made it across OK! At least it wasn’t hot!
Dinner was an 8oz. Steak each with garlic mashed potatoes and corn with a nice chocolate pudding for dessert. We were stuffed! We did the dishes and took off to fish top water largemouth bass. We caught about 25 largemouth bass. Thomas caught the largest one on a Hula Popper, I did well with a Skitter Pop. This top water fishing is great fun. Sometimes the fish don’t strike at the lure until it is almost up to the canoe. We got back to camp and had a fire and went to bed.
19th. I woke up refreshed! Fog was on the lake and the water was clear as glass. Thomas slept in; I woke him later for breakfast, 2 kinds of bacon, regular and Canadian, coffee, and pancakes. We are going to do the dishes, pack up and fish our way through Little Gratton, Wicksteed, and Darky to Ballard.
We had a great fishing day getting to Ballard Lake. We started out from our campsite on Little Gratton and fished over to the creek coming in from Gratton. We caught 20 or so Largemouth Bass and Thomas caught a big northern right at Gratton Creek. Then we made the 35-rod portage into Wicksteed Lake where we started to catch Smallmouth Bass. We caught a ton of Smallmouth and on everything, poppers, Countdown Rapalas, stick baits…big ones, medium ones and little ones. Thomas caught a 29-inch Northern Pike and I caught a smaller one on a popper! That’s quite exciting! We went into a bay of Wicksteed that was supposed to have Largemouth Bass, but all we caught were more Smallmouth Bass. We got hungry so we headed across the lower section of Wicksteed to find a lunch spot. We finally found a spot down near the portage into Darky Lake. We had cheese and rye crisp with mustard & Mayo with pineapple-orange drink & gorp. Just off our lunch spot were lots of Smallmouth nesting circles on the lake bottom. The fish lay their eggs in cleared off area and the male guards the area and will attack anything that comes into the area…. Including our lures. After lunch we paddled over to the portage into Darky Lake, 45 rods and very muddy….Black sucking Moose Mud that might pull your shoes off. We rinsed off a little and continued down Darky past the campsite with the log couch and down to the 16-rod portage into Ballard Lake. This was a steep uphill portage with a waterfall besides the trail. Ballard is a dead-end lake with little traffic and big walleyes. The only campsite is seldom used and not fancy. We took a while to find a spot for the tent. It doesn’t look like anyone has camped here for 5 years or more, but we’ll make it work. The solitude is nice. We rested up, and had an inspection from the resident woodpecker and seagull. The gull has a rock off our site with a nest on it. We are thinking about an early dinner so we can have time to fish afterwards.
We had Curry-Chicken for dinner with an extra pouch of chicken from Fred Meyers at home. With the curry we had peas, lemon drink and lemon pie. We ate it all! We did dishes and hung the food pack and went fishing. We had heard that Ballard has big Walleyes around our island so we trolled around the island 3 times, using different lures at different depths…..nothing! So we broke out the Hula Popper and top water lures and had a blast catching Largemouth Bass along the south shore. We fished until dark with a beautiful sunset. We saw 2 seagulls attacking a Bald Eagle. The eagle roosted in a tree across from our camp and the seagulls continued to dive at him. The eagle would open his beak and lunge at them when they swooped by. We went to bed right after we got back to camp, there were too many bugs and we were too tired for a fire.
Now we started the route into William Lake. There are 4 portages, the first and last are easy….the middle two are tough! With lots of up & down climbs, Moose Mud, and tippy rocks. In between the portages is a beautiful river with water lilies and wild rice. We saw 3 deer along this route. The last being a doe and fawn just as we reached William. It was interesting with the high water things had changed. The river and rapids were full, Cloverleaf lake was full and when we got to the last portage into William the beavers had built a new dam and we paddled right through. We saw a beaver here that slapped the water with his tail when he saw us.
Being on William we were eager to see if the old 5 Star Campsite was empty. We paddled down towards the island, no one seemed to be there….empty! Great! As we were setting up camp the clouds kept increasing and we started to hear thunder to the west, so we put up the tent and rain fly and got camp ready for a storm. And the storm came through thunder, rain but no lightning. The storm passed through and there were still a lot of dark thunderheads rolling by….we weren’t sure if it was finished. It wasn’t we had one more set of showers go through and then it cleared and we decided to have dinner. We had potatoes (mashed) and beef with gravy (mostly gravy) and peas with blue berry cobbler for dessert. We ate all of the dinner but saved the cobbler for later and went fishing.
We fished almost all the way to the east end of William and caught a lot of fish, Walleyes, Northerns and Smallmouth Bass. Thomas caught a keeper Walleye about 18 inches and a big Northern, and a huge Smallmouth, maybe 5 Lbs. It was very dark and fat. When we were down near the end of William we looked back towards camp and saw a huge thunderhead coming so we started paddling back. It was a long paddle but we thought we would make it. We stopped at the island next to our camp to fillet our Walleyes. That took about 8 minutes. Then we went to paddle the short way back to our island, when it started to rain…then it started to pour….then it started to rain cats and dogs, with us madly paddling…we had left our rain gear back in camp. In that short downpour we got drenched! When we got back we started a nice fire and watched the rest of the storm pass by with us hunkered by the fire. Towards the last of the storm there was a huge rainbow. We finished the day sitting by the fire eating blueberry cobbler.