Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

North Side Quetico - In at Sue falls, Out at Nym
by hexnymph

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 05/23/2009
Entry Point: Quetico
Exit Point: Quetico  
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 4
Trip Introduction:
This is a trip that almost didnt happen for me. I put my back out a month before the trip and I was barely able to walk. After weeks of chiropractor visits, painful walks, and later hikes, I was starting to think I might be able to make the trip. The rest of the crew was periodically contacting me to see check on my condition. ReelHappy had indicated that if I wasnt able to make it they would probably not be going either. I really wanted to go but was scared I would get hurt while out there. pghportager had generously offered to portage the canoe if Id give up the stern and paddle bow. I was a little reluctant but realized I could get a lot more fishing time in when I wasnt worried about steering the canoe. I was in no condition to be carrying an extra 40 pounds on my recently injured back so I took him up on his offer. A friend of mine has had a similar back condition. He had been on a trip to the Boundary Waters the summer before. To help keep is posture straight while sitting in the canoe he used an item called a Nad-a-Chair. He offered to lend it to me for the trip. It is basically a padded belt that fits around your lower back with two loops that fit around your knees when you are in a sitting position. The pull from the straps on your knees supports your lower back. If you notice images of me with what appears to be a fanny-pack, thats the Nad-a-Chair. It is strictly for function and not fashion. Had I not had it during the trip I think our trip would have been cut short. The extra back support was a life saver on. On May 21st I found myself waiting for the crew at the Soo Locks in the upper peninsula. pghportager, ReelHappy, and PennPaddler arrived after a long night of driving from Pittsburgh. We crossed the boarder and headed north. That is the second time Ive been on that particular stretch of highway along Lake Superior and I enjoyed it just as much as the first time. By the time we reached Thunder Bay, we had all ready seen two moose, a bear, and a fox. The trip was off to a good start. In Thunder Bay we stopped off for some last minute essentials and to pick up some steaks to pay our outfitter back for surprising us with steaks the previous year. We didnt stick around Thunder Bay very long and were soon on the road again. The last leg of the drive seemed to go on forever. We were all anxious to get out and start organizing our gear and have enough time to relax and catch up. The sun was just beginning to set when we arrived at the outfitter. He was tied up with some friends of his when we arrived so we made ourselves comfortable by unloading our gear and cracking open a couple of our home-brews. As we milled about our packs I heard the call of nature so I headed for the room with a view. On my way back from the outhouse I caught something out of the corner of my eye. On the ground before me was a little, almost invisible, mushroom that I had all ready spent weeks hunting around home. I quickly bent down, snatching it up, and hurried over to the guys. They could tell I found something I was excited about by the look on my face. When I reached them I held out my hand and opened it for them to behold a black morel. After several attempts to find more we ended up with enough for a snack to go with the steak and potatoes. They were delicious.
Day 1 of 8
Saturday, May 23, 2009

A cold cloudy day greeted us as we emerged from out tents at the outfitters. A little wind and the possibility of rain threatened us as we inventoried our gear one last time. We stopped at a small diner for the last bacon and eggs we would see in a week. By the time we were finished the sky had cleared up and everything was looking a bit more promising.

When we reached Lerome Lake, our put in, the sun was shining and the wind had died down. The beginning of spring was apparent by the warmth of the sun and the slightest hint of the forest around us greening up. As per our tradition we wasted no time in stepping into the cold lake to begin our week of wet feet. Once in the canoes we made our way south toward our destination of Sue Falls.

While crossing Lerome Lake each of us tried our luck with the fish. pghportager was the first one to have any success. Shortly before we arrive at the portage out of the lake he had landed a walleye using a blue shad-rap. The next lake, and unnamed lake, ReelHappy managed two small pike and by the next lake, Bewag Lake, everyone was catching pike.

On Lark Lake we didn’t manage to catch anything but as my memory serves me, it was a rather shallow lake full of snags and weeks. After portaging into Cole Lake we slowed our pace and took in the sights. The narrows that entered the lake had evidence of manmade structures in the form of old submerged dams and what may have been docks or bridges at one time. As we rounded a bend into the main part of the lake we were able to get fairly close to an eagle perched above us that nervously watched as we approached it. Just before we passed underneath it, it dropped out of the tree, opened its wings, and took off toward the main body of the lake. It still amazes me how large eagles can get and how small I feel when I get a close encounter like that.

Once into the main body of the lake we began to fish again. We trolled lures till we reached the narrows on the southwest shore that led to Sue Lake. I managed to hook into a laker before we reached those narrow. It wasn’t the biggest laker but I was glad I caught something other than a pike.

We traveled through the narrows and across Sue Lake to the portage around Sue Falls. The portage was fairly clear and mostly down hill so it wasn’t terrible. Along the way, while the portage nears the river we caught glimpses of people paddling on the river. They looked to be day tripping since they didn’t have much gear and we figured we would be seeing them on Cirrus Lake but we never saw them again. On the lakes we had just crossed we did see a few cabins so they may have been coming from one of them.

Once we reached the end of the portage pghportager and I were eager to get into the canoes and fish the base of the falls but it was only a shallow river. The falls come crashing down the valley but they end upstream from the lake on Cirrus Creek. None the less we did fish along the river a little bit before heading upstream to check out the base of the falls. We managed to catch a couple smallmouth by the time ReelHappy and PennPaddler caught up to us.

To get to the base of the falls we had to beach the canoes and hike through a tangle of small trees and boulders. The falls were still worth the hike and we snapped a few pictures before heading back to the canoes.

Back on the water again, after checking out the falls, we decided to make camp. We picked a point across the bay from the falls as a camp. It was a small site but we didn’t need much room. After we set up our campsite we had a quick meal of gorp (good old raisins and peanuts plus a lot of added variety including M&Ms) paired with some chunks of cheese and summer sausage. Then it was time to catch dinner. 

pghportager and I set off north into the bay toward the falls again while ReelHappy and PennPaddler headed south deeper into Cirrus Lake. I rigged up a gold and black Husky Jerk and cast it off to the side as we trolled around the bay. I believe pghportager was using the blue shad rap that had landed him a walleye earlier in the day. The narrows by the campsite was shallow and both pghportager and I struggled to keep our lures off the bottom and any snags as we paddled through them. We then passed by a small island and started to circle around the perimeter of the bay to the east. Once we started to travel away from the island my rod doubled back and I had a fish on. When I got it to the canoe and realized it was a smallmouth so I quickly hoisted it into the canoe. It was going to be part of our dinner.

pghportager continued to keep the canoe trolling while I fussed with unhooking the fish. Once I had the fish secure I cast the Husky Jerk back in the water. A few minutes passed before my rod doubled back again. This time I had a good idea that I hooked into another lake trout because each run it made was straight down. Before long I had the 21” laker in the canoe to join the smallmouth for dinner. I was starting to feel pretty good about my fishing prowess but little did I know it was only going to get better. 

pghportager had decided that it was time to switch up his tackle and try something else. While he was retying his line I decided to cast at shore and see what I could entice. On my second cast I had a fish slam the Husky Jerk right as I had retrieve the lure to the canoe. This fish caught me by surprise and was definitely full of spunk. I wrestled with it for a couple minutes trying not to horse it in but also trying to get what ever it was into the canoe. When I did manage to land it I was pleasantly surprised to have a 24” walleye in my hands. I felt like I was on top of the world.

pghportager and I continued to work our way around the bay after passing over the area I picked up the lake trout again. Things were going slow for a short while before I caught a small pike. It didn’t make the menu for dinner but it did put me at all 4 species I was attempting to catch in a matter of a couple hours. That’s right, I was still on top of the world and my head was only getting bigger. I did my best to keep that big head of mine under my hat and not gloat but it wasn’t easy. 

As we rounded the eastern end of the bay pghportager’s rod doubled back. The canoe came to a stop and pghportager hung on to his rod while I kept us steady. What ever he had on the other end of his line was not small as he could barely move it. It made one quick run, there was a loud snap, and pghportager’s line went limp. Monster pike? Loc Ness? We will never know.

By this time it was starting to get dark. pghportager rigged up his rod again and we trolled back towards camp. Just as we passed through the narrows in front of camp I had another fish on. I got it to the canoe in short order. It was a smaller walleye only around 12 inches so I let it go. Shortly after we reached the landing at our campsite we saw ReelHappy and PennPaddler returning from the southwest. They were fishless for the evening. I was still trying to contain my excitement… I’m not sure how I did now that I type this report months later.

That first night we fried up the fish and had a side of Macaroni and Cheese with bacon. The fish was good as always but I’ll have to admit, that was the first time we had the Mac and Cheese with bacon and I dearly hope it comes back on another trip. It really hit the spot. 

Just as we started to get back into the mentality of camping and really enjoy our surroundings, the starry clear night, and the camaraderie of good friends, we were blessed with a brief viewing of the Aurora Borealis. Day one was perfect!