Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Geofisher's Excellent Adventure - Basswood Lake Fishing
by GeoFisher

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 05/20/2010
Entry & Exit Point: Quetico
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 6
Trip Introduction:
This is my basecamp trip to Quetico for 2010.
Part 1 of 3
Quetico Trip – Spring 2010 Basswood Lake

May 21st – May 29thth 2010

Day 1: Friday, May 21st, 2010 Headed to Cigar Island

The Crew:

GeoFisher, GadgetMan, Eddie_M, John_H, Wayne_E, Caleb_E.

After years of listening to theBassMan30, ProffittMan, and GadgetMan talk about the FANTASTIC fishing in and around the Basswood Lake area, I decided to put a trip together. In reality, I had been talking to GadgetMan, Eddie, and John_H about a trip for a few years, and this year was a perfect time to try to do it.

MadNat, my normal partner over the past 5 trips could not go, so this was an opportunity for me to try my best at robo fishing once again.

Our initial plan was to enter the park on Saturday. Those plans started to change once we hit Superior, WI. At breakfast, GadgetMan started talking about entering the park early. I really didn’t like the idea, and also didn’t think we’d be able to get our permits changed. Not only that, but our outfitter was not expecting us until the next day.

After spending an hour or so on the phone, Canadian Border Outfitters (CBO), our outfitter thought they could work us into the afternoon schedule. They even offered to call the ranger for us and get our permits changed.

So, after 5 or 6 phone calls to CBO, everything was arranged. They were able to secure a new permit, get the rental Penobscot 17 ready and secure tow drivers. CBO is a GREAT outfitter.

We thought that if we could leave CBO no later than 2:00pm or 3:00pm, we would have plenty of time to get through the ranger station and paddle to North Bay, our destination for our Base Camp.

We loaded up and headed to Prairie Portage around 2:00pm and were checking in at the Ranger Station by 3:15pm. Part of the deal with changing our plans was that we would have to wait for a while at Prairie Portage for the tow drivers returning from Lincoln Island. This worked out pretty well, but the wait at Prairie Portage was longer than I had expected.

The tow to Lincoln Island was a lot longer than I had expected. Once we arrived there, I was glad we decided to hit the water early. The wind was blowing around 6mph from the south, and it pushed us to Cigar Island.

At Cigar Island, we started setting up camp. I was not too keen with picking this site initially, but by the end of the week, I had decided that this was in fact a pretty good, centrally located site, and it allowed us to make good fishing decisions all week, including multiple daytrips to various other lakes.

On most trips, the first night in the park is reserved for “MONSTER STEAK” night. Well, the steaks were still frozen, so we opted for something else. Instead of steaks, I made cheesy enchiladas. The meal is a chicken helper meal that I changed a little by replacing the rice with minute rice. Instead of 25 – 30 minutes of cook time I can generally get this done in 10 minutes. These are served wrapped in a flour tortilla, with a glob of nacho cheese and a couple splashes of chipotle Tabasco sauce. This is one of my favorite meals in the Boundary Waters.

Day 2: Saturday, May 22nd, 2010 Fishing North Bay

Saturday started off bright and early. Actually, it was not too early. In years past, we’d be up by 4:00am and on the water by 5:00am. This year, that would not be the case. While I did get up pretty early every morning, it took nearly an hour to get our stuff together, brew a few pots of coffee, and have breakfast before we were ready to go fishing. This was completely fine by me. I’m no longer a robo fisherman……I’m a camper, and I’m completely content with being a camper.

On this trip, we also planned the food a little differently. Everyone was responsible for their own breakfasts, lunches and snacks. The exception was 2 group breakfasts of pancakes and bacon.

For breakfast, most in the group brought really simple stuff. I did too.

I’m not too keen on cooking every morning for breakfast, and I’m also not too keen on eating breakfast bars. For that reason, I brought along some Mountain House freeze dried eggs with red and green peppers, and ham. This was much better than I expected, and I will definitely be taking it in the future.

For lunches and snacks, I also chose to be very simple. My lunches and snacks consisted of the following for each day: 1 cup of peanut m & m’s, 4 small Slim Jim snacks, 2 Clif Bars, and 1 payday bar. Even with those slim pickings for snacks and lunch, I still had food left over.

Most of the other members of the crew took a variety of meals, including stable tuna, cheese and summer sausage, bagels, peanut butter and jelly, and various other items. Caleb_E even brought a loaf of bread, which travelled pretty well in the vittles vault.

Fishing for the day started out pretty good, but it was apparent that the majority of smallmouth bass had already started their spawning ritual. We did manage to catch quite a few fish, including lots of northern pike a few largemouth bass, a ton of smallmouth bass, and a couple whitefish. We even managed to catch a couple early trip walleye.

Everyone made it back to camp around 6:00pm, and since the steaks were still frozen we decided to have walleye for dinner. Earlier in the day, we decided as a group that if anyone caught a walleye, they should bring it back for dinner. Dave caught a really decent 4 or 5lb walleye and the other guys brought back a couple smallmouth bass.

So for dinner, instead of steaks, we had blackened smallmouth and walleye, 4 cheese instant potatoes, and cornbread stovetop stuffing. As an added bonus, we had a peanut butter/chocolate dessert, with a crust made from Oreo cookies. Talk about GOOD EATS.

After dinner we sat around the campfire for an hour or so, had some cigars, and started making plans for the next day.

Day 3: Sunday, May 23rd, 2010 Fishing Neil Island/Nest Lake

After fishing around the eastern shore of North Bay, we decided to hit the areas around Neil Island and potentially portage a couple lakes, looking for better fishing. While the northern bite had been pretty good, the smallmouth bass were running a little small, and we wanted to try to pattern some larger fish.

Sunday was one of our planned pancake breakfast days. While the guys were anxiously waiting to hit the water, I believe they really liked pancakes in the Boundary Waters. Eddie_M also figured out that if you use some oil to fry the stable bacon, you can make it feel, taste, and look EXACTLY like real bacon. This definitely jazzes up the stable stuff, making it really crispy.

After breakfast, we headed out fishing. Wayne_E and Caleb_E went to bed after breakfast, and ended up fishing around North Bay, but not until a little later. I think they said they got up and going around 10 or 11 am. By that time, we had already caught 30 or 40 smallmouth.

On the backside of Neil Island, there are many areas where you can catch some serious smallmouth bass. We also caught some serious northern pike and some largemouth bass.

We knew we’d have to eat the monster steaks tonight, so we decided to not catch and keep any walleye. We did manage to catch some eyes, and they would have been fantastic in the oil, but the steaks would not wait another night.

After fishing half the day around Neil Island, we decided to portage into a no name lake and then into Nest lake. The no name lake was sterile. I don’t believe there are any fish there, because the lake is pretty shallow. If there are any fish in the lake, I suspect they are small. We did manage to see some fry, but nothing to write home about.

After completing the 18 and 20 rod portages into Nest Lake, we started fishing the area. GadgetMan and I took one bank, while John_H and Eddie_M took the other bank. We fished the area for about 1 hour and determined the lake really was not the type of lake that we needed to be targeting for smallmouth bass. GadgetMan and I fished half way down the lake and then started paddling across the lake to meet up with Eddie_M and John_H. After meeting up with them and eating a quick snack, we all decided to head back to North Bay.

Once in North Bay, Eddie_M and John_H went back to their “honey hole” and managed to catch a few additional smallmouth bass to pad the numbers. GadgetMan and I headed back to camp to get a fire going and start preparing our steak feast.

When GadgetMan and I reached camp, Wayne_E and Caleb_E were already building a fire using the cedar logs we had found the night before. The steaks were prepared using my “secret spices” and set aside to allow the spices to work their magic. While the steaks were marinating, I prepared the vegetables we also brought for dinner.

In years past, I’ve taken potatoes and onions and baked them in the fire. This year, I wanted to do something different, so I purchased 2 different packages or frozen medley vegetables from Schwann’s. These packages included potatoes, broccoli, zucchini, celery, squash, carrots, and onions. The veggies were already seasoned. All I added to the mix was a healthy amount of olive oil to keep them moist.

After Eddie_M and John_H made it back to camp, we put the veggies on the grill, which had to also be packed in because grills are not provided in the park. I grilled the veggies for 10 minutes on each side, pulled them to the side of the fire, and then completely covered the grill with the 8 pounds of rib eye steaks we packed into the park.

I think the guys will all agree that steaks in the Boundary Waters are fantastic. I’ve thought about not bringing them because of the hassle factor, but I’m glad I do. By bringing frozen vegetables, I’ve eliminated some of that hassle.

After dinner, most of the guys sat around the fire smoking cigars. Eddie_M smoked a cigar and worked on a “fix” for his broken fly rod. A solution was found and he was able to use it the rest of the trip…..I don’t believe he caught a single fish using the fly rod.

The food coma lasted well into the next morning. 

Day 4: Monday, May 24th, 2010 Lost Bay

Around the fire the previous night, we decided to head to Lost Bay to fish. It was also decided that we should be up early to try for the non existent early bite. This would be the earliest start we’d get all week.

I got up around 5:0am and started the 2 pots of coffee which we made every morning.

Coffee on this trip was done a little differently than I’ve done in the past. If I was planning a deep looping type trip, I’d never pack it the way I did on this trip, but since it was a base camp type trip, I opted for real perk coffee pots and real coffee.

We packed in two perk coffee pots, and I used 4 cup filter packets to perk the coffee. In the smaller 8 cup pot, we used 2 filter packs, and in the 10 cup pot, we used 3 filter packs. Since we didn’t have a fire ban, the filter packs were burned with the evening fire. This is by far the best way I’ve done coffee up there, but it takes some time, and the filter packs take some room. If you’re willing to pack it in and take the time to perk, it produces a great cup of coffee.

I think everyone though we’d run out of coffee, including me. I brought enough of the prepackaged coffee to make 3 pots a day, with 2 extra pots. GadgetMan also brought a pound of coffee that he used in his coffee press, and I believe Wayne_E and Caleb_E also packed in a pound of coffee. When it was all said and done, I believe GadgetMan packed out at least half a pound of coffee, I packed out enough coffee for 10 pots, and Wayne_E and Caleb_E didn’t even open the pound of coffee they packed into the park. With all the coffee drinking going on, I also packed 1 extra 20 oz bottle of white gas and 2 iso-butane bottles that can be used for my lantern or as a backup fuel system for my stoves.

After brewing coffee, I used the spare stove to fire up a pot of boiling water. Most everyone had oatmeal for breakfast, while I had another Mountain House freeze dried egg meal. I think those will definitely be making trips in the future. I normally don’t like most freeze dried stuff, but the eggs worked well. On future trips, I may take some flour tortilla wraps, and make a breakfast burrito with a shot of chipotle to get it going. Also, I think 1 pack is enough for 2 people.

After breakfast, we hit the lake. It looked like we were going to get some rain, and we actually put on our raingear before getting into the canoes. Once in the canoes and paddling we started seeing lightening and heard some thunder. We paddled over to the closest shore, and hugged it for a few minutes, as the storm passed to the south. Normally, we’d get out of the canoes and head to shore, but this small cell passed quickly. After this particular cell passed, we didn’t have any other rain for the day. It did stay partly cloudy for most of the morning, and that lead to some spectacular fishing.

On May 24th, 2010 at 6:31am……….fish time….GadgetMan caught a 5lb smallmouth bass off a submerged point. That particular fish would be 1 of 2 confirmed 5lb smallmouth bass that GadgetMan has caught in the park.

There have been other 5lb smallmouth bass caught, some confirmed, some not. This fish was confirmed on 2 different digital scales. It simply amazes me to hear stories of multiple 5lb smallmouth bass that are caught in the park, only to learn the 5lb mark was determined by a formula. No formula works.

I’ve been going to the Boundary Waters and Quetico for over 10 years and have caught a ton of fish up there. And I’ve never caught a 5lb smallmouth bass in the Boundary Waters. I have caught at least 100 fish over 4lbs and quite a few over 4.5lbs, but none over 5. They are special.

Fishing turned out to be better than average, and we managed to catch nearly 80 fish for the day.

Everyone was catching fish. Wayne_E and Caleb_E were not fishing nearly as much as the other 4, but they were still catching serious numbers. Eddie_M and John_H were also catching some serious numbers of fish. Smallmouth bass, northern pike and largemouth bass were being caught by everyone.

This day was a planned fish meal, so everyone needed to bring back a fish or 2 for dinner.

Everyone caught fish all day, and Lost Bay was loaded with largemouth bass.  GadgetMan and I could have easily caught well over 100 fish in Lost Bay, but I had some serious problems sealing the deal.

I don’t know if I was tired, or if it was the hook or the tube or what, but I missed at least 30 fish in a row. I was sick and getting frustrated. I really think I simply was tired, and not getting a good hook set.

After 2 hours of missing fish, I finally got back in the game and caught a couple fish. Needless to say, GadgetMan cleaned my clock on that particular day. Most other days, I kept up with him fishing, but Lost Bay put a whipping on me.

We continued to fish hard all day and started keeping fish around 5:00pm for dinner.

We managed to catch a few for dinner and then headed back to camp.

When we rounded the point of the island, I noticed another canoe at the campsite. The rangers were visiting. I’ve never been checked by the Canadian rangers, so this was a first for me. The only potential violation had to deal with fish. GadgetMan and I had 4 fish on our stringer. We were not legal, but based on the spirit of the law, we were OK. Basically, Eddie_M and John_H were having problems catching a couple smallmouth bass for dinner. GadgetMan and I caught our 2 fish and then caught 2 more and put them on our stringer. In reality we should have given them to Eddie_M and John_H and put them on their stringer…….better yet, we could have let them starve…….That is a mistake I’m not going to make in the future. A game violation in Quetico pretty much means you’re never going to get a permit again. Rules are rules, and in this case I broke the rule. Enough said.

When we got up to camp the rangers check our permits, and our fishing licenses, asked about cans and bottles, etc, etc.

The rangers were a little flustered, mostly because the female in the group was nearly half naked when she came around the corner. I was not there when they paddled up to our camp, but I suspect they didn’t expect to find a camp there.  Well they did. This was one of the hottest trips I’ve been on in long time, and it was evident by the ranger having her shirt off and paddling in her sports bra…..OOPS…….

After they left, we cleaned the fish, prepared the sides of stovetop and potatoes, and then Eddie_M and I fried and blackened the smallmouth bass. After dinner, I fired up my Old Scout reflector oven, and baked some banana nut bread.

Day 5: Tuesday, May 25th, 2010 Switching Fishing Partners

Even though pretty much everyone on the trip was able to catch fish, and all members and fishing partners were doing pretty good, GadgetMan and I, being the most experienced of the 6 in the Boundary Waters decided to split up and take Eddie_M and John_H out fishing to show them some additional techniques. Wayne_E and Caleb_E stayed together and went back to the Lost Bay area to stick some more of those angry largemouth bass.

We didn’t start as early as we did the day previous but we were still on the water by around 7:00am. I don’t remember a whole lot about the fishing, but I do remember this…..almost immediately, GadgetMan caught a serious walleye. It was probably 6 or 7lbs, but no one will know since we didn’t weigh it and we didn’t ever clean it. We had planned on cleaning the fish, but it was too early in the day and too hot through the week to take the fish, and drag it around all day and then clean it at the end of the day. We decided to “deep 6” the fish. We tied a long rope to the stringer and put the fish off a point that dropped into 30-40 of water. We figured that would keep the fish alive and allow us to clean it later. That would never happen.

John_H and I still managed to catch 30 or 40 fish, while Eddie_M and Dave hammered them on the rocky shores of North Bay.

Did I mention that Basswood is pretty much covered with fantastic smallmouth habitat? I’ve fished a lot of areas around the eastern end of the park…… Saganaga, Saganagons, the Falls Chain, Ester, Hanson, Fish, Gift, Link, Ottertrack, and many other lakes. By far, Basswood Lake beats those areas hands down for serious smallmouth habitat.

John_H and I fished hard until about 1:00 or 2:00 pm and then went back to camp for a few hours of much needed rest. After a few hours of rest, and while the other guys were still out fishing, John_H and I decided to head back out.

The weather didn’t look too bad…..some clouds were forming, but nothing to get worried about.

John_H and I paddled across from the island, about half a mile away, and hit the northern passage around Neil Island. We only planned on fishing until dark, so this was a quick and easy spot to fish for the evening.

Our plans were quickly spoiled when I noticed some ugly dark blue/black clouds coming from the north east. This looked like a small cell and we figured it would blow through the area. It started to sprinkle……then it started to rain…… then it started to pour. John_H and I managed to get our rain gear on but not before we were thoroughly soaked. Not only was it pouring down rain, the wind started to pick up.

John_H and I could not feel the full force of the blow because we were tucked in pretty good. From what I understand though, it was pretty bad. Fortunately we were tucked into a small cove and the worst part of the wind could not get to use. This was mainly due to the way the channel behind Neil Island is situated.

The rain slowed down a little and John_H and I decided that we should start to head back. Indecision set in. I was not too sure that the storm cell was really a small cell, and I could not see past the hills to see exactly what was coming.

We started paddling back towards the chute and were immediately hit with straight line winds that were pretty hard to paddle in. Instead of continuing up the chute, we found a small, protected cut with some overhanging trees. We put the canoe sideways into the cut and held onto the trees for about 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, the wind died down and we decided we needed to make a run for it. John_H got his GPS out and determined that we were 6 tenths of a mile from camp. We figured we could make that in about 10 minutes, and had a good opportunity to make it back to camp in this “calm before the storm”.

We paddled the chute, and then hit the open water of North Bay. This area is the half mile expanse between Cigar Island and Neil Island. The wind had completely died down. After a few minutes of paddling and half way across the expanse, it started to thunder and lightening all around us. I’m not talking about a little. It was CRACKING all around. I’ve been scared before but this scared the living crap out of me.

John_H and I dug in for 10 solid minutes, paddling like hell to get to Cigar Island. We made it and neither of us was cooked so I feel good about that.

In camp, the others described the serious nature of the storm we had just missed. All the guys in camp felt the full brunt of the storm. GadgetMan told me later that this was the worse wind blow he had ever experienced in the Boundary Waters. They estimated 50 or 60 mile winds. The worse part was the fact that had John_H and I left when I initially though we should have, we would have been hit by the 50-60 mph wind that shifted and shot directly south east. Broadside to where we were paddling. We surely would have been hammered, and most likely would have been in a serious situation. I’m glad we didn’t.

At this point I have to give kudos to the Cooke Custom Sewing Tundra Tarp that I purchased just for this trip. All the guys figured my tarp was toast, but it held up like a champ. It took the brunt of the wind. A couple of the tie down ropes broke but the tarp never ripped, and no tie down points pulled out. If this is not a testament to how great these tarps are…….nothing is. Not only that, we didn’t lose any gear off the campsite.

Since the weather was really bad, no one the group went over to the point to get the walleye that we had caught earlier. We all agreed that it would be fine for the next day, and we’d get it for dinner tomorrow.

For dinner, I whipped up a quick pot of red beans and rice. We used the leftover tortilla wraps and flatbread to go along with the meal.