Quetico Saganagons Boundary Point Base Camp Trip 2010 - June 19-24
The first thing evident during entry was the low water level. The water levels were about 4 ft below normal due to the lack of snow and rain this season. Fortunately the area had seen rain recently, so there was no fire ban. As you can see in this picture at the customs station, the dock is very low this year:
In fact, the second most dangerous part of the trip this year was navigating the sloped, slippery dock ramp. I am sure that dock will put an unfortunate damper on someone’s trip before the summer is over.
Unfortunately, ranger Janice was on a week-long break during our customs visit. We had a pleasant chat with her temporary substitute, Lisa, instead. She seemed like a very nice lady and reminded me a bit of my grandmother, although I have a feeling that she would not be as capable as Janice of pulling people out of the lake in rough weather.
A few observations on the 4 ft water level decrease: - Many bays were too shallow to be very productive. - Much of the shoreline structure is now out of the water. We had a tougher time finding fish (smallmouth) along the shoreline. - With less shoreline structure, it seems that there are less areas for baitfish to live. My concern is the impact that this may have on the long term health of the system. - Many creeks were now dried up - For some reason, fish did not seem to be in their usual locations. We caught northerns everywhere, particularly in traditional rocky smallmouth water, and walleyes in shallow water.
We had a peaceful paddle across Cache Bay and were greeting by a rainbow:
Our portage across Silver Falls went well:
We had decided earlier this year to base camp in the Boundary Point area of Saganagons Lake. Even though we had also stayed in this area last year, the weather was so bad that we didn’t really experience the area. This time, we camped on a 5 star campsite that some call the Bonsai Tree site (google earth coordinates: 48°17'52.64"N, 90°57'44.50"W).
This campsite has everything – great 360 degree view, excellent landing area, nice pads, developed fire ring with benches, stocked firewood supply, great central location in the lake, and good fishing from shore. The only negative was the onslaught of mosquitoes after sunset, but I am sure that all campsites had that this year. Although the bugs on the lake and on portages were never a problem due to the drier weather, for some reason the mosquitoes at camp after dark were horrendous. The constant loud hum outside of the tent at night was a bit disconcerting at first and I never did quite get used to that sound. The Permathin (for clothes) and Ultrathon (for skin) protected us well and, together with the head nets, we did OK.
The first full day we spent in the northern area of Saganagons. We had good fishing luck (primarily northerns) at the reef just east of the our big island (48°18'14.59"N, 90°56'24.48"W) – to those of you that have been there in previous years, surprisingly this reef was actually out of the water this year.
We saw the first of many bald eagles standing watch nearby:
We sighted about 25 bald eagles during the trip in different locations, much more than previous trips, although many of these were probably duplicate birds.
We then moved to the Rat Bay area. Although Rat Bay was too shallow to be very productive this year, we had excellent luck in the area (48°18'52.73"N, 90°56'8.94"W) just outside (west) of Rat Bay. We caught several nice smallmouths and northerns in this area.
Most of our fish were caught on spoons, Rapalas, and soft baits (Sluggos). For some reason, we didn’t have as much luck this year with jigs even with the 5 inch Gulp Leeches that we used.
We tried to enter Smalley Lake but the creek was too low to pass through, and we weren’t in the mood for slogging through the marsh.
We ended up detouring north to Bitchu. We saw a moose in the distance and had decent luck fishing, including two walleyes in shallow water. One strange thing in Bitchu – we found this log sticking up in 15 ft of water. I have no idea how that could have happened – to my knowledge it could not have been a living tree at one time, since the lake was not dammed.
The second day we went to the southern side of Saganagons and visited Moose Bay. We trolled Rapala deep jerk baits on the way there and back. Generally we didn’t have great luck trolling although this day we caught numerous fish, including at this location (48°17'51.37"N, 90°56'25.03"W) a nice 27 inch walleye caught by my son:
In Moose Bay we found a great spot (48°17'31.41"N, 90°55'54.28"W) which contained numerous large smallmouth and northern in very shallow water. At numerous times during this trip we both had fish on at the same time. In this bay, at the same time that I was battling a nice 23 inch smallmouth, my son was reeling in a small northern which subsequently was attacked by a much larger northern. This was an exciting time for us and one of those moments that makes such a trip well worth it.
We tried to visit Moose Bay Lake but, again, the creek was basically nonexistent and we weren’t going to blaze a trail through the marsh.
We saw something strange and unexplainable late in the day – while we were drifting with the wind, we were passed by a loon swimming against the wind at a high rate of speed. About 6 feet behind the loon, and moving at the same speed, was a circular white patch about 2 feet in diameter just under the water surface. Both of us saw this plainly. We thought maybe it was a second loon but it did not surface for the next few minutes. My son though that perhaps the loon was entangled in fishing line and a white trash bag, or something like that, but the loon appeared to be moving too fast to be entangled. It was strange and we still do not understand it.
We also saw an unusual sunset with 3 suns:
Quetico can be a mysterious place in many ways!
The third day we traveled west towards the Falls Chain. We didn’t make it that far, due to the good fishing. We caught a large number of fish just east of the Narrows area, but the real thrill was the “northern nursery” (48°17'52.03"N, 91° 0'12.94"W) that we stumbled upon. My son caught his largest fish ever there, a 37 inch northern:
This led to the most dangerous moment of the trip, due primarily to my stupidity. His northern had the spoon deep in its gills and my pliers was not quite long enough to reach it properly. I had two choices – rip it out of its throat and kill this nice northern, or cut the line and lose the last productive green/gold/silver spoon that we had. I choose a third choice – reach in with my hand and free the spoon. Stop me if you know where this is headed. I reached in, freed the spoon quickly, and pulled my hand out fast. But not fast enough. The northern chomped down on my hand with a death grip. If you enjoy experiencing fear, try wearing a 37 inch northern with 1/2 inch teeth as a big hand warmer and see how much fun it is. With his big back teeth sunk into my fingers and hand, it was all I could do to gather myself, wedge his head against the side of the canoe with my thigh, and try to pry open his mouth with my other hand. Very very painful. It took a minute to get it out, and by then there was blood all over my end of the canoe (and it was not from the northern!). My son threw me my headnet to compress the wounds to stop the bleeding and he found antiseptic towelettes to clean the wound. On the bright side, the northern came through perfectly (he even looked buoyed by the experience), and I was able to retrieve our last good spoon.
Now, all of this effort to save a lure probably seems completely stupid (and probably was) but the next part is interesting. An hour later, I was fishing the same area with the same spoon when something hit it hard. After 2 minutes of fighting something big, I asked my son to start the video because I thought it could be a big fish. Here is the video of the next 3-1/2 minutes:
And here is the picture after bringing the 44 inch fish to shore to land it. In judging the relative size, keep in mind that I am over 6 ft 4 inches tall:
This is the biggest fish I have ever caught and was the most exciting fight I have had, made better by the fact that my son was with me.
After an exciting first three days, the last full day was a bit anticlimatic as we again fished with good results, albeit with no trophy fish. We tried for the grand slam, fishing for lake trout on the bottom in 60 ft of water, but after one hour the only success we had was losing two lures due to quick breakoffs. I didn’t realize that leaders would be necessary for lake trout.
Speaking of leaders, I starting this discussion board thread before the trip on when to use leaders when fishing in Quetico (http://www.bwca.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=forum.thread&threadId=249035&forumID=14&confID=1). I followed the general advice and only used a leader when specifically fishing for northerns, but we ended up losing about 25 lures in the process (12 Sluggo soft baits, 10 Rapalas, a few jigs and spinnerbaits). But, on the bright side, over the four full days we battled about 400 fish. We were fishing about 12 hours each day so they weren’t exactly jumping in the boat, but still not bad for the trip. Interestingly, most of the big fish shown in this report were caught in the afternoon, although the majority of our fish were caught in the morning or evening.
The last day of the trip, I dropped the camera in the canoe bottom while maneuvering for a good shot. Because of the water, it didn’t work for the rest of the trip. Also, the fish lifter also broke at the same time. Fortunately (?!), we didn’t catch any more trophy fish for the rest of the trip.
On our departure at Seagull Outfitters we met Kiporby, a frequent contributor to the boards, and his cute young daughter as they prepared for their week long BWCA adventure. We wished them the best of luck – I have a lot of respect for their ability to do this at the very young (7?) age of his daughter.)
Things which worked especially well:
- Drift sock (MinnKota MKA-27 Pro Drift Sock - $37) – I can’t say enough about how much our fishing improved by using a drift sock for the canoe. This sock is well designed - very easy to deploy and retrieve and is very durable. Holds the canoe to a very slow drift even in high winds.
- Camp chairs (Travel Chair Ultimate Slacker Stool- $25) – well worth the added carry over portages. Good back support.
- Rapala lures in Firetiger color – worked much better than gold or silver.
- Use of sat phone was again helpful to keep family aware of status
Things which we will do different next time:
- Don't stick your arm down the throat of a 37 inch northern
- Bring a longer treble hook extractor.
- Bring a protective fishing glove to guard against line and teeth marks to fingers.
- Bring a sponge to keep the canoe bottom dry, plus a disposable waterproof camera just in case.
If we are able to make this trip again, our hope is to tackle Kawnipi.