Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Border Lakes Trip-2010
by Ozarker

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/05/2010
Entry & Exit Point: Fall Lake (EP 24)
Number of Days: 7
Group Size: 19
Trip Introduction:
Since we had more folks than a permit allows, we camp and fish some of the BWCAW border lakes in the Ely area. However the operative word this year was rain.
For the past 10 years, a group of fathers-sons-grandfathers from my church have been coming to the Ely area for a week of camping and fishing. We leave Camdenton, MO (Lake of the Ozarks region) on a Friday for the 15 hour trip, some leaving during the day and others after work driving all night. The group has their own aluminum canoes that the church purchased from some of the canoe liveries when they got rotated out. We get to Ely on Saturday morning and stay until the following Saturday or Sunday morning. The group usually numbers between 20-30 or so and we stay at a group site at one of the SNF campgrounds or at Bear Head Lake SP. Usually I come up with the guys and then branch off from the group with my son(s) and/or some other guys for 4-5 days into the BWCAW. This year I couldn’t get either of my sons or anyone else to go with me so I stayed with the group.

We camped at Bear Head Lake SP and the general theme of this year’s trip seemed to be rain. Ely had an early ice out and the weather leading up to our trip had been dry and very warm, almost matching our temps in Missouri. We were anticipating good bass fishing this year. 

Arriving late Saturday morning, this day was spent setting up the base camp, taking naps after the long drive, going into Ely to get licenses, bait, tackle, etc., and paddling around Bear Head Lake. After dinner we got our tackle ready for the week and discussed what lakes we wanted to fish. It rained off and on all day with temp around 70. The group has 7 younger boys, ages 8-11, and 3 who were in their early teens. I got a kick out of one teen who came with his grandfather and great uncle. He came to breakfast Monday complaining that he can’t get any sleep from the snoring and it “smells like old men” inside the tent. 

Sunday after breakfast, the group had a short service, then we all fished Bear Head Lake. Pretty slim pickings today. I caught 3 bass, only 1 being a keeper. The group only caught 6 keeper bass and 1 walleye. 

Monday, breakfast at 7 AM, then off to fishing. One group goes to Eagle’s Nest lake and another, including me, goes to Low and Bass Lakes off the Echo Trail. Another weak day by the group, catching 8 bass and 2 walleyes. Weather was bright and pleasant though. The group usually keeps fish caught on Sunday and Monday for our fish fry on Tuesday. We are going to have to slay them Tuesday to get enough for the meal.  It rains overnight tonight.

Tuesday’s weather is not looking promising. A couple of canoes wanted to portage into a small lake off the road coming into the SP that they went last year and tore up the pike. A few wanted to do Bear Head again in case it starts to rain. The rest of us went over to Birch. We were fishing for a couple of hours before it started to rain, and rain, and rain, and rain. We huddled at lunch and decided to go back to camp. Got into some dry clothes and figured this would be a good afternoon to go into Ely to play tourist. Still not enough fish for tonight’s fish fry. Have to postpone to tomorrow. 

Wednesday started out nice. After breakfast one group goes back to Eagle’s Nest, another goes to White Iron, and a third group goes to Grassy off the Echo Trail. We do better today. I went with the group into Grassy. We put in at Low Lake and go up the stream and portage into Grassy. The stream fishing was pretty productive and Grassy was good also. One father/son on Grassy put a leech under a bobber for panfish and caught a couple of the biggest and prettiest bluegill I’ve every seen. We all catch about 10-12 fish and keep about 3-4 apiece. We mostly spend our time trying to get the kids into some fish. That’s the main goal of our trip. Late afternoon it starts to cloud up, but no rain. We have our fish fry for dinner tonight.

Thursday the whole group decides to go to Fall Lake. We all register for a day permit since we probably will be in the BWCAW at some point. A couple of canoes goes over to the falls to get some walleye action and others start heading right from the landing. A couple of canoes decide to fish around the big island. I go right and catch a couple of small bass, a couple of small pike. At 11:30, it begins to rain lightly. We keep fishing but the skies get thicker and rain becomes heavier. By 1 PM, it’s a heavy downpour and the wind begins to blow. At 1:30 the rain is so heavy, you can barely see the island and now there are whitecaps. Me and my canoe partner figure we’ve had all the fun one can stand. We figure that most of the canoes with the kids are heading back to the vehicles so we might as well join them. Luckily, the wind is at our backs as we are paddling back to the parking lot. We get to the lot at 2:15 and find that we are the last ones in, the rest have all the canoes loaded onto the trailers and gear stowed. We get back to camp and several tents have water puddled in them and the dining fly/tent had blown down. Not a good day. After dinner, ten of us go to the Wolf Center for a special program they were having that night. 

At breakfast Friday we begin to discuss the day. Weather forcast was 95% chance of rain. One of the dad’s used his cell phone to look at radar. A huge yellow and orange blob was heading our way. Looks to be another all day rain event like yesterday. We are scheduled to leave for MO on Saturday morning, but decide to break camp now while it’s dry and head back a day early. Rain starts in about half-way through breakdown. Temp is also very cool, in the mid to upper 40’s. Tents and gear gets packed wet so we’ll have to set things up in MO to dry them. We leave camp around 10 AM and take the scenic route south along Lake Superior. We get back to our homes in MO around 3 AM, tired. Overall, wasn’t the best year in north country. But the saying holds true, the worst day in BWCAW country beats the best day at work any time.