Four to Explore
The goal for day one was to leave early to find a premium base camp to call home for 3 nights on Winchell (west end.) Gaskin Lake was plan B. I hoped to depart at 6:15am and estimated it would take about 6-7 hours to get to the cliffs on the west end of Winchell. Wind was not going to be an issue so we were going to get to Winchell through Gaskin rather than sneaking through the smaller lakes of Hanson and Omega.
On Thursday morning we picked up our rental canoe – a new 18’ Wenonah Champlain. This was the perfect canoe for us since it is very stable and still lightweight. Stability was important since we planned on fishing a lot. The weight of our gear is probably a bit more than average too. We also were given brand new paddles.
As we loaded up the boat we were told that we would “own every scratch.” Knowing how the BWCA is filled with rock hazards, I was a bit concerned even though I treat rentals as if they were my own. The water was still calm as we headed from Poplar to Lizz. The paddle south across Poplar was quick. After the 63 rod portage and paddle to the middle of Lizz we were finally in the BWCA around 8:30am. We were already way behind schedule due to an issue which will not be mentioned - so much for beating the crowds. It really didn’t matter too much. The important thing was to enjoy the moment.
We navigated through Lizz, Caribou and Horseshoe with ease. The portages were average with a couple steeper grades and rocks sprinkled in. I quickly remembered how mosquitoes like to fly up and trap themselves under the canoe with my face and arms. As I carried the canoe and my pack, Peter would carry the very heavy kitchen pack. We didn’t even out the load very well. We were able to easily double portage which was nice.
We didn’t see many others until Horseshoe. All of the good sites were taken. On Gaskin the highly rated sites were also occupied. Because we were hungry we decided to find an available camp site on Gaskin where we could eat lunch and decide our next move.
The first one we came to was site #632. We were both happy with this site and decided right away that it would make a suitable base camp (see site comments on map section.) So we abandoned plans to head to Winchell, ate and then set up a comfortable camp. We now had a few hours to do some fishing which was a bonus.
Our fishing gear included a very nice fish locator, night-crawlers and leeches, and a larger variety of tackle than taken on previous trips. We didn’t catch a darn thing but marked a lot of fish. I was getting worried about the fishing on Gaskin. We did hear on our way in that there was just a huge mayfly hatch in the area so perhaps this was having a negative affect.
I cooked some steaks on the fire grate and Peter retrieved a couple of beers that were waiting in the lake (at about 30’ deep.) We celebrated our return with a great meal.
The next morning the weather was calm but overcast. We anticipated some rain. For breakfast we ate French toast and prepared for a day trip to fish to the west and north. Peter soon caught a walleye and a smallmouth bass using a nightcrawler. We were excited about fishing once again, however, these were to be the last fish caught on this trip!
A few minutes after catching the fish the clouds opened up and a heavy rain fell. I quickly learned that my GORE-TEX military jacket, that had served me well through many storms, was no longer water proof. What the *%@#^%$@%! I was soaked and a bit cold. Peter did have an emergency poncho that I wore for the next 4 hours of rain.
We fished the west end of the lake. Gaskin has a lot of structure, islands and looks ideal for fishing. We stopped to eat fresh fish sandwiches on an island that had what appeared to be an old camp site not far from the portage to Henson. The rain stopped for a bit just in time for a quick lunch.
Since we heard there were walleyes in Pillsbery Lake we thought we would give it a try. The portage to Henson was the most difficult of our trip which was fine with me since it warmed me up! There was a good incline at the start and many turns along the way. Henson was beautiful and I hoped to see moose. The campsite on the east end wasn’t very impressive.
We took the portage to Pillsbery which had an interesting fallen tree at the put in.
We marked many fish in the three deep holes in this lake but couldn’t catch any. The rain had stopped and we took advantage of a slight breeze which brought us slowly down the middle while we jigged for fish. We enjoyed the solitude of this day seeing no other canoes.
As we made our way back to camp the sun came out. We changed into dry clothes which was a great feeling. I was still worried about more rain due to my jacket situation, but at least we were able to dry out our wet gear. I had planned on frying fish for supper but that wasn’t going to happen. Luckily I had brought along a new product called Kraft Homestyle Deluxe Macaroni & Cheese Dinner. The recipe calls for water, milk and butter. I used some powdered milk and butter packets acquired at Tobies. This ended up being a good meal and will be used in the future (I think it would also make a good side dish with fish.)
We had a nice fire complements birch bark, which is nature’s fire-starter. I tried a Captain Morgan – tang – water concoction we called “space- pirate”. This drink could have used some ice or maybe different ingredients!
We had each brought along a cot for this trip. Weighing in at 8 pounds each they do add to the load but we both agreed they were the best addition to our gear. During previous trips I always had a horrible nights rest. My new cot made a world of difference for me. My cot was purchased from Cabala’s catalog and is made in the USA by Byer of Maine. For a pillow I use a king size flannel pillow case stuffed with soft clothing which worked great.
The next morning we enjoyed the fog/mist over the still lake.
After pancakes, our plan was to fish Winchell. We took the easy 52 rod portage. Again we fished the heck out of this lake to no avail. We fished the weeds, boulders, shallows and deep water. We now know why this was once known as the “dead sea.” Maybe the mayfly hatch had something to do with it.
All of the “premium” sites were taken on this lake. I am not sure I would have enjoyed base camping here. If the wind were to pick up you might be stuck at camp since this is a long thin lake oriented from east to west. And getting on or off Winchell on a windy day would be more difficult compared to most lakes.
We hiked a bit up the rocks just south of the cliff on the western end of the lake. And then we stopped for lunch at the island on the west end as you head north into the bay leading to Ogema Lake. This has a nice scenic overlook.
We fought an increasing east wind back to the Gaskin portage and headed back to camp. After another frustrating evening of fishing on Gaskin (we did have fun trying) we decided to haul up our remaining beer and eat supper. I had to get creative with the menu since fish was planned for. So for supper it was hashbrowns, pancakes, and applesauce. We did have a nice fire to end the evening.
We packed up on Sunday morning which was calm but threatening rain. The rain never came as we came out on the same path we entered.
As we were attempting to put in on Poplar an older couple cut in front of us. It is a rocky entry with only one small suitable section of shoreline to use. We had completed portaging all of our gear and were in the process of carrying the canoe to the shore (about 20’) when this couple stepped out of their canoe. They clearly saw what we were doing but essentially ignored us. I said “were putting in here” in case they thought we were traveling the other direction although we obviously weren’t. They didn’t even look at us and started unloading. So we didn’t push the matter and stumbled over large boulders to get the boat in the water in a different location. I was a bit mad and concerned about returning the canoe without damage.
We were greeted from shore at the lodge by Lynn. She is very easy going and nice to talk to. After quickly loading the car we took our $5 shower (no free shower?). We then settled the bill with Lynn after she showed us some interesting fossils she had found at the gunflint quarry.
During our drive home we talked about this good trip and of future ones. Lessons from each canoe trip have made us more efficient and saved time and money. We may be ready for a longer distance trip (more miles in the canoe that is) which might include Quetico.