Summary of Father/Son Quetico Basecamp Fishing Trip
Our style which works for us is as few portages as possible with setting up camp, base camping, long hard core hours of fishing, exploring and just plain relaxing.
My 7th time through Deb and her staff through Seagull Outfitters. As usual nothing but the best service. We only rent the canoe and get the tow to Hook and are treated to top notch service and gear. Deb/Dave and the rest of the crew are the nicest most polite people you could possibly hope for. Our put in day saw several groups going out at the same time but everything went extremely smooth. It's really neat to witness and my son hopes to work there during his college years. The hot clean showers at the end of the trip really made the ride home for my son and I comfortable.
Driving up and back:
Living in the south western Chicago suburbs we take I-80 west to I-39 north and hook up with 94 then rt. 53, 35 through the twin ports to rt. 61 and the Gunflint trail...only 1 toll this way. We headed up on a Sunday and back on a Thursday/early Friday so take that into account for lack of major traffic. Watch out for heavy congestion on I-80 if your coming/going towards Indiana to about Joliet Illinois which should be present all of the summer. We get on/off around Channahon so we miss all that. Very little construction the rest of the way with no delays. Construction at the Two Harbors parking lot...looks like you have to walk the long way around to get to the breakwater. Finally caught a lake boat here. Our little 2007 Hyundai Accent's 5th trip up turned 100K miles.
Gooseberry and Lake Superior were both very tame heading up.
Campsite, camping and portaging:
We base camped about 1/3 of the way on Saganagons just west of Deadmans Portage. It was the first time we stayed at this campsite since in the past it has always been occupied. Our first choice was a small island site that we had stayed on the past two years but was taken. Another site nearby was taken. A campsite on the south side of the lake that we stayed at the first two years and like a lot was open but since the shore fishing is some what limited and not all that consistent we opted to try something new.
Janice the Ranger lady calls the campsite we took this year the Horseshoe, we called it windy point. It sits on a point on the north side of the lake just east of the big island campsite. It's a gorgeous spot with great views in three directions, a good landing, fire ring, a few seat logs, several places to put a tent and an endless supply of wood in the back woods. A few cons regarding the site. Shore fishing was marginal at best even though there was tons of shoreline to explore. I was thinking maybe the deep water surrounding most of the site was the problem...could be a great spot for Lake Trout from shore a little earlier in the season. Considering the hundreds of fish we C&R only about 20 if that were caught from the entire length of shoreline. The spot where we decided to pitch our tent was also buffeted by the southeast winds all week and at night made it hard to sleep at times. Still the pros way outweighed the cons and I'd take this spot again in a heart beat.
On our big wind day we visited the small island campsite that we like so much from the past two years. Although it was clean we were disappointed to find the rocks in the fire ring some what dismantled and the nice seat logs being partially burnt up for fire wood. My son was really disappointed since we have such good memories from this site and at one point he walked away to shed a few tears. Then he came back and fixed it back up to look pretty close to how we remembered it from last year. He had a smile on his face when we departed.
Checking in at the ranger station on Cache Bay we were greeted by Carol which is the first time we met her, in the past it was always either Janice or Lisa. Carol confirmed the lead ban in Quetico was not yet in effect and the smallmouth bass were spawning. Our luck continued, we were the only ones here and with already having our fishing license were out the door in less the thirty minutes.
Fire danger on the meter at Cache Bay was low heading in, at take out it was at the high end of moderate.
The Silver Falls portage coming in was in good shape nice and dry, coming out it was pretty muddy, with a lot of standing puddles along with two small trees blocking the end of the portage from the big wind the other day. We reported it to Janice who mentioned a portage clearing crew was heading this way and they would get them. Later we met a fellow BWCA.com/Seagull Outfitters contributor on Hook Island that reported the crew had just about cleared the trees by the time they arrived a few hours after us.(nice meeting you Gary and son)
Had the Silver Falls portage to ourselves both coming and going which was unusual. However, we saw plenty of campers and canoes on the west end of Saganagons the first couple days, which is unusual for us even though it's a fairly heavily used route. Our past trips we always have company on the portage but generally no one or very few in the general area we stay, most are just passing through.
Although I received a clean bill of health I would be lying if last Septembers heart attack wasn't still in the back of my mind. Yet, knowing how hard I work at work I felt pretty confident about not holding back or taking it easy on the portage. We still get and portage the aluminum canoe and take as much as I can hold on the return trips not to mention almost 50 pounds of fishing gear total.
The weather was perfect (mild, sunny, light winds) driving up and for the first five days in camp. However, a persistent east, south east wind would blow all 11 days except for our exit day....at least I think that was the direction it was coming from. For the fifth straight year our paddle in day from Hook Island to Silver Falls portage and beyond was virtually windless. Somewhat unbelievable after seeing the wind come up fairly early on the remainder of the days we were base camped. The remainder of the trip (6 days) would turn wet, windy, cloudy and cool. I love fishing in crappy weather but not everyday when you can't come home and take a nice hot shower after 18 hours on the water and hoped for something better for my 13 year old son who was hoping for a day or two of swimming. No thunder or lightening just light rain, drizzle and mist.
On Tuesday the 21st it sounded like a lumber crew was working in the forest. The wind was blowing a gale, trees were being torn out by the roots with some snapping midway up, water tornadoes were present on the lake for about 2 hours at it's worst. Heading out on Cache Bay and Saganaga any day after our first would have probably been almost impossible for most of the day. The day before our last day we woke up to light north east winds and more mist/drizzle so we decided to make a break for it and bust out instead of staying one more day. It worked out great, although we were muddy and wet at the end of portaging, Cache Bay and Sag were a piece of cake with the slight crosswind. On the 22nd we could easily see our breath.
Water levels up from last year but about normal and we were told falling. It was nice to see all the fishing structure submerged compared to last year when it was mostly high and dry. The float across just down from Silver Falls was just barely passable when we came out on the 23rd. The float through to Deadmans Portage by the island was also passable but not by much. Water temps on the main lake of Saganagons seem cool upper 50's to low 60's early in the trip. Standing in the lake a few times it was bearable after a few minutes but couldn't get the nerve up to completely submerge. Back bays seemed warmer low to mid 60's.
Very little if any black fly activity. Lots of cool dragonflies on sunny days and only a handful of adult Mayflies with no carcasses. Last year at the same time we experienced and saw plenty of both. Saw fish spitting up mayfly larvae. One smallmouth had spit up several had 3 more in his throat along with two leeches. Mosquitoes, as long as we were in the canoe and on the water they were pretty much a non-issue. On land early morning, evening 9pm later, cloudy days, any place protected by the wind they were pretty bad but still only used the bug dope a few times. Only saw one tick on our first day but then when we arrived home I had one attached to my hip that had to be removed. Thinking he must of got me on the car ride home since I took a shower at the outfitter and didn't notice him.
Not much but we did see some Bald Eagles, Turkey Vultures, Beavers, nesting Loons, a group of 4-5 otters, just missed hitting a Black Bear by less then two seconds on Rt.61 just out of Little Marais, a lot of deer and almost clobbered one near Eau Claire. In a construction zone he appeared suddenly walking out of the dark, with no where to swerve due to construction barrels etc. I hit the brakes hard bracing for impact and at the last millisecond he stopped short...DOH, that got the heart racing!
Gear & Food:
Did pretty good consuming most of the food this trip. Food pack with just food weighed about 54 pounds going in and didn't have much left on the last day. Didn't eat any of the Oatmeal this trip probably because our favorite morning meal was P&J on cinnamon/raison English muffins. Ritz crackers/summer sausage with Oreo's for desert has always been are favorite bedtime snack followed by a few card games and then some reading aloud of the Quetico History book we purchased at the Ranger Station.
A little mini dust pan wisk broom worked out great for cleaning up dirt and small pieces of the forest we kept bringing in with our wet boots from the inside ground tarp.
Only forgot one item, the black electrical tape I was going to use to tape the transducer to the bracket. Had to tie it on which worked but not the greatest. Only lost one free pair of work sunglasses.
The camp sink or something similar is the greatest thing for slowing the canoe on a drift.
Oh yeah, the fishing was fantastic especially BEFORE the weather turned sour after the 5-6th day. Numerous walleyes, eater size 16-19", plenty of 24-27" and more then expected 28-30". Great smallie action from 16-20", with a lot of northern pike action to keep things interesting. Didn't try for Lake trout. I caught 3 species the usual pike, walleye and smallmouth. My son landed 5 species with pike, walleye, smallmouth, green sunfish and a perch. Caught a few smallmouth spitting up small perch. The smallies we caught appeared to have already spawned. Caught fish everywhere except for deeper water and almost everything less then 15ft. One spot that surprisedly didn't produce were windswept shorelines and points and that wind was pounding the same areas everyday. Used our camp sink bucket to slow our drift and it worked wonders, something similar should be on everyone’s checklist. 95% of everything caught on 1/16oz jigs and various plastics. I used 4pd test and had no trouble landing the biggest fish my son used 6pd test. I would have used 6pd also but didn't like the drop rate with 1/16oz jigs(too slow) throwing away from shore towards deeper water, the relatively slower fall rate that the 6pd test offered worked for my son who likes fishing towards shoreline cover. With the weather system the fishing noticeably slowed especially on smallmouth and walleye but seemed to pick up on northern pike. Hopefully, and my son is really hoping, considering on what was producing fish I have finally convinced myself not to bring 2 tackle bags and 30+ pounds of fishing tackle(not counting rods and reels)....I have a feeling though that feeling will be lost by next years trip.
With well over 500 mostly quality size fish landed all but 4 eater size walleyes were released for another day. We took over 900 digital photos and about 80% are of fish and I'm having a hard time deciding which ones to post?! Here's a sample of some of the better ones but I think you get the idea:-)
My son loves to fish almost as much as I do but still only fishes about one half of the time I fish, the rest is spent relaxing, reading, exploring, talking, goofing off and doing what thirteen year olds do for fun.
Our customary pig out day at Perkins in Superior, Wis heading back home.
Looking back on our trip I'm sad to say it's over and we won't be back for another year, yet elated at the additional memories my son and I now have to share. As all the rest of the trips, it was better then fantastic and far exceeded are expectations. We just about have everything all cleaned up and packed away and my son and I have already talked and dreamt about next years trip.