Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Woodland Caribou 2011:Mexican Hat, Wrist, Haven
by Mad Birdman

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/17/2011
Entry & Exit Point: Other
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 5
Trip Introduction:
My group has generally been anywhere from 4-6, and this year settled right in the middle at 5. Brett has a Wenonah Prism that he has used to paddle around locally, and the lack of an even number gave him a chance to put his skills to the test for a week. So, it was settled: three boats, 5 guys, 6.5 days in Woodland Caribou Park. Brett had purchased a brand new Suburban the day before we left, so we were riding in real style on the long trip up. The border crossing wasn’t too bad, and we ended up entering Red Lake/Cochenour at around 9:30pm after a 15-hour jaunt. Harlan from Red Lake Outfitters was nice enough to still meet with us at the late hour to go over the details of our trip the next morning. Originally, our trip was going to be moving roughly from west to east, with a flight in to Adventure Lake. We would then work our way through Haven, Gulch, Jigsaw, Wrist, a bit of Streak, Amber, Nutria, and we would be picked up in Mexican Hat. Since we were new to the park, and hadn’t fished any of the lakes yet, we didn’t want too ambitious of a route. The forecast was for generally east/southeast winds to blow all week, so I asked Harlan about reversing our route to go with the wind. He was able to relay this message to the pilots, and it was no problem to change it. The new plan, then, was to fly in to Mexican Hat Lake as early as possible (about a 25 minute flight from Red Lake’s airbase). We would need three trips, with one boat per trip, and quickly found out that even though we had reserved things back in February, we were relegated to being squeezed in whenever it would work for Viking Air Service. This meant that one boat would get out early, but the other two flights would be later in the morning, or, if the weather was bad, not until evening. Our feeling is that since they don’t get many canoe parties to fly in up there, they have them lower on the priority tree, and have to take care of the fly-in outpost customers first. With that uncertainty in mind, and a forecast for rain in the morning, we turned in for a short night at a Red Lake hotel.
Part 1 of 7
Day 1: We had decided that Greg and I would be the first ones to fly in, since we were on the last plane last year into Mack Lake in Quetico. We were up plenty early, and were at Viking Air’s shop at 6:15am. We were glad to find that they could indeed get us out first thing, and the two canoes that we were renting were waiting for us. We loaded up our gear into the DeHaviland Beaver, a plane that we have grown familiar with after a few years of flying in to Quetico. The morning was cloudy and a bit cool as we took off, and the wind was starting to build a bit.

A fly-in over canoe country lakes is a really awesome experience, since the planes fly pretty low and you can look over the lakes like you were poring over the maps you spend the winters studying.

As we were five minutes or so from landing, raindrops started to pelt the windshield, and our pilot removed one of his earphones and motioned us to do likewise. “You guys will want to put on your raingear” was his advice to us, and as the plane landed, we did just that. We hopped in to our canoe, and headed for a mid-lake campsite along the north shore that I had good intel on. It’s a nice feeling to be on a lake that you’re going to be spending your first two nights on by 7am on your first day, without even having a portage! We found the campsite easily in the rain, and threw out our bigger packs. We decided not to set up in the rain, and we weren’t sure when the other guys would arrive, so we started fishing, working to stay out of a worsening East wind. Things were hit and miss, but we connected with several healthy walleyes in the 16”-20” range, and one small pike when we finally heard the buzz of a float plane, bringing our next group of two in at 10:00. We joined up with them and showed them the site, and as the rain let up a bit, we heard plane #3 arriving with Brett in his solo boat. This plane was a Cessna, and the pilot Hugh likes to unload on land if possible, so Brett was chauferred right up to our camp without having to put his boat in the water!


The long drive up seemed like a memory as we realized we were at our “basecamp” site by 11am, and we had already caught 15 fish! The site is a nice one, with a nice sunset view, water surrounding it on three sides, and ample tent pads. Some firewood had been left for us, and we set up the tents, tarp, and got a small fire going to warm things up a bit for lunch. As we were getting ready to head out to fish, we heard a voice and saw two guys in their 60’s paddle up to our site. This was a bit of a surprise, since we really hadn’t planned on seeing anyone at all in the park, and them seemed almost apologetic that they were disturbing us. They explained that they were from Winnipeg and were in the park for two weeks. What they really wanted to know was who had won the Stanley Cup, since when they entered, the Canucks were up 2-0. We had to explain that Boston had come back and won it in 7 games, and that there was rioting in Vancouver afterwards. They had entered from Manitoba and been moving a lot over the two weeks. Mex Hat was the furthest east that they were going to be, and they were turning back west the next day. News of good lake trout fishing (they had caught 61 in their trip so far) made us excited to give that a try. They gave us some fishing and portage information and wished us well.

We spent the afternoon exploring the lake, as the sun even peeked out a bit through the still-heavy cloud cover. We found that the walleyes were stacked up pretty shallow on the windward shores where we tried to find them, and we worked our way north into the tip of the “Mexican Hat”, with mostly hit or miss action. Steve and Brian had decided to head to the waterfall inlet in the southeast part of the lake, and had good walleye action there, but with smaller fish generally than we found elsewhere.

We had pretty much always been single portagers in years past, but since we were going to be moving less, getting flown in and out, and were unsure of portage conditions, we decided to double-pack this year, and we put our new CCS food pack to the test with more fresh food than we have ever brought. This night’s choice was pork chops that we had frozen and wrapped up tight, and we had to thaw them out a bit for grilling. We fried up two walleyes for a bit of “surf and turf”. Good stuff. A box of Shiraz and some Canadian Club/Crystal Light lemonade came out as well, and we were feeling great at the start of our adventure.