4 days, 50 miles, and one nasty headwind!
Our first trip to Quetico was two years ago. We had a 7-day loop planned starting and ending at Nym Lake, but unfortunately we only made it as far as Pickerel before our trip-mate Joe became sick. We had to exit the park after only two nights and cut our trip short. Other than the abrupt ending of our trip, we remember the trip for the very good fishing we had during those two short days. This trip we planned to take advantage of the great fishing and make it to the Sturgeon Narrows like we had planned on the first trip.
After a drive from Fort Frances, we arrived at Canadian Quetico Outfitters, a little bit later than planned on Thursday morning. Doug, our outfitter, was great. He got us set up with our Quetico 18.5 canoe, an extra paddle, and a park map. From there it was off to Stanton Bay to begin our trip. We picked Stanton Bay as our entry point to make it easier to get into the Sturgeon Narrows.
The drive into Stanton Bay was uneventful and it didn’t start to rain until we made it to the parking lot (of course). We piled on our rain gear, grabbed our packs out of the van, and told Doug we’d see him at 1:00 pm on Sunday at Stanton Bay. We jokingly told him we’d be the three drowned rats coming up the portage.
The portage down to Stanton Bay was slippery, ankle twisting, and longer than expected. The boardwalk was like a death trap, but we managed to double portage with only one minor slip-up (Chris did a nice butt-flop with the food pack). Once we got to Pickerel it was raining lightly and it was dead calm. With three of us paddling we made good time and didn’t slow down to fish. We made it to our second portage of the day from Pine Portage Bay to Dore Lake.
Although the Kansas guys beat us into Deux Rivieres, we got the last laugh when Jenny spotted a bull moose on the Southwest shore of Twin Lake.
Once we were on Sturgeon we started looking for a campsite and it started thundering. The Kansas group was also looking for a campsite and they snatched a nice looking site on the point. We struggled to paddle to a open site on the island just North of Blueberry Island. The large site on the West side of the island was taken, so we settled for the site on the East side. It was a nice landing with steps up to the main part of the campsite. There were a couple tent pads on the site and a nice fire pit overlooking the lake. We had to set up the rain fly and put on dry clothes as our rain gear (which was just treated with water repellant) had failed miserably.
We woke up to good weather on Friday.
Chatterton Falls had a lot of water flowing over it and we stopped at the South shore campsite to have some lunch of wild rice soup. We took some pictures and tried to catch a few fish at the base of the falls. Unfortunately, we only caught rocks! When we left our lunch spot we tried to fish in the current, but the combination of the strong current going out and the strong wind blowing in, made for a tricky situation. After fighting our way back through the South wind on Russell we saw one group fishing near shore.
After going through the Russell Rapids we started catching Northerns where the river flows into Sturgeon Narrows. The further we got away from the opening the more the walleyes were mixed in. When it started getting late, we paddled back to our campsite trolling for dinner. We managed to catch 3 keeper walleyes for our supper.
The plan on Saturday was to slowly make our way closer to Stanton Bay so we didn’t have as far to paddle to Stanton Bay on Sunday. We enjoyed breakfast of pancakes and bacon cooked on the nice kitchen counter located by the lake shore. After packing up camp and cleaning up Big Blue (our porta- latrine), we made our way to the North end of Sturgeon Lake. We caught a few Northerns on the North side of the island in the North Bay of Sturgeon. We caught even more Northerns at the mouth of the Deux Rivieres. While we were catching fish at the mouth of the river, two trumpeter swans landed in the middle of the bay. And boy were they noisy. The poor dog was beside herself. Once they landed they even started swimming towards us.
We made it up the Deux Rivieres with two liftovers. We were able to paddle over the other two dams. Once we were on Twin Lake we enjoyed the sunshine, calm winds, and hungry fish. We caught a variety of fish. Although we wanted to stay, we headed for the long portage into Dore Lake. This was our first full double portage of the trip because you gain 120 feet in 140 rods. The portage was less slippery today without the rain, but there was still a waterfall flowing down the portage into Twin Lake.
We met a nice group from Missouri at the end of the portage and chatted with them. They had entered at French Lake and luckily shared with us some key information. They had intended to enter at Stanton Bay, but the road had washed out on Friday and the access point was now closed. With this information, we knew that we would need to put on a few extra miles, so we packed up our fishing poles and hurried through Dore Lake over the nice portage into Pine Portage Bay. We hurried through Pine Portage Bay and along the South shore of Pickerel Lake. While we were looking for a campsite on the island just South of Lookout Island, Jenny spotted a moose munching on the vegetation on the shore. While she pulled out her camera, we maneuvered in a little closer and snapped some photos of the cow moose. After she ambled into the woods and out of sight, we tried to catch a Northern for dinner, but only caught one small one that we threw back. While we were doing this, the cow moose returned to the shoreline and this time we saw she had her calf with her. We were sad when Jenny couldn’t get the camera out of the day pack in order to snap a photo (Later we realized the first set of pictures actually had the calf in them).
We did not sleep well Saturday night with the wind howling and with the thunder and lightening. We slept in until 7:00 am as we knew heading out on the water during the storms would not work out. As we stepped out of the tent, we encountered gale force winds coming directly down the lake from the Northeast. And it was cold. At this point, we counted our food, the dog’s food, and the remaining snacks to see if we’d survive an extra day on our luxury island. Indeed we had enough food, but had been looking forward to a nice shower. As we ate breakfast, we became a bit more restless in the now pouring rain. The one advantage of the pouring rain, is that it seemed to make the wind calm down a bit. Around 11 am, we decided to make a break for French Lake. The first 1 ½ miles was no big deal and we stopped behind an island for a quick break and a drink of water. After going around the island, we noticed the wind was starting to pick up. As we got past the island, the wind continued to pick up. While I thought angling for the North shore of the lake would help, it seemed that the waves got nothing but bigger. After 20 minutes of paddling with no progress, we made the difficult decision to turn the canoe around into the 3 foot waves. We managed to turn it around without taking on any water or losing any passengers. Decoy sat still as soldier in all of the chaos. We sailed quickly back to the shelter of the island. A bit shaken after our schooling in the wind and waves, we stopped at a campsite a break and lunch. We put up our rain tarp expecting to stay a while at this sub-par campsite. Once the tarp was up, the dog promptly barfed up her breakfast. So, Jenny got the pleasure of burying it.
After lunch, it appeared as though the wind had died down a slight amount and we ventured back onto Pickerel. The waves were not as bad even though the wind was still strong. Two hours later, we landed on the sand shore of The Pines. Looking around the point into the bay, you could tell the wind had picked up even further. We fought our way to the Pickerel River, which is much longer in real life than it appears on the map. Not to mention the strong current following 2 ½ inches of rain. We slowly made our way to the inlet of the river in French Lake. Just as we exited the river we had the pleasure of paddling in a thunderstorm. We had thunder, wind, and torrential rain. We spotted two canoes who appeared to be fishing a long the shore and we made a mad dash in their direction. Yelling over the wind, we asked where the landing was and they asked, “Are you with Doug?” We were thrilled to find out he was looking for us 8 miles from the exit point we were expecting to take and 4 hours later! Such is paddling.
The people we met on the water were able to call Doug and he arrived shortly with towels, snacks, a sausage for Decoy, and a beer for Mike. He sure knows how to make friends! We chatted with the people going in on Monday and gave them campsite and fishing tips. Our drive back to Canadian Quetico Outfitters was exciting as we found out that Doug had rescued the people that were involved in the wash out on the Stanton Bay road. It was quite the story! It doesn’t sound like Stanton Bay will be open for a while.
What we learned: 1. The Quetico 18.5 is a very stable boat. 2. Big Blue (the porta-latrine) is a blessing.