Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Mudro to Crooked (Smallmouth Bonanza)
by Rugbyguy

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/13/2012
Entry & Exit Point: Mudro Lake (EP 23)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
Tuesday, June 12 Gage and I loaded up the SUV, left the Twin Cities around 9:00am, and headed for Ely. The weather was perfect and we were filled with excitement for our trip. This would be Gage’s, age 15, first trip to the BWCAW. This would be my eighth adventure to the most beautiful landscape in Minnesota, my sixth year in a row entering at Mudro Lake. We arrived in Ely early afternoon and stopped for leeches at The Great Outdoors. We decided to check out some local lakes before heading to our destination on Burntside Lake for the evening. We ended up stopping at Garden Lake to make a few casts. Gage had four walleyes on in short order and there were smiles all around. I was tossing a Skitterpop hoping for some blowups on top, but after a halfhearted swing on my first cast, I was shut out. We arrived at a friend’s cabin on Burntside in time for dinner. After generous helpings of tator tot hotdish, we headed down to the dock to make a few casts. Half a dozen smallmouth bass later, we called it an evening.
Wednesday, June 13 My alarm was set for 6:00am, but by 5:30am, I couldn’t sleep with the excitement and jumped out of bed. After a quick shower, I woke Gage up and we loaded up our gear. We hammered down a nice breakfast and made our way to Voyageur North Outfitters to pick up our entry permit and canoe. We were paddling north across Mudro Lake by 8:30am. Our goal was to single portage on the trip, but we also knew the first few portages were going to provide a nice challenge. The 44, 104, and 10 rod portages into Fourtown Lake were tough, but I didn’t hear one complaint from Gage. Soon we were paddling with a nice tailwind north on Fourtown. The 48 rod portage into Boot Lake was knocked out in short order and we were cruising north toward Fairy Lake. A quick 15 rod portage followed by a short paddle across Fairy Lake followed by another short 50 rods and we were into Gun Lake. We considered staying here for the evening, but decided we wanted to get to Crooked Lake. We stopped for lunch before the never ending 328 rod portage into Wagosh. Feeling recharged, we began the trek. It didn’t want to end. After carrying the canoe and gear pack for what seemed like an eternity, I had to dump the canoe. I finished out the portage, finally finding water again and returned for the canoe. Gage single portaged with two packs, again without complaint. He is one tough kid! It was now around 2:00pm and we had some work left before arriving at Friday Bay. Wagosh Lake, 43 rod portage, Niki Lake, Chippewa Lake, Papoose Lake, and the final 139 rod push into Crooked Lake. We were hoping to stay on the southern most campsite of Friday Bay, but it was occupied, so we paddled on. We were tired, hungry, and ready to set up camp. All four sites on Friday Bay were occupied, so we headed west to Saturday Bay. Another occupied site had me starting to worry. Another full, another full, and we had one site left before we had to come up with a new game plan. Luckily, the southern most site on Saturday Bay was available and we pulled up to a sandy beach and a vacant campsite. We set up camp quickly and soon brats were being consumed for dinner. Rods were rigged and we made a short paddle to a bay looking for smallmouth. There was a huge mayfly hatch going off and fish were rising. It didn’t take long to start whacking 17-18 inch bass. Topwater Skitterpops and leeches under a slip bobber both put nice smallies in the canoe. More smiles were shared and pictures with nice fish were taken. We headed back to camp at 9:30pm and were greeted by swarms of mosquitoes. We quickly dove in the tent with dreams of big smallmouth waiting for us tomorrow.

Thursday, June 14 We awoke about 6:00am and needed to turn on the thermacell to cook breakfast. Gage decided to fish from camp while I was cooking pancakes with blueberry infused craisins and every couple of minutes I heard a shout of “Got another one!” He was smacking bass left and right. More smiles. The rain came in during breakfast and we wolfed down pancakes while putting on raingear. After breakfast we headed out in the rain in pursuit of more fish. We didn’t make it far and the sprinkle turned into a downpour. We raced back to camp as hail was pounding down on us. Quickly, the ground turned white with dime sized hail as we took refuge under the rain tarp. After the hail subsided, the downpour continued and I snuck into the tent to do some reading. Gage fished in the rain, continuing to catch fish from shore, while using up the last of the leeches. When the rain finally calmed down to a steady drizzle, we headed back out in the canoe. The topwater bite was not on, but the tube jig bite was hot! Smallies were clobbering tube jigs pitched to shore and absolutely inhaling the baits. By day’s end 10 smallies over 17 inches had seen the inside of the canoe. After lunch, Gage set the hook into something and said, “This is heavy.” Five minutes later he was wrestling a 40 inch pike into the canoe, landed all by himself. This thing was huge! It grabbed a tube jig on a light action rod with 8-pound test line. He played it perfectly, landed it carefully, we snapped a few pictures, and then watched her swim away as she threw water at us. A new personal best pike for Gage! He had already bested his personal best smallmouth three times during the day, finally resting with a 19.5 pig on a tube jig. The teenager had a great day on the water. We both went to bed smiling!

Friday, June 15 We awoke early again and had another great breakfast of pancakes with craisins. Camp would not dry out as were antsy to pack up and head to Friday Bay and grab a campsite. After waiting for the sun to burn off the rain for two hours, we finally packed up camp wet and hit the water. We fished and paddled our way to Friday Bay with our eye on the southern campsite, but we were willing to camp anywhere in the bay. We pulled into Friday Bay the three northern most campsites were all available, but the southern site was occupied. It appeared that the group was packing up camp, so we fished near an open campsite and waited to see if they were indeed breaking camp. While waiting, I hauled in an 18 walleye on a tube jig and a short time later a 25 pike on top. Dinner was on the stringer before lunch! While adding the pike to the stringer, we noticed two canoes paddle by. Our campsite was open! We buzzed over, set up camp, hung up a clothesline, and began to dry out our gear. It was a beautiful day with a decent breeze, so we opted to do some swimming. The water was chilly, but refreshing and it felt good to clean up. We opted to eat a late lunch/early dinner of fish and pasta so that we could maximize the evening bite on the water. Gage caught a bunch of frogs in camp, so he had live bait to use. 4:30-6:30pm the fishing was slow, picking off fish here and there. At 6:30pm, the fish flipped a switch and it was non-stop action until we couldn’t take the bugs any longer. Smallmouth bass were exploding on top and absolutely destroying Skitterpops. We caught so many bass over 18 inches, that a 16 or 17 bass became a letdown. I know, ridiculous! I threw a big walk-the-dog style bait into some weeds, gave it a couple pops, and the water absolutely erupted. Game on with a monster pike! I fought the beast for a few minutes unsure how we were going to land her. At one point, Gage tried carefully to grab the leader and fish, which then made a huge run underneath the canoe followed by a slack line. Devastated, I thought I had broke my line. I reeled in the slack to find the beast had straightened out the snap on my steel leader. My personal best pike would have to wait another year; some beasts aren’t meant to be tamed. After tying on a new leader, we paddled a short distance and I made a cast toward shore into the setting sun. Jokingly I said, “I can’t see my lure, so I will just have to listen for the explosion.” I barely finished my sentence and the water erupted. I set the hook into something heavy, very heavy and angry. A huge smallmouth appeared below the canoe as I scrambled to try and land my second trophy in five minutes. This time I hauled in the fish which taped out a full 21 inches! This tied my personal best in length, but was definitely my heaviest bass ever. She was massive. A couple quick photos and she was back in the water. More smiles! We fished our way back to camp continuing to put nice smallies in the canoe. Our arms were tired from reeling in broad shouldered smallies.

Saturday, June 16 We arose around 6:30am, as usual, and I was getting ready to make breakfast and break camp. Gage suggested we fish while the dew was burning off camp. I couldn’t turn down that request after Friday night and soon we were on the water fishing shoreline we didn’t have time to hit Friday night. The bass were still on fire on top. We picked up where we left off, having an absolute ball. We would see a fish break the surface, throw a Skitterpop at the ripples, and then, BOOM, fish on. It was awesome! About 8:30am, I saw what looked like a big fish break the surface. A couple minutes later I threw a cast next to a boulder and the water below exploded. After a short battle, another 21 inch beast was being photographed. I was blessed with the opportunity to catch two 6 pound-class bass 12 hours apart.

Eventually, we cruised back to camp as the wind was picking up. We ate breakfast, broke camp, and started toward our Saturday destination: Fourtown Lake. We did not have the pleasure of wind at our back for this day, which wasn’t a problem until Gun Lake. We battled against whitecaps on Gun, made the portage into Fairy, and then looked out at a very rough Boot Lake. We went to war with Mother Nature as whitecaps were breaking over the front of the canoe. We powered through, taking a well deserved break at the portage into Fourtown. This is when things got interesting. The wind stopped and the sky was darkening. The plan was first available campsite. We began our paddle and the wind kicked up behind us, bringing rain with it. What started as a sprinkle and a breeze, escalated almost immediately into a downpour and whitecaps. We didn’t make it to a campsite. We took refuge on a peninsula on the southeast end of the lake. Shivering, with our rain gear still in our packs, we scrambled to get a tarp up to shield us from the wind and rain. After the tarp was up, we were able to dig out a towel, dry off, put dry clothes on, and then rain gear. I then heated up some water for hot chocolate and our temps were back to normal. Then we were just waiting on rain, which didn’t want to quit. After what seemed like hours, it began to taper off and we headed back on the water to grab a campsite. Arriving at the campsite near the abandoned truck, we were greeted by massive swarms of mosquitoes. We threw up camp and got back on the water to avoid the pests. Fishing was tough, but we managed to hook a few smallies and a couple pike. We went to bed at dark to the buzz of mosquitoes.

Sunday, June 17 We woke up, ate breakfast, packed up a wet camp, and headed for home. We knocked out the three portages between Fourtown and Mudro and soon we were heading back to Ely. We had our canoe returned by 10:30am and after a hot shower, which felt great, we were headed to Virginia for lunch. After gorging ourselves on pizza from the Sawmill Saloon, we headed back to the Twin Cities. It was another wonderful trip and I am already counting down the days until I can return next June. 

Final tally for the days fishing on Crooked Lake (Wednesday evening, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning): 20 smallmouth bass over 17 inches, 5 over 19 inches, with 2 taping out at a massive 21 inches. Two trophy pike, one at 40 inches and one 18 inch walleye.  

Mudro Lake, Fourtown Lake, Boot Lake, Fairy Lake, Gun Lake, Niki Lake, Chippewa Lake, Papoose Lake, Crooked Lake





Lakes Traveled:   Mudro Lake, Fourtown Lake, Boot Lake, Fairy Lake, Gun Lake, Niki Lake, Chippewa Lake, Papoose Lake, Crooked Lake,