Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Beemer's 2005 Q Trip to the Man Chain
by Beemer01

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 07/10/2005
Entry & Exit Point: Quetico
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
Trip to explore the Man Chain
July 9, 2005

My eighteen year old son, who had been indecisive about going on this year’s Quetico trip finally agreed to go at the last minute and we left Chicago for Ely at about 8:15AM. This is a well worn road for us and ten hours later, on the dot, we pulled into our favorite small town. Incredibly the temps in Ely were over 90 degrees and humid.

We stopped at the Chocolate Moose for dinner, and observed Cliff Jacobsen and friends enjoying a conversation on the deck. We dined inside and since the Moose has never installed air conditioning... we sweltered and suffered over dinner. (Note to the Chocolate Moose - good food and high prices probably should also mean AC, or at least ceiling fans.)

We wandered around Piragis and confirmed that there is nothing in stock that we either don’t need…. or don’t already have. Temps within the store were so high that the Sawyer spray bug dope had physically expanded and the bottles were leaking the oily stuff all over the shelves!

We were at VNO by 8:30 or so, chatted with Lynne and adjourned to her bunkhouse. Her bunkhouse absolutely exceeded all my expectations. AC was blasting, bunks and beds galore, a kitchenette and a Dish TV. I crashed early, woke up about midnight and again told my son to kill the TV and hit the hay. We had a 7:00 AM tow at Moose Lake landing the next morning.

July 10, 2005

I was up at 5:00 – we quickly got ready, I went over to Lynne’s bait store and bought some crawlers and we headed downtown for breakfast. Even though several places advertised 6:00 Fisherman’s breakfast, none were actually honoring this commitment this still and humid Sunday morning. Finally we found Cranberries opening at about 6:10, ducked in for a quick hot breakfast and headed down the road to Moose Lake.

Timing was perfect, we and another party had moved our gear down by the lake’s edge as the sound of a decelerating powerboat was heard. By 6:59 we were enroute to Prairie Portage.

A quick trip up Moose lake ended as we pulled up to shore. We hoisted our heavy packs out of the tow boat and helped the driver untie our Wenonah.
A hike over the portage found a short line at Customs… we were the fifth party at 7:30. I bought my fishing license, got our permits and we were in the canoe loaded and paddling East by 8:30. The heat was building, but we were aided by a light SSW breeze.

We were stopped by several Canadian Rangers in a canoe, who checked our paperwork carefully when we crossed a shallow narrows on Birch Lake. On the portage from Birch to Carp I found a perfect (nearly)new pair of Smartwool socks lying on the portage trail– on the second pass I grabbed them and tossed them into my pack.

There were several parties of newbies at this portage – (Note to new campers - portaging is way faster, even when double portaging, when you totally eliminate clutter, flotsam and jetsam…. and well stuff.) We reached the portage on the West end at the same time as another party, and left on the East end a full 20 minutes before they did.

By the time we reached the portage from Carp to Emerald we were pretty much alone.

Even with the heat – now again pushing into the low 90’s – this portage was a muddy, mucky mess. Calf deep sucking mud was encountered on numerous stretches as we swatted and slapped at deer flies. My tee shirt was soaked with sweat by the time we started paddling again on Emerald. Emerald has steep bluffs and cliffs on either side and reportedly is on a greenstone vein.

Anyhow the lake does look emerald green, and has some interesting shallow structure – but overall you feel like you are paddling in a canyon.

My goal had been to claim a camp spot on the far Eastern shore that abuts an old growth Cedar forest. We were disappointed when we got close and saw that the site was taken… attempts to find the other site which was supposed to lie close by were fruitless so we turned into the hot head wind and moved west on the South shore which must have suffered a fire some years past – it’s recovered, but the bare rock Canadian Shield can be seen through the new growth.

We found a site that I was frankly ambivalent about as it as very sunny on this hot day, and had a awkward landing spot due to downed trees but my son decided that he wanted to take it. We set up camp pretty quickly, slapping at the lazily buzzing deer flies attacking our ankles and positioned our food packs and bait out of the direct sun.

By the way I noticed an interesting phenomenon. At the site on Carp we stopped at for lunch as well as the Emerald Lake Site fishing lures had been carefully hung on the trees in the camp sites. I harvested a large Daredevil, some surface poppers and several jigs.

So far I was significantly fishing gear ahead.

Sun, heat and deer flies are a bad combination. We dined that evening on steaks, veggies and instant mashed potatoes and retired to bed pretty early, happy to be able to get some relief and rest. I did tour the lake with the Hummingbird pinging the depths – I marked no fish anywhere.

July 11, 2005

I awoke early and we enjoyed hearty bacon and egg burritos with a side of hash browns, tang and coffee.

I was sweating even as I was eating breakfast – another hot day.

Camp was struck and we paddled back West, eventually finding the portage over to the Man Chain. I think this may be a fairly new portage – it certainly doesn’t get much traffic, and… with good reason. Yesterday’s sinking mud was replaced by a steep rocky climb up and over. I grabbed the canoe and managed to get it over fairly quickly – a series of portages from Emerald to unnamed lake to That Man to No Man got us to This Man Lake.

An old business friend of mine, Chuck Ferguson, had camped and fished This Man back in the 60’s and 70’s when a trip was accomplished with squareback Grumman canoes and 5 hp outboards. Chuck had taken the time before this trip to give me his vintage $.35 Fischer maps, marked with his fishing hot spots and his preferred campsites.

A point of interest at the far Western end of This Man is an old and abandoned prospectors camp. When Chuck traveled these lakes they had availed themselves to one of the scattered 55 gallon drums and sometimes cached their cast iron frying pans, canvas tents between trips… and over the winters! There was evidently a clamp seal that rendered the drum critter and water-tight!

We emerged from the portage and were able to locate the old site in a few minutes. The dock that Chuck had told me to look for is long gone, the site is completely reclaimed by nature and the famous barrels and core samples have disappeared. What remains are an old cast iron stove, broken crockery, a tipped over and rusty bunk-bed, and some galvanized pipes. The burned foundation of the bunkhouse peeks through the leaves and moss.

As we moved out of the old prospectors camp we were impressed by the soaring cliffs and bluffs on the northern shore. However an island campsite appeared

and beckoned and we pulled in. This is by any measure a lovely shady and flat four star campsite at the West end of this island. Camp was set up and we stretched out in our respective hammocks. Interestingly there weren’t any fishing lures adorning the trees, but several rock cairns had been carefully constructed around the camp site. The temps did not climb into the highs of the day before, and a just few clouds were scattered in the blue sky – the deer flies had vanished – life was good.

A pattern that began the day before began with the wind picking up sharply about 2:00 and dying down about 4:00. This wind pattern was observed almost every day we were up there.

I fished the shallows with soft plastic crayfish at dusk but got no takers.

July 12, 2005

We broke camp planning on moving to one of the sites Chuck had marked further east on This Man. However as we paddled up the Northern shore we decided that while Chuck’s favorite sites may be great for Spring fishing trips, they were far too exposed for us on these hot July days. We turned around to return to our lovely island site and set up camp again.

We paddled into the breeze and from his bow position Drew saw approaching paddlers now several miles away. We realized at once that we were now probably at risk of losing our cherished island site. We dug in and increased the closing speed. We ended up beating them to the island site with just a minute or so to spare – our instincts were right – they wound up taking the shore sites we had just passed and rejected.

We went swimming off the rocky point with sandals and pfds on just in case. After bobbing around in the water we sunk a tethered Nalgene out in the 20’

deep water for cool tang later on. Temps dropped into the 80’s – pleasant with low humidity and sunny skies.

Dinner was grilled steaks over cedar coals, mashed potatoes and fresh corn prepared successfully by Drew - afterwards I positioned rocks in the bow, lit my shore sentinel candle lantern and headed out solo onto This Man. My goal this trip was to enjoy myself, catch all four of the common species of fish…. and to have one good Walleye meal. To this end I had my Hummingbird depth finder set up, the rod holder attached and both my spinning rod and baitcasting rods rigged. I started aiming for a Northern – hopefully a large one. I attached a ¾ oz. red and white traditional Daredevil to a leader with 20 lb. test Spiderwire and trolled 30-40’ from shore. As the sun set, I remembered that this is actually the aspect of fishing I enjoy the most, paddling on glassy water, watching the shoreline slip silently by as I toured the wilderness lake. The billowing white clouds that dotted the sky were tinged with pink and even orange as the setting sun ignited the opposite shore. Mirror images of the forest were reflected with perfect fidelity in the utterly calm water.

No Northerns hit. I eventually tired of my Hummingbird beeping and turned it off as day slid into night.

I turned into a long and fairly shallow bay, working my way slowly up the North shore and down the South in the gathering night – perfect Northern habitat, 14’ deep and surface water temps of around 79 degrees. (I’m an excellent theoretical fisherman).

I caught a snag – or so I thought. I slipped my paddle forward and started to reel in the Spiderwire.

20lb test has no give and as I reeled in the 70 feet of line that I had out I realized that I’d caught something. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that at the end of the line was a 21” Walleye. On a large Daredevil. In a calm weedy bay. In warm shallow water. So much for my vast fishing knowledge.

I carefully slipped the Walleye onto my stringer and continued to paddle, it was now completely dark – the black water glassy smooth and a crescent moon rising. I paddled over the off island hump area Chuck had marked and clicked my Hummingbird back on to scope out the Walleyes. Nothing showed up. Go figure.

I centered myself in the lake and paddled back with the moon as my guide. Water depth quickly dropped off to 70’ or so with a flat featureless bottom – I turned the Hummingbird off again. My lone candle sentinel could be seen from over a mile away as a growing pinpoint of golden light amid the dark trees as I glided back silently.

July 13, 2005

We invited the Walleye to breakfast – fat breaded fillets in sizzling oil.

Mated with pan scrambled eggs and bacon we enjoyed North woods breakfast dining at its best.

We broke camp and paddled back to the portage into This Man and thence on to That Man where Bert Heep at Piragis had circled a four star campsite on the northern shore. This is another lovely lake, long sight lines with a fairly narrow lake and old trees crowding the shore. The site met its billing and we

again set up camp – we had our moves back by then and were doing it pretty briskly at this stage. Teamwork. Tarp, hammocks, bear confounder, tent and chairs are set up more or less in that order. Our motto is to always do it right and do it with perfection.

An interesting and somewhat annoying aspect of this campsite were dozens of shards of broken glass that sparkled in the sun. These had certainly been there a while – dug and pushed into the dust. We spent several hours gathering them up, including a larger piece that included part of the neck of a jug. I know something about archeology, and I think these had been on this site for many, many years.

Not anymore…. we sunk them off in deep water away from sight and potential harm.

Dinner was chicken quesadillas which won high marks. As the sun sunk down I was practice casting my Abu Garcia Baitcaster again with the Daredevil and could feel repeated taps as it was hit by something as my lure passed through our little bay. I nailed another large Walleye – evidently big flashy Daredevils were to be the bait of choice for Walleyes. Worms on floating jig heads and finesse fishing seemed to be unnecessary!

My evening fishing Paddle through silent bays with towering cliffs was peaceful – the high ridges were crowned by Birch and Pine growing out of crevices and gaps in the granite.

Two beavers took definite exception to my presence as they splashed out from shore, and swam in front of me glaring at me in the dark annoyed at my intrusion. Loud slaps were heard as they finally dove and swam away from my canoe.

We left an ample supply of perfectly dry cedar firewood, cut to length and split for the next campers.

July 14, 2005

The boiling hot days had departed and every day now was mild and dry with scattered clouds in a blue sky.

We broke camp and paddled West again crossed a 131 rod portage into Sheridan Lake. As we had approached the portage we were warned by several girls in a departing canoe that this portage “sucked”.

This is actually a lovely 131 rod portage,

with a waterfall at the East end, silent cedar forests on the West end and only a few muddy or steep spots. Their Quetico education was to certainly continue as they traveled up the chain as far as what constitutes a ‘bad portage’.

Sheridan Lake boasts several nice campsites, I think we got the prettiest one – situated on a point, it has quite a bit of elevation, eagles and mature pines.

We set up camp, and positioned the tent at a great pad on the top of the hill. Shortly afterwards Drew pointed and in a hushed voice whispered “Deer!”. A yearling, with a beautiful russet coat, was watching us from behind some trees just a few feet from our campsite. The deer exhibited absolutely no fear as Drew retrieved his camera and he shot several pictures and even a video of him.

The deer eventually ambled off and Drew moved uphill to his hammock and reading. For his lofty site he was also able to observe an Eagle soaring around the point – a nice addition to college reading.

That evening I selected the appropriate bow rocks and circumnavigated Sheridan – this time dragging a favorite lime green Buzz bait about 80’ behind my canoe. I caught and released about 15 Smallmouth Bass, most between 12 and 15 inches – the bronzebacks repeatedly attacked this noisy lure as I glided quietly along the shores. (Note – Furtman’s book on fishing the BWCAW assured me that only lakers and northerns lived here.)

Leaping, diving and splashing Bass made this a fun and memorable evening. Had I done my homework, I would have visited the other side of the portage over to inaptly named Carp Lake. There is a wonderful waterfall and rapids that the ‘theoretical fisherman’ in me tells me would have offered some fun angling!

July 15, 2005

I got up early as usual and caught and released several Largemouth Bass off the point – so I caught three species, but incredibly hadn’t snagged a Northern yet – usually I have to beat them off with a paddle!

We broke camp smartly and worked our way across Carp over to Birch. We probably got to within two miles of Prairie Portage and selected a campsite. There are a lot of campers around there on both sides of the lake – kinda felt like a KOA after the solitude of the past week. Several of the campsites had been way too heavily used and were not at all clean.

We found a lightly used one, set up camp across from a party of Boy Scouts and whiled away the late afternoon reading. My string hammock finally gave up the ghost as I completely broke through the bottom and I consigned it to the fire.

Another party camped on the next point – and man were they in it for comfort. A full kitchen, a Coleman two burner, large folding chairs, gas lanterns and oversized tents. Their group probably numbered 6-7 people – their campsite kinda looked like a portable Theme Park.

Thankfully they didn’t include boomboxes in their vast armada of gear.

My son and I both wondered how far in they were going – we’re talking triple or even quadruple portaging with a kit like this.

Interestingly this was the spot where we heard wolves singing in chorus – and these were on the American side of the lake.

Dinner was a bit of a dog’s breakfast of leftovers – tortillas with browned hamburger, bacon and hash browns. Probably not a lot less healthy than a meal at Hardees come to think of it.

I lit my Candle sentinel and headed out for one last evening try to snag a Northern. I probed and cast into every Northern looking cove and spot – I trolled a deer hair spinner – absolutely nothing.

July 16, 2005

We paddled the last couple of miles to Prairie Portage in a dense fog. Navigation was a bit of guessing as well as using the compass and my son’s memory.

The tow boat was there promptly at 7:00 AM – and we were soon repacking our car. Ten hours later we were back in Chicago.

Lessons learned –

I had worked on winnowing down our inventory of stuff – so portaging was easier than in previous years. I still have a distance to go and pounds more to shed.

Stoves – I used Primus iso-propane fuel tanks and their tiny burner. This setup weighs far less than my Primus multi fuel and permits simmering, something that the blowtorch of the my Primus won’t permit. Most of our cooking was done over the these fuel cylinder stoves.

Tent – I had tossed our old LL Bean Dome tent and bought a new Kelty 4 man dome tent. Good thing, as the Kelty weighs less than ½ what the LL Bean tent weighed – but I think offers less ventilation at least with the rain fly on.

Food – Packed pretty close to what we actually needed this year, a little left over. We eat quite a bit of fresh food – I use the BWJ hard pack lined with rigid foam, slipped inside their new insulated carrier pack. Evan at the high temps we had, a gallon of ice provided cold fresh food for eight days.

New Pack – I used the Duluth Pack Camp Kitchen. I like the fact that the side pockets permit carrying pots, pans, fuel, dishes and the bear confounder – I’m not so sure however that it’s the most comfortable pack they’ve ever designed. Anticipating this I had already slipped a 1.5 inch thick piece of high density form into place as a back protector behind the banana box and learned to cinch the shoulder straps high and tight and to use the trump line.

Fishing – Again I took in way too much stuff, but I had a good time. I rediscovered the precision that bait casting rigs provide for fishing heavy lures – I like the Abu Garcia reel. I caught Walleyes, Large and smallmouth Bass – no lakers and for the very first time no Northerns!

Canoe – I have a 12 year old 18’ Kevlar Wenonah Sundowner that has served us well. This year I bought CVCA sling backs for the tractor seats and foam pads for the seat itself. These are a good investment – quite comfortable and easy to remove for cartopping. Last year I invested in their extra foam portage pads and can recommend these as well.

Lakes covered – Moose, Birch, Carp, Emerald, That Man, No Man, This Man and Sheridan.