Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

50th Birthday
by BnD

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/14/2013
Entry & Exit Point: Quetico
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
The trip planning began in June, 2010 when my son & I left Beaverhouse Lake headed home. I have been paddling in Quetico Park off and on since 1994. I have tripped through Ely, LLC and the North side (Atikokan via Beaverhouse Lake) but never off the Gunflint Trail. I have planned to enter Quetico off the end of the Gunflint Trail through the Falls Chain to Kawnipi for years. Somehow, this trip just never got to the top of my list on previous trip plans. However, if I could get the green light at home 2013 was to be the year. I turned 50 this year and my wife asked what I wanted and the response was quick. Go back to Quetico Park with our son who is now 20 a seasoned camper (eagle scout) and excellent canoe partner. I got an immediate "OK" answer from my much better half and for that I am eternally grateful. My understanding wife who is not an outdoor enthusiast to say the least understands and supports my outdoor passion that has been there since we met at age 16. After endless planning (OCD) and re-scheduling due to late spring ice out my 20 year old son Blake and I were on our way.
June 13, 2013: Left home at 1:30 Am traveled hammer down from southern Illinois to Seagull Outfitters near the end of the Gunflint Trail. After confirming our 7:00 AM tow and our route and planned trip schedule with Deb we grabbed some dinner at the Trails End Café. Back at the bunkhouse Blake got busy transferring the campsite and misc. info from my set of maps I had marked up before we left home to his maps. I really like having co-navigators to agree on position, landmarks and direction of travel and Blake proved to be a great co-pilot. Got to bed early in anticipation of a big paddle and portage day tomorrow down the Falls Chain.

June 14, 2013: Up and ready at 6:30AM. Right on schedule Deb said there ready to for us to tow and off we went. Everything in and away from Hook island on a beautiful day light winds and sunshine. As we hoped, we are the first group to pull in a Cache Bay ranger station @ 8:30. After paying our fees getting the Falls Chain warnings from Janice and going over our planned trip schedule were off to Silver Falls portage. This was the first reality check about too much gear to portage and travel efficiently. Nonetheless, we made it across Silver Falls portage double portaging and off across Saganagons Lake to Dead Mans portage. At the far end of Dead Man's Portage we ran into a really nice pair of older gentlemen that had just been to Kawnipi Lake. Excitedly, they raved about the fishing and the campsite they had so of course we listened and asked how and where. They were eager to share and 30-45 minutes later we were loaded the canoe and were off for the Falls Chain. At this point we were so pumped we momentarily forgot to track our progress and position on our maps and lost a little time confirming exactly where we were and where we needed to go. This cost us 30 minutes accessing position and direction(lesson RE-learned what a rookie mistake!). Getting our paddle stroke and sync back was not as quick as I had anticipated and we were well behind my tentative schedule by the time we hit the first portage in the Falls Chain. This portage has some elevation change to it but the trail is nice. The following portage is hardly worth un-loading and loading the canoe. At Bald Rock Falls Portage we noticed the skies had darkened and we were getting tired. We had our sites on Kenny Lake but it was 3:00 with two long portages and rain threatening we decided to search for a campsite and camp on Sydney Lake for the night. Stop at the campsite opposite the falls but, that site has been abused and I really didn't like the tent pads so we went just down Sidney Lake found a good campsite and settled in fixing our fresh ribeye steaks and potatoes for dinner. We reflected on the day and my disappointment at not making it to Kenny Lake. With four portages between us and Kawnipi Lake it would be near lunch time before we would be on Kawnipi and able to start fishing. Early to bed and hopefully better progress tomorrow.

June 15: On to Kawnipi Lake in a light rain. Tired but, up and on the water about 7:00 I am anxious to get to Kawnipi Lake to fish and set up camp for a few days. The portages at KoKo and Canyon Falls are as difficult as expected double portaging. As were trudging across I am thinking we seriously need to re-consider the amount of gear, food and fishing tackle we brought in. Finally across Kannebas Falls portage and on Kawnipi Lake. Instead of fishing our way to camp we mutually agree to head for McKenzie Bay to find a campsite and fish this evening. Of course were paddling straight into the West wind across Kawnipi Lake headed for McKenzie Bay. We arrive to a very nice island campsite on the big island about 3:00 and set up camp. As we're paddling into camp a bald eagle swoops down right in front of us (very close) and snatches a sizable fish right out of the lake. So big, in fact, the eagle struggles to get up off the water and has to flap wildly to get onto a nearby rock reef to eat dinner. Relieved to finally be at our planned fishing lake camp set up and fishing gear ready we can finally relax a little.

June 16: Up and on the lake after a great breakfast and anxious to fish. We head out to a great looking spot in McKenzie Bay and I told my son this should be a good spot. One cast, one walleye. Game on, we simply crushed the Walleye there all morning. Mid-day the action slowed so we headed out in search of SMB. Really good action on large SMB in the 19-20+" class. A storm rolled through and we headed for a spot on shore to wait it out and see what happened. No big deal and we were back on the water. On the way back to camp late that afternoon we went right through our morning Walleye spot and decided to try again. Unbelievably, the Walleye fishing was better than in the morning. We simply crushed the Walleyes in the mid-twenty inch range for hours anchored in the same spot. Finally, it was getting late and we had an hours paddle back to camp, fish to clean and a fish fry waiting we headed for camp. What a day of fishing. Fried walleye and wild rice for dinner with a cocktail to finish the day. I've flown and fished all over Ontario and this was one great fishing day. Thankyou, is all that's left to say.

June 17: Woke up to rain on the tent and decided to sleep in since. we had the walleye and SMB located and good patterns established we'd relax a little and catch up on sleep. Big breakfast finished we headed back out to our Walleye spot. Oh, I almost forgot, we watched a group of 7 paddlers headed up McKenzie Bay and we wondered where they were headed. We found 'em later. The fishing was very good initially but, as the sun came out bright later in the AM the bite tailed off fairly quickly. We decided it was time to hunt down some big SMB. My son seemed to have a magnet for to mid-sized pike that devoured xraps and husky jerks. I tried to avoid casting anywhere that looked like NP (I really hate losing $8-$10 raps on small/mid sized pike). None the less, we caught plenty of both under bluebird skies and 70 degree temps. A few really large SMB were caught but, we were both hoping to go back and have smoking walleye action in the evening before we went back to camp. We both agreed we were not frying fish for dinner as it simply takes us too long with too much prep and clean up after fishing all day. Unfortunately, upon our return, others (remember group of 7 from this morning) had found the same Walleye fishing area so we moved on. The new group of 7 camped almost right at the fishing spot so we both agreed we needed to move on to a new area tomorrow or fish in a group (No thanks). We had another really good day of fishing. Note to file: Kawnipi Lake has more visitors than I ever thought it would. Back at camp we turned on the transistor NOAA weather radio (BTW, very good reception on Kawnipi Lake)and they were call for a good chance of rain on Thursday. Our initial plan was to leave Kawnipi and go back up the Falls Chain on Thursday and spend a couple of days on Saganagons fishing before we exited but, neither of us wanted to do the Falls Chain portages in the rain like on the way in. Those granite boulders on a couple of portages are flat nasty when wet.

June 18: Up early and onto new water to fish. We chose to go check out Murdock Bay today. At the narrows we expected good Walleye action. Not so much. We decided to go into Murdock Lake and try. Walleye fishing was slow so we decided to try the SMB fishing. It took a little while since the fish were deeper than they had been on upper McKenzie Bay. Once the new fishing pattern and depth was figured out we did very well for hours on Murdock Lake on tubes jigs which proved to be ridiculously effective the rest of the trip. Back at camp earlier than usual we planned to eat early and go back out Walleye fishing. We again listened to the weather forecast with an increased chance of rain on Thursday and reluctantly decided we would leave Kawnipi tomorrow instead of Thursday to get through the Falls Chain portages dry. Since we arrived at Kawnipi, we concurred that carrying personal packs and fishing tackle was killing us portaging (physically and time wise.)and we needed to re-organize our packs and get everything into three portage packs with no misc. carrying. We spent some time packing and re-packing to get everything ready before we ate dinner. By this time neither of us pushed to go back out Walleye fishing so we enjoyed our last evening on Kawnipi at our great campsite, ate dinner and played cards.

June 19: Up at 5:00 with the plan to be on the water at 6:00 and ready to blow through the Falls Chain. Packed up with meal replacement bars and 5 hour energy down we hit the water. Arrived at Kennebas Falls in 2 hrs. Flat moving (by our definition) through the portages with little BS and no breaks we made Saganagons 4 hours later. Man, what a difference those portages are dry with no extra carrying gear. Night and day. I need to note the Falls Chain was very high and we got to experience just how easy it is to get in a bad spot. At Canyon Falls we missed the first take out. Big mistake! With a death grip on the paddle and everything we had we made it to the second portage by the hair on our chinny chin chilla. That was a close one! Later, and oddly enough, while waiting for our tow at hook island 3 days later we ran into two other groups that had missed that same take out, didn't make it to the second take out and washed out. It is also worth noting we passed 4 groups with a total of 20 count 'em 20 people on the Falls Chain between Sag and Kawnipi headed to Kawnipi Lake. We weren't sure where all of them would camp since I know several sites near us were occupied when we left (No Vacancy sign came to mind.). We saw more 3 person canoes on this trip than on several previous trips combined (It was like the norm). Back on Sag we headed toward Boundary Point to find a campsite. Our outfitter had marked a couple of sites and that was our plan for the night. I was ready to get back to fishing, enough paddling and portaging. The first site marked didn't exist and the second was VERY marginal but, close to where I had planned to fish so we pitched camp and prayed for fair weather as it was really exposed to West wind. Beautiful day so we took a swim, cleaned up and sat around fixing dinner and breaking out the fishing gear again. Right on Q and just as we feared setting up camp here, a front moved in from the West and nearly tore our dining fly down. Nothing had to be said we were moving tomorrow. Not impressed with recommended campsites is an understatement. We spent the evening scouting a new campsite and fishing a little.

June 20: Camp struck early and everything loaded we headed out to fish. We decided we'd find a campsite we really liked after we got our fill of fishing for the day instead of spending more fishing time looking for a campsite. The SMB fishing was incredible. The size ranged from 17"-21" with vey few if any small fish caught. As my son put it "this is like fishing in the lunker pens at the trout hatchery". It really was. By afternoon we decided it was time to eat lunch and think about where we wanted to camp. After considering several options we decided to fish and paddle our way to Cache Bay and pictograph cove. (I regretted this decision later) camp the night, fish there Friday and have an easy paddle out to Hook Island for a tow on Saturday. Met a really interesting solo guy at Silver Falls portage that was on his way out from Kawnipi as well. The camp site back in picto bay is OK for one and maybe two tents. Nothing great. However, the pictographs are very clear and awesome. We went back the next day to view them as well.

June 21: Rain and cooler was the theme of today. Rain gear on we were on a mission to repeat yesterdays SMB fishing. Not so much. Several issues. Pictograph bay and Cache Bay are deep and cool. Not the pattern we slayed 'em on Sag with. The cold front had really cooled off the bite to compound the issue and finding the right spawning bays was tough (too deep). We scratched out quite a few fish but nothing approaching 18". All short fish today. Rain all day from a mist to heavy but, never really stopped. The best part of the day was two separate very close encounters with a cow moose and her calf (see pics.). Back at camp we fixed dinner and decided to fish around camp in the little back bay that we hadn't fished all day. That was the spot. We boated more good fish in 2 hours, with one tapping at 20", than we had all day. Crazy, we paddled all over and the best fishing was right at camp. Back at camp I could tell my son was ready to go. I, however, was a little reflective, sentimental and had mixed emotions about leaving not really being sure when I'll be back. We fixed dinner and enjoyed our last evening in Quetico.

June 22: After dinner and fishing last night we agreed to strike camp, pack up and get on the water early to avoid any Cache Bay winds. As planned we were on the water early with light winds and at Hook Island by 9:00AM. We really have our paddle stroke back now and put distance behind us quickly. At Hook Island, others were there just arriving from being towed in and getting organized. Still others had arrived before us leaving and waiting for pick up tow. At one point it was standing room only on the beach between canoes and people. Watching the people getting organized with all kinds of loose gear, numerous small packs, etc.... is interesting. I whispered to my son glad I'm not carrying all that. We asked where they were headed and they said Kawnipi Lake. Wow, now I'm really glad I'm not carrying all that. Seagull Outfitters picked us up quickly and just like the trip was over.

Trip Notes:

The fishing was absolutely fantastic, the weather was good and my canoe partner outstanding.

Shout Out: Primitive Man and Scott you are the paddle and portage masters. My son and I are still in awe of your time (lack thereof) to get to Kawnipi Lake from the rangers station.

Final Thought: The time spent with my son is absolutely priceless. I hope to be back to Quetico Park with him soon. He is and has been my camping and paddling partner. I realize college, commitments, work, etc.... always get in the way. Blake, thanks for the memories!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Dad

P.S. I sure miss you Dad.