Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Little Indian Sioux Solo Trip
by egknuti

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/26/2013
Entry Point: Little Indian Sioux River (north) (EP 14)
Exit Point: Moose/Portage River (north) (EP 16)  
Number of Days: 13
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
I’ve traveled through this area of the BWCA for many years before I decided to do a solo trip through it. There were too many times I passed through lakes and wondered how fishing would be or wouldn’t that site be a great place to stay. When you paddle through lakes, I believe, you do not see very much. You truly lose a sense of intimacy with the lake and the woods. I know some groups want to travel as many miles as possible in a day. But what do you really see? Paddlers can pass by so much yet see very little. I wanted to stop wherever I wanted and paddle each lake to fish and to explore. That is why I go solo. I've been doing a solo trip through this area for the last several years.
June 26, 2013

I check the weather and thunderstorms are predicted. Not that it matters. I know if I was already on my trip knowing wouldn’t make much difference. I’ve been going on solo trips long before I married my wife and she graciously lets me to continue my trips so long as I complete a few house projects. I say my goodbyes as I leave Ely and cell phone service.

My dad will be dropping me off after I leave my car at the Moose River Entry Point. With a hug we say our goodbyes and I pick up my food pack and wave goodbye. As I head down the portage, I pass several Forest Service workers and they offer me a, “Have a good trip.” I thank them and continue on. I look to see if any Moccasin Flowers are blooming and I am not disappointed. Last year, with the early spring, the flowers were well past blooming. This year with the late spring, some are still in bloom. I have to remember my trip starts at the portage and I shouldn’t be in a hurry to get anywhere. I am where I’m supposed to be. I walk back to the flowers for a photograph and for the pleasure of seeing one of the many beautiful flowers of the BWCA.

Paddling down the Indian Sioux River I notice storm clouds building in the southwest. By the time I reach Elm Portage it starts raining. I decide I’ll portage all my gear and hope that it passes while I’m on the portage. While I hear thunder I see no lighting, I start getting antsy, another feeling I know I’m not in BWCA solo mode yet. I wait out the storm for about 45 minutes and decide to head out. I still hear rumbles of thunder as I paddle, Solo tripping or during a thunderstorm is no time to take unnecessary risks, but the storm seems to be passing to the south and I figure that I’m safe.

My favorite spot on Shell Lake is the site located on the south side of Con Island. Although not ideal during a storm or strong winds, it offers a beautiful view of the lake. As I paddle across the lake I notice the site is occupied as are several other sites. I notice another group scoping out sites so I make a beeline to the north site on Con Island. It’s not the best site, but it does have several of my qualifications for a four-star site: Norway Pines, ample space to explore, good tent pads, view of the lake, but the site lacks a good landing area and not have easy access to the water. I like a site that has easy access from the cooking area to the water. Some sites offer extra exercise just to reach the water. The other group pulls up shortly after I’ve claimed my site and explains that they were looking at all the sites and this one was the best one left. I offer them some other sites on the lake that are decent and they paddle off. I make camp, relax and take in my first day as the clouds begin to break.

I decide to start my dinner of Knuti steaks (my parents run a Black Angus farm in Embarrass and I’m always obliged to take any meat off their hands). The steaks cook up nicely over the fire grate and I add fresh green beans and potatoes as side dishes.

As evening approaches I head out to do a little fishing. I catch several walleye, northern and a nice smallmouth bass along the west side of the Island (too bad I had steak tonight) and continue fishing until sunset. I get the fire going again and I hang my food pack securely even though I’ve never had a bear attempt to take my food back. Bear worries are mostly all hype I believe. Sure, I know people who’ve had bear encounters and watched videos of bears stealing packs, but the chances are slim to none that a bear will enter your camp or attempt to take your pack. I’ve seen two bears on camping trips in all the 25 years of trips I’ve done. One, entered my site which I scared away and the other was on the portage from Hustler to Oyster and he had no idea I was around until I let out a yell, he looked up, paused and tore off into woods.

June 27, 20013

I slept well last night. I have strong vivid dreams when I sleep in the woods and last night was no exception. I can’t stress the importance of a good sleeping mattress and pillow. Being uncomfortable sleeping is not beneficial to having a good trip. Still being sore from running Grandma’s Marathon, I was in no hurry to get out of bed. The morning is beautifully still. I start my coffee and prepare my scrambled eggs with cheese and jalapenos and tortilla. I’ve found that eggs will last at least four days without refrigeration. After that, it is oatmeal with strawberries, and honey. While I love cooking at home, I find cooking in the BWCA a chore and I prefer to simplify. I watch a doe off in the bay. What’s better than a cup of coffee sitting on a rock watching the morning transpire? The Mayfly hatch is on so my expectations for a walleye dinner have diminished. Today I will stay on Shell and fish.

I catch an early Walleye on the back side of the island as I did the previous night but I let him go. From that point on fishing slows and I pick-up only a few small Northerns. I stop at a campsite for lunch: I have peanut-butter and honey on a wheat bagel and some homemade turkey jerky and dehydrated apples. By late afternoon I head back to camp without any fish and decide to take a nap. I head out again in hopes for a fish dinner, and within 20 minutes I’ve landed a 3lb northern off the back side of Con Island. With dinner in tow I head back to have a fish dinner. The sunset is spectacular tonight as I paddle around the lake.

June 28, 2013 It rained overnight and there is some early morning drops as well. It is a good time to sleep in a little late. With no one else, I don’t have to worry about getting somewhere or trying to entertain anyone else. I make my eggs and jalapenos and coffee and enjoy the morning. Usually, this is my day to explore or head to another lake. In the past I’ve gone to Heritage, back to Devil’s Cascade for photographs, or to Lynx Lake. Today I decide to give Shell one more shot in the morning and head to Little Shell or Lynx in the afternoon. With rain squalls sweeping in from the northwest, fishing in decidedly slow. I’m able to photograph a nesting loon by the Pauness portage and decide to head to Little Shell. Little Shell is one of those lakes that I’ve never fished in the all the years I’ve been tripping through here. I’m not sure why but today is the day I do it. Little Shell is a beautifully clear lake. I thought it would more aptly be named Little Lynx Lake for the water clarity and that it is really more a part of Lynx Lake rather than Shell. Fishing is poor as more clouds roll in and rain falls for about 10 minutes. I paddle into Lynx Lake noticing the Sundew plant that grows along the narrow creek between the lakes. Past years I’ve caught many walleyes off the rocks on the south shore. This year, nothing. Lynx is so clear that one year I watched walleye after walleye eat my Gulp leech right off the rocks. I fish a little more but I know my efforts are futile so I head back to Little Shell. The rain starts in earnest and I wait it out at the portage. But this time I’m not in a hurry. I think I’m in BWCA mode. I fish my way back to camp and decide on pizza for dinner. Nothing fancy, I just add pizza sauce, pepperoni, and jalapenos and fry the cheese in the pan-makes a great pizza.

June 29, 2013

Today I make the short move to Lynx Lake. I actually prefer Lynx to Shell. There are fewer people and I believe, better fishing. Only one other group is on the lake this morning as I make my way to my site. I like the one closest to the Ruby portage as it is in a stand of Norways, away from canoe traffic, and has decent fishing right off the site with a decent landing area and easy access to the water.

After setting up camp I decided to fish right off my site. Within minutes I land two beautiful walleye. I want them for dinner, but I don’t want to drag them around all day so I put the walleye on my stringer and clip them to a downed tree that extends into the lake to keep them away from turtles. I paddle over the Yodeler Creek to photograph my favorite little waterfalls and search for more Moccasin Flowers and maybe a moose.

There is a portage on the east side of the creek that takes you to the beaver pond. In years past I’ve ventured into Yodeler Lake, which is a great largemouth lake. Not huge bass but lots of action. So far this trip the bugs haven't been a problem, but as I make my way through the portage, they descend on me with a fury.
Tonight I have a great walleye dinner. After an evening of more fishing I get a fire going and listen to the loons, chickadees, and thrushes call in the stillness.

June 30, 2013

I wake up to a still, cool, slightly foggy morning. Fishing this morning is slow. I manage to catch one walleye off my site, but I put him back in hopes of great fishing today. I hit my other “secret” walleye spots on the lake but come up empty. By noon I’m heading from the rocks on the south end of the lake when I notice a bull moose in the bay. It’s noon and it’s very warm today so I’m surprised to see him. I paddle in slowly and he doesn’t seem weary of my presence. After about 20 minutes he finally decides to move and that’s when I notice he’s limping terrible and has a huge gash on his hind quarters. He manages to limp back into the woods but I can see he’s struggling. The flies are bothering him and 10 minutes later he’s back into the water. He makes his way back across the bay and climbs onto the shore where he lays down. I decide to let him be and continue fishing.

By late afternoon I’ve caught no fish. I recall a day on Lynx where I caught over 15 walleyes in less than an hour. The water is so clear that I watched schools of walleyes swim under my canoe and take my bait. On other days I've fished Lynx quite the opposite has happened. I've watched large walleyes swim under my canoe and not give my bait one look. Very frustrating.

I start my paddle back to camp and check on the moose. The moose hasn’t moved all afternoon but he’s still alert. I feel somewhat helpless and I wish I could do something to help it but I know these matters are not up to me.

I hit my last fishing spot before I head back to my campsite. Bam! The walleyes are finally biting. In a matter of 30 minutes I land 7 beautiful walleyes, one of which becomes my dinner.

Later in the evening I paddle to check on the moose. He’s still where I last saw him. Tomorrow I move to Hustler so I know I will not know the fate of this moose. I end the evening with a nice sunset and as I’m paddling across 60 feet of water (my lure might be 10-15 feet down) I catch a walleye. It just goes to show you that you never know where the walleyes might be.

July 1, 2013

Time to head to Hustler Lake. Lynx Lake is one of my favorite lakes in the BWCA and I always feel a little sad as I leave on the portage. I put my Duluth pack on and canoe and start on the portage. The bugs descend with a furry. My permethrin sprayed clothes work well, but mosquitoes aren't dumb. They find the exposed spots on my body. People always ask me how the bugs were but it’s always a matter of degrees. I took my sister on a trip and she declared the bugs to be horrible after one bite. I have a little more tolerance and I’ve learned to wear proper clothing-long sleeves and pants not a t-shirt, shorts and sandals.

Ruby Lake is a small beautiful clear lake and I paddle in silence across the deep water to the next portage. It’s a short portage but I find 10 mosquitoes ready to bite my hand as I carry my canoe so I make haste across the portage. Hustler Lake is relatively clear lake that holds a nice population of smallmouth bass and decent size Northerns. I find I’m the only one on Hustler and I take the best site on the lake. This site is one of my favorites in the BWCA. It has beautiful views with Norway Pines. I disappointed to see that the last group chopped down a live White Pine and hacked up a Norway in the campsite and tried to burn the White Pine.

I spend part of the morning watching a beaver feed on ferns along the shoreline: he seems mostly unafraid of my presence but he keeps alert. I paddle down to the Oyster Portage to find two orchids, the swamp pink and the dragon’s mouth. It seems with the late spring only one swamp pink is in bloom.
The rest afternoon I spend fishing catching several nice bass and a 5lb northern on the north arm of the lake. I also investigate the fire that started last year that the forest service quickly extinguished. One other group comes late in the afternoon and takes the site on the south end of the lake. Often I’ve spent two nights on this lake with no other groups. I start another fire and listen to the loon calls over the lake and watch the sun go down.

July 2, 2013

I wake up to another beautiful morning. It’s one of those mornings that I realize why I love coming here. I sip my coffee on the Precambrian rocks in almost quiet meditation and watch and listen to the morning. I’m in no hurry. One morning several years back I recall a small buck wandering into camp while I was drinking my coffee. He paid me no mind and came within 10 yards of me and investigated the entire site before he moved on. Had I been with a group I can hardly imagine even having that same experience.

As I said I don’t paddle great distances as the crow flies, I prefer to explore an entire lake and fish. I truly believe that it’s possible to travel so far in the BWCA and really not experience all the truly great wonders that the north woods have to offer. I’m reminded of a solo traveler I met last year on Hustler. He must have been in his 60s. We had started our trips on the same day, only he started near Crane Lake. He seemed to be almost boasting how far he had come. And I felt a little embarrassed to tell him I had started only a few miles away. But then I realized that we have two different purposes to our trips. I wished him good travels and a safe journey. Fishing is not spectacular but I catch many nice bass and finally land several nice Northerns, again on the north arm, one of which becomes my dinner.

I spot a huge snapping turtle on a rock and am able to snap a shot of him before he scurries into the water. I’m amazed at these creatures, they look like dinosaurs. I land my canoe and prepare for dinner. I get out my filet knife, paddle, and pan and head back to gather my dinner. I’m shocked to see the snapping turtle ready to steal my dinner. I whack him on his back and he quickly swims away. I know not to leave fish on a stringer for too long but 10 minutes seems like a record. I head off into the woods to clean my dinner. I’ve often wondered what is meant by “clean your fish well away from your site.” Dinner tastes great as the wind calms and the silence of the woods greets the evening. Tomorrow I head to Oyster.

July 3, 2013

I like moving early when I solo and usually for no more than 4 hours. Getting to a lake early ensures you get the best sight available. I’ve watched groups enter a lake at 5 or 6 in the evening only to paddle another hour in the hottest part of the day trying to find an available sight. I’ve done that on Agnes before with a group of high school students and it is not fun. The portage into Oyster is 310 rods before beavers flooded the portage and broke it into two sections.

The first year I crossed it was a tangled mess of trees and logs and the group I saw said there was no way you could get across without wading through the water. I vowed that I could do it. I did not want to get my boots wet. Let’s say I ended up getting my boots wet over the top and soaked my pack in the process. The BWCA finds ways to humble you, no matter how many years you’ve traveled through it.

Last year a large bear was trumbling through the woods I had to yell at it or he would have walked right into me. He was large and black and raised his head and bolting off into the woods. That’s really the extent of my bear sightings while camping. Another year I spotted a large buck strolling through the woods. Another group was portaging through. Because of the noise and talking they made they had no idea that this buck was even present. At the end of the portage he came out and I was able to get a nice portrait of him. I’m sorry, groups create noise and I wonder how many missed opportunities to see wildlife you have when you are talking to people in your group. There are several nice sights on Oyster but I like the one on the east side of the lake closest to the portage to the Oyster River. Another great landing, open with a beautiful view of the lake, wonderful woods to explore and access to the water. Oyster Lake is empty and I make a futile attempt to snag a trout as I paddle across the large deep lake. The morning heats up fast and while traveling was only a few hours I feel knocked out as I reach my campsite. But my mantra this solo trip is “no expectations.” Too often I’ve expected great fishing, great weather and great photo opportunities; when my trip didn’t reach my “ideal” I was disappointed.

I remember a few years ago it was cold, windy and raining for six straight days. I bumped into a Forest Service crew that had said many groups had cut their trip short because of the weather and poor fishing. Poor weather can really test your psyche especially when you are alone. With poor weather I take time to hike the woods or catch up on reading.

I eat lunch and take a nap. By late afternoon I head out to do a little smallmouth fishing. Fishing is poor but I manage to enjoy the loon pair that are feeding in the bay. It amazing to watch them swim under my canoe in the clear waters. They seem protective of a small rock island but I see no nest. I decide to let them be and head back to make dinner.

I love cooking but solo cooking is a real chore and I prefer simple dishes. I’ll make the expectation for fish though. Tonight it is burritos with dehydrated jalapenos, cheese, and refried beans. All from my dehydrator. Great Mexican dinner. I fish for a few hours but catch nothing and head back before the sun goes down to get a fire going. I’ve found that while I bring an axe and a saw, I really don’t need it. I gathered dead branches from around the campsite and I’ve collected enough beaver wood from along the shore that I don’t need to expend the energy cutting or chopping fire wood. Also, I pilfered a few logs from other vacant sites. It seems no matter how bad the weather has been the sunsets on Oyster are spectacular and tonight is no exception.

July 4, 2013

I thought about heading into Green or even into Pekan but I feel like giving Oyster another try with fishing. Today is a hazy warm day and by noon the wind has picked up considerably. Fishing is slow but I manage to snag several nice size bass in the shallow basin of the lake. I spend the evening hiking the shore line and taking photographs. I find a decent cedar log and with my axe I cut two nice planks from it to use to cook my fish dinner on Ramshead. The sunset is spectacular again as I get a fire going and relax.

July 5, 2013

Today I head to my last camping destination. I feel sadness that my trip is almost over but I try to stay in the moment and enjoy what’s in front of me. Ramshead Lake offers solitude and usually great Northern fishing. I’ve found that cold late spring means excellent fishing in late June on this shallow lake.

It usually takes about 2 hours for me to have my breakfast and break camp. Again, I’m in no hurry. I paddle to the portage. This is a short portage into the Oyster River but it is beautiful, full of old White Pine, Norway Pine and Cedar trees. I take time to photograph the trees and the rapids.

The Oyster River is shallow, slow, meandering and very clear. Rivers in the BWCA have a certain odor that is somewhat intoxicating. I slowly paddle and breathe in the fresh air. I watch the angel hair grass gently undulate beneath the clear water and watch a family of Golden Eyes. The lower portion of the river is narrow and sometimes difficult to navigate. It seems the flow changes every year. I often have to stand up in my canoe to make sure I’m traveling in the right direction.

I enter the Nina Moose River and paddle south toward the Ramshead portage without seeing anyone. The portage into Ramshead is relatively flat and does not see a lot of foot traffic except for moose and wolves. The portage actually takes you to the creek and to a set of rapids that during low water you have to portage. You can portage either side. But trying to portage over the boulders is not advised, especially traveling solo.

By noon the wind has picked up out of the south and is blowing white caps across the lake. My destination is the island campsite. I think it’s the best one on the lake. A few others I would consider camping on only during the fall or spring. By the looks of things, only three sites really get any use.

I decide to hug the east shoreline to escape the wind before I have to cross to the island. The paddle isn’t long but going solo into a hard wind is quite draining. The landing isn’t great but someone has made a decent landing area with a number of large rocks. No one is here as I suspected. I have the lake to myself.

I gather my packs and decide to have lunch and set up camp. By late afternoon the wind is still blowing, too hard to do any fishing, so I decide to take a nap.

Dinner is easy tonight. Dinner in a bag. Mountain House has a few decent meals that I add dehydrated tomatoes, jalapenos, and red peppers to add some extra kick and flavor. The advantages of dinners in a bag are that they are easy to make and easy to clean up. The wind has died and I fish the rest of the evening. I catch a 7lb Northern and a three pounder and consider it a good omen. The evening is quiet and the bugs seem to be non-existent.

July 6, 2013

Today I want a full day of fishing so I am up before six. I make my coffee and head for my canoe. This morning is hot and muggy with clouds moving in from the south. I catch 5 Northerns over 5 pounds. I take time to photograph the eagles and watch the Trumpeter Swans that have made Ramshead their home. I also search for the Coral Root Orchid that grows on one of the other campsites. With the threat of rain, I head back to my campsite and make my oatmeal breakfast.

The rest of the morning and afternoon I manage to only catch a few small pike. After eating lunch I hear thunder so I’m forced to head for shelter. Dinner consists of my dehydrated refried beans. The rain returns in earnest and I’m forced under my tarp for the first time on my trip. I spend the rest of the evening reading. I’m bound and determined to get a fire going in this downpour. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the challenge I suppose. It takes three tries but I make fire.

July 7, 2013

My last full day. I’ve already spent two nights here and have yet to see anyone. I can only imagine what it is like on Agnes and Nina Moose. I’ve thought about spending my last night on Nina Moose to make my last day a little easier, but I know I’d be spending it with too many other people. I opt to stay here. I’m up early to take advantage of the fishing. It’s overcast and peaceful this morning. I look out and know I’m the only one around. To some this might mean dread or loneliness but I find it peaceful. It’s not to say I haven't gotten lonely; I have. Early in my solo adventures I found myself feeling lonely. It usually occurred around 4 o’clock. I’m not sure why it was that time of day but it almost became overwhelming. But I found putting my watch away and taking advantage of every opportunity to fish, paddle and explore keeps me busy and peaceful with myself.

Fishing is excellent this morning and I catch many 5 pound pike. I’ve caught larger on this lake but I’m not complaining. I spent many times on this lake and managed only one or two fish all day. I keep one Northern for dinner. Tonight I’m cooking my fish on the Cedar planks I cut on Oyster. The planks were light and added little weight to my packs and were well worth it. The pike cook up nicely over the fire and the fish tastes great. A great way to end my solo trip. July 8, 2013

I have not seen or spoken to anyone for four days. The morning is foggy with a little mist. The last few years I’ve had record heat on my last day. I fish for about an hour before I decide I need to head to the portage. I don’t like getting to Nina Moose too early in the day because it means I’ll run into too many groups. Usually by mid afternoon most groups have passed through. I drop some tobacco in the lake and I give thanks for all the fish I caught and ate and for a safe journey. I say my goodbyes to the lake and disappear into the woods.

The portage out of Ramshead into Lamb is flat and not long and it’s not well maintained and full of boulders and roots and a little Poison Ivy at the end. The water levels of Lamb Lake are quite high and the end of the portage is flooded. Coming the other way you probably would miss it. Lamb is a small clear lake full of small Northerns. By the time I reach the 228 rod portage into Nina Moose, the weather looks like it’s going to clear.
This is my least favorite portage. This portage has it all; it’s very hilly, strewn with lots of boulders, roots and mud. Not to mention the abundance of mosquitoes and ticks. I manage to slip on a rock with my canoe and food pack on and a jolt of pain shoots through my back. I curse myself because it’s a careless mistake I’ve made. This is no time to get injured.

By the time I get to Nina Moose the clouds have parted and every bug in the forest as descended on me; I waste no time getting onto Nina Moose Lake.

Nina Moose is an overlooked lake for fishing. I’ve caught many decent size walleyes and a few nice pike on Nina Moose. I see one other group heading in and I offer a, “have a nice trip” and paddle on. The river is high and I have no trouble with any beaver dams. I take my time paddling up river and I remember I’m still on my trip. By the time I get to the parking lot it’s nearly three o’clock. I take my time loading up my car and head back on the Echo Trail.
Upper Pauness Lake, Lower Pauness Lake, Shell Lake, Lynx Lake, Ruby Lake, Hustler Lake, Oyster Lake, Ramshead Lake

Lakes Traveled:   Upper Pauness Lake, Lower Pauness Lake, Shell Lake, Lynx Lake, Ruby Lake, Hustler Lake, Oyster Lake, Ramshead Lake,