2013 early June Quetico fishing trip
Spent Sunday afternoon in Ely and roomed at Canoe Country Outfitters, who also rented me a Wenonah Prism Solo and towed me to Prairie Portage. Got up at early and on the way to Britton’s for biscuits and gravy (more than I could eat) the local bank sign read 39F. Back at CCO, Mark wished me a good trip and I was on my way to Moose Lake. (Very foggy between Ely and Winton.) After giving Bruce my keys, Peter and I loaded my gear and we headed up Moose. (I was wearing two shirts, a light down vest, fleece jacket and my rain jacket.)
Moose was busy with other towboats, eagles, loons and a few canoes. After checking in with the Ranger (there was one group ahead of me, I arranged my gear in the Prism and headed up Birch Lake a little after eight. I leisurely paddled up the Canadian shoreline, making mental notes on campsites for later use, and enjoying the beautiful, cool morning. (One campsite in particular -- north of the portage to Polaris Lake -- was pretty disappointing.) I passed VERY close to two loon nests on Birch.
I saw 3-4 other groups on canoes and some campers on the U.S. side of upper Birch and arrived at the Carp portage well before noon. There was a small crowd there, like on my last trip, so I ate some snacks while “treading water” things cleared. It took 2 1/2 trips to get all my junk across, and getting paddling again – into a little breeze now – really felt good. (No one else was heading my way.)
Going up Carp I saw no one until the so-called 2-star site on the right where a white canoe was pulled up out of the water. In a cove to the left, a site I refer to as “HoHo Island” was also occupied. While paddling, I ate a lunch of stuff I had loaded into my fanny pack back at PP. Around 2PM I arrived at the “pinch” where three campsites are located within several hundred yards of each other and checked the first site – exposed, rocky, trees down.
The second site, 1KE or the “Grassy Knoll,” where we ate lunch last year was open, with a thick carpet of grass and dandelions, and it was shady, so I claimed it. From this location, I could easily access the nearby portages to Sheridan and Crawford Lakes, plus the slightly further ones to Emerald and Beaver. I spent the rest of the afternoon pitching camp and settling in. For supper I cooked a skillet of sausage, onion and potatoes.
The rest of this day's notes from around 7:30 that evening.: “Completely cloudy now after not a cloud in the sky nearly all day. All secure and flies have backed off some. Mergansers! Liquor good. Get out of my drink, fly! Dead calm now after a gentle breeze from about mid morning. This is the best time of day. Checked the NOAA weather radio -- NO others are just plain gnats. Another Wood Tick crawling on the chair. BIG SKEETER – DIE!”
6/4/13/(Tuesday) -- Day 2
At 1:30AM it was clear out and I saw a gazillion stars, but at sunup it was cloudy and foggy. (40F in the tent/45F outside) Did not sleep well at all as I was plagued by strange dreams, a couple strange noises, and kept sliding off my pads. With scrubs bottoms and a silk long johns top, and fully zipped up in my Marmot Nomad bag, I was warm. I finally got up at 7AM – fog gone – and had my coffee and “loaded” oatmeal.
Fished most of the morning using mostly a ¼ oz. black jig and a smoky-colored Kalin’s tail, and a 1/8 oz. white jig and a white split-tail. Had a lot of misconnections and snags, and lost a few fish before getting them to the canoe. The two fish I did land were a 15” SMB that was a real fighter, and a 20” NP.
Back at camp I had hot Ramen noodle soup and some beef jerky for lunch and after cleanup, rigged up my other two fishing rods. Then, my lower back started hurting like Hell, and the black flies were pretty bad, so I got in the tent to give it a rest. Lying in the tent working a crossword puzzle, I noticed it seemed cooler. The barometer had peaked and was dropping and the breeze had switched directions. Weather must be changing.
My back felt better after lying down for a while, but I decided to just R & R the rest of the day. It was “cloudy-bright” most of the day, with brief sun in the late afternoon. I saw only one other canoe today – a white tandem – and wondered if it was the one I’d seen yesterday. Supper was a Mountain House sweet and sour pork – my favorite MH meal – with a tortilla to wipe up the very last bite and a Lipton powdered tea drink mix.
I had a small fire to piss off the bugs and some Evan Williams honey, then hit the tent a little before nine, wondering when it would rain. (I had heard some thunder from the West at supper time, and the last weather forecast before the trip looked like I would be getting wet.)
6/5/13 (Wednesday) -- Day 3
Slept better last night. (On my last trip I have began using a two pad sleeping system. A Thermarest pad, and on top of that a Nemo “pillow top”/pad. Since I started doing this I sleep much better.) I was up early and it was a cool 45F., and the skies were cloudy except to the North. After my oatmeal and coffee breakfast I headed off to fish. With the sky looking the way it did, I didn’t think I’d venture too far, but took something for lunch just in case. I decided to just stick with topwater lures.
By noon, the sky was mostly sunny. I caught some 12-13” SMB and one really feisty 17-incher. Of course there were the usual nuisance Pike, but also one about 27” that got my favorite topwater lure – big frog-colored Skitter Pop – crosswise in the back of its mouth. I finally extracted it but the pike died in the process, making a great meal for the local turtles, I’m sure. I discovered a huge beaver lodge and scavenged some sun-cured wood, then fought a rising breeze back to camp.
Near my takeout, I got so close to one of the local loons that I could see bugs on its head! At lunchtime it was cloudy again and I had Spam on tortillas and some hot tea under my tarp as it sprinkled a little. A deer came swimming right through the narrows, and continued north as if heading for upper Carp. After lunch, I decided to lie down in the tent, fell asleep, and when I woke up it was almost four. (Gosh, it’s great having a lot of time to spare.)
My nap left me a little lethargic, so I just piddled round and made firewood. At suppertime, it was still all cloudy, and not as breezy – but buggier – than before. Supper was MH Beef Stroganoff, plus some home-dried peas. After supper the bugs got pretty bad, so I went out to fish and try to get away from them. Fished near camp, using only the Skitter Pop, but caught nothing.
I collected a bag of water for the camp filter and was back at camp in time to batten down the hatches, have a drink and hit the tent with the sun now hitting the Eastern shore treetops. (My Western shore site got sun first thing in the AM, but NO sun after mid-afternoon.) In the tent, my thermometer said 50F and I guess it might have gotten up to 60F -- at most -- today.
6/6/13 (Thursday) -- Day 4
Slept okay last night. I’m getting to like these cool nights (c. 45F.) and sleeping better. There’s an early northeast breeze (that has to precede rain in the next 24 hours, I think), it’s very cloudy – ugly actually – and there’s foamy water “glop-glopping” on my shore. I figured I didn’t need to punish my back by fighting the breeze. (The fact that the fishing had so far been pretty “slow” factored into the equation.) So I decided to declare a day of R & R, which I could easily do considering the number of days I had.
So I dug a new “loo,” cleaned out and improved the fireplace, filtered some water and dozed a little in the tent. Later in the morning I re-rigged one rod and made a test cast from shore and hooked, then lost, a BIG bass on a perch Shad Rap. Lunch was fish “tacos” (tuna salad). After lunch, since the breeze had slackened considerably I decided to venture out. No luck again, and in addition I had some trouble with one bait casting outfit, so I came back to camp.
The sun came out off and on for awhile, with big fluffy clouds and patches of blue by 6PM. I had the MH Lasagna meal, with some home-dried ground beef added. It was so-so and the pouch was really hard to clean out because of the cheese in it. While having dessert -- a cup of “Irish Coffee” -- I chased a Fisher off the trail behind camp. (Actually I couldn’t tell just how far he went, or if he might have climbed a tree, so I was watchful afterwards.)
The bugs got bad – flies and mosquitoes both -- so I got in the tent to write my daily notes and start a crossword puzzle. Later I made a small fire (that got them!) and straightened up. I skipped my usual nightcap, took a pain pill, and hit the tent a little after nine.
6/7/13 (Friday) – Day 5
Got up early again, had a quick breakfast, packed a lunch and decided to see if I could spend the whole day fishing, since my back felt fine and after an early fog lifted, the day looked beautiful. (With no apologies, today's narrative will NOT reveal where I fished.)
I don’t know what it was – maybe the dark of the moon, or that plus the change in the weather – but today was the day to be fishing for bass with topwater lures. I fished from 8-ish until almost 5PM and really didn’t want to stop. There was little or no wind all day, so control of the canoe was not a problem, which is really a blessing for a solo fisherman.
Things actually started out poorly. My go-to lure, the frog Skitter Pop was stolen by a big Pike that came out of the water and tore it off as it was dangling. (I was using 20# Fireline, and it cut it like butter.) I tied on a Heddon Torpedo and after about five casts a Pike bit it off. After that, I paddled away from that area, and went to a Rebel Frog R that survived and caught fish the rest of the day. I had never fished the Frog R before. (And, I only had two other topwater lures, not counting floating Rapalas.)
I kept thinking if I kept at it I would surely boat a 20-incher (or over,) but finally decided it wasn’t meant to be. I did boat and release a 19-inch, two 18-inchers, and a 17”. (And my wrist and hand ached from casting and “walking the frog.”) I lost a monster SMB that made a sudden run toward the canoe and then launched itself well out of the water and tossed the lure. Then as is re-entered the water, something even bigger boiled alongside where it had been.
I think I lost 4 or 5 other nice ones, but counting the four above and numerous other fish as small as 11” I boated about twenty Bass (SMB & LMB) and three Pike, one of which was 28”. (Not counting several smaller Pike got off or were released without making it to the canoe.)
As a bonus, around mid-day I was back in a cove and decided to see how far up a marshy water path through I could get with the canoe. Then about 120 yards away on the shore I saw black, and thought “Moose.” This thought changed to “Bear” as the canoe drifted a little closer. What breeze there was favored me and the bear seemed very interested in nosing the ground. It actually turned out to be a momma bear and at least one cub, and after snapping off a few quick pictures I carefully back paddled out. (Once again, I am reminded that it sometimes pays to paddle close to shore and be inquisitive!)
On the way back to camp, I knew that this was one of the best days I had ever had in Quetico. The only thing missing was someone to share it with. Back at camp I had a late supper, then made a small fire and poured myself an extra slug of “honey.” (Surprisingly, the bugs seemed to have taken a break.) I drank a toast to bass and bears at around 9PM. An awesome day in the Q!
6/8/13 (Saturday) – Day 6
I slept until almost eight o’clock. The sun was heating the tent and it was clear as a bell when I got up. At breakfast, something exploded in the left side of my lower back when I reached for something. For a while, I kept thinking I could gut it out, but soon discovered I was going to have to take some medicine and spend the day nursing it.
So I did. Today reinforces my belief in never planning a trip of less than eight days, if possible. There are too many things that can spoil a short trip – rain, wind, injuries or illness – but if you have more time, you can work around these. (Maybe “spoil” is too harsh a word, but you get the idea.) It probably got up to 72F today, and I think it was the first day I didn’t use my fleece at least a little bit. The day spent at camp was a little boring, but with a nap at midday, a few crossword puzzles, and the beautiful weather, it went by surprisingly fast.
In the evening the bugs got bad for the first time, even though it had gotten breezier. (I can’t figure them out, that’s for sure.) As the day drew to a close I began to think about tomorrow and how my back will feel. I built a small fire in the newly cleaned out fireplace and drank my “honey” and tried to forget about my back. It was noticeably cooler now, and I headed to the tent feeling that in spite of my backache, and not getting out, today was good.
6/9/13 (Sunday) – Day 7
Up at six, it’s clear again and the sun is on the tent. It feels warmer than yesterday morning. My back’s not too bad. Having breakfast, the debate begins on whether to stay here or move? (I had planned to stay up here until Monday -- or Tuesday at the latest -- and cover more territory, then move down to Birch near Indian Portage, my pickup point.) How paddling and the portage will affect the back, etc. goes through my mind. Eventually, in part because of the beautiful day, I decide to make the move today.
I am all packed up and heading south before ten. I see no one else on the way. (Strange?) At the widening in Lower Carp north of the portage to Birch, I have to fight the first serious wind I’ve seen this trip, and end up “tacking” my way through a crosswind and hitting the lee of the long point of Carp’s last bay. Above the portage, I tread water again for about twenty minutes as a group of slow “dry-footers” get their act together and there is room for me to land. All in all it took about 3 hours to get this far. Back still seems good.
Portaging my gear, I talk to four fellows from Chicago heading out after a week of fishing on the U.S. side. They mentioned liking Portage Lake in the BW, and it seems I’ve heard that before. They are using a three-man Wenonah, so I ask them how it has worked out for them (for future reference) and they give it good reviews. I take my time portaging and eat some snacks before pushing off into Birch against a south breeze.
After making the turn into the main body of Birch I begin to think about where to camp, and without checking it out again, I rule out the site (539) north of the Polaris portage. Heading on south, I pass the little bay the portage is and soon came to a loon’s nest I had seen on the way up. The momma loon was still sitting like a Sphinx.
Just south of here I notice what looks like a high campsite on an island, that I honestly don’t remember seeing on day one, so I stop for a look. Wow. What a huge site. Looking at my map, I realize I have noted “very popular.” I decide to stay, then carry my gear up the steep hill. (Later I realize the east side has a better landing and a gentler climb.) Fireplace "before" picture:
I pick what I think is the best of about seven possible tent sites – one well away from the horrible fireplace – and put up the tent, managing to get all my stakes all the way into the very rocky, pine duff-covered soil. After getting the tent up, I check NOAA radio and am not surprised to hear forecasts for rain. As soon as I get the tarp up, it starts to spit. A little while later I eat an early supper of MH Chili Mac under the tarp as it drizzles. (Killed one tick here today, but flies aren't as bad.)
After supper I get in the tent to straighten things out, get off my feet, and work a crossword puzzle. The drizzle lets up, and then stops. The black flies don’t seem as bad here. I think about having a small fire, but decide to wait until I can clean out and improve the fireplace. I close my eyes for a bit, and fall asleep, then wake up, take a Benadryl and go back to sleep for the night. “Great timing” day this was, eh?
6/10/13 (Monday) – Day 8
Up at six to a very cloudy, sticky morning with very little breeze. Decide to piddle around camp this morning after a cup of Joe and a breakfast of oatmeal plus grape-nuts and powdered milk. After watching a group of eight in three canoes come by around eight, I decide to take on the fireplace cleanup job.
This took about two hours as I used an aluminum pie plate and a trash bag to remove about a cubic foot of old ashes and trash. (Found some "relics" during my digging.) My back was still feeling pretty "iffy" at lunch time which I enjoyed at the spiffy fireplace (SPAM!) After lunch I whiled away the rest of the afternoon with a mixture of chores, crossword puzzles and critter-watching.
Tons of mosquitoes today, but only a few black flies, with temperature in the high 60'sF. Had MH chicken/rice with some home-dried veggies added. (Pretty good, but a little bland.) Lots of traffic seen this afternoon, almost all on the U.S. side, but I didn't mind it except for some loudmouths and paddle-knocking.
Made a small fire to break in the fireplace and piss the bugs off. As I write these notes around 7PM, it occurs to me you could probably put seven tents on this site. (Two where my mine's at and two near the fireplace, for sure.) Hammock and bear rope trees abound here and most of the island is covered with pine duff. Toilet is an issue though, with no place 60 meters from the water. The south end was covered with TP bombs and crap under rocks when I was here.
Hit the tent about 8:45 with birds still singing and mosquitoes buzzing the tent mesh. Real strong NOAA reception -- rain possible tonight and tomorrow -- days will be getting warmer. A good R & R day today. Polaris Lake tomorrow, I hope!
6/11/13 (Tuesday) – Day 9
It rained more during the night -- I woke up three times -- it sounded like a gently rain, nothing heavy. Up at six, with the sun hitting the tent(Yeah!)and things looking good for a day trip. After my coffee and oatmeal-plus, I packed some snacks and lunch and headed out.
The portage to Polaris is a VERY rocky "up and over" and with the steep start, I couldn't shoulder the canoe and climb the pitch, so I drug it up. (Sorry, Mark.) On the Polaris side of the portage it's not as steep, and a downed pine across the trail was useful for scooting the canoe across.
When I began paddling on Polaris, the sky looked pretty dicey, but it soon cleared and became simply beautiful. I paddled and fished clockwise, from the portage around to the "falls" from the no-name lake to the northwest. From about 8AM to 1PM I caught 27 bass -- all smallmouths -- many of which were 14-16" and on down to very small ones I could barely get a thumb into a mouth. (I had the whole lake to myself until about mid-morning when a couple in a red canoe showed up.)
During my visit I located three campsites on this small gem of a lake. The first had a good landing in a cove, great log seating at a nice fireplace, and one really lumpy, big pad near the fireplace. Back in a ways is a neat mossy pad that someone had crapped in.(!)The second site probably wasn't very good to begin with, and had a tree down across the fireplace area. The third site is really hard to spot, back in the woods with no visible shore access. (I guess site 1 is the equivalent of 1CZ in the PCD. I did not GPS the location.)
After a great morning of fishing and photography, but with no sizble fish caught. I decided after my lunch at the best campsite, to head out. On my way back, I took some photos of the loon on her nest, and collected a big bag of water for treating. Back at camp a little after two, I got some water filtering, and with it getting hotter, got in the lake for a wash-off.
It was very pleasant this afternoon, in the shade with breezes and some strong gusts, and only a few bugs. Back aching again, I took some meds and tried to nap with no success. Around six I had a supper of MH pasta primavera with some parmesan cheese added. Very (surprisingly) good!
Mosquuitoes were vicious from around 6-7PM, then none.(!) Gnats were bad afterwards, though. (Maybe a big hatch after the rains?) I had an extra ration of "honey" tonight and hit the tent before nine, thinking about whether to fish around here tomorrow (my last full day)or what. Great day! (Temperature in tent67.5F.)
6/12/13 (Wednesday) – Day 10
Slept so-so last night, waking up a few times sliding off my pad. Sun on the tent at 5:45AM. Had my usual breakfast and a double dose of coffee, then went out to fish around here on Birch Lake around 7:30.
Fishing the main shore a few hundred yards from my island, I hear someone call out behind me and turn around to see a young couple in a tandem. They asked me "if I have a map of the area."(?!) I told them my maps were back at camp, and we paddled over there to look at them.
It turns out that they had an outfitter's map of the Knife Lake area -- their destination -- but no other maps. The guy used his smartphone to take a picture of my map, thanked me and they headed off. I'm still scratching my head over how anyone would go out without a map of the whole area.
After fishing for two hours with only a couple of half-hearted bites, I was going to quit, but then caught a nice 13" SMB. Half and hour later I caught an 18", then a 14" LMB, then another 13" SMB. Back at camp around eleven, my total is seven bass, but I covered a lot of territory to find them.
It gets warmer earlier today, and the early clear skies turned to half cloudy big white cumulus, but at least it's not very breezy -- yet. Drinking some tea and eating some snacks I see a sphinx moth, which I have never seen in Quetico. Around noon, a string of 5 or 6 canoes strung out in a line go past heading north. Probably Scouts, I think.
After a lunch of ramen noodles with all my leftover home-dried veggies added, I reorganized some of my remaining food and snacks into one container and then decided to go back out to fish. I stopped at a campsite on the point just southwest of my island (not in the PCD)to GPS it and have a look.
My notes say: "OK fireplace, decent seating, one pad for small/medium tent, great landing but exposed and maybe buggy at times. Very small usable area but liveable for one night at least." From here, I fished southeast and had some hits I missed, then I hooked a big one that did a a "jump and spit" on me and was gone. (Rats!) After about an hour more of fishing and having the breeze "play" with me, I came back to camp.
Tried to nap again, then got up at five and took some back meds. Supper was a gut-stuffing mixture of home-dried burger, macaroni and cheese. (Messy cleanup!) Lounged after supper hoping it would calm and make for easier eveining paddling, but it stayed breezy and I didn't try fighting it. Hit the tent early with swarms of bugs outside. Today was the first day I wore no more than a tee-shirt.
6/13/13 (Thursday) Day 11
Saw the stars through the big pines during the night and heard one strange noise. Slept so-so again. At 4:45 the sun was hitting the tent. (Jeez!) Got up at 5:30, and went straight out to the fishing spot I ended up at yesterday. In the first ten minutes I caught three LMB, but all were small. (One was about as long as my paddle blade, and one spit out a 1 1/2" crawdad.)After trying a little more and missing a strike from a possible larger fish, I headed in.
Had an oatmeal-plus-plus-plus breakfast, using most of my additives and some black, hot coffee and started packing up. Taking a break before doing the tent gear, I noticed it was getting breezy already, at 8:30AM. Took my time finishing packing up -- no reason to hurry this close to my Indian Portage pickup -- and got headed south about 9:30.
I paddled down the west side of the big island south of camp and fished a little at the very end -- near U.S. water -- and had couple of "misses" but caught nothing. Then I headed over to a the last, short, skinny island on the Canada side and discovered an old but usable campsite there. (PCD legacy site 31S.)I got out, looked around and had some snacks and water before pushing off and entering U.S. waters.
With a pretty good tailwind, I crossed the mile or so of open water on lower Birch with hardly any effort. At times I just held my paddle firmly against the side and steered. There were some folks camped on the U.S. side west of Indian portage, but the sites on the east side were open today.
At 11:30, when I reached the take-out there was no one on my side, but I could hear someone on the other side, so I tied off the canoe and walked over empty-handed. (My pickup was not scheduled until 1PM.) Someone waiting on the Sucker Lake side said that a tow from CCO had been there recently and was coming back shortly. About a half hour later the tow returned and I was able to get a ride back to Moose without delay. (Great timing!)
Back at the CCO landing, I got my keys from Bruce, talked a little, loaded up and headed back to Ely. After stopping at Customs, my next stop was at the local DQ for a cold blizzard! After that I had a hot shower and a talk with Mark and headed to Sir G's restaurant for some real food, then headed for home.