Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Wojack in the wild (Crooked Lake loop)
by wojack

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 05/21/2014
Entry & Exit Point: Mudro Lake (EP 23)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
For many years I have loved camping in the wilderness, starting with my Grandfather bringing me to a National Forest Campground near his home town of Isabella MN. as I've grown older and ventured further into the wilderness, I am always looking for the next step to get further out..... deeper into the woods, away from it all. The BWCA was the next step after spending a few years in Voyageur's National Park with my Family. We attempted a trip to Pipestone Bay two years ago and a smaller Mudro Loop last year.while these were both fun trips and created good memories, we were still a little unprepared to enjoy the full experience. This year after talking to Lynn & John from VNO at the sport show, I booked a fully outfitted solo trip and planned on a Crooked Lake Loop.
 I left work in St. Paul at about 9:30Am after buttoning up a few things for the Memorial Day weekend and anxiously drove North on 35 towards Ely MN. it was a good day to be on the road as there was no holiday traffic in sight, allowing me to make good time. as I neared Cloquet MN, suddenly my truck stalled for a second, restarted and displayed just about every warning light it had! ABS, Traction control, Check engine,TPMS. This could be bad I thought........worrying about a tow or shop fees and the fate of my trip, I carefully continued to Cloquet and pulled into an Autozone to take advantage of their free engine scans. There was a friendly woman behind the counter who was too busy to help with the scan, but offered to let me use it myself. I have a side gig working on cars out of my home so this was no worry to me. I hooked up the scanner and pulled up the codes. they were all voltage related. this led me to two areas, either the alternator or the battery. since it seemed to happen so suddenly, with a start, my first guess was to inspect the battery. sure enough! I had a loose terminal on the positive post with plenty of green and blue caked-on corrosion. By offering to buy a can of terminal protector spray, the lady behind the counter allowed me to borrow a 10mm and a terminal brush to clean up my battery. with this done, I cleared the codes and started done the road again-Problem solved, Whew! I arrived in Ely a little later and immediately stopped at the Ely Steakhouse for a Bucky Burger to tame my road hunger. after that I stopped into VNO to pick-up my Canoe some of my gear and a key to my bunk house for the night. a little TV and going through gear and I was off to bed.

Day 1

I woke up at 4:45, had a quick snack and headed down to VNO to pick up my food pack, bait and a few Map tips from John. John showed me a few portage changes, landmarks and where the primo campsites and fishing spots on my route where. I started to fell a little apprehension mixed with excitement about starting my first solo trip. I've always wanted to try this, but also knew to be cautious to not allow myself to arrive in any risky situations. I promised myself to always wear my life jacket, watch my step carefully on portages and not overload myself on portages. no single portaging on this trip-only double and triple if needed. I put into a full and brisk Picket creek and was soon paddling across Mudro Lake. it only took about 15 minutes to get across this lake and hit the first portage. the first portage was 80 Rods (a rod is an obscure unit of measurement that equals 16.5 feet or 320 rods to a mile) this portage has a steep but short incline followed by a steeper and longer decline, all VERY rocky. the morning was cool and misty which made the jagged rocks slippery and dangerous. after bringing my first pack across I decided to do a triple portage to be on the safe side. with the first portage behind me it was on to Sandpit, a long but flat 160 rod portage then Tin Can Mike lake. when I entered TCM lake I decided to try the kayak paddle instead of the traditional paddle I had been using. I had never used a kayak paddle before, but this was also my first time in a solo canoe. I absolutely LOVED it! my speed increased by at least 1mph, the canoe was easier to track straight and you didn't get the little dribble of water over your gear every time you switched sides. I used the kayak paddle the rest of the trip and stowed the regular paddle just as insurance. after that it was a short portage into Horse lake followed by the Horse river. here I encountered 3 sets of very minor rapids that I was able to cruise through followed by 3 portages around larger rapids that where big and dangerous looking. as I exited into the Basswood river and Lower Basswood Falls area I found myself pretty well spent and ready to camp for the night. it took me about 6 hrs of traveling to get here, but would end up going another 2 hrs because the Falls area campsites were all full. The Falls themselves were impressive. the water seemed to be very high and tremendous amounts of water were flowing through. this kind of spectacle seems entrancing to me, similar to watching a fire curl and weave through burning logs, I could sit and watch for a while, but finding a campsite started to press upon me so I moved on. as I paddled past the falls up toward what was becoming Crooked Lake I approached an island that had a man who was waving vigorously at me! I looked across the lake and saw a canoe bouncing on the adjacent shore and immediately recognized the situation. I greeted the gentleman and asked if he needed help getting his canoe back. He told me that him and his buddy where fishing from the island and there canoe had gotten away from them in a gust of wind. he said his buddy had stripped down and swam after it but had to turn back because of the cold water. although the weather had been improving with more sun every day, today was overcast and in the 50's, the water had to be in the high 40's or very low 50's, I cant imagine swimming in it! it would have to take your breath away! We unloaded one of my packs and he jumped in. we then carefully but awkwardly went over to retrieve his canoe. after reuniting them with their canoe the guys offered me a large walleye as payment. I of course refused, as a good deed is its own payment, but said all the payment I needed was the direction of an empty site. they said they had seen some further north on Crooked earlier that day, so off I headed. I paddled past the ancient pictographs, taking pause to think back to those that put them there so long ago and continued my paddle. at this point I had a chorus running through my head. it was from the Disney movie finding Nemo, except instead of Dory singing "just keep swimming" in my head it was "just keep paddling" LOL! this part of Crooked was heavy with current. swirls and boils where everywhere created by giant boulders under the surface no doubt. keeping the canoe headed straight was sometimes a challenge as these unseen currents would twist the canoe suddenly as if I was on a turntable! I continued to "just keep paddling" until I finally came to an open site with a large boulder right in front about a mile south of Table Rock. I set up my tent. pad and sleeping bag and with aching arms, shoulders and legs decided to crash out for awhile to recuperate before doing anything else. it was 2pm and had taken me 8hrs of solid paddling and portaging to get this far and while i consider myself to be in decent shape, I was physically done, at least temporarily. I bet I was snoring up a storm as I slept HARD for about 3 hours. when I got up I had an early dinner with a quart of Gatorade. after this I felt relaxed and at ease and decided to spend the rest of the evening bobber fishing from shore at my campsite. I love fishing, and was drawn to Crooked by all the stories of spectacular fishing, and was hoping to have stories of my own! I found a nice current swirl a little off shore and tossed a Leech and slip bobber set-up right into it. about two minutes later the bobber was down and I was pulling in a beautiful 20 inch walleye! I ran to the tent to get my iphone to snap a picture I promised a friend who had custom made a St Croix spinning rod for me before my trip, but was devastated to find a dead battery and that I had forgotten the US cable needed to charge my phone with the remote battery I had brought! my sadness was short lived however, because I knew with Murphy's Law intact, this would probably be a week filled with photo worthy fish! oh well, my friends and family will just have to take my "fish stories"! the rest of the evening I caught 2 more nice walleyes and had two misses. a good night of fishing for sure! with the sun going down I was pretty pooped again and decided to head to the tent and do a little reading before crashing out for the night. I had picked up a new Stephen King book "JOYLAND" at Priagis the day before and now was the perfect time to crack it open. Damn the Heebie Jeebies! I got a kick out of reading a mystery/horror novel while camping in the black forest. at one point I heard a loud GALOOMP! from the lake that sounded like a sasquatch throwing rocks into the lake to warn me off, but easily went to sleep anyway (beaver slap most likely).


I woke up at about 6am with no alarm clock ( i usually get up at 4 or 5 am for work, so this was a nice sleep-in) feeling refreshed, but still a bit sore and tired. I then decided I would spend the next two nights on Crooked paddling (but no portages) to a new campsite each day. this would give me time to relax and fish. after breakfast I packed up camp and paddled north to Table Rock, past Wednesday bay and towards the "Big Current" and "Little Current" area. as I was paddling through a couple of islands before turning the corner west I came across a troubling sight! I saw something bobbing in the water. as I got closer I saw it was an overturned kevlar canoe surrounded by floating tackle boxes, cushions, etc. about a quarter mile down the lake I saw another canoe pulled to shore on an adjacent island start heading towards a campsite across the channel. seeing no one in the water, I decided to paddle my ass off to catch up to the other canoe to ask if they knew anything. as I approached them, I heard on of the three say "we'll start a fire as soon as we get back to camp" this further tipped me off, and I hollered to them to ask if the canoe was theirs and if everyone was OK? they replied yes to both, but where still too far off to have a conversation, so I left it at that and continued on. they appeared to be 20 year olds and were probably screwing around, but man, the water was cold and it could have led to a bad situation quickly! I distractedly continued on thinking to myself to make sure nothing similar happens to me this week! I rounded the corner west into the rest of Crooked, looking to score one of the recommended sites. the "Hilton" was occupied but the site right next to "Little Current" was open and was definitely a keeper. This was my favorite site of the trip! it had it all. good shade, kindling and firewood nearby, nice tent pad, but most of all, Dynamite shore fishing! to me there is nothing better than sitting on a rock, staring at a bobber, watching the day go by. even better when that bobber is getting pulled down a lot! this day I caught 7 walleyes and one SM bass from shore. one of the walleyes was a real beauty coming in about 24-25" I made lunch and dinner, drank fresh brewed coffee and filleted and ate walleye until I thought I would burst. to quote Ice Cube "today was a good day" later that day as the sun was going down and I was about to finish fishing for the day at sunset, I saw something large and brown swimming towards my campsite. "crap, that isn't a bear is it?" I said to myself, squinting behind my glasses. my first thought was to grab my Kayak paddle and prepare to defend camp, but as it got closer I had to laugh to myself as it was just a REALLY BIG beaver swimming by with a large branch in its mouth. is it swam by I gave him a loud "HEY BEAVER!" and he quickly rewarded me with a big tail slap and splash. LOL! after this it was off to the tent for some more Stephen King and sleep.

Day 3

I "slept in" until 6:30, ate a quick granola bar, packed up camp and hit the water a little after 8am. today my goal was about an hour paddle to the mouth of Friday Bay, for hopefully one of the island sites. i paddled up to the island site on the NE corner of Friday Bay just as another solo fellow was departing. great timing, i thought to myself as i pulled into another perfect campsite. i made myself a huge breakfast of scrambled eggs, hashbrowns and coffee and settled down for a little late morning nap. after napping it was time to stake out the fishing for the day. i paddled down to a couple of the islands in the bay to try for walleyes, but had no bites. it was the middle of a sunny day, so im sure that could have had something to do with it. i decided to go back to camp and resume shore fishing and see what would happen. after a while i had a strong sudden bite that pulled me into some rocks and a snag. seemed like a bass or northern bite to me. i rerigged and tossed it out again. this time nothing for about an hour. then, as i was reeling in to recast i saw a large shadow following my minnow into the shallows. i stopped the minnow about a foot from shore and saw what looked to be about an 8lb Northern Pike staring intently at my bait, but unwilling to come closer. i slowly moved the bait directly in front of his nose. it was more taunting than he could take, and i quickly saw his jaws open and my bait disappear into his mouth. i gave him a fast hook set and we were off to the races! i fought him slowly, enjoying his dashes and dives across the front of my campsite. eventually i pulled him to shore and placed him on a stringer, destined for part of my dinner for the night. since i still had about 4 hours of sun left, i decided to take the canoe out and do some casting in a nearby current to see if anything was hungry.For a long time i have been a big fan of "LAZY IKE" lures and always carry a classic red and white one with. there was another large pike lurking in this current that couldnt resist Ike's charms and was soon fighting on the end of my line. another great battle! after pulling in and releasing the big boy, i decided i had had enough canoe for the day and returned to camp to have dinner, shore fish and take it easy. the last couple days had been pretty warm and sunny and it looked like the years first good crop of bugs was begining to emerge. there was lots of surface feeding going on with fish plucking the bugs off the surface. right before sundown i saw a MONSTER pike swim by, reminding me of the way an alligator swims with its tail swaying back and forth just below the surface, creating undulating ripples behind it. a little after that i saw a bald eagle swoop down and grab a fish from the surface of the water. It was impressive how much the eagle had to struggle to maintain flight with the fish grasped in its talons. it flew directly to shore, where i'm sure the fish quickly met its demise. fishing from shore was pretty slow from this sight, so i was soon off to the tent for reading and bed. Joyland is a story about a love sick college student who takes a summer job at an east coast amusement park and finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery. its a good quick read and an intriguing story, but is overall a pretty light story and not King's best work.

Day 4

up early again today as this would be a fairly decent travel day. a quick breakfast and pack-up and i was headed out by 7am. today i would travel down to the bottom of friday bay and portage into Papoose, Chippewa and Nikki Lake. i found Chippewa to be a beautiful and scenic lake. i believe that theese lakes are normally passed through on the way to either Crooked Lake or Gun lake and i wonder what it would be like to stay on them. I would guess that lakes like this may get minimal pressure and could have fantastic fishing assuming they are ddep enough to support fish all winter. as i was approaching the portage from Nikki into Wagosh, i saw something that i almost couldnt believe. up on a North facing cliff hidden behind trees i saw a huge mass of white. after adjusting my glasses and looking closer, i saw the whole side of the rock face covered in thick ice. i know the ice had only come off this area about a week to 10 days ago, but it was still odd to see such a large mass of ice in such nice sunny, warm weather. after Wagosh i had only one more portage left before my goal of Gun Lake, But this was a big one. my longest yet at slightly over 1 mile long. ugh, id been kind of dreading this one, but attacked it full force. i made my first trip with my heaviest pack across in 20 minutes and back to the canoe in another 20. on my return trip i heard a shuffle in some brush next to the trail and was greeted by a ruffed grouse that obviously had no experience with hunters. it was fun to watch the forest chicken shuck and jive around oblivious to my presence. as i moved on i thought how cool it would be to actually see a grouse drum. no sooner had i finished this thought when from the grouse behind me i began to hear THUMP-THUMP-THUMP,THUP,THUP,THUP. Dang! I just missed it! now it was time to bring the canoe and my last pack together. i did end up doing a little leap frogging as i had to set down my canoe on one piticular uphill grade. after the portage flattened out i was able to continue with the canoe and pack together, but the portage was still long and by the end, the pack on my back felt like a giant slug that was trying to slowly crawl down my back and drag me with it. boy was i glad to see the waves on gun lake at the end of that final portage. it ended up taking me and hour and 15 minutes to complete a double portage on this one. as i hit Gun and paddled down, i was again rewarded with a great campsite with the "Trigger" campsite of Gun being open for me. This site has a great peninsula for fishing from, good shade and tent pads and a great fire place and seating area. i was pretty hungry so had a lunch of PB&J's pringles and gatorade. the food outfitting from VNO was great, every meal had 2- 3 items and most included a dessert or a candy snack. im sure my future trips will include this luxury. one less thing to worry about when planning a vacation is always a bonus to me! after lunch it was time for some reading and a nap, in what was turning out to be a pretty warm, sunny day! then as usualit was time for some fishing. i knew this area had a good population of bass from our families trip hear last year, and decided to work the shorelines around camp with IKE. after a bit of casting i was rewarded with a huge smallie of at least 20 inches and i promptly named him Fat Bass-terd with a good chuckle. normally i would release a fish like this, but he had COMPLETELY swallowed my lure and was destined for the fry pan. after dinner i had a nice camp fire, listened to the radio for a bit and went off to bed to finish my book. later, as every night before, i went to sleep to the steady skree of frogs, loons calling and waves lapping on the shore near my tent.

Day 5

today i woke at the same time as past days, but found myself with an urge to get back home to my family. again with a quick breakfast and i was off! today was Gun, Fairy, Boot, Fourtown and out through Mudro. everything was smooth sailing up until i hit the Fourtown-Mudro set of three portages sometimes called the "Three Dragons". Through out my trip i had certainly seen people and canoes here and there, but nothing like this! the three portages were crammed with groups coming and going. this really slowed things down as i was a little anxious to get through to my final portage out. there were people with Kayaks strapped to their backs, frame packs with all manner of things stapped onto them and almost every one wearing flip-flops on what i would consider a very bad set of portages for such footwear. the day before i left i had bought a pair of knee high rubber boots from fleet farm on the recomendation of a friend at work (Gym Steele) for only $25 these Honeywell made Servus boots worked fantastically. they took every muddy, rocky, underwater portage i could throw at them and they never leaked! anyways, i worked my way through the crowd, made it to my truck and headed back to Ely. i returned my canoe and gear to VNO and thanked John for their great service as usual and headed home to Ramsey MN.

After this trip i finally felt like i had done the BWCAW experience right. i had completed my first solo trip and found that i was capable of way more than i thought. i was also happy to find that i was completely ok with myself as my only company. i will definetly include family and friends in future BWCA trips, but there are more solo trips in my future as well. also thanks to VNO and, without all the resources and info from these two sources, i wouldnt have been as well prepared as i was for this great trip!!!!