2014 Quetico Father/Son Basecamp
Smooth sailing heading up no problems no glitches. That little car of mine 8 years old now and 167K miles is still getting it done even though it may be a little cramped with all our gear. People watching us pack back up yesterday on the Seagull Outfitters deck had to be thinking, is he really going to get all that gear in that small car?! It takes a little arranging but it all fits.
It was nice meeting Dan(Kiporby) who was staying at one of the cabins with some of his family as we unpacked the car. I was so tired after the long day previously I recognized Dan's face but couldn't place his name at first...sorry Dan. Alex couldn't stop laughing at Dan's comment when he saw me. Something along the line of "I know you, you must be Wallidave because of all the fishing equipment you brought along".LOL. Dan's comment regarding the status of the fishing, "it's ok" had me concerned.
Also great to see and chat with Deb, Dave and the rest of this years Seagull Lake Outfitters staff. Great hospitality as always and fast and efficient in getting us off on our way and then coming to rescue us at the end of our trip...more on the rescue soon. Deb gave Alex the canoe pack he won in this years ice out contest. Awesome pack, we didn't get to use it this year because we had everything packed already but he'll put it to a lot of use in the coming years...thank you Deb!
Our streak of flat calm Saganaga Lake and Cache Bay on our heading in day continues and is now at 8 years. We were the first at Hook Island , first at the Cache Bay ranger station, first at the Silver Falls portage and it was great seeing our favorite campsite open as we arrived around 1pm. Tent and camp set up by 145pm just in time to take cover from the first rain system arriving around 2pm. Great time for a 3-4 hour nap after a long day and night. Coming out would be a whole different story. On several early mornings of our trip the wind was already up and howling by 6a.m. and it made me concerned about what our luck would be like with the wind on our exit day. I was up at 430 a.m. on our exit day and we were packed and in the canoe by 7a.m. Sun and clouds but the dreaded east/south east wind was already up and seemed to be increasing steadily. Portage done by 1030a.m. and in the Silver Falls throat with the wind coming straight down it. Hit Cache Bay, windy but still manageable, took a little water but not much....our latest take out was officially for Friday morning but if we have good traveling weather we usually stop at the ranger station and call for an early tow out. We made it to the ranger station just after the parks plane departed from dropping off supplies, etc and emptied the little bit of water in the canoe preparing for the last and longest leg of the paddle back to Hook Island. Janice came out to talk with us and in the 15-20 minutes we chatted the wind grew much worse, with the tops of the white caps breaking off the tops from so much wind. Before this happened I was convinced we could make it to the US side of Saganaga but even now I threw in the towel. Janice said we could make ourselves comfortable and see if it would die down a little before maybe trying again later on. Another couple was waiting here also trying to get to Hook Island for their scheduled towboat early in the afternoon but it sure wasn't looking good. An hour later and things still weren't looking any better in fact the wind was even getting worse, just getting away from the dock would be a challenge. At this point Janice made the executive decision to allow our tow boats to come all the way to the ranger island to pick us up something she said is rare and only happens a few times each season. We were very grateful and even more so several hours later as we drove along Lake Superior and seeing the wind still hadn't made it's usual night time slow down. Alex and I discussed where that would have put us if we were still on the island waiting out the wind. Thank you soooo much Janice!!!
Ok...so on to the summary....
Weather....geez, where do I start...I knew at some point we would pay for last years near perfect weather and this year mother nature threw everything at us. It seemed like if it wasn't too windy to get out in the canoe it was rainy or a lot of times both. I think we had 3 really good weather days and that's stretching it a little. The middle of last week not only did it rain hard for 9 hours straight but the temperatures plummeted into the 40's that night with strong east winds and it would barely get above 50 the next day. This would send the already cold water temps even lower...not what you want for favorable fishing conditions. One day the wind had been blowing from the east all morning and into half of the afternoon. Along with that it was cool, dreary, damp, misty and just plain raw all day. We were fishing from shore and could only land a few fish...then around 3-4pm you could feel something was about to happen. Sure enough the wind switched to the west/south west and just roared for several hours pushing temps up several degrees and forcing out the clouds, mist and damp condtions. This wind is a good wind back home for fishing and it sure is up here too. Within an hours time as we fished the surf from shore we caught 10 times as many fish as we had in the past 8 hours. There is no controlling any of these factors of the trip so you just deal with them the best you can.
Bugs...Mosquitoes were the worst I've ever seen in all of our trips. I'm a few pints low on blood after this trip for sure. Most years I never use bug dope but this year I found myself using it some every day, however I still didn't resort to using a bug net, something I have never used yet. Portages of course were the worst, along with late evening, mornings with little wind and cloudy conditions. Going back to the woods for natures call was a life and death ordeal but out on the water in the canoe was just fine. Black flies, very little if any at all except for one evening a few days back. Lots of dragon flies around trying their best to reduce the mosquito and black fly population. Ticks...only saw one and he was crawling on our tent one day.
Wildlife...not a heck of a lot in Quetico the wildlife up here sure doesn't like an audience. Some bald eagles, loons, turkey vultures, beaver, turtles and squirrels. The couple on the ranger island reported seeing 2 moose swim past their campsite down on the falls chain and one dead moose just about completely decayed away. Now on the road trip up and back we saw plenty of deer and several newborns, a fox, 4 black bears one in Wisconsin, one on the north shore that we almost hit, and a momma and cub up near trails end. Coming home last night we passed 2 wolves south of Minong Wisconsin.
Water levels/temp...Water level was definitely up but dropping slowly and just under 2008 high levels. Water temp was cold with low to mid 50's on the big lakes with slightly warmer water in the back bays....the cool days, rain, overcast, and high winds weren't helping to lift water temp in fact they probably fell several degrees over a few days. The cool water for drinking was ideal. The outflow from Silver Falls was moving good but we didn't have any trouble negotiating the current coming in or out....we generally paddle hard on the right crossing the current coming in(down current) and on the left coming up current at the outflow....it works for us.
Fishing....I never thought I would be saying, I caught the Grand Slam on three separate days of a trip, 2 of those days from shore and still found the fishing just a little better then fair. Alex got the poor man's Grand Slam on Tuesday with a whitefish to replace the lake trout. Whereas we easily C&R 400+ fish easily, this trip our numbers were way down with just around 250 caught and released. Kept 2 for shore lunch the rest were all released, so that's a 1 % kept ratio...even places like Quetico's remoteness and receiving little fishing pressure needs selective harvest practiced to maintain the great quality of the fishery....come on fellas the stringer shot days are long over! Some fishing success had me scratching my head...for instance did real good on main lake points in 10-15 feet with cold water on walleye and pike...in other words didn't expect to catch many walleye on the cold main lake shorelines and points. Not all but some of the back bays were painfully slow and our favorite part of one bay didn't even produce a hit even though it had relatively warmer water then other areas of the lake...never had that happen in 10 trips. We had decent success on topwater for smallmouth on the cold main lake also on some days and then floated those same entire shorelines on other days without a hit or even seeing a fish....main lake smallmouth don't appear to be on the beds yet, but bay fish appeared spawned out or close to it. C&R a total of 6 lake trout, 1 large 27", 3 medium 22-25" and 2 small 14-17". Biggest walleye 27", several smallmouths over 20" to 21.5". Alex caught the biggest pike as usual around 37", with a whitefish for each of us over 20". Even though numbers were down this trip, quality was very good with only 10-15 fish measuring less then 14". Best success with 1/16, 1/8, 1/4oz jigs and 2, 3, 4 inch twister tails, white and brown/orange...some bass/pike on spinners, some bass/pike on topwater, a few pike and trout on bladebaits, I could have left 35 pounds of the other fishing tackle home but still glad I brought along 8 rods/reels.(HATE RETYING to change lures)
Fire Danger....Moderate on our entry day, low on our exit day.
Driving home on the Gunflint Trail we were greeted by a 6 mile stretch of road that had been torn up to be redone. If I remember correctly it started just north of the Gunflint Lake overlook and continued south. The gravel/sand mixture was graded fairly well when we went through on 6/19 but be prepared for some washboard spots if it gets hit with some rain.
We went through most of our food on this trip due to the poor weather conditions but I still lost 9 pounds. Also blew out 2 maybe 3 kidney stones, one in the washroom in Grand Marais before heading up the trail and 1 or 2 at camp...luckily no pain from any. I try to drink plenty of fluids on these trips but when I'm fishing I just get zoned out. Didn't use the fish locator the whole trip, never even set it up...only can think of one thing that I forgot that being a butter knife for the PB and J English muffins, had a small pocket knife that worked just as good. I wore the same clothes for 12 days and I think I last saw them walking away on their own. Sad that's it's over but looking forward to next year.