Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Large Group Adventure to Brent and Surrounding Lakes
by Hillbilly

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/13/2014
Entry Point: Quetico
Exit Point: Quetico  
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 8
Trip Introduction:
This is our 4th trip to Quetico and this year we expanded the group to include a fiance, old time family friend and a father son combo. Took the shuttle from Crane Lake with Andersons to Black Robe and went into Wicksteed/Brent/Suzanette and out Argo/Roland Chain. Fantastic fishing, great comedy, some ups and downs coordinating a larger group but all in all fantastic time in the woods.
Pre Trip – After 1,400 organizational emails over the past 6 months our motley group of 8 converged upon an airport motel in Minneapolis the evening of June 11th. My father had arrived early to raid Cabela’s and add to his already daunting pile of equipment. At 73 he would be the oldest member of our group and while very experienced in the outdoors he spends most of his time looking for something he misplaced…. adding more things to look for is always worrisome yet the flip side is he is the go to guy for whatever you may need. The rest of the group included my 39 year old brother Benji, his fiancé Erin (her first trip to the Q yet she is a tough cookie that would hold her own), my college buddy Rewk who is my canoe mate, a old time family friend Robbie from northern Idaho (who would share a canoe and “conversation/argument” with my pops for the week) and a cousin father/son duo Mike and Andrew also headed into the park for their first time. This would be my 4th trip to the area I was first introduced by my father when I was about 7 and we spent a week in the North Bay of Basswood Lake a trip I will always remember. A few highlights of that trip were discovering fire flies, fantastic fishing for top water smallmouth all by myself as a youngster was adrenaline pumping, shore lunches, my older brothers big walleye caught late one evening the only walleye of the trip, scary large northern sightings along the side of the boat and a certain incident where I couldn’t get out of the tent for a middle of the night pee and may have soaked my older brother. Good times! About 8 years ago we did our first family trip back and this would be our 3rd trip since then we really enjoy this area.

June 12th – Drive up to Andersons Canoe Outfitters in Crane Lake and organize gear. We had our RABC and fishing licenses and Andersons had already secured our camping permits so the morning would bring an early 6 am departure and shuttle across Lac La Croix. Pizza Dinner, pitchers of local beer and BINGO at the new Voyagers lodge and off to bed. This was a very stormy windy day and we are thankful to not be starting our trip in canoe country this day.

June 13th – Early am shuffle to get on the boat. Right before we left my brother did the old… “shoot where’s my passport?” and after sending Erin back to the hotel to search he finds it in the top of his bag. A move that would nickname him JimmyJohno Jr for the rest of the trip… already starting to follow in the old mans footsteps of misplacing things… I am sure I am not far behind. This is a beauty of a day which was fortunate since the prior had been a total mess with high winds, waves, rain and general nastiness. Water is WAY high as we put in at Black Robe Portage. Amid the usual chaos of getting things situated my father forgets one of his smaller bags and is doing Gosh Darnits for the next 2 hrs. We would later retrieve the small bag and 2 canoes seat rests at Andersons. A good reminder for me that anything you want should be packed in your larger bags day 1… smaller bags get misplaced not to mention they are a hassle to hand carry across portages. The strategy this day was to get over the “Goat Hill” into Wicksteed and from there assess how everyone was feeling and decide to go on to Brent or stay at Wicksteed. We have stayed at Darky in the past and wanted to skip it. We have had great fishing on Wicksteed over the years not to mention nearby Ballard lake for walley action so this was a good option for a less rigorous trip. That said, the weather looked bad the next two days so we didn’t want to get stuck on this lake for too long and our group was not into moving days in the rain. So the decision was made that we would push on through Darky to Brent. The “Goat Hill” portage actually was not too bad -- its long with a couple hills and it might have been that we were eager and fresh but we all banged this one out without any problems. From there lines got strung and we would start hitting largemouth bass in the little Gratton lake and on to Wicksteed which in looking back seemed to be “on” for the smallmouth. The quick fish/paddle throgh would be some of the better action on the bass we would have all week. Of course a few pike were caught here as well they love that lake. We also saw the biggest snapping turtle I have ever seen. Would not like to go face to face with this guy on a naked early am swim!

Short portage to Darky where it looked like many were camped. We trolled for trout and caught 1 which would be part of night 1 dinner. The small lake trout are delicious if you take the time to filet them and get rid of the skin. From here we went on to the Darky – Brent portage which would turn out to be a nasty one. Later in the day had energy levels waining and the high water had the portage in and out of the muck. A few of our group were lagging so it was 3 trips for me and a couple others. Our newbies were getting a real feel for the difference between looking at a map and saying “lets do it!” and actually doing it. By the time we arrived at Brent in the evening everyone was spent. The 4* camp on the west side was taken and I heard a distinct “I am so over this” from the canoe behind me when the news was relayed. Paddling on around the bend we find the northern 5* island camp on Brent open and this would be our home for the next few days. The group starts a fire and collects wood while the old man and his sidekick play with their new Hennessey Hammocks for the next 3 hrs. Good to be in camp and have made such a push day 1. For 3 newbies and a 73 year old I think it was impressive we got to middle Brent day 1. Lake trout and polish for dinner and a well needed rest. Wait a second… forgot to mention the 26” walleye that was caught from the shore of our camp that evening by my 17 year old cousin Andrew. 2nd cast on a rattle trap. He yelled from the shore “Fish on but it’s a small one like a bluegill”… I looked down to see a toilet bowl flush as the fish came close to shore and knew he had something much larger. He beached the beauty and we took photos before letting her swim again. Turns out he is used to fishing saltwater in Mexico and a 26” walleye is little compared to what they catch down there. True beginners luck.

June 14th – Late out of the tents and a lazy am around camp. Still working out the kinks of getting familiar with the camping routine but once organized we all head out for a day of fishing the middle Brent area. Right off the bat Rewk and I start hitting walleye on a windy shoreline. Back through the area produces a few nice fish and then off to explore a new cove. The day finds us netting walleye up to 25” and a few nice bass, pike and lake trout. Grand slam day 1! We have a “friendly” fishing tourney going on that everyone threw $10 into the pot for both the longest walleye and bass and $5 for longest pike and lake trout. Its fun to have a little wager on the line every time a fish comes to the net. Already that 26” walleye Andrew caught from shore is looking tough to beat but we will work hard at it all week to see if it can be topped. Brent is a great 4 species lake there were many times when we would think we hooked a walleye only to bring up a trout or ?? Often it was our last guess of species that would be on the end of the line. We caught lake trout in less than 10 feet of water in mid June, pike on topwater, bass in the middle of a deep bay trolling between spots… all not something I was expecting. Rain starts in the afternoon for what would be a stormy next 24 hrs with heavy rain and wind. We head back to camp to grill up excellent ribeyes which we bought from Andersons. Leftovers would be steak and eggs in the am. Another easy night to fall asleep.

June 15th – Fathers Day! Stormed over night but no rain and clear in the am. We all head out fishing and luckily for us stay close to camp on our favorite walleye shoreline. Jigging back and forth we catch a half dozen nice fish before the rain really starts coming on. Others had ventured further away from camp and would have a rough afternoon as the wind/rain really comes on strong and they tough it out on shore. We make a nice fire back in camp and dry out over fish stories. Cousin Mike lands a snaky 19.5” bass this day that leads the bass part of the tourney. He is a fishing fool. We never really seem to hit a good bass day not sure what was up but it was not like years past where the action (especially topwater) is red hot. Some cool loon activity today with what I assumed are their mating dances going on all around us. The evening clears up and we have a fish fry and s’mores. Everyone is feeling good today and we make plans to move on down the lake in the am.

June 16th – no watches on this trip but the goal this day was to get an early start and move to the eastern side of Brent and get one of the nicer camps that would fit our large group. With a group of 8 there is some planning/communication required that is not as necessary when you can fly by the seat of your pants with a group of 4 or less. With the early sunrise we did not realize we were packed and on the water paddling east by 6:30 under perfect conditions. Good news the 5* camp near the Conmee portages is open and we set up a small camp leaving a red dry bag on the point to make it easy for the others to find us. From here we traveled to the eastern bays of Brent picking up nice walleye, pike and a huge laker on the troll. The laker would have gone well over 30” and was a pig but we tried to net it and the lure got stuck in the net and the fish went on its way. We would learn that the net is more a hinderance on the larger fish and better to either net yourself or just use your hand. From here we do the small portages into Suzanette fishing topwater smallmouths along the way with little to no action. The narrow lake between Brent and Suzanette is a beauty and known to hold smallies but not much happening for us. We run into a photographer here that was spending a few weeks in the Q taking photos he had a ton of gear with him. Forget his name but would love to check out his stuff. After really not doing much on the topwater in Suz we stop for lunch on a nice 4* camp with a great swimming rock on the SW bay and eat summer sausage, cheese and bagels. We mention how delicious the food is while at the same time laughing that if someone served this to you at home you would probably send it back.

From here we decide to troll lakers. I continue fishing my rapala taildancer big plug that has been my money lure all day. Rewk trolls a red/white daredevil and starts getting into the fish. We double up with nice 26” lakers right off a steep rock wall. From here we work our way into the main bay of Suzanette and continue to troll up more lakers in really shallow water along the way. Crossing a super windy shoreline in less than 10ft we hook into another fish which would be the walleye I was after… a 27” fat golden beauty. We need to get the canoe to shore in the wind to get some photos and then off she swims. We troll back along this shoreline and pick up 2 more nice walleye before we decide to move on the wind is just pounding us. Back to the bass action and finally pick a few nice fish up poaching the beds on topwater. We wanted to make a few of the portages down towards Burt and fish the river below the falls but that would need to wait for another trip. Back to Brent through the little largemouth lake with some fun topwater action. Its been a great day but we are spent. Getting back to camp we don’t see anyone in our new camp. Then we spot my dad and Robbie fishing the bay and head their direction. The others had decided to stay put and not move camp. Bummer but we end up having fun as a smaller group and I am glad to get to show my pops this end of the lake. The 4 of us have a good dinner and enjoy stories of the day. Rewk and I packed heavy with real food and even enough beer for 1 every night. This night we trade one of our beers for a weeks stay in a Mexico vacation house… that is a good barter .

June 17th – Another beautiful morning. We rise and make coffee. The plan for the day is to switch up canoe partners. Rewk and Robbie head back to Suz for lakers and my dad and I are going to further explore eastern Brent. We have a turtle in camp that makes for some cool photos. We had not taken a swim yet and this is the perfect am to get cleaned up from the last few days of sweating hard. We head out to fish Brent in flat calm mid morning and quickly pick up a nice pike (33” the largest of our trip) and another nice walleye. Walleye on this trip averaged about 22” we did not get any small guys. From here we find a neat island with a ton of seagulls and catch a mom and a few chicks enjoying the sun as well. Not much going on as we try to jig up some more walleye but the calm and midday sun have the fish outsmarting us. As we continue trolling around we find a hot spot and quickly pick up a dozen nice bass, 3 nice walleye which would be our fish taco dinner that night and have fun fishing the area for the next couple hours. After checking out a few camps including a nice 4* on the island on east Brent we head back to ours.

Robbie and my dad are sleeping in a Hennesy Hammocks and love it. I try it out for a nap and am quickly snoozing. I’m impressed these are pretty nice. An evening solo fish produces a few walleye and more wood for our fire from the burn across the lake. Robbie and Rewk return after a fun day on Suzanette with a fish story for the ages… Robbie had hooked what he thought was a nice fish. After fighting it they decide it’s not a fish and he is stuck in the rocks. The rod is handed back and forth and the two guys yank away and maneuver the canoe around to dislodge the lure to no avail. Finally Rewk decides to pull out his “lure grabber” a 5 oz weight that snakes around your monofilament and you drop down to dislodge the lure with a another poly robe attached to that. Upon dropping the weight down and smacking the rock/fish in the head with it finally takes of ripping line. Somehow amid the chaos of the wind, weight and fish they manage to land a 29” hog of a laker. A late night dinner frying up our walleye for the tacos and telling stories put us at 11 pm before we turn in for the night. These couple days have been perfect combo of adventure/leisure/fishing and exploration.

June 18th – Up and at it early as we want to meet up with the other members of our group this am and head back towards Argo. On the way down lake we notice some smoke coming out of a point and decide to investigate. All of the mossy area to about a foot depth around a large tree in a 10ft plus circle have been burning and smoldering for days. We unload the canoe and dump a half dozen boat loads of water in the tree well and put out the other smoldering spots. Unsure of what started the fire but it seems way to wet around this time of year for something like this. This fire had had been going for days and the dry moss underneath the tree is so thick that it can hold heat. A good reminder to put out any fires very well even when its wet out. From here we meet up with the others after trolling up 4 lakers on our way down Brent.

The others have gotten into the happy routine of camping/fishing/relaxing and had a great couple days as well with good success on bass and walleye around camp. We hear of a net going overboard and Rewk has a snorkel mask so off we go to retrieve it. A little chilly for an am swim but fortunately my brother marked the spot well and the net is retrieved. The net was from a trip to New Zealand trout fishing in the 90’s so nice to have a family memento back.

On our way to the Brent/Cone portage we pick up more nice walleye and a sturdy 27” laker that tests my drag. Erin fishing a Carolina rig catches a 26” walleye and bests her fiancé. The Brent/Cone portage is a muddy one and we try to single portage it. With a large pack and canoe on my shoulders I go into a deep mud hole and start laughing the hole is up to my waist and I’m stuck. Fortunately Rewk is on his way back to help me out. A quick troll on Cone produces 2 small lakers I would like to spend more time in this area and further south into Elk and Gardner Bay. The group gets split up as we head to Argo with canoes still on Brent and almost to Argo… a reminder that on travel days with a larger group you need to communicate well. Reuniting on the small lake just before Argo we make plans to stay the night on Argo. Argo afternoon winds are up but fortunately they are at our back. We hit the 5* camp which is a beauty with swimming rocks and the clearest water of our trip. Amazing to me how much these lakes change from one to another and Argo reminds us all of Idaho mountain lakes without the peaks. The group enjoys stuffed lake trout dinner along with wild mushroom pasta a delicious treat.

June 19th – From Argo we decide to head towards the Roland Chain. A large wolf spider (?) is a surprise in Mike’s shoe in the am - no bueno! Mike’s 19.5” smallmouth is still the largest of the trip so everyone has their fishing eyes set on this reachable goal and Mike knows he is on the chopping block after hearing stories of big smallmounth on middle Roland. The wind is at our back again which makes the trip over to the Siobahn River a breeze. In the river we catch a few fish but nothing big. I can’t find the mid lake reef in the pond near the portage to Roland where did it go? The father son duo of our trip are doing better in the canoe at this point but they manage to toss a lure high in a pine and break a tip off of that rod and lose another rod/reel overboard trying to get the lure back. They holler over to us for the snorkel mask out again and we go over to have another laugh as they dive for the lost gear. Mike gets down to his skibbies and decides the water is too cold and not worth the hassle. I don’t want to leave the gear in the lake so I jump in for them and after a few minutes of swimming around find the rod and reel in about 15 feet of water deeper than where they thought they lost it. On to Roland and the wind is picking up. Lots of small bass here and a few lakers. My dad in another boat lands a 30” beauty the largest of the trip. We would later learn this one would be the big fish in the Andersons fishing tournament a real surprise since I know there are a lot bigger fish in these waters and guys that target them in the spring religiously. Middle Roland where we have done well on bass in the past gives up little on the shorelines so we decide to fish a little deeper… first jig through 15” water produces a nice walleye and then a few more after a some more passes. I didn’t know this was a good walleye lake so that was a cool surprise. On to little Roland, then Crooked and Curtain Falls. Rain is setting in and I don’t know this area that well. We make camp on Rebecca falls (I had never been there and thought the water came into Iron from McAree but of course it’s the other way around). The water is pumping big time so while not the best camp between the two falls its cool to check out the rapids there is a ton of water flowing through here right now.

June 20th - Am rain lets up to allow quick pack and we head out. Iron has an eerie feeling this day it’s a far cry weather wise from the clear blue skies on Argo just 2 days ago. After a mosquito rich final portage at Bottle we meet our tow and call it a great trip. The father/son team had a great experience but were beat we pushed them hard and they are new to canoe tripping. It was a great bonding experience for them. Rewk and I really enjoyed the great fishing we had this week and were glad to spend some solid time with great family and friends. I was eager to get to Minneapolis to reunite with my wife and 1 and 3 year old girls. I am so thankful that she allows me to still do these trips they are so healthy for me and I already am looking forward to taking the girls out in the Q. My Dad and Robbie were solid old timers and while their various debates took a lot of the quiet out of Quetico that is how they like to roll. Erin appreciated Benji introducing her to the area and is always easy and welcome on these trips. I think she left with a new passion for fishing she was really into it and she will be back. All in all a sweet time was had and I for one am already planning the route for next year…