Mack to Falls Chain in two weeks
by Capsize

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/03/2015
Entry & Exit Point: Quetico
Number of Days: 13
Group Size: 6
Trip Introduction:
My brother, Geno, his wife and myself, all in our mid-50’s accompanied by 3 of my children, David, 17, Inna, 16 and Dan, 11, jammed into two canoes, a Wenonah Spirit II (Kevlar) with a drop-in third seat and a Wenonah Minnesota II (also Kevlar) with a Spring Creek third seat/portage yoke. Canoes, packs and all gear scavenged from our collection of used misfit equipment (except one pack rented from Tuscarora Outfitters). Reprising a Quetico trip to Mack Lake via Boundary Point and back out the Falls Chain last taken 25 years ago in 1990. As much of the area we were to travel was severely burned in a 1996 fire, we knew that things would be different from our 1990 trip, but just how different remained to be seen.
Report
We drove up to Tuscarora Outfitters on the Gunflint Trail on Sunday, August 2nd, arriving at 6 p.m. Welcomed by a very friendly Andy and Ada, new owners of Tuscarora. Andy briefed us on what to expect on our trip and set us up in a bunkhouse for the night. We drove back down the Gunflint 20 miles to the Trail Center restaurant for an excellent meal. It was cold enough that I decided to pick up a hooded sweatshirt from the Trail Center to supplement a light-weight sweatshirt I packed. That turned out to be a very wise move as I did not pack a jacket on this trip. The food at the Trail Center was very good—probably the best I have had north of Duluth.

Day 1, Monday, August 3, 2015:

Waking up early Monday morning and consolidating the loose food and miscellaneous materials we couldn’t fit in the eight packs we brought, we discovered that our two food barrels didn’t hold all of our food once we added the food from the fridge and freezer. In addition, between our stuff and my brother, who likes to travel “in comfort,” we quickly realized that we needed to rent a pack from Tuscarora as the six packs and two food barrels couldn’t hold everything. Needless to say, this was not a good sign.

We left Tuscarora at 6:15 a.m. and headed to the public landing where Tuscarora towed us out to Hook Island through wind, light rain and sub-60 degree weather. Breakfast consisted of donuts purchased the day before in Two Harbors and eaten in the car. We arrived at Hook Island at about 7 a.m. and began our “wet drop” straight from the boats to the canoes. It was here we first realized that a third canoe would really come in handy—too bad we didn’t bring one. With nine packs and only two canoes, things quickly got ugly. It took several tries, but we eventually were able to fit four packs in the 17-foot Spirit II and five packs in the Minnesota II, with three people in each canoe. Space was so tight that the third person in the MNII, my 11-year old, could not paddle at all, while the third person in the Spirit II could only manage limited paddling. Both canoes sat very low to the water.

Setting off toward the Cache Bay ranger station became a balancing act. With my 17 year old son in front, 11 year old in the middle and me in the back of the MNII, two of us could paddle, but the 11-year old had to act as ballast, shifting his weight to balance out the canoe whenever my son in the bow switched sides paddling. This definitely took some getting used to. My brother’s canoe fared slightly better, but it too took some getting used to.

Rounding American point we ran smack into a 20 mph wind coming from the north in Cache Bay. We managed to hide behind one island enough to make it to the ranger station without getting into trouble.

Forty-five minutes later we were began the harrowing journey through Cache Bay. I have paddled Cache about 20 times in the past, and have never seen waves like this. We paddled like mad to keep the canoe straight into the wind, with waves occasionally pouring over the bow. After 30 minutes of white-knuckle all-out paddling, we reached the shelter of the north shore and entered smaller water on the way to Silver Falls. After a mere two hours into our trip we were already exhausted!

We portaged Silver Falls and ate a snack, which was sorely needed after the grueling paddling of Cache. Dropping 40 feet in elevation and paddling on smaller water was wonderful—this cut the wind by 60% and made the rest of the day bearable. We paddled out to Boundary Point to set up camp for the night. Shish-ka-bob on an open fire was fantastic, but I suspect anything would taste good when you are as starved as we were.

The kids held up great. My older son moved more water than anyone I have ever paddled with—he was a machine that never tired. On Silver Falls he carried two packs on his first trip, making it look so easy it put the rest of us to shame. I can’t imagine how much more difficult this would have been if he had not come along. Oh to be 17 again!

After a hard day’s travelling, bed never felt so good.

Day 2, Tuesday, August 4, 2015:

We broke camp at 10:30 a.m. on another cold morning—I was again very thankful that I bought the heavier sweatshirt from Trail Center. A short paddle to Bitchu Lake, followed by a short portage and another relatively short paddle brought us through Ross and to our first serious portage of the day. With two canoes, nine packs, rod cases, tackle boxes and other junk, we quickly realized that at least a few of us were going to have to triple portage, even with my oldest son taking two packs. This was going to take longer than we had initially planned.

We were soon to see the first indication that the 1996 fire had significantly changed the landscape. Getting to the portage from Ross to Cullen became a challenge when the creek we had to paddle through became too shallow and our canoes bottomed out, despite what was unusually high water for this time of year. We ended up walking through the marsh and pulling the canoes through the creek for 100 yards or so to get to the start of the portage. None of us remembered having to do this in 1990. This would be really ugly in low water.

The portage from Ross to Cullen is 260 rods, the longest of the trip. I was the first across with the canoe in about 25 minutes. That sounds doable, until you make three trips! The portage was not well traveled, and was overgrown in some places, making it difficult to maneuver an 18.5 foot canoe between all of the new growth. Between unloading, portaging, and reloading the canoes, that portage took nearly 3 hours, but we were holding up OK. Although it took forever, the portage was less grueling than we expected.

A 20-minute paddle across Cullen took us to a short portage into Munro Lake. Ten minutes of paddling later and we arrived at the last portage of the day, the Portage from Hell between Munro and Mack. Unfortunately it was about 6:30 p.m. when we hit this portage.

The 160 rod Portage from Hell is well known to those that have braved Mack Lake. After an initial climb up a hill, you descend steeply down a twisty trail, again largely overgrown and not well traveled. Upon leveling out, you encounter the highlight of the portage, 300 feet of bog that will swallow you waist-high if you step in the wrong place. In 1990, the portage was better defined and the Canadian Rangers had sawed logs in half length-wise, dropping them flat side up providing a floating if unsteady bridge over the bog. After the fire the new trees that had sprung up within the portage turned this straight path into a tangle of small trees growing haphazardly, leaving no room for sawed logs. Worse, with all of the large trees felled nearly 20 years ago by the fire, there were few large trees to cut in half to bridge the bog. Instead, two or three inch branches had been dropped between the trees and smashed into the mud such that it was difficult to distinguish the mud from the buried branches that offered some support.

For whatever reason, I had no trouble locating the buried branches and managed to make it through the minefield without taking a mud bath. The others were not so lucky, with most of them dropping knee-high or worse into the mud at one time or another, which slowed us considerably. Realizing that we were soon to run out of daylight, we quickened our pace fearing that if we didn’t get out of there soon enough, we wouldn’t be able to see the buried branches at all and would be forever stuck in the mud of the Portage from Hell.

Loading the canoes at the end of the portage was a royal pain. The end of the portage was simply a bog, only without any wood to stand on. I went from ankle high mud in one step to water up to my thigh in the next. The canoes had to be dragged across the bog at that point and loaded one at a time while still half way on the bog.

We eventually managed to get out of the portage at 8:40, with darkness closing in. Having traveled hard for 10 hours at this point, we were exhausted and desperate to find a campsite before dark. It took us 20 minutes to paddle to the part of Mack that we had camped in before.

It was here that we fully realized just how much the fire changed Mack. None of the old landmarks were recognizable. A number of campsites were simply gone, first burned, then abandoned for years and now overgrown with small trees such that you couldn’t tell what was a campsite and what wasn’t. Dead trees had fallen into the water all around the shore, with hundreds more downed on land. This was a very different lake than we remembered.

At 9 p.m. we were trying to locate the campsite we had been on in 1990, located on a point that should have been relatively easy to find. With darkness setting in, the map became harder to read and the land forms more difficult to make out. Just as the last light was fading, we located what had been the best campsite on the southern part of the lake. Dave scouted it out in the dark and thought it would hold three tents, but just barely.

We were never so relieved! We quickly unloaded the canoes, broke out the flashlights and furiously began setting up tents in the dark. The mosquitos had a field day, but we were too exhausted to care. We finished setting up the tents and whipped up some dehydrated dinner. I don’t remember what we ate, but we were so famished it tasted great!

We went to bed grateful that we had reached our first real destination and no longer had to portage or paddle. I don’t recall ever being so tired. Everyone fell asleep within minutes of our heads hitting the pillows.

Day 3, Wednesday, August 5, 2015:

Morning light brought home the full impact of the changed landscape. Where our campsite used to be spacious, now it was hemmed in by new growth everywhere and a number of older burned trees that had fallen down in camp over the years. There was very little room to walk, and even less for unpacking. It quickly became clear that what was the best site on the lake was now nearly useless. We would have to move.

Because the north and east side of the lake had not burned (only the west and south portions burned), we decided to move to the northern part of the lake to an old-growth area and set up camp. This wouldn’t have been so bad, but the past two days of heavy paddling and portaging meant that the adults were sore nearly everywhere while the teenagers seemed to wonder what all the fuss was about.

The new campsite was located just before the entrance to the northern-most bay on the lake. Although not the biggest site, it accommodated three tents, although two of the pads were on an incline. There were plenty of trees from which to hang our new CCS tarp, which was nearly impossible at the previous burnt-out site. Given the frequent rain and drizzle, we would definitely need the tarp.

In hindsight, however, this was not a great move. Having been to Mack twice before, we had always stayed on the south part of the lake and knew the fishing spots well. Mack has traditionally been an exceptional fishing lake. At one point in 1990, five of us in two canoes all had fish on our lines at the same time—each person had to play their fish while waiting for the net to be freed up. Granted, on prior fishing trips to Mack we used leaches (pre-bait ban), but we still expected the fishing to be good on this trip, and the fishing was perhaps the primary reason we chose to return to Mack.

The south part of Mack varies in depth, with several points and deeper holes generally producing nice walleye and bass. Unfortunately, the north arm of Mack is a mere six feet deep—everywhere. We paddled the entire north bay and couldn’t find any place deeper than six feet. This fact, combined with a lingering cold front (still sweatshirt weather), made fishing challenging. While we were able to catch enough fish for dinner (mostly bass—the walleye were still elusive at this point), we had to work for it, which was unheard of in pre-fire Mack Lake. We didn’t catch much of size. Periodic rain and continuing cold weather did not help the fishing situation.

Still, we were glad to have our first night of fried fish, which tasted excellent. Between the cold, the rain, and the slow fishing, we were beginning to wonder when things were going to turn for the better.

Day 4, Thursday, August 6, 2015:

Having the luxury of staying at the same campsite for more than one night, we had time to explore the area and try to locate the fish. Dave and Dan went out with me to the larger part of the lake and Inna went with my brother and his wife to the shallow north bay. After an hour and a half of not even a bite, my 17-year old asked to be dropped off at camp to fish from the shore. My 11-year old and I proceeded on to the shallow bay to meet up with my brother.

While fishing from shore, my son slipped and cut his finger on a sharp rock when he fell. Unfortunately, we were out of hearing range, returning to camp two hours later to find my son very relieved to see us. Thankfully, my brother is an emergency room doc and travels with enough materials to patch up an army. He quickly set to work inserting five stitches in Dave’s finger and gave him antibiotics to take over the next six days. Both Dave and I were very grateful to have my brother along! I don’t want to think about what would have happened if he wasn’t with us. From here on out, we all stuck together—no one was to be left alone, even in camp.

Once again we caught enough fish for dinner, this time with 3 walleye and three bass. My daughter landed a decent walleye, about 4 pounds, with the other two in the 1-2 pound range. Dinner was excellent again, but had to be eaten under the CCS tarp as light rain persisted throughout the late afternoon. This was the first time I had used the CCS tarp since acquiring it a few weeks before. What a difference from past trips when we had no tarp! It is now a permanent fixture on our BWCA trips.

Day 5, Friday, August 7, 2015:

This was to be our last day on Mack Lake. What had been the best fishing in Quetico on previous trips was shaping up to be mediocre at best. We had one last day to try to repeat Mack’s past fishing glory. With my brother having discovered where the walleye hung out in 6 feet of water in the north bay of the lake, we returned there in search of an all-walleye dinner. We were not disappointed. In relatively short order, we racked up nearly a dozen walleye, all in the 1-2 pound range. Still, the fishing was slower than past trips on Mack and was certainly lacking the size Mack was noted for producing (our previous best at Mack, a 7-pound walleye was nowhere in site). Other than my daughter’s 4-pound walleye, we didn’t catch anything over 2 pounds.

Nearly all of our time on Mack had been cloudy with rain at various times and sweatshirt weather most of the time. By Friday, the weather began to get a little warmer and we had our first day without rain. We hoped this was a sign of things to come as Saturday would be a travel day down Mack Creek and the Wawiag River over to Kawa Bay on Lake Kawnipi.

Day 6, Saturday, August 8, 2015:

We woke up to a beautiful day: not a cloud in the sky and warming temperatures. A steady wind from the west would give us a workout while on Mack but would not be an issue once on Mack Creek and the Wawiag River.

We were out of camp by 9:30 a.m. and to a small portage at the entrance to Mack Creek a half hour later. Mack Creek was as I remembered it, a small, narrow grassy stream that was not a difficult paddle, although it was sometimes a steering challenge with its sharp turns.

About an hour later we intersected with the Wawiag. When we traveled the Wawiag years ago, it was a narrow river with sharp turns that was a difficult paddle in our 18.5 foot aluminum canoes. This was an entirely different river. It was much wider than I recall, with a gentle current going our direction (west). The trees at the river’s edge were taller than most of the new growth in the area, and actually provided periodic shade. With the sun high in the sky, this was a beautiful paddle!

While there were still some sharp turns, we concluded that the water level was much higher than when we took it in the past, and thus much easier to navigate. Using bent-shaft paddles also helped, as both the front and the rear paddler could steer better by turning the paddle around when needed and either pushing or pulling the front or back of the canoe to one side or the other. Once again, my 17-year old son moved a ton of water despite stitches in his finger, making this a very easy paddle for me. Figuring out where we were in the Wawiag was a little tough, but once we hit the portage midway through the river we were able to track our progress. The only downside to the Wawiag was the biting black flies. However, bug spray seemed to keep them off well enough and our flyswatters eventually caught up with them to end the incessant buzzing around our heads.

By 3:30 we opened up into Kawa Bay and another 20 mph wind right in our faces. We checked out the first campsite immediately adjacent to the Wawiag, and discovered a gorgeous 5-star site that was the largest campsite I have ever seen. You could have camped on army on this site! We reluctantly passed on this site due to the limited fishing (only the Wawiag was close) and the prospect of several days of biting flies that were present around the Wawiag.

We paddled hard for another 20 minutes to the first island west of the Wawiag and found another great campsite—every bit of 4 stars, with a nice landing, several fire pits, plenty of room and nice shade. This would be our home for the next three days.

After setting up tents and unpacking the mainstays, my brother and older son braved the wind to fish the Wawiag, but without much success. In the meantime, the rest of us strung up all of our damp clothes that wouldn’t dry on Mack, set up the hammock and the CCS tarp, and generally took it easy until dinner.

All of us concluded that this portion of the trip was much easier than we had expected. Slowly but surely, we were starting to get in canoeing shape, with the ability to paddle for a long time without getting tired.

We were also getting better at unloading and loading the canoes. Jamming five packs and three people in the MNII took some doing. Eventually we figured out the best way to get everything in quickly and relatively easily. As we used up more food, our 9th pack was slowly getting smaller. Before we left Kawa Bay, the first food barrel would be empty and we could pack one of the food barrels with the remaining contents of the 9th pack and some of the heavier items from several of the other packs, reducing our load to 8 more evenly-weighted packs.

Day 7, Sunday, August 9, 2015:

I woke up early Sunday morning and took my 11-year old bass fishing around the islands. The morning was beautiful once again, with nothing but sunshine and no wind—quite the change from what we endured on Mack. We hit two nice bass relatively quickly, ensuring that we would at least have some fish for dinner. Later in the day my brother and oldest son hit several walleye, again in the 1-2 pound range.

This was the first of what was to be a string of classic Quetico days in camp. Gone were the sweatshirts, out came the swimsuits, suntan lotion and sunglasses. We played cards, swam, hung out in the hammock, enjoyed the breeze, made smores, tried to catch the little pine squirrels with our fishing nets, and generally just enjoyed the solitude of Quetico. Having been in Quetico for one week, we counted only two other groups we had seen so far on the trip.

Day 8, Monday, August 10, 2015:

For the third day in a row, we awoke to a cloudless sky and endless sunshine. Bass fishing in the morning was once again productive. At this point I have to give a shout out and plenty of thanks to Quetico Mike, who kindly sent me his article on Zulu swim baits (we used Zman brand, sold at Cabellas). These minnow-like plasticized baits were truly unbelievable and accounted for about 80% of the fish we caught. In the morning, we used this bait with no weights, running it an inch under the surface. The bass hit this topwater, with very few misses. Later in the day we would add a split shot or two to pull the swimbait deeper to where the bass or walleye were hanging out. Both hit this bait time and time again. If Quetico Mike hadn’t shared his expertise with us, I suspect we would have gone hungry several nights! These swim baits are a must-have for any Quetico trip.

Later in the day we headed back to the Wawiag to try to find the walleye that we had heard were so numerous in the river. After trolling up the river a ways, we started hitting walleye on our Zman swim baits. I called my brother over and between our two canoes we were soon throwing walleye back. Most were in the 1-2 pound range, with one 3 pounder.

That night, for the first time this trip, everyone was able to gorge themselves on fish. And it was a good thing too. A few days earlier we realized that we had brought only one box of bisquick mix, which we needed both for fish batter and pancakes. We had planned on bringing two boxes, and now found that we had to make a choice between pancakes for breakfast or fish for dinner. The fish won hands down, but that meant we were now short breakfasts. As we inventoried our food supply, we realized that we could use some of our planned side dishes for breakfast, but that would reduce some of our lunches. This meant that we had to cook more fish for dinner each night than we otherwise would have.

Day 9, Tuesday, August 11, 2015:

We broke camp by 8:30 a.m., loaded the canoes and headed for Kennebas Falls, a location that has historically been some of the best fishing in Quetico. Once again we had nothing but sun and very little wind. For the first time this trip it was actually getting hot, which we didn’t mind a bit given the sweatshirt weather we first encountered.

Using the compass app on my iphone, we were able to clock our speed in the MNII at a steady 4 mph, even with three people (only two paddling) and five packs in our canoe on calm water. This made for a relatively quick paddle, arriving at Kennebas at 11:30 a.m. We portaged over Kennebas on to Kenny Lake and set up camp on the island in Kenny. This is a nice campsite, a little cramped and with more mosquitos than we saw anywhere else on the trip, but with great proximity to the falls. The people at this campsite before us were slobs, leaving unburnt paper and wrappers in the fire pit and hundreds of pistachio shells strewn about the camp.

By 2:30 p.m. David, Dan and I were back at Kennebas falls looking for dinner. We started catching small bass after small bass as soon as we put our lines in the water. After moving around some, we slowly but surely picked up a few 2 to 3 pound bass that would provide at least some dinner. Then my brother Geno, his wife and my daughter Inna showed up and things suddenly got wild. Geno has always been the natural fisherman of the family with a sixth sense of where the fish are. Kennebas was to be no exception. In the space of 10 minutes, his wife landed three walleye, one about 5 pounds and two others about 3 pounds. Then Geno hooked into a trophy walleye, likely an 8+ pounder. He landed it squarely in the net, but the net broke when he lifted it out of the water, dropping the fish back in the water minus the hook. We all watched helplessly as this monster swam away. Thankfully I have it on video, so his now-fish tale is at least preserved for those who would be non-believers.

A few minutes later David, who was fishing on shore by that time, landed a 4 pound walleye on the shore, only to have the hook come out and it swim away before he could get it on the stringer. Dan and I followed with a few more walleye. In two hours we had hooked or caught more pounds of walleye than we had in the past 8 days combined. We took pictures of the fish, let the largest walleye and all of the bass loose, and took the remaining walleye back to camp for dinner.

Unfortunately this was the only night we had planned to stay at Kennebas. On the next visit to the Falls Chain I suspect Kennebas will warrant a two or three night stay.

I also regret not getting a picture of a most unusual sight: a Kevlar canoe smashed on the rocks at the top of Kennebas Falls. That gave us all pause and a renewed respect for the power of the falls. Whenever a canoe was in the water at the top of any of the falls someone had a firm grip on it at all times—no exceptions.

Day 10, Wednesday, August 12, 2015:

This was another travel day, and like the four days before it was pure sun, no clouds. We left Kenny Lake to travel to the base of Silver Falls for a last few days of fishing. Traversing the six falls between Kenny Lake and Silver Falls meant a lot of loading and unloading, with relatively short paddles between most portages. The consensus of the group was that the Koko falls portage is much longer than the 56 rods listed on Fisher’s map. The rest were relatively simple, some made even quicker by the high water that allowed us to paddle part way up the calmer rapids to a shorter portage point.

Lunch this day consisted of the last of our summer sausage and crackers. While we had enough food for lunches, sides for dinner, and a few breakfasts, we could only stay the remaining three days if we caught enough fish for dinners. Even then, most meals would be a little lighter than we liked on a trip where our calorie burn was estimated to be between 3,000 to 5,000 calories per day.

The paddle on Saganagons after Dead Man’s portage was again straight into a 20 mph wind. But unlike the first day on Cache Bay, we were finally in good enough shape to paddle this strong and hard without tiring. We rolled into our camp site by about 3 p.m. and set up camp. This site is about 10 minutes from Silver Falls with a high rock at the front of the camp site looking straight down Saganagons—a beautiful view to finish out our choice of campsites.

The site had decent shade, but nowhere to set up a tarp. While we needed the tarp at the beginning of the trip to shield us from the rain, we really could have used it at this site to shield us from the sun! While we didn’t have a thermometer with us, the temperatures had to reach the high 80’s in the afternoon. Once camp was set up, we spent some serious time in the water keeping cool!

Day 11, Thursday, August 13, 2015:

I woke up at 6 a.m. and took Dan bass fishing. We managed to land a few decent sized bass on the Zman swim baits topwater, but the bass were overall slower than they were on the rest of the trip. After downing the last of our oatmeal for breakfast, we paddled to Silver Falls to catch sorely needed dinner. For the sixth day in a row, it was all sun, few clouds. Needless to say, walleyes were few and far between. The heat didn’t seem to help either. All six of us were simply baking in the sun, catching very little, except for David, who landed a 5-pound smallie after a five-minute back and forth fight. This was the biggest bass I have ever seen come out of Quetico. We managed a few smaller walleye, then went back to camp to cool down with another long swim.

Frying fish is usually not too bad, but with temps again in the high 80’s and not much wind, it was downright hot. After dinner we again jumped in the water, wondering if the heat would ever break.

At this point we had two mornings left to go but only one side to use as a breakfast food, which meant we would be scrounging whatever was left of snacks, bread and anything else we could find for one breakfast. We had used up all of our peanut butter and jelly and had only beef jerky and some bread left for tomorrow’s lunch. We had just enough breading for fish Friday night. Saturday breakfast would be the last remaining side and lunch on the way out would be whatever candy bars and miscellaneous crumbs we had left. It was doable, but not great. After the suggestion of leaving Friday morning instead of Saturday was put to a vote, we decided to stay until Saturday and enjoy the fishing as best we could.

Day 12, Friday, August 14, 2015:

I again woke up at 6 a.m. and went with David bass fishing to try to catch Friday’s dinner. Two six-inch bass were all that we could scare up. Things looked bleak. Since the sun was still behind the trees, we decided to troll up to the falls in the hopes that we could land some walleyes while the sun was still “down.” Surprisingly, this plan worked! Trolling back and forth four times we managed to land four nice-sized walleye, and a few northerns. With enough walleye in tow, we tossed the northerns back and headed back to camp once the sun was high enough to beat down on our trolling grounds.

We assumed we were on easy street, with enough fish to feed the six of us. However, sometime in the next few hours something (likely a large northern) ripped one of the walleye off of the stringer and took a bite out of a second walleye. Suddenly dinner was looking a little light. Back to the falls we went in search of more dinner! Thankfully, I hooked into a 3-pound bass before the heat baked us too badly. Trolling on the way back produced a four pound northern which we again threw back. With dinner secured, we returned to camp for what was becoming our daily swim.

After dinner we swam again and then started to break down the fishing rods and pack up to leave the next day. We had gone from cold and rainy to hot and sunny with the flip of a switch. Sweatshirts and jackets to shorts and swimsuits. Not much middle ground on this trip.

While fishing was not as good as we have seen in past trips, this trip was later than most and the walleye overall were very good for an August fishing trip. Silver Falls didn’t produce as it had in the past, but it was still a fun place to fish with plenty of action to go around.

The burned areas of the falls chain had grown quite a bit since my last trip here in 2009 and are generally usable, although lacking in much shade. The landscape is still beautiful, and the falls remain my favorite part of Quetico and the BWCA. I would come back again, but I would probably return sooner and more often if Quetico would lift its live bait ban!

Overall we saw relatively few people until Friday morning when a parade of outgoing groups paddled by our campsite to exit up Silver Falls. Most seemed to come for the beauty and solitude, a few for the fishing. In years past it seemed like it was the reverse.

Day 13, Saturday, August 15, 2015:

It was fitting that on our last day we woke up once again to sunshine and few clouds. We prepared the last real meal left in our food pack for breakfast (a freeze-dried dinner), loaded up the canoes, and headed for the Silver Falls portage.

The trip out was uneventful. Once again, Cache Bay was windy, this time a side/back cross wind at about 10 mph. We managed that without much difficulty, and were delighted to find a strong west wind at our backs from Cache Bay back to Hook Island. The final paddle to Hook Island was semi-optional, with the wind taking us most of the way on its own. After the beating we took going into Cache Bay, it was wasn’t asking too much that the wind finally cooperated on our way out.

Tuscarora Outfitters arrived a half-hour early to pick us up. We all were several pounds lighter, several shades darker, and very well rested. Two weeks out is a long time, but it seemed to go by fast nonetheless.

What had changed in the 25 years since we had been to Mack Lake?

• The 1996 fire had devastated the place, but nature was slowly healing the scars. • Mack is much less trafficked than it had been pre-fire, a