Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Saganagons Base Camp
by Moonpath

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/08/2015
Entry Point: Quetico
Exit Point: From CANADA (EP 71)  
Number of Days: 7
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
I thought I would write a report on this trip so that anyone planning a similar trip might benefit from our experience. Here are the basics: Canoe: Northwoods Northwind 17'6 tandem, 43 lbs Tent: Losi 3p Packs: 60 liter blue barrel, 1 duluth # 4, 1 Cascade designs seal pack, 1 duluth rambler pack. Stoves: 1 yellowstone lite, 1 optimus hiker. We left from my cabin in Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin, on Monday, June 8 with our destination being Seagull Outfitters at the end of the Gunflint trail. The crew was myself, JerryG, and George S, aka. Rambo. We had decided to enter Quetico via Cache Bay thinking that this would be a bit easier trip for us compared to earlier Q trips with longer and more difficult portages. I am at this time 65 and Rambo 71. We are veterans of over 20 plus wilderness canoeing trips. While we tried to pare down our gear we still like to bring a lot of comfort stuff along, so we resigned ourselves to double portaging.
We arrived at Seagull Outfitters in the early afternoon and met Deb for the first time. She was very nice and helpful and oriented us toward our sleeping cabin. Since it was early we decided to backtrack and have dinner at the Gunflint Lodge which was very nice, if a bit pricey. We headed back to Seagull outfitters, walked around a bit and hit the sack early. This was much different from one year ago when we went into the Q from Lac La Croix during very high water and a lot of rain.

I was really looking toward this trip. My wife injured her back in mid May and I had to perform the role of 24/7 caregiver for 3 solid weeks, which had the effect of nixing our regular opening of our cabin. So, this was the first time for the year I was getting the chance to actively fish. It was also the year I decided to retire so it also satisfied a certain celebratory function. I was chomping at the bit.

We got up early and headed for the loading area the next morning. Even though we were the first group to arrive we were about the last to get towed to hook island. The Ranger station was a breeze and the winds were relatively calm that made for easy paddling. Crossing Cache bay was finished in short order and we were now at the Silver Falls portage. The portage itself is moderately difficult mainly due to the small rock ledges one had to climb down in several places. The trail was also narrow. We double portaged and were able to finish the trip in a reasonable time. I had worried about the outflow from Silver Falls because it had been reported to be dangerous, especially in higher water. This year, the water levels were moderate and moving through the outflow was easy as long as one was careful. We were finally on Saganagons Lake.

Our goal was to paddle about 2 hours to the easterly end of the lake and south of Boundary point. Here, there were several reputed good campsites. This would also put us in close range of our exit strategy portage, known as Dickie's portage or the stroll through the woods. It is a 2 mile portage directly to Saganaga LK, which not being in Quetico, enabled outfitters to directly pick up their sports at the end of the portage trail. Several on this site have recommended this route for leaving Saganagons LK. It enables one to have an extra day fishing, because there is no need to paddle back to Silver Falls and then spend the nite on Cache Bay.

Our target gamefish this week were smallmouth. We had heard S'gons was very good for this. The Lake did not disappoint. We managed good numbers of fish each day with a few in the 20 inch range and many in the 18-20 slot. Our largest for the week was about 20.5 inches. We managed catching enough walleye's for several fish fry dinners, along with numerous pike. On this trip our biggest walleye was 25 inches an biggest northern about 30. However, we were not targeting these fish the great majority of time. We caught no lake trout but did not target them as well. We fished the bays in our area, the islands around Boundary point and some bays on the north shore. We had our better luck on the south shore, but you had to locate the fish.

On this trip the weather was fantastic. It was sunny or mostly sunny every day. No rain. This was our first trip to Canada that we could remember having zero rain days for one week. The only problem was that the bass shut down about 10:30 am on the sunny days and did not pick up till late afternoon. During these lulls we tended to stay in camp, rest, nap, swim, and do camp chores. Wind was a problem on only one day but almost every day was fishable at some point. Bugs were almost non-existent, another first for a Q trip during the second week of June. We were surprised by their general absence. You could lounge around camp bare shirted with shorts just sitting in a chair without getting eaten up. This is how it should be.

We did notice that many of the better campsites on S'gons were occupied, mostly by base campers like us. Were were unable to get our first two choices and settled on a small island site. I was a bit surprised at how many fisherman were out on this lake. While you could fish without any direct competition in most areas, it was clear that certain spots were fished hard and it was often necessary to do a bit more paddling to find those out of the way locales that seemed to offer more consistent and better angling results.

Well, we finally headed out on day 7 and it was easy going to the portage. At the beginning of this portage you will encounter a beaver dam that must be crossed followed by a very short paddle to the actual beginning of the portage trail. You can avoid the beaver dam via a side portage that is very rough but we did not think this was worth the effort. The portage is very steep for the first 1/8 mile gaining some 50-60 ft in that short distance. You will be winded after this initial haul. But then the trail, which is an old logging road, levels out for most of the remaining distance. It is much easier walking that most Q portage trails.

The portage is 2 miles. The first 1.2 miles is on the logging trail and a nice walk. You will then come literally to a stop sign marking the sharp right turn you must take to the exit bay on Saganaga Lk. The remaining .8 mile is more of a traditional portage trail with stumps, rocks, muck and some ups and downs but still relatively civil. You eventually come out on a small bay right on the Lake. It took us 2 hours and 15 minutes double portaging to complete the portage. Persons in better shape could do it in about 2 hours or less. Our pick up came shortly after we arrived. It would be possible to even camp at the beginning of the portage if need be. We thought this was a great trip, with excellent weather, exciting fishing, and easy access.

Would we do this route again and take the 2 mile portage? Yes. If you are after outstanding smallmouth fishing and want to exit Saganagons with a long but efficient portage this is the way to go. Walleye action is decent but not consistent. Pike are good but we did not really target this fish species for trophies. This is probably not the best place on this lake for lake trout. You would be better on the north shore for this species based on various other trip reports. Do expect to encounter other campers on this Lake. It seems to be growing in popularity for people who do not want or cannot do a lot of portaging. I hope this brief report helps anyone planning a similar trip in the near future.