Knife Lake Lake Trout
I had a restless nights sleep, thinking of this upcoming trip. I can't count the number of times I looked at the alarm clock to check the time. Finally, I was up at 4:30AM and began staging my gear for when Ryan arrived. He was at the house at 5:00AM, we were loaded and on the road by 5:30AM. We arrived at LaTourell’s by 7:20AM. The paperwork for the canoe rental was finished and everything was loaded in the boat by 8:00AM. We chose to get a tow from the Entry Point to Indian Portage through LaTourell’s. This would give us a slight advantage over the others that were also headed to Knife Lake giving us additional time to select a nice campsite. Indian Portage was a short 7 rod portage. We had our gear on the other side in no time and were shoving off on our adventure. For the next few hours all went well. Navigation was not a problem at all. I learned that Ryan’s map reading skills were just as good as mine, and that was good to know. We stopped at one of the US/Canadian border markers that I knew of and took our pictures by it.
We paddled until we ran out of lake, portaged into the next lake and then paddled some more. We were more dedicated to making good time than we were to taking pictures. That seems to be a common problem for me. We navigated the chain of six lakes and five portages before entering Knife Lake, our destination lake. On Knife Lake we were greeted with high easterly winds, white caps and roller waves. As we were cutting through the rollers I could see the waterline on the canoe through the sidewalls. We were within 1-1/2” to 2” of taking on water over the gunwales of the canoe. Knife Lake is a big lake, roughly 10 miles end to end, and we wanted to be on the other end of this lake by the end of the day. As we neared Isle of Pines the winds appeared to strengthen so we opted to abandon our plan of making it to the east end and seek out a suitable campsite. This was Ryan’s first trip and it was the first time we had ever paddled a canoe together so I erred on the side of caution. I was more concerned with Ryan’s safety and mental comfort than I was with following the plan exactly. Finally, after years of experience, common sense persevered over want and desire. We took a right turn and headed west into a bay where I knew of an old campsite that I had stayed at before. The campsite (1247) was void of good shade trees as a result of the 1999 blow-down. It would be a descent site for one night, but not a base camp. We checked the map and noticed there was another campsite (1246) about ¼ mile away just around the corner into a small bay. We headed that direction to go check it out. It was around 2:30PM when we arrived at what would be our home for the next 6 days. We had high easterly winds for balance of the day but our bay and camp site were well protected and we hardly noticed the winds at all. With our packs on shore and the canoe safely tucked away, we started to make our camp. The tent went up, the hammock strung between two trees and wood gathered for a fire. Later that evening we fished our little bay. Ryan caught the first fish, a nice sized northern pike. A short time later I caught one. It was smaller but between the two we had enough for a nice supper. It was fun to fry fish on an open fire. I hadn’t done that for literally decades as using a stove is just more convenient. There was just something primal about cooking on an open fire that compelled us to do it. After supper we sat by the fire and sipped blackberry brandy & Jamison whiskey. As you will see, this is a nightly activity.
When morning came I made the coffee while Ryan prepared breakfast of diced potatoes and onions and ½ of a summer sausage. It was very good!! We trolled our way to Isle of Pines to look around. We took our pictures of “Dorothy’s rock”. We explored her summer island. This is the place I first met Dorothy Molter, “The Root Beer Lady”. Dorothy passed away in 1986 so no one had lived on the island for over 30 years. Small trees were now larger and a lot of under brush had grown in. There wasn’t much about the island that I recognized anymore. It was kind of depressing to be there again. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was recalling Dorothy, her life, her passing and the end of an era. The winds started to pick up again so we headed south to the southern shoreline and trolled our way back to camp. We stopped a few places along the way to cast while wading. No bites but we both remained in good spirits. Back at camp we cut, split and stacked more firewood. For supper we had two freeze dried meals. It was quick and easy. After supper we sat by the lake, watched the sunset and sipped our blackberry brandy and Jamison whiskey.
About 5:30AM it started raining. We both got up for a bit just to move a couple items out of the rain. Neither of us wanted to paddle in the rain so we slept in a bit. It was roughly 7:00AM when the rain stopped and we finally got up. We had coffee and toasted bagels for breakfast. The bagels were buttered and fried, then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. The skies looked like the could open up and rain at any time so we stayed in camp, tidied up and organized a bit. At about 3:00PM we closed up camp and slid the canoe in the water. We had decided to paddle into Portage Lake. It was just one short 25 rod portage from across our bay and it was protected from the winds which were still variable and could be strong at times. First impressions were it was a nice lake. It only had 2 campsites on it and only one was discernible and located. We think we found the other one but we didn’t get out of the canoe to verify this. Within the first few minutes of trolling Ryan caught the first fish which was a northern pike. It was also the largest one we caught on that lake. By the time we were ready to leave the lake, I had caught 3 more northern and Ryan 2. We released them all. Ryan and I made it back to camp by 6:30PM. We cut, split and stacked more firewood for the night. We had gnocchi with basil pesto for supper with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy. Dishes were finished and camp was tidied up by 8:30PM. For the rest of the night we sat around the fire, sipping our blackberry brandy & Jamison whiskey and discussing our plans for the following day. Since we were moving camp on Friday, we only had tomorrow and Thursday left if we planned on catching any lake trout. Hopefully the winds will cooperate and let us get to good fishing waters.
Up at 5:00AM. Breakfast was a toasted English muffin with a fried beef patty (freeze dried) in it, and coffee of course. We were packed up and on the water by 7:00AM. Ryan caught the first lake trout around 8:10AM just off the southeast corner of Robbins Island. Our first lake trout of the trip!! This was also Ryan’s first lake trout.
After a few pictures it was released to be caught again. I was happy for him. This is why we came on this trip, to catch lake trout. I caught one a short time later about ½ mile to the east. It was smaller than Ryan’s, but it was my first lake trout…. Ever! And I was proud of it!! Out of the 2 dozen or so times I’ve been to the BW, this is only the second time I have ever taken a fishing pole and fished. The other trips were all about making miles and seeing the sights. I had it off the hook and back in the water before Ryan could get a picture of it. We trolled our way past Twin Islands and over to Thunder point. I hooked into another one just off of Thunder Point. It was definitely larger than my previous one. I was, again, quite pleased with how the trip was evolving. We’ve caught 3 trout in the last 90 minutes or so. Not bad considering neither or us are hardcore fishermen. We had plans on hiking up to the top of Thunder Point and taking our hero shots. It was a short hike up to some spectacular views. It was well worth the visit. We hung out on top for a while then headed back down. The winds were starting to pick up so we decided to troll our way back to camp lest we get caught in some high winds and have to hunker down on the shoreline somewhere. We trolled our way back to where Ryan caught the first lake trout and stopped on the island that was nearby. We had lunch and Ryan fished from shore. Being in the shelter of these islands, the winds were calmer, the sun was awesome. It was a perfect day. After about an hour or so we continued trolling our way back to camp. I hooked into something that really shook my pole 4 or 5 times before the line went slack. I’m pretty sure the line was actually cut by teeth as the line was still being released by the drag when the line went slack. We figured it was either a really big northern pike or possibly a large lake trout. I’m guessing from the nicks on the end of line it was in fact cut by teeth. We trolled our way back to camp, snacked a bit. It was late afternoon by now. For supper we had fettuccine Alfredo with some Tyson grilled chicken added. As a side dish we had some Spanish rice. Yeah, it didn’t suck to be us! We had supper finished up and things put away by 7:45PM. We made plans to replicate tomorrow what we had done today. Up until now we were releasing all of our lake trout. Tomorrow we will keep the first lake trout we catch and release the rest. That way we will be guaranteed a meal of lake trout. We also finalized our plans for Friday, which is the day we will travel ½ way back to our entry point.
We were up by 4:45AM, breakfast of toasted raisin bagels and oatmeal. On the water by 6:45AM. We were about ½ way to Isle of Pines when I decided to put a line in the water and start trolling. I put on a deep running Rapala Shap Rap. It had been in the water less than a minute before I had a fish on and it was only 7:00AM!! It put up a nice fight before we got it to the canoe and seen that it was a lake trout! Yay! We are going to have a meal of lake trout!! By 7:20AM Ryan had caught another laker in the approximate area he had caught one yesterday in the area of Robbins Island. Ryan released it. We continued in our same trolling route as yesterday. Again, in almost the same area as yesterday, I hooked into another one! It was also released. We decided to troll our way back to camp and have the one fish we had on the stringer for lunch. On the way back to camp Ryan hooked into another lake trout in the channel just east of Isle of Pines. Again, we released it. It was only about 9:30AM by now so we decided to head for camp to gather wood to cook our lunch. With a fire built and some of the wood cooked down to some nice coals we were ready to cook our lake trout. I laid down about 4 layers of aluminum foil and placed the trout on it. It had been gutted with the head and tail cut off. We were cooking the main body of the trout. We placed a little butter inside the cavity, along with some lemon wedges and onions. It was seasoned then wrapped tightly in the 4 layers of foil. It was cooked slowly over the coals. As it cooked it smelled great!! We were both so excited to have the opportunity to do this and have this experience. After about 30 minutes we decided it must be done so I started to unfold the foil. As I did we both commented that it smelled awesome and were both excited to give it a taste test. Once the foil was open and laid back we gazed our eyes upon a beautifully cooked lake trout. Not only did it smell good, it looked good too! I peeled the skin back and picked up a small piece of meat with my fork. Ryan did the same. We both popped these treats in our mouths and began chewing. It was at that moment in time that Ryan and I discovered that we did not like lake trout!!! I think I tried one more small piece and concluded, with absolute certainty, that I was not a lake trout guy. Nope, I’m done. Next time, if there is a next time, I will fry the fillets and see if we like it better that way. I've eaten fried Rainbow's before and liked it so I don’t know what the problem was. Sadly, we bundled up the remains of our cooked fish (luckily it was a small one), along with the head, tail and innards and prepared to dispose of it. We paddled across our bay, away from any portage or campsite, and carried it off into the woods where birds and animals could have a meal from it. It was sad to do, but it was a learning moment. Our goal was to come to Knife Lake to catch and eat a lake trout. Mission accomplished. We both know now that we are not lake trout fans and most likely will not target them again. I’m thinking more along the lines of walleyes from now on! Later on that night we had beef stroganoff for supper. It was roughly 7:00PM by the time we finished up with supper and dishes. Sadly, we started to break down camp in preparation for our move tomorrow. This consisted of taking down the hammock, the tarp and doing a little organizing. We also removed the rod holders from the canoe and dismantled the fish finder. You could tell the trip was coming to an end. Both of us were a bit quieter than normal. We were on the down-slide now. Everything we were doing was preparing us for our travels tomorrow. As we sat around the fire that night we decided to finish off the remainder of our brandy and whiskey. Yep, these were quiet times for us. As we sat around the fire I’m guessing we were both reminiscing the special moments of this trip, I know I was. It was roughly 9:00PM when we both slipped into the tent for our last night on Knife Lake.
It had rained most of the night, pretty hard at times. It was still raining at 5AM when we wanted to get up. We decided to sleep in as we only had to paddle 10 miles or so today. We would have time even if we had a late start. The rain finally quit about 9AM and we were out of the tent and preparing breakfast a short time later. Today it was the last of our potatoes and onions fired over an open fire. We were totally packed and on the water by 11:45AM. We paddled Knife Lake and the smaller lakes without incident. We continued to knock out the 5 portages and were looking for a site on Birch Lake by around 3:15PM. We found a beautiful site (1287) just north of Indian Portage. It was spacious and had great views of the lake around us. One of it’s best features was it had a pair of Bald Eagles in a tree near the site. We would listen to them call back and forth all evening. It was a special moment for both of us. We discussed it and decided to forgo supper since neither of us were hungry at all. I attribute that to the somber mood we were both in, realizing this would be our last campsite in the Boundary Waters, at least for this year that is. We both fished from shore for an hour or so before hanging it up for the evening. Since the area was pretty picked over for firewood we didn’t bother having a fire this night either. It was really sinking in that tomorrow was our last day. I can always gauge the success of a trip by how anxious I am to get back to my regular life. Apparently this had been a good trip as we had no desires to get back to civilization anytime soon.
We were up by 7:00AM. Skies were cloudy but it seemed like an OK day. We had our usual pot of coffee and a toasted English muffin with a fried beef patty (freeze dried) in it along with some hashbrowns. Yep, this is roughing it!! This was our final day. There would be no more early morning sunrises, no more breakfasts cooked over an open flame. No more Eagles calling. No more fishing these waters. We knew the inevitable was awaiting so we packed up our things, filled our packs for the last time, loaded them into the canoe and we were on the water by 9:30AM. It was very overcast now, but calm. We paddled in silence for the most part. Just enjoying our surroundings and the solitude. We seen other canoers coming in while we were on our way out. They were new, and shiny. Many were smiling and full of chatter. They had that spark of excitement in their eye and full of anticipation of the unknown that was awaiting them, much like Ryan and I on our first day out. As the day rolled on the weather started to deteriorate. The skies got darker and the winds picked up. We knew we were only an hour or so from our exit point so we weren’t concerned at all. We just continued to paddle in silence and I reminisced on the previous week. As we rounded the last point of land we could now see LaTourell’s landing where we needed to take out at, it was roughly ¼ mile away. We could also see a wall of rain making it’s way across Moose Lake. It was still a mile or so away, but moving our way quickly. We continued to paddle at a dedicated pace but the winds were pushing the rains our way much faster. We were within a several hundred yards of our take out point when the rains finally hit us and hit us they did!! The winds picked up considerably and the skies opened up. We were in a deluge!! We didn’t bother stopping to put rain gear on since we could see the docks. We were both absolutely soaked to the bone in the first 10-15 seconds of this downpour. It only took us a few more minutes to make it to the dock. We already had a considerable amount of water in the bottom of the canoe in that short time we were in the rain. As soon as we were near the shore we quickly got out and unloaded the canoe of all our gear. I wanted to get the canoe out of the water and turned upside down as soon as possible. With that mission accomplished we walked up to LaTourell’s Lodge and began waiting out the storm. There were at least 20 other people there waiting for the storm to end so they could launch and begin their adventure. In my own way, I felt a little bad for them. I know that when you come to the Boundary Waters you have to accept whatever weather Mother Nature gives you, but this is not a good start to any trip. I recalled how lucky Ryan and I were with the weather we experienced. In spite of some wind and rain, I thought the weather was good. I’ve been in worse. In my thoughts, I wished them well. We got the Jeep loaded and were on our way back to Hibbing, all the while talking about our next adventure to the BW.
As I sit here typing this, nearly a month has passed since I have been to the Boundary Waters. In some ways it seems like it was only yesterday that we were there. And in other ways it seems like it has been years since my paddle has cut those waters. Each time I visit the Boundary Waters a bit of me is left behind when I leave. Each time I visit the Boundary Waters a new adventure is born within. I guess that’s what keeps me coming back.
Until next time...