Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

WCPP Bigshell to Young
by mpeebles

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 07/28/2019
Entry & Exit Point: Woodland Caribou
Number of Days: 19
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
Our tripping style is to basecamp several days, fish and explore. We also like to hike and bushwhack into nearby lakes. One other goal is paddle the perimeter of lakes visited and explore creeks and rivers that would enter or leave a given lake. That being said we deliberately reduce the area to be covered on any given trip. This particular trip would take us from Bigshell to Olive to Linge to Young and back to Linge. We also visited Little Bigshell, Banana, an unnamed lake to the west of Little Bigshell (bushwhacked), part of the Sobourin River, an unnamed lake north and east of Linge (bushwhacked), and all the unnamed lakes along the route.

This part of the park has very nice elevation changes with many rock outcroppings, high ridges and a number of nice sandy beaches. We hiked several of the high ridges with rewarding views. Once you get towards the tops they thin out with almost no deadfall.

Because it has not burned recently, except for the area northeast of Olive and one part of a portage, this area has mostly mature black spruce, jack pine and a surprising amount of popple (aspen) and birch. Water lilies were in bloom. Blueberries were abundant and we picked accordingly! Quite a bit of blowdown and deadfall in the lower elevations which made for interesting hiking.

We only saw one moose (swimming across a narrows on Linge) and one bear on the shoreline at Bigshell. Any number of well fed eagles (if fish is brain food there are some smart eagles up there), lots of loons, and few pileated woodpeckers. We did not see as many ducks and geese as on previous trips. Moose sign was everywhere (I still don't know the difference between moose and caribou droppings....I'm told there is a taste difference). Bear scat was pretty much everywhere as well. Speaking of bear scat, when we bushwhacked into the little lake northeast of Linge we came across several piles of bear scat about the size of my head and a huge bed where it had been bedding. The size of this stuff was impressive even by my standards! Seems the bears are enjoying the bb's as well. Wolf scat was present on some of the portage trails. I also found a bee hive while using the restroom and they were not pleased with me at all. Only got stung three times and only because I couldn't move very fast with pants down not to mention the blowdown hurdles. The mosquitoes were plentiful in the evenings but didn't even use bug spray while hiking during the day.


Walleyes were abundant, to say the least, in all the lakes we fished except for the unnamed lake just west of Little Bigshell where we only caught small northerns and on Banana (I don't think there are walleyes in Banana). Most walleyes were caught anywhere from six feet to thirty feet . Most related to shore structure such as points, etc. but some were caught in the weeds, cabbage being the best of course. All lure types worked well.....jigs/tails, jigging raps, spinners and stick baits. The largest walleye was 28" and came from Little Bigshell. On average Little Bigshell produced larger fish with Young second. Happy to report that numerous year classes of walleyes were caught which would indicate good future fishing. The little bushwhack lake n/e of Linge even had some nice walleyes in it albeit not the large numbers. The walleye fishing in WCPP is crazy easy.

This is the first year I've ever fished for lake trout. I think I've been missing out on something. They're fun to catch. We caught two lake trout from shore at our camp on Bigshell while fishing for walleyes. On a morning trip into Banana we caught six lake trout (four released, two grilled with Penze's Northwoods...thanks Magic Paddler) in one pass around the lake. Those fish came off of a large pink (thanks Martin...ughh) and white crank bait and a large hair jig in red and white (thanks walleye 13). I would suspect that a person could catch as many lake trout as one wanted to on Banana. It is a very beautiful little lake as well. We fished for lake trout for a while on Linge with no success.

Northerns are everywhere. I usually don't target them but my paddling partner likes to once in a while. The largest northern was caught on Banana, 40" or so (I also suspect that one could do quite well on large northerns on Banana if one tried). We didn't catch as many large northerns this year as we did last year in the northwest area of WCPP but probably caught as many. Quite a few of the larger walleyes were caught while partner was throwing large spinner baits for northerns. One northern that took a walleye off of my jig actually scared me. He was big, ugly and had evil eyes!


As in any trip of any duration we had a mix of weather. A few severe thunderstorms during the first part of the trip one of which tore my tarp and this was while we were under it holding it down. Seemed like a lot of wind again this year but it settled down the last week of the trip.

The lakes.......

Bigshell, Olive, Linge, Young and Little Bigshell are fairly large lakes. Bigshell is "round" and offers few sheltered areas from the wind. All others are somewhat "segmented" or have islands to offer some reprieve from the wind while fishing, exploring or just paddling through. Banana was a clear lake in a pristine setting. Many pleasant lakes along the route as well. All are very beautiful.

The portages/routes.........

All portages were well maintained. We only had to cut through a few recent blowdowns. Of course some nice folks (Eric and Paul) went through before us and took care of most of it, thank you very much!

Little Bigshell is connected to Bigshell via a short rapids. Banana is only a 100m portage or so and it starts on river right at the base of the rapids. Some elevation but not too bad. 

We found a trail going into the long cresent shaped lake just west of Little Bigshell. There is a trappers canoe cached back in there as well. 

The route from Bigshell to Olive was completed in one day in 80 degree weather and we were about out of gas when we finished. We triple portage so some of it is our own doing.  One of the hill areas on this route had burned recently and had some really nice views.  In hindsight we should have stayed on one of the pleasant lakes a couple of portages up from Olive.

The route from Olive (west end) to Linge took a day and half (getting smarter as we go). We stayed at the start of a portage two lakes from Linge as we were unable to located the two campsites listed on the maps. I'm thinking one of the those campsites is located at the portage mentioned. The start of the last 475m into Linge can be a little tricky to find. It is where the maps show but you need to keep your eyes open. As an aside I think that finding portages is half the fun. The portages sometime change a little due to water levels and a little scouting may be in order. There was only one where we had to look around for a while.

The route from Olive to Young AND BACK was somewhat of a slog. Knox creek was low which resulted in quite a bit on in and out, pull over shallows type stuff. However, once past the last "obstruction" on the map (a beaver damn) there was sufficient water and a very beautiful high bluff on the north side of the creek which made for a pleasant paddle. We completed this route in about six hours each way.

We bushwhacked into a small lake north and east of Linge, perhaps 150m or so. Pretty easy walk, just had to navigated some blowdown, etc. It is connected to Linge via a small stream. Also a nice sandy beach at the mouth of the stream on Linge. This is where we found where the bear was living.  We caught some nice walleyes in there. I think the lake only got to about 15 ft. or so.

Points of interest......

We came across an old trapper's cabin on the west end of Young. The roof was collapsed and many "artifacts" scattered about. Fun to explore and think about what those folks did. Found a list of the number and sizes of traps the person had used.

There is a First Nation member's cabin on Bigshell. From my understanding it was built by a First Nations member named Buster whose family has been hunting/gathering in this area for several generations. The cabin is only used seasonally, starting in the fall, and Claire provided some really nice information about the history (along with a poster) of Buster's family during our debrief with her at the park office. As always I like to remember that those folks were there long before me and will be there a long time after I leave. (Hope I got this right!)

People sightings........

People are rare in this neck of the woods but we did see three other groups of paddlers. Eric and Paul, a father/son team stopped by on Bigshell on day two or three. We visited with them again in the evening as they camped on Bigshell on their way through. They also left us a very nice present on Olive Lake. Thanks Eric and Paul!

We met a family of four from California along with Harlan on Linge. Had a nice chat with them. If memory serves they were heading to Murdoch Lake.

We met another family of four from Niagra, Canada on Linge as well. They came in from the Upper Chukuni and were headed to Johnson Lake.

Nice to see some young folks along with their parents.


Great trip in a great part of the park! Due to some miscommunication we ended up backtracking from Young to Linge. On the plus side we got to experience Knox Creek twice.

In the woulda/coulda/shoulda department I would have stayed in the Bigshell area a little longer and explored more thoroughly . I'll just have to make that my end point on a trip from Burntwood down the Dutch River to Thicketwood up the Sobourin and back to Bigshell area next time around! I would have perhaps stayed a day or two on the east part of Olive as well.

Thanks to Claire and the staff at the park office for all of your help. More importantly thanks to the people of Canada for setting aside such wonderful areas and allowing us to use them.

We were free to wander.

Safe travels........Mike