Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Iowans introduce the Minnesotan to the BWCA
by fairmatt

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/14/2019
Entry & Exit Point: Little Vermilion Lake (Crane Lake) (EP 12)
Number of Days: 7
Group Size: 4
Trip Introduction:
We had a leisurely route planned with two 9 year old boys going through Lac La Croix, Takumich, Fat and Loon Lakes. Fish were caught and and good introduction to the BWCA was accomplished.
This Fall our crew included my now regular trip partner and brother Austin, his 9 year old nephew Brody, my son Noah also 9 and myself. Noah’s first trip was 2017, and yes he's determined to come every year with me now. Brody lives in MN and has never been to the BWCA, it was time to introduce another person to this awesome place!

(09.13.2019) We drove up from Northwest Iowa arriving at Anderson's Outfitters south of Crane Lake around 5pm last night. We checked in with Mark's crew and they let us know what time our tow was going to be leaving in the morning. We checked in across the road at Pine Ridge Motel and got our gear in order. Then we went to eat at Voyagaire Lodge.

(09.14.2019) This morning we got up early and started getting ready for the day. The boys were moving at a different pace. Clearly Brody was not an early riser. After we got things going, Austin and I double checked our gear and drove it down to the landing. We boarded the boat with another group of Iowans. It seemed two or three of the older guys in the group were experienced canoe trippers and are now base campers with a tow in and out of LLC. They went in heavy and I'm sure they had a blast. The water was higher than in 2016 and 2017 in the Loon River. This meant instead of slowly working the boat through the narrow spot before Loon Lake portage, the driver blew right through it....the boat ride was already a fun, winding and twisting experience.... but the "pucker" factor increased slightly here.

I'm always fascinated with these mechanized portages on the Loon River and Loon Lake. Brody and Noah thought they were cool too.

After getting through Loon River and Beatty Portages we motor on to our drop off point just NE of Fish Stake Narrows (FSN) on Lac La Croix. The other Iowans as well as us were getting dropped off on a tiny island not much larger than a school bus. Can we cause an island to sink? We all pitched in and got everyone's gear off the boat and into piles. We were pretty organized and the other group of guys helped us get going on our way.

So off we paddled to FSN looking for a campsite. We opted to stay just west of FSN at site 165. It's not a great site but its close to FSN. It is hidden from view of the big lake so as to not see any motor the one we just rode in on. We set up camp with Austin and I in hammocks and the boys in a tent. Tarp rigging was a bit challenging over the fire grate, but we managed. We were anxious to get fishing, so we rigged up and went after them. Crawlers and an gold jighead was the ticket. Brody had a good 1st day of fishing picking up Walleyes and a few NOP. Noah caught a few smallies and I don't remember what Austin and I caught but we did not strike out.

Austin bought a radio for this trip so he could listen to the Iowa-Iowa State football game and with some effort he managed to get most of the game largely due to it being delayed and some fine tuning.

The radio was admittedly a nice thing to have along. Yes I love the sounds of nature, but there is also something about kicking your feet up by a fire in a beautiful setting and listening (at a very low volume) to some music. We had a good evening of eating dinner and looking at the stars and turned in for the night. We were all excited to be in the BW again.

(9.15.2019) The plan today was to fish hard. After eating breakfast and drinking some coffee we headed out. Once again Brody had the hot hand catching numerous walleyes and pike while Noah and Austin caught a few fish as well. I slowly paddled through the narrows against the current, allowing the guys to fish and then turn the canoe and drift back through. I decided to tie up a dropshot rig as I thought it would be relatively easy to fish while controlling the boat. I would work the dropshot with a long plastic minnow and this proved to be effective, especially as the shallower water dropped off west of the narrows. This day was trying for Noah who was soundly out fished by Brody (both kids are a bit competitive)...I could tell he was getting a bit annoyed about it so we had a good discussion about patience and assured him his day would come too.

We turned in around 3:00 from fishing as we were all getting a bit testy and sun baked. Noah and Brody worked the shoreline like two bears turning stones and logs looking for anything interesting. They caught frogs and crawdads while Austin and I got things ready for some dinner.

The elevation along the shoreline was gradual and we did not worry at all about the kids slipping down outcroppings and so on. I can't remember what we ate that night other than I brought a crescent roll dough tube. I had the kids do bread on a stick which they thought was interesting.

(09.16.2019) Today we made the decision to paddle to Takumich Lake. We chose to take the route on LLC instead of an inland route through Pocket, Finger and so on. The forecast was for 5-15 mph SSE winds and not picking up until the afternoon so we believed that we would be ok on the big lake. We got going around 8:30am. This was a decent paddling day indeed.

The boys trolled raps most of our paddle and picked up a few Northerns. Brody caught a nice Smallmouth not long after we stopped for a breather at site 127 which has an ok beach to land at.

We reached Tak around noon and promptly set up camp at campsite 102 SW of the portage from LLC. We stayed here in 2017 and really liked the site. It has multiple levels and multiple tent pads.

We ate some grub and then we were off to Trygg to chase Brookies. Catching Brookies was one of the main objectives for our trip. They are not the most tight-lipped fish at least in our admittingly narrow sample size. The portage from Tak to Trygg was not well marked but having found it a few years ago we knew where we were going. There are a few cairns set up but it basically starts at a moderately sloped face of shield rock then once climbed the trail levels off until Trygg. Once on Trygg we rigged up with the simplest of rigs, a hook, crawler and splitshot. We paddled over to the large outcropping on the North side of the lake and soon we were pulling beautiful Brookies out as fast as we could put the hook in the water. The kids were wearing big smiles and were proud of their catches.

After portaging back into Tak and back to camp we cleaned up the fish and baked them in foil. We listened to the forecast while sitting around the fire and understood the next few days to be windy and rainy. We turned in with the realizations we may need to stay at camp tomorrow or even an additional day due to high winds.

(09.17.2019) The morning was indeed windy and rainy. The wind was out of the south and blowing hard 15-20mph with gusts higher, creating whitecaps crashing into our shoreline. We were not going anywhere today. We hung around camp playing Yahtzee making up games and telling stories. Noah and Brody also did their best to cast into the wind to catch smallies from shore and they did indeed manage to hook a few. I was very happy to see the kids catch these fish from a camp morale standpoint.

We also tried to bushwack to Trygg and get to the cliff we fished by yesterday, but we gave up after we determined it not feasible. It was slick on the logs and rocks and just decided to play it safe and turned back to camp.

(09.18.2019) Today was again every bit as windy as the last and again we were staying put. When the kids are on our trips an extra level of caution is observed for sure. We did the daily routine of eating (Noah tried SPAM for the first time) and huddling around under the tarp when it decided to rain.

We played more card games and joked around but it was becoming clear we were all ready to leave this campsite. We did get out and troll around towards the south shore and bays for lakers but didn’t catch any. Once we got blown into the wind things got a bit hairy with the waves. We decided to head back to camp after an hour or so. We all went to bed knowing we had favorable travel weather the next day.

(09.19.2020) In the morning we ate a quick breakfast of Cliff bars and peanut butter Nutella wraps or some combination of all three.

We loaded up and paddled into the swirling mists of Takumich towards the Tesaker portage. As we paddled into the narrowing bay towards this portage I noticed the trees on the north side. A fire sometime ago had burned this area. The grayed and silvered trunks of jack pines that met a firey death stood guard upon slabs of rock scorched sterile in the years past. The old guard now witnessing another round of succession at it's dried charred roots. The portage is not bad other than on the Tak side with deeper water and lack of places to step out from the side of the canoe. The Tesaker side of things is interesting as you basically load up at a beaver dam.
We load and make the quick easy paddle across Tesaker into Gun Lake. The portage isn't bad on the Tesaker side but water was high on Gun and made things a bit interesting during load up. We took some time to hydrate. It was not hot out maybe 55F but it was humid. Austin and I were sweating a bit. I should mention that the boys did well on the portages. We had a backpack we used as a daypack with snacks, raingear and so on. They alternated the carrying of that as well as the loose items we still managed to have. We didn’t leave them long between our double portaging and used our communication code of the Hunger Games whistle to remain in contact:)

On Gun I looked around at this beautiful lake. It's shorelines are fairly steep and it's not wide so it does sort of feel like what paddling down a fjord would be like? It is a lake I have yet to stay at but would love to someday. We passed by the campsite at the narrows and no one was home. The boys trolled the length of the lake and managed to catch each other. They did well on the Gun-Eugene portage. The climb out of Gun was a bit steep but the rest of the trail was not bad at all. In 2017 we saw a cow, bull, and calf moose crossing the narrows south of the Eugene side of the portage. As we paddled past the point where they crossed, we saw and heard wolves howling. This was only 20 minutes after the moose had crossed. In my opinion they were pursuing those moose and we interrupted a possible moose dinner. This story was told by Noah to Brody. They both approached the Eugene side with high hopes of this repeating itself and shocker there were no moose or wolves.

We paddled south through Eugene as the weather started to clear up. This is the point at which we started getting nervous about whether the lone site on Fat would be occupied or not. We got to the portage and took a light load in case it was occupied. We were very happy to see that it appeared empty. We also stayed here in 2017. We loved the solitude and the beautiful old Trout that reside in it's waters. The boys eagerly got into the boat and were ready to make camp as are the adults in the group. We land, unload and got things set up. The site looks a bit more worn since I last stayed but it's still a great site.

Once set up we got some calories in us and got rigged up to catch Lakers. Noah, Brody, and Austin reel in numerous fish of which we kept 2 or 3 for dinner. I don’t even think I caught a fish but it doesn't matter, I loved seeing my son and Brody wearing big smiles.

We decided that based on the forecast of severe thunderstorms for tomorrow evening and the next day, that we would head out from Fat tomorrow by taking the unofficial portage to Slim. We thought it was good to go do some recon on it. Before dinner we went and walked the entire thing and decided we could tackle it. This plan was a bit of a gamble as we had told Anderson's that we would be out two days later than our new exit date. We also said it would be nice if our truck was at EP14 a day or two earlier so we had no idea if it would be there. Worst case scenario was someone would have to hitch it to Anderson's. Again the risk of having two kids along in severe weather and having close encounters of the falling tree kind weighed heavy on our decision.

After the reconnaissance mission we paddled back to camp and baked the Trout in foil with some rice as a side dish. We had some apple cider and hot chocolate and prepared to go to bed. We watched the stars. I did notice a strange light to the NNE, I suppose it was towards the LLC First Nation town generally. Never noticed a sound with it. It disappeared after a time. Strange. Maybe a drone.

(09.20.2019) We rose early before sunrise and got the kids going and packed up. We left a picturesque misty Fat lake sunrise for the portage and began our workout to get to EP 14 at 6:55am.

We ended up dividing the portage into thirds. We moved the canoe and half the gear to a point and went back to get the rest. The portage seemed long without gear, it seemed 10 times longer with it. This is also the point in the trip where I began to really notice how much work it was to bring kids along who can only carry a lighter weight pack. It was all on us more senior trippers to get this crap to the other side and I know it seems like....yeah of course it is all on you but this was the portage that made that point stand out. The trail goes through the bottoms of some drainages but on the tops of hills the forest nice open stands of large Pines and Aspen. It's really a beautiful walk.

At 8:50 we loaded up the boat on Slim. As has been stated on this website the Slim side is a bit rough with a tree down across the main access, but we managed and paddled over to the Little Loon portage which on the Slim side was muddy and shallow. The trail rises quickly for some time then is all downhill aside from maybe one downhill portion and climb along a moosy looking pond. The Little Loon side ends up in a nice grove of Cedar trees with a nice landing. Going from Little Loon to Slim would be a lot harder in my opinion.

I don’t know about Austin but I was feeling it after these last two portages. We took a snickers and water break and realized we should get more water filtered soon. Little Loon had a pretty good algae bloom recently and decided we would have better water on Loon Lake. The wind was picking up a bit out of the south. The pinch between Little Loon and Loon Lake was really funneling the wind through. We paddled down to the first site on Loon Lake on the east side to take a break and filter water. It's now around 11:00. We got the bag filter going and hung out for a while until we all had full water bottles and took off.

We continued to paddle south through Loon and into the bay where the Little Indian Sioux dumps in.

The wind is really impeding our progress here and after a picturesque yet tiring paddle we reached Devil's Cascade and the hill climb into Lower Pauness at around 1:30. This portage is kind of a bear going this direction, but we got it done in short order. We met a group of guys at the Pauness end who make small talk with Noah and Brody. When they walk past Austin and I, they thanked us for bringing youngsters into to BW and that it sounded like they are having a great time!

We got going and took the portage on the south end of Lower Pauness to Upper Pauness. This portage was short and the only minor challenge was the takeout on the lower P. side. After a quick "up and over" we met two older gentleman and make small talk with them as well. We helped steady their boat while they got out. Again a reference is made about us getting the kids out in the wilderness being pretty cool...we agree!

A quick load up and paddle through the rice bed and we entered the river. The water was flowing faster than I've seen on my fall trips through here and with the strong head wind we were going to get a workout. The portages were relatively easy on this river and very beautiful. After the last portage on the river we were all getting tired and it was getting late in the afternoon. We finally made it to the takeout and celebrate SOME. We began the carry out and eagerly scanned the parking lot for the's NOT here.

At 4:45pm we came up with a plan. Austin was to take water and a daypack and start walking out towards Crane Lake on the Echo trail.

I was to stay back with the kids, finish portaging and entertain until Austin arrived back to pick us up. Austin walked for some time before a family offered a ride to Anderson's but the driver had to run his wife, baby and dog home first. They pulled into the EP lot and let us know what was going on. I thanked them profusely. It took an hour or more before Austin arrived back. It was dark we were tired and stinky. We drove down the Echo Trail and were going to eat at Trail's End which was very good. After pulling in, we realized that there was an ATV ride going on and no way we were going to get in. Instead we went to the VRT by the river and ate a pizza and drank 1 beer. I think it was 10:00pm before we pointed our truck south for the 8 hour drive home.

We are so fortunate and thankful to have the ability to do these trips every year. They would not be possible without our significant others and without all of us doing our part to make sure beautiful places like the BWCA remain for all to enjoy forever. The trip was a great one. We caught fish in beautiful country and overcame some challenges.

Thanks for reading.