Iowans introduce the Minnesotan to the BWCA
(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 boats...like 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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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 truck.....it'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.
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.