Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Isabella Lake Trip - Overnight Paddle - 3 Nights/4 Days
by snag1025

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 05/28/2021
Entry & Exit Point: Isabella Lake (EP 35)
Number of Days: 4
Group Size: 4
Trip Introduction:
We are 4 guys from Chatfield, MN. A very small town south east of Rochester, MN for those familiar. For those not, it is about 6 hours from Ely. We are all outdoorsmen to certain degrees, some more than others. All grew up in the same town where we spend most of our time off work in the woods, fishing some of the best Trout Streams in the country down here, or floating down the Root River for trout and smallmouth bass. We started this trip last year, and we decided to make it an annual trip. We are all in our mid 20's to early 30's, and consider ourselves in decent enough shape. We typically don't travel far from the Entry Point we go in at and have a basecamp. But we do take little day trips most of the time at least 1 day out of our stay to portage and see the other lakes and try the fishing.
Day 1 - We got up early Friday 5/28 in Ely; we were staying at the Bunkhouse provided by Spirit of the Wilderness who also outfitted our canoes. We arrived in Ely the day prior, so we could get one more nights rest and be up early being as we are from a town 6 hours away. They supply excellent Kevlar canoes which we do not own, and we do not like hauling our heavy aluminum canoes up for this trip. We got to Spirit about 6:15a, about 15 min before they opened. We loaded the canoes, bought our minnows for the trip, and headed to Isabella, which is approximately 45min to an hour drive that was very simple. After arriving, we all unloaded the truck and hauled the canoes and our gear through the very short portage from parking lot to entry point. The portage consist of a nice open beaten down path with one slight downward hill which you can barely tell is there, its 30 some odd rods, and if you go by minutes, about a 3-4 minute walk. We got the canoes in the water, looked at the lake for a bit (we try to go to new places annually, so its fun to take it all in that first glance), pulled the map out to pin point campsites, and headed out on the water. We headed towards the bigger of 2 islands on the lake with sites, in a Northeast direction, and immediately noticed a bright red tent. We decided to keep heading that direction since we knew there were 2 other sites to choose from on East shorline, plus we wanted to have good photos of the sunset at night. We made it to the other side after about a 20 minute paddle, took a glance at the first site an passed on it. Its one in the northeast corner of the lake, has very little tree cover, and with how windy it was already, it was going to be an issue. Onto the next. We moved down the shoreline on the East side, and found our site about 5 minutes later. A gorgeous landing. Nothing but flat boulders making a perfect spot for the canoes and easy to unload, and they almost formed a nice set of stairs opening up to a decent sized campsite surrounded by tree cover for wind breakage. Nice shoreline of boulders, 3 trails running though the site into the woods and to the latrine, easy to find firewood. It was great site. Of course, those BWCA sunsets, tought to beat. Fishing was not good off the shoreline, Isabella is a very shallow lake, and off shore its ankle deep for quite a ways by this site. We set up camp, had a snack, then set off fishing to the south side of the lake. By this time its about 9:30a, we paddled a while, fished, paddled, fished. Then we stopped at a small peninsula that was all large flat boulders (the entire lake is like this) for a bathroom break. We were all throwing Rapalas this day, and none of us caught a thing except one small Walleye. We headed back to camp about high noon and had lunch, organized camp a bit, and got firewood for the trip. By the time that was done it was time for the afternoon bite, we set out about 5p or so, and we caught 2 small Northern in a small weed bed just north of camp. After that, we paddled back by the other site on the East shore and went into a cover where a swamp or small creek dumps into Isabella. That was the hole we were looking for. An eater size northern and walleye were caught and were brought back to camp that night. We got back to camp, and opened up my Growler filled with bourbon that had been tied to paracord and chilling in the lake since arrival. We made a snack and before we knew it, it was bed time. We all had a big day and slept good that night, although it was cold. When we woke it was 23 degrees, chilly, but awesome sleeping weather.

Day 2 - Daybreak, we are all cold and getting the fire started, and we realized we never cleaned the fish and thought that would be a good breakfast. Well, apparently someone else that was a good idea because the stringer and fish were gone from where we left them in the lake that night. We completely spaced on it the night prior, and it looks as if a Racoon, bear, or another predator got a free meal. Its fine, there's plenty more fish out there. We made breakfast, liquid eggs and bacon, just fine. We packed up our canoes, packed our lunch (PBJ Sandies, Protein Cookies, Homemade Venison Jerky) and headed off for our day trip to the far west side of Isabella to portage to Isabella River where we heard the Walleye fishing was pristine. Boy we had a day ahead of us, a windy windy day. Of course the wind is against us, so it was a solid hour or so paddle to the other side of Isabella. We found a cove and fished that for a bit, but didn't catch a thing, and maybe thought it was due to the huge beaver lodge there. We moved on, continued to the portage. We made it, and took the very short portage to Isabella Lake. We set our stuff down, had a sandwich then walked the trail back to part of the Pow Wow Trail to see the small set of rapids and waterfall it had to offer. A cool little photo opp. We got in our canoes and headed down the river, and the wind had gotten worse. I think we made it about 30 minutes maybe and decided to head back and just drift backwards to the portage and fish that way. The wind was brutal, we barely made it 300 yards in that 30 minutes. But, we were rewarded with a few Walleye take back to camp. Seems that a slip bobber setup, with an orange or pink jig head and a sucker minnow was the ticket this trip. After our long trip back to camp we didnt make the same mistake as the night prior, we cleaned the fish, cooked them up with good ole Shore Lunch and dined. After supper we headed back out for a night cruise and then back to camp for a much warmer overnight of about 40 degrees. Perfect.

Day 3 - Our last full day. You know the drill, wake up, eat, start paddling. Much cooler this day, windy, cloudy as all get out. Not a cloud in the sky the previous 2 days. We did by far have the most luck fishing this day. We went back to the cove on the north side of the lake, and we caught about 20 walleye that morning. The craziest part, all in about 4-5 feet of water depth. I've never seen anything like it. Same lure rigged up, same bait, same result. We went back to camp, ate fish, and prepared camp for the storm that we could see rolling in. That was a treat to watch, the aftermath not so much. The wind whipped, and the clouds opened up a heavy downpour. We sat in the tent and played cards and drank bourbon, so it wasn't a total loss. However, we did all wake up in the middle of the night to realize our tent has a few leaks, we were all in standing water. Good thing it was the final night.

Day 4 - Last day, time to pack up camp and head back to our entry point and truck. We decided to head out right away in the morning since we noticed the wind picked up mid morning most days, and we didn't want to fight that all the way back, it would've turned a 30 minute paddle into an hour. We got back, loaded up the truck and headed back to Ely to drop off the canoes.

Overall - A great trip, they're all great aren't they? Not a single bug I failed to mention, but the wind and colder weather helped big time. Gorgeous lake, good fishing, very big in acreage, and a perfect campsite. Had a great time, and looking forward to next years trip.