Mudro to Friday Bay
3:15 AM – Wake up and work 8 hrs. Home and ready to head north at 1:00 PM. Adam arrives with his 14 y/o son Ben at 2:00 PM. My 15 y/o son Tyler and I quickly toss our gear in the back of the Red Dodge extended cab pickup and settle in for the next 10 hours. We arrive at the Voyageur North parking lot at 12:15 AM. Adam notices a light on and guess what? Lynn is still there and stays open for us – we watch the mandatory movie, buy a fishing license and yoke pads for Adam, 2 lbs of leeches and a couple of fly swatters before she explains the route out of town to EP 22. Great customer service! She stays open for over an hour …more than two hours past closing time. Try getting that at home. No way.
We decided to sleep in our vehicle in the Mudro parking lot since there were no rooms available in Ely not to mention we hadn’t spent quite enough time yet in the truck ride from Kansas City. By the time we wind through the wooded turns it’s nearly 2:00AM when we reach the gravel lot nearly filled with about 35 cars. We find a spot about 15 feet from the head of the trail ( good luck ). Time for a quick nap.
Day 2 -- Saturday July 28, 2007
I’m the first awake at 5:00AM …come to find out my son Tyler never slept that night. It was a short night but the adrenaline works better than a pot of coffee and we spring out of the vehicle. It takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to unpack, bolt Adams yoke pads to his center thwart, pack up the loose items and ready ourselves for the first 30 rod cakewalk to the narrow stream leading to Mudro. The sun is barely up when we dump the canoes into the ankle deep stream and load the gear. It’s Tyler’s first canoe trip but he caught on quickly. Our 17 foot Old Town snaked down the stream easily. A good testing ground for the rest of the week. Man, the water smelled swampy. Mudro is a small lake with great scenery. With no wind the only ripples on the water were created by us. The next portage is a 30 rod up and down with a few rock obstacles. Not too difficult. By now I find that the yoke my father built in 1973 was made for a large Norwegian with wide shoulders. I take after my mother – a small Norwegian with narrow shoulders. The “U” shaped 3/8” plywood yoke with maybe ½” of 24 year old padding caught me at the tips of my shoulders and hurt like …well it hurt like a couple of dull knife blades pushing down with the force of an 86 lb. Royalex. It really hurt to carry that thing.
I told the rest of the group the next portage was an easy 100 rod stroll through the trees. It’s not. Steep trails, big rocks and lots of tree roots. This one’s a booger. Finally the water. A mere 50 feet of paddling and it’s time to unpack again. Met a family coming out. They zipped past – we’re not quite that good yet. We unpack and carry for a quick 10 rod portage. I then took the canoe and dragged it closer to the beaver dam to make it a 6 rod portage. Adam took one end of the green torture devise and we hand carried it for the one minute hike. Easy. A short stream paddle and we’re in Fourtown. We get to paddle for almost an hour bearing left before making a sharp left had turn. Met up with a dozen canoes all racing ( so it seemed ) to the Mudro portages on their way out. I’m glad we got an early start because the trifecta of portages were about to get choked up. Thanks again Voyageur North. Next is the 48 rod into Boot. Nice trail with only a few obstacles. Adam wants to help out by exchanging canoes for the carry. Adam’s a big guy and I’m no dummy so I accept his offer. He lifts the 86 pounder onto his shoulders, lets out an OOOOWWWWW, sets it down and says, “ I’m sorry but I can’t carry that thing.” Up on my sore shoulders it goes for another 48 rods. The walk back and the subsequent carry with the remaining packs is rather pleasant. During the lengthy paddle through rootbeer colored Boot Adam is thinking how to make my yoke usable. The next portage is a 15 rod easy stroll into Fairy. We left the two foam car-top blocks on the gunwales which Adam slipped onto each side of my yoke. Didn’t work. They kept slipping off throwing the canoe out of balance. I guess I’ll have to gut it out. After all it’s my fault for not checking it out before the trip. By now the lakes seem tiny and the trails? A rod equals a football field right? Dang my shoulders hurt. One more portage today. An easy 50 rod path to Gun. I ask Tyler if he wants to carry the canoe. He’s a pretty smart 15 year old and says, “ No way Dad.” Oh well it’s the last one so we charge across into Gun where we camp on the front end of the trigger. A very nice site with nice tent pads and trees for hanging our rather heavy food bags. We’re off to Crooked tomorrow so we unpack as little as possible. BTW it’s 11:45 AM as we pull into camp. We tried fishing that afternoon for Walleye but could only catch smallmouth. Adam catches a nice 20 inch fighter and several more that reached 18 inches just southwest of the point at the top rear of the trigger. Tyler and I quit fishing at about 5:00 PM to look for firewood. We find about 5 sticks then head back to camp. We’re both so beat both mentally and physically that we eat a quick bite then head to the sleeping bags – asleep by 8:30 – what a day.
Day 3 -- Sunday July 29, 2007
5:15 AM A granola breakfast, a quick camp breakdown and we’re ready to travel to Friday Bay on Crooked Lake. We’re all feeling better after a full nights sleep. Adam’s a little concerned about my welfare so he breaks out the duct tape and a camp knife. We carve the grippers off the foam blocks to make a couple of brick shaped blocks then duct tape them to each side of the “U” cheating as much pad to the center as possible. This works great but my shoulders are still very sore to the touch from the day before.
We paddle up the barrel of the gun to the 328 rod trek into Wagosh. I’ve been a little concerned about this for quite some time. Ben takes a pack and the 2 lbs of leeches and starts up the trail. Tyler follows with a heavy Seal Line pack and the all purpose bag – an overnight bag filled with misc. stuff. Adam helps me get the Old Town onto my shoulders and I take the first of 10,000 steps to the other side. About ¼ into the portage there’s a wide area which looks like a good spot for resting. I have sore shoulders but otherwise feel fresh so I carry on. About ½ way across I’m determined to go all the way without stopping. My mind is occupied by looking ahead then reaching that goal looking ahead then reaching that goal – continue this about 100 more times. This portage is not flat but it’s not difficult either. A 30 foot stretch of rocks, a small low water bridge about 2/3 the way across and a few semi steep areas. I’m thinking if I were hiking the Sahara desert I’d have seen water by now. Then around a corner and there it is. Wagosh. What a beautiful mud hole. I’m so excited I start jogging back. I pass Tyler who asks, “ How much further?” I say, “ about ¼ to go. A few steps later I spot Ben who asks, “ How much longer?” I say, “You’re about ¾”. A ways later and still jogging I meet Adam wearing a red 16’ Pelican hat with the brim tipped up a bit who asks,” How much further?” I tell him that he’s between ½ and ¾. He’s not too happy with my response and between cuss words tells me that this trail is definitely NOT FLAT. About half way back the excitement wears off and I start to walk only jogging the uphill legs. I grab the remaining seal line, the food pack, paddles and a worm container. The trip back to Wagosh seemed much further.
Once on Wagosh my Katadyn pump filled four Nalgene bottles, tossed in several crystal light energy packs and drank ½ of the 32 oz. Bottles. Then made our way to the 43 rod easy portage into Niki. Once past the short width of Niki we started up another stream, pulled over a beaver dam and up another stream. Streams are nice because it’s easy to see how fast you’re going. Beats walking. The opening to our right is Chippewa – we’re on it for a minute or two before starting up another stream which leads to Papoose. The wind has been in our favor so far but our luck changed here. A gentle south breeze turned to the northwest and blew in at 10 to 15 mph. All I could think about was how Friday Bay would be a white cap nightmare.
Up the stream northwest of Papoose we find a Duluth pack and a water proof rubber bag off to the side. Looks like company on the trail. I meet Dad and his 12 year old son about half way up the path. The son has a pack and paddles while Dad like me wears a 17 foot umbrella – only his is Kevlar. I stepped off the path and asked the gentleman under what appeared to be a helium filled canoe how the fishing was on Crooked. He told me it’s the best fishing he’s ever had. NO MORE than 20 minutes between fish. Walleye, Northern and Smallies. I ask which Bay was best as we moved off in opposite directions. As his voice tapered off and faded to the wind in the trees I hear him say, “ everywhere, they’re hitting everywhere. We’ve had the greatest…”
Physically spent we plan to hug the west shore in hope of reaching the island camp at the north end of the bay. Head winds are no fun. Then 100 yds. Into Friday Bay the wind dies then turns 180 degrees and pushes us for the remaining 40 minutes to our island home. The wind pushed the father and son out then welcomed us in.
12:15 PM We’re on the island. Exhausted we set up our tents, a shade tarp, a hammock and hang the food pack all in slow motion sizing up our new digs. Fishing that evening was very good. Tons of smallmouth and several walleye. I boated a nice 24” walleye on a perch colored rapala tail dancer then quickly set it free. We did keep three wallies for dinner – two at 17” and another 16 incher. We have a personal slot of 16” to 18” for keepers. The first fish of the trip and they tasted great. Two Wellers and Waters later with a solid glow in the western sky and it’s off to bed. 9:15 PM
Day 4 -- Monday July 30, 2007
5:15 AM – I’m the first awake. I work an early shift so 5:15 is sleeping in for me. I get 20 oz. Of water boiling, plop in three coffee singles then wait for Adam to climb out of his tent. He starts sipping his coffee with the boys still fast asleep when his stomach starts doing cartwheels. Adam waves me on so I solo with my fishing rod around the island while Adam takes care of his upset stomach and the boys work on the final 3 hours of a 12 hour sleep – they earned it.
Fishing was great that morning. I completed a BWCA grand slam ( walleye, northern pike and a smallmouth bass ) before I was half way around the island. After 2 laps around the granite and pines I headed in to wake the boys. Adam went back to sleep for the duration of my 90 minute angling adventure and woke up ready to take on the world. Adam and Ben headed west but not quite to Saturday Bay while Tyler and I fished the west side of Friday. T caught his first northern pike – a nuisance for most but a prize for T. He’s wanted to catch one for years and finally got his wish the morning of the third day fishing. We had a great time catching and releasing dozens of fish. Adam and Ben had poor luck that morning but did bring back lunch. A 17 inch walleye. After lunch I made a makeshift cargo net out of the four and a half miles of rope I brought along ( a half mile would have been plenty )and set a portable depth finder on it. I then broke out the basketball net, found a nice size granite rock, clipped the two caribeeners to a 60 foot rope and made our canoe anchor. We’re ready to FISH.
After an afternoon nap we decided to eat an early dinner then head to the west side of Friday for some evening fishing. T & I found a hot little walleye hole full of slot size walleye biting both night crawlers and live leeches. We were on a catch and release mission so they all went back to fight another day. The walleye shut off as quickly as they started so we decided to call it a night and troll back home. I tossed out my tail dancer and within 10 paddles stokes hooked up with a 23” but very fat walleye. It wrapped and tangled in T’s line before he could reel it in and produced a bird nest in T’s line the size of a mens slow pitch softball. We decided to paddle back and fix the line the next day. Adam prepared a raspberry with chocolate cookie sprinkle desert that we devoured within seconds. Adam and I sipped a few bourbon and waters while we laid back on the still very warm granite “Beach” in front of our site counting satellites ( 3 ) and shooting stars ( 2 ) before heading into the tents at 10:45 PM. Another great day.
Day 5 -- Tuesday August 1, 2007
5:15 AM – Up first again. Boil water for coffee and wait for Adam to zip his way out of his tent. T wants to sleep so I head out solo while Adam and Ben trail a few hundred yards behind me. I pick up an 18” walleye trolling the 60 foot deep water on the way to the East side of Friday bay. I could see suspended fish on my cheap depth finder in the deep water and finally picked one up. Working the East shoreline trying to stay on the drop-off ( I tried to keep my depth between 15 and 18 feet ) I grand slammed several times working to the southern end of Friday Bay. A couple of Bald Eagles soared above and a beautiful bushy tailed fox scampered along the boulders in one of the small bays before darting off into the brush. I decided to call it a morning and rode the southerly breeze in the deep water back to the camp site. Along the way I caught two healthy ( 31” and 30” ) northern pike in water that ranged from 45 feet to 60 feet. They were suspended just cruising around. And a 19” walleye off a mid lake reef in 18 feet of water about 100 yards west of a three island set in the middle of Friday Bay. The fish were biting again this morning.
Swimming became a favorite mid day past time with water temps near 80 ( + or- a couple degrees ). I brought a pair of swim goggles as a last second throw in and they soon became a favorite toy for the boys. Ben and T took turns checking out the fish that inhabited the shoreline off the granite beach. They whittled a couple of old cedar sticks to make spears in an attempt to shish kabob a fish. Never happened but they stayed occupied for hours in the attempt. By now the wind had picked up and was howling out of the south so we cancelled our plans to fish Thursday Bay. Maybe tomorrow. Spent the remainder of the afternoon cleaning out the canoe, laying in the hammock and writing.
It was still too windy to fish at 5:00 PM so we opted for an early dinner before fishing the leeward side of our island. As we trolled close to the international border ( we just guessed where that was ) I noticed my rod tip dancing a bit and removed it from the 1 ½ inch dia. PVC homemade rod holder. Ooops. I forgot to engage the spool on my baitcasting reel so my deep diving storm ( perch color ) is some 200 yds. Behind me. Yep, there’s a fish on it all right but it’s not putting up much of a struggle …that is until it gets close to the boat then zing. It peels off about 20 yds. of drag making several strong runs to the bottom. A few minutes later a 25” walleye was quickly measured and returned to the lake. I did get a picture of this one. About an hour and 20 fish later T while trolling the U.S. side of an island we believe was in Canada hooked into what we believe was a fish. It ripped into his perch colored tail dancer and headed for deep water. It took about 5 full seconds of zing before bink ---- spooled him running 80 yds off his spinning reel at a full run. T said, “ I don’t really want to know what did that.” I’m sure it was a large pike but who knows?
Back to camp by dark for another quick desert, a few more bourbon and waters ( Knob Creek this time ), more star gazing time on the hot rock then hitting the sack at 11:45 PM
Day 6 -- Wednesday August 2, 2007
6:00 AM – Adam and I wake up at the same time. Sure seems early. This time we get the boys up, eat a quick granola breakfast and hit the windy lake each filling a Nalgene with gravity filtered water from the collapsible 2 gallon camp tank. Southwest wind at 20 mph and white caps make for tough fishing conditions. T immediately hooks up with a monster walleye. I make him pose with it for three quick snap shots before letting it swim free. 26 inches, well over 6 lbs with a fat belly. Nice fish. We hit all the bays on the southern U.S. side on the way to Thursday Bay and did pretty well in each. T did anyway. About a quarter of the way south along the western side of Thursday we decide to head back. We’re hungry and the wind is getting to be more than we can handle. On the way back T hit three northern in a row trolling water that was over 90 feet deep near the northern narrows of Thursday. I thought the suspended fish on the finder might be Lakers but all that came up were 30 to 33 inch pike. T would rather catch a 26” northern than a 26” walleye so he was happy with the catches. The paddle back against the wind was brutal. At times it seemed as though we were moving backward. Ben had a 16” walleye for our mid day meal when Adam announced for us to keep anything, even a small pike, for lunch. Within 5 minutes Ben caught a 19” walleye ( we broke the rule and kept it ). I caught an 18” eye and kept it too. Lunch was risotto and walleye. Great.
Rain moved in for about an hour during the middle of the afternoon perfect timing for a short nap. But enough rain in 30 minutes to give everything a thorough soaking. The wind died down after the storm and left the water fairly calm for fishing that evening. The sun also reappeared in time for us to try the west side of Friday Bay. The black flies flew in by squadrons of 50 off the shore making kamikaze runs at our feet and ankles. They seemed to know exactly when you’re preoccupied with something before they bite off healthy portions of rare ankle flesh. We decided to fish the reef in the middle of the bay with only minor success. I guess the flies won that evening.
Back at camp the mosquitoes came in as usual for about 90 minutes at sunset. The evening sky was clear and the nearly full moon rose late so the stars were out in force. All four of us spent a relaxing evening watching the stars until bed time at 11:00 PM.
Day 7 -- Thursday August 3, 2007
5:30 AM - Travel day. We break down camp while sipping several plastic camp cups of Folgers. Loading our still rather wet gear into waterproof bags we take one last look around camp before heading south. It’s now about 8:00 AM. The wind was light and out of the west so the first two miles of the trip went smoothly. The portage from Friday Bay to the Papoose streams seemed much easier this time. Tyler and I saved a little time by implementing the “ portage and a half “ method. All four of us were really getting it down. The streams and beaver dam pull over were uneventful but I could tell the wind was picking up as a whisper in the trees turned to a light roar. Here we are again, this time at the northern end of the mile long portage back to Gun. Tyler and Ben took off with two packs a piece en route to the halfway point for drop off. I told ‘em to go about 200 yds. Past the “ Low water bridge “. Adam bench pressed his 16’ pelican overhead and started south on the trail and shortly after I attempted the same. Alone in knee deep water I tilted the near side of the canoe up to my hip, reaches across and grabbed the far side of the center thwart tilting it toward me and up. Then grabbed near the gunwale and started my military press overhead when my left foot slipped off the slick rock I was using as a footing sending me and my canoe into the rocks below with my left knee leading the way. More embarrassed than hurt I waited until T returned to help me with the canoe. No sense risking injury this deep into the woods. I carried the length of the portage again without stopping while T double portaged the gear.
Gun was incredibly windy. The west wind made the short trip down the gun barrel very difficult sapping most of our energy. Making it past that wind tunnel proved to be our last struggle this trip. Gun was our original destination today but we felt so good that we thought we’d press on to Boot. The boys knowing each paddle stroke put them that much closer to pizza was incentive enough. Fairy was easy and Tyler wanted to single portage the 15 rods into Boot. I told him earlier that the single portage was the holy grail to a bwca canoeist – I read that on the message board. T took a seal line, the food pack ( now trash pack ), the misc. bag and the paddles while I carried a seal line and the canoe. Easy, but then again it was only 15 rods. A cross wind at the northern end of Boot turned to a tail wind once we made the 90 degree turn to the east. We passed a vacant camp site on the point in favor of one closer to the portage but they were full and there was no way we were battling the wind back to the empty site. We opted to portage into Fourtown where the first couple of sites were littered with tents. Now what? Well the site on the point just before the lake turns south was empty and we grabbed it. Unpacking only what was necessary we set up and dried out our gear. Adam and Ben went out to fish but only managed a catch and release a 6” smallmouth so we went without fish that evening. Tomorrow is pizza day.
Day 8 -- Friday August 4, 2007
5:30 AM - I was awake at this hour but I laid in the tent until 6:00 AM before boiling water for coffee. My body really felt the effects of a long travel day yesterday. Camp breaks down easily and we’re on the water by 7:30 AM. Not much wind this morning as we make it to the first portage by 7:50. A quick hop across the rocky ground, a few paddle stokes later and we’re to the final tough portage. Met a group heading in and enjoyed watching their enthusiasm. Groups heading in are filled with anticipation while groups heading out are calmed by memories. That and the thought of pizza and beer keep our backs strong and our legs moving. I barely remember the last 30 rod portage into Mudro or the short walk back to the parking lot. What I do remember is the ice cold Miller Lite and the hot Italian sausage thin crust pizza at 12:15 in Ely. What a great trip.