Boundary Waters Quetico Forum :: Trip Planning Forum :: 2020 Early June solo trip to Knife Lake
The photo with the tree down in the water is the first point I'm talking about, the pike was caught from the campsite.
I have seen moose swimming across this narrows and bears at the campsite in the past.
If you are soloing up there for the first time, I recommend picking a route that is flexible in terms of distance and avoids the biggest lakes until you know how you feel in strong winds and big waves.
+1 about how people end up taking too much stuff. Unless you plan to just go in a few lakes and then base camp, really trim your gear and food weight.
Wind, weather, campsite availability, etc., can all affect your trip. Trying to plan out every last detail of what lake you want to camp on , which campsite you prefer, etc., can all go to hell in a hand basket with wind and weather, or others occupying the campsite you'd like to have. I don't say this to be negative, just so that you are realistic in what you'll encounter.
If you have the mindset that planning is half the fun, (and it is!), but adapting to changes and hardships is the other half of the fun, you'll be fine.
Regarding smallmouth bass, that's the one species of fish that must be in every lake, and usually plentiful. You should have not problem catching them. (and in the BWCA, they are just fine to eat) Knife is a great hatchery for the grand slam of fishing, pike, smb, walleye and lakers.
Stargazing - The BWCA is a great place to do it. However, in later June and early July, with extended daylight hours, it's a long day and once it's dark and I hit the hammock I'm done. The few times I've been able to stay up really late, the view is amazing on a cloudless night.
Have a great trip. As soon as it's over you'll be planning your next one.
The early camp sites have reputations for bears, but once you get to where the south arm splits, you will be more isolated. If you have canoeing experience in a solo, you should be able to make this area with an early start. The days are long. Lots to see and do on Knife. Good fishing, too.
If you have five days or more, a loop south through Kekekabic and then back west through Ima and out Ensign to Moose is one of my favorite trips. It gives a nice variety of terrain from bluffs to gentle streams.
Best advice is spend the winter reading posts. Questions you might not have thought of get covered.
I have been going to the canoe country of northern MN and Ontario for 47 years and have 40 some trips under my belt. My enthusiasm and appreciation of it has not waned over the years. It is an amazing place and will be a great experience and fitting reward for you after all the time and effort you have put into your academic pursuits.
Some random thoughts:
Early June is one of the best times of the year for fishing up there. You should have plenty of luck with smallmouth, including most likely some big ones, and probably some walleye too. Pike seem to find their way on to your line no matter what you are fishing for and there is some trophy potential there. Bringing live bait will increase your chances for success, leeches and possibly crawlers. Not hard to keep alive.
Late June is, in my opinion, the worst time for bugs up there. Depending on the year early June could be pretty thick with mosquitoes and a fair amount of ticks. Treat your clothes with Permethrin if you can, that will help with the ticks. Bring plenty of insect repellent for the skeeters but also lightweight, quick drying long pants and long sleeve shirts. They are comfortable even on a hot day and will save many a mosquito bite. There's a time for shorts, mid day on the lake or lounging on shore on a hot day, skeeters are more prevalent in the woods and early day and late. A mosquito headnet would not be a bad investment, cheap and lightweight.
I have not taken a solo trip but many say that they need to move every day or they get bored. I would plan maybe one layover day to lounge and move most days, even if it is only a couple hour paddle. When looking for a site, it is wise to stop early PM as that is the most likely time to find open sites. The folks from the night before have left and the folks from tonight aren't there yet.
You are interested in astrophotography which leads me to believe you may enjoy other types of photography as well. It is a photographers paradise up there. I would encourage rising just before dawn as some of the most amazing scenes show themselves at that time. The woods behind many campsites offer really cool subjects as well, from wildflowers to mushrooms to insects, wildlife, birds and more. Just keep track of where you are relative to camp.
Double portaging is a wise decision, no matter the length of the portage. The walk back with a camera can be rewarding. Take one load, take a leisurely walk back and grab the rest of the gear.
Not sure what the water filtration plan is, I would ask the outfitter. Gravity filter setups are the best, easy to keep a good amount of water available. Dehydration is a thing for many folks up there, despite being surrounded by water. Drink plenty.
Knife is a big lake, watch the weather, especially the wind. Allow an extra day for a layover due to weather conditions and if it looks intimidating, it will be much worse out in the middle of the lake. Always wear your PFD when on the water.
Navigation - the key to not getting lost is to stay found...monitor every island point and bay on the map and you will always know where you are. Distances can be decieving when paddling, relative to a map. Some folks bring GPS units or have that ability on their phones, not a bad idea. But maps are the primary guide.
An abundance of caution - don't take risks, be more deliberate at every task than normal. While there are other people up there, they may not be in the vicinity. Some folks bring a device that can contact emergency help, I have never done so but not a bad idea. This is a wilderness area, for the most part you need to be self-reliant.
Be prepared for a wide range of weather. Early June should be nice - there are plenty of examples of when that was not the case. Could be 30s, could be 80s. Have good raingear...on a 6-7 day trip the need for that is just about guaranteed.
As mentioned previously, having a plan is good but flexibility is important - weather can change things, that campsite might not be open and you might need to backtrack or go on one lake further. You might be traveling much quicker..or slower than you thought. Plan a route with options for extending, or cutting short the trip. Just in case.
With proper planning and attitude you will have a great trip and want to return. If you have any specific questions, ask away, we love to help new visitors to one of the coolest places on Earth.
Ask the outfitter any questions you may have as well as here. Write the q for the outfitter and you will not forget any of them. They can give you some fishing hot spots as well.
mcsweem: "for the big small mouths that time of the year I'd go one of two places, I've caught over 20"ers in both. #1 the bay that leads to amoeber portage, fish the point just north of the campsite on the westside of the narrows, there is a little point you can get out on, use leeches and a bobber. #2 the next bay back to the west where the small creek goes back into the south arm. there is an island on the east end of this bay the smallies beds will be northwest shoreline of this bay. Oh the #1 spot the whole has some monster pike also, amd for something different there are some bluegills and largemouth in this bay too
Don't forget a couple books to read.
Also a light weight chair.
Be prepared to get lonely. Just be prepared.
I called my first outfitter (LaTourell's Outfitters) and spoke about my trip for June 2020. I am going to be going on my first trip to the Boundary Waters. It looks like I am going to be solo at this point and honestly I don't know that I want to add anyone onto my trip at this point. I have quite a bit of camping and canoeing experience and I will be taking my time and being very careful. My priorities for this trip are:
1. Catching big smallmouth
2. Stargazing and doing some astrophotography (I am going the 1st week of June in line with the new moon)
3. Healing - I have been in school for 6 years (2nd masters and doctorate in ed leadership). I will be graduating in May and this trip is my chance to close that chapter in my life.
I wanted to make a post to get some feedback. Being my first trip, what are some things that I need to be thinking about and preparing for? I am coming all the way from New Jersey so I will be renting everything from the outfitter, besides my fishing gear.
Thank you for your perspective!
Tristian5431: "If you don't mind me asking, what area were you in? I have heard that there are a lot of bears on Knife lake. Did you and your son fish at all? I currently have a 6 month old. I can't wait to take him on adventures with me. "
We took a tow out to American Point...made a loop from Ottertrack into Gijikiki, then as far west as Small Arm Knife. Headed back east from that point and ended up getting out at Seagull Outfitters on Seagull.
We did some fishing, but not as much as I would have liked. We did some trolling along the way, but only got lucky with the smallies from the banks of our campsites.
As far as bears go, I have talked to people who have been going for years and have never seen one. For us to have seen one on our first portage was an eye opener. After those encounters, we didn't have any issues.
A lot of good advice so far. My advice is:
--Have a route "Plan B" if the weather--particularly the wind--is unfavorable. I got windbound two days and had to drastically shorten my route.
--The outfitter's gear will be relatively heavy. It needs to be to hold up to the higher levels of use by often inexperienced campers. Review the numerous solo trip equipment lists and recommendations on these forum. Evaluate the outfitter's recommended equipment list with a critical eye. Particularly the amount of food and kitchen gear.
--But some gear is definitely worth the weight--tarp, light camp chair, and good rain gear for example. Sitting in a decent chair, dry and warm under a tarp, sipping coffee/whisky and reading a good book in a steady rain is better than a day in the office :-)
--Many solo trippers eat much less than if they are on group trips. On a solo eating goes from a social experience to just fuel. Between my 1st and 2nd solo trip I cut my food down significantly--about a third less daily calories--and was never hungry.
--Watch the weather and pack accordingly (i.e. tarp, warm layers, warm hat/gloves). You can experience all four seasons in northern Minnesota over a week in early June.
--Think about how important camp fires are to you. If you want to cook over an open fire most nights and there is a chance of rain then an axe or hatchet may be required. Otherwise they may not be worth the weight.
--If the outfitter offers Ursacks or hard bear canisters over food bag hanging ropes take the Ursack/Canister. Stashing food in appropriate containers a little ways away from camp is much easier.
--Knife is popular so get an early start. Even on a cold, rainy, windy Thursday morning in late May all the western Knife campsites were occupied until I got up to the Thunder Point/SAK area. Then I had several good choices. I saw several other canoeists every day on Knife so don't expect a lot of solitude unless you get well up towards the Otter Track end of Knife.
--I recommend a Garmin Inreach, Spot or PLB for emergencies. You can rent them and pick how much two-way communication you want. I have a wife and kids and they worry when I go on solos so being able to send a short "All OK" once or twice a day is well worth it for me. I like being able to get weather forecasts on the InReach too but a NOAA weather radio works fine too.
--Read a lot about bears on Knife but I have never seen a bear in the BWCA other than in car camping sites near Entry Points.
For me (us), it's hard to describe just how BIG everything is up there. You will undoubtedly take too much gear (it seems like everyone does the first time). Pay attention to your map and refer to it constantly. For any of the larger lakes with lots of islands, go ahead and plot your bearings on your map beforehand. That way you won't have to waste time at the portages and can load up and go.
On the map, the "small" lakes look tiny, but that's the misleading part. I was amazed how big everything is and how different it looks water level vs viewing it on a topo map. That's why I wish I would have pre-shot my bearings beforehand.
We ended up having a blast...no big problems were encountered and the weather was great (except for the wind on Day 1). If you get your food from your outfitter, take the time to go through it and see if you will really eat all of the crap they put in the pack. We found a 2.5 lb bag of raisins in the bottom that we never even thought about opening. Just ended up being dead weight.
Like you, I sought out advice on this forum and was amazed at how helpful people on this forum are. By the time your trip comes around, you will be prepared.
The only "hairy" moment was experienced was on day 1, at our very first portage. We came face to face with a bear. He finally scurried off, but we ran into him/her again the next morning at the same portage when we were getting back on our route.
You will thoroughly enjoy literally becoming "one" with nature. It is one of the most peaceful areas that I have ever visited in my life. I cannot wait to go back!! Best of luck to you and your planning adventure!
Unpacking all the outfitters gear, setting up unfamiliar tents, etc, all takes a lot of time. Once you have done it, it will be easier the next camp.