“There and back again”


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Dates:June 6-15, 2011
Entry Point:44 - Bottle Portage (Quetico)
Type:Canoeing
Lakes:Bottle, Brent, Conmee, Crooked, Darkwater, Earl, Elk, Hurn, Iron, McAree, Minn, Suzanette, Ted, William

“There and back again”

June quest for the orange finned Take Trout

A western Quetico dream loop

By Patrick Brewer

This is the chronicle of the canoe trip that 4 guys from Brookings, Oregon experienced. This trip was a couple of years in the planning and we wanted to visit some new territory and some familiar lakes also. We fell in love with the idea of visiting Ted and Earl Lakes by way of the Guides portage from Crooked Lake into Gardener Bay of Crooked, then on to familiar lakes like Brent & William. Our group of four consisted of Quetico veterans Patrick Brewer, Thomas Brewer & Rookies - Dustin Hall & Dave Gutierrez. We started at Quetico Entry #44 Bottle River and exited at #43 Black Robe Portage. Fishing was high on our list of priorities, as well as beautiful scenery and solitude.

Our trip started at 2AM on June 6th, 2011, when we left Brookings, Oregon for our 6AM flight out of Medford. Dave drove and the trip was smooth with little traffic. Our flight to Seattle, on Horizon Air was on time, the seating was tight and the prop engines noisy, but an OK flight. In Seattle we changed to a Delta flight to Minneapolis that arrived ahead of schedule. Next we got our rental car, a small Chevy Cobalt (known as the “Clown Car”). It was a tight fit, but saved us money. Total cost of the car was $359 for 11 days. I drove and, despite a couple of missed turns, we managed to get out of Minneapolis OK. We drove to Ely with one stop for lunch.

We made Ely by 7:30 PM and stopped at Piragus. We went to dinner at Sir “G’s”, then on to the Adventure Inn. We had an upstairs room with4 Queen Size beds. It was warm and humid all night.

June 7th: Next morning we had a big rain storm with thunder and lightning. We went to breakfast and spent the morning going around Ely visiting the outfitters and picking up odds and ends.

Thomas treated us to a trip to the “Wolf Center, where we sat through a presentation on wolves and saw 2 big wolves.

We then checked in at Jordan’s Outfitters and unpacked our boxes of gear, fishing poles, and my new paddle that Thomas ordered from the Boundary Waters Journal Voyageur Trading Post, a Bending Branches “Espresso Straight 58” (as birthday gift for me). We went through our gear and packed our 2 personal packs, charged our batteries, and got organized. We met with owner Mark Bland, and went over the maps and paid our bill. We went to dinner and when we got back to Jordan’s, Zup’s had called and they bumped up our tow time to 8AM, so we set the alarm for 5 AM and had a fitful night’s sleep.

June 8th: Up at 5 AM, breakfast at Jordan’s, then Mark drove us out the Echo Trail to Crane Lake, about 1 ½ hours to Scotts Marina. We shared the tow with 2 guys from Missouri, who were staying at Zup’s. The jet boat was in for repairs so we had a prop boat. First the tow boat took us to Sand Point Canadian Customs. The customs guy was grumpy, but passed us through as usual. Next the tow took us down the Loon River across the 2 mechanical portages, and on to Zup’s Lodge on Lac Lacroix. We purchased our fishing licenses, paid our Quetico Fees, and I bought a Zup’s T-shirt. Then it was back on the tow boat with a new driver. We asked him if we could stop at the pictographs on Lac Lacroix and he said, “Sure”. These are some of the best pictographs we have seen. Then we passed Warrior Hill and arrived at our entry point, # 44 Bottle Portage.

We unloaded our gear and tipped the driver, lashed our paddles & poles, and headed across Bottle Portage to Bottle Lake. This portage

features lots of mud & rocks & corduroy logs to slosh over and through. Thomas took the uphill side branch trail on the right and said it was better, so the rest of us went this way the 2nd time across. We then loaded the canoes and started paddling first across Bottle Lake, then through the narrows into Iron Lake. We kept to the Canadian shore and passed behind Island Four. (We skipped seeing Rebecca Falls) Then we crossed Iron Lake going towards Curtain Falls. We had read about this area in The Boundary Waters Journal, so we approached the first fast water with caution. There were 2 guys in an aluminum canoe fishing on the U.S. side, and we asked them “where’s the portage?” They pointed and said “you just paddle up that shoot; you have to paddle really hard to make it”. We knew immediately this was the wrong thing to do. Thomas said his GPS showed that the hop-over portage was lower down, and he soon found it. We crossed the hop-over, and then we paddled over to the Curtain Falls Portage of 140 Rds. We took lots of pictures of the falls, and then had a quick lunch.

After lunch we loaded up the canoes for the long paddle across Crooked Lake. Since the wind wasn’t bad, we decided to paddle down the U.S. side a way, and then cross over through some islands. As we continued east on Crooked the wind started to get stronger and the waves bigger. Before we reached the first island it started to “Rock and Roll”. There were some of the group complaining about resting and the waves and continuing, but we continued and made it over to the Canadian shore. After that the wind and waves decreased. It was a long paddle down Crooked to the area of the “Guide Portage” (not marked on maps). We were looking for the portage. “to the right of a sand beach…a leaning cedar tree with a blaze” We found it! The Guide Portage was OK except it ended in a beaver swamp on the Gardener Bay side. We all had to get out and heave the canoes through the beaver pooh.

We were really tired and we looked for a campsite in Gardener Bay of Crooked Lake. We found a marginal one, and Dustin and I stayed there

while Thomas and Dave searched for something better. They found anice site just down the lake. We had traveled 3 portages & 15 miles on the first day. We set up camp and had steaks for dinner. I made a miss-step in camp and fell spraining my left knee. For the rest of the trip I made one limping pass across the portages carrying 1 big pack, while the younger guys made 2 passes each. It gradually improved during the trip but gave me trouble when carrying a load, especially when going downhill. Thank goodness it wasn’t any worse, and thanks to the teamwork and good spirits of our group, we had no problems finishing our route.

June 9th We woke up and had breakfast, packed up and headed out for Ted Lake. First off were the 3 portages into Elk Lake. These were not pleasant. A beaver dam caused problems, and the last lift-over into Elk was over big slippery boulders. We had lunch on Elk Lake, and then proceeded to the Hurn Lake portage and the final portage into Ted Lake. This last portage had it all: a climb, mud, rocks & brush. We paddled down Ted, hoping that the Message Jar Campsite was open and it was! We were the only ones on the lake. The last people we were to see for 5 days were back on Gardener Bay.

We set up camp and stayed 2 nights on Ted. We had dinner and went fishing afterward. We trolled behind the islands and Dustin caught a nice Lake Trout down by the pictographs. I had a big trout on that snapped my line as I was trying to release him. I should have used the net. One less Tail Dancer, Oh! Well!

June 10th: Breakfast of ham, eggs, and Dustin’s Lake Trout. After breakfast we got ready to go on a fishing expedition to Milt Lake. Before we reached the Milt portage we tried fishing for some walleyes but caught and released more trout. Milt Lake was supposed to have Largemouth Bass, but we only caught Smallmouth Bass, lots of Smallmouth. We had lunch on Milt on a rock covered with Caribou Moss.

We caught lots of Smallmouth before tiring and heading back to Ted. Smallmouth on top water plugs are a lot of fun. We used Rapala Skitter

Pops and Rebel Pop-r’s, as well as some old favorites, like an Arbogast Hula Popper.

Returning to Ted, we were back catching Lake Trout., Dave even caught one from our campsite on a yellow & red Brass Daredevil Spoon (5 of Diamonds). Our count on Ted was 6 Lake Trout caught, 2 lost with lures in their mouths, a 30” Northern Pike (Dave) and a lots of Smallmouth Bass all catch and release, and 1 trout for breakfast. We spent 2 wonderful nights on Ted Lake and we headed out the next day.

June 11th We got up early, ate, broke camp and were on the lake by 8AM. The portage to Earl Lake (Fish-hook) is beside the steam flowing into Ted. There are multiple branching trails and blind leads on this portage. A hint, coming from the Ted side, the true path stays on the right hand side of the creek and doesn’t cross the creek.

Once on Earl we broke out the trout gear. We caught and released 14 Lake Trout in 1 ½ hours. They were beautiful orange finned fish and fun to catch while trolling shallowly with Tail Dancers.

The last 2 portages into Brent were bad. The map shows 50 Rds. & 60 Rds. But they are more like 100 Rds. & 110 Rds. with lots of hills and brush. After these portages we were ready for lunch, so we found a nice rock ledge and had a nice break.

We originally had planned to camp on western Bent one night, but the crew wanted to stay 2 nights at our next campsite, so Brent was eliminated and we had our minds set on Suzanette. After lunch we paddled up Brent, past the High campsite where we had camped in 2005 then paddled to the eastern end of Brent and the 2 Darky River portages into Suzanette. At the first portage there was a nice fishing hole where we caught and released some Smallmouth Bass and a couple of large Northerns.

After the 2 portages into Suzanette we started looking for a goodcampsite. The first one we looked at wasn’t too good so we paddled to

the site Thomas and I had used in 2008. 7 portages from Ted to Suzanette – quite a day! We set up camp, and then we all took baths, brrr! Cold! For dinner we had Curry and Rice with Chicken in a pouch we brought from Oregon. We chose meals by heaviest first, to lighten the packs.

June 12th Our long 7 portage day yesterday allowed us to spend 2 nights on Suzanette. Someone moved the Moose skull and antlers over to this site from their old home on the camp on the point where they used to live. The beaver had been busy at this site, 3 more pines had been cut down and Thomas said they patrolled up and down last night slapping their tails on the water. I didn’t hear a thing Zzzzzz!

We washed our dishes and headed to where the Darky River flows into Suzanette.

At the first rapids, Smallmouth & Northerns were really biting. The Black Flies really made an appearance. We portaged up the Darky River to the second rapids. The fish were really biting here too! Dave caught a couple of big Northerns, Thomas got some big Smallmouth and Dustin caught our 1st Walleye. We fished until they stopped biting, and then headed back down to Suzanette. We fished our way back to camp andThomas caught a big pre-spawn Smallmouth Bass. When we got back to camp we had a hot lunch. There were black flies back in camp and it was warm,so we took a nap.

We had 3 kinds of fish: Nothern, Walleye, & Lake Trout for dinner this night. We did the dishes then went fishing. The water was smooth as glass with no breezes, and very beautiful. A bunch of fish were hooked and got off. I caught and released 2 big Lake Trout and a big Northern using a pink & white Reef Runner. When we got back to camp Thomas & Dustin started a nice campfire. The moon was very bright and we stayed up late.

June 13 th Some clouds and blue sky this morning. Seagulls and Bald Eagles had cleaned up most of the fish remains on the point by

morning. We packed up and headed west to Conmee and William Lakes. The weather was nice with light breezes; the first portage into Conmee

had just a little mud & brush and was easy. Dustin fell here and hit his

tail bone on a rock. Conmee was an easy paddle through. Then came the Conmee to William portage of 150 Rds. This portage is not hilly but does have brush and moose mud. It was a warm day and I had a swarm of Black Flies buzzing around my head most of the way. I received a few bad bites with one on the palm of my hand. Our life vests were blue and seemed to attract the Black Flies. Dave took a fall on this portage and banged his elbow. When we got to William the breezes started to pick up.

We made the long paddle down William and saw our first canoe since Gardener Bay of Crooked Lake. The guy was fishing the mid-lake reef and warned us that all the campsites were taken by a group of Boy Scouts. We paddled down and found an empty site. Dustin and I went down to the 5 Star site and found it still occupied with tarps & tents. We settled into our small but nice site with 2 tent pads and a stone fireplace. The wind picked up and blew hard all afternoon from the south and kept the bugs off. We took naps and bathed and Dustin caught a nice Walleye from the back side of camp. We hoped that the wind would decrease later so we could fish.

After dinner the wind seemed to be lessoning, so we went out to fish. It was still gusty but fishable. Thomas and Dustin caught 3 more Walleye; Dave and I caught some Smallmouth and Walleye and released them all. We all went back to camp and had a nice fire. We took some pictures of the group after we had set up the tarp. It rained lightly in the night.

June 14 th A beautiful sunrise! Some clear sky, and some clouds. We had a big breakfast then we headed down to the back bays of William,

by the portage to Brent Lake, so we could fish out of the wind. We caught Smallmouth and again Dustin tied into a couple of Walleye. On the way back the wind was picking up. We decided to check out the 5

Star campsite that had been vacated this morning. We voted to move!

So we left our life vests, shirts and fishing gear at the site and raced back to our little site, packed up and moved. While moving camp we saw a loon guarding a nest, and on our return saw the 2 loon eggs in the nest. Our old site was occupied within a couple of hours. We really enjoyed this 5 Star site! It is spacious and the fireplace is incredibly put together. After setting up camp and having lunch, the wind blew hard again, so we all took naps.

Just as we were sitting down to dinner a turtle came walking into camp. We stopped and took pictures, Dustin held her up….lucky he didn’t lose a finger! Later Dave did the dishes, and we were hoping the wind would die down so we could fish. It did and Dave and I went fishing and caught Walleye and Smallmouth. When we returned Thomas and Dustin were catching fish from shore. We had a nice campfire and noticed lights along the shore… Fire Flies! Thomas caught one to look at, catch and release :-)

June15 th Up early this morning, we headed down the back route to Darky, through the rivers and Cloverleaf Lake. The middle portage that goes way up then down was a rough one. We ran into a bunch of ticks on these portages. The last portage into Darky was easy. We paddled down the east shore to a high camp with a good view. It was cloudy and warm and humid. We set up camp, had lunch and napped in the warmth. We had traveled 58 miles so far, not counting any side trips or fishing. Later the wind let up and it got cooler so we paddled down to see both of the pictographs on the south end of Darky. We trolled for Lake Trout all the way back. We caught 3 Trout, catch & release.

When we got back, Dustin made a big campfire and we cooked dinner. We did the dishes, then Thomas read the maps and information from

the BWJ TRIPS PROGRAM and the BWCA.com web site about tomorrow’s

route down the Darky River to Minn Lake. It was cloudy with no moon

this night.

June 16 th It was overcast with still air on Darky. I cooked breakfast before I woke the brave fishermen with “Breakfast in the Swamps!”. After eating we broke camp and headed down the Darky River. There were 6 portages along this route, mostly short ones, the longest being 44 Rds. We fished in the pools below each rapids and caught and released Northerns, Smallmouth Bass, and Walleye. This is a nice route!

At Minn Lake, we headed towards the portage into McAree. About ½ way across Minn we stopped for a lunch of tuna and mayo on crackers and tortillas, very good for a change of pace. The site we stopped in was very worn, and must have seen a lot of traffic. We continued on to the McAree portage. The map shows a large island just before the portage, but it was connected to shore, so we had to paddle all the way around it to reach the portage. This was an easy & wide portage into McAree. We started looking for a campsite. We found one but it wasn’t too nice, so we went on. The next site was occupied then there was a tiny island…no… We looked at the map. There was a site down by Black Robe Portage that someone had labeled “Nasty” on one of the web sites. We went and checked it out. It wasn’t nasty, it was OK so we set up camp. Later we were surprised by 2 motor boats going by, we guess they were Indian guides from Lac Lacroix. Later we caught a bunch of fish from shore, Walleye, Northern and Smallmouth Bass.

Dinner on the last night was Turkey Tetrazzini, peas and our favorite “Spiced Apples” desert,” Mmm!” It was all good, and we wrapped our Turkey in tortillas. After dinner, the sky cleared and the wind died so the lake turned flat and beautiful. I took lots of pictures in the evening light. We all went to bed just after sunset.

June 17 th We got up way after sunrise. It was a beautiful day,

sunshine, white puffy clouds, birds chirping. As we were eating

breakfast, we discovered that one of the Parkay Bottles in the cool

pack had exploded. What a nasty mess! We leisurely cleaned up and packed our stuff, then paddled over to Black Robe Portage. We noticed

3 motor boats and gas cans belonging to the Lac Lacroix guides who are allowed motors on McAree this year.

We crossed the portage, 44 Rds… The last portage of the trip! Completing 59 miles of traveling by Thomas’ GPS. We sat in the shade and had lunch while waiting for our 1 PM pick up by Zup’s.

We just finished lunch at 12:30 PM when we heard something, “Is that a boat coming?” Hooray! They came early! The driver took us through the maze of islands of Lac Lacroix to Zup’s Resort. We got our wallets and passports out of the safe and sat on the first real furniture in 10 days. We enjoyed the Zup’s couch for about 20 Minutes while waiting for the driver from Crane Lake.

When that boat arrived it had a group headed by Stu from the Boundary Waters Journal. It was good to meet him and shake his hand. We told him about our fishing on Lake Earl. We boarded our boat with the Crane Lake driver and headed back to Crane Lake. When we got back to the dock there was a U.S. Customs Agent waiting to look at our passports and welcomed us back to the U.S.A.

Mark Bland from Jordan’s Outfitters pulled up and we loaded our gear in the van and started the drive down the Echo Trail to Ely. While driving, Mark called the U.P.S. Office/ Music Store in Ely and asked them to stay open till we got there. When we got to Jordan’s we madly packed stuff in our boxes and taped them up, we also threw out some stuff. We thanked Mark for his diligence. They really do a great job

at Jordan’s, and Mark is a great guy. So! It was time to head to the Adventure Inn and hot showers. Later we assembled to go to the Ely Steakhouse. I had a Rib eye Steak,Thomas and Dave had the Black & Blue Butt Steak and Dustin had Shrimp Alfredo, Yum!

June 18 th we got up at 7:15 AM. We went to breakfast at the Chocolate Moose and did some final shopping. Then it was off to Lake

Superior by way of Hwy 1. We got in a huge traffic snarl in Duluth, and we arrived in Minneapolis 1½ Hours before our flight and turned in the Clown Car and got our boarding passes. Our flights were on time; the first one to Denver was very bumpy. I finished writing this on the flight to Medford, Oregon. Dave’s car waited for us in Medford and he drove us home to Brookings arriving at midnight. It was a wonderful trip!

Bottle PortageSuzanetteTed LakeMinn LakeCrane LakeEarl Trout