Paddle - BWCA, Quetico, Sylvania, and other paddling places

Lady Lakes - Louse River Loop

By Ken Orwoll Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (6)
Dates:July 13-19, 2014
Entry Point:38 - Sawbill Lake (BWCA)
Lakes:Alton, Beth, Boze, Bug, Chaser, Dent, Duck, Frederick, Frond, Grace, Hazel, Hug, Kelso, Knight, Koma, Louse, Lujenida, Malberg, Mesaba, Mug, Phoebe, Poe, Polly, Sawbill, Trail, Wine, Zenith

Day 1

My son Ryan and I left early Sunday morning from my home in Lindstrom, Minnesota. Our goal was to get to Sawbill Lake by noon. First we had to make the 3.5 hour trip to Tofte to pick up our permit. With permit, leeches and an early lunch we headed up the Sawbill Trail by 10:00. The drive seemed to take forever. We were both excited to check out a new route. Only four of the 28 lakes we had seen before. Finally we reached Sawbill, which was one of the four lakes. The others we had visited before are Polly, Koma and Malberg. We wasted little time getting everything unloaded and on the water. Ryan and I have been on 23 trips together and make a pretty good team. We didn't notice the wind on Sawbill, but when we got to Alton it was blowing into our faces. It always takes a day or two to get are arms use to all the paddling, but we were moving well into the wind. The first day of portages is always harder on your shoulders and by the end of the Beth Lake to Grace Lake portage I sure could feel mine. We single trip every portage and seldom ever take a rest during a portage. I told myself this trip I would let myself take more rests. I could always blame my age or my bad knee. The Beth to Grace portage was long, but I felt good and I portaged the whole thing without a rest. Before we knew it we were on Phoebe Lake. We saw one canoe on the lake the first since Alton. We had plenty of time to find and setup camp. It was a long day and we got into the tent before the bugs came out.

Pheobe Lake

Day 2

We awoke to an overcast sky and had a quick breakfast. I wanted to get an early start, because I thought we would have trouble finding a campsite on Polly, Koma or Malberg. The Phoebe River was a fun paddle and before we knew it, we were on Polly Lake. None of the portages were difficult. We stopped and had lunch on Polly. We did see a couple of canoes, which would be the last we would see for three days. No-one was camped on Koma or the first four campsites on Malberg. I thought this was strange for the middle of July. I was hoping it wasn't because of bear problems. Since we were making good time we got out the fishing poles to test the pool at the bottom of the rapids as you entered Malberg Lake. Knowing Malberg and Koma were good walleye lakes, we were hoping to have a fish dinner. We fished for about an hour using leeches and a slip bobbers. We both were catching walleyes, northerns and smallmouth bass.

View from campsiteWalleyes on Malberg

Great view from our Malberg Lake campsite. First of three walleye dinners of the trip. This is where I discovered I had forgotten my filet knife. I fileted them with a 3 inch pocket knife. Walleye dinner never tasted better. We slept well and no bears.

Day 3

Today we were heading east to connect with the Louse River. This area is seldom used and the farther east we went the more overgrown the portages were. Overall the footing was good with only a few muddy spots and a couple of trees down over the portages. We stopped at Trail Lake for lunch just before 1:00 at the campsite closest to the portage. Looked like a nice site on a large rock with easy access to the lake. We thought about staying here for the night, but instead we pushed on. In a couple of hours we were on Dent lake looking at two possible campsites. The one on the west shore was hard to find and so overgrow. The one on the east was open with good views of the lake. It was an easy choice. We set up camp on the east site. After dinner we set out to explore the lake and do some fishing. We were hoping that a lake that seldom sees a visitor would provide some good fishing. The only thing we caught was a couple of little fish about 3 to 4 inched in size that looked like a cross between a sunfish and a bass. Latter, we found out they were Green Sunfish. The fishing really didn't matter, we were in a BWCA lake with no one else around. We have had longer travel days than this, but something about making 12 portages in a day really wears you out. We went to bed very tired.

Dent Lake CampsiteDent Lake Loons

Day 4

This morning we got off to a slow start because we were watching the loons. We started breakfast with two loons on the lake. They were giving us a great show listening to all their loon calls. Then, we could hear other loons and soon we had seven on the lake in front of us. They would get up and fly around the lake and land back down. They would flap their wings and stand on the water making their calls. It is just one of those moments and why this place is so special. I've seen loons gathering before in the fall but never in July. Once packed we decide to head northeast to Mesaba Lake instead of going to Louse Lake to the southeast. I heard the portages were very difficult to Louse and Poe Lakes. We finally met other campers on the portage to Mesaba Lake. Mesaba is a beautiful trout lake. Someday I would like to go back and spend some time there. Once on Zenith Lake we went west to Frederick and then north to Wine Lake. We were going to save the long portage for the next morning when we were fresh. On most of our trips we plan at least one layover day. After some discussion and looking at our map we decide to do our day trip tonight and layover on Sawbill. I had read about a nice waterfall on Mug Lake so we wanted to check it out. This side trip would also help us draw a few more line on our wall maps. Mug Lake is just north of Wine across a 65 rod portage. This waterfalls is one of the most vertical in the BWCAW. I wished I had a better camera, it was beautiful. It was overcast and starting to get dark. We also paddled and portaged to Poe Lake, paddled to the end of Poe and walked the portage to Louse Lake. I had to see this portage. Walking it was torturous. I'm not sure I could make this one with a canoe or a pack and stay on my feet. We made it back to camp just as it was getting dark.

Mug LakeWine Lake CampsitePortage

Mug Lake, Wine Lake, Poe to Louse Lake Portage

Day 5

I woke up this morning thinking about the 440 rod portage. I decide I was going to walk 20 minutes and rest 10, then walk 15 minutes and rest. I was not going to kill myself on this one. I told Ryan he didn't have to wait for me. I really got my heart working on the the first 100 yard, they were all up hill. After that it was pretty much down hill. I stopped at 20 minutes even though I could have gone farther. Ryan stopped with me and we shared some Gatorade. I started back up and went for about ten minutes. My left arm was going to sleep. Somehow the left strap on the pack I was carrying with the canoe was shorter than the right. I readjusted it and off I went. I went another five minutes and saw Ryan looking at the flooded trail. All the boards that the forest service placed on a low muddy part of the trail were floating in two to three feet of water. We put the canoe in the water, threw the packs in and walked it across the portage. We are guessing that a beaver dam was the cause of all the water. We walked in the water a good fifty yard. Once out of the water it was a short walk to Lejenida Lake. We had decided to camp our final two nights on the north end of Sawbill. We found a great site on the east shore. Before we got the tent set up we were catching walleyes from shore. We had our second walleye dinner. I'm getting more practice fileting fish with a pocket knife.

Zenith - Lejenida PortageRyan after portage

That night we looked at the map and counted the lakes, rivers and portages we passed. In five days we went just shy of 50 miles, through 28 lakes, four rivers and 47 portages.

Day 6 & 7

We had pancakes and bacon for breakfast, since this was our layover day. We spent most of the day fishing. We were drifting with Lindy Rigs. Ryan was doing all the catching. I just about lost every sinker and jig I had to the rocks below. Ryan's secret was a floating jig with a leech. Thanks to Ryan we had our third walleye dinner. Now I'm getting real good at fileting fish with a pocket knife. Ryan also lost a big walleye at camp. It got tangled on a downed tree that was in the water and broke the line. It felt good to have an easy day. The next morning I got in the act and caught more walleyes than Ryan. It was a great trip, hard but worth it. We saw very few people and the weather was cool for the middle of July. I would love to do this one again.

Sawbill WalleyesSawbill LakeSunset on Sawbill

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