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

Snowbank to Lake One 1999

By Ken Orwoll Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (2)
Dates:June 13-17, 1999
Entry Point:27 - Snowbank Lake (BWCA)
Lakes:Adventure, Ahsub, Cattyman, Disappointment, Four, Hatchet, Hudson, Ima, Insula, Jitterbug, Jordan, Kiana, One, Parent, Snowbank, Thomas, Three, Two

My first trip to the BWCAW was in 1971, when I was a junior in high school. I was with Gary on my first trip in 1971 and again on this one in June of 1999. The summer of 1999 was one of those that I would like to share.Whenever I do anything with Gary it seems to be one of those memorable outings that something unusual or special happens. When it comes to fishing good things always seem to happen. He can catch fish! I’m not sure what it is, but I have been in a boat with him fishing and no-one around us is catching fish, but him. I’ve used his pole and his bait to fish the same spot and not catch a thing; all the while he’ll be using mine and will be catching fish left and right. He takes his fishing serious, yet tries hard to help everyone be successful and has fun doing it.

Gary is all about the outdoors. He absolutely loves it. He is the main reason I have learned to love and appreciate the outdoors. He takes pride in not having to have all the new high tech gear and gadgets to be successful. He uses what he has and makes the best of it. On this trip Gary brought his Colman canoe which sometimes he’ll portage, but in most cases if the water is going the correct direction he will just shoot the rapids. I you ever saw anyone dragging their canoe over a portage, it was Gary. When it comes to packing light, forget it, especially if it means leaving some fishing stuff at home. If he thinks he might need it, he will bring it. Besides, you may never get back to a given lake twice. Every lake he paddles across he see the potential it may have to catch fish. Keeping on any type of schedule or itinerary is difficult when traveling in BWCAW with Gary.

The rest of our group consisted of our sons. At that time all of them were still in high school. Gary brought his two sons Dane and Kent and I brought my son Ryan. Dane and Kent are not as talkative as their dad but share the same joy and excitement that a canoe adventure can bring. Ryan is the type of kid that dreams about catching the big fish. His fishing abilities are starting to get a little scary, he tends to out fish everybody. I don’t know if Ryan and Gary are just lucky, but with those two in the group it sure is fun.

Day 1

Although we left early from my home in Lindstrom, we didn’t get on the water until quite late. After making a stop in Ely to pick up bait, permit, and supplies we finally made it to the landing on Snowbank Lake. Crossing Snowbank can always be a challenge, so after seeing whitecaps on the big part of the lake we headed east toward Parent Lake. We entered a small bay where the portage to Parent Lake was located and spotted two boats fishing and catching fish in the bay. It was after 2:00, yet Gary wanted to stop and fish. The four of us assured him that we needed to push on to find a campsite. We could always fish that spot on the way out.

We made our way across Parent and the 65 rod portage to Disappointment Lake and proceeded to check out the two open campsites on the north end of the lake. When it comes to picking a campsite we are pretty picky. We look for a clean, well kept site with a good place to set the tent and a good tree to hang the food pack. One thing I’ve learned is getting a good night sleep is very important, so selecting a good site is a must. So we pushed on and took a chance that this late in the day we would still be able to find a campsite. Normally on our trips we plan on finding a camp by 3:00 to give us time to set camp, eat supper, and check out the lake and do some fishing.

Four lakes and four portages later we found a spot on Jordan Lake. Two of the three sites were open and we found a very good spot to spend the night. By the time we set camp, made supper, washed the dishes and hung the food pack the mosquitoes were beginning to attack. We sent the kids to the tent and Gary and I did a quick check of the camp before we followed. We stayed up late listening to some of Gary’s stories from past adventures.

Day 2

The next day was a gorgeous day. The sun was out with very little wind. We knew the boys were a little disappointed that they didn’t get their lines in the water yesterday, so today we were going to fish. Well, we don’t follow the norm on this either. We are the ones you will see on portages with their fishing poles getting tangled or getting caught on trees and bushes. We all bring extra poles, reels and line. If one breaks it doesn’t matter, we can still fish. We fish as we go. Sometimes we fish along the shore, casting and other just trolling behind the canoe. We have found great fishing spots this way. Some very good fishing is very close to entry points that most people just paddle through. You would be surprised at the amount of fish we caught while waiting to land our canoes at a busy portage. It slows everyone down when you take the time to fish. It’s great after a hard day when you still want to cover some ground. It also gives you a better chance to see and appreciate this beautiful country. It is usually these days we look forward to a fish dinner. We can be more selective on what we keep, although we throw back more than we keep.

Fishing was very slow that day as we moved closer to day two’s destination. I’m not sure anymore just what our destination for that day really was. We never really planned a particular route, which is pretty normal when Gary and I go on a trip together. If we catch fish somewhere it all changes. Our original goal was to do some fishing in Insula and Alice and see the pictographs on Fishdance Lake. We had a great paddle and fished through Ima and Hatchet and trolled through Thomas hoping to catch a Lake Trout. On the south end of Thomas Lake we had difficulty locating the portage. Gary looked at his map and decided it was in the bay on our right and started heading in that direction. I handed the map to Ryan to see what he thought and pulled my compass out just to be sure. After Ryan made his prediction, I laid the compass on the map, took a reading and looked up to see a canoe come out of the hidden little bay. We couldn’t get Gary’s attention as he and his sons paddled around a point. I’m still not sure how far Gary paddled in the bay, but this gave Ryan and I some quality fishing time.

Fishing was pretty good in the small bay on the southwest end of Thomas Lake. We were catching a number of smallmouth bass and northern pike. I then hooked a nice walleye about three and a half to four pounds and a seven to eight pound northern pike. When the other canoe arrived we fished a little longer and got several small walleyes for supper. We then headed for the portage to Kiana Lake. There were two campsites on the lake with one of them occupied. After Gary talked to some campers in another canoe that were fishing we decided to go three more miles and a 180 rod portage to Insula Lake.

On Lake Insula we found a very nice campsite on the east shore. We were hoping to camp on one of the islands, but they were all occupied. It turned out to be a lucky move on our part. Again we were setting up camp late. I’m not sure of the time but I know it was around 6:00 of later. Dane and Kent were to set up the tent and get fire wood, Gary would clean the fish and Ryan and I were going to pump water. I normally pump all our water from the canoe, which helps kept the filter cleaner and the pump working better. So the first question to Gary was if he had a rod set for live bait. Yes, he did and Ryan put a night crawler on a worm harness and off we went. Ryan and Gary have the same philosophy, “You can’t catch fish if you don’t have a line in the water”, and Ryan always does. Now this would not be a spot that most fishermen would ever think of stopping to fish, but since we were here to pump water we would fish anyway. It paid off to have a line in the water that day.

Well, pumping water wasn’t too much fun as we drift with the waves, the crawler bouncing off the bottom and the rod sitting right in front of me. Yes, Ryan did bring another pole and was casting and catching a few small walleyes. He asked if he could take his turn pumping water. I said sure as soon as I was done with the bottle I was working on. I finished the bottle, put the top on it and looked up to see Ryan feeding line out of the rod that was right in front of ME, the fishing rod with the night crawler on it. I guess I should have been watching that line a little better and I would be writing about my fish. It seemed like a long time before he set the hook, yet it only took seconds before we knew it was a big one. The first time he got it to the surface I couldn’t believe it was a huge walleye. It took several big runs, and pulling the canoe farther away from camp. Ryan got the fish to the surface again. Gray had the net in his canoe, so I tried to grab it as it came by the side of the canoe. I squeeze it and quickly let go, afraid I couldn’t get a good grip on it. We called Gary and the boys to bring the net out to us. It seemed like hours before they got to us. Gary netted it on his first attempt and we headed to shore to weight and measure it before we returned it to the water.

Once we got on shore Gary informed us that Ryan caught this monster of a walleye on four pound test. Gary grabbed his fish scale which was little use for this fish. His scale only went to ten pounds. Another thing we didn’t have was a tape measure, so we used rope to measure the fish, cutting a piece for the length and a second one for the girth. Between the two cameras, poor lighting and five very excited guys none of the pictures were outstanding. At this time all we knew was she weighted over 10 lbs and was the length of this piece of rope. What we did know was we had to get her back in the water.

I spent the next hour trying to revive this fish. All I remember is it lost its lunch several times as I moved it slowly in the water hoping it would take off on its own. This was a very different way of finding out what his walleye was eating. First another fish that was a least a foot long and then shells from a couple of crayfish. I kept thinking of the weight this thing was losing and we still have no idea what it actually weighted. The fish would swim for a short distance and then come floating back to the surface. I would paddle to her and start the process over. This went on for at least an hour. Everyone else had eaten, the sun was going down and the mosquitoes were starting their own feeding. I didn’t want this fish to die, we were sixteen miles from the nearest freezer and I wasn’t ready to paddle through the islands of Lake Insula in the dark. I could see the gills moving so I was hoping she still had a chance. I hooked a stringer onto her lower lip, tied it to a rock with twenty feet of cord and dropped it in about 15 feet of water. If she was alive in the morning we would release her or it was a 32 mile round trip to Kawishiwi Lodge.

Day 3

Well, I was up as soon as it got light and found the Walleye didn’t make it. I got breakfast ready and woke up Ryan. We ate, loaded the canoe with the fish and a small pack. We brought some water, granola bars and our rain gear. We were to travel light and hopefully be back for dinner. I don’t remember much of the journey there. I know we were concerned with the fish getting too hot as the day got warmer. Well we made it before noon and the welcome we receive at the lodge was great. They took pictures of Ryan and his fish and put the fish in their freezer. We had pizza for lunch and a couple of ice cold cans of pop. It tasted so good. We thanked them and headed back to camp.

We must have had a slight wind at our back on the way there. I hadn’t noticed it going in, but it seemed to be picking up a little bit on the way back. It wasn’t that bad, but about half way back we were getting pretty tired and any wind was too much. We were pretty tired when we pulled into camp. Gary and the boys went to Fishdance Lake to see the pictographs. They did some fishing and had a great time watch a moose. We ate dinner, went for a swim and went to bed early.

Day 4

We woke the next morning with more vigor and ready to fish hard. This time we were to go after some big sunfish in Lake Three and Four. We had been given some tips on where to fish for the big sunfish while we had lunch and shared stories at Kawishiwi Lodge. After a pancake breakfast we packed and headed to the portage to Hudson Lake. Of course we fished Insula as we went, hoping to get another big fish before leaving this great lake. We paddle through Hudson Lake and made the two small portages to Lake Four. Now it was time to start our search for a camp site.

Lake Four seems more like a river than a lake. We checked nine campsites before we found one that was open. We decide to stay at the open one and play it safe. Not an ideal spot but it would do. This is a very popular area that many people stay in one spot for the week. We finally did something by the books. We found a campsite in the afternoon, had an early dinner, hung the food pack and had plenty of time to enjoy the evening. So back to the canoe we went in search of the big sunfish. We checked out two of the tips with no luck. This being our last night we stayed up a bit later to share stories by the light of the fire and hoping to catch the next big one on the way out tomorrow.

Day 5

The last day of any trip brings mixed emotions. You don’t rally want to leave, yet you also look forward to some of the luxuries and family you have left behind. There were two things that made heading out today exciting. Getting Ryan’s fish weighted and to a taxidermist was one and the other was we had one more spot to fish before we headed out. This hot spot was discovers on a previous trip and again it produced a good number of good eaters. All five of us had good action that morning and we were able to bring a meal home to our wives. A good example of one of those fishing holes that is close to an entry point that most paddlers won’t take the time to check out. The paddle back to the lodge against a slight head wind didn’t seem as bad after such a successful trip. We were looking forward to cold drinks, pizza and reclaiming a trophy walleye.

A picture of the fish and the weight and length can be found on the interactive map in Lake Insula.

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