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Dream Trip by John Boland

Like many Minnesotans I love to paddle in the Boundary Waters and Quetico wilderness areas. My summers seem to always revolve around my planned paddling adventures. I also enjoy reading about the BWCA, and other people's journeys, and making my own list of dream trips. This last summer 3 friends and I got together to paddle and fish a portion of one of those trips from Crane Lake to Ely.

We met in early June, over burgers and beer, to plan the route, our menu, and to go over each other's equipment needs. Kevin has been my partner on 2 other trips while Tom recently moved here from Ely and is a knowledgeable fisherman and BWCA paddler. Lanny was new to paddling but is another great fisherman. We all agreed with Tom's advice to go in mid -July because the fishing would be good.

Let's Roll

On our chosen Saturday morning, we headed for Crane Lake and our launch boat ride to the Beatty Portage. Having once thought of paddling from closer to Crane Lake, we changed our minds because we wanted to get to the fishing sooner. We all teased Tom about wanting to fish 24-7. He just hated to paddle over "good" water without stopping to wet a line. After a quick 21-mile boat ride, we were dropped off at Beatty Portage just before noon. Now the work began with a short walk over to Lac La Croix. It was a hot and humid day. Fortunately there was a slight breeze from the South. The water was calm and we cruised up the mighty lake.

Traveling this western section of the lake didn't seem as intimidating as I had anticipated. I know the calm water helped, as did the fact it was a bright sunny day. This section of the big lake is beautiful and is studded with islands with names like 'Battleship' and "Dome". With a keen eye on our maps, we got through the island maze and stopped for the night on the island southwest of Twenty-seven Island. Kevin and I knew this was a nice spot having stayed there on another trip.

The rest of the afternoon was spent swimming and relaxing before our traditional first night dinner of steak and potatoes. Then we all went to try our luck fishing around the islands east of our site. Tom and Lanny were catching and releasing smallmouth bass, one after another, using worms. Kevin also caught several nice sized smallies, and by dark, I even managed to catch one. Tom and Lanny also caught four walleyes for the next night's dinner. Tom put the fillets (with the requisite skin attached) into a very small cooler, along with one of those crushable emergency ice packs. The fish stayed nicely cold, for 24 hours and our next evening's meal.

Day Two

Day two was going to be a big paddling day so we ate a hearty ham and scrambled eggs breakfast. We always got a slow start in the morning because we leisurely ate breakfast and got ready to leave. Kevin and Tom usually took a morning splash, too. Once we were underway it turned out to be another calm, hot day with a welcomed breeze from the northwest.

After a few hours we stopped at Fish Stake Narrows for a lunch break. I've always wondered how this area got it's name. Did Native Americans set fishing nets here? While we were sitting on the rocks eating, we waved in two fellows from Indiana who were looking to set up camp on the island. Wishing them well, we left and headed for Bottle Portage. The water was still smooth so we were able to get a good look at Warrior Hill. All I have to say is those young Native American men must have been in terrific shape to run up that hill. It is steep with a capital "S"!

Bottle Portage wasn't too bad and soon we were on Iron Lake searching for a campsite. All the spots on the west side were taken so we ended up in a little bay on the east shore, two sites down from Curtain Falls. Swimming and relaxing followed our arrival. It was a nice camp with a sand beach off to the side and a nice swimming spot straight out.

We Have To Go Fishing Again?

It was fishing time again after our mouth-watering walleye and rice dinner that night. And, yes, Tom was also our gourmet fish fryer. We fished the current flowing from Curtain Falls, where it comes into Iron, using another idea learned from Tom. We made a rope net and put in a large rock as an anchor. Again, everyone except me caught lots of bass. We threw them back, but saved some walleyes, again.

We stayed over on Iron Lake the next day to fish and explore. The two sites on Island Three looked nice but they were occupied. Here, and at Lower Basswood Falls, were the only places we really saw many other people. Overnight it had been very windy and we awoke to overcast skies and a choppy lake. The two fishermen headed west; but Kevin and I weren't too enthusiastic about fishing in that choppy water so we went sightseeing to Rebecca Falls and Curtain Falls. Rebecca Falls is really two chutes going around an island. Curtains Falls is impressive too with an immense amount of water dropping over a broad ledge. It's a memorable sight.

Coming back from Curtain Falls, Kevin and I fished in the current again. On this trip we mostly fished with leeches. Caring for them in leech buckets wasn't as much trouble as one might think. The main trick is just keeping them cool. We kept them in the canoes while traveling and changed their water occasionally. Walleyes seem to like current. And since there is current below falls, rapids and in narrows, that's where we fished. My "great" feat that day was catching the very same old mucky rod and reel I had hooked the night before.

Four-Star Campsite

The next morning we all slept in and finally broke camp by 10 A.M.. This was a short day. We traveled across the Curtain Falls portage and down to the island site at the head of Friday Bay. This is my all-time favorite campsite in the whole area. It has a big fireplace, several protected tent pads, and a large rock ledge beach. The view down Friday Bay is spectacular. It is a great swimming spot too.

It was hot and sunny; a day made for loafing and staying cool. And that's exactly what we did. Kevin floated on his Therma-rest mattress and the rest of us just floated. After dinner it was, of course, time to fish, so we headed out to try our skills in the narrows between some islands to the east. Kevin and I caught a couple of smallies, got tired and paddled home. Five minutes later Lanny and Tom hit a honey-hole and caught six walleyes in ten minutes! Two were 3-plus pounds. What a way to end the day!

Blast From The Past

Stopping at Table Rock the next day was like stepping back into history. More than 200 years ago voyagers repaired their canoes here on the very same rock on which we sat and ate lunch. That afternoon we pitched our tents on a spot below Lower Basswood Falls. This is a very popular camping area and it was like a highway with canoes coming and going. Our site was not one to write home about, but it worked. That night we fished below the falls where I caught a walleye and the only rock bass of the trip. What a fisherman. No prizes were awarded however. Just as we came back from fishing it started to rain. That, and the bugs, drove us into the tents for early sack-time.

We all got up the next morning, pumped up, as we were hitting the Horse Portage today. After some "stick-to-your- ribs" oatmeal we headed out. First, it was around the Lower Falls, along Wheelbarrow Falls, and then down the mile-long Horse Portage. We had lunch at the west end of the trail, chatting with two Forest Service crewmembers on their lunch break. Since the Three Sisters site was taken, we continued on to Hanson's Island where we made camp. It was a cloudy day so I delayed taking my swim until the sun finally peaked through in the late afternoon. Wimpy, wimpy I know! Tom and Lanny went out in pursuit of dinner and their success gave us our fifth night of fish. Although with only two fish, we did have to supplement it with a noodle dish. This night turned out to be bugless and only the second time we were able to have a fire and stay up past 9 P.M..

And On The Seventh Day ...

On the morning of Day seven we paddled down a sunny Basswood Lake, through Lewis Narrows, past New York Island, and walked the two portages and crossed Fall Lake. No map for Tom; he was in his home territory. We made the landing early afternoon having traveled eighty-six miles in seven days. We had followed the voyageur's route along Lac La Croix, Crooked Lake, and Basswood River. We sat where they repaired canoes and walked in their footsteps on the portages. Plus, we caught plenty of fish. When my brother in California calls next summer I know where I'll take him. On a dream trip just like this one.

--article courtesy of BoundaryWatersMagazine



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