Tagged: Boundary Waters

How to Ice Fish in the Boundary Waters

IMG_7846We spend most of our free time in the first three months of each year ice fishing for lake trout. Because our business keeps us busy all summer long, in any given year, we spend considerably more time fishing in “hard water” conditions than we do on open water.

Boundary Waters Ice Fishing Lake Trout Tip up rod catch

Ice fishing can seem a little daunting. For one thing, it can be downright chilly and people are sometimes apprehensive to invest in the specific gear needed for ice fishing. But while you might have to work a little harder to succeed at ice fishing, that just makes the experience all the more rewarding. The specialized gear needed is limited to a few rods, ice scoops, and augers. Best of all, ice fishing is a great excuse to spend sometime outdoors in the winter months, even if you come home empty handed.

Throughout the year, we hear a lot of questions from those curious about trying their hand at ice fishing. What’s your favorite lure? What’s the best hand auger? Why don’t you use a sled to haul your gear? To answer all those questions and more, Andy put together this ice fishing gear video tutorial.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to make a list of all the gear Andy mentions in the video.  Just use our printable ice fishing packing list as an easy reference point when you pack for your next ice fishing adventure in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Ice Fishing PACKING LIST

Here’s one of the lures highlighted in the video:
Best Lake Trout Ice Fishing Lure

The DNR’s Lake Finder website is a great resource to guide you in choosing a Gunflint Trail lake to ice fish on. You can always give us a shout at 218-388-2221 for lake recommendations too.

Good luck anglers!

 

BWCA Trip Report: Granite River in High Water

Tuscarora Granite River Canoe Route

Since late winter, my friend Kati and I have been trying to plan a quick canoe trip. Like most canoe trips, even though it was just the two of us, it took a little finagling to sync up our schedules. Last week, we managed to carve out a sliver of time for a two day canoe trip and decided to tackle the Granite River Route. Kati’d paddled the route once during her three seasons as a canoe guide at Wilderness Canoe Base and I’d flirted with the route (aka a day trip to Sag Falls and another day trip to Clove Lake via Larch Creek) but had never paddled it in full.

DAY 1

14:25 – Kati rolls into Tuscarora. We quickly transfer all of her personal items into the gear pack that Andy and I threw together the night before.

14:50 – Depart Tuscarora for the Cross River Bridge on the North Gunflint Lake Road.

15:05 – Load the canoe and paddle off.

Kati near the Cross River Bridge on Gunflint Lake

We pass through the Gunflint Narrows into Magnetic Lake, but go through too quickly to really get a look at the trestle remnants hiding under the water from the old railroad bridge that spanned Gunflint Lake in the late 1800s. In Magnetic Lake, we pass our second historical highlight  – the Swiss Chalet style cabin on Gallagher’s Island. This unique cabin was built in the 1920s by the Gallagher family and it’s been carefully maintained ever since. Because it’s a private residence, we didn’t want to paddle right next to it, so our pictures don’t show how very cute it is, even from a distance.

Chalet Cabin on Magnetic Lake's Gallagher's Island

16:00 – Turn the corner and officially enter the Boundary Waters (although we missed the sign) and the Granite River. Reach our first portage of the day and spot the first of countless international border markers dotting the route. About 9 inches of rain had fallen on the Gunflint Trail in the last few weeks, so the portages are a little sloppy and/or flooded.

Canada/U.S. International Boundary Marker on the Granite River

16:40 – After another short portage, (and a slight bushwhacking stint) we arrive at the base of Little Rock Falls and snap some photos. Nourished from a quick handful of GORP, we soldier on. Thankfully, in June you have about 18 hours of daylight to paddle in each day, so we have plenty of time to set up camp yet.

Little Rock Falls between Magnetic Lake and the Granite River along the Gunflint Trail

17:15 – Arrive Wood Horse portage. There are moccasin flowers, false lily of the valley, and other spring wildflowers everywhere!

Paddling the Granite River between Little Rock Falls and Clove Lake

18:15 – We paddle by the Granite River’s first campsite, near where the Pine River flows in. The site is up on a high rock face and is uninhabited. We decide to press on and see if there are any open sites on Clove Lake. Halfway down the portage, we see that the campsite across the lake is occupied and hear voices coming from the other campsite near the portage. Neither of us had any desire to camp in the campsite on the far side of the lake (it has a great beach, but is a buggy site this time of year), so we turn around.

19:00 – Return to Pine River campsite. Unload gear. Grab pots and pans and paddle to the widest part of the river to fill up on water.

19:10 – I set up stove in the Pine River campsite, put water on to boil for supper. Kati scopes out tent pads.

19:20 – Water boils. Stir in red beans and rice mix with slices of bratwurst. Turn pot down to a simmer. Attempt to figure out how to set up Andy’s “Big Agnes” 2-person tent.

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19:40 – Test supper. Done! Take off heat, put water on to boil for dishes and to put in Nalgene bottles to cool over night for drinking the next morning. Return to tent pad to stake out tent.

19:45 – Dinner is served.

20:00 – Clean up campsite, tuck canoe behind trees for the night. Enjoy a spectacular sunset.

Granite River Boundary Waters sunset

21:10 – Turn in for the night

DAY 2

Corydalis on Granite River BWCAW campsite

Wake up to very noisy chickadees singing in the trees above our tent. Based on the light coming into the tent, figure it must be around 7 a.m. Go back to sleep.

07:10 – Decide to get going. Both shocked to discover that it’s only 7. Head out to the fire grate to put on water for oatmeal and tea.

08:00 – Enjoy a leisurely breakfast in the sunshine on the rock face overlooking the glass-calm Granite River. Realize that in a string of rainy, cold days we’ve somehow won the weather lottery for our short trip.

08:30 – Start packing up the campsite. We pause to take a lot of photos around the site, especially of the trio of moccasin flowers blooming towards the back of the site.

Pink Moccasin flowers blooming in the BWCA Gunflint Trail

09:20 – Slather on sunscreen and don ridiculous sun hats. Paddle to Clove Lake portage.

09:30 – Start the Clove Lake portage for the second time in as many days. Over breakfast, we decided against single portaging and I have a much happier portage than the night before. While I run back for the food pack, Kati stays at the Clove Lake side of the portage and repacks the gear pack so it rests better on her back so she can have happier portages for the rest of the day too.

10:20 – Paddle across Clove Lake. Both the southern campsites are full. This proves to be the most people we see all day.

11ish – Arrive at portage. Quickly discover that the first half of the 40 rod portage is ankle deep in squelching, boot swallowing muck, aka loon sh!t. We persevere and treat ourselves with several handfuls of GORP and big drinks of water at the portage’s end.

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11:40 – Push off again and enjoy a quiet paddle through an especially scenic portion of the river. After the mucky state of the last portage, neither of us is any big rush to make it to “Swamp Portage.”

12:00 – Arrive Swamp Portage. Not as bad as we had feared. A little buggy, sure, and the end of the portage is basically a river, but we spy tadpoles and frogs swimming in the portage pools and beautiful marsh marigold foliage frames the portage boardwalk.

Granite River portage, high water in June

12:25 – Feeling, to quote Winnie-the-Pooh, a little “11 o’clockish,” we decide to press on to Gneiss Lake before breaking for lunch. This means two more portages and a tricky bit of current stand between us a summer sausage and cheese sandwich lunch.

12:40 – Reach Granite River portage. Warmed by the first sunlight we’ve had in week, dragonfly nymphs are hatching near the portage landings. Bad news for mosquitoes – good news for campers!

Dragonfly nymph hatch in the Boundary Waters

13:00 – Around the corner from the portage, we navigate through the one bit of real current on the Granite River that you don’t portage around. We head for the deep center of the river and are merrily whisked down the river. Wheee!! Like going down a waterside! In the widening in the river after the current, we spy a pair of loons – the one creature Kati was hoping to see on the trip.

13:40 – We finish the Gneiss Lake portage and start looking for a campsite to eat lunch at on Gneiss Lake. The primo campsite on the island is taken and its residents are fishing nearby, so we settle on lunch on the rock face of the most northern campsite on the lake.

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14:20 – We pack up lunch and start making our way towards Devil’s Elbow and Marabouef Lake. We still haven’t decided if we’re going to camp on the Granite River or on one of the island sites on Saganaga near Sag Falls. We have to meet a towboat at Sag Falls at noon the next day, so making it to Sag means a quiet, slow morning tomorrow, but two more portages today. On the other hand, it feels pretty good to think that all the day’s portaging is already behind us.

We make our way slowly through the Devil’s Elbow and Marabouef Lake, swinging by each campsite to check it out.

15:50 – Find ourselves at the northern most peninsula with campsites on Marabouef Lake. Figure we can be on Sag by 6, but opt instead to camp on the last campsite on Marabouef, a north facing site tucked into a quiet bay.

16:40 – Do a water run, start boiling water and setting up camp.

18:20 – Enjoy a fine camp dinner of Pesto Pasta Primavera with Salmon. We don’t feel like bothering with a fire, so we just break s’more ingredients into our chocolate pudding and call that good enough.

Marabouef Lake campsite

19:00 – Clean up campsite. We cool off our Nalgenes filled with boiled water by putting them on a stringer and floating them in the lake. We take a gander at the map and try to determine when we need to depart the campsite the next morning to make it to Sag Falls by noon.

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21:00 – Bedtime.

DAY 3

07:00 – Wake up. Slower start than the day before. No need to boil water, since we just need cold water to mix into our granola and neither of us are coffee drinkers.

08:00 – Start taking down the campsite.

09:15 – Depart campsite. The wind’s picked up and we have to paddle hard to turn the corner into the southerly wind. Once we’re headed the right direction though, the wind pushes us up the river towards our final destination. We stop paddling for a minute and realize that with the wind, we could reach Sag Falls in time for our pick up, even without paddling another stroke. Dark storm clouds start to gather and thunder rumbles in the background. We notice taller trees where the Sag Corridor Fire of 1995 burned the river.

10:10 – Reach Horsetail Rapids portage. Pull on rain pants and jacket. Start portage.

10:15 – Downpour starts.

10:20 – Downpour ends. I’m now hanging out on the base of lone cedar tree in the middle of calf deep water with the canoe on my shoulders. There’s a 30 ft. section of calf deep water covering the portage trail to the canoe landing on the other side of the portage. I can’t see how deep the water is and I really don’t want to slip in the water or onto the steep rock face next to the water with a Kevlar canoe on my shoulders. We opt to take the canoe off and two man it through the deep water.

Kati tackles the Horsetail Rapids portage in high water on the Granite River

10:50 – Depart Horsetail Rapids portage. Count our blessings that we decided to camp on Marabouef the night before instead of attempting to make it all the way out to Sag. Better to deal with flooded portages first thing in the day.

11:10 – Arrive Sag Falls portage.

Sag Falls at the end of the Granite River by Saganaga Lake

11:30 – Canoe and all gear at the tow boat pick up point on the Sag Lake side the Falls. Have snack. Wait for towboat.

Tuscarora Outfitters towboat driver Jack

12:00 – Jack arrives in the towboat.

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12:40 – Reach public landing on Sag Lake Trail. It’s Friday and the landing is full of people loading up their boats to get to their cabins on the Canadian side of Sag.

13:10 – Arrive Tuscarora. Unpack Kati’s items. Rouge thunderstorm rolls in. Mark up Granite River map with all the insight we’ve gained from the trip. Start planning next year’s trip.

 

Going, going . . . .

Ironically, it took the sky raining ice for the lake ice to finally dissolve on the Gunflint Trail. We’re still not ice free yet, but it’s going fast.

Here are the latest ice out photos from this morning, April 25, 2016.

Round Lake, April 2016

Round Lake

Gunflint Lake April 2016

Gunflint Lake near the Cross River

Seagull Lake April 2016 Gunflint Lake Minnesota

Seagull Lake Blankenburg Landing

Gunflint Trail Saganaga Lake April 2016

Saganaga Lake Corridor, Tow Boat Dock

What I Learned About Packing for a Boundary Waters Trip from Backpacking in Peru

Second campsite on the Lares Trek near Chupani Incan ruins

Lares Trek campsite

I recently returned from Peru, which, among other things, included a three day, two night backpacking trek through the Andes. With a weight limit for our personal items, we had to think strategically about our packing and weigh the importance of each item I packed. What I learned during the packing process is applicable to any camping trip and might help you pack your personal items for a canoe trip in Superior/Quetico country.

Dress like an onion: The saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes, it’ll change,” rings as true in the rural areas of Peru as it does in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In both places, it’s not unheard of to experience all four seasons in a 24 hour (or less!) period of time, so dressing in layers is key. Because I was only on trail for 3 days, I packed just one outfit to see me through all weather: lightweight nylon pants (not zip-off, but ideally they should have been), tank top, long sleeve tech shirt, wool turtleneck sweater, Primaloft packable vest. I also packed a pair of wool long underwear to use as pajamas or as an extra layer if it got really cold. We hiked mostly in 50+ degree weather, so I only wore the tank top and long sleeve shirt, but I sure wanted the sweater and vest in camp at night when temps dipped into the low 30s.  At the end of the hike, the clothing remained fresh enough that I could have worn it for a couple more days.

(Another “pack light” tip for ladies: if you have a tank top with a shelf bra, use that as your base layer and leave the bra in the apres shower/clean laundry bag for the end of the trip.)

Wool is king: Cotton just isn’t the fabric of our camping lives.  Although wool gets a bad rap as bulky and itchy, recent advances in merino wool/nylon blends have created a plethora of lightweight socks (some “smarter” than others) and undergarments perfect for camping. Wool wicks moisture, is breathable and warm, and feels clean for much longer than cotton. Personally, I’d rather spend more and enjoy dry feet all day, rather than having my feet rotting away in a pair of cheap cotton socks.

Other things you won’t be sad you spent a little more on: rain gear, hiking boots, a sunhat with a chin strap, and a reliable and easy to use headlamp.

Lares Trek trail, second day hiking to Sicllaccasa Pass.

Headed uphill on the second day to the 15,500 ft pass

Repack your pills: When you’re out in the woods, you want to nip any medical issues in the bud, so I basically lugged around an entire pharmacy: ibuprofen, Pepto-Bismol, Diamox (high altitude/motion sickness pills), Benadryl, Immodium, Gas-X, Ny-Quil, etc. etc.  Our physician told us to keep the medications in their original bottles for the plane trips, but before the hike, I should have spent two minutes repacking six of each pill (or the daily maximum of pills x the number of days on the trail) into a small pill organizer case. I appreciated having all of the medications along; I just didn’t full bottles rattling around my backpack, since you only need one or two of each pill during your trip, if you need them at all.

Children on the Lares Trek in Cusco, Peru region

Children from the nearby farms we hiked beside.

Be comfortable: I like to pack light, but within reason. To me, it was worth the extra weight to throw in a couple items to make evenings in camp a little cozier. I knew I wanted to change out of my hiking boots and I wanted to slip into something warmer than a pair of lightweight flip-flops, especially with night temps close to freezing. I settled on wool clogs with rubber soles which felt warm, sturdy, and secure as I navigated the campsite after dark. On a similar note, throw in a small towel or washcloth and heat up a little extra water when you’re starting dinner so you can do a quick sponge bath each evening.

Backpackers on the Lares Trek looking towards the Sacred Valley

On the downhill descent towards the Sacred Valley

You need far less “goop” than you think you do: I needed far less personal hygiene items than I predicted. My mom gave me a 1 oz. tube of 70 SPF sunscreen for the trip, which seemed pretty darn pithy. Yet, despite frequent liberal sunscreen applications, at the end of the trip, I’d only used half the tube. I packed 4 oz of Purell, but used about an ounce. While it’s better safe than sorry, you probably need less than half of what you think necessary.

One thing that worked out perfectly were the OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent wipes. We didn’t visit at a buggy time of year and wore long sleeves almost exclusively, so having these towelettes available was way better than lugging along a big spray can of basically untouched bug spray, even though the towelettes meant a little more trash to pack out.

Llamas carrying backpacking gear on the Lares Trek in the Peruvian Andes

A crew of llamas relieved us of most “portaging” duties.

What have your travels taught you about the “bare necessities?”

Update: We’ve developed this Boundary Waters personal gear packing list based on the packing list I used for Peru.

Oh, These Maple Sugar Days

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A couple years ago, somewhat inadvertently, I wrote a series of articles about Minnesota maple syrup producers. I’m no maple syrup expert, but I do always remember that when temperatures climb above freezing in the day and then fall back below freezing at night, that’s when maple sap starts flowing through the tree trunks and maple syrup producers start firing up their big evaporators. Now each spring when the sun shines high and bright in the sky and snow starts drip, drip, dripping off the pine branches and packed trails grow slick and smooth, I crave waffles. I’ve come to think of these days as “maple sugar” days, especially since this is when the hot sun melts the snow into a texture similar to granulated sugar.

February Sunshine on Tuscarora Portage BWCA

We’re not quite at the 2016 maple sap run just yet (it’s currently -3ºF), but like the rest of the state, we had quite the “maple sugar” day on Saturday. I took one look out the window on Saturday morning at the brilliant blue sky and decided two things: 1) I was done taking a Vitamin D supplement until November and 2) It was a good day for adventure.

McKenzie Tuscarora map BWCAW

We jumped on the bandwagon and headed into Tuscarora Lake. Starting on Wednesday, we watched group after group head across Round Lake for the Missing Link portage. By the time Saturday morning rolled around, there were about 10 groups camping or fishing on Tuscarora. I guess we’re all pretty good at reading weather forecasts.

Tuscarora Boundary Waters portage Gunflint Trail winter ice fishing

All the tree stumps were wearing “snow hats” on the hike in on the 426 rod Tuscarora portage. By the time we came back, most of this snow had slipped off.

Tuscarora Lake end of 426 rod portage

We were hoping to meet up with a couple friends camping on the west end of Tuscarora among the islands. We couldn’t spot them at first, so we started ice fishing on the edge of the north bay. I got a bite and lost my minnow, but that was it for action, so we packed up and set off to search for Mark and Dave again.

Ice fishing Marcum fish finder and NILS ice auger Tuscarora Lake Boundary Waters

We finally spotted them along the south shoreline east of the Owl Portage. They really blended into their surroundings with their white anoraks on!

Eastern BWCAW ice fishing and winter camping

Because it was so busy on Tuscarora Lake, U.S. Forest Service wilderness rangers were out making contact with winter campers. They want to make sure that campers are filling out permits and also talk about responsible firewood gathering and fire making during the winter. We really appreciate all the work these folks do so the wilderness can be enjoyed by everyone.

U.S. Forest Service wilderness ranger winter camper check

Although Dave and Andy’s fish finders showed a pretty impressive underwater drop off, fishing was remarkably slow. Apparently the fish were as confused by what was going on with the barometer and thermometer as we were.

Ice fishing on Tuscarora Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Even if the fish were feeling shy, it sure was a pretty spot to hang out for an hour or so. The cliffs behind us was busy making snowballs by itself as the sunshine melted snow at the top of the cliff which then rolled down the side of the cliffs to the lake ice.
Snow cliffs on Tuscarora Lake BWCAW Tuscarora Lake cliff lichen Tuscarora Lake Boundary Waters winter Gunflint Trail

By the time we hiked out, the temperature was 42 degrees in the shade. Our sunburned faces attest that we got more than our fair share of Vitamin D. The perfect maple sugar day!