Tagged: Quetico

Ice Out Trip to Saganagons – Guest Post

Scott Schilling is a Gunflint Trail cabin owner and before that, he was a longtime Tuscarora guest who went on countless Boundary Waters and Quetico fishing trips. He answered our call for guest posts with this humorous memory of his first-ever Quetico fishing adventure and some great vintage canoe country photos.

Please note, all opinions expressed in this post are those of Scott and Scott alone. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Tuscarora, Tuscarora staff, or Tuscarora guests . . . about engineers. And remember, always wear your lifejacket!

Scott writes:

Every May, for 15 years, we’d drive 700 miles from Illinois to spend a week in Quetico. We’d stay in a Tuscarora bunkhouse for our first night. After getting minimal sleep because of the anticipation, we’d get a tow on Saganaga to save us several hours of canoeing and to ensure we could get to our designated campsite by dark, as it was several hours of canoeing, and back then, going through customs on the water, portaging etc.  Our tow boat would then drop us off in the water, and say “See you in a week . . . . Hopefully.”

Scott’s group outside Bunkhouse 2 at Tuscarora Lodge and Canoe Outfitters

We’ve seen Cache Bay with 3-4’ waves and calm as glass. We sometimes camped just prior to Silver Falls for the first night, but most years we made it to the same island up in Saganagons to get camp established the first night. Our first trip ever was just after ice out.

Imagine the excitement . . . . We’d spent a year planning, working out on a steep hill with a backpack full of weight to get our bodies ready, and figuring out what and what not to pack. I’d listened to my engineer friend for a year, with all his extreme cautions, lists etc. I’m the opposite . . . like whatever, I only need a few things.

Now, on our first morning of our first canoe trip ever, it was very cold and raining, but the weather was irrelevant. I knew on my first cast, I’d probably catch a world record fish.

With me in the front seat, we pulled off our island campsite, got stabilized for a minute, and I grabbed my brand-new Garcia Ambassador 5500C reel that I was so proud of. As we just rounded the corner of an island, I saw my opportunity for my first cast ever. I swung my rod back to let my Smithwick Rogue – my favorite lure which has worked all over the country – fly out parallel down the bank.

My hands were already wet from the rain. As I palmed that bait caster to make that long cast, my first cast ever up there, the reel slipped out of my hand. It shot 3-4’ up into the air and I watched it come down, probably 3’ from the canoe.

I instinctively went to reach out and grab it, as I wasn’t losing my new rod reel for the week. It was just far enough from the canoe and as I reached for it, I capsized the canoe. My engineer friend was already screaming and cussing at me, when my head popped out of the water. “Now what, you idiot?” he yelled. “We just lost everything for the week!”

I’d never been canoeing before this, never capsized a canoe, never been in ice out freezing water with several layers of clothes and boots on, never been on a trip with this anal engineer, never been stranded on an island. Once he stopped yelling, he said, “Don’t leave the canoe, it won’t sink.”

We managed to drag the canoe full of water and seemingly weighing about 300 pounds to the island. As we slid up the rocks in all our wet clothes, I was like, oh crap, what now? My buddy just kept saying, “That’s it. No fishing now for a week.”

All our rods and reels were at the bottom of the lake.

We managed to empty the water out of our canoe. We saw our paddles and life vests (of course they weren’t on) floating in the lake. We got back into the canoe and hand paddled out to get them.

Then I noticed something.

The Rogue I was using was a topwater lure, and I saw it floating on the water. Could I possibly pull my rod up? My buddy was still lipping off the whole time. As I grabbed the Rogue, I started to pull my line in very carefully as I had released the spool to cast. Would my knot hold at the bottom of the spool? It felt quite heavy for some reason, and after pulling about 50 yards of line, I started to see several rods coming up!

All of the rods, we had in the canoe had miraculously entangled somehow, and in one motion I grabbed them all. Now I proudly told my anal engineer buddy to shut up. All we lost was one compass . . . .Who needs that anyway?!

Froze, numb, dumbfounded, and disarrayed, we went back to our camp, managed to get a blazing fire started. We thawed out, warmed up, recalibrated, laughed, and started over.

We went on to have a phenomenal week of fishing. Believe it or not, we were able to save two other canoers that week. They were the only other people we saw during the trip and they had capsized in the middle of Saganagons and were in rough shape when we found them.

That was the first week of what’s now been 43 years up there. Couldn’t get that sitting on a couch in Illinois.

Do you have a story you’d like to share with Tuscarora guests? Email us the text and some photos to us at info@tuscaroracanoe.com. We’d love to share it!

Do You Know This Man?


If you’re a fan of canoe country, you’ve probably stumbled across some photos of our buddy, Andrew. Last year, he served as the poster boy for the first annual Boundary Waters Canoe Expo. Over the years his photo has also appeared in numerous other advertisements for Visit Cook County and Tuscarora. You’ve also seen him in our post about 20-somethings going on canoe trips.


But who is this man of mystery so often spied in the bow of a Souris River Quetico 17?

Andrew Quetico portage

Andrew, Andy, and I all worked together at Hungry Jack Outfitters back in the “Aughts.” He comes from “canoeing stock” – his mom worked on the Gunflint Trail as a young adult – and as a teenager, he did many canoe trips through Camp Menogyn, including a five week trip through the Canadian wilderness. Since our Hungry Jack days, the three of us have covered a lot of miles together, from roaming around Portland, OR to running Chicago’s Shamrock Shuffle this past spring (FYI: Andrew can run 8 km 14 minutes faster than I can), and, of course, he and Andy have gone on lots and lots of trips through Quetico Provincial Park.

Right now, Andrew is a biology PhD student at the University of Michigan where he focuses on the venom systems of mollusks. The end goal of his research is to create a way that the venom of mollusks can be used as human medicine, particularly as a side-effect free anesthesia. He spends a portion of each summer collecting cone snails for research from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean off Japanese or Samoan coasts.

Despite research that takes him around the world, back at the end of May, Andrew and his girlfriend, Clara, managed to carve out a week to spend in the Quetico. As you can see from the map below, they just did a teeny, tiny, little trip:

Andy and Andrew are known for their high mileage Quetico trips and Clara wanted to be sure that Andrew didn’t take it easy on her just because it was her first canoe trip. A quick gander at the map shows that Andrew did not let Clara’s lack of canoe trip experience impact the trip’s distance. In six days and five nights, they paddled 80+ miles. Oh, did I mention that Andrew and Clara had both run marathons two days before the start of their canoe trip? Obviously, these are not two people who are afraid of high mileage!

After a towboat ride from the Tuscarora dock on Saganaga Lake up to Hook Island on the Canadian side of Saganaga, Andrew and Clara paddled over to the Cache Bay Ranger Station to pick up their permit for the Man Chain. From Cache Bay, they headed up past Silver Falls, into Saganagons, and into the Man Chain which they followed down to Carp Lake and the International Border.

Quetico Loons Rafting

Loons rafting on This Man Lake

Quetico Canoe Portage landing

After paddling a few miles west on the border, they went over Prairie Portage and then cut back up into the Canadian interior via Sunday Bay in Basswood Lake. As they headed east back towards their starting point, they passed through Agnes, Louisa, McEwen, and Wet Lakes, before finally heading south via Saganagons and Cache Bay.

Andrew Quetico campsite
Quetico Tent View

Despite a wide variety of temperatures and weather that characterizes this spring, they had a great trip. In her first visit to Superior/Quetico country, Clara managed to see more of canoe country than some people see in years of BWCAW and Quetico canoe trips. A trip of this magnitude certainly isn’t for everyone, but these two, it worked just fine.

Quetico Portage
Clara Quetico

What’s the longest canoe trip you’ve ever done?

10 Reasons to Canoe Trip as a 20-something

10 Reasons Millennials should Canoe Trip

For decades, the U.S. Forest Service and paddling enthusiasts have been bemoaning the moribund state of canoe country visitors. A 2011 USFS survey of Boundary Waters visitors placed the average age of BWCAW campers at 45 years old – a stark contrast to a 1969 survey that pitted the average at 26 years old.

But in our business, we see loads of younger adults using and enjoying the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In fact, considering all the data we’ve read and heard anecdotally about the Boundary Waters and Quetico only being used by “old men,” we were a little shocked at just how young the average Tuscarora guest is.

If you never visited the Boundary Waters as a child, your 20s are a great time to discover this beloved wilderness area. We think every 20-something should experience wilderness canoe tripping. Here’s our top 10 reasons why young adults, and really anyone contemplating a first-time canoe trip, should take the plunge, er, we mean, paddle.




Paddle your own canoe: You might have felt like an adult in college, but it turns out “real life” is a little more complicated than juggling your class schedule, homework, work study job, and funtivities. Suddenly you’re making decisions about your retirement account and starting to pay back those student loans. What the heck?! Canoe trips bolster self-confidence, improves your mood, and reduces psychological illness. After doing a Boundary Waters canoe trip where you rely solely on your own body and mind to get you and your gear from Point A to Point B, you’ll feel like you can conquer the world.
Agnes Lake Quetico summer canoe trip


A vacation you can afford: Canoe trips are one of the most affordable vacations you can take. A completely outfitted 4 day/3 night canoe trip with ultralight Kevlar canoes will cost you less than $500 in northeastern Minnesota’s fabled Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. That means all you need to worry about is your personal clothing and transportation to the outfitters – the food, canoe, paddles, lifejackets, tent, packs, etc., is all included in the ticket price. The price is even lower if you can bum some camping gear off of friends and family. Kevlar canoes rent for less than $50 per day and aluminum canoes rent for even less.

(Check out our personal gear checklist to see what you’ll be responsible for packing. Wondering about the vittles we’ll be packing? Here’s the camping menu.)

Make lifetime memories: Beautiful sunsets. Loons calling across the lake on a moonlight evening. Catching a walleye on your first cast. That time your best friend swamped the canoe reaching for the selfie stick at the portage landing. The memories you make in canoe country will bring a smile for years to come.


Portaging through the Cavity Wildfire area in 2006


You won’t ever be any younger than you are right now: While not necessarily strenuous, canoe trips do demand a certain physical rigor. We hear from so many people who have “aged out” of canoe trips or who have had to cut down on their canoe trip mileage significantly with each passing year, or rather, each passing knee surgery. Don’t pencil that 14-day wilderness canoe adventure you’re dreaming of for some foggy “someday.” Do it now, while your body is strong, tough, and forgiving.

Refresh and restore your creativity: Adulting can be monotonous and mind numbing at times. At the end of the workday, you might find yourself sacked out on the couch watching reruns rather than finishing the novel you swore you’d have done by now or starting your “insert favorite activity here” company. Happily, a study that psychologist Dr. Frank Ferraro of Nebraska Wesleyan University did in the Boundary Waters shows that time in the woods can jumpstart creativity and other cognitive activities. That research is backed up by many other studies, so throw a notepad and sketchbook in your personal pack and prepare to be inspired.


Quetico fishing for Northern Pike


Get cracking on your bucket list: The Boundary Waters consistently does well on travel bucket lists. As America’s most popular wilderness area, the Boundary Waters made it into the first edition of 1000 Places to See Before You Die and Huffington Post named the BWCA the one thing you must do in Minnesota.

Make adventure a habit: A life of adventure doesn’t just happen. You need to consistently make the decision to break out of the 9-5 grind. An annual canoe trip might be just the thing to help shape a life of exploration and discovery. Combined, the Boundary Waters and Quetico covers more than 2 million acres of North American wilderness so you could visit these special places every year for decades and see a new section of the wilderness on each trip.




Challenge yourself: According to happiness expert, Gretchen Rubin, we’re happiest when we exist in a state of growth. Don’t think you can paddle 25 miles and carry your canoe and all the gear and food you need over 20 portages? Prove yourself wrong. You’ll be so happy you did.

Disconnect to connect: If you’re tired of getting together with your friends and just watching everyone poke at their phones around the restaurant table, it might time to head to canoe country. Your cell phone won’t work here and you’ll have time to truly connect and go with the natural flow of life, without being a slave to the “refresh” button. Bonus: too much time in front of blue screens is a known cause of insomnia and studies show that camping can reset your biological clock, so you could sleep better while you’re camping.



Reevaluate priorities: You’ll probably look at life a little differently after a canoe trip. It’s fascinating to see all the items you need to survive a week in the wilderness fit in a couple packs at the bottom of a canoe. Although millennials are notorious for having much less attachment to “stuff” and life’s material trappings than their baby boomer parents, you might find that a canoe trip has you rethinking the things that are truly important in life.

Did/do you canoe trip in your 20s? What would you add to this list?