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Trip to BWCA offers little bit of everything

Jun 28, 2021 05:34AM ● By Editor

Photos: Scott Mackenthun


By Scott Mackenthun Special to The Mankato Free Press  - June 27, 2021 


As Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness trips go, this one had a little of everything.

Up and down fishing, up and down weather, and enough moments that get lodged in the long-term memory bank.

Technically a late-spring trip, the mid-June visit instead felt like mid- or late summer. The nights were warm, every day the water was worthy of a swim, and on one of the days, I needed to dip my ball cap in the water every half-hour to keep my head and upper body cooled off.

Most years, a dip in the lake would nearly take your breath away; these are deep, clear and cold lakes that harbor lake trout and ciscoes.

This year, the surface temperatures read 71 to 75 degrees, far ahead of schedule due to a two-week blast of unseasonably warm temperatures.

Wildlife gave us a good show in spite of the warm temperatures. A pair of Luna moths showed up on the morning our group departed from the end of the Gunflint Trail. A giant Promethea silkmoth appeared on one of the tents on the last day before we packed everything down.

A moose calf, likely following behind a mother that slipped past us, swam across a narrow spot in the lake. An otter came loping down a rock face and pushed out into the water, eyeing our canoe playfully before diving for crayfish.

Most importantly, mosquitoes and other biting insects weren’t overly oppressive, save for the moments visiting the latrine that was placed deeply into our wooded campsite.

In contrast to the drought our region is mired in now, we did experience quite a soaking rain during the trip.

On our first evening, after watching some ominous weather envelope our group and push us off walleye reefs and into camp, we did receive quite a rain-filled overnight. We put up walls on the screen tent and visited amongst our group by the glow of a lantern as the raindrops started.

When the rain failed to dissipate, we all surrendered after an hour’s time and hastily retreated to tents in the downpour.

While stepping into the tent, the bottom tarp floor felt like a waterbed. Water rushed over granite rock faces and flooded tent pads around the campsite. While picking tent pads includes some drainage calculations, there just was no getting around a gully washer of this magnitude.

We found out later that 3 inches fell in nine hours.

I put on dry clothes and turned into my sleeping bag for the night, and we all slept through the worst of it.

Personalities on any trip can mix well, like ingredients used to bake a cake, or repel one another like oil and water and create issues. Thankfully, my collection of misfit men complemented each other and breezed through camp chores.

They found reasons to tease in good nature, but maybe that’s sugarcoating it a bit. I have heard it said that men insult each other and don’t mean it, and women compliment each other and don’t mean it.

No one seemed to take the needling too seriously.

A genuine love of the outdoors is usually a strong common baseline as a matter of personal interest; if you love nature and want to be on this trip, chances are you will do well with others of a similar mind.

The trip veterans and the trip rookies mixed in glowingly and enjoyed the experience. I’ve made the trip enough times to have a certain nonchalance about it all, although I do my best to explain all the details to those who attend.

One trip newbie but BWCA veteran, a natural resources professional in Wisconsin, said his plan was “to pack all my necessities, hand over the reins to you, and let Jesus take the wheel.”

I’ve never had a stronger vote of confidence!

Sarcasm and deadpan delivery reigned and everyone seemed to enjoy the banter and the giving and receiving of grief.

Fishing seemed very hit and miss. With midsummer water temperatures, inclement weather one night, and a day of red flag warning winds, we did manage to keep the camp in enough fish fillets for all eight of us.

After the first dinner meal of steak with morels and a small side order of half-dozen fried smallmouth bass, we filled the remaining evening dinners with 30 walleye and five lake trout.

The pike were hit and miss with a few big ones caught or at least sighted. The lake trout were a little sluggish but showed up for half the group. The bass fishing was hot and heavy with some impressive pre-spawn female smallmouth caught.

The walleye were a mystery, despite our probing in deep and shallow water, until we were an hour from sunset until an hour past sunset.

Take it from me: if you have a day full of nothing but fishing leisure and your biggest complaint is the fish don’t show up until late in the day, it’s a wonderful problem to have.

As Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness trips go, this one had a little of everything.

Up and down fishing, up and down weather, and enough moments that get lodged in the long-term memory bank.

Technically a late-spring trip, the mid-June visit instead felt like mid- or late summer. The nights were warm, every day the water was worthy of a swim, and on one of the days, I needed to dip my ball cap in the water every half-hour to keep my head and upper body cooled off.

Most years, a dip in the lake would nearly take your breath away; these are deep, clear and cold lakes that harbor lake trout and ciscoes.

This year, the surface temperatures read 71 to 75 degrees, far ahead of schedule due to a two-week blast of unseasonably warm temperatures.

Wildlife gave us a good show in spite of the warm temperatures. A pair of Luna moths showed up on the morning our group departed from the end of the Gunflint Trail. A giant Promethea silkmoth appeared on one of the tents on the last day before we packed everything down.

A moose calf, likely following behind a mother that slipped past us, swam across a narrow spot in the lake. An otter came loping down a rock face and pushed out into the water, eyeing our canoe playfully before diving for crayfish.

Most importantly, mosquitoes and other biting insects weren’t overly oppressive, save for the moments visiting the latrine that was placed deeply into our wooded campsite.

In contrast to the drought our region is mired in now, we did experience quite a soaking rain during the trip.

On our first evening, after watching some ominous weather envelope our group and push us off walleye reefs and into camp, we did receive quite a rain-filled overnight. We put up walls on the screen tent and visited amongst our group by the glow of a lantern as the raindrops started.

When the rain failed to dissipate, we all surrendered after an hour’s time and hastily retreated to tents in the downpour.

While stepping into the tent, the bottom tarp floor felt like a waterbed. Water rushed over granite rock faces and flooded tent pads around the campsite. While picking tent pads includes some drainage calculations, there just was no getting around a gully washer of this magnitude.

We found out later that 3 inches fell in nine hours.

I put on dry clothes and turned into my sleeping bag for the night, and we all slept through the worst of it.

Personalities on any trip can mix well, like ingredients used to bake a cake, or repel one another like oil and water and create issues. Thankfully, my collection of misfit men complemented each other and breezed through camp chores.

They found reasons to tease in good nature, but maybe that’s sugarcoating it a bit. I have heard it said that men insult each other and don’t mean it, and women compliment each other and don’t mean it.

No one seemed to take the needling too seriously.

A genuine love of the outdoors is usually a strong common baseline as a matter of personal interest; if you love nature and want to be on this trip, chances are you will do well with others of a similar mind.

The trip veterans and the trip rookies mixed in glowingly and enjoyed the experience. I’ve made the trip enough times to have a certain nonchalance about it all, although I do my best to explain all the details to those who attend.

One trip newbie but BWCA veteran, a natural resources professional in Wisconsin, said his plan was “to pack all my necessities, hand over the reins to you, and let Jesus take the wheel.”

I’ve never had a stronger vote of confidence!

Sarcasm and deadpan delivery reigned and everyone seemed to enjoy the banter and the giving and receiving of grief.

Fishing seemed very hit and miss. With midsummer water temperatures, inclement weather one night, and a day of red flag warning winds, we did manage to keep the camp in enough fish fillets for all eight of us.

After the first dinner meal of steak with morels and a small side order of half-dozen fried smallmouth bass, we filled the remaining evening dinners with 30 walleye and five lake trout.

The pike were hit and miss with a few big ones caught or at least sighted. The lake trout were a little sluggish but showed up for half the group. The bass fishing was hot and heavy with some impressive pre-spawn female smallmouth caught.

The walleye were a mystery, despite our probing in deep and shallow water, until we were an hour from sunset until an hour past sunset.

Take it from me: if you have a day full of nothing but fishing leisure and your biggest complaint is the fish don’t show up until late in the day, it’s a wonderful problem to have.


Scott Mackenthun is an outdoors enthusiast who has been writing about hunting and fishing since 2005. He resides in New Prague and may be contacted at [email protected].  To see his original columns, see more photos and more of his outdoors reporting, follow this link to the Mankato Free Press website. https://www.mankatofreepress.com/sports/local_sports/mackenthun-trip-to-bwca-offers-little-bit-of-ev...

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