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Monday, September 5, 2016

The trip of a lifetime part 1

The North Woods, Wilderness...

Let's talk scale for just a moment. Almost everyone is familiar with the Great Smoky Mountain National Park that straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. The Appalachian Trail that runs north south thru the park is about a hundred miles long and the park itself covers just a bit over a half of a million acres. Wow, pretty big right? Well consider this. Superior National Forest comprises over 3,900,000 acres and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness itself is over twice as big as GSMNP. It extends nearly 199 miles along the international boundary. The BWCAW's northern border is  Canada's Quetico Provincial Park, also managed as a wilderness area, and together they form a huge wilderness area of approximately two million acres. Great glaciers carved the physical features of what is today known as the BWCAW by scraping and gouging rock. The glaciers left behind lakes and streams interspersed with islands, and surrounded by of rugged cliffs and crags, gentle hills, canyon walls, rocky shores, and sandy beaches. Approximately 1175 lakes varying in size from 10 acres to 10,000 acres and several hundred miles of streams comprise about 190,000 acres (20%) of the BWCAW surface area and gives you the opportunity for long distance travel by canoe. Mind you I said canoe for this is true wilderness, no motors, no float planes, you either walk it or float it or you don't get there at all. Period. And it holds the animals of wilderness, bobcat, lynx, fisher, pine martin, mink, otter, weasel, black bear, giant moose and and the iconic animal of wilderness the wolf. In fact the BWCA has always been a refuge for the last large wolf population in lower 48. Minnesota has an estimated wolf population of somewhere close to four thousand, more that the rest of the lower 48 combined!
To see this grand wilderness and fish for smallmouth has been number one on my bucket list for a long time now. A couple years ago my wife said we better do this while we are still physically able to do so. So this trip has been a couple years in the planning stage. After countless hours researching on the internet I finally settled on the Knife lake region. Knife Lake is a huge lake that takes 5 portages to get to. Plenty that the fishing is supposed to be fabulous but not so horrible that a couple old farts could still get back in there and get back out alive. From Knife we did day trips to adjoining lakes and the trip turned out better than I could have ever hoped for. To start the trip our outfitter (Canadian Border Outfitters, great people BTW) took us to the very end of giant Moose Lake and dropped us off with the promise to pick us up in 8 days. Supposedly it had been hot and the fishing had been poor. But the weather had cooled a bit and hopefully... 
Actually fishing started out slow during the day. Very slow, slow enough that I was a bit worried about catching some fish to go with dinner. I decided to do what I'd been doing for a month back at home, fishing a big buzzbait with a big curly shad replacing the skirt after dark and right at daylight. I really wasn't prepared for what happened next. Three years ago I'd been lucky to catch my personal best smallmouth out of a SW Ohio river, a 21 inch fish I figured I'd never top. Well I think I topped it two or three days running culminating in a 22.5 monster with a big deep belly that left me speechless. The pictures really do not do some of these fish justice they were so fat that they look shorter than they really were. This worked out swell leaving the day free for Brenda and I to explore. We saw beaver and otter and even had a fisher run thru the trees at the back of camp one day. Eagles were an hourly occurrence and loons were everywhere. We even had one dive and chase a fish right under the canoe one day passing between Brenda and I. 
The last couple days we camped at the mouth of a big marshy bay on Birch Lake. Here otters feed every morning twenty feet from camp. So close you could clearly hear them crunch crayfish as they feed. Thi bay had largemouth in abundance as well as pike. Weeds grew in the deep water and you could let your lure drop for a few seconds and then slowly retrieve it back eliciting violent strikes from pike. Once I caught a small pike maybe 16 or 18 inches long and had a huge pike try to eat it right as I was trying to land it. Another maybe 36" pike hit right at the canoe and went airborne jumping as high as my head and crashing back into the lake a foot away from me seated in the canoe. I also found that right in front of camp was a favored deep water hangout of big pike. I rigged up Vic's biggest curly shad on a jighead with a wire leader and would fish it slow here occasionally snapping it free fro the weeds. On one cast I snapped it free from some weeds and something different hit. The rod bent into the cork and the fish bore down obviously much heaver than the "big" pike I thought I thought I'd been catching. Several time I'd lead it into shallow water only to have it turn and streak back into the deep. Brenda said I was actually shaking after I finally managed to land this 42" pike of a lifetime. Another highlight in a trip filled with memories enough to last a lifetime. One of the greatest highlights was sitting by the fire one evening when Brenda turned to me and said that looks like a spotlight miles away. As we watched a huge curtain of northern lights covered half the night sky shimmering and moving like a giant celestial curtain blowing in the wind. Brenda commented it was like we were inside a giant lava lamp. I so did not want to leave...

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