Road Trip to Quetico Grand Slam or Bust
We planned this Canoe Trip for a couple of years; we had been on a Quetico trip back in 2011. We wanted to try and catch a Grand Slam (all 5 species of fish) Lake Trout, Walleye, Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass and Largemouth Bass. And this time we wanted to drive from our homes on the West Coast instead of fly. Hence the Theme of our trip: Road Trip to Quetico Grand Slam or Bust.
The three of us (Patrick, Thomas & Dustin) set out from Brookings, Oregon on June the 7th, 2014 at 3 AM, heading for Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. Dustin drove his 2013 Toyota Camry to pick me up, and then we drove up to Cape Ferrilo and waited for Thomas, who was driven by his wife Katy, down to 101. We loaded him up and were off.
North on Highway 101 to Reedsport, taking Highway 38 to Drain, then Highway 5 north. Dustin drove the first leg; I drove the second shift, and Thomas the third. We rotated every 3 or 4 hours.
We stopped at Multnomah Falls to stretch our legs and take pictures of the falls. We continued east, up the Columbia River until almost to Hermiston, where we turned north towards Spokane. Eastern Oregon and Washington are sagebrush and agriculture with few trees until we reached the Spokane area.
From Spokane we traveled into Idaho where the country becomes hilly then steep and scenic, then mountainous. We crossed into Montana, the state with millions of construction cones. Every 20 miles or so they have cones set out for a construction zone, some of these areas have no construction, just cones for future construction, some actually do have construction.
Montana is a huge state and seems to go on forever. Butte, Montana has a big open-pit mine right in the center of town. Missoula, Montana was pretty. We saw a giant chimney at the Anaconda Copper mine. We almost went to the rest stop at the Anaconda Mine until we found out it was 6 miles from the highway.
We finally reached Bozeman, Montana at 9:50 PM. We checked into our not so clean Motel 6 and went across the street to McDonalds for ice cream….but they were sold out….Urg! We spent a fitful night’s sleep, with neighbors yelling at their barking dog, in the hall outside our room at all hours.
Sunday, June 8, 2014 We got up at 3 AM and headed east on Highway 94. All of Montana had construction going on. Eastern Montana flattens out as you go east, and finally we crossed into North Dakota.
North Dakota has rolling hills and no road construction cones. We saw buffalo alongside the road in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We continued across North Dakota and had lunch at an Applebee’s (the water tasted like pool water).
Finally we crossed into Minnesota. We got off Highway 94 and started towards Detroit Lakes, Hibbing, Virginia and finally arriving in Ely just after 9:00 PM.
The Dairy Queen had closed so we had ice cream at the custard shop across from The Adventure Inn where we were staying. The bugs at the custard shop were incredible with the clerk taking orders from behind a screen, and only raising the screen to pass out your order, then quickly shutting it again. The mosquitos were worse here in Ely than on the rest of our trip.
We had a great upstairs room at the Adventure Inn, with 3 puffy queen size beds: We had a great night’s sleep. The beds were wonderfully soft & comfortable.
Monday, June 9, I woke early, about 6:30 AM and walked into town to see if I could meet up with Dicecupmaker from the BWCA.com at Britton’s Café, I had a couple of cups of coffee, but he didn’t show. I tried calling him but it went directly to his answering machine.
After the boys woke up we rendezvoused at the Chocolate Moose for breakfast. We went shopping around Ely. Then out to Jordan’s Outfitters to meet with Mark Bland, get our bunk room, pack our gear, go over our maps, and pay our outfitting bill.
Then it was back to Ely for a couple of last items and dinner at Sir G’s…very good with our favorite the “cheese salad”.
While we were eating, Zulu, from the BWCA.com came in the restaurant and asked if I was “fishguts”. He had tracked us down looking for our Oregon license plates. We had a nice visit and he took our picture and said he would post it to the BWCA.com site.
We drove back to Jordan’s after dinner for a night in the bunkhouse with a 4 AM wake up call. There were no bugs in the bunkhouse, so we made our last calls home, and had a good night’s rest.
Tuesday June 10. We got up at 4 AM and had the Jordan’s pancake & sausage breakfast with orange juice and coffee. We loaded in the van with our packs and Mark Bland drove us out to Crane Lake. The drive went smoothly; The Echo Trail is a well maintained gravel road. It took us about one and a half hours to get out there.
We stopped at Anderson’s place in Crane Lake and Mark checked in for our tow. We drove down to the Anderson’s dock, unloaded our stuff and waited with 2 other parties (9 people & 3 people). We were all headed to Bottle Portage.
The party of 9 was going into the BWCA and loaded on one boat and our 2 parties of 3 loaded on a second boat.
We headed to the Canadian Customs Station on Sand Point Lake. The Customs Officers looked at our passports, wrote down our names, asked me where I was from and how many days we were staying in Canada.
Then we got back on the boat, crossed Crane Lake, up the Loon River to the Beatty Portages. The water was very high at the rapids beside the portages. These mechanized portages have railroad type tracks and a carriage for the boat; all passengers get out and walk the portages. From the portages the tow boat took us across Lac Lacroix to the Ranger Station on the First Nation Indian Reservation.
When we docked the boat and were getting out to pay our camping fees and get our permit, the three guys from Indiana looked shocked….they thought that they had already paid their fees at Anderson’s and had left their wallets in the safe at Anderson’s…
We went in and paid our fees, viewed some flip cards about the Quetico regulations, and purchased some souvenirs. The Ranger’s last name was Ottertail, was very peasant and asked what lakes we were planning to visit, charged my card for our camping fees, and wished us a good trip.
The group from Indiana followed us and the Anderson’s boat driver paid their fees.
We loaded back on the boat and continued on across Lac Lacroix to the pictographs on Irving Island, past Warrior Hill and were dropped off at Bottle Portage. Bottle Portage was crowded with 15 people on it, crossing back and forth. Some had head nets on, some going right, some left, some fast, some slow with two separate landings at the east end of the portage. Bottle Portage was wetter than usual, in all, quite a circus.
We paddled up Iron Lake, behind Island 4, to the small portage around the “shoot” below Curtain Falls. There were 3 boats fishing below the “shoot” for walleyes. They had leach lockers.
On to the Curtail Falls Portage where the same 15 people plus a few more, going back and forth…lots of people with head nets, lots of BWCA base campers with tables and ice chests and extra equipment.
Curtain Falls was huge and we had to be careful with the current above the falls. Some people were putting in right at the top of the falls, but we elected to go another 100 feet further from the edge.
We paddled across Crooked Lake to the 164 rod portage into Argo Lake. Someone had told us it was not a bad portage, but that must have been in a dry year, because this year it was a mess. It had it all: muddy creeks flowing down the middle of the portage at both ends, hills, rocks, bugs, mud holes. Both Thomas and Dustin thought they were going to die on the second trip across.
After recovering at the Argo end we set off for a campsite on Birch Island. We decided to troll for Lake Trout on the way. I caught the first Lake Trout of the trip; a nice medium sized one that we invited to dinner. This campsite on Argo was so nice that we decided to spend two nights. Our dinner was steaks and Lake Trout with mashed potatoes.
Wednesday June 11. We had eggs and ham for breakfast. We slept in. After breakfast we went fishing, organized the packs and went fishing again. We had a nice campfire and dinner of smoked Zup’s Polish Sausages with macaroni and cheese and peas.
Thursday June 12. We got up fairly early and had the last three eggs, bacon and bagels for breakfast. We then packed up and headed north to Dad’s Lake. It was a short portage into Dad’s and we trolled along the north shore. I caught another Lake Trout and took a picture of Thomas holding it up.
Now we were at one of the nastiest portages of our trip, 180 rods into Cone Lake. First the portage went uphill with water running down the trail. There were boulders and two streams making the trail a swamp. It was a mess! As we paddled across Cone Lake it started misting lightly. Then as we portaged into the un-named pond before Elk Lake, the mist increased. As we started across Elk, we started looking for a spot for lunch and to get out of the mist.
We spotted a campsite in the narrows and just as we started to land and un-load “The Storm” hit… gale force winds almost blew the solo canoe into the lake. Then it really started to rain…we tried to set up the tarp…urg! It didn’t work, too windy. We set it up in another location. We hunkered down under the tarp…wind and rain howling… it got cold, teeth chattering.
We bailed from that spot. Thomas found a sheltered hallow where we set up the tarp again and started a fire….Brrr…we were soaked, the fire helped, we set up the tent and changed out of our wet clothes and got into our dry sleeping bags. It was 36 degrees in the tent.
A few hours later we got up and I cooked dinner, Beef Stroganoff with Sriracha Sauce. Wind was still blowing. We went back to bed.
Friday June 13. When we woke there was some wind but not a cloud in the sky. We had peasant eggs and hash brown potatoes for breakfast. We strung up some lines and put everything out to dry.
We decided to alter our route and cut out Ted Lake and Earl Lake, and head directly to Brent Lake.
It was a beautiful sunny day as we fished the northern part of Elk Lake. I caught a big 4 pound Smallmouth Bass. Thomas also caught a bunch of Smallmouth Bass. Dustin caught a nice Northern Pike and had another take one of his lures. We continued back to the small portage back to the Pond and the 35 rod portage back into Cone Lake.
When we reached the portage into Brent we met up with Jeff Burns from the BWCA.com and his party. They were making their second pass over the portage and gave us warning about the steep spots, the bugs and the stick marking the 4 foot deep mud hole they had found just before the corduroy.
I slipped and fell on this portage, on a slippery piece of pink granite. I wasn’t hurt, but ended up with my pack on top of me, and I had a time trying to un-buckle it. This was a bad portage, but not as bad as the portage from Dad’s Lake into Cone.
Arriving on Brent we fished the Walleye hole just after the portage. Dustin caught a nice 23 inch Walleye and Thomas caught a nice Lake Trout.
The campsite on Brent that we wanted on the west end was occupied so we paddled down towards the “narrows” and found a vacant site. Dustin and Thomas cooked up a great “Shore Lunch” of Walleye and Lake Trout. Yum!
We set up camp with a tarp by the fire in case of rain. Thomas made our first Cheese Cake (strawberry) of the trip, to last for 2 dinners. We had chicken gravy on mashed potatoes for dinner, and cheese cake for dessert.
I called Elizabeth on the satellite phone; I had to call twice due to the bad connection. A few clouds started coming in around sunset, but it had been a clear sunny day.
Saturday June 14. We woke up to wind and light rain. The tarp we had set up was backwards for the wind direction so we took it down and put it up as a wind break. I started cooking bacon on the stove, but it was low on fuel and it was going to take forever. Then the wind increased and the tarp was not working… Thomas found a sheltered hallow…so we moved camp into the sheltered spot….I continued cooking breakfast, Biscuits and Gravy from Cache Lake with bacon.
It was a cool and breezy day with an overcast sky. We spent most of the day by the fire. We did go out into the back bay from camp and fished. I caught a Lake Trout and a Smallmouth Bass on a Northland Mimic Minnow (orange) while trolling…Who knew?
The wind made it difficult to fish and Dustin had a hard time in the solo canoe. We made it back to the campfire for lunch of fruit leather, pilot biscuits with peanut butter and jelly.
After lunch we sat by the fire and it rained off and on. Dustin built a log cabin out of sticks with a roof and all.
We had Spicy Thai Chicken for dinner- not too bad…and the second half of the strawberry cheese cake for dessert.
Sunday June 15. We got up early, packed up and headed towards William Lake. The wind had lessened enough to allow us to paddle back west on Brent to the William portage. We ran into 2 guys from the Jeff Burns party. They were going to William to fish. The William portage was mucky like all the other portages on this trip. There was Moose Poo on this portage (only moose sign we saw).
We saw that the 5 star campsite was occupied, so we circled the lake looking for an empty site! The only site available had no tent pad, and no leval area, and had an ant hill in the middle of it. So! We decided to go to Wicksteed Lake.
With the high water we were able to slip thru the beaver areas on the first 2 portages on the river between William and Darky. Then Thomas spotted something on the side of the river and told me to get my camera ready….just before Cloverleaf Lake Dustin said he saw a beaver….but it wasn’t a beaver, it was a bear! It swam across the river in front of us. Thus was started the legend of the Beaver-Bear. J
When we got to Darky, it started rain heavily with wind and waves from the south… We were soaked to the skin…we kept going. Across the miserable portage into Wicksteed Lake, looking for a campsite….Finally! On one of the islands in the center of the lake an empty campsite!!
It had 2 fire pits at opposite ends of the island, one was sheltered. Perfect! We set up camp at the sheltered end, tent, tarp, and built a fire….changed out of our soaking wet clothes. We sat by the fire and watched the storm, great fleets of grey clouds marching past and white capped waves drifting by. Finally patches of blue sky show, just before dark.
Thomas caught a nice Northern Pike just before dinner. For dinner we had Turkey Supreme….OK, turkey gravey with noodles and Sriracha Sauce….not too satisfying…we had Apple Brown Betty for dessert. Then we sat by the fire, warm and cozy, a few clouds drifting by and the wind lessoning.
Monday Sunday June 15. We got up early, packed up and headed Sunday June 15. We got up early, packed up and headed June 16. The wind did not go away. It blew all night. We got up late to beautiful sunshine with blue sky and puffy white clouds, and wind, lots of wind. We had a leisurely breakfast of pancakes, bacon and Canadian bacon.
We dried out all our wet stuff. We had tuna and tortillas for lunch, took naps and lounged around camp. What we really wanted to do was go fishing, but the wind was constant. We fished from shore and all caught the same bass “Fred” over and over. Dustin did catch a Northern Pike. We had an excellent dinner of Chicken and Dumplings from Piragis, we added an envelope of chunk chicken from Kroger’s that really made it good. We had some vanilla pudding for dessert.
After dinner Dustin and I went fishing, I caught a nice sized Northern and Dustin caught 2 Smallmouth Bass and lost 2 lures. When we got back to camp the wind stopped completely and there was a beautiful sunset. Later Dustin set up the Go-Pro camera and took pictures of the sunset. I took pictures of both the sunset and at the campfire.
Tuesday June 17. We got up early, packed up camp and headed out. Crossing Wicksteed I caught a Big Smallmouth Bass that broke my line and took my “Bill Dance Fat Free Shad”. We passed the campsite at the end of the big peninsula and fished our way to the portage to Little Gratton Lake(or James Lake on some maps). Thomas caught a big Northern just before the portage.
After portaging into Little Gratton we started catching Largemouth Bass. We caught a lot of Largemouth Bass. Here, there and everywhere, on all sorts of lures: Skitter-pops, Countdowns, Gitzits you name it.
Thomas and I checked out the two campsites. And both were open. We set up camp at the site we camped at in 2005 with Elizabeth.
As we unloaded the canoes Thomas spotted a huge Snapping Turtle where we had been unloading. I trailed a lure in front of him and he showed some interest, then a small Northern grabbed my lure….and the Turtle grabbed the Northern and bit his tail almost off! Wow! Makes you think twice about swimming barefoot.
We had some peanut butter and jelly on tortillas for lunch, and headed to Gratton Lake. We found the short lift-over portage on the left side of the connecting stream and carried the canoes over.
There were so many Largemouth Bass that we started to keep count. For the day, June 17th, 2014, Dustin- 100, Thomas- 78, Pat- 55 for a grand total of 233 Largemouth Bass in one day. The fishing was superb, the weather perfect, a Quetico day to remember.
We fished our way back to camp. Dustin and Thomas went over to the east side of the lake. At some point Thomas put his rod down and a Largemouth grabbed his lure as it dangled over the water and splash! His rod and reel were gone. The fish with the lure in his mouth continued to swim around and they could see him. They tried all sorts of methods to get the rod and reel back but in the end, Thomas had to go swimming. He finally lifted up a log from the bottom of the lake and there it was! A miracle!
Dustin finished his personal record of 100 on Little Gratton. Later Thomas made dinner of Turkey Tetrecini and peas. We did the dishes, and as the last glow of sunset showed in the sky, we headed to the tent. No rain fly on the tent this night.
Wednesday June 18. We got up at 6:30 AM. It was cool with a breeze. Dustin started a fire to burn some of the trash. We had a breakfast of two kinds of bacon and a peasant omelet.
Then we packed up and loaded the canoes and headed to the “Goat Portage” or “Gratton Death March”. We did this portage in stages. First we got everything up the very step and rocky section about 200 yards. Then we leap-frogged thee rest of the way. The portage was not too bad. The trail was in good condition most of the way, with a little swamp at the Pond Lake end. It is marked as 220 rods but I think it is much longer than that.
At Pond Lake we loaded into the canoes and paddled to the Pond to McAree portage, but were able to paddle right thru. Dustin trolled for Lake Trout across McAree, while Thomas and I just sailed with the wind at our backs for once.
We were looking to camp at the McAree Rapids Campsite, and it was open! First we went fishing at McAree Rapids and Thomas caught a nice “eater” Walleye. We had a lunch of 3 bean chili with Snickers Bars, Gorp, and cool aid. We went through our stuff and divided our stuff from Jordan’s, so it will be easier tomorrow.
Thomas and Dustin went trolling on McAree for Dustin’s elusive Lake Trout, but Dustin caught another Walleye. Thomas and I went trolling on Brewer Lake, Thomas paddled, but we didn’t catch a thing….The rapids are beautiful. The roar of the rapids fills our campsite with noise.
With two Walleyes we decided to break out the Cache Lake Fish Chowder. It took 20 minutes to cook, Boy! It sure smelled good! We sat around the stove stirring. Dinner was delicious! We also had the second half of the cheese cake we made on Gratton and a Cache Lake Chocolate pudding…Nummy! We had a small fire and went to the tent as it was getting dark.
Thursday June 19. We got up after sunrise, had two kinds of bacon and coffee and hot chocolate. We were just killing time before we headed down to Brewer Rapids. We hope to get a 11 AM tow, but we may be stuck waiting till 1 PM. We called Jordan’s on the satalite phone but had a bad connection and called back and left a message?? We sat by the fire, packing, fishing, waiting…
Finally we took off, down Brewer Lake, past the fast water of McAree Rapids, to the portage around Brewer Rapids. We were not sure where the portage take out was…We checked out the tilted pink granite slab where we had launched our canoe in 2008, but it seemed too steep. Thomas spotted the take out, just above the beginning of the rapids. We paddled towards it, but misjudged a bolder, and bumped into it hard, almost dumping us into the lake; Thomas saved us by reaching down and pushing us off from the brink of disaster.
After recovering our composure, we crossed our last portage arriving at Lac Lacroix. When we got there the mosquitos were terrible. We were waiting for the Anderson’s tow, so we loaded up the canoes and got away from the bugs.
First we went fishing, and then we just bobbed along the shore to stay out of the bugs. After a while we heard an engine…and around the corner of the bay in comes a boat, but it is only a Lac Lacroix guide with two fishermen. We had hoped for a 11 AM pick-up, but it was 11:30 AM, and still no sign yet of Anderson’s.
Dustin found a lure in the drifting logs along the back of the bay, a Bomber Fat Free Shad! So, Thomas and I joined in the search, we found a float first, then two lures and just as Thomas spotted a white popper, the Anderson’s Boat showed up. We abandoned our lure search and paddled over to the tow boat.
I especially was impressed with our pick-up at Brewer Rapids. We were 100 feet away from the portage, and the Andersons driver just pulled up to where we were, put the nose of the boat on a rock, and loaded us directly from our canoes……good stuff!
The ride across Lac Lacroix was rough because of the large waves from the wind blowing the length of the lake. Our driver was going a bit too fast when we rounded a point into the waves and the sudden banging of the boat unseated some of us and the older gentleman in the other party ended up on the floor with a startled look on his face. The rest of the tow went slower and was OK, with the 2 mechanical portages and boat traffic on the Loon River.
We stopped at the main dock at Crane Lake where the U.S. Customs Officer inspected our passports. This Customs guy was quite grumpy and seemed to have a chip on his shoulder; we ignored his rudeness, answered his questions, and got back on the boat.
We were back to Anderson’s dock in minutes, where Mark Bland was waiting for us. We loaded our gear in the van, took a few pictures and headed back to Ely. Mark had some cold sodas for us.
When we got back to Jordan’s we separated our stuff, loaded the car, paid our Satellite phone bill and said our good byes to Mark….we were missing one of our Crazy Creek Canoe seats…must of got left on the Anderson’s boat. Mark gave one of his seats to replace ours. As we departed I thanked Mark for all the excellent service he gave us.
We headed into Ely and the Adventure Inn for hot showers and soft beds. We had our same room with 3 Queen sized comfy beds. After showers we headed to the Ely Steakhouse. The highlights were the green salad and the rib eye steak. Later Thomas and I went to the Dairy Queen for some ice cream.
In regards to our quest for a Grand Slam (all 5 species of fish) Lake Trout, Walleye, Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass and Largemouth Bass. Thomas got his Grand Slam! Dustin missed by 1 Trout, and I missed by a Walleye. But as a group we were totally successful! We had a good time and all caught personal records of Largemouth Bass.
Friday June 20. We got up at 3 AM to start our drive home. Rain and fog in the Minnesota, taking the same back roads to get to Fargo, then Highways 90 and 94 to our motel in Butte Montana.
North Dakota was beautiful and we stopped at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There were rainstorms and dark thunderheads as we passed thru Bozeman and Deer Lodge. We stopped at Little Caesar’s in Butte and grabbed a couple of pizzas on the way to our Best Western Motel. This motel was much nicer than the Motel 6 in Bozeman. We had a good night’s sleep.
We got up at 3 AM to continue our drive home. We traded off driving as we work our way across the rest of Montana, Idaho, a corner of Washington and into Oregon. We stopped for lunch in Hood River at a nice Dairy Queen.
We make good time and arrive home in Brookings about 7:30 PM. First we drop off Thomas at Cape Ferrilo then me ………Thanks Dustin!
TRIP LOG: Submitted by Patrick Brewer, July 2014