It was a brutal day yesterday on Wood Lake. Myself, friend Paul and trusty sidekick Delilah headed down the .58 mile long portage, dancing around the mudholes and getting my oar locks tangled in the brush. I have an aversion to leaving tracks wherever I go (childhood training), so I add to the complexity of crossing the portage with speed and no trace. As far as I know, Paul was leaving tracks as big as Sasquatch, but I have my one obsessive regimen and stick to it.
Delilah was running in front of me the whole way and leaving tracks all over the place. She would also turn left or right on the portage and disappear into the green with nary a moving leaf and fade away like the “ghost who walks”. I was bit concerned because there are wolf tracks in the mud but I was trusting fate not to turn ugly on my cute little buddy. I would get down the trail about 200 feet further and from behind me would appear the near-silent, brown streak (sounds nasty) as Delilah would blast past my feet charging down the trail. By the time we made it to the end, she ran the entire length of the portage at least two times.
Finally at our boats, I set down my pack and oars surveyed the state of our watercraft. The lake level had dropped and both boats were dry-docked. I had to bail our boat out and when Paul came down behind me, we both shoved it out to float. Delilah piled on in and we headed out to sea.
It was supposed to be a nice day with a rougher morning turning into partly sunny conditions. As I leaned on the oars up the lily pad river, we began to see scattered wild rice, now ripe for the picking as it is September. Unfortunately, the rice was scattered all over and not that high so the harvest from Wood Lake was going to be sparse. Usually at this time of year, the rice bed looks like a wheat field in Kansas, but the high water slowed down the crop for this season.
We pressed onward and the wind made it’s presence be known. The forecast said 10-15 mph winds. I think it was a tad faster than that. I tightened the band on my comfortable fitting cap so I wouldn’t have to chase after it sinking slowly in the waves after a blast of wind. I could feel my bald pate getting a little balder due to the blood loss, but I can live with bald. I can’t live without a cap. Bald guys get cold without a cap.
Finally got out on the lake and the serenity of the wilderness befell us. It befelled us in the form of sideways rain and screaming wind. 10-15 mph winds, my butt!
We continued on all towards Hula bay in that general vicinity, on one small island, we found an illegal campsite where the fireplace had been used recently this summer. I always get irritated at the flagrant violations of the law such as people, many times from the southern portion of Minnesota, tend to commit. While I cannot be sure it was a “one who doth protest in favor of the Boundary Waters law and restrictions”, I have invariably witnessed many “environmentally proactive” members of Minnesota’s metro areas bend the inconveniences of the law to their liking. Apparently, the rigid laws only apply to everyone else. That irks me. I think nothing of confronting those who break the laws they scream and sue to protect.
No, you cannot come and go freely from any BWCA entry point for any reason. Once you are in for your wilderness canoe trip, you are in for the whole ride. No coming out of Wood Lake and going to Ely or even Red Rock to re-supply for ANY reason. If you leave the confines of the land of angels with trumpets, you are through with your trip, period. The permit in your pocket is null and void. So, choose wisely, grasshopper. It is supposed to be a federally designated wilderness, not a state campground. In for a penny, in for a pound. Period. The mere fact that SO MANY of the Wood lake campers from the Twin Cities violate this rule is a clear and concise indication of how poorly the US Forest Service Kawishiwi District is doing in issuing those overnight permits. They claim to be telling people that leaving the BWCA voids one’s permit, but the people I talked to have done it regularly and for years with no mention given while picking up their BWCA permit in the Ely ranger station. Somebody is lying to somebody.
No, you cannot simply camp just anywhere you would like in the BWCA, no matter how cool looking the spot. Being caught with an illegal fire, (one outside the established USFS grate) is going to cost you a bundle if you get caught – and I hope you do. I’ll even try to help you get caught. Laws good for the goose are good for the gander. If the campsite you are at does not have both a biffy and a USDA firegrate pounded into the ground, you are at an illegal campsite. Don’t try that “well, there was a fire grate there” crap with me. You can pull the grate out of the ground and put it where you want, but can you pull the biffy? I think not. Be warned – if I see you camping on an illegal campsite in the Land of Rules, I’m calling in a drone strike with the USFS. I’ll even use my cell phone to call it in like a spotter in Iraq. Cellphones work on Wood Lake. Paul called his mom in Ohio to help her figure out her computer printer which was having some issues. The call was clear as a bell. Meet the modern tech of the wilderness world. It’s kind of neat, but I can’t say that I’m super-thrilled with it. It sure will make calling in a drone strike on illegal campers easier.
After lunch and enjoying the spectacular view from our little island, we headed back out into the wind and waves. Before I left, I had to shoot the images and rub it in to the readership of this blog that you really ought to be here instead of stuck in the city somewhere being a slave to the electronic world. I’ve not missed even one tiny bit of the irony in that statement. But for the electronics, you would not be watching or even reading this right now. But, watching and reading this digital display of splendor is a very two-dimensional endeavor. I was the one actually standing there taking it all in for posterity. If I were you, I would make it my calling to choose my destiny to do this sort of stuff maybe even regularly. Look in the distance of the video and see how many other humans you can see. Watching it on a screen only gives one warm fuzzies. Actually experiencing it for real can give you hypothermia. It is, however, a life worth living.
Paul, Delilah and I loaded up into the boat and headed homeward in search of any kind of fish. Generally, as a rule, I tend to look for walleyes because they can be the hardest fish in the lake to catch. Then, every other species we catch is a bonus because I like northern pike, bluegills and bass. When I was a growing up, we were never taught that any particular fish is less desirable over another. You have to learn how to eat northerns and it is pathetically easy to do. Smaller bass taste better than bigger bass. Any kind of trout is good. Perch are delicious and bluegills are probably my own favorite out of all of them with northerns being very close to the top of my list. But, walleyes are a challenge and we look for them. So down the lake we headed, towards home with spots that I needed to try along the way.
After Paul picking up numerous itty-bitty bass and throwing them back we finally approached a point where the the northwest wind was whipping past and around it. In a location such as that, the wind-driven water current tends to dump food around the corner into calmer waters or at least right on the edge of the ripping waves and the calm eddy. You want to fish there especially if it has been doing this all day. In the next video, I describe this spot in front of my bow, and when we pass through it in to really rough water, this happens:
So don’t just sit there being a sissy. Get out from behind this computer screen in the big city and come stay at Northwind Lodge in real woods. We now have WIFI in the cabins so you can sit inside if it’s too windy. Or, you can charge out into the wild blue yonder, feeling your biceps strain against the roaring waves and test out your stamina on a 210 rod portage with fish in your pack. You don’t know how alive you are until you almost kill yourself having fun in the wilderness. You now can do both and still sleep in a comfortable bed at night in a nice cabin on Jasper Lake. Yes, I know – beds are for sissies. Call me a sissy – I don’t really give a crap. I told Paul in the boat that I thought I was becoming a curmudgeon. He laughed as he said, “Becoming?”