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Woodland Trails: A trip to the Boundary Waters

I couldn't believe Josh was into a big fish so soon. We had just finished setting up the tents. I hadn't even gotten my clothes unpacked when I realized Josh had taken off in his kayak and was fishing already. It was getting close to suppertime. Brats would be OK but walleye would be better! Then he yelled, "I see a white tip on the tail! It's a really big walleye!!"

It didn't take long to get camp set up. All we had were two tents, a couple of clothes lines and a water filtration device. In all of previous trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, I had just gone out in the middle of the lake and dipped a bucket down a couple of feet to get good safe drinking water. The problem (parasites and such) is usually just on the surface. Josh wanted to try out his new filtration system. It was called the Katadyn "Base Camp" system.

Using simple gravity all you need to do is paddle out a ways and dip the soft side container into the lake and then shut the top opening with a wrap around strap that also hung it up in a tree. Below we had a collapsible water jug that was easy to keep full of fresh clean water that gravity fed down a tube right into the big jug.

Of course, I stopped doing what I was doing to watch Josh fight the fish. He was less than 75 yards from camp right out in front of us. I smiled as he grabbed the 25-inch walleye by the back and lifted it into the kayak -- time to get the cornmeal and butter out.

But before that happened I was out in the canoe fishing near him. He had taken the big "eye" on a jig and Gulp 5-inch fake leech. I had carried in some real leeches but the fish wanted nothing to do with my real food; they loved his fake ones!

We boated and released several nice smallmouth bass and kept a few edible northern pike that would make a great shore lunch. That is the best thing about a wilderness trek -- every meal is a shore lunch!

As dark set in, the loons began to serenade our camp. It was time to grab the extra canoe paddle and fillet some fish. With ice that would last for five days, we had the luxury of fresh veggies and all kinds of treats we packed in case the fish weren't cooperating.

I had talked to one guy who had warned me that the bugs would be horrible going in this late and that his friend had fished Lake Alice for five days and caught only five little fish. But on this trip the fish were everywhere and the bugs were nowhere to be found. Maybe it was the lack of foliage that kept the bug numbers down, but we have more bugs here at home than we had in the BWCAW!

The next morning we were up early and on the water looking for fish. Josh was in his kayak and I was in the canoe. We had little portable Hummingbird 210 depth finders on each craft. Josh's used AA-batteries and I had mine hooked up to my little 12-volt gel battery I use ice fishing. Neither of us came close to running out of juice in the five days we were there. It was so nice to mark fish, the depths and see all the structure.

Alpine Lake is a deep lake with many islands, humps, bars and steep drops.

Josh started out with his fly rod that first morning with a popper created by my friend, Tim Holschlag, otherwise known nationally as Mr. Smallmouth. His popper, The Blockhead, has to be the ugliest bass popper ever made. Looking at it you would never think you would catch anything on it. But once it's on the water it comes to life. With a tremendous popping action and lifelike skittering ability, it attracts fish like a dinner bell is ringing. One fish in particular got Josh's attention. Any smallie pushing 19 inches would get your attention too!

After a good fight, the fish was released and back in Alpine to fight again.

We took a few more walleye in 17 feet of water although we marked many more deeper that weren't actively feeding. The pike were everywhere and the smallies were abundant, ample and active. Erin was tossing a Yozuri deep diver and she was catching more smallies and pike than she had ever taken in her life. It was fish on constantly for both us of with several doubles to make it even more fun! There is something magical about smallies that jump more often and never stop fighting even when landed. I love those fish!

The problem was there was just too much lake to explore. Looking at the lake structure on our maps, every place on the lake map looked fishy and they were. We were having a problem of too many fish meals for Erin and Megan. They wanted other stuff too, something that Josh and I reluctantly agreed to.

Megan and Josh took off on a couple exploring adventures and they also caught all the fish they wanted. Minnow raps were the best producer I had. I brought crawlers along too but the walleye were finicky as they often get in summer and preferred a trolled deep-diver hard bait like the raps. I know that if we had gotten to the BWCAW earlier in the year the walleyes would have been easier to pattern but they're never as easy to catch as smallies and pike in midsummer.

After a couple of long days on the water, camp life was friendly. A warm fire and a good meal was all anyone needed to relax. But I wished I had brought along a hammock! With loons calling in the distance and a moon in the sky, life was good. Sleep came easily after a day in the outdoors exploring those wild waterways that the boundary waters offered, especially when you are this close to the Canadian border! Off in the distance grouse drummed until 11 p.m. and put me to sleep as if I was at home in my own bed.

To be continued...