Author with a 5-pound-plus smallmouth caught out of Boulder River.
The Johnson Silver Minnow flashed across the surface of the reed bed until the reeds chasmed and, in one giant eruption, swallowed it whole.
A Northern pike nearly 3.5 feet long had grabbed the hook and was mixing surges toward underwater rocks with acrobatic skyward maneuvers. Then, just as he swung close to the canoe, he was gone. The line had snapped under the tremendous pressure he'd exerted.
That scene is now a decade old, but it is still as vividly remembered as this morning's cup of coffee or Sweetie Pie's kiss on my way out the door. This epic battle of man versus fish played out at the mouth of Boulder River, near Boulder Bay and on the fringe of Lac La Croix in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) along the Minnesota-Canada border.
Dave, my canoe partner, lost that toothy giant, but we managed to even the score a bit later on that morning with a 34-inch Northern and a handful of smallmouth bass that weighed between 3.5 and 6.5 pounds.
The events of that day covered just a portion of the happenings we experienced while on our pilgrimage to the Boundary Waters.
An inquisitive cow moose looking over the author's campsite.
Ely, Minnesota, represented the final vestige of civilization after our 21-hour drive from west-central Arkansas to venture into what our party co-leader, and one of my college professors, hailed as one of our final frontiers.
At Ely, we tried our best to nap in our vehicles while we waited to get a bite at a local diner and then grab a couple of Alice packs and other gear to begin the wilderness part of our journey.
On the drive into Superior National Forest, we saw pristine lakes, a white-tailed deer and a cow moose. We arrived at Entry Point 16 with a one-mile portage being our first step into a week-long sabbatical from the world.
Paddling and portaging our way into the Boundary Waters, we moved through Nina Moose River to Nina Moose Lake and then Lake Agnes before eventually -- near day's end -- reaching our chosen campsite on the bank of Boulder Bay just a short distance below the famed Warrior Hill.
The sights and sounds of this journey made the words of CBS newsman Charles Kuralt ring true. As he once said, "On the map, Ely appears to be at the end of the road. For people who love wilderness and beauty and solitude, on the contrary, it's at the center of the world."
Sunset looking across Boulder Bay of Lac La Croix.
At camp, we dined on fresh fish with virtually every meal prepared after the next morning's breakfast. The entrails and other remains became dinner for the seagulls and bald eagles in the area.
Our desserts of instant cheesecake were sealed in a plastic bag and sunk off the rock ledge into the chilling waters. Of course, our food stores didn't just sit in the tents. No, they were hoisted high into the trees with ropes to keep the bears from eating while we were away fishing.
Over that next week, we saw other people only twice while still in the wilderness area. Our closest encounters of the trip were with a lovesick male grouse who drummed day and night on the hill behind our camp and with a cow moose who apparently wanted to get close enough to read the labels on our camping equipment. There were also several squirrels around our campsite and a lake loon who idled by each evening to sound the bedtime alarm so we'd be rested before the next sunrise.
Before the dream could end, we spent one last day on Nina Moose Lake on our way back to civilization. There, we finally connected with the walleye that had avoided our hooks on previous outings. Plus, Dave and I probably caught more than 100 pike that day on soft jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, spoons and buzzbaits.
A day's catch from Nina Moose Lake.
Our final camp dinner was likely among the best that I'll ever savor. And, we had music for the event as well, as a North American bittern sounded in the shoreline reeds several yards away.
It was the late, great country crooner Conway Twitty who once sang about how hard it was to forget his love of "fifteen years ago." Well, it may only have been a decade since my lone trip to the Boundary Waters, but I am still in love with the BWCAW today.
This area, in my opinion, is among the most unspoiled wild places that can be found, especially within the lower 48 of the United States' 50 states. That's because much of the area is off limits to boats with motors. Furthermore, with the economic downturn affecting the way outdoorsmen spend their money, this could easily be termed a steal. There's not many places where a group of six could experience all of these things for only about $250 to $300 per person for a week-long stay.
That price estimate is for those do-it-yourselfers who have the canoes, packs and other supplies necessary for the trip. But, there are other affordable avenues for anglers, canoers and wildlife watchers who want to see this part of the North Country.
The long-time host of The Fishin' Hole, most recently seen on ESPN, Jerry McKinnis summed up the economics of a Boundary Waters trip this way: "If money is no object and you ask me about the very best bass-fishing trip, I'd send you to Ely. If you are on a tight budget and ask me the same question, I'd have the same answer for you."
Morning fog blanketing the waters of Nina Moose Lake.
Kris Reichenbach is the public affairs officer for the Superior National Forest, which administers and manages activities in the Boundary Waters. She has been with the U.S. Forest Service since 1977.
Asked about a venture into the BWCAW, Reichenbach said, "The best place to start to prepare for a trip to the BWCAW is the trip planner guide posted on our Web site or available upon request through any of our Superior National Forest offices. You can go to www.fs.fed.us/r9/superior and click on 'Contact Us.' There are also several outfitter-guides in the area that will help with trip planning and supplies."
Many of those outfitter-guides, in fact, are listed as cooperators with Superior National Forest at http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/superior/bwcaw/. BWCAW permits, which are provided on a first-come, first-served basis, can also be obtained through these outfitter-guides, the USFS official added.
Other information found at that Web page includes the permit request process, deadlines (if any) and details on what BWCAW visitors can expect. For instance, Boundary Waters permits limit party size to nine people and require a party leader name, up to three alternate party leader names and a phone number.
Reichenbach also noted that the peak season for day-use and multiple-day-use trips to the BWCAW is summer, particularly July and August. Considering that most of the country is often locked in the dog days doldrums at that time, a week with 70- and 80-degree highs sounds like a vacation in and of itself.
Finally, she said that the best route for those interested in going to the Boundary Waters is to Google. Much information is contained within the "BWCAW Trip Planner Guide," but there are many outfitter-guides in the area which offer a variety of services and trip packages tailored to the experience level and individual needs of the adventurers. Trips can be anywhere from easy to rigorous depending on the terrain, the amount of portages and the distances involved. So, keep that in mind when considering a BWCAW destination.