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Sawbill Newsletter Archives: August 2009
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « July 2009 | September 2009 »

8/31/09 - My brother Jay and I found a walleye hole early one morning on Knife Lake during a recent canoe trip, our first one together in eight years. He put two on the stringer in a span of ten minutes. I had one get off the hook next to the boat just as I was about to net it. Ten minutes later Jay hooked into another one and landed it successfully. Just as he was getting it out of the net and unhooking it, I heard him say four unsettling words: Where is the stringer? My brother...probably not a multi-tasker. "I thought you had it," I said. "I did." "Well then, where did it go?"

The next few sentences that came out of our mouths shouldn't be heard in mixed company. Finally, Jay regained some composure. "There it is!" His finger directed my eyes down into eight feet of crystal clear water toward a thin white line lingering on the bottom near shore where the boat had drifted during the landing process. The fish were drifting there languidly too. He started taking off his shoes, but hesitantly. "No, I'll go," I said. I was wearing sandals and lightweight nylon clothing. He had on canvas and cotton. I knew he wasn't as canoe-nimble as I and trusted myself to make a smooth open-water exit better than he would, plus, I had to redeem myself after losing a fish next to the boat.

My sights fixed fast to the stringer below, I stood up in the bow, placed my hands on opposing gunwales, picked my feet up and pushed the canoe out from under me. I remember a cool splash and the sound of churning water. My eyes opened and found, not three feet away, a blurry vision of a stringer of walleyes. I grabbed the rope and sprang off the lake bottom toward the surface.

"I got it!" I screamed, as I exited the water. I had the stringer of fish held high above my head triumphantly. He chuckled. "Stop yelling and get back in the boat. You're going to spook rest of the fish."

I swam toward shore with the fish and Jay met me there with the canoe. I gave him the stringer. "Watch it this time." I got in the bow and turned around and looked at him. He started laughing. I started laughing. Realizing what had just happened, we couldn't help it. After sharing a sigh of relief, we fished another fifteen minutes or so until the sun peaked over the treeline and then we headed in for breakfast. The most satisfying kind.

This Boundary Waters trip with Jay was a long time coming. He brought me on my first trip, through Sawbill, almost eight years ago. For a long time I thought I owed this trip to him. But, no. Fishing stories, a view of the Milky Way, moon rises, paddling through whitecaps into headwinds, loon calls, the smell of a campfire and a pancake breakfast during blueberry season as the dew burns off the leaves around the campsite - these experiences aren't a currency to be owed. They are something greater, whether a tradition, a pastime, a job, or a way of life. Our debt is not to each other, but to the land. And we owe it to ourselves to keep coming back. - Lee

My half dry clothes in my hands after we returned to camp. A stringer between us. All smiles.

Jay's friend Wally picks up a nice pike on Kingfisher Lake.

The snapping turtle that tried to steal our dinner on Hanson Lake.

Campsite on Hanson Lake. Thanks to Levi Rinker for taking pictures.

8/29/09 - Cool, wet conditions in late summer have prompted some visually arresting weather phenomena lately. On a recent trip in the Lady Chain Ronald Olson and friends experienced it. Olson's traveling companion Brad snapped a few choice shots. The breaks in the clouds provided just enough highlight to send Brad home with a nice new album for his photo blog.

We've had plenty of rain lately, yet it appears the clouds might be breaking. Things are looking bright for Labor Day weekend. The 5-day extended forecast calls for cool clear nights and warm sunny afternoons working up to the holiday. - Lee

A picturesque paddle through the fog.

A flock of pelicans gathered on south Alton Lake during a layover from the annual migration. No doubt, they heard about the good walleye fishing.

A rainbow shines against a foreboding backdrop.

8/25/09 - The cool wet summer has left the BWCA Wilderness in beautiful condition as we move into the end of August. Everything is lush and green. People are still finding berries and the fishing has held up well due to cool water temperatures.

There is an extra week in the season this year because the Memorial Day weekend was the earliest possible and Labor Day weekend is the latest possible. Almost all entry points are open for next week, so if you are dreaming of a spur of the moment Boundary Waters trip, now is the time.

September permits are still wide open too, once we get past the few days leading up to Labor Day weekend. Many people feel that September is the best time for a wilderness canoe trip. The weather is still mostly summer-like, the foliage is gorgeous, fishing improves, there are no bugs and fewer people.

You can check permit availability and reserve entry permits online at:

As always, feel free to email or call us for any help you need with planning. - Bill

8/21/09 - Just thought I would let you know I wore my favorite Sawbill t-shirt while visiting the Taj Mahal this summer. - Steve Hagen

Taj Mahal8_21_09.jpg

8/20/09 - As a contrast to the first time travelers below, we received this nice email from one of our most experienced groups:

It's good to hear from folks entering the BWCA for the first time. It's impossible to have a bad experience - especially with support from a good outfitter. We're not sure how long we've been coming through Sawbill - perhaps 25 years - but we would wager we have about the oldest average age of any current group (we avgd 70 this trip). When I look at the pictures, we don't have that nice fresh look of Leah and Josh - we look more like escapees from a nursing home. But some things are constant, 5 a.m. fishing, fresh fish and home fries for dinner, clear lakes and peaceful days.

Over the years, we've come to expect the unexpected. Seeing a flock of sandhill cranes overhead and a large cat (we think a cougar) were special this year, not to mention the eagle flyby we had on our way out of Jack Lake. As always, we appreciate the great Sawbill service. As we introduce our grandchildren to the BWCA, we hope there will be many more seasons. - Ron Holtman

Assistant chefs Biggio and Briggs.

8/19/09 - Last week, we highlighted the canoe trip of first-time BWCA visitors Joshua and Alethea "Leah" Huyser. Josh and Leah offered to help us describe the familiar Lady Chain Route through the eyes of campers brand new to the BWCA. What follows are excerpts and photos from Josh and Leah's recent canoe trip.

Day 1 - August 10, 2009. We arrived at Sawbill Outfitters early on Day 1 with a car full of miscellaneous gear. As we unloaded our gear and began to pack up, we felt a bit lost. Although both of us had backpacked before, we were unsure how to approach the unique nature of a canoe trip. With some help from Adam at Sawbill, we soon had our gear packed and headed to Kawishiwi Lake. At the lake shore we loaded up our canoe, took a couple pictures, and headed off into the back country. As the Sawbill van backed away, we faced the wide open country ahead of us. It was incredibly beautiful. We felt both awed and a bit trepidacious. All that water made us feel like fish out of water, or, more precisely, man out of land. But we paddled on, amazed by the pristine surroundings. A brief sprinkle hit as we entered our second lake, Square Lake, but it passed quickly. Before our first portage, Josh threw in a fishing line at Square Lake and caught a small mouth bass--the first fish of our trip. We then landed and began to unpack for our first portage of 20 rods. It was a short portage, and we were a bit discombobulated as we unloaded the canoe. But we figured out a system, hiked the short distance, and shortly relaunched. The sun began to shine, we settled into a routine for portaging, and in no time, we arrived at our destination--Lake Polly. Lake Polly is a stunning alpine-like lake--clear water, small islands scattered throughout, surrounded by large pines. We chose a campsite on the northwest edge of the lake near the mouth of the Kawishiwi River. The campsite was perfect--set out on a rocky point, it was private, quiet, and serene. That night we unpacked and threw in a few fishing lines. As the sun set, we prepared for bed. We fell asleep hearing only the loons across the lake--something we would hear for the remainder of our trip.

Leah wets a line on Lake Polly.

Day 2 - August 11, 2009. We woke up to a sunny morning on Lake Polly. We no longer felt out of place, but rather woke that morning feeling happy and at home. We had decided to spend two nights on Polly and started Day 2 with an early morning fishing trip. We launched the canoe, and before even leaving the bay where our campsite was located, Leah caught a northern approximately 23 inches in length. With dinner secured, we went back to the campsite to make breakfast. Our campsite was full of blueberry bushes, and we gathered blueberries to mix into our pancakes. Yum. After breakfast, we heard a splash. Just across the inlet--no more than 80 yards away, a cow moose and her yearling calf were wading into the lake. After a few minutes the moose headed back inland, and we decided to explore Polly. We spent the morning paddling around the lake, fishing, and collecting firewood. When the afternoon got hot, we went for a swim. Josh even found a good-sized cliff to jump off. The day quickly passed. After a good dinner and a nice fire, we went to bed.

A fitting end to a gorgeous day on Lake Polly.

Day 3 - August 12, 2009. After another morning of blueberry pancakes, we launched before mid-morning on Day 3 headed for Phoebe Lake. The day was full of shorter portages and lots of paddling. It was another warm and sunny day, and when we arrived at Phoebe in late afternoon, we were tired and hot. We found an island campsite--the one we had hoped would be available. As we quickly unloaded our canoe, a bald eagle took off from a tree about 40 yards away on the island, disturbed by our landing. We then headed for a swim to cool off. After swimming, we decided to fish a little off the rocky edge of our island campsite. We both had some small fish, but then Leah hooked a big pike. It was longer than her arm! But, alas, it was too strong for her line, and got away. We again settled in, made dinner, and built a fire. As we sat by the fire at dusk, we heard a new sound. . . Wolves! First one, then many, coming from the north shore of the lake. They quieted down and we got ready for bed. Our tent had a no-see-um top, and we were able to see the stars. The stars were thick and bright, and we saw so many shooting stars as we lay there. Then, suddenly, as the moon rose, we began to hear the wolves again. We fell asleep that night listening to them.

A lazy day on Phoebe Lake.

Day 4 - August 13, 2009. We woke early on Day 4, but we were groggy and tired from the previous day. We made wild raspberry pancakes as we packed up for a short but arduous trip to Beth Lake. While we knew the day would be short, it also held our longest portage of the trip--285 rods. The sun was warm, even early in the day. The day was an effort, but we got through it just fine. And when we arrived at Beth late that morning, we were amazed. The water was stunningly clean and clear and we could see deeper than we had in other lakes. Hot and tired, we chose a campsite located on a point along the north shore. The lake was quiet except for an occasional holler--the sound of other campers jumping off cliffs on the eastern shore. We were inspired, and went for several swims that day to cool off and to collect water. At dusk, we headed out in the canoe for our last evening of fishing. Josh caught several small mouth bass on live bait. On the south shore, we were joined by a beaver. It swam along side our canoe before thumping its tail and splashing away. Soon, the beaver was joined by another, both swimming in zig-zag patterns and making splashes. We were perplexed until we saw the beaver den and heard the sounds of a baby beaver coming from inside. We moved away--leaving the beaver family in peace. The sun was setting dramatically across the lake as we pulled our canoe in for the evening. That night we sat by the fire, stunned that the week had passed so quickly. While we talked about hamburgers, french fries, ice cream, and pie, we were both sad to be leaving the BW the next morning.

Josh celebrates his completion of the 285-rod portage with a granola bar.

Day 5 - August 14, 2009. Our last morning, we woke early and packed quickly. We had our routine down. We quickly crossed to Alton--a large and stunning lake that was glassy that morning. We reached the portage from Alton into Sawbill Lake, and began to run into other paddlers just heading out for their BW trips. We said hi, wished them a good voyage, and, I think, we were jealous they were just beginning their trips. The portage into Sawbill was quick. We paddled slowly to our exit spot, but it inevitably approached. It was still early when we loaded our gear up one last time and carried it to Sawbill Outfitters, where we were greeted by the friendly staff. After returning our gear and sharing some stories, we were soon on our way down the gravel road, headed back to town. About twenty miles later, the road suddenly turned to pavement and somehow, that seemed to mark the end of the adventure. If one looked, in the right light, at the right angle, just perhaps, one might have seen a tear in the corner of Josh's eye. Back in town, we had hamburgers for lunch--as we planned our next trip to the BW.

Back at Sawbill after a successful trip.

Thanks, Josh and Leah, for sharing your trip with us! We look forward to hearing many more of your BWCA stories in the years to come.

8/17/09 - Blueberries! For months now, the woods surrounding Sawbill have been filled with loads of green, unripened blueberries. With the colder weather we experienced in late July and early August, the berries were maturing more slowly than normal. We feared that, as in some years past, cold weather and other factors could stunt an entire crop of berries.

Thankfully, our recent warm, wet weather turned things around in a hurry. Berries are quickly reaching maturity and the berry picking fanatics have taken notice. On one trip to Kawishiwi Lake late last week, I spotted over 20 people harvesting berries on a well-known patch along the remote gravel road.

Today, Sawbill crew members Katie Nulicek, Tess Dornfeld, and Gerrit Duys drove to their top secret berry patch, harvesting several pounds of blueberries. Today is August 17, 2009, and blueberry season is here. A little late, but certainly better late than never.

Gerrit and Tess prepare for harvest.

Pay dirt.

UPDATE: A thank you to Clare Hansen for whipping up some delectable blueberry pie.

Some of the freshest blueberry pie I've ever tasted.

I like pie.

8/15/09 - Sawbill was visited recently by former crew members Sandy Zinn (1991-94) and Michele Thieman (1997-98), and future crew member Anders Decker. Thanks for a great visit, guys.

Anders Decker (SAWBILL CREW 2027?!?!?!?!?), Michele Thieman, and Sandy Zinn.

8/12/09 - With summer finally starting to feel like summer, Sawbill crew members can frequently be found logging hours at the Sawbill Beach Club. On hot days (today could reach 90 degrees), the business is often left in the hands of three people: the General Manager, the Storekeeper, and the Rentals Manager. As for the rest of us, well, a beach towel, book, and bathing suit are all the work we can handle.

From left, Clare, Kari, Caitlin, KT, Brian, Dan, and Ellyn at the Beach Club.

8/11/09 - Phoebe, Chief of Outfitter Security, perched on a boulder in front of the store on this beautiful, sunny, warm morning.

Queen of all she surveys.

8/10/09 - Sawbill crew members pride themselves on knowing the fine details of the canoe routes in the Sawbill area. We all have our favorite lakes, campsites, and top-secret fishing holes. Indeed, experience has its value; but we are constantly amazed by the fresh perspective of first-time BWCA visitors.

In that vein, first-time BWCA campers and Sawbill customers Joshua and Alethea Huyser of Minneapolis embarked today from Kawishiwi Lake on the Lady Chain Loop. Joshua grew up fly fishing and hunting in Montana, and Alethea counts herself an expert on camping in Iowa. Check this space in a week for a chronicle of a first-time trip on a familiar Sawbill route.

Joshua and Alethea Huyser moments before launching on to Kawishiwi Lake.

Canoeing is fun!

8/8/09 - August is here, and the boys of Sawbill are hitting their fishing stride. Carl, Lee, Adam and Nathan took advantage of a break in the outfitting action to head deep in the Boundary Waters in search of northern pike. After a few portages, a pair of bushwhacks, and at least one Nathan face plant, the boys settled in for a leisurely, pike-filled afternoon.

Carl points towards the destination while Lee looks on.

Carl, Lee, and Nathan navigate the creek bed.

Made it. Nathan looks for structure while the others rig up the poles.

First fish. Carl shows off his fishing acumen with a pretty northern caught on his first cast.

Nathan, although the least experienced pike fisherman of the group, arguably had the most fun.

8/7/09 - Last week, Sawbill guide Dave Freeman joined a group of Norwegian college students studying climate change on a Boundary Waters canoe trip. One afternoon, students Miaken and Kjersti decided that fresh fish would be a great addition to the evening menu of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and s'mores.

Lake trout, the only species of fish on the lake where the group camped, are easiest to catch in the spring when they can be found near the surface; but with a little patience and some luck, lakers can be taken in the middle of the summer. Miaken and Kjersti worked together to land a beautiful trout, which they named Edward Frost.

If you would like to try catching Lake Trout in the summer, try trolling a medium size spoon slowly behind your canoe with a lot of line out. Stop every few minutes to let your lure sink. Lake trout are usually found in the deepest parts of a lake during the summer where the cold oxygen-rich water they need can be found in the hottest part of the summer.

Lake trout go great with peanut butter and jelly.

8/7/09 - Former Sawbill crew member Laura (Ter Beest) Strubbe and husband Ezra brought their five-week-old baby Micah for his inaugural Sawbill visit this week. Micah's proud grandparents Jim and Rachel Ter Beest have been hosts at the Sawbill Lake Campground across the trail from the outfitter since 1985, and have been visiting Sawbill to escape the scorching Omaha, Neb., summers annually for 36 years. Both of Jim's and Rachel's kids, Laura and Nathan, respectively, worked here at the outfitter for a few seasons, so the Strubbes and Ter Beests anticipate Micah will someday put in his application to become a Sawbill crew member too. - Lee

Micah Strubbe and his mom Laura.

The Ter Beest family visit (left to right): Belinda Ter Beest, Nathan Ter Beest, Jim Ter Beest, Tori Strubbe, Rachel Ter Beest, Carter Strubbe, Ezra Strubbe, Laura Strubbe and Micah Strubbe.

Sawbill Crew, 2027?

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