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Crab Lake Area Revisited


Article contributed by: Voyageur North Canoe Outfitters

John & I had been waiting for our fall trip for what seemed like forever. Even the thought of the one mile portage in didn't dampen any anticipation. Finally the 8th of September was here!It was a mostly sunny day with a bit of a breeze. Lorin met us at the Burntside boat landing with the towboat. After packing all the gear, fishing rods, people and dog in the boat, we were off to the Crab Lake portage entry. The portage was long as usual but in pretty good shape. I grabbed the food pack, Lorin grabbed the gear pack, John loaded up the canoe & personal pack and off we went down the trail.

As soon as John & I hit the water the wind was in our face, which, if you have read previous trip stories, is a usual for our trips. We paddled west on Crab for about 1.5 miles and portaged into Saca. The trail here is about 90 rods and mostly all up hill. Saca is a small lake and we crossed it in no time. The next portage was 80 rods and led into Hassel Lake. This portage was fairly flat.

We saw a bit of wind damage from the Fourth of July windstorm on Hassel. The 140 rod portage into Battle has lots of deadfall but most of it was cut and moved off the trail by the Forest Service crews. We had planned to camp on Battle, because it is known for good walleye fishing. When we reached the end of the portage at about 2:30 p.m., we saw two guys in a canoe. John said "Hi!", and asked if they were camping at the only site in Battle. They said, "yep", and John gave out an "aw shucks" gesture. They said that since it was getting later in the day that we could camp with them if we wanted. They were leaving the next morning and said they almost never see anyone back here. We knew there was a site on Phantom and told them we'd try there, but if it was full we'd be back.

The Phantom site was open and since it was starting to drizzle on & off, we set up our tent right away. Next put up was the tarp and then we had a late lunch sitting under it. We munched on some wonderful Hudson Bay bars which are put out by the McCrea bakery in Ely. They are wonderful and filling, consisting of oats, honey, dates, walnuts, sunflower seeds and lots of more good ingredients. We studied our maps and planned the next day's travel and exploration . The wind started to blow and the drizzle turned to rain so after lunch we took a half hour nap.

We decided we'd stay in Phantom for two nights since Phantom was sort of in the middle of some of the lakes we wanted to explore. Around 4:00 p.m. we investigated the area for a while. The rain had stopped but the wind got stronger. Since it didn't look like we'd go out paddling, we organized camp and got everything ready for dinner. We had brought a two burner Max Expedition stove (lightweight, folding), we cooked up the steak and chicken fillets in our frypan and whipped up a large batch of mashed potatoes. Usually we like to grill the steak over a fire but fires were restricted to 6:00 p.m. to midnight due to Forest Service rules for the storm/downed tree areas. Since it was only 5:00 p.m. and we were hungry, we decided not to wait.

At 7:00 p.m. it was getting dark. John began to get sleepy right after dinner and went in to the tent for the night. Usually he doesn't retire so early but the day before he had driven in from Chicago and needed to recuperate. Since I wasn't tired yet, I stayed up. One problem I encountered was the fact that I had forgotten to bring a book to read! I rummaged around in the pack and found a first aid booklet and read it cover to cover. After that it was around 9:30 p.m., I was bored and decided to call it a night. I had a hard time falling asleep and lay there trying to identify what birds or creatures were making all the noises out in the woods. It must be sort of like counting sheep because the next thing I knew John was crawling across me to get out of the tent the next morning.

Breakfast was a quick one, a couple bagels with cream cheese, some of the McCrea trail cookies (another of their wonderful trail treats!) and a cup of hot coffee. Thursday's weather looked like it was going to the same as the afternoon before, windy and rainy, so exploring the Phantom Lake portage was chosen over doing too much paddling and fishing.

When we had portaged from Battle into Phantom we had noticed an old trail that was perpendicular to the portage trail. John had done some studying and knew that the trail was an old road which had led to an old logging town. We followed it for a long time. There was a number of downed trees from the 4th of July storm. Sometimes we had to go off the trail to get around but mostly we tried to stay on the path. The path narrows and widens again at regular intervals. At about 3/4 mile in, we spotted an old bottle, coffee can and an old pot. We knew we weren't too far from the town. Another 1/3 mile we saw an old logger's hat stuck on a tree. We took several pictures of the artifacts but didn't remove them. We continued along the trail, finding a number of criss crossed large downed trees that we climbed over. About a mile and 1/2 in, we came across a pond like area. Seeing the many enormous beaver dams here, we knew this pond area was not always there. It was too deep to walk so we had to turn around.

About half way back, John spotted a "flag" (white tailed deer). Our dog Kacey flushed a couple grouse and one of them sat up in a birch tree and peered down at me. Since he didn't seem to be in any hurry to move on, I took out my digital camera and took a picture. As we got back to the area where the two trails crossed I took a shot of John standing by the roots of a few uprooted "storm" trees.

The area was interesting to hike around. We took note of how many trees had been toppled and though the area wasn't as "pretty", it was quite interesting. We also were able to see quite far into the woods and spotted a number of scavenging squirrels, hurrying with their pine cones. We also saw three hairy woodpeckers. There were a lot of varieties of small and large "mushrooms", yellow, orange, white and red. With so much rain this year and the downed trees, the 'shrooms' were living well.

We checked out Boulder Lake. There is a misleading trail that can be mistaken for the portage trail into Boulder. After finding a huge amount of downed trees and not much of a trail we got back into the canoe and paddled about 50 yards to the left and found the actual trail. Boulder Lake has one campsite and it is on a rather large island and faces west.When we got back to Phantom we began to fish. Phantom is very shallow. About 20 minutes into fishing it began to rain and we headed in to camp. We adjusted the tarps and sat underneath, drinking some hot coffee. A canoe came by with two guys. This was only the second canoe we had seen so far. We pointed out the way to the Boulder Lake portage, exchanged a few fishing stories and then they went along their way.

It was around 4:30, still raining and windy. With nothing much else to do, we headed to the tent to take a short nap. Our 'short' nap turned into a major nap as we woke up at 11:30 p.m. Being much too late to make dinner we snacked on a few items and went back to sleep. That night we really made up for some of the sleep we missed this summer!

On the third day we woke up early. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal, we packed everything up and headed to Crab Lake. There is a short portage into a small lake named Meat and then another short one into Clark. We were going to try for some largemouth bass in Clark but decided instead to push on to Crab. Before entering Crab we took the uphill portage into Glimmer Lake just to see what it was like. Boy I am glad we didn't have all the gear with us on that portage. It reminded me of the trail in between Mudro & Sandpit. The portage between Clark & Crab was about 140 rods and mostly downhill. We found a nice campsite on the southwest side of the lake. Not late evening sun but we were looking forward to a nice sunrise. We quickly set up camp and went out to do some fishing.

We had seen a couple points just south of our site and thought they might be good for fishing. We didn't get much action at first but then a nice smallie hit my hook. Not long after that John got a hit. After that we caught a number of smallmouth and a couple small northern pike. I had more success than John but we both did pretty well. John was using a jighead with a white, double-tailed body and half a crawler. I was using a green Phelps floater, split shot, half a nightcrawler and working right off the bottom.

It was getting towards 5:00 p.m. & we headed back in to prepare our dinner. Tonight was lasagna, one of my favorites. We had brought a 4 man meal because we knew we'd be sharing the extra with the dog!

On the last day of the trip we needed to meet the towboat on the Burntside end of the Crab Lake portage at around 3:00 p.m. We wanted to get a lot of fishing in before that so we got up early, took down camp and explored some more fishing spots. For the next several hours we tried about 3-4 different spots on the midwestern shore. We caught several fish, nothing huge but plentiful. Our last spot to try was just about a quarter mile north and east of the portage, near a nice campsite on a point. We didn't find as much success there but we knew that it is a good spot in mid July.

Around 1:30 we headed towards the portage. We figured we'd do the trail early and have some time to fish Burntside a bit. But when we got near the end, Andy was already there. It seems we were going by my watch which was never reset to the "Spring ahead" mode. Oh well, at least we were still on time!

Andy helped us load up the towboat and brought out the cooler with the 'barley pop'. He drove across Burntside while we drank our refreshments. We left our car at the entry point lot so we headed home to shower and change before we went in to the outfitters.

While we didn't have the best of weather, we were still glad to get away for a while. As the saying goes, "A bad day of fishing/canoeing is still better than a good day of working!"