Anderson: Heavenly moments in the Boundary Waters

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 20, 2014 - 7:59 PM

Robert Bjerken of Minneapolis, in the bow, and Tom Ellsworth of Excelsior, in the stern, admired the stringer of walleyes that Katie Ellsworth of Minneapolis took Tuesday in the Boundary Waters.

Photo: Dennis Anderson •,

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The idea for the paddle into Moon Lake gathered steam about midday, and soon we assembled needed provisions.

We’d strap a couple of canoes to a boat, and run up East Bearskin Lake to a slight opening in the shoreline, and from there portage the canoes into Moon, in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, also toting paddles, rods, reels, tackle, life jackets and bait.

The portage would be 115 rods long; up and down, and muddy.

High in the sky when we crossed into Moon, the summer sun on the return trip would appear only as an orange bruise on the western horizon, the portage by then a mere footpath beneath a darkened canopy of pine, spruce and aspen.

With luck, we’d lug back a sampling of Moon’s walleyes, their flanks dark green and golden, stained by the tannic waters that meet and flow along the Minnesota-Ontario border. Those waters over time have been crossed by the Sioux, the Chippewa, the French Canadians whose strong backs built Europe’s early fur trade, and now by boaters and paddlers — young, old and in between.

Weeklong trips into the BWCA are ideal, and those lasting longer, better still. But time is a luxury unequally distributed, person to person, and even summer to summer.

So when canoe country beckons, with its campfires and shore lunches, still waters and rapids, loons and mergansers, bear and moose, and lob pines in the distance, you get up and go, putting your shoulder to a paddle and enjoying piecemeal, if necessary, what once were weeklong excursions.

“See you on the other side,” John Weyrauch said, his canoe’s padded yoke balancing the craft easily on his shoulders, bow to stern, as he began the hike from East Bearskin to Moon.

For 20 years and more, John and his wife, Jodi, have passed the third week of July on East Bearskin Lake, staying at Bearskin Lodge, along the Gunflint Trail in Minnesota-Ontario border country.

During that time, their kids have grown up, family dogs have come and gone, and come again, and countless fish have been caught, filleted, fried and laid on plates alongside hash browns and summer ears of corn.

Also, a cadre of friends have been made; families who like the Weyrauchs are bonded by a common desire during the third week of July to bivouac near the wilderness in relative comfort, while day-tripping to a variety of lakes, seeking fish.

Over the years, kids who once were infants became toddlers, then finished high school and college, and now are marrying and having children of their own.

The constant in the lives of each is this midsummer rendezvous. It’s then that pilgrimages north are made, and members of these now quite-extended families settle in once again on East Bearskin, memories of years past welling up as they arrive.

Last week, for a few days, I joined the group, as did my wife, Jan, and now, on this portage leading to Moon, I watched as Jan zipped up her bug jacket and stepped ahead, paddles and other gear in tow.

Ahead of us, in addition to the Weyrauchs, were Tom and Nancy Ellsworth of Excelsior and their daughters, Anne of Falcon Heights and Katie of Minneapolis. Also along were Anne’s husband, Matt Levine, and Katie’s boyfriend, Robert Bjerken of Minneapolis.

Four canoes in all, we would appear a small flotilla, and the plan was to fish with slip bobbers and employ leeches to fool walleyes on their evening bite.

Or we wouldn’t fool anything.

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  • As the sun set over Moon Lake in the BWCA, the last canoe was ready to be portaged over a hilly trail leading to East Bearskin Lake, which lies partially within the wilderness area.

  • The 115-rod portage leading from East Bearskin Lake to Moon Lake is a hilly and at times wet trail. Day-length fishing and paddling trips often are taken into Moon Lake by guests staying at Bearskin Lodge.

  • Jigs, leeches and slip bobbers helped fool walleyes this past week in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

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