Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Day 4 & 5 in the Quetico: Darky Lake

We ate blueberry goulash for breakfast on our second morning at Darky Lake. Doc will never live this one down! He’d been advocating pancakes for breakfast since we first talked about this trip back in the winter, not liking the suggestion several of us made for oatmeal every morning. Doc woke up this morning, all pumped for pancakes, telling us he’d dreamed about them. Nice guys as we are, JB and I paddled out to a spot on the peninsula to the north, where there was an acre or so of blueberry bushes. However, picking wasn’t easy as some old bruin had already been through the patch, leaving only spotty areas that hadn’t been picked along with his calling card: bear poop. But after 20 minutes or so, we had gathered a quart or so of berries and paddled back across the water for breakfast. Doc and HM set out to fix breakfast as I poured myself a cup of coffee and took my book down by the water to read. I didn’t finish a page before being distracted by the commotion in the kitchen. The pancakes weren’t cooking right. Soon, all six of us were around the stove, trying to figure out what it the world was happening. Best we can figure is that something was left out of the mix (we’d repackaged everything, so we no longer had the directions). In the end, we all had a plate of gooey slop dotted with blueberries. With enough syrup, it wasn’t bad.

I’d gotten up early this morning, having dreamed about work and a new director that I’d recently hired. Our finance manager was all upset because there were some glitches in her paperwork. Then I realized that today is her first day at work! If there is a problem back there, I realized there’s nothing I could do about it from here. Since I was already up and it was a little before 6 A.M., I took my camera and paddled out into the fog to watch the sunrise. Afterwards, I explored around the eastern shore, including the site where we’d later get our blueberries. I came back into camp at 7 A.M., arriving as everyone else was waking up.

We spent three nights camping on the east side of Darky Lake. The campsite was wonderful, with a nice rock fire pit and even a rock table. The lake was deep and every afternoon, I walked just a few feet out onto the rocks and dove in the water for a refreshing swim. The site also provided us with gorgeous sunsets and allowed us the opportunity to explore and fish adjacent lakes. Our first day at Darky, we paddled across the wide lake and portaged 60 rods into Ballard Lake. Supposedly, Ballard was teaming with delicious walleye. But the six of us, all fairly accomplished fishermen, didn’t catch a single walleye. However, we did catch a bunch of bass, my largest being an 18 ½ inch largemouth. I cleaned several of the bass and built a fire on the shore at lunch and roasted them over coals. We ate the bass with rice left-over from the night before.

That evening, as we enjoyed a nightcap at sunset, I put on a plug on my rod and started casting out onto the lake. Although I didn’t get a strike, I noticed that when the plug hit the surface, the droplets of water kicked up in the splash which appeared, for just a split second, to be red, taking on the color of the setting sun. I kept casting, not worrying about catching fish, but wanting to observe the phenomenon.

On our second day at Darky, after our so-called pancake breakfast, we paddled back across the wide lake again. Coming to the islands along the western bank of Darky Lake, we were treated to our fourth bald eagle sighting of the trip. The bird sat perched on a dead tree, watching us as we watched and photographed it. After shooting a dozen or so frames of photographs, we paddled to a 70 rod portage into Wickstead Lake.

Wickstead is a magical body of water, dotted with numerous small rocky islands. It's supposedly the site of some of the best northern pike fishing in the Quetico. As with Ballard, what is and what is suppose to be didn’t pan out for us. None of us caught any northerns, although I did lose one, but we did manage to catch a few bass. After lunch, we took a long nap on a mossy island. In the afternoon, “mare’s tails” appeared in the sky, a warning sign that the weather may be changing or at least a front was moving through.

Coming back from Wickstead, that afternoon, BV, acting on information he’d gathered from a family camping on a island on the west side of Darky, caught a 27 inch lake trout. HM cleaned the fish and gave me six large fillets which I seasoned with Zest and laid thin slices of lemon on them. I then wrapped the fillets in foil and placed them into the coals for about 10 minutes. It was a delicious meal, complimented by mashed potatoes and banana pudding (the instant variety).

After another wonderful sunset, and JB and I paddled out onto the lake to watch the full moon rise. At the last minute, I decided to take a rod. I put a jitterbug on the line and after watching the moon, we paddled over into a little cove where, I started casting the jitterbug along the bank and reeling it toward me. The lure wiggles across the top of the water, imitating a large bug. On my fourth or fifth cast, something struck at the lure, but missed. I kept reeling and a few feet later, the fish jumped again, taking the lure in its mouth and running. I yanked the rod to set the hook, but I think it was already set. The bass gave a great fight, making two jumps out of the water, before I was able to get him into the boat.

“Do you have tape with you?” I asked JB?
“Nah, don’t need one, he’s 19 ½ inches long.”
“I don’t think he’s quite as big as the one I caught yesterday, and he was only 18 ½,” I responded.
“He 19 ½; I know he is.”
“Think I should put him on a line and take him back to camp to measure?”
“No, let him go; he’s 19 ½ inches I tell you.”

I freed the hook from the fish’s mouth and gentle slipped him back into the water. He took off. The mosquitoes were eating us up and we headed back into the camp. Doc was already in bed, but JB woke him up to tell him that his 19 inch bass was no longer the largest in the bass pool we had going…

The Crew: Front row: Doc & HM, Second Row: BV, JB & TM, back row: ME

Epilogue: Before we paid out the pool, I confessed that my 19 1/2 inch bass wasn’t measured which allowed Doc to win the pool. I’m not sure JB has forgiven me.

Click here for my post on packing for the trip
Click here for my post on getting to the Quetico
Click here for my post on Day 2: fishing at Curtain Falls.
Click here for my post on the long haul from Rebecca Falls to Darky Lake


  1. I had similar experiences with the fish up in the Boundary Waters. I never could catch them where they were supposed to be. I just thought that everyone told me the wrong places to keep the good ones to themselves. The one time we did catch lots of big fish was just by dumb luck.

  2. How did that lake get the name of Darky?

  3. Murf, not a lot--$2 a piece so $12

    Ed, the one group that we'd talked to who caught a lot of trout in Darky had a depth finder... much of the lake is well over a 100 feet deep,s o catching the lake trout required knowing at what level the fish were at. We didn't have a depth finder!

    Diane, it was!

    Kenju, I assume the name came from the the lake being so deep (and not as a racial slur)

  4. It sounds like the trip was necessary for some work decompression aside from the other beneficial aspects.
    I would have kept casting to see the red droplets too.
    It looks and sounds like you have a great group of camping/fishing buddies.

    I'm so happy you had a picture taken of you and Richard before he left.

  5. So you didn't have Walleye for dinner? Or that was yet to come? :)

    Btw, you could burn coals there? Wouldn't it be easier to pick up firewood from the forest and use that to cook?

  6. Epiphany, the red drops were neat!

    Mother Hen, the only walleye we had was at Rebecca Falls on day 2--we caught more walleyes than we could eat--I got 7 (smallmouths are more fun to catch, however, they're real fighters). As for the coals--I was waiting for the wood to burn down some--to become mostly coals--before putting the fish over it to cook. No, we didn't haul in coal

  7. mmmmm blueberries :)

    Lovely pics! Nice to confess before accepting the win. Many wouldn't.

  8. Continued cool.

    It sounds like you left out the eggs from the pancake batter, BTW.


  9. Kontan, it wasn't that great of a gesture, since I would have only gained 10 dollars. If I want to steal, I'm not going to go for petty larcany. :)

    Sherman, the mix was suppose to be just add water, but obviously it wasn't that kind and without the package, it remains a mystery as to what happened, but you're probably right, we had the wrong kind of package.

  10. You are one person who makes fishing interesting. Not that I am ever going to try. Definitely not in the muddy waters of river Yamuna.

    Or on second thoughts, maybe I should go and drown mysef.

    Blueberry Goulash seems yummy!

  11. My son and I spent a long while focusing on the blueberry goulash. He likes the looks of it, so if you can e-mail me the recipe, I'll improvise. ;)

    The last pic is my favorite. I wish I had your kind of freedom to explore the outdoors the way you do. Please keep journaling. I smell a book in the works.

  12. Another fabulous tale. Sounds like ya'll had the best time. These memories will last you forever.

  13. Wow , Sage, just makes me want to be there!

    The blueberry "goulash" sounds... interesting - though I think pancakes would have been somewhat better! (And I don't exactly know what goulash is...!)

    This was my favourite bit: "That evening, as we enjoyed a nightcap at sunset, I put on a plug on my rod and started casting out onto the lake. Although I didn’t get a strike, I noticed that when the plug hit the surface, the droplets of water kicked up in the splash which appeared, for just a split second, to be red, taking on the color of the setting sun. I kept casting, not worrying about catching fish, but wanting to observe the phenomenon."

    Sounds amaaazing, I can almost see them in my head.

  14. Gautami, don't go drown yourself! How's fishing when you get upstream, in the foothills?

    Scarlet, we have no recipe. We were using what we thought was just add water pancake mix and blueberries--obviously it was something else, like add eggs and milk

    tc, you're right, they will

    leila, goulash is just a phrase for a pile of stuff mixed together. True goulash is an Eastern European stew that generally has stuff like ground beef, cabbage, tomatoes, etc in it. Yes, the red drops of water were enchanting

  15. Sounds like you got the pancake mix that I got a while ago. When I found the label... the mix had expired a year before LOL.

    Sounds like a wonderful trip. I'm all for watching red splashes instead of fishing, myself.

  16. Sounds like a wonderful trip! Especially loved the top photo postcard. I think I envy you on this trip. :)