By Joey Monteleone
After seeing an outdoor show about Quetico, this wonderfully wild spot, I did some research to try to put a trip together for the summer. This was the early eighties so I picked up my landline and started calling a few Canadian outfitters to get more details. Investigating travel plans, necessary licenses, permits and additional details the puzzle pieces were starting to fit. A few flights, ground transportation, a border crossing and eventually I was in Atikokan Ontario Canada. After a review of maps, gear and some guidance I was ready (so I thought) for my adventure.
I quickly realized at my drop off point that this was a vast, intimidating area. Camping equipment, food, personal packs and of course fishing gear were all loaded into my canoe and my journey began. Paddling to an almost unrecognizable opening in the woods it was time to portage.
A portage is a place where the water ends and you start transporting everything to the next lake via well-worn but primitive path. With an eye peeled for bears you tramp uphill, through bogs, over exposed rock, around boulders and seemingly an endless trail when you eventually spot water, the next lake. In a place that extends over three million square acres where one million acres of it is water, each view is somewhat the same but somewhat different.
More paddling and map reference and another portage. Passing post card pretty spots, isolated islands and true wilderness you paddle pushing the canoe while admiring the view and marveling at every turn. This trip is most aptly described as canoeing, camping and then fishing.
After seven hours I recognized a previously mapped out spot that appeared to be suitable for my campsite. Beaching the boat was followed by a “no cook” lunch and the assembly of my tent. Exploring on the water and land proved interesting. The sight of a cow moose and her calf greeted me in a shallow cove. As I paddled there were countless bald eagles soaring, diving for fish or rest in larger dead trees. Evidence of black bears (scat aka poop) were discovered on islands with only wildlife trails. Beavers busy building dens and ravens announced my entry into almost every area I saw. The fishing….OH the fishing, waters are teeming with walleye the favorite species of the locals, northern pike which I soon learned would hit anything flashy. Dependent on how you view this place is either a haven or heaven for smallmouth bass. Anything that skims the surface, travels at mid-level depths or bumps the bottom will be inhaled by these brown bombers. After the initial bone jarring hit they live up to their reputation as the original “frequent fliers.” The sunrises and sunsets couldn’t be any more spectacular, but even the night sky is glorious millions of stars illuminate the otherwise dark and a full moon just adds to the natural nocturnal landscape.
Fish fries and frequent paddles punctuated my first visit. The glide offered by paddled water craft helps you make you feel like part of this wild world. Drinking water from the middle of the lakes and a new sight or even repeated visual clues as to the primitive setting are welcomed. At dusk the loon is your playlist and again nature sounds become you alarm clock. Understanding all the while this like other places is powerful and truly wild your fear is transformed into embracing this unspoiled place. The Quetico could harm you or can heal you, enter humbly with your senses heightened and eye wide open.
After paddling canoes and kayaks for the last four decades my love affair continues.
My first trip in the wilderness inspired two dozen more joyful entries and melancholy exits. My experiences there also “spawned” a chapter in my book entitled I’LL BE TENESSEAN YA’, one of the most beloved by writer and reader is CANOES AND CAMPFIRES. If you’ve never been, go!