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The early bird gets the best campsite

When the temperature outside is more than 20 below zero, and the wind chill is pushing 40 below, it seems a little hard to think about camping, canoeing and kayaking in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). But when the Jan. 15 deadline for early campsite registration is due, you don't have much of a choice.

As the old saying goes: The early bird gets the worm. The same can be said for early camp registrations. They get the best entry points.

We learned that the hard way last year when we decided to head up to the BWCAW on a whim. All of our favorite camping and canoeing areas were booked by the end of June. That's hard to believe when there is over a million acres of wilderness, woods and waters to explore, and well over 80 entry points.

But that's the plan of the park service. They only allow so many people in at a time so no single area is too overcrowded. As it was, we ended up with about our 10th choice last year and still found an awesome new spot with great fishing in the burn area.

The way I look at, there are really no bad places to explore in the BWCAW.

Norm Botche is a friend of mine who works at Gander Mountain in Forest Lake. Norm is a real outdoorsman, angler and hunter. He once quit his job for a couple years to try and break the musky world record. He thought he could set a new record if he focused on a certain place in Lake of the Woods. Although he caught several monster fish, the record eluded him.

In his travels he told me about a location in the BWCAW that he really liked. The first thing you do is make a long overland portage that can be a little rough. He went on to say you put in on a river and head upstream.

Figures Norm would take the path less traveled. So why would you want to paddle upstream? He simply said one word: Smallmouth. He told me that the smallies congregate below the rapids.

So let me get this straight. Land portage right off the bat, canoe upstream, and then you hit rapids? No, Norm said. Several sets of rapids that are full of smallies.

Once you make it through the river, you hit your first lake where you will probably want to camp. I would agree with him there. Any survivors out of the group who actually would make it this far would need a bit of rest.

From there you head north out of the first lake and continue back upstream until you get to the big lake. Once there you paddle to the far end of the lake to the islands where you want to camp.

Norm told me this lake is situated in one of the most beautiful locations in the BWCAW. One campsite in particular is Norm's favorite. It is the perfect camp site. If Better Homes and Gardens did campsites, he assured me this one would be on the cover. He said it's up on rocks where you can gaze upon breathtaking vistas. And it's full of walleyes. Maybe not lunkers, but you can walk right out of your tent and catch breakfast with just a few casts. He said the lake that is also loaded with big smallies and some real nice pike.

It all sounded too good to be true. But then we hit a snag when my son Josh called me back and said we needed to make reservations for three places just in case our first choice was already booked. We needed to make some quick choices to meet the deadline.

I started to talk to everyone I knew who might have a special BWCAW spot they would share with me. Names like Cache Bay, Saganaga, Crane Lake, Lac La Croix, Brule Lake, Moose Lake, Kahshahpiwi, Knife Lake, Kawishiwi, Stewart River and many others were suggested. We picked a couple, sight unseen, and completed the form and got it in online before the deadline.

Now we wait. Waiting isn't so bad when you know you are going to win regardless of the drawing. I'm not really worried about getting our first choice because there are no bad choices in the BWCAW. The choice to go there is a great choice no matter what area we draw.

It's about solitude, peace and quiet. No cell phone reception. Where nights are really dark and not lit by streetlights. Where you can see all the stars. Where the only sounds you hear are loons and wolves and the splash of jumping smallies. Where a roaring campfire puts you to bed after warming your body and your spirit.

And in the end to be cleansed and renewed before you have to return to so called normal life. It's a win-win situation no matter what.


OUTDOOR QUIZ -- What was the BWCAW called not that many years ago?

Answer: It was called the BWCA. It was not until recent years that the word "wilderness" was added.