Trip Length: 6-7 Days
Permit Required: RABC permit and a Man Chain entry permit
One of the number one questions we get each year is, “what’s the difference between the BWCA and the Quetico?”
The answer is pretty simple. Although you won’t find much different in the way of landscape, you will see far less people with better opportunities to see wildlife in the Quetico. The Quetico operates under a different permit system and only allows 8 parties through Cache Bay per day. This is the only way canoe route in the Quetico Provincial Parkinto the Quetico from the end of the Gunflint Trail and permits are often times hard to come by as you could imagine. So early trip planning is vital in securing your appropriate permit for the day you want to come. We can reserve these permits 5 months prior to your entry date, so keep this in mind as you plan your trip. Because there are fewer permits allowed into the Quetico, the lakes don’t get as much pressure by fishermen; and some will argue the Quetico offers better fishing than the BWCA, but we’ll let you decide for yourself on this issue.
There are 4 different entry permits into the Quetico from Cache Bay: the Knife Chain, Man Chain, Falls Chain and Boundary Point. Each of these permits allow you to go to a different area much like the boundary waters, but there are only 2 permits per entry point for a total of 8. But the following will be an outline of a route down the Man Chain.
Most Quetico paddlers utilize our head start launch service to Hook Island, the westernmost point on Saganaga Lake we are able to use a motor boat. From here you will paddle to the ranger station in Cache Bay where you will pay your camping fees and get a Canadian fishing license if you so choose. The ranger will give you a rundown of the Park rules and send you on your way. With your permit you will paddle northwest from the ranger cabin to Silver Falls, a magnificent waterfall that drops 30 feet as it flows north. There is a 130 rod portage along the east side of the falls that will take a little effort, but if you consider the alternative, you’ll be glad to carry your gear. The portage is rocky most of the way, so watch your step and take your time; a sprained ankle is the last thing you’ll want. After a drink of water and a snack, you’ll be ready to venture on, but not too fast. Tie on your favorite lure and cast into the mouth of the falls as you paddle by and hold on for the smallmouth, northern or walleye that are waiting below.
Your next destination will be Slate Lake which can be accessed by a short pull over and an 8 rod portage up to the landing. You’ll pass right through a campsite as you come to the landing on Slate. From here you will be paddling southwest for the next couple days. Most all of the lakes you’ll encounter on this trip are deep with high cliffs lining the shores. And all four species of fish can be found along this route.
So you’re wondering why it is called the Man Chain I suppose, well the lakes you’ll soon pass through will answer this question. Other Man, This Man, No Man and That Man lakes in this order will lead you to the turning point. From That Man you’ll portage south into a no name lake, but we like to refer to it as Hi Man Lake, imagine that. Eventually you will find yourself on Emerald Lake. Many say it is aptly named because of the greenish tint of the water. There are many nice campsites here and it is a popular place to spend a couple days before you journey on back. Besides, the smallmouth bass fishing is something you’ll rave about after the trip; 20 and 22 inchers are not uncommon. Others would like to spend an extra day on Emerald to gear up for the “Plough Portage” that connects Plough and Ottertrack lakes. Well no not really, but it might feel like you’re dragging a plow on that portage. Plough Lake itself though is another good bass lake with not many campsites. Once you reach Ottertrack, you’ll be back paddling the US/Canadian border and you’ll have to camp on the north side for the rest of the trip as that’s what your permit allows. There are more high cliffs just off the shorelines here on Ottertrack and there are a few little bays on the north side of this lake as well as Swamp Lake that provide some good walleye and bass angling.
But once you’ve had your fill of the wilderness experience, it will be time to paddle out to meet the tow boat driver at Hook Island again so you can return to civilization and tell all of your friends about how beautiful the area was. And we bet you’ll be counting the days until you can return and do it all over again. You can complete this route in 5 days with no layover days, but like most trips, and extra day or two will always make the trip much more enjoyable as you’ll have time to relax and fish and just soak up the experience. The Man Chain will certainly give you a good taste of what the Quetico is all about. You’ll find it a bit more rugged and primitive as there are no latrines or fire grates at the campsites. But that is soon far outweighed by the peace and quiet you’ll find, the fantastic fishing, the cliffs, waterfalls and the amount of wildlife that make themselves visible in the absence of people.