Unexpected guests enliven Boundary Waters fishing trip

A mother loon feeds crayfish to her fledgling loon on Ensign Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Northern Minnesota.

As soon as we entered the lake from our portage, I saw an unusual sight. A moose was swimming across the lake. In my 40 years of fishing in the North Woods, I had never seen a moose swimming.

The moose swam much faster than we could paddle.
The moose swam much faster than we could paddle.

My friends and I were on a fishing trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota. I was with nature photographer Ty Smedes, environmentalist Mike Delaney and Mike’s son, Connor Delaney.¬†We were on Ensign Lake, about 20 miles east of Ely, a lake we have fished for many years.

I wanted to get some pictures of the swimming moose. My canoe partner was Ty, and we paddled our loaded canoe as hard as we could and tried to intercept the moose. But it turned and swam back to the shore, and it was swimming faster than we could paddle.

I did not get as close to this magnificent animal as I wanted , but it was fun trying.

Ensign is a great fishing lake, and there are lots of loons on the lake. Ty wanted to photograph the loons, and we had good luck. We found a loon family with two young ones. I paddled Ty around the lake so he could get some photos.

A mother loon feeds her two fledglings.
A mother loon feeds her two fledglings.

One evening we saw the female loon in the middle of the lake with the two young ones. I paddled toward them, and for several minutes we followed her, trying to get in position with the mother, the babies and the sun for some good pictures.

Our following her seemed to make the mother loon nervous. She soon gave out her mournful calls to her mate. We spotted a loon flying our way from the far east end of the lake. It circled us, and the female loon called again. The flying loon answered and landed on the water about 100 yards from our canoe and dove under the water.

Suddenly it surfaced a few feet from our canoe and looked us over. He carefully examined the “big silver log” with two humans in it before swimming to his mate and offspring. It seemed to us that he tried to keep his body between the canoe and his family.

After a while, the loons accepted our presence, and they went on feeding the babies while we snapped pictures, but daddy loon kept a constant eye on us. We have some outstanding photos of the babies being fed.

For fishing friends, from left, Ty Smedes, Mike Delaney and Connor Delaney, blueberry pancakes were one of the treats on the annual Boundary Waters Canoe Area fishing trip.
For fishing friends, from left, Ty Smedes, Mike Delaney and Connor Delaney, blueberry pancakes were one of the treats on the annual Boundary Waters Canoe Area fishing trip.

We camped at our favorite site on Oval Bay of Ensign Lake. There are no bad campsites in the Boundary Waters, but we consider this one of the best. We have made that site our base camp for the past six years.

It has great view of the lake, shade trees, a place to construct our rain fly, a good bathing area and lots of wild berries — strawberries, red raspberries and especially blueberries. We picked a lot of them, eating them out of hand and putting blueberries in our pancakes.

On our third afternoon at that site , Mike and Ty were resting and reading in their hammocks, while Connor and I fished across the lake. Suddenly, a black bear strolled into camp. Mike thought it was Connor walking into camp from the back trail and said, “Is that you Connor?” Ty looked up from his book and yelled “Bear!” Mike then turned and yelled too when he saw the bear.

This gave Mike and Ty a scare, but the bear was frightened, too. It took off running between two tents and into the woods. No damage was done to our food or equipment.

A blueberry-eating bear visited our camp.
A blueberry-eating bear visited our camp. Photo by Ty Smedes

We thought maybe the bear was upset about our eating its blueberries. Ty said it was a young one, about 100 pounds, but the mother bear was probably nearby. We decided that we should move because the bear and maybe its mother would be back and cause some problems. So we packed up our gear and went to a different campsite.

Sadly, our new site did not have any blueberries, but we decided not to go back to the old camp to pick more blueberries. At the new campsite we made sure we had a good “bear tree” to hang our food pack well out of the reach of a visiting bear.

It was a good trip. We had perfect weather and great fishing, and we caught a lots of fish, including several large bass. We also saw a moose, loons and a bear up close, along with lots of other wildlife.


  1. Hey!

    Your trip sounds amazing! I was wondering where exactly was the campsite with all the berries on Ensign? The very northern bay by the Vera Lake portage? And where in the bay is that campsite?

    Thank you!

    • No not near the Vera lake portage . It is due east of the splash lake portage. Do not go through the narrows into the east section of Ensign Lake. Stay to the left of the large island with several campsites on the south side. At the east end of the island there is a small, narrow and shallow opening into the bay. Two campsites are on the north side and one on the southwest. There is another opening in the bay on the northeast side. It goes into a long arm of the lake going east. One campsite is at the middle of the arm and one at the end. I hope this helps


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