Push off into a 15,000-acre Rorschach blotch of crystalline waters boasting world-class muskellunge and walleye fishing, ragged shorelines, and more than 200 islands. This 7.6-mile route in the “Big Chip” leaves time for newbie paddlers to get their bearings; experts can easily extend the adventure.
Launch from the CC North boat landing and aim for the break between the mainland and a big, unnamed island due south (shaped like an upside-down polar bear). Hug the rounded shore of its butt on a southwesterly course, with far-off views of interior islands. Squeeze through an hourglass gap past two islands at mile 1.1, and point northwest toward Crane Creek Island, following a string of tiny atolls sprouting white and jack pine, aspen, and the occasional blueberry bush. Camp at the designated site on the southern tip of Crane Creek Island at mile two; sheltered on three sides by slender aspen, birch, and pine, the site offers southern exposure and balcony views of the lake. The short trip to camp leaves time to explore: Pack your fishing gear and/or binoculars and paddle northwest into the whale-shaped bulge of Crane Creek Channel. Glide past white paper birch and look for osprey, loons, beavers, and belted kingfishers. After a meandering two-mile paddle, reach the creek’s source at Crane Lake, a spring-fed incubator of some of the best-tasting walleye in the state. After you’ve fished your fill, drift the current back to camp.
Next day, float .3 mile east to a 20-foot-wide inlet granting access to Crystal Lake, a 400-acre gem hidden behind bogs, barrier islands, and low ridgelines. Barstool legend claims this lake might be home to the next record-breaking lunker. Bait a hook and try your luck, then paddle a quarter of a mile to the southeast bays of the lake, following a dotted line of miniature islands to the invisible-until-you’re-in-it channel exiting to open water. Head northeast beneath the snout and front paws of the polar bear island and cross one more open bay to return to the landing.
-Mapped by Steve Johnson