Paddling Through Time: History and Fishing along the Four Mile Portage

Deleterious drought conditions with the summer solstice fast approaching foreshadowed a rugged but tolerable four-day fishing adventure. We kicked off from Fall Lake and paddled two miles to the Four Mile, or Truck, Portage, leading to Hoist Bay of Basswood Lake. The portage was built in 1901 by the Swallow and Hopkins Company as a railroad for a 40-ton locomotive to serve the logging industry. After World War II, the rough road was used to bus tourists to resorts and houseboats on Basswood Lake.

Alas, the last motorized vehicles to cross the portage were removed in 1984, so we had to portage the old-fashioned way. We encountered some old timers lurking in the backchannels of a beaver swamp a quarter of the way through, who mentioned a secret shortcut as they wheeled on by with their canoe cart Bimbler-mobiles. Not believing the country clubbers, we took the normal spur trail off the Four Mile Portage into Ella Hall Lake, named after the synonymous Ella Hall who married the owner of a logging camp but tragically fell through the ice in 1885 at only 15 years old. She was buried on the highest point of a small island just east of the big island.

Once at the campsite, Luke immediately wet his line. His wacky worm was attacked vigorously by a largemouth bass, inspiring the rest of us to fumble for our rods. The slinking pike avoided our ferocious wacky (worm) attacky, except for a giant one “the size of Luke’s leg” that snapped his line in 30 feet of water.

Whit, Gus, Xavier, Evan, Luke, and counselors Charlie and Alex caught numerous bass over the next three days, taking breaks only to nap and utilize Gus’s trail magnet to scavenge the lake floor for cans, spent shotgun shells, and rusty lures. We decided to try the secret shortcut on our way out and although it wasn’t as easy as taking a bus, we were happy when it shortened the portage by 45 minutes.