Seduced by the U.P.’s Sylvania

We pop out of the woods on the edge of the large, windswept Big Bateau Lake and instantly spot the eagle nest. The mass of sticks is bigger than our tent and sits high in a large pine on one of the islands that dot the lake. Paddling closer we see the brown eagle juvenile, nearly as large as an adult and every bit as defiant-looking. We keep our distance and circle the island, the whole time the giant bird glares toward the horizon while our dog sinks a little lower in the canoe.

After three more portages we complete the loop and arrive back at our campsite on Loon Lake. A fisherman silhouetted at dusk near the far end of the lake is the first person we’ve seen all day, and the portage trails we traveled showed little sign of recent use. Not bad for a wilderness area that’s received write-ups in numerous fishing magazines and national publications like Backpacker.

Like many of the lakes in Sylvania, Loon Lake has neither an inlet, nor an outlet. The waters come from deep springs and precipitation, and therefore are extremely clear and sterile. Fish, most notably smallmouth bass, thrive in this environment.

Of course, Sylvania’s history and special fishing regulations have boosted the fish size too. The first owners of the Sylvania Club made a special effort to support the fishery by creating underwater structures and occasionally felling trees along the edge of the lakes to offer the fish cover. They also introduced lake trout, which still can be found deep in the lakes. Today regulations ensure trophy-sized fish can be caught – and released. The entire wilderness is motor-free and artificial lures only.

We decide to take our time during our last day in Sylvania and visit several more lakes on our way back to our car. On the portage between Loon Lake and the popular Clark Lake we meet a family of five from Illinois making the trip in to Loon Lake for a week’s vacation. They’ve been coming here for 10 years, the mom says as she carries gear over the sandy trail while the two youngest kids chase tadpoles, and anything else that moves, with bug nets.

At Clark Lake we see what appears to be an entire fleet of canoes about midway in the lake. They’re zigging and zagging under heavy loads of coolers, and propelled by paddle strokes taken for what appears to be the first time. Fishing rods bristle from every boat. After a few curses the men finally win the battle against a crosswind to reach a group campsite.

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