Northern Exposure…With A Fishing Rod by Ron Pradinuk

Everyone has a fishing story. It doesn’t make any difference whether you’re a comparative novice or a water worn angler. The tone of the story may vary but it seems always to revolve around the big one that was caught or got away. One describes his day on the water, “Before noon we had caught more fish than I get at home in a month.” Another says, “Three master anglers on one trip… I can never top that.” A master angling award is given to fishers who catch and release a fish that is longer than the Manitoba Tourism designated trophy length for that species. Another angler chides, “We could have had the biggest one if Bob knew how to reel in the really big ones.”

After a day of fishing, the bar at a fly-in fishing lodge is a story magnet. And such were the web of words my son-in-law and I encountered at Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge in Manitoba, Canada, on our most recent fishing adventure. In addition to its steady repeat American clientele, Aikens Lake Lodge is one of the few fly-in northern lodges that have managed to carve a successful niche, catering to the market closer to home. “Our mix of guests over the summer is about 60/40 with 40 percent being Manitobans and other Canadians,” says Pitt Turenne who, along with his wife Julie, is the managing partner in the lodge.

Look at the guestbook of so many of the other lodges that dot our northern parallels and you will see few addresses that don’t have a U.S. state and city. Most lodges don’t even try to attract Canadian fishers. The perception of Manitobans often is that with so many accessible lakes we can drive to, why would we want to spend the extra dollars required for the fly-in experience?
But, while the accessibility of plentiful fish is taken for granted for most experienced anglers in a province that has promoted itself as having a hundred thousand lakes, the fly-in experience is more than just about catching fish. It is about a reasonable chance of catching a trophy fish. It is about being treated like royalty for a few days. And about a genuine wilderness experience that blends the camaraderie of newly found acquaintances with the isolation of fishing in an area the guide takes you to where there are no other boats, buildings, or human beings in sight.

My son-in-law and I drive to Silver Falls where we are picked up by a Bluewater Aviation float plane which transports us over a kaleidoscope of majestic lakes and tundra, until we land on a quiet inlet in front of the Aikens Lake loading pier. Both Pit and Julie Turenne are there to meet us.

Sunrise at Aikens Lake can be a majestic sight

It is our first visit, but other guests are greeted like long-time friends, which over a number of repeat visits, they seem to have become. That perhaps is no wonder considering Pit has been at the lodge virtually every summer since he was 11 years old. Pit’s parents, Gerry and Lorraine, purchased the lodge with a partner in 1988. Pit describes his early experiences as “Crushing pop and beer cans so they could be loaded on to the plane in order to use up the least amount of space.”

We are here in early June. Ice has only been off the lake for a couple of weeks. It is cloudy and a bit cold, but we are anxious to be on the water, so we toss our bags on the cabin beds and quickly head back to the dock. At the base of some rapids a few miles away, we drop anchor and begin casting towards the shoreline. Within minutes the first walleye is taken aboard. It is far from a Master Angler winner, but it is indication for us that the afternoon is going to be productive.
My fish may not be a Master Angler but you don’t catch Walleye this size most other places. We catch a few more but the bites become less frequent on this spot, and our guide decides this is no longer the place to be. We head to a position at the point of a sharp turn in the lake. The wind tosses us around mercilessly. We keep on trying but suddenly fishing has lost some of its enthusiasm, and we decide to head back to camp a few minutes early.

As we pull into our sloop, we watch one of four fishermen who, after coming in early as well, cheer as one of their group brings in a 25 inch walleye. Sitting on deck chairs they have found you not only don’t have to travel far for fish, you don’t have to leave home base at all.
There are two things you can be sure of on any fly-in fishing trip. The first is a shore lunch, cooked with the fish you caught no more than an hour or two beforehand, and the second is a superb evening meal fit for the proverbial king. We are assigned a table that will be ours for the duration of our stay. Our servers welcome us again as first time guests. They then proceed to lay down heaping portions of gourmet tasting food.

The dining room at Aikens Lake Lodge

Each dinner the meal is different. It may vary from beef to pork to chicken, but one item that is never on the dinner menu is fish. That treat is reserved for the daily shore lunch. Somewhere between noon and 1PM each day the guide finds a new place for us to dine. Each spot has been pre-scouted so as to be protected from the elements as much as possible on inclement days and which affords the guests as magnificent a view as possible.

We help unload the boat, a task neither expected nor required, but guests get to know and like their guides very quickly. As it turns out both Rob and our guide, Griffin Hewitt, are rabid hockey fans. There is never a shortage of conversation as they compare player and team notes. As the guide fillets the fish we relax on shore with a beverage, committing the views in front of us to permanent or digital memory. While the guides can prepare the fish in a multitude of ways, any thoughts of calorie counting are thankfully forgotten as the traditional shore lunch favourite, breaded and deep fried walleye, boil in front of us.
Shore lunch is a highlight of every day on the water With a side dish of beans, corn, or some other surprise specialty the guide has planned each day, we sit down on a makeshift table and marvel at our good fortune. How good is good? We agree that this is as good as it gets.

On the morning of our second day the waves on the main lake are still high. We decide to venture into a back bay to cast for Northern Pike. The water is only a couple of feet deep as the guide raises the motor to get us to where he thinks big ones may be lurking. With weed-less lures we cast into the cabbage-like vegetation around us. A hit! Pike are ferocious fighters, and we soon find the catch is not as big as the fight.

A short time later Rob tosses his lure into cabbage close to the shore. As he begins to reel his line in, a huge head breaks the surface and races through the weeds. It goes for the lure, misses, and makes a hasty retreat back into his protective covering.
We spend an hour trying to tease him back with no luck. We have no doubt that a master angler pike missed being recorded by our measuring tape by a last second swerve. Of course all anglers believe the one that got away was the big one.

The sun is finally breaking out as we head back to camp home for dinner. At the suggestion of our guide Griffin, we are back in the boat shortly after we down yet another meat-laden meal. As the sun goes down, we virtually cannot make a pass along the narrows our guide has chosen for us to fish in, without bringing in a walleye. As the light disappears the fish we catch grow bigger.
As the sun goes down, the fish bite harder…and the waters are tranquil. We are fishing for walleye, and while we still have to bring in the elusive master angler, we are excited by the quality of our catch. Suddenly Rob shouts out, “Holy cow (or words similar to that), this one has to be huge.” For several minutes it takes line and pulls the boat towards its chosen path. It is near dark as our guide lifts the fish out of the water with his net. It is not a walleye. It is the Lake Trout species that eluded us earlier in the day when we were forced to leave the open waters.

We release the trout to fight another day and do high fives all around. We are tired but still have the energy to party with the crew back at camp. The days pass all too quickly, and as we make ready to climb aboard the plane that will take us back, I look at the vastness in front of me for the last time. As I do, it strikes me. This is really Canada. It is what brings avid fishers here from around the world. It is a resource they share with others from around the world willingly.
I feel fortunate that I have partaken in a thrill so many others have yet to experience.

I View the hieroglyphics