When my dad did his last wilderness canoe trip with me in 2005, I was saddened that we would no longer be able to share this great privilege of traveling, fishing and sleeping in the heart of the Canadian wild together. We did many more canoe trips over the years since 2005, but I always wished we could have dad along. He claimed that sleeping on the infamous Canadian Shield rock was simply too hard on him at his age, but I suspect the grueling schedule that we chose didn't help any either.
Finally, in 2012 I had enough money to offer an alternative to dad, and my two brothers. Instead of the grind of a wilderness canoe trip, why not try a wilderness fly-in fishing lodge instead? This would offer us many of the benefits of a canoe trip such as great fishing, days on the water in Shield country, the call of the loon and some incredible relaxation and peace and quiet away from the humdrum of normal life.
The biggest barrier to fly-in trips for us was cost. The second biggest was pampering. The Dewit boys don't have a ton of cash and we don't like too much hand holding either. I managed to find us the perfect alternative at the Shining Falls Lodge, located on Family Lake on the very northern edge of Atikaki Provincial Park in north-central Manitoba. Shining Falls Lodge was the perfect compromise between cost and pampering because they have differently priced options for thier guests. They have an option called the "Housekeeping Package" that allowed us to bring in our own food / drinks, cook our own food and take out our own boats, wherever and whenever we wanted. We even managed to score the so-called "Honeymoon Cabin" (Cabin 4) which is the most private with a very nice, private dock as well.
What follows is a journal of our trip from Monday, July 2nd to Saturday July 7th 2012.
Monday July 02 2012
Originally we planned on driving up to the Blue Water Aviation base in Bissett, Manitoba the morning of our departure on Tuesday, July 3rd. After contacting the company it became apparent that this was a risky proposition since flying in the north is unpredictable and our flight times could be moved around at the last minute. We made a last minute decision to stay at the Northern Wings B&B in Bissett the night before our departure.
The drive up to the town of Bissett (population 125) was very familiar for Dad and I as we've done it several times for various canoe trips in the past. Once we got onto Provincial Road 304 it started feeling like our trip was finally going to happen! This is a gravel road that can be extremely rough, but we got pretty good conditions. It was a stifling hot, humid summer evening when we stepped out of the truck and checked into the B&B. The room was nice enough but the A/C was cranked so high we almost needed sweaters! We spent an hour or so checking out the waterport for Blue Water and scoping out the local gold mine (Bissett's main employer), before turning in for the evening.
[Driving up highway 304 it starts to feel like the north when we are sharing the road with ATV's!]
[The road changes to gravel but at least it's in good condition on Monday evening as we approach Bissett.]
[Sharing a laugh with some locals who were fishing off this rock.]
[A hot, humid evening with thunderstorms building to the east and the full moon rising over Bluewater Aviation's waterport and the local gold mine which was booming back in 2012 but now in 2015, is apparently in trouble.]
Our decision to sleep over instead of drive up the day before was justified when the owner of the B&B, Barry, passed on a message from Blue Water, letting us know that our flight would be leaving an hour earlier than planned. Sometimes being paranoid pays off! ;)
Tuesday, July 03 2012
After a friendly breakfast with Lim and Barry at the Northern Wings B&B we were ready to fly to Shining Falls. Barry told us a nice pre-flight story about a plane accident he had while taking off from the base a few years previous, which messed him up pretty good. That helped our jitters. NOT. We pulled up to the waterport just before 07:00 and instantly started loading our gear into a classic bush plane - a reliable workhorse of the north, the de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter. After a quick pre-flight check and conversation, we all piled into the plane and started taxiing down the lake. Dad got the front seat and Dale, Rod and I sat on benches along the sides in the back.
[A cozy breakfast with Lim and Sam at the Northern Wings B&B.]
[Our trustworthy air taxi - the Otter from Blue Water Aviation.]
The engines revved hard and very loud and before we knew it we were air born! Soaring over the wilderness that we've spent so many hundreds of kilometers canoeing and portaging through over the years was very special. I almost forgot my nervousness of flying (thanks to a mayday situation on my first-ever flight) with the gorgeous morning views we had and all the great memories it brought back.
[Dad gets co-pilot duties!]
[Dad and the pilot converse before take-off.]
[And we are airborne! Flying over Bissett on our way north.]
[The land I love - Canadian Shield country, dotted with hundreds of lakes and ancient aboriginal routes. Also some of the very best wilderness canoeing and fishing in the world. IMHO of course. :)]
[The plane's identity plate.]
[It's a very informal flight compared to most I've done!]
[Starting to bank into our landing at Shining Falls]
Less than 45 minutes after take-off we were already swooping over Shining Falls and landing smoothly on a calm Family Lake. A few minutes later we were unloaded on the resort dock and the plane was gone. Silence settled over the still morning like a warm blanket. We were greeted warmly by our hosts, Janice and Sam and their dog, Iggy. An hour after leaving Bissett we were checking out our new home for the next 4 days - Cabin #4 nearest to the mouth of the protected bay that shelters the Shining Falls resort. Sam went over the basics for the area, advising us not to interfere with the people of Little Grand Rapids located at the northern end of Family Lake, quite a ways from the resort. Apparently there was some bootlegging operations also taking place in the area and again, Sam sagely advised us not to interfere with anyone as it really wasn't our business. He kept asking us if we forgot gear - apparently most folks take a LOT more equipment than we did! We even had our own food and ended up taking half of it back with us! I told you we Dewit boys like things simple... ;)
We really lucked out during our stay - we were the only guests in the entire resort which made it extremely relaxing and peaceful!
[The namesake of the resort - Shining Falls is quite large from the air. Unfortunately it was difficult to fish it from the top - we did catch some fish from the bottom later in the day.]
[Janice and Sam waiting on the dock for our arrival.]
[A steep turn into our landing on Family Lake.]
[Sam, Janice and Iggy welcome us while I load our rods onto the ATV for Sam to deliver to our cabin. He kept asking if we forgot some gear... I guess we don't pack as much as most folks do.]
[Iggy isn't convinced he wants us around but he'll tolerate us for four days!]
[The cabin was basic but plenty good enough for us! I ended up sleeping on the bench at lower left simply because it was cooler under two open windows than in the bedroom. Having a fridge and a barbecue was pure luxury compared to past canoe trips... ;)]
[The lovely and very peaceful view off our deck looking into the Shining Falls Resort's bay and main lodge.]
[At lake level - the water is calling our lures already.]
[Looking back up at cabin #4 from our private boat dock. This is also called the 'honeymoon cabin'. Awesome. :)]
Sam acquainted us with the boats and we chose a couple to use for the next 4 days. Every morning Sam would deliver fresh fuel to our cabin and every evening we took the empties back up the hill for him to pick up - it was a great arrangement. After loading our fishing gear and deciding that Dale and I would be in one boat and Rod and Dad in the other, we were ready to fish!
So where should we go? If you've ever fished a large, new body of water before, you know the challenges involved with finding fish and structure. Next fly-in trip I will inquire about fish finders and bring my own if they aren't offered by the resort. There is no better way than a fish finder to find underwater structure suitable for various fish. I think we all under estimated the size of Family Lake and how difficult it might be to find decent amounts of fish, especially during the hot summer days that we had. Our canoe trips are spent on rivers and streams where the fish are forced into small areas, usually around waterfalls, which makes them sitting ducks and very easy to find and catch. I'm not saying the fishing was bad - it just wasn't as easy as we thought it might be.
Also, on hindsight, Sam should have offered us the local fishing map (!!) on arrival and we should have communicated a bit more with him about the local fishing spots. Oh well. Not a big deal, but our first 1.5 days could have been a lot more productive with some more local knowledge and that fishing map.
Without too much planning, we decided to check out Shining Falls and try fishing from shore at its base for a while.
[Dale drives our boat from the main lodge area to our private dock. Look at the gorgeous beach behind him! This is truly a family resort, not just fishing.]
[Our fishing area the first day headed south of the lodge to check out Shining Falls and the surrounding bays. ++]
[It felt really good to be on northern waters again!]
[At the top of Shining Falls, tied to shore at the portage trail around the south side.]
Once we docked the boats at the portage around the south side of Shining Falls, we immediately noticed that this area is unsurprisingly, very well used. There was some litter and discarded machinery part way down the wide trail and some boats on the downstream side. Having a boat to navigate the bottom of the falls would undoubtedly be very rewarding as there is a huge number of large Walleye and other fish at the bottom of the falls. We could only fish one seam of water and even that was fairly productive in mid day heat.
[A well used trail around the falls]
[Having a boat at the base of the falls would make for a very fun day of fishing! ++]
[As it was, we could only fish a small part of the falls, but we did haul out some nice sized Walleye here.]
[The falls are quite large, this is a pano from half way up them. ++]
After fishing the falls for an hour or so, we spent some time hiking around the area, checking out the long expanse of white water before heading back out in the boats. The rest of Tuesday was spent fishing some nice weedy back bays with limited success, catching Northern Pike and Perch but not many Walleye and no great numbers of fish. We came back to the cabin for an excellent supper of barbecued burgers and cold beer. What a life! We headed out again after supper for a while, just fishing some local bays, again without great numbers of fish but beautiful weather and great terrain more than made up for that.
[More of the falls. ++]
[Some neat side channels around the falls.]
[We did catch some Walleye, here Dale releases one.]
[Fishing near Jackson Island]
[Late afternoon in some shallower, weedy bays on the southern tip of Family Lake.]
[The shallow, weedy bays had some very nice sized Perch!]
[A gorgeous, but very hot day.]
[Ahhh. This is the LIFE!! :)]
[A bit more luxurious than your average canoe trip up here... ;)]
[Heading out for some evening fishing on the lake.]
[Beautiful late day fishing on a glass-smooth Family Lake]
[A healthy Northern Pike]
A perfect first day was capped by a full pink moon, serenaded by the haunting call of a pair of loons just outside our sheltered bay. I have to say that the whole experience from the start to end of the day instantly made me want to do this sort of thing again!
[A gorgeous full moon rises over a pair of pelicans on the lake in this shot off our cabin deck.]
[Another shot of the full moon]
[Now it's really dark - but the moon is strong enough to cast a shadow!]
Wednesday July 04 2012
After an amazing first day, Wednesday dawned very warm, but much more unsettled than Tuesday. After a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs, we loaded up the boats and started exploring north of the resort, fishing bays and features such as cliff faces and obvious structures. About mid morning we found ourselves looking south at a nice bay, with a very strong wind whipping up some good sized waves. The waves looked big, but not tremendously so and we started into them. Almost right away I could tell that we were in for a rough ride! The waves were almost 3 feet high, which in a 16 foot boat feels very big! We managed to keep cool heads and got closer to the far shore - a sandy beach before Rod and my heart rate could normalize again. The good part about all the wind and waves was that the Walleye were active - they prefer waves since it knocks their prey off balance and hides them from predators such as Bald Eagles.
[A cloudy morning, looking across the bay towards the main lodge. You can spot another cabin on the right. ++]
[What a great way to start our day - breakfast on the deck!]
[Shoreline fishing. This area was protected by the wind.]
[This is a very deceptively peaceful picture. Just before this, we were fighting some big waves.]
[We hammered quite a few Walleye in this weedy, windy bay that was partly protected from the fierce south winds. We kept a nice stringer for supper.]
[A mating pair of Bald Eagles provided a great wildlife viewing opportunity.]
As the afternoon progressed, the wind got pretty strong and we became a bit nervous about sticking out too far from the resort on the choppy lake. We decided to head back to camp for early supper and to see what the weather would do. Thankfully we had a full stringer of Walleye to cook up and by 18:30 we were enjoying barbecued Walleye on our deck with the wind dying down very nicely. As we were cleaning our Walleye haul for supper Sam stopped by and we mentioned that although the fishing was pretty good, we were finding it tough to consistently find great numbers. Sam then mentioned a map that he could show us and we instantly perked up a bit! We agreed to visit him after supper at the main lodge.
After supper we visited Sam and Janice at the main lodge for a nice chat. Sam provided us with a local topographical map with some local fishing hot spots marked on it - this was information that would have been great to have the very first morning! Oh well, better late than never! After visiting for a bit, we again ventured out to fish around the resort area - there was a nice Walleye hot spot near a point just outside of the resort that seemed to consistently supply some action for us. The sunset was shaping up to be fantastic and I had to race our boat back to camp in order to grab my forgotten camera gear! I made it back out just in time to get some amazing sunset shots around 21:45. It was another great day on Family Lake.
[Back at camp around 17:00 to get out of the wind for a while. Sam was concerned about us - there were even trees blowing over at the resort!]
[Hands-down the best shot from the trip - sunset on Wednesday night just off the resort. Note Rod and Dad's boat on the left. ++]
We turned in after dark with plans to fish some of the hot spots on the map before checking out another tip from Sam. He mentioned that some folks ventured out to the Dogskin River which was rumored to be fairly productive. We planned to give it a try on Thursday.
Thursday July 05 2012
After another great breakfast on Thursday we headed out to try some of the local hot spots marked on the map we received from Sam. Unfortunately we didn't have much luck at the first few we tried and soon we were pointing the boats in the direction of the Dogskin River. This is where the GPS with built-in maps came in really handy - we found the river, no problem and started trolling and fishing along various bays and side channels. Before long we were catching much more fish than the previous two days! Often each boat would have one or even two fish on at the same time, including both Walleye and Northern Pike. The Walleye would seem to hammer our jigs as we trolled them out of the small side-bays, something I've never experienced before.
[A gorgeous day for fishing the Dogskin River - here we're fishing a little bay alongside it.]
[Basically every area we stopped and fished along the Dogskin had fish - and usually multiple catches along each stretch.]
We worked our way slowly south down the Dogskin until we found a deeper side channel that seemed to offer some great Walleye fishing in a weedy bay along with a great place to get out, enjoy lunch and stretch our legs. Of course within 10 minutes of stopping Dad was hammering Walleye again! :) After lunch we continued on down the river, enjoying a lot of bent rods and sharp teeth along the way.
[Stopping for lunch - Dad catches more fish! ++]
[Dad hammers another one!]
[Around 14:30 in the afternoon we found ourselves near another bay off the river, with some interesting structure and weeds. As we fished from shore we started to hammer Walleye again.]
[In the same bay as above, stretching the legs but still catching Walleye in all directions!]
[Interesting landscapes along the Canadian Shield.]
[In late afternoon (around 17:00) we found ourselves boating through this wide spot in the river. Note the two shallow rock shelfs right of center? Good thing Dad spotted these from the boat - we came very close to hitting them at full throttle! The bad part of boating in Shield country is that there are often shallow rocks in the middle of a body of water, where you'd least expect them. :( This photo is taken from a high bluff near the entrance of this widening - we came in from the left. ++]
[Another view from the cliff with our boat docked far below. Don't slip!]
[Dad caught this monster at about 18:00 on the Dogskin. We still had over 1.5 hours of boating just to get back to the resort at this point.]
[NOW we're cooking with gas! Dad always manages to find the lunkers!]
After Dad caught the biggest fish of the trip so far, we decided to head back to camp for supper. It was a LONG boat ride back, probably over an hour at full throttle. We boated over 50km this day. We were very happy as we ate supper that night and relaxed around camp - checking out some of the local hikes and views over Family Lake. We were also very tired! We chatted with Sam, who seemed surprised at how great the fishing was for us in the Dogskin. He even agreed to leave us with extra gasoline for the next day as we planned to go all the way down the river to another rumored hot spot where some fast water provided a nice "fish factory".
[A beautiful view of Family Lake from a rocky bluff above the resort. ++]
[River Beauties and Family Lake.]
Friday July 06 2012
We got up early on our last day at Family Lake. We knew we had a long way to boat down the Dogskin River and based on Thursday's experience we were pretty excited to be going back there. With extra gas for the boats and a packed lunch, we were on the water by 07:30 and booking it towards the Dogskin.
[A Merganser Duck in morning lighting at 06:00 from our deck.]
[The duck flies away in morning sunrise lighting.]
[Ready for another day of great fishing!]
[Gunning across Family Lake on a surface of glass.]
Initially we cruised down the Dogskin, trying resist fishing too much as we wanted to make White Eye Lake, but we couldn't resist the perfectly calm water and great fishing spots! Sure enough, before long we were hammering fish again.
[Another gorgeous day for fishing.]
[Dale bags a nice Northern Pike.]
Eventually we arrived at White Eye Lake and fished our way across it until we hit the jackpot - a stretch of fast water where the Dog Skin River enters the small lake. This spot was certainly the highlight of the trip, producing countless fish and some really big lunker Northerns that were feeding on all the Walleye. We spent hours here - drifting in the current, jigging, casting and trolling the edges and even fishing from shore. More than once we all had fish on at the same time!
It looked fairly straightforward to boat right up the fast water but we didn't know what was after this spot and since it was so good here we didn't want to push it. We were also over 30km from the resort at this point and knew we were a LONG way from any assistance if something did go wrong. We never saw any other boats on the Dogskin, so we were way out there on our own. On hindsight we could probably have found even better fishing only a short way from this fast water at the so-called Whitefish Rapids coming out of Hutch Lake - maybe next time! After many hours of fishing we had to reluctantly tear ourselves away from the fish factory and start the long ride to the resort.
[We hauled out fish after fish where the Dogskin River dumps into White Eye Lake. When the fishing slowed down in the rapids, we would simply start casting spoons along the sides for Pike. Everything worked here!]
[Looking through the fast water where the Dogskin River dumps into White Eye Lake. The old canoe was just sitting there - kind of spooky! We didn't realize it at the time but Whitefish Rapids lie just ahead out of sight in the distance to the left.]
[White Eye Lake was nice - but not very productive compared to the narrows...]
[Some last casts along the Dogskin.]
We got back to the resort fairly late and full of fish tales. After supper we relaxed and prepared for our return to civilization the following morning. Blue Water Aviation had phoned the resort while we were off fishing and told them to alert us to an 06:00 departure time, thanks to some unsettled weather arriving later. No rest for the wicked I guess!
Saturday July 07 2012
Saturday dawned clear and beautiful and by 06:00 we were packed and ready to go. We wanted to stay longer, but we felt that our experience at Shining Falls Lodge and on Family Lake more than justified the expense and time off.
[Sam and the main lodge.]
[A final shot at our cabin - I'm sure we'll be back.]
[Hard to be leaving on such a gorgeous morning...]
[Waiting for the plane.]
[Reluctantly loading our gear back on the ol' Otter.]
[Beautiful views of some small pot lakes on our flight back to Bissett.]
[Obvious signs of a forest fire from the air and a very interesting shaped lake.]
[Back in 'civilization' - as much as there is in Bissett! :)]
As I finalize this trip report, some years after doing it, I really want to do another one. Everything from the B&B to the flights to the Shining Falls Resort and Family Lake worked out perfectly and was coordinated very well. I felt like we got more than our money worth and can highly recommend all the parties mentioned here. Feel free to contact me for any details I may have left out.