Trip Dates: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 to Saturday, July 7, 2012
Difficulty Notes: This is a fly-in trip to a fishing lodge located on Family Lake in the heart of Atikaki Provincial Park. We chose the self-catered option so we were largely on our own with a pair of motor boats at our disposal to use as we wished.
Lakes Traveled: Family Lake, White Eye Lake, Dogskin River
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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 River.
Initially we cruised down the Dogskin River, 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.
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 Dogskin 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 30 km 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 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.
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.