Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/7/2020 (331 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A reduced staff complement greets our de Havilland Otter airplane as it lands at Shining Falls Lodge, a remote fly-in fishing lodge located just north of the Atikaki Provincial Wilderness Park in North-Eastern Manitoba.
Normally the plane would be filled with Americans flying in to experience northern Canada’s great fishing and outdoors.
With the U.S. border closed, this flight carries only my brother in law, John Thomson and I, along with four other Manitobans who have found out about the good deals being offered by the lodge this year.
Many of Manitoba’s lodges choose to remain closed for the entire season, even after the COVID-19 quarantine was lifted.
Tobias and Ellen Becker decided to stay open and try to interest Manitoban and Canadian visitors to find out the secret sauce in the fly-in experience, which has lured fishers from south of the border on an annual basis continually for many decades.
While most Manitoba fly-in lodges are catch and release only, Shining Falls does allow guests to take home one daily limit, so long as each fish is under 18 inches long, and the guests have the ability to fillet their own fish.
It became clear quickly that the depletion of these fish taken home from the lake has not affected the quantity or quality of fish being caught in the least.
While catching master angler size fish is not easy anytime or anywhere, the waters are teeming with loads of Walleye and Northern Pike. We were mostly fishing Walleye — but if Northerns are your style, as they are for many of the U.S. visitors — your chances of a trophy size pike are very likely. Other species in the lake are Rock Bass, Whitefish, Perch and Sauger.
The only thing that might keep you from catching loads of fish is a change in the weather, which we experienced one afternoon. The rain and wind pelted us into submission, but not before we overstayed our welcome to bring in just two or three more.
Shining Lodge may be running with a smaller staff than usual this year, but there was no shortage of service, or quality meals.
Take my word for it: Ellen is an amazing cook!
Some of her dishes were as creative and tasty as I have had anywhere. And just about everything at Shining Falls is served fresh and baked or cooked on site from scratch.
Hot from the oven sticky rolls and muffins to complement breakfast. Each meal had an appetizer dish that was exquisite. Equally good was the truly delicious peach cobbler as well as the hot from the fryer glazed donuts for dessert.
Tobias tends to lead the way in the shore lunch preparations. For those who have never had the opportunity of tasting fresh fish with all the fixings — shore lunches create memories which stay indelibly in the mind for a very long time.
The best memory for all of us was the shore lunch Tobias prepared at the base of Shining Falls. With the raging waters and the roar of the rapids in front of us we watched him put together the walleye and multiple side dishes he placed before us — which made this one meal alone worth the visit.
After lunch we wandered down to the base of the falls, where it is possible to catch some good size fish by casting into the rapids and nearby fast-moving waters.
Shining Falls Lodge is fairly small compared to many of the other fly-in options. It is a family business run by the Becker Family, who live at the lodge with their two small children. They are helped by Ellen’s parents. Her mother described herself as Blue Water Aviation’s most frequent flyer.
The lodge is situated on what has been appropriately named, Family Lake.
Both Tobias and Ellen are bio-science engineering grads, who knew each other from working in the same company before getting married. They came to the conclusion that being cooped up in an office was not for them — and made the investment in buying Shining Falls Lodge about 10 years ago.
"I just could not see myself looking out the window of an office building for the rest of my life and feeling cooped in with all that entails," said Tobias.
Shining Falls is definitely not the same as the day jobs they both left, since each and every day both of them were up early and worked nonstop until the last guest was settled in for the night. While all of us on this trip were there on the American plan, where each meal is supplied, the lodge also offers guests the housekeeping alternative, with the option of renting one of the cabins, bringing in their own food and being satisfied in creating their own shore lunches and daily meals.
During the time we were there, regardless of when we met Tobias, he was always smiling and ready to do anything for us and the other guests. What became clear to all of us was that the relationships they build with the guests is genuine and enduring.
Family Lake, situated in the Atikaki Provincial Park area, is about 100 kilometres north of the mining town of Bissett.
Once part of a mountain range, time and glaciers have changed the surface, resulting in one of the more consistent fisheries in the province. Family Lake is fairly shallow, and it took me a while to get used to the fact that the most of the fish, even in mid-July, are going to be caught in waters between one to three metres.
Once that sunk in, we could have overflowed the boat with the walleye quantities we were bringing in and releasing. With that many fish and huge meals served three times a day, sleep came easily, even before the sun finally set. One evening after a rain a beautiful rainbow could be seen over the trees and lake. We did not have to look for the pot of gold, it was already stored in our memory banks, hoping for a return one day again.
Check the Shining Falls website at shiningfallslodge.com and call them for some excellent Canadian pricing.
If you go:
Bissett is about a three-hour drive from Winnipeg. The float plane that transports guests to the lodge usually leaves early in the morning. I recommend guests stay at the Northern Wings Bed & Breakfast. Barry Ecklund is a character and his wife serves a mean breakfast.
A writer and a podcaster, Ron's travel column appears in the Winnipeg Free Press every Saturday in the Destinations and Diversions section.