As The Geese Migrate, So Must The Seaplanes!

by Philip Mattison
Published in Midwest Flyer – August/September 2017 issue

I met Brian Schanche, the owner of Adventure Seaplanes, 20 years ago when I responded to a want ad in the newspaper about seaplane rental. Do you remember the want ads?

The day I got my seaplane rating, and then rented one of Brian’s planes, changed my life forever. I rented his Super Cub and made my first solo flight to my home on Forest Lake in Forest Lake, Minnesota. That evening I picked up my wife, Kathleen. The sunset flight was at 1500 feet into light winds above the lake with the power pulled back and the windows open. The little Cub seemed to just hang there not moving! From the backseat Kathleen whispered into my headset, “This is fantastic! Can we get one of these?” I responded immediately, “How much would you like me to spend?”

Our first seaplane was a yellow and black 1999 Cub Crafters 2,000 pound Super Cub. I flew it all over the lake country in the Midwest. Brian, flying his now famous yellow and blue Cessna 185, and I in my yellow Super Cub, made the first of many Adventure Seaplanes Arctic Circle trips, together. He had two adventurous, land-based pilots from Arizona flying with him, and I had my best buddy, Wolfgang, flying with us in his red and white Husky.

I soon became a seaplane and bush flight instructor so I could provide instruction and guidance on flying these seaplane adventures with Brian. Brian has a steady flow of land-based pilots who are looking for the flying adventure of a lifetime. Together, we have visited many fish camps throughout Canada and have flown low over hundreds of polar bears. We’ve floated the mouth of the Churchill River with our friend, Wally, who owns the Lazy Bear Lodge, looking at beluga whales, polar bears and even the occasional killer whale.

Of course, we have caught hundreds and hundreds of fish! Many are world class, such as Arctic Char, Lake Trout, Northern Pike, Walleye, and Grayling. Most of all, I like flying long, low, cross-country flights with a group of seaplanes and their pilots. Managing the landing locations, fueling, bad weather, and the occasional adversity is fantastic and part of the experience.

I think the adversity is what really makes the adventures stick out in my mind. Imagine waking up in the morning to find fresh tracks from an Arctic Wolf all around your tent. We’ve been chased away from our lunch as a bear came into camp, then watched from a boat 20 feet away as it ate our freshly cooked fish and rummaged through our gear. This is something you will tell your grandkids someday, I thought to myself.

Having the exhaust pipe blown off a cylinder when a hot start goes wrong in the middle of a mid-lake refueling stop in the subarctic, brings out the MacGyver in the group. It is simply amazing the repairs that can be made with a bent trolling spoon, a hose clamp, some safety wire and the aluminum from a can of Canadas Famous Blue Beer! That repair allowed this plane and pilot to finish the last 1,000 miles home from the Arctic Circle.

But then comes winter! The planes of the north country get all snuggled in their hangars only to awaken on those clear, warm winter days. Preheating the plane and wearing boots, gloves, warm coats and blankets are the most important tools of the Midwest pilot. But, where do the seaplanes go?

Every spring and fall, a few intrepid pilots contact Adventure Seaplanes and join the migration. Yes, the geese and the seaplanes fly south for the winter. Each fall, Adventure Seaplanes moves three to six of its aircraft from its operations in Minnesota, south to Lake Wales, Florida. The rental planes and the flight school make their winter home at the Cherry Pocket Steak and Seafood Shak and Fish Camp on Lake Pierce. We fondly refer to it as the “Red Neck Riviera.” This part of old Florida is not like either coast with its massive crowds of tourists. This is the edge of swamp country, south of Kissimmee. The area is about fresh water flying, fishing, air boats, and alligators.

It is a beat up central Florida fish camp with dense Spanish moss hanging from the trees. The restaurant’s main feature is the Tiki topped boat bar. The sign on the railing says “Dont feed the gators.” The service is great, and the food is fantastic and ranges from fresh gator to raw oysters and burgers. There is live music at the end of the week. The customers range from hardcore bikers, to casually dressed senior citizens, and of course, the seaplane pilots fit right in; seaplanes are like bikes with wings.

The seaplanes at Cherry Pocket line the shore waiting for a different kind of adventure: flying low and slow over the vast swamps and canals, looking for gators and earning a seaplane rating.

The spring and fall migrations, and the Churchill and Arctic Circle trips, are the Crown Jewels of Adventure Seaplanes. Woody Minar and I led this year’s Minnesota to Florida migration. My student, Wayne Baxter of Lake Wales, Florida, was flying his first seaplane cross country. Wayne had a grand total of 20 hours of Cessna 172 wheel aircraft time in his logbook. This 58-year-old student pilot didnt even have his private pilot certificate finished yet! You should have seen his excitement as he flew between the bluffs and low and slow over the Mississippi River southbound on the first day. Seeing the massive flocks of ducks, dipping our wings to the late season fisherman, and inspecting the huge locks and dams as we flew in formation with another Cub and a Cessna 172, is an amazing introduction to the world of flying floats.

Wayne, being from Florida, was familiar with Adventure Seaplanes. He learned about the migration a few years ago when he was at the Cherry Pocket when AOPA President & CEO Mark Baker arrived in his Beech 18 on straight floats, along with the rest of that year’s migration. When Wayne called and asked if he could ride along on this year’s migration, he never imagined the true nature of the adventure or that to his surprise and delight, he would log every bit of the three days and 16 hours in the front seat of the Super Cub as the sole manipulator of the controls.

Wayne was the MacGyver on this trip. He is very mechanically skilled and came to the rescue as he diagnosed a starter failure at a refueling stop on a beach on Rend Lake in southern Illinois. We normally land and transfer fuel stored in fuel containers carried in the floats to the wings several times on the 1200-mile trip. Some local boats from the Rend Lake Marina in Benton, Illinois, came to our rescue. They towed our distressed plane into the marina, tying it up in a slip for the night, and a few phone calls later, we had hotel rooms for the night, and parts and a mechanic were arriving in the morning.

The weekend inhabitants of the marina thought this was a great excuse for an end-of-season party. The next thing we knew there was food, beer, whiskey, stories, and laughter being shared with our new friends. They even took us to our hotel that evening and picked us up the next morning. This was so unique to have three airplanes docked at the marina, that the local newspaper sent two reporters out to interview us.

That morning, Wayne balanced over the water on planks spanning the floats as he helped remove and replace the prop, the cowling, and finally the starter. Soon the hard work was completed and we were airborne by noon—after our hosts brought us catfish lunches.

Halloween night we landed right at dark at the seaplane base in Guntersville, Alabama (8A1). The airport manager and two local seaplane pilots hosted us to a fantastic dinner party at their favorite local restaurant.

Then another long day of flying and a few more fuel stops, including one in the mouth of the Suwannee River where it dumps its muddy water into the Gulf of Mexico. We just happened to dock along a seawall at a home to a former Air Force pilot and former pilot for John Travolta. Finally we raced the setting sun as we lined up for the Cherry Pocket approach that evening. Wayne made a fantastic approach, low and slow over the top of the trees, pitch down toward the big Florida Lilly pads, then raising the nose as the Cub gently settled onto the water.

As we taxied to the beach, some of the Red Neck Rivieras finest were greeting us in their golf carts with fresh beers. After we tied up the planes, Ken, who flew with Brian in his C185, called his wife from the Tiki bar and said, “Sell everything! We are moving to Cherry Pocket!” We all celebrated the great adventure as a “whiskey front” slowly moved in and we forgot about the freezing cold water back home in Minnesota.

If you have ever dreamt of flying off the grid and experiencing the forgotten ways of the bush pilot, come get a seaplane rating at Cherry Pocket in south central Florida this winter or next spring at Surfside Seaplane Base (8Y4) in Lino Lakes, located on the eastern edge of Anoka Couty-Blaine Airports Class D airspace near Minneapolis. Why not consider flying a Canadian fishing trip or fly the migration each spring and fall? I can tell you from my experiences, a seaplane rating could change your life!

For additional information, contact Brian and Lori Schanche at Adventure Seaplanes. You can find them at www.adventureseaplanes.com or call them at 612-868-4243 or 612-749-1337. Watch their videos on YouTube and Facebook. They have a regular Facebook feed called “Where The Seaplanes Are.” Just search Adventure Seaplanes and you will find them. When you call, tell them Phil and Woody sent you!

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