by Dave Weiman
Published in Midwest Flyer – October/November 2019 Issue
Last year, I wrote an article describing my flight to Ontario, Canada to participate in the annual Canada Fishing Fly-Out to Miminiska Lodge. Accompanying me was an old classmate of mine from the Twin Cities. It was great to reconnect with him, after 50 years – someone I used to see almost daily in and out of school because of our interest in music. While our careers led us in different directions, we really hadn’t changed that much.
This year I flew to Miminiska Lodge, August 8-13, 2019, with another old friend… someone I worked with at a YMCA camp during college. While we would occasionally see one another at staff reunions, neither of us ever envisioned we would someday be flying to Canada together to go fishing!
For the first leg of the trip, I flew from my home base in Oregon, Wisconsin, direct to Blue Earth, Minnesota (KSBU), to pick up my friend. From Blue Earth, I planned our route to Thunder Bay, Ontario via Rochester (RST) and Duluth (DLH) to take us passed our old Y camp near Amery, Wisconsin. Seeing the camp from 5000 feet MSL took us back 50 years, but from a different perspective – looking down from above, rather than around a campfire.
Isolated thunderstorms in Duluth, Minnesota, necessitated we divert to the west to Aitken, Minnesota (KAIT), then direct Thunder Bay. That flight path took us east of Mille Lacs Lake, and directly over my sister and brother-in-law’s land, where I helped build a cabin when I was 16 years old.
Great memories, but looking down at those woods reminded me of a turning point in my life. It was there I decided to spend $850.00 I had saved to buy a snowmobile, and instead get my pilot certificate.
Packing for the trip requires considerable planning, and includes our weight; essential equipment for the plane (i.e. extra oil, basic tools, tie-down kit, aircraft cover); and survival equipment and gear, such as life preservers, a personal locator beacon (PLB), first aid kit, tent, food and water, and warm clothes. Some pilots bring a shot gun with them for wildlife protection in the event of an emergency, off-field landing. In order to transport a firearm, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police requires pilots to complete a non-resident firearm declaration form (RCMP 5589) and pay a $25.00 fee. For pilots who fly over the Great Lakes, a life raft and dry suits are recommended, as is training in water ditching survival. Of course, what kind of a fishing trip would it be without “fishing tackle” (breakdown rods in protective rod cases are nice), a rain suit, and a hat. And don’t forget sunscreen, insect repellant and mosquito netting to go over your head. A copy of the “Canada Flight Supplement” and navigational charts are a must, even though most pilots nowadays use iPads with ForeFlight for flight planning and navigation, and most aircraft are equipped with GPS. Yes, it gets to be a lot of stuff. That’s why we encourage pilots in our group to fly two people per four-place aircraft, and to complete “weight and balance” computations to ensure they remain within the envelope for their aircraft. Planning one’s fuel stops is also essential because airports are far and few between in Canada.
Prior to taking off from Blue Earth, we donned our Revere life preservers, and I briefed my friend on emergency procedures, including what to do if we had to make a water landing; the location of tools to cut seat belts and break windows; and how to activate the onboard GPS Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT), and my Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), which I wore around my neck for quick access. Knowing that we would be on either a flight plan or flight itinerary, and that Canada has one of the best search and rescue organizations in the world, was reassuring. Knowing that my friend was an experienced emergency medical technician was also reassuring.
Months before the trip, I ordered and obtained my 2019 U.S. Customs & Border Protection “aircraft decal” online at https://dtops.cbp.dhs.gov. Then just days prior to the trip, I filed our outbound (from U.S.) and inbound (from Canada) “flight manifests” using the U.S. Customs & Border Protection electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS). (To register, go to https://eapis.cbp.dhs.gov/.)
The night before our departure from the United States, I called Canada Customs at 888-CAN-PASS and gave them our ETA to Thunder Bay International (CYQT) where we would clear Canada Customs. Canada Customs requires that pilots call them at least 2 hours in advance of their ETA, and no sooner than 48 hours in advance. If you think you will arrive earlier or later than anticipated (give or take 15 minutes), Canada Customs welcomes updates to your ETA. In providing ETAs, we also need to remember that both Thunder Bay and Miminiska Lodge are in the Eastern time zone, while Minnesota and Pickle Lake, Ontario are in the Central time zone. It would be a whole lot easier if U.S. and Canada Customs went by Zulu Time, but they don’t. It would also be helpful if all Customs offices used aircraft tracking tools, such as “FlightAware,” so they know exactly when we will be arriving at our airports of entry.
U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) requires that pilots confirm their ETA to their airport of entry as filed on their flight manifest at least 1 hour prior to their ETA, or prior to departing the U.S., then update it as necessary.
CBP states: “If changes to an already transmitted manifest are necessary, an updated and amended manifest must be submitted to CBP. Only amendments regarding flight cancellations, expected time of arrival (ETA) or changes in arrival location to an already transmitted manifest may be submitted telephonically, by radio, or through existing processes and procedures and should be coordinated directly with the CBP destination port.” If you change the “date” of your arrival, passengers or crew, you must submit a new flight manifest.
In order to cross the U.S. and Canada border, pilots must either be on a VFR or IFR flight plan, obtain a transponder squawk code from either Center or Flight Service, and be on frequency with either Center or Flight Service. The simplest way to fulfill all three requirements is to be on an IFR flight plan. When returning to the U.S. from Canada, pilots are required to follow the same procedure: file and activate a flight plan, obtain a squawk code, and be on frequency.
Radar and radio coverage in northeast Minnesota is sparse, especially at lower altitudes (we were at 5000 feet MSL flying to Thunder Bay), but Minneapolis Center knew our route of flight, last known position, groundspeed and ETA to Thunder Bay, even though we were not on radar. Once 50 miles or so southwest of Thunder Bay, we contacted Thunder Bay Arrival (Approach Control) and they picked us up on radar.
Customs officials in both the U.S. and Canada will want to see your pilot certificate and passport, as well as the passports of each crew member and passenger. It is also good to have your medical certificate and aircraft registration available should officials ask for them. The Canadian government also requires pilots to have a “certificate of insurance” proving liability coverage, and a “Radio-Telephone Operator’s Permit,” and a “Radio Station License” for your aircraft.
Upon landing, when you speak with either the Canada Customs official in person or on the telephone, the official will give you a “clearance report number” which you should keep in your possession throughout your stay. You should also request the official’s name and badge number to document who you spoke with or met. For the return flight back to the U.S., U.S. Customs will not give you a clearance report number, so be sure to get the name and badge number of the official you meet with at your airport of entry, as this will be the only proof you will have that you actually cleared customs.
Upon our arrival in Thunder Bay, Canada Border Services (CBS) officers were not present, which is not uncommon, especially if you arrive past normal business hours. In these circumstances, the pilot-in-command may get out of his aircraft and go inside the fixed base operation to call 888-CAN-PASS to clear customs. Thanks to cell phones and extended coverages, I simply called CBS while standing by my aircraft, and once I received our clearance report number, my passenger and I were both free to leave our aircraft. Remember that neither you as pilot-in-command – nor your passengers – may get out of your aircraft when you return to the U.S., until you are met by a U.S. Customs officer, and he gives you the okay.
Once we cleared customs in Thunder Bay, the fixed base operator topped us off and we called for the airport shuttle to the Valhalla Inn, located on the northeast corner of Thunder Bay International Airport. Others in our group who cleared customs in Thunder Bay the following day, topped off and flew on to Miminiska Lodge that same day without staying over. They just had to get up earlier than we did to arrive at Miminiska by 12:00 noon.
In Canada, pilots are required to file a flight plan if flying 25 miles beyond their departure airport, unless someone at their destination airport is expecting them, and can contact Winnipeg Flight Service (FSS) to initiate search and rescue if they do not show up within 1 hour of their ETA. But a flight plan is only as good as the radio reception or telephone at your destination, so you can cancel it upon your arrival.
Before we departed Thunder Bay, we contacted the Wilderness North office in Thunder Bay with our “flight itineraries.” They in turn notified Miminiska Lodge of our ETA via email. (See Transport Canada Regulations 602.73 thru 602.77.) Others in our group were flying from Cleveland, Ohio, so their airport of entry was Sault Ste Marie (CYAM).
The weather was excellent to Armstrong (CYYW), 79 nm south of Miminiska Lodge (CPS5), but after Armstrong, there were scattered rain showers and low ceilings.
We departed Thunder Bay with the plan that we would fly at least as far as Armstrong, look at the weather, and if nothing else, fly back to Thunder Bay if conditions hadn’t improved.
Those of us who flew together stayed in radio contact on 122.75 Mhz. As we flew north, we relayed observed weather conditions to one another, and reported our groundspeed, altitude and distance from Miminiska Lodge. We also monitored 126.7 Mhz, as that is the frequency used in Canada for pilot reports. And on a good day, depending on your altitude and position, you can reach Winnipeg Flight Service on that frequency, and on a number of other frequencies. Refer to the Canada Flight Supplement and navigation charts for frequencies, airport information and much more!
Most aircraft in our group were equipped with ADS–B in and out, providing both traffic and weather, and enabling us to keep track of one another enroute.
As we proceeded along our route of flight, the Wilderness North Cessna Caravan led the way and reported the flight conditions to the rest of us. Fortunately, the weather gradually improved, and by the time we arrived, the clouds were broken to scattered, and visibility was unrestricted.
Ralph Benjamin of Fitchburg, Wisconsin, was next in line with his Cessna 182 Skylane, followed by Phil and Mark Peterson of Oregon, Wisconsin in their C182, followed by yours truly in our C182, Greg Stratz of Fond du Lac in his Beechcraft F33A Bonanza, and Rex White of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin in his C182. A Glasair Sportsman 2+2, flown by Scott Alperin of Cleveland, Ohio, arrived that afternoon.
One aircraft in our group – a Beechcraft Travel Air BE95 flown by Bill Tenney of Cleveland, Ohio – arrived the day before, and a Beechcraft Model 35 V-Tail Bonanza flown by Bill Chase of Des Moines, Iowa, arrived later in the week. Eight aircraft in all with 21 pilots and passengers, from all walks of life. Unfortunately, we had to turn people away this year, as the lodge was full. A good reason to book this trip early!
There’s not always a satellite telephone available at the lodge, but there is WiFi internet service, and upon our arrival, the lodge manager emailed back to the Wilderness North office in Thunder Bay that we had arrived safely, thereby canceling our flight itineraries. “Wi-Fi Calling” through Verizon, using the iPhone 6 or newer version iPhone, has worked at Miminiska. If you have never used the Wi-Fi Calling feature on your iPhone, and Verizon is your mobile phone carrier, I encourage you to call Verizon at 800-922-0204 and have them assist you in setting it up. Also, be sure to shut down and reboot your iPhone once you land in Canada to ensure a good connection.
Very few Canada fishing lodges have their own airstrip, and fewer are as remote as Miminiska Lodge, located miles from any roads. This makes Miminiska especially appealing to pilots and true outdoorsmen.
Based on the information contained in the Canada Flight Supplement, the elevation at Miminiska Lodge (CPS5) is approximately 1000 feet ASL (Above Sea Level), so we used 2000 feet ASL as our pattern altitude, 122.8 Mhz as the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF), and began making position announcements 5 nm out below 4000 feet ASL.
Seeing the flags blowing on the sand point, which extends about 1,000 feet south from the lodge, and observing the direction of the waves on the lake, confirmed that the wind direction was from the west, at which time we entered on a left downwind for Runway 27.
Lodge manager, Matthew Scott, was standing by as we shut down and secured our aircraft. Matt then transported our gear to our cabins using an all-terrain vehicle.
It was great to get acquainted with Matt and reacquainted with fellow lodge manager, Dave Phillips, who worked at the lodge in 2018. Both Matt and Dave are from Fremantle, West Australia. Once we got settled in, Matt briefed us on lodge policy and procedures.
Miminiska Lodge features a rustic dining room overlooking the lake; a lounge for kicking back and relaxing; a full bar, billiard room, and big screen satellite television; and Wi-Fi internet as noted earlier. There is also a sauna by the lake, and canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards for your enjoyment.
Most of our pilots and their passengers had been on this trip in previous years, but joining us for the first time was a retired FAA inspector at the Milwaukee Flight Standards District Office, and his friend – both from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin; a student pilot from Middleton, Wisconsin; an optometrist from Cleveland, Ohio; and a pilot, and his son, grandson and best friend from Des Moines, Iowa.
Everyone in our group came from unique and diverse backgrounds. While our perspectives on life may differ, “flying” was our common denominator, and the news of the day was how the fish were biting, not politics.
Miminiska Lodge can accommodate up to 30 guests at a time, so after dinner the first night, we put all of the tables together and welcomed all guests to join us, including some folks from San Antonio, Texas. We were one happy group at the lodge for breakfast and dinner, and at our daily shore lunch on none other than “Shore Lunch Island.”
Personally, I would like to prepare our own shore lunches, but I am always out-voted in favor of having the staff at Miminiska Lodge prepare our meals for us. However, one of the staff members had to be flown out on a medical emergency, so some of us offered to prepare shore lunch for the rest of the group that day, and we had fun doing it.
Aside from that one shore lunch, all meals were professionally prepared and were superb! Each evening, guests complete a menu sheet to specify what they want for breakfast and lunch the following day – either group shore lunch or shore lunch on their own, or their choice of sandwiches. Regardless, everyone is treated to a batch of fresh baked homemade cookies!
Breakfast is served at 7:00 a.m. or whenever you get up. Group shore lunch is at noon. “Happy Half Hour” begins at 5:30 p.m., and dinner is served at 6:00 p.m. A fresh pot of coffee is delivered to your cabin each morning, and thermoses and coolers are waiting for you in your boat. From the dining room to the docks, the staff at Miminiska Lodge is the best!
What About The Fishing?
Located on the Albany River Watershed in northwest Ontario, Miminiska Lodge offers guests the opportunity to experience the raw beauty of pristine boreal wilderness. Northern Pike and Walleye are caught in abundance. Brook Trout can be caught at the mouth of the Albany River.
There are three ways to effectively catch fish at Miminiska Lodge – trolling, jigging and casting – but to be successful at either, we were advised by the more experienced fishermen in our group that you MUST keep your line in the water!
Trolling crankbaits is a good way to cover a large body of water and locate concentrations of Walleye and Northern Pike. Good baits are #7 and #9 fire tiger and purple tiger Flicker Shads, neon yellow and orange Perch Pattern Shads, and orange and gold Rapala Shad Raps and similar crankbaits that run 8-12 feet below the surface. Jointed Rapalas are good for shallower depths and attract both species of fish.
Jigging over structure is a traditional way of catching Walleye and the unsuspecting Northern Pike. For jigging, we used 1/8th and 1/4-ounce jigs in a variety of colors with Mister Twister Tails in chartreuse or white. Jigs with any variety of artificial Gulp minnow, worm or leaches also work extremely well.
Casting copper or silver spoons in the bays is always effective for Northern Pike. Casting crank baits on a wind-blown shore is usually productive for Walleye.
None of us used any live bait, but it can be ordered in advance through Wilderness North. You cannot bring live bait into Canada from the U.S.
As for fishing rods, I take two rods and several reels: one medium weight rod for Walleyes and one heavy weight rod for Northerns. If you don’t have a heavy weight rod, two medium weight rods will work, as well.
Wilderness North will obtain Ontario fishing licenses and outdoors cards for guests, as well as any special beverages and provisions desired, providing the office is notified in advance.
Everything is waiting for you upon your arrival. And when you are ready to depart, any fish you have caught to take home are cleaned, frozen and placed in your cooler for you.
Guests are allowed to keep two fish of each species: Northern Pike under 27 inches in length, and Walleyes under 18 inches. This is a conservation policy which helps to maintain a superb fishery.
The lodge provides 16 ft. Lund boats with 25 hp, 4-stroke, electric start Yamaha motors and fish finders.
Guides are available, but are not necessary for guests who have navigated the waters before, but are highly recommended for newcomers or inexperienced fishermen.
The lodge has a detailed map of the watershed showing where to catch each species of fish, but due to an increase in water temperature and a decrease in water level, that does not always hold true. Regardless, there was plenty of action for everyone, and we never went hungry.
For those who want to take a break from fishing, there are waterfalls on one end of the river you can hike to see, an old gold mining camp, and Church Island, where there is a small church you can go inside and sign the guest book. Outside the church is the grave of the last native priest to have held services there. Miminiska Lodge also offers one-day excursions for Brook Trout fishing and canoeing on nearby rivers. For those trips, guests were flown out by Lucy Newell of New Zealand with a de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver on straight floats.
Our Flight Home
Guests on the Canada Fishing Fly-Out to Miminiska Lodge have their choice of either a three-night/two-day trip, or a five-night/four-day trip, so our arrival and departure days varied somewhat, as did our routes flying home. Some of us filed IFR flight plans and others, VFR flight plans, and cleared U.S. Customs in either Duluth, International Falls, Sault Ste Marie, Green Bay or Des Moines.
Since Miminiska Lodge is 196 nm north of Thunder Bay, pilots need to climb to 10,000 feet MSL and be within 100 nm of the Canada/U.S. border before they can reach Winnipeg Center. However, your flight plan is automatically activated as per the proposed time of departure specified on your flight plan. To confirm your actual departure time, you can contact Winnipeg Flight Service shortly after takeoff once you reach altitude.
A number of us flew to Pickle Lake, Ontario (CYPL), located 62 nm west of Miminiska, Lodge, for fuel, to file our flight plans, and to call U.S. Customs at our airports of entry to confirm or update our ETAs. Due to winds aloft, we filed and maintained 4000 MSL, and activated our flight plan to International Falls (KINL) with Thunder Bay Radio upon our departure from Pickle Lake (122.2 Mhz 5 NM 4300 ASL).
Thunder Bay Radio advised us to call Winnipeg Center 150 miles north of International Falls, but while we could hear Center on frequency at that distance, they could not hear us until we were about 75 miles north of International Falls at our altitude. We were unable to reach Minneapolis Center until we were 30 miles from International Falls.
2020 Canada Fishing Fly-Out
The dates and trip options for the 2020 Canada Fishing Fly-Out to Miminiska Lodge are August 9-12, 2020 and August 12-15, 2020 for the three-night/two-day trips, and August 9-14, 2020 for the five-night/four-day trip. For special group rates, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For reservations, call Lynette Mish at Wilderness North toll free at 888-465-3474, and be sure to check out the Wilderness North website: www.wildernessnorth.com. There’s even a special section on the website for pilots who fly their own aircraft to the lodge, like us.
Some people go on this trip for the fishing, and others for the adventure of the flight, but most go for the total experience and pilot camaraderie, and to reinvigorate oneself, meet new people, and reconnect with old friends!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out the podcast about this trip, which was originally aired on the weekly radio program, the “World of Aviation” on Minneapolis AM 1280 and FM 107.5. Select the 7/28/2019 podcast: https://am1280thepatriot.com/content/all/world-of-aviation-podcast, or simply go to: www.am1280thepatriot.com and click on “podcasts,” then scan down to the “World of Aviation” and select the 7/28/2019 podcast.
Program host, Al Malmberg, and Dave Weiman of Midwest Flyer Magazine, did a series of four 15-minute programs during EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2019 in July. The fourth program is devoted to describing the Canada Fishing Fly-Out to Miminiska Lodge.
This flyout is a service of Wilderness North. Neither Midwest Flyer Magazine, Flyer Publications, Inc., nor their staffs and owners, or anyone else affiliated with the magazine, assume any responsibility for reliance on the information contained herein or elsewhere, or liability for anyone’s participation on the trip or for the trip itself. Any flight planning and navigational information mentioned in this article or elsewhere is subject to change and error, and is the responsibility of the reader to research, verify and confirm. Pilots are urged to reference the Canada Flight Supplement, Canada Navigational Charts, Nav Canada and Federal Aviation Administration publications and resources, and the various electronic data bases, such as ForeFlight, to obtain and confirm information.
Whether on wheels or floats, this Canada fishing trip is for you, so don’t put off booking your trip for 2020, as space is limited!