10 Planes To Miminiska

by Dave Weiman

Looking south with the lodge located north of the sand-point peninsula.

Seven years ago when my neighbor and I started flying to Canada, we were hopeful that such a trip would interest others. To be successful, we felt that the destination had to be to a remote location, but not so remote or far from the United States and Canada border to be difficult and costly. The destination would also need to be accessible by air, preferably with an airport on premises. The fishing had to be good. And last, the price had to be reasonable. After a little trial and error, we found the perfect destination in 2007 and have been returning there ever since.

Miminiska Lodge, located 196 nm north of Thunder Bay, Ontario, on the Albany River Watershed, is the place. Miminiska has a 50 X 2400 ft. turf runway (Rwy 9/27), and is only accessible by air. The airport identifier is CPS5. (Refer to the “Thunder Bay” VFR Navigation Chart and Canada Flight Supplement.) Miminiska is one of five fishing lodges owned by Wilderness North of Thunder Bay, Ontario, but the only lodge with its own private airstrip. Alan and Krista Cheeseman are the proprietors. The company owns a fleet of aircraft, including several floatplanes.

Each year the trip has grown, and pilots seem to go for three reasons: 1) the adventure of the flight, 2) great fishing, and 3) pilot camaraderie.

Trip planning can start a year or a month in advance; the earlier a pilot begins, the more prepared and knowledgeable one will be, and the trip will be more enjoyable.

The single most important reference guide for flying in Canada I feel is the “Canada Flight Supplement.” This 3-inch thick publication is filled with information a pilot needs to know about flying in Canada; tips on wilderness survival; and detailed information on every airport in the country with diagrams, communication frequencies, and hours, days and months of operation. The annual supplement is available at “Sporty’s.”

While Canada has not yet required foreign aircraft to have a 406 Mhz GPS Emergency Location Beacon (ELT) installed, the 406 ELT is highly recommended because 121.5 ELTs are no longer monitored by satellites. Aircraft registered in Canada are required to have 406 ELTs.

If you are interested in installing a 406 ELT, consider the Kannad Integra 406 GPS ELT, which has a built-in GPS and an internal antenna, and does not require an external power source (www.kannad.com).

The 406 Mhz Personal Location Beacon (PLB) is a good backup and costs considerably less than a 406 ELT. However, PLBs require the pilot to manually activate them, compared with the 406 ELT, which will activate upon impact. Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) or life vests are likewise encouraged.

When you file a flight plan with Winnipeg Flight Service, they will ask what emergency and survival equipment you have onboard, so having some equipment will save face and could save your life!

The  “Thunder Bay” VFR navigation chart covers the entire route of flight between Thunder Bay and Miminiska, but it is a good idea to also have some adjoining charts in the event the pilot must divert because of weather.

Enrolling In eAPIS

Since the events of 9-11, security along the border has increased, and therefore as pilots, we are responsible to help ensure that security.

In addition to filing a flight plan before crossing the border, pilots are required to enroll in the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS) online at https://eapis.cbp.dhs.gov/, and complete a “Flight Manifest” for each flight. The Flight Manifest is an elaborate flight plan that not only includes the pilot’s name, aircraft registration number, type, color, and number of persons onboard, but also the pilot’s certificate number, date of birth, and passport number, and that of each crew member and passenger. U.S. Customs also wants to know where at the border aircraft will be crossing, so a bearing and distance from the closest VOR or airport, or the latitude and longitude, will suffice.

Once you are enrolled in the eAPIS program, pilots must email their notice of arrival and/or departure to Customs & Border Protection at least 60 minutes prior to departure (3 hours in advance is recommended), and no sooner than 30 days in advance, or through an authorized third-party vendor.

Once registered, the system allows pilots to enter their outbound (to Canada) and inbound (to United States) flight and passenger information before they depart on a trip. You can also save your Flight Manifest for future flights, so all you have to do is update it with dates, ETAs, and any new passenger and passport information.

Changing airports and estimated times of arrival do not require a new Flight Manifest, providing the flight is on the same date. Pilots are required to file a new Flight Manifest if there is a change in dates, crew or passengers.

The Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA) has an eAPIS Online Course, which is available to all pilots, not just AOPA members: http://flash.aopa.org/asf/eAPIS/.

The Experimental Aircraft Association has developed a “kneeboard fact sheet” that can be downloaded for preflight planning at http://www.eaa.org/news/2010/2010-05-21 cbp.asp.

In addition to filing the Flight Manifest, pilots are required to contact the U.S. or Canada Customs Office at their airport of entry by telephone, and either confirm or change their ETA prior to departing either the United States or Canada.

Prior to departing the United States, we called Canada Customs and confirmed our ETA to Thunder Bay. (Note: Canada Customs requires that pilots contact them up to 48 hours in advance, and at least 2 hours prior to their ETA): 888-CAN-PASS (888-226-7277) (www.canada.gc.ca). We try to provide an accurate ETA and are allowed plus or minus 15 minutes.

Pilot, Plane & Passenger Documentation

I carry the following documents onboard my aircraft, or on my person:
– U.S. Passport
– Pilot Certificate, which states: English Proficient.
– FAA Medical Certificate
– U.S. Customs Decal.
– Copies of the U.S. Customs “Traveler Manifests.”
– Radio Station License (required in Canada).
– Radio-Telephone Operator’s Permit (required in Canada).
– Aircraft Registration Certificate
– Aircraft Airworthiness Certificate
– Aircraft Operating Limitations
– Weight & Balance Information
– Proof of Liability Insurance (required in Canada)
– Copy of my most recent Biennial Flight Review logbook entry.
– Copy of the current Annual Aircraft & Powerplant inspection logbook entries.

U.S. Customs Aircraft Decals can be ordered online at www.cbp.gov, or the form can be downloaded and faxed or mailed, along with a check or credit card number in the amount of $27.50 to:
U.S. Customs & Border Protection
Attn: DTOPS Program Administrator
6650 Telecom Drive, Suite 100
Indianapolis IN 46278

For assistance call (317) 298-1245, Fax: 317-290-3219, or email: decals@dhs.gov.

U.S. Customs Aircraft Decals can be renewed online through the Decal and Transponder Online Procurement System (DTOPS) at https://dtops.cbp.dhs.gov.

Crossing The United States/Canada Border

Most pilots that go on this trip stop in Ely, Minnesota enroute to Thunder Bay to get gas, update or confirm their ETA into Thunder Bay with Canada Customs, and obtain a transponder squawk code from either Princeton Flight Service or Minneapolis Center. But pilots also have the option of flying non-stop to Thunder Bay, if they can provide an accurate ETA to Canada Customs (plus or minus 15 minutes).

Princeton FSS has advised pilots flying to Canada that they 1) need to be talking to or on frequency with either Center or FSS), 2) have a flight plan, and 3) be squawking an assigned transponder code.

Prior to crossing the border from the United States to Canada, we filed a VFR flight plan and obtained a transponder squawk code from Princeton FSS by transmitting on 122.1 and receiving over the Ely VOR on 109.6 on the ground using their Remote Communications Outlet (RCO). We could also contact them on the radio from the air, or call them on the ground at 800-WX-BRIEF or 866-841-6469. Princeton’s discrete phone number is 763-389-5880.

From the time Minneapolis Center gave FSS a transponder code to relay to us, we had only 1 hour to cross the border before the transponder code expired.

We could have also gotten a transponder code directly from Minneapolis Center on 120.9, 127.9, or 121.725, providing we were 5,000 feet or higher. Aircraft need to be 10,000 feet or higher to get radar coverage.

Once we obtained our transponder code from Princeton FSS, we stayed on their radio frequency until we were past the border and signed off with them as required, then squawked 1200 VFR as we were on a VFR flight plan, until we contacted Thunder Bay Approach and they gave us a different code. VFR and IFR altitudes are the same in Canada as they are in the U.S. as per the direction of flight, East/West, Odd/Even, plus 500 feet for VFR, but it hasn’t always been that way.

Our Arrival At Thunder Bay

We landed at Thunder Bay International Airport (CYQT), and taxied and parked our plane at ESSO (807-577-1178) where “Larry the Ramp Guy” greeted us. Main Teir Shell is located immediately next door and likewise provides excellent service (807-475-5915).

Upon landing, Thunder Bay Tower informed me that they had cancelled our VFR flight plan, which was one less thing I had to do on the ground.

Since a Canada Customs officer did not meet us when we taxied up to the ramp and parked, as pilot-in-command, I was allowed to get out of the aircraft and walk into the ESSO office to call Canada Customs at 888-CAN-PASS (888-226-7277) to inform them that we had arrived. My passenger remained in the aircraft as required while I made the call. The Canada Customs officer I spoke with asked me a few questions to determine what – if any – duty items we might have onboard. For instance, each person is allowed no more than two normal sized bottles of wine (1.5 liters), 24 bottles or cans of beer (8.5 liters), or 40 ounces of spirits (1.14 liters), duty free! Each person is also allowed 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars and 200g of loose tobacco. Following the question and answer period, the customs officer issued us a “clearance number,” and I requested his badge number, so I had a record of who I spoke with. In the United States, neither the pilot nor passengers are allowed to leave the aircraft until a customs officer arrives and gives the okay.

We had reservations at the Valhalla Inn that night, located immediately adjacent to the airport, so we called for the shuttle.

Flight Plan or Flight Notification?

Everyone on the trip met up, either at the airport or at the hotel, and discussed our next day’s flight.

In Canada, pilots are required to file a flight plan if 25 miles beyond their departure airport, unless someone at their destination airport is expecting them, and can contact Flight Service to initiate search and rescue if they do not show up within 1 hour of their ETA.

As an alternative to filing a VFR flight plan with Winnipeg Flight Service, pilots in our group had the option of filing a “Flight Notification” with Wilderness North at its Thunder Bay office when flying VFR from Thunder Bay to Miminiska Lodge, and from Miminiska Lodge to Pickle Lake. Ted Collins at Wilderness North was the “Responsible Person,” and we let him know when we would be departing and what our ETA to Miminiska Lodge was.

We could contact Ted at the Wilderness North office in Thunder Bay at 800-263-3474 (Wilderness North Flight Watch), 807-983-2047 (Office Hot Line), or 807-630-3470 (Cell). Ted then emailed the lodge to confirm that we had departed by pilot’s name and aircraft tail number.

Upon our arrival at Miminiska Lodge, manager Phyllis Nagle emailed Ted and informed him that we had arrived. Had Phyllis not contacted Ted within 1 hour past our ETA, he would have initiated Search & Rescue procedures by first contacting her at the lodge, looking for another airplane in the group, searching airports, asking others to listen for an ELT on 121.5 (transmits on 406 as well), or calling Winnipeg FSS, which would have in turn contacted the Canadian Forces.

We were still required to file a flight plan with Winnipeg Flight Service on flights crossing the United States and Canada border, and we did so before departing Pickle Lake, Ontario to Ely.

Once we filed our flight plan in Canada, Winnipeg Flight Service would assume that we departed as planned, and our flight plan would opened automatically.

A new option available to us this year in Canada was to file our flight plans online, but most pilots found the “Flight Notification” option through Wilderness North more convenient. To register with Nav Canada to file online, go to www.flightplanning.navcanada.ca (800-876-4693).

Following breakfast at 7:00 am at the Valhalla Inn, we boarded the van to the airport and everyone launched by 9:00 am based on aircraft speed with the faster planes in the lead.

Since there is no “Flight Following” or other radar advisories flying at low altitude, our group remained in contact with one another on the preferred aircraft-to-aircraft frequency 122.75 and reported our positions about every 50 miles or so. Our lead aircraft – a Cessna 206 – kept the rest of us informed on cloud cover and weather conditions.

In addition, Winnipeg FSS broadcasts PIREPs and inflight weather warnings as needed on 126.7, so they advise pilots to monitor this frequency.

The airstrip at Miminiska Lodge as seen flying from east to west along Runway 27.

When calling Winnipeg FSS on “discrete frequencies,” (frequencies used for a specific airport or region), we stated who we were calling when initially contacting them, so they know what Remote Communications Outlet (RCO) we were using, i.e. “Winnipeg Radio at Thunder Bay.”

Our Stay At Miminiska Lodge

Miminiska’s airport identifier is CPS5. The field elevation is 1,000 feet, and the runway 09/27 is turf and 2400 X 50 feet. Runway 09 slopes down, and the threshold is soft (sand patches). The unicom frequency is 122.8 (5 nm 4000 ASL). Refer to the Canada Flight Supplement for detailed information.

All 10 planes tied down at Miminiska Lodge.

Our choice of runways that day was 27, which brought us over the lake. We kept our speed up so once we descended below treetop level and lost the wind, we were able to maintain sufficient altitude and not descend too fast. Even with our increased approach speeds, all but one aircraft was able to make the turnoff mid-field at the aircraft parking area.

The nice thing about returning to the same lodge each year is that we get to know the staff and they get to know us. When we arrived, it was like coming home! Everyone at camp greeted us at the airport upon our arrival and assisted us with our bags.

The accommodations at Miminiska Lodge have not been compromised by its remote location. Guests stay in either one of two chalet buildings with accommodations for 12 people – six in each of the upper and lower levels – with their own private entrances and staircases. A four-suite building away from the main complex accommodates groups of eight. Three four-person cabins offer privacy along the lakeshore.

After lunch, a number of us went fishing, and others hung around their cabins and relaxed, and got their tackle in order for the next day.

Trophy Fishing & Shore Lunch

John Doerfer of Verona, Wisconsin, with one of many trophy Northern Pikes that were caught and released.

The lodge provides well-maintained boats with 25 hp outboard motors, and a detailed map of Lake Miminiska, the river, and numerous bays and inlets, noting where each species of fish can be caught, and where rocks can be avoided.

One of the all-time favorite fishing spots is called “Walleye Mine!”

Betty Koch and her husband, Mike, flew to Miminiska Lodge in their Piper Archer from their home in Neosho, Wisconsin. This Northern Pike that Betty caught, made the trip worthwhile. The Walleye action was excellent as well.

To the north of Walleye Mine is a north/south bay with some of the best trophy Northern Pike fishing found anywhere in North America. Snake Falls and Miminiska Falls are excellent for multi-specie fishing. Guided trips are available to explore the upper reaches of Snake Falls, Eskakwa Falls and Upper Eskakwa Falls for Speckled Trout, Walleye, Northern Pike and Whitefish. Petawanga Lake, further along the Albany River to the east, offers many different venues, and lots of room to explore. The Albany River exits Petawanga at the east end, and this outflow is a good spot for larger Walleyes, and the occasional Speckled Trout. Trophy Northerns are also present there. The mouth of Fire Creek is also excellent fishing.

Fly-outs to other lakes and rivers are available, using either a de Havilland Beaver or turbo Otter, but require a minimum of four people. The Keezhik Lake is a great producer of trophy Pike, with many islands and bays producing steady action. Ozhiski is a huge lake, worth a visit for its large Walleye.

Two people on our trip from Missouri hired a guide and recorded catching 481 fish during their stay, but all of us had great action throughout the week.

Our bait varied, but black Gulp leaches on white or pink 1/8-ounce jigs worked well for me for both Walleyes and Northerns. Each guest is allowed to take home two of each species of fish, up to a certain length, which preserves the fishing quality in the area.

As a group, we opt to have a shore lunch on “Shore Lunch Island” each day, expertly prepared by the staff.

Meals At The Lodge

2011 Canadian fly-out participants.

Breakfast is served on your schedule between 7:00 and 9:00 am, and ordered from a menu. Evening meals at the lodge are no less than gourmet, served with your choice of beverage.

Each evening, the lodge provides a hospitality hour before dinner at its full-service bar.

Each night after dinner, a number of us would gather outside at one particular spot along the walkway to use our iPads with the wireless satellite system at the lodge. This was a first for our group at Miminiska, and it is all due to the popularity of iPads, and in particular the software “Foreflight” for flight planning and aeronautical charts and approach plates.

Just before the trip, Foreflight came out with its geo-referenced IFR enroute charts and procedures for Canada, and it is now available at the Apple Store (www.ForeFlight.com). Pilots on the trip that did not own an iPad will by the time the 2012 trip rolls around.

On the last night of the trip, we were treated to prime rib, then after sunset, we gathered for a bomb fire on the sand point peninsula by the lodge.

It was a good night to view the stars and the International Space Station passing overhead.

Our Flights Home

That evening, we discussed procedures for our flights home.

One pilot flying a Bonanza filed an instrument flight plan with Winnipeg FSS using “Skype” on the Internet. He was able to pick up an instrument clearance once airborne, and flew direct from Miminiska to Green Bay, Wisconsin to clear U.S. Customs.

The pilot reported that at 10,000 feet MSL, he was able to reach Winnipeg FSS on 123.47 to open his flight plan. He then was able to reach Winnipeg Center on 132.12 when he was 120 nm north of Thunder Bay.

Three other pilots in our group flying a Cessna 182RG flew direct to Ely, Minnesota to clear U.S. Customs, then on to their destination in Minneapolis. The pilots of the remaining eight aircraft – two Cessnas and six Pipers – opted to fly 61 nm west of Miminiska Lodge to Pickle Lake to take on more fuel, file their flight plans, and confirm or update their ETAs with U.S. Customs & Border Protection at Ely, Minnesota as required, using the telephone at Northern Frontier Aviation.

Pilots flying into Pickle Lake are required to contact Thunder Bay Radio on 122.2 when 5 nm and 4300 ASL for traffic advisories before landing or taking off.

The air traffic control specialist we spoke with at Thunder Bay Radio is not physically at Pickle Lake and does not have radar. The specialist apparently makes notes of our position, and those of other pilots, and advises everyone accordingly. The specialist can only visualize the traffic, so pilots need to remain vigilant and keep the specialist informed.

Remote Communications Outlets (RCOs) are very popular in Canada, and a cost-effective alternative to having an air traffic control tower at airports. We have been advised by Winnipeg FSS that most RCOs are not dial-ups, but some are. Winnipeg FSS can be reached on 123.475 for Flight Information Service Enroute (FISE).

The pilot of the Cessna 206 in our group blew a tire on landing at Pickle Lake, but fortunately Northern Frontier Aviation had a mechanic on duty that day and the pilot was only delayed 30 minutes.

Speaking of time, Pickle Lake is on Eastern Standard Time (EST) year-around, which is the same as Central Daylight Time (CDT) at Ely. Thunder Bay and Miminiska Lodge are on Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). Additionally, Customs goes by the 2400-hour clock, but do not follow Greenwich or Universal Time (Zulu Time), so we had to be careful how we gave them our ETAs.

At Pickle Lake, we notified U.S. Customs at Ely, Minnesota of our updated ETAs as required at least 1 hour prior to our arrival, by calling 218-365-3262 (office) or 218-349-9283 (cell). We also filed our flight plans with Winnipeg FSS at 866-WX-BRIEF or 866-992-7433 (when calling within Canada). Within Canada or the United States, we could call 866-541-4103.

One by one we departed Pickle Lake, and one by one we kept climbing to get above the cloud buildups – some of us all the way to 12,500 feet.

The Customs Officer at Ely was waiting for us when we arrived.

2012 Canadian Fishing Fly-Out

The dates for the 2012 Canadian Fishing Fly-Out To Miminiska Lodge are August 15-19, 2012. Most participants will arrive in Thunder Bay, Ontario on Tuesday, August 14 and stay overnight at the Days Inn & Suites, so they can get an early start for Miminiska Lodge on Wednesday, August 15. We will depart Miminiska Lodge on Sunday, August 19, immediately following breakfast.

Pilots interested in the trip should contact Joe Pichey at Wilderness North for rates and reservations: 866-984-1705 or 972-984-1700, or via email: joe@wildernessnorth.com.

Be sure to tell Joe that you are registering for the “Canadian Fishing Fly-Out To Miminiska Lodge,” as we have a special group discount rate. Register before December 20, 2011 and receive an additional 10% discount if paid by check, or 7% if paid by credit card. Payments can be mailed to Wilderness North, Inc., PO Box 22012 Strathcona RPO, Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada P7A 8A8.

Reservations at the Days Inn & Suites can be made at 807-622-3297 or 1-800-DAYSINN.  Be sure to request the “Miminiska Lodge” block of rooms and receive a discounted rate of $105.00 per night.

Once you have registered for the trip, you must order your fishing license and Canada Outdoor Card in advance using the following website link: www.wildernessnorth.com/trip_planning_licensing.php

Order any special beverages that you do not wish to transport yourself using the following link: www.wildernessnorth.com/beverage_order.php.

For additional information on Miminiska Lodge, refer to the Wilderness North website: www.wildernessnorth.com.

DISCLAIMER: The Canadian Fishing Fly-Out To Miminiska Lodge is a service of Miminiska Lodge and its parent company, Wilderness North. The information provided herein or elsewhere is being provided strictly as an overview of one pilot’s experience flying from the United States to Canada and back, and should not be used for navigation or U.S. or Canada Customs purposes. For additional and current information, refer to the Canada Flight Supplement, navigational charts, and information available from the Federal Aviation Administration, Nav Canada, U.S. Customs & Border Protection, Canada Customs, Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, and other sources. Neither Dave Weiman, Midwest Flyer Magazine or its parent company, Flyer Publications, Inc., assume any liability for the reliance upon any information contained in this article or for the trip itself.

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