Flying On Wheels In The Canadian Bush…

Midwest Flyer Magazine Makes Sixth Trip To Northern Ontario

by Dave Weiman

Pilots who have participated in the “Canadian Fishing Fly-Out To Miminiska Lodge” in northern Ontario, have indicated that they enjoy the excellent fishing for trophy Walleye and Northern Pike, the pilot camaraderie, the daily shore lunches, and fine evening meals. But what they enjoy the most is the experience and adventure of flying to Canada – on wheels – to a private airstrip in the middle of nowhere! Yes, floatplanes are popular in Canada, but this trip welcomes both wheels and floats, and you don’t need an instrument rating because this trip is flown VFR.

Miminiska Lodge is located on the Albany River Watershed, and is remote enough that you know you are definitely in the Canadian bush (196 nm north of Thunder Bay, Ontario). Yet, you are not so far from the United States and Canada border that you have to be worried about being weathered in at some remote location.

Miminiska has a 2400 X 50 ft. turf runway (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 for details.)

Miminiska is one of five fishing lodges owned by Wilderness North of Thunder Bay, Ontario, but is the company’s only lodge with an airstrip. To reach the other lodges, Wilderness North operates a turbo Otter and a de Havilland Beaver on floats.

We’ve been so pleased with the service and facilities at Miminiska Lodge that 2012 was our sixth trip there. We have learned from each preceding trip how to make the next trip even more enjoyable.

For instance in 2007 and 2008, we flew to Grand Marais, Minnesota, enjoyed a barbecue courtesy of the fixed base operator, then flew on to Thunder Bay to clear Canada Customs, arriving at Miminiska Lodge late in the day. That was okay, but we lost a half-day of fishing had we arrived by noon. So we fixed that beginning in 2009 by flying to the northern Minnesota community of Ely, and staying in a nice, but old 1950s-era motel the night before arriving at Miminiska at 2:00 pm EDT.

In 2010 and 2011, we flew to Thunder Bay, cleared Canada Customs, and top off our tanks, then stayed overnight at the beautiful Valhalla Inn, and departed Thunder Bay by 9:00 am the next day, arriving at the lodge by 11:30 – in time for lunch and a half-day of fishing. But this year, we went back to “plan A,” and made arrangements to fly all the way to the lodge a day before the trip officially began, arriving at the lodge in time for a welcome reception and the evening meal. For 2013, we will again fly all the way in one day, and officially expand the trip from 4 nights to 5, with 4 full days of fishing.

Trip Planning

Trip planning began shortly after most of us got the “early bird discount” for registering before January 1. The trick is to pack light, but complete. You want to have survival gear, a first aid kit, inflatable life vests, and at least a portable 406 Mhz GPS Personal Locator Beacon, if not a 406 Mhz GPS Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT). Aircraft weight and balance is very important as well. Even though I fly a Cessna 182 Skylane, I seldom fly with more than one other person, because of all of the gear.

U.S. & Canada Customs

There are some simple steps to follow to comply with U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) procedures, beginning with ordering an annual “aircraft decal,” and registering online with the Electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS). Once registered, you can file a “flight manifest” online for each flight outside of the U.S. at least 60 minutes prior to departure, which includes your aircraft tail number; a description of your aircraft; point of departure; destination airport; passport numbers and addresses of you, your crew and passengers; and your pilot certificate number.

You can file both your outbound (to Canada) and inbound (return flight to U.S.) flight manifests prior to departing the U.S., so you do not have to worry about filing your return flight manifest in Canada at some remote location without access to the internet. Then just prior to departing from the U.S., you call Canada Customs and provide your ETA to your airport of entry at 888-CAN-PASS (888-226-7277). In our case, we chose Thunder Bay International Airport to clear customs. (Canada Customs requires you to contact them at least 2 hours prior to your ETA, up to 48 hours in advance.)

Most of our group first flew to Ely, Minnesota (KELO) to top off to ensure an accurate ETA into Thunder Bay. (Customs prefers plus or minus 15 minutes.) On the return flight, most of us also cleared U.S. Customs at Ely.

When you return to the U.S., you need to contact U.S. Customs & Border Protection at your airport of reentry and confirm or change the ETA you specified in your flight manifest filed through eAPIS. Also, you need to obtain a transponder code before crossing the border, either from U.S. or Canada ATC or FSS. We have had good luck on both sides of the border contacting Princeton FSS by transmitting on 122.1 and receiving over the Ely VOR, and Minneapolis Center above 5,000 feet MSL.

According to the FAA, pilots crossing the border need to 1) be talking to or on frequency with either ATC or FSS), 2) have a flight plan, and 3) be squawking an assigned transponder code. Once across the border, into Canada, we have been instructed by Minneapolis Center to squawk VFR, then contact Thunder Bay Approach when able.

For additional information, including checklists for required pilot and aircraft documentation, and equipment requirements, refer to the article entitled “10 Planes To Miminiska” published in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine ( AOPA and EAA are also excellent sources of information.

Chart-wise, the entire route of flight from Thunder Bay to Miminiska Lodge is on the “Thunder Bay” VFR Navigation Chart. I also carry with me charts adjoining the Thunder Bay chart, just in case I have to divert because of weather.

Arrival At Thunder Bay

Upon landing at Thunder Bay International Airport (CYQT), Thunder Bay tower informed us that they had cancelled our VFR flight plan, which was one less thing we had to do on the ground. We then taxied and parked our aircraft at ESSO, where “Larry the Ramp Guy” greeted us.

Since a Canada Customs agent did not meet us at our aircraft (they seldom do), I, as pilot in command, was allowed to get out of our aircraft and walk into the ESSO office to call Canada Customs to inform them that we had arrived, and to obtain a “Clearance Number.” I always get the agent’s badge number as well, whether dealing with Canada or U.S. Customs as added documentation that we called and cleared customs as required. When returning to the U.S., this is especially important because U.S. Customs & Border Protection does not give you anything proving that you cleared customs.

Flight Plan or Flight Notification?

In Canada, you are required to file a flight plan with Flight Service if 25 miles beyond your departure airport, unless a responsible party at your destination airport is expecting you, and can contact Flight Service to initiate search and rescue if you do not show up within 1 hour of your ETA. Using a responsible person at your destination, instead of filing a flight plan, is referred to as “Flight Notification” procedures, and we have found this more convenient than trying to contact Winnipeg FSS in the air or on the ground by telephone using “Skype” on the internet.

The owners of Miminiska Lodge – Wilderness North – have an office in Thunder Bay, so in advance of the trip, we provided them with a complete description of our aircraft, the names of each person onboard, and contact information. Once we were ready to depart Thunder Bay, we made a quick call to Wilderness North and they emailed Miminiska Lodge so they knew to expect us. Once we arrived at Miminiska Lodge, the lodge manager emailed back to the Thunder Bay office that we had arrived safely, and an acknowledgement was made.

Since there is no “Flight Following” or other radar advisories at low altitude, our group remained in contact with one another on the preferred aircraft-to-aircraft frequency 122.75 Mhz and reported our positions about every 50 miles or so.

We followed Flight Notification procedures again when we departed Miminiska Lodge for Pickle Lake (61 nm west) for our return flight home, and called the Wilderness North office in Thunder Bay so they could notify Miminiska Lodge that all aircraft had arrived safely. From Pickle Lake to Ely, we filed VFR flight plans with Winnipeg FSS, and called U.S. Customs at Ely to confirm or update our ETAs as per our flight manifests.

Our Stay At Miminiska Lodge

When we arrived at Miminiska Lodge, the wind was out of the west, and we landed on Runway 27. The common radio frequency is 122.8 Mhz.

Everyone arrived before dinner, ready for an exciting, yet relaxing week ahead.

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 accommodates groups of eight. Three four-person cabins offer privacy along the lakeshore. A woodstove supplies heat in the chalets and the four-plex. The eight-plex has electric heat. All buildings are close to the lakeshore and within easy walking distance to the main lodge, docks and the airport.

Each evening, the lodge provides a hospitality hour at its full-service bar before dinner. This is a great time to share fishing stories and flying experiences, and just visit.

We have a good mix of people with varying backgrounds. Some take their fishing very seriously, and can advise the more novice fisherman as to tackle, techniques and bait.

Our bait varied, but black Gulp Alive leaches and minnows on white or pink 1/8-ounce jigs worked well for Walleyes, and silver spoons with a yellow Twister Tail grub, worked well for Northern Pike. Others found that casting and trolling “crank baits” did quite well.

Trophy Fishing

The lodge provides well-maintained boats with 25 hp outboard motors, and detailed maps of Lake Miminiska, the Albany River, and numerous bays and inlets, noting where each species of fish can be caught. One fishing spot called the “Walleye Mine” remains a favorite of all, but it is also the furthest away from the lodge. Guides are available, but seldom needed.

Depending on the type of fishing license you buy, you are allowed two or more fish of each species, and there are limitations on the number of fish you can keep over a particular size. These  policies preserve the excellent fishing in Canada.

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. The Albany exits Petawanga Lake 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. One of these fly-out destinations is Keezhik Lake – a great producer of trophy Pike, with many islands and bays producing steady action. Ozhiski is another – a huge lake, known for its large Walleye.

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

On the last night of the trip, we were treated to another eloquent meal and a bomb fire on the sand point peninsula by the lodge, but before that got underway, the lodge had some awards to give out.

Phil Peterson of Oregon, Wis., accepted the award for catching the largest Northern Pike, which measured 40 inches in length. Since Phil released the fish, he qualified for Canada’s “Master Angler Award.”

Rosie Zahasky of Decorah, Iowa, accepted the “Catch of the Week Award” for catching a 3 lb. shoe, which she did not release, so the lodge had it mounted for her. Rosie and her husband, Rick, have gone on every trip to Miminiska Lodge since 2007.

The Flight Home

On our return flight back to the U.S., we flew west to Pickle Lake, and radioed Thunder Bay Radio through a Remote Communications Outlet 5 nm out, where an air traffic control specialist coordinates arrivals and departures without physically being at Pickle Lake, and without radar. The specialist makes notes of the position of each aircraft, and relays this information to other pilots in the area. Pickle Lake has a nice 4921 X 100 ft. asphalt runway (09/27) and full fixed base operation services, but obviously no NextGen!

2013 Canada Fishing Fly-Out

The dates for the 2013 Canadian Fishing Fly-Out To Miminiska Lodge are August 13-18. We will arrive before the evening meal on Tuesday, August 13, and depart immediately following breakfast on Sunday, August 18 for 5 nights and 4 full days of fun, fishing and relaxation. For rates and reservations, contact Krista Cheeseman at 888-465-3474. Early bird discounts are available to those who book before January 1, 2013.

For additional information on Miminiska Lodge, refer to the Wilderness North website:

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 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, the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, and other sources.

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