by Woody Minar
It was in March 2015 that Adventure Seaplanes owner, Brian Schanche of Surfside Seaplane Base, Lino Lakes, Minnesota (8Y4), asked me if I wanted to go fishing in Canada and fly some people in his Cessna 185, while he flew others in his de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver. I have made the seaplane shuttle trip between Minnesota and Florida nine times, but the wilderness of Canada and the remote lakes where rocks abound would be a new challenge and fun experience. My passport was renewed and I bought my Canadian fishing license online. I was ready to go for the early June trip.
Brian and I briefed the trip several times. We had gone over the waypoints and border crossing procedures. I studied each of the stopping points on Google Earth to give me an idea of the landing, beaching, and docking areas. With all this information, I had some anxiety the week before. Why? I don’t know. Brian has made the trip numerous times and he is a good teacher and mentor.
We met at Surfside Seaplane Base (8Y4) in Lino Lakes, Minnesota at 10:00 a.m., fueled, did our preflights, and staged the planes as we waited for the other fishermen to arrive. At 1:00 pm, I was airborne in the 185 and Brian soon followed in the Beaver.
Our first stop was Zorbaz Restaurant on a nice sand beach two miles southwest of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. It was pizza and beer for lunch for all but two of us, who had to stay alcohol free. Torture!
The next stop was Crane Lake (KCDD), 45 minutes away, where we refueled the planes. An eAPIS plan was filed the night before which was necessary to cross the border. The next leg was quick – 6 miles to Sandpoint, Ontario where we cleared Canada Customs. We launched northeastward and for the next 188 nautical miles, we were amazed at the number of lakes everywhere! In fact, Ontario has more than 250,000 lakes comprising about one-fifth the world’s fresh water. We wondered how the fishing was in some of the lakes where there are no roads whatsoever for many miles.
Communications between us was on 123.45. We made occasional position reports on 122.8 and we could hear numerous other pilots doing the same. It’s important to stay in communications and visual contact with each other in these remote areas in case something goes wrong.
We flew over Ignace, Ontario and about half way to the Old Post Lodge on Lake St. Joseph, we flew over a private airport on De Lesseps Lake that had cement slab tiles for a runway. It was used for an adjacent fishing lodge. We later learned that the owner had the slabs poured elsewhere, then transported to the lodge over the winter roads because there are no roads in the area. A few miles south of our lodge we saw a couple of moose near some swamps.
The lodge appeared just as I had seen it on Google Earth. We made a glassy water landing and water taxied to the sand beach in front of the lodge. As we tied down the planes, the staff was there to greet us and take our gear to the cabins. We made it in time for a wonderful Walleye dinner.
The lodge provided cabins that slept eight each, breakfast at 7:30 am, boats and motors, a fishing guide, shore lunches, and dinners at 7:30 pm. Walleye and Northern Pike were caught in abundance during the day.
We arrived on a Tuesday night. Brian and I fished Wednesday and part of Thursday. Because we needed fuel for the Beaver and an hour’s worth for the 185, Brian and I flew the Beaver to a small seaplane base on Staunton Lake about 50 nm southwest of the lodge. Getting fuel in these remote places, where few roads exist, is an experience. Brian was hoping to get fuel at Pickle Lake, Ontario (CYPL), about 20 nm north, but their fuel shipment hadn’t arrived. They had only 400 gallons on hand, which they needed for themselves. Furthermore, if they did have fuel, we would have had to take it in 55 gallon sealed barrels, which we didn’t have. The other alternatives were Sioux Lookout (90 nm) or Ignace (118 nm). Neither were viable alternatives.
Thursday evening, we filed an eAPIS to depart Friday morning. I also called Winnipeg Flight Service to file a VFR flight plan back to the states. The briefer asked where I was departing from. I said Old Post Lodge on Lake St. Joseph. With more than 250,000 lakes, he didn’t have much of a clue. Using my Garmin Pilot, I told him I was on the 190-degree radial, 20 miles from Pickle Lake. Now we’re talking and after filing he said the flight plan would be activated automatically.
Friday morning I departed at 8:45 am with two fishermen, who had to get back early. We did the customary flyby as the rest of the group headed to their fishing spots. About 25 miles north of Crane Lake, I called Princeton Radio to get a squawk code from Minneapolis Center to enter U.S. airspace and I cancelled my flight plan.
The customs officer was waiting on the dock for us. We showed her our passports and we were good to enter.
It was a 45-minute flight to Zorbaz to drop off a passenger before heading back to Surfside.
Any anxiety I had about the trip was all forgotten when we were hauling in the Walleyes and Northerns, having delicious shore lunches, watching an eagle nesting nearby, and enjoying good company with fellow fishermen. The biggest catch was a 27-inch Walleye and a 42-inch Northern, which were caught on a Walleye jig.
The biggest bonehead move was my second-day partner’s “catch and release program.” We had four nice Walleyes on a stringer and when we stopped to fish, he threw them overboard. Literally. The stringer came loose. I saw them slowly sink out of sight and there was nothing I could do to retrieve them.
The staff at Old Post Lodge is first class and they leave nothing to chance. The lodge was a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post established in 1786. Some old artifacts can be seen in the original trading post store and there’s an old church and cemetery there. There are several options for getting there – seaplane, land plane to Pickle Lake (CYPL), or drive to a location on Lake St. Joseph where you will be met by a boat. For more information about the Old Post Lodge, go to www.oldpost.com and for seaplane trips to Northern Minnesota, Canada, and the Arctic, go to www.adventureseaplanes.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Woody Minar is a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE), MCFI, CFII, MEI, and CFI-G at L.O. Simenstad Municipal Airport (KOEO), Osceola, Wisconsin (KOEO).