Four women on a fishing trip is a little bit of a different vibe than, say, four guys on the same trip. The gals love to fish. But we also like to soak up the fringe benefits of a weekend away - the feeling of being pampered, of dining on food bursting with fresh flavour, of leaving the tension of the work week in the wake behind a boat.
Whether you've thrown a thousand casts or never wet a line in your life, a Manitoba fishing trip is just what the doctor ordered (even if you're the doctor). Especially when it includes aromatic scrubs, deep sleeps on silky soft sheets, and the biggest trout or the ugliest catfish to cross your bow.
Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, Aikens Lake
For the third time on this trip, I've slipped into the drink. My gal pals - the ones who will support you through anything - turn into a giggling trio of bobbleheads when I try to simultaneously fish, talk and walk on those slippery, sloped granite rocks. Our guides, Cedar and Turbo (because all guides have nicknames), suggest this is a good time to give me an aboriginal name, since we are on ancient ground. My friend Collette, being of French heritage, christens me Chief Jambe dans l'eau. It means "leg in the water."
Laughter erupts, as it always does when we talk about our trip to Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge in eastern Manitoba.
The morning is dead calm, sparkles of sunlight bounce off the water. It's a glorious time for a sightseeing excursion up the Gammon River. We bid adieu to the goofily named Gilligan's Island at the southwest corner of Aikens Lake and, with our guides, crawl into the mouth of the river. It's shallow and rocky. Time to kill the motor and pull it up. Someone will have to jump in and pull the boat through this stretch. I volunteer. And this is where my legs first get wet.
Soon we're at Indian Nose. As we slowly cruise by the giant outcropping, there it is - the distinctive profile of an aboriginal man. Below the feature are pictographs, native rock paintings of red ochre estimated to be more than 1,000 years old. We talk about all those before us who have travelled this river.
The guides ask if we're interested in a short hike through the boreal forest to a pond where we can throw a few casts. On the walk in, I graciously offer to straddle a creek and help my friends over the gap. When they are safely across, I shift my weight and my right leg plunges into the creek, which I quickly learn is four feet deep and ice cold. The leg, and much more of me, is wet once again.
Soon, we're back in the boat heading for the Honey Hole. We quickly discover how this spot got its name. The walleye are chomping at our hooks and in no time, we have enough for our shore lunch.
Turbo and Cedar make short work of building a fire and filleting our walleye. The gals, all foodies, ask questions about deboning, the ingredients in the breading and how to know if the oil is hot enough over the fire. We rest on the rocks, filling up on the freshest fish ever, deep-fried potatoes, beans, bread and cookies.
For the afternoon, we travel to the deepest part of the lake. It's hard to imagine what lurks in nearly 91 metres of water. We are in search of lake trout and we quickly find them. Bringing them into the boat is another matter. Lake trout will let you reel them in - to a certain point. Then they swim back down. You reel them back up. Then back down they go. We build muscle and learn patience.
After a mighty fight, there is a record-smashing trout in our boat. She gets her picture taken before being released back into the lake. But we're even more excited about the one small lake trout we caught. It's going back to camp to get smoked. The next day at lunch, we feast on freshly smoked lake trout and Caesar salad with juniper berries picked on a nearby island.
Maybe it's the abundance of fresh air spiked with the scent of black spruce. Or the feeling that you can stretch your hands into the sky, spin around and see not a single thing made by the hand of man. A few days on the water clears out the cobwebs and reboots the system. Relaxed and refreshed, you're ready for anything.
TRIED AND TRUE GETAWAY: North Haven Resort, Utik Lake
We're 700 kilometres north of Winnipeg and yes, there's Wi-Fi in the lodge. For breakfast, we're offered an omelette of organic eggs, spinach and feta. At shore lunch, we have chardonnay. We could have a hot stone massage or a dip in the hot tub to start the day, but we're pretty anxious to get out on the water. To say the fishing is good here is like declaring the Rockies are majestic. We haul in northern pike the size of seven-year-old children. At sundown, we ditch the robe and slippers and slip into queen beds outfitted with 600-thread-count sheets.
JUST HAVE JUST ONE DAY?: Cats on the Red, Lockport
I'm not squeamish about cutting my own goldeye for bait, but if the guide offers to do it, how can I say no? Out on the Red River, we toss our lines over the rail and wait for the very large - and very ugly - channel catfish to take our bait. Judging from the noise in nearby boats, it's not just girls who squeal when they get a cat on the line. We let our guide do the lifting to get the gilled one in the boat for a photo.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Pack your rod and reel:
AIKENS LAKE WILDERNESS LODGE A 11/2 hour drive from Winnipeg to Silver Falls, then a 20-minute flight from Silver Falls to Aikens Lake. 1-800-565-2595; www.aikenslake.com. A three-day package costs $2,795 (includes air transportation from Winnipeg; log cabin with air conditioning and a fireplace). Spectacular walleye fishing, boreal forest hikes, ancient pictographs, modern log cabins and mouth-watering meals.
NORTH HAVEN RESORT two-hour flight from Winnipeg to North Star Resort, then a 25-minute flight from North Star Resort to North Haven Resort. 1-866-531-3848; www.northhavenresort.ca. A three-day package costs $4,200 (includes one night at a hotel in Winnipeg, airfare from Winnipeg to the resort, lakefront cabin, guide, boat and more). Huge and plentiful northern pike fishing, hot tub on the deck, massages, spacious lakefront cabins with pillow-top queen beds, fireplaces, large deck, Sirius radio and morning coffee delivery.
CATS ON THE RED A 20-minute drive from Winnipeg. (204) 757-9876; www.catsonthered.net. A half-day guided fishing charter for two costs $295. A guide to drive the boat, cut your bait and put it on the hook, and offer gentle encouragement when you hook into a monster catfish and a photo souvenir.
What to bring
Layers of outdoor clothing, hat, sunscreen, bug spray, gloves, rain gear, waterproof footwear and indoor footwear. Lodges and outfitters will supply fishing tackle if you don't bring your own.