A Friday night fish fry in Lent is nothing out of the ordinary. But the fish fry I went to last week was on Thursday, and breaking from the timeless tradition of Friday nights was hardly the main reason it was anything but ordinary.
What was special about the inaugural Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge Minneapolis Shore-Supper last Thursday? Well, there’s a pretty big clue in the event’s title: It was hosted by Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, which is hardly your ordinary Canadian lodge.
Widely considered one of the most elite fly-in fishing lodges in the world, Aikens is a peculiar collection of contradictions: extreme luxury in remote wilderness; 5-star service at a fly-in camp; gourmet food at a fishing lodge; world-class fishing with lavish accommodations.
The underlying theme at Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, which is idyllically set near the inlet to the Gammon River in Manitoba’s Atikaki Wilderness Provincial Park, is absolute excellence. My friend Doug Stange, In-Fisherman’s editor-in-chief, has said Aikens is “still the finest all-around experience I’ve ever had on a fly-in trip.”
The shore-supper, hosted by co-owner and manager Pit Turenne, displayed Aikens’ excellence and gave anglers a chance to learn about Manitoba’s most storied fly-in. About two dozen or so anglers came to the event at the Golden Valley Golf and Country Club to enjoy free drinks, fresh walleye and––of course––fish stories.
“We had a 39-inch pike literally jump into a boat once,” Turenne said. “It was following a walleye that was on somebody’s line and when the walleye was lifted into the boat, the pike jumped out of the water to try and snatch it in midair but missed. The guests thought it was a trophy fish (41” or bigger) at first and were already haggling over who would claim the ‘Master Angler’ award!”
From what I heard from the Aikens diehards during dinner, there’s no shortage of ‘Master Angler’ fish at Aikens. Having never been to Aikens, it seems absurd to me how many guests also make the “Century Club”––a feat that entails one person catching four walleyes in a single day that together total over 100 inches in length. It’s even crazier how many anglers achieve this when you consider that in an entire year only 500 fishermen get to visit Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge.
In 2012, the camp averaged 18.8 guests per night over the full season, from late-May to late-September. With over 20 full-time staff, the incredible reality is that Aikens has more workers taking care of guests than … well, guests themselves. Maybe that’s what Stange was talking about with the whole “finest all-around experience I’ve ever had” bit.
One of those staff, manager Pit Turenne, has grown up at Aikens since age 10. His parents joined the lodge as partners in 1988 and transformed it from a more typical fly-in to the world-renowned destination it is today. In the years since, Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge has hosted celebrities including former Vice President Dan Quayle, actor Rick Schroeder, NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason and many other professional athletes. They’ve also had visitors from over 40 different states, as well as from England, France, Luxembourg, India, China and Japan.
The resounding theme from the folks I shared dessert with on Thursday was, “Go once and you’ll be hooked.” There was ample evidence of that in the room, as there is abundant evidence at Aikens itself, such as the shore-lunch site named after long-time guest Tom Greteman.
Greteman first came to Aikens in 1953 (the lodge opened in ’49), and made his 50th anniversary trip back in 2003. He has since passed away, but his children still go to Aikens and they even spread some of his ashes at the lodge.
“Look around here tonight and you can really see what good friends Pit and Patrick have become with the people who come to Aikens Lodge,” said Ted Ries, of Inver Grove Heights, as he stuffed himself with another walleye fillet.
I scanned the room and saw Ries was right. The room was full of laughs, smiles and questions about spouses, kids and grandkids.
“Why don’t you guys just let me know when I can go on to the next slide,” joked Aikens sales manager Patrick Trudel during the 15-minute presentation that preceded dinner. His slide show included trophy fish photos of several of the dinner guests, none of whom were bashful about interrupting Trudel’s Aikens overview in order to keep their personal picture displayed on the big screen for a few more moments.
Many of the regulars, however, were quick to point out that the fish aren’t the only beloved animals at Aikens. Turns out there are a couple of camp dogs who make quite the welcoming committee. Unless, that is, you’re not welcome at camp.
“Our young yellow lab once chased a bear out of camp,” Pit said. “It was pretty funny. The big bear was in no hurry to leave the beach and was just slowly ambling along, while the frantic dog was trying to speed up the process by jumping around him and biting him in the butt.”
The website for Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge is www.aikenslake.com. For more information, call 800.565.2595 or email email@example.com. To download an Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge brochure, click here.
I didn't need four desserts at the fish fry ... but I didn't turn them down, either. Overall, the food was good, but I have to admit the fish would have tasted a lot better if I was eating it at Aikens with the scenery below as my back-drop.
Click here to watch the In-Fisherman TV episode Doug Stange filmed at Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge.