Some people don’t get to take the trip they’ve always dreamed of––death snatches them before they get a chance, or illness cripples them, or life’s everyday busyness burdens them until the dream just slips them by. I didn’t want that to happen to my dad.
So last week I took him on the Canadian fly-in fishing adventure that, for his entire life, he’s dreamed of going on “someday.” Fact is, there’s not a fishing lodge in Ontario my dad hasn’t read about; for decades he’s pored over brochures, preparing for the day he would climb into a rickety old floatplane and fly away into the Canadian wilderness.
Now, having just spent a week at KaBeeLo Lodge’s Bear Paw Lake outpost camp, he can honestly say the dreams didn’t do the experience justice … but not for the reasons you’d anticipate.
Sure, we caught tons of fish. Every day we’d have fishing streaks so hot you’d swear we were making it up––our jigs couldn’t sink 10 feet to the bottom of the lake before a fish would gobble them up. I had a 20-inch walleye bite a plain hook I left dangling six inches in the water as I grabbed for a new minnow. There were such feeding frenzies, one time a walleye bit me off, so I tied on a new jig and caught the same walleye 60 seconds later––and recovered my original Northland Fire-Ball Jig in its mouth!
And sure we caught big fish. Walleyes over 8 pounds and pike pushing 45 inches––the biggest of both species we’ve ever landed.
But that, to a degree, was anticipated. I figured Dad had waited his whole life for this trip, so I better make sure I took him to the best dang fly-in I could afford. I asked around, and KaBeeLo came strongly recommended to me by two friends of mine who know a thing or two about world-class fishing: Ron Schara and Bill Sherck.
And so, we sort of expected fishing to be phenomenal, even in September. What we didn’t expect, and simply couldn’t have anticipated, was to feel so close to the heavens. The sky we fished under was breathtaking and bold. And incredibly close.
That far north, fall days make you feel you can touch the sky. The clouds were so low they covered the lake in a retractable roof. We were tucked inside our own little snow-globe, illuminated every night by the moon. The full moon cast light to let us see our midnight-walleyes just well enough to unhook them and toss them back into the black waters of Bear Paw.
The nightly ritual––fast and furious fishing action under the moon––was new to us, but not to the walleyes, or to the fishermen before us. This is, in fact, KaBeeLo’s 40th year of existence. But last year, as the raging flames of a historically uncontrollable wildfire encircled owners Harald and Ann Lohn and torched their family’s Ontario fly-in fishing outpost camps––it looked like that 40th anniversary might not arrive.
Mother Nature nearly wiped many of the outpost camps at KaBeeLo Lodge off the map.
The fires, the worst to ravage Ontario’s vulnerable wilderness in 50 years, laid siege to over a million acres last summer. Two of KaBeeLo’s 13 outpost camps burnt to the ground, another half dozen were shut down with fishing parties getting evacuated for safety.
The Lohns refused to leave; instead the couple transformed their base lodge into command central for 100 firefighters and worked 20 hours a day to provide food and housing for those risking their lives to squelch the flames.
The Lohns survived. And so, the 40th anniversary did arrive.
“Running the lodge is a way of life,” Harald said. “You have to embrace all aspects of the entire operation.”
Harald’s cousin opened KaBeeLo in 1972, running it for a decade before selling it to Ann and Harald, who in a previous life ran the welfare system for the state of Maryland. Today, Harald and Ann can’t image life without KaBeeLo, and neither can their children, who grew up at the lodge and lived there into their early 20s. Their son remains heavily involved with the lodge today; watching his family’s float planes as a teenager inspired him to pursue a career in aviation.
In the end, it was aviators who helped save KaBeeLo last year when flames tried to claim the now-famous fly-in. A host of planes, as well as 17 helicopters, dumped millions of gallons of water on Ontario’s burning woods, squelching the flames and saving the dream––not only for Harald and Ann, but for folks like my dad.
“You know, Tony,” Dad told me as we approached the U.S. border on the car ride home from KaBeeLo. “I’m going to be dreaming about this trip for a long time."
Good, Dad. That’s the point.
The website for KaBeeLo Lodge is www.kabeelo.com. Call 1-800-233-2952 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
At top: Dad likes to end each fishing outing with a catch. One night, after an hour of non-stop action, we ended our fishing with this beauty.
Above: In 7 days, my dad and I went through 70 dozen minnows (my calculator says that's 840). Northland Fire-Ball Jigs and Northland Thumper Jigs were our go-to presentations for both walleye and pike.
Sure, we got lots of great fish photos on the trip, but to me it is the scenery pictures--like this photo of us riding into the sunset--that bring me back to that special time at KaBeeLo Lodge.
Normally you dream about sunrises like this, but at KaBeeLo, you wake up, step out onto your deck, and take pictures of 'em.