Editor’s Note: The author visited Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, a second-generation family-run lodge in northern British Columbia. This article is the second of a four-part series on Nimmo Bay. Click here to read Part 1.
Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort: Day 2
Wednesday, May 21, 2:38pm
Our helicopter mirrors the waterfall, descending down 300 feet parallel to the raging waters. At the base of the falls, we hover above the turbulent pool of blue and white. We are above the clouds, in a separate world of 10,000-year-old glaciers and pristine streams that salmon fill and grizzly bears hunt. In this other-world we have hiked and climbed and fished, but at the moment we simply hover. I feel weightless.
Days before boarding the aircraft, we had seemingly already explored as far into the Great Bear Rainforest as one can push––taking a small plane from Vancouver to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, then crawling into a float plane for a 20-minute flight over fjords and bays until landing on a floating dock at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, which clings to the base of Mount Stephens.
After a sun-filled Day 1 of ocean kayaking, paddle boarding, bear-watching and hiking through old-growth forests, Day 2 finds us embarking on Nimmo Bay’s signature experience: a dreamlike day of heli-fishing and heli-hiking in the high mountains.
We start the day, of course, with food. Breakfast begins with sinful chocolate croissants, offset by fresh fruit, yogurt, granola and fruit smoothies. Upon devouring Round 1, we are rewarded with Round 2 of breakfast: thick pieces of french toast loaded with fruit. After our surrender to the food gods, lodge owners Fraser and Becky Murray come to greet us with their 5-month-old daughter Fauna in tow.
“We have all dedicated so much of our lives to Nimmo Bay that it is hard to separate life from work,” Fraser said. “I would say the only thing that was ever bigger then Nimmo Bay in our lives was our family, and this is true to this day.”
Fraser has grown up at Nimmo Bay since he was just a bit older than Fauna is now. I am both envious and puzzled by Fraser’s upbringing; I can’t imagine what it was like to grow up in a float house attached to a mountain in this rugged and beautiful setting. Where would you go to school? And how would you get there? How would you make friends? What about the winters, and the wildlife? In fact, when Fraser was 4 a grizzly bear turned his family’s floating dock into her den.
And then there’s the overwhelming beauty of it all. And the incredible, intimate encounters with Mother Nature you must be graced with when you spend your entire life in this setting. For Fraser’s part, he seems no worse for the wear. In fact, the 35-year-old, second-generation owner of the luxury lodge possesses a unique combination of kindness, charm, appreciation of his surroundings and a surprising connection not only to the natural wonders of his backyard but also to the people who travel from all over the world to be a part of it for a week. Fraser was even given an honorary name by the local First Nations tribe, which is exceptionally rare and speaks volumes about the charismatic, modest young man.
“We’ve met so many amazing people,” he said. “We have some people who have been coming for so long, we just kind of quit charging them. We’ve just become friends. We travel and go and stay with them at their houses, and they come and see us here.”
For my stay at Nimmo Bay, I was surrounded by fellow first-timers: Jeneen Sutherland, from the Vancouver area, and husband-and-wife Jo Connah and Peter Scorfield from London. Believe it or not, I am not forgetting anyone or leaving a guest off the list because he annoyed me with poor jokes and bad body odor. Incredibly, there were only four of us guests at the resort our entire time there. And get this: there were TWO chefs! A pastry chef and an executive chef, both of whom justify the strong praise Nimmo Bay received in “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” when best-selling author Patricia Shultz said the food––which she called the best in British Columbia––is arguably the highlight of any day at Nimmo Bay.
The resort, of course, can accommodate a few more than four guests––it features nine cabins built on stilts above the water––but it is intentionally small. “I don’t want to get any bigger,” said Fraser, who has expanded the resort’s focus from purely fishing to offer a wider variety of eco-tourism activities such as whale-watching, beachcombing and glacier trekking. “We like being small. We like spending time with the people who come here and being able to share these experiences with them.”
I feel the resort’s intimate size is a tremendous advantage and allows each guest to receive individualized attention (i.e. when I sat by the campfire at night a staff member rushed over with a blanket and tucked me in; when I finished my glass of wine under the stars another employee immediately topped me off), and my fellow guests certainly agreed.
"Nimmo Bay is a resort with a soul," said Jeneen Sutherland, who made herself at home during her first trip to the resort by taking advantage of morning yoga classes, hikes with the staff and stand-up paddle boarding (including a paddle when she saw a bear). "When you meet Fraser and (his father) Craig, you kind of want to pat them on the back and say a big 'thank-you' for creating this incredible place. It is an experience that leaves you feeling totally rejuvenated."
“We feel very fortunate to be one of just a few people here,” added Peter Scorfield, who has experienced wilderness safaris in the far reaches of Africa yet was nonetheless amazed by the beauty and serenity of Nimmo Bay. “It’s like we have the place to ourselves."
To Fly is Human ... To Hover Divine
Fraser and Becky chatted with us after breakfast, then told us the plan for our big adventure in the helicopter. This was the day I had been anticipating for months––the signature Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort adventure unlike any other. You could say that heli-fishing put Nimmo Bay on the map, and that Nimmo Bay put heli-fishing in the dictionary. The concept is this: You board a helicopter and fly high above the clouds, into the mountains to fish untouched streams that otherwise can’t be reached. The Murray family has access to over 50,000 acres of breathtaking beauty, including 10,000-year-old glaciers, 5,000-foot waterfalls and 50 rivers and streams.
Numerous celebrities ranging from George Bush to David Kelley to William Shatner have visited Nimmo Bay and fallen in love with the resort’s famous heli-fishing and heli-hiking, and now I was about to do the same.
First, Fraser brought us to the dry room, where we were equipped with complementary boots, rain gear and waders.
From there we headed to the helipad, met our pilot, Tim, and boarded the helicopter. Peter and Jo were my companions for the day, for which I was most grateful. The couple was kind, enthusiastic and witty. Besides, who doesn’t love that British wit?
The heli-hiking was spectacular, as was the flight itself. I'm complimenting my photos with stock photos from the resort, since intermittent rain made it difficult to photograph some of the spots. Trust me, though, when I say that neither my photos nor the stock photos do the mountains justice.
My new friend and travel partner for the day, Peter, summed it up well. "It's an amazing feeling flying in this helicopter, knowing that we can go anywhere." Indeed, the maneuverability of a helicopter gives you unrivaled freedom in the mountains. Tim dropped us down on several spots to hike throughout the day. One of my favorite stops was at an estuary where hiked along a river and the ocean.
Today is the last Father’s Day ever before I become a dad. As I prepare for the upcoming birth of my first child, I call to mind a man who is both father and fisherman––a man who took me on a fishing adventure last fall on legendary Lake Gitchi Gumee.
Dave Williams and his bride Cathi visited Grand Marais some 40 years ago during a winter that wasn’t much better than this year’s. “It was below zero with the wind blowing snow everywhere, and I said to Cathi, ‘Do you want to move here?’” Williams recalls.
Apparently Cathi said yes. The pair of teachers quit their jobs and headed to the far north woods near Lake Superior to start a small guiding and outfitting operation in 1972 that, over the past four decades, has become a staple in Grand Marais. Bear Track Outfitters have given Dave a chance to fill his life with both his passions: his family and the outdoors.
The Williams family worked hard to turn their dream into a reality––building cabins, guiding fishermen, outfitting kayakers and campers––and then worked even harder to keep that reality afloat amid recessions, down-turns in fishing’s popularity and, tragically, a fire to their camp years ago.
“To make a living up here, you gotta work hard when the sun shines,” said Williams. You also have to be resourceful. Dave and Cathi re-built cabins after the fire, and expanded their offerings to include canoe lessons, birding outings, scenic dinner cruises and skiing. They were the first outfitter in the area to use Kevlar canoes. Many a cross-country ski team has rented out their remote cabins to hold camp for practices, and more than one Olympic skier has stayed at Bear Track’s year-round cabins on North Shore Mountain Ski Trail at Bally Creek Camp.
What I discovered is that Williams treats everyone like an Olympian. “I really like taking Veterans out fishing,” he said. “I took one guy out who was close to 90, who used to be in the Navy during World War II, and he just had a ball being on the water. And it was great listening to his stories.”
Military vets get a discount on guided trips with Williams. Then again, so do children 13 and under. Kids under 5 are free. You get the sense Williams isn’t in this business to get rich.
His grandfather had a little place near Cascade River that Williams used to visit every summer as a boy. Eventually, he fell in love. “It sort of grows on you, this area,” he said.
Lucky for Williams, his wife fell in love with the region, and so did their children. In fact, that’s why Williams’ boat is named “Fishin’ Chics.” Daughters Brooke, Lindsay and Stephanie are certified captains, and have guided for the family business at various times over the years.
“It was great to see the kids want to be involved with what we do,” said Cathi. “Our daughters have taken a lot of young girls out fishing over the years, and I think that’s a wonderful example for girls to see.”
The Williams sisters no longer guide, so Dave was our captain on the calm September morning my mom and I went fishing. He did have some help, though.
“Capt. Jack is my first mate,” Williams said of canine companion. “He’s a real schmoozer. People want to take him home by the end of the trip.”
We pulled spoons behind dipsy divers in 80 to 120 feet of water and took advantage of the hot bite.
I’d always wanted to catch a salmon on the big lake, and we didn’t have to wait more than 30 minutes for that to happen. A perk to “working” in the fishing industry is that you get the scoop on guides––which guides are good, and which guides are great. Williams definitely falls into the latter group.
We quickly caught all the salmon we wanted to eat (Williams cleaned and packaged the fish for us back at the marina), and I also caught a bonus fish: a beautiful lake trout that gave a heck of a fight and tasted great on the grill.
“September is a great time for lakers,” Dave explained. “And fall is a beautiful time to be up here.”
Of course, anytime of the year is a wonderful time to embrace Superior and all that she offers. The Williams family takes pride in helping others enjoy the outdoors year-round, and the couple has seen their fair share of seasons change.
“Today is our 42nd wedding anniversary,” Cathi told me when I called her the other day. She was waiting for Dave to get dressed to head to dinner at their favorite restaurant: The Angry Trout. “It’s hard to believe it’s been that many years.”
The website for Bear Track Outfitters is www.bear-track.com. To contact Dave or Cathi, call 1-800-795-8068 or email email@example.com.
With a sunrise over Superior like this, I would have been happy had we not caught a single fish. As for Capt. Jack, well, I guess being on the water day-in and day-out takes its toll on him. After helping us haul in all those salmon, Jack needed a bit of a cat nap ... though I'm sure he calls it something else.
Bear Tracking Outfitting is directly on Hwy 61 in Grand Marais. The year-round cabins are back up in the hills.
Cathi runs the gift shop, does bookings and helps get groups checked in for guided and outfitted trips. Cathi and Dave certainly provided my mother and me with a memorable outing.
Editor’s Note: The author visited Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, a second-generation family-run lodge in northern British Columbia. This article is the first of a four-part series on Nimmo Bay.
Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort: Day 1
Tuesday May 20, 11:12pm: I am physically exhausted from an 11-hour day of hiking, kayaking and exploring the Great Bear Rainforest and yet I cannot fall asleep, for images of the wilderness beauty I’ve seen today are running through my mind like a National Geographic special.
The playground for my adventure is Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, an eco-friendly, family-run lodge in northern British Columbia that is only accessible by helicopter or floatplane. The award-winning resort––routinely named one of the top ten wilderness getaways in the world––sits at the base of Mount Stephens and consists of nine two-person chalets built on stilts on a tidal, fjord-like bay. The luxury lodge beyond the middle of nowhere offers exclusive access to over 50,000 square miles of breathtaking beauty, including 10,000-year old glaciers, mountain tops, old-growth rainforests, remote islands, white sand beaches, hot springs, a 5,000-foot waterfall and over 50 pristine rivers and stream.
I arrived at this natural paradise the night before, just in time for a delicious dinner of fresh mussels and halibut, followed by an evening soak in an outdoor cedar hot tub at the bottom of a waterfall some 30 feet from my cabin. The 20-minute float plane flight into Nimmo Bay was breathtaking, as was the hour-flight preceding that from Vancouver International Airport to Port McNeil on the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
My arrival at the lodge included an unforgettable welcome, as well as both a clinic in hospitality and a hint of what was to come during my stay at Nimmo Bay. I walked off the float plane around 8pm onto a floating dock with a crackling bonfire.
“Hi! You’re Tony, right? I’m Francisco,” said a short, grinning Chilean who was to be our main guide during the next 3 days. I would come to learn that Francisco is a skilled outdoorsman who prior to coming to Nimmo Bay lead emergency evacuations for the government in his native Chile and also ran an adventure guiding service. He got the job to be a guide at Nimmo Bay two years ago when, during a coffee-shop interview with lodge owner Fraser Murray, Francisco paused while answering a question to help an elderly woman maneuver the crowded restaurant. That Fraser offered him the job on the spot after observing the quiet act of service says as much about Fraser as it does Francisco.
A moment after I shook Francisco’s hand, a young woman named Hailey approached me with a smile and said, “Hello, I’m Hailey. Can I pour you a glass of wine?” Francisco took the opportunity to grab my luggage from the pilot and whisk it away on the path of floating docks to my cabin while I, feeling suddenly quite important, opted for white.
“Have a seat,” Hailey offered, and no more than 60 seconds into my stay at Nimmo Bay I was completely relaxed and transfixed. Had I truly woken up that very morning at a bustling international airport surrounded by traffic, buildings and throngs of people? Here I was sitting on a floating dock sipping wine by the fire under the stars, at the base a snow-capped mountain in the middle of nowhere, looking out at this remarkable view. Wow. Welcome to Nimmo Bay. I was seemingly a million miles from civilization, without a care in the world.
Frankly, I’m surprised I slept as well as I did the night of my arrival, my excitement level for the day’s upcoming adventures was so high. Maybe the wine helped, or the massive portions at dinner did the trick––or, more likely, it was the soothing sound of the waterfall cascading 10-yards from my cabin. Not only does the waterfall provide the camp with “the purest, sweetest drinking water,” as the Murrays say, it also provides the camp with power for nine months of the year thanks to a water-powered hydro system Fraser’s father, Craig, built shortly after towing a float house from Vancouver Island back in 1982 to open the resort.
“We did all the stuff you can possibly do to be green right from Day 1 because we know how fortunate we are to live in this pristine environment,” said Craig, a pioneer and entrepreneur who dragged his wife and young children to live out in the rainforest and attempt to open a lodge with scarcely a thousand dollars to his name. Of course, Craig’s wife––a hearty Newfoundlander who was one of the first females to work at a logging camp––and kids loved every minute of it, even when a giant grizzly bear turned the family’s float house into its personal den.
In addition to the hydro power, the Murray family also installed a hydroxyl waste management system that converts the camp’s waste-water into to bacteria-free, clear water that can be released back into nature. They’ve been all catch-and-release with their incredible salmon and trout fishery since their very first guest––decades before the trend became popular––and they implemented a recycling and refuse elimination program. The Murrays even purchase BC-beneficial carbon offsets, and founded a Future Forever Fund in 2007 to raise money for Raincoast Research, save BC wild salmon and offset greenhouse gas emissions.
Hiking, Food, Exploring & More Food
If the welcome I received upon my arrival at Nimmo Bay doesn’t paint the full picture of the hospitality the Murrays and their loyal staff extend, perhaps the story of my early morning hike on Day 1 will paint a few more strokes. The plan was for breakfast at 8:30 followed by Fraser setting us up with our day’s adventure, but as an early riser I was up shortly after 6 taking pictures and walking around the camp. I wondered into the dining area and got a glass of orange juice when Hailey appeared and greeted me with her trademark smile.
I asked Hailey if there were any good trails I could hike before breakfast, and she graciously explained that due to the dense bear population in the area they encouraged guests not venture from camp alone, but that she or anyone on the staff would be happy walk with me anytime I’d like. She couldn’t that very moment as she was preparing for breakfast, so we agreed to go on a hike later, which was fine with me. Without my knowing, however, she ran back into the staff building and told a co-worker.
Two minutes after my chat with Hailey, Francisco ran out to the dock and said, “Hi Tony! Want to go on a hike with me?” He then proceeded to guide me on a fantastic hike through the old growth forest, pointing out plants and animal tracks as we made our way through The Great Bear Rainforest.
We returned exactly at 8:30 for breakfast with my fellow camp guests. Initially I thought breakfast was fruit smoothies, chocolate-filled croissants, fresh fruit, granola and yogurt, but then I learned that was just the first course of breakfast!
Round two consisted of eggs benedict with bacon and avocado.
Fully nourished, we set out boating and kayaking on an expedition led by Fraser himself. Less than an hour into our adventure on the water, we spotted a black bear and its cub. Halfway between our kayaks and the bears, a seal popped up. Again, I thought, welcome to Nimmo Bay. I'm forty-five minutes into my first morning on the water and am already treated to this fantastic wildlife encounter.
I guess this really is bear country.
Every staff member has their own bear story, even Fraser's 5-month-old daughter, Fauna. Fauna's mother (Fraser's delightful partner, Becky) was midway through her pregnancy and out on a walk in the woods when a pair of black bears appeared ahead of her on the path. Becky and her walking partner, Fraser's mother, began walking backwards but the bears followed. And followed, and followed. For 20 minutes, all the way back to camp, the bears followed them. Finally, once the pregnant Becky retreated into the lodge, the bears turned and disappeared into the woods. The Murrays are such great storytellers it's easy to imagine them telling the tale of Fauna's first dramatic bear enounter, before she was even more born, to future guests for years to come.
As thrilling as it was watching the bears, the kayaking and paddleboarding in and of itself was simply sublime. Nimmo Bay offers complimentary kayaks and stand-up paddleboards to its guests, and its protected waterways with countless islands and inlets is ideal for paddling of any type.
After a few hours, Fraser led us to a beautiful island with a seashell-laden beach for a shore lunch. As if on cue, the sun came out and a pod of dolphins surfaced out in front of the island as we ate.
You would've never guessed we were in the remote wilderness based on the quality and style of the food. We feasted on house made crackers with little quilicum brie cheese, orange and fennel salad and trail mix, paired with either red or white wine. The best part of the meal was a monstrous sandwich with heaps of genoa, soprassafta and capicolli salami stacked on artichoke hearts, little quilicum cheese and iceberg lettuce between homemade bread. Dessert offered options: cashew coconut custard bars and banana walnut ganache squared.
Talk about a picnic lunch in style! And we had this view, to boot:
I could have sat on that island with a smile on my face all day, but Fraser had more excitement in store for us. After lunch, we continued our exploring and visited several picturesque waterfalls.
Just before returning to camp for the day, we spotted another bear. This one was a large bear we got to watch for a quite a while before it finally detected us and retreated into the woods. What a way to bookend our day on the water, with a bear sighting to start and finish our excursion.
"There's more value in viewing a bear than in shooting a bear," said Fraser, who has worked to expand Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort from purely a fishing resort into a broader-based, eco-resort that offers bear-watching, kayaking, hiking, beachcombing and whale watching (Fracisco confided to me they called Fraser "the whale whisperer" last summer because he always seemed to bring guests to humpback whales). "We want to give people a chance to observe these animals in their natural settings."
We returned to camp around 5:30, so in the two hours we had before dinner, a few of us went back out for more paddleboarding. It's hard for me to sit still in a surrounding such as this.
As you can imagine given the day's previous feasts, I wasn't exactly starving when they brought out dinner despite my 11 hours of boating, kayaking and hiking. Nonetheless, I managed to put away the crab cakes and ultra-tender beef tenderloin just the same.
Dinner was followed by a soak in the outdoor hot tub next to the waterfall, and an evening campfire with my fellow guests and new friends, the owners and staff of Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort.
The website for Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort is www.nimmobay.com. For more information on Nimmo Bay, call 1.800.837.4354 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Come back next week for Part Two of the Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort series, featuring photos and stories of a day-long helicopter ride into a whole other world of heli-fishing and heli-hiking in the remote mountains of The Great Bear Rainforest.
There’s something about the Rule of Three. Good things, bad things, strange things––for whatever reason, they often occur in sequences of three. A historically cold Minnesota winter of polar vortexes has nixed most outdoor activities these past months and forced me to look back at my most memorable fishing adventures from 2013, when temps were above zero.
And there it is. The Rule of Three. As I reflect on highlights and lowlights from my time on the water last year, three incredible experiences stand out. Each venture, in and of itself, was a spectacular moment that could stand alone as a capstone adventure in any outdoorsman’s life. The fact that I was lucky enough to enjoy these gems in the same year––or the same lifetime, for that matter––is not lost on me. As payback, I guess deserved the worst winter weather since before I was born.
Here are my top three extreme fishing adventures from 2013, each one incredibly unique and diverse in its own right.
1.) Ashford Castle
Having traversed the Atlantic Ocean and Ireland’s wildly untamed Connemara region to reach fabled Ashford Castle, I now can say that I have lived like royalty. It was only for a day, but a day in an ancient world lasts a lifetime in memory.
The castle, once the proud estate of the Guinness family, was built on the shores of Lough Corrib in 1228. The view across the lake has not changed in over 6,000 years and all of the castle’s 83 rooms retain their original features. The room my wife and I stayed in offered a stunning view of the 44,000-acre lake, home to some 365 islands. It was a view made better (if not blurrier) by the complimentary bottle of champagne and decanter of cherry that welcomed us upon our arrival. And so we learned, quite quickly on this special visit, that life as royalty is good.
As gorgeous as the grounds were––the castle is caressed by formal gardens that Rick Steves raves about––it was difficult to pull ourselves out from within the castle walls that first afternoon. Ashford Castle is just too magical. Original architecture is still in-tact, ranging from massive fireplaces to Waterford chandeliers to Roccoco gilt mirrors.
Eventually, I made my way outside the castle to face the famed Cong River with rod in hand. The Cong River, an excellent trout and salmon stream, spills into the lake outside the castle’s front door, creating a picture-perfect scene of a fairy-tale like bridge leading to the castle’s grand entrance. “We call that the ‘Oh-My-God!’ corner,” says Ashford’s Director of Sales and Marketing Paula Carroll. “That last bend always surprises guests, when you come around the corner and suddenly this majestic castle comes into view as though sitting on the side of the lake.”
Click here to read the full story of my adventures at Ashford Castle, including falconry, castle dining and mountain hiking.
2.) Little Palm Island
Atlantic Ocean, Miles Offshore Florida's Southern Tip
I am balancing on a 12-foot, wooden paddle board armed with an oversized kayak paddle I used to propel myself away from the jungle island and into the Atlantic Ocean when I notice a shark swimming 30 yards behind me. Ahead of me I see nothing but azure water so I do the only thing that comes to mind: I wobble down to my knees to untie the fishing pole I have strapped to my board and cast out in the direction of the unmistakable fin.
The shark is oblivious to my first two casts, but on the third cast she catches the scent of the shrimp I’m using for bait and charges after it. I wind faster. This angers her; she accelerates with remarkable speed to close the gap between her teeth, my bait and me.
I’m quickly running out of space––I have wound in nearly all my line and the chase is still on. I lower my rod tip into the water and whip it to the back of the board to keep my bait in motion when––BANG––the shark annihilates my bait 18 inches in front me! The shark strike creates a surface explosion like a cannonball hitting the water.
My pole is instantly doubled over from the weight of the sea creature, which spins 180 degrees with a splash of its tail and races off into the depths of the Atlantic with me now in tow behind her.
As thrilling as it was, the shark escapade was just one episode of a surreal sequence of adventures my wife and I experienced at Little Palm Island Resort & Spa near the Florida Keys, a private, 5-acre island resort miles offshore from the southernmost tip of the United States.
Click here to read the full story of my adventures at Little Palm Island Resort and Spa, including sailing, beach dining and ocean sunsets.
3. Fishing the Everglades
A 400-pound crocodile is glaring at me 15 feet away with its razor sharp teeth on display. A cunning predator, the crocodile has the strongest jaws on the planet with a biting force of 5,000 pounds per inch.
“Crocs can jump through the air faster than you can blink,” says my guide, Jim Willcox.
I am miles away from civilization, in the upper reaches of a narrow river channel winding through the jungle, as Willcox whispers these comforting words. Today I have spotted birds I never knew existed, and caught five types of fish I’ve never before seen.
Now I lock eyes with the crocodile and wonder, for the first time during this extreme fishing pursuit, if I am perhaps no longer the predator.
It feels as though I am in the Amazon, or maybe on the Nile River, fishing in a foreign world where crocodiles are kings––they have been known to attack great white sharks––and every cast holds the promise of catching something bizarre. Instead, I am only 80 miles south of Miami, fishing in the Florida Everglades with a man many say is the best guide in the business.
And while reaching Captain Jim Willcox was easy and inexpensive compared to the travel required for equal adventures in far-flung parts of the world, our journey since leaving the dock in Islamorada, Florida, has not been void of danger. “He died this spring,” Willcox says, nodding to a memorial photo pinned to a mangrove tree along the channel. “Lost control of his boat. They found his boat way up in the mangrove trees with the motor still running 90 minutes after the crash.”
Click here to read the full story of my adventures with Capt. Jim Willcox, including encountering sharks, manatees and dolphins.
My love affair with Canada began with a high school graduation gift from my old man: a week-long, father-son fishing trip. We bunked in a rundown resort in the woods of Ontario. Wind and rain besieged the camp, and daily thunderstorms forced us off the lake back into our knotty pine cabin, which housed a pair of field mice. In the black of night, a wind gust blew open the cabin door and in our semi-awake state we shoved a dresser in front of the door to prevent it from blowing open again and letting even more rainwater pour in. I loved every minute of it.
Since that stormy initiation, the Canadian wilderness has beckoned me back annually, if not two or three times a year. My dad and I found a new resort we escape to every Father’s Day and now consider our home-away-from-home.
A family road-trip to Niagara Falls a decade ago gave me the chance to see the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world; it also provided a few afternoons of fantastic stream fishing near Toronto.
A group of high school buddies and I brave the conditions every couple winters and snowshoe through the lakes and highlands of southern Ontario––punching through thin ice on a spring fed lake chilled my bones but did nothing to cool my passion toward Canada.
A few years ago, Vancouver welcomed me to the beauty of British Columbia, and served as a lovely launching pad for an Alaskan cruise.
A fly-in fishing adventure near Ear Falls two Septembers ago, during the full moon phase, taught me that walleyes can indeed feed so ferociously that your jig doesn’t hit the bottom of the lake. More importantly, it allowed me to treat my dad to his first fly-in fishing excursion––a trip he had dreamed his whole life of going on “someday.” The big moon lit up Bear Paw Lake as we caught walleye after walleye into the late night hours, all alone in the silence of the wilderness.
The year after, I breached Manitoba for my first time at a resort that presented a miraculous collection of contradictions: extreme luxury in the remote Atikaki Wilderness Provincial Park; 5-star service and gourmet food at a fly-in camp; world-class fishing with lavish accommodations in the midst of a beautiful and unspoiled boreal forest.
At the other end of the spectrum in terms of lodging and luxury, annual Boundary Waters camping trips with cousins taught me how to paddle a canoe and tie up a bear bag to keep our food safe in the air––while we slept in tents on the ground.
This May, a decade and a half after that first Canada fishing trip, my love affair with the Canadian wilderness will culminate with the adventure of a lifetime: a week of ocean kayaking, mountain hiking, heli-fishing and glacier trekking at the incomparable Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort
The resort, recently featured in the New York Times best-seller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” consists of nine chalets built on stilts on a tidal, fjord-like bay just south of Alaska’s Inside Passage, and is accessible only by helicopter and sea plane. From this pocket of luxury, guests have access to over 50,000 square miles of breathtaking beauty, including 10,000-year old glaciers, mountain tops, old-growth rainforests, remote islands, white sand beaches, hot springs, a 5,000-foot waterfall and over 50 pristine rivers and streams––the majority of which can only be reached by Nimmo Bay helicopters.
Daily adventures include whitewater rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding, deep-sea fishing, glacier trekking, bear- and whale-watching excursions, hiking and stream fishing. With all that activity, guests work up a hearty appetite to fully appreciate the mountain-top picnic lunches and gourmet dinners back at the lodge––a dining experience that has been called “one of the best in Vancouver” by New York Times best-selling travel author Patricia Shultz.
As grand as the operation is today, it all began with one man’s dream over 20 years ago to run a fishing lodge with his wife and kids. “I wanted to make a living doing something where I could be with my family,” explained Vancouver Island local Craig Murray, who started the lodge in 1980 after purchasing an old float house near Port Hardy and towing it by barge to Nimmo’s current location. “Not a lot of jobs out here at the time other than logging and commercial fishing and those would require me to leave my wife and kids behind and travel to wherever there’s work.”
And so, at 34, Murray decided to follow his dream and start Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort with his wife and sons, age 3 and 1.
“There are 150 million things that can go wrong, and most of them did at some time or another, but we managed,” said Craig. “We had no options––we had to make it work, even when the bank would say, ‘Sorry, no more money.’”
The resort initially focused just on fishing, and gradually grew from accommodating eight guests to its current capacity of 18. For nine months of the year, the eco-friendly operation is powered by electricity generated from the waterfall. A hydroxyl waste management system converts all the camp’s waste-water into to bacteria-free, clear water that can be released back into nature. Nimmo Bay has always led the way with sustainability and consciously minimizes its carbon footprint.
“There are too many things in this world that are not sustainable, too many people that aren’t thinking about that,” Murray said. “Right from the get-go we had a catch-and-release only fishery, so we never killed any fish at all. We have the purest, sweetest drinking water coming down from Mount Stevens. We did all the stuff you can possibly do to be green right from Day 1 because we know how fortunate we are to live in this pristine environment.”
Over the years, visitors from all over the world have taken note of the pristine environment as well. Nimmo Bay boasts a 76 percent return rate. It is consistently rated as one of the elite wilderness resorts in the world. The secret behind it all is simple, according to Murray, who in his early years visited his guests at their homes to study their behavior and preferences in order to optimize their future Nimmo Bay experiences.
“There are three reasons for our success at Nimmo Bay: humor, music and detail,” Murray said.
“Music is the universal language, and it’s all around us in nature,” Murray said. “If more people got involved with making music it’d be a happier place.”
His own children have taken the advice to heart. Murray’s middle child, Clifton, serves as an international ambassador for the resort while traveling with his popular band, The Tenors. Murray’s youngest child, Georgia, works full-time at the resort by day and is a professional singer by night. Guitars, sing-a-longs and karaoke are common at Nimmo Bay.
Murray’s oldest, Fraser, now runs the resort along with his wife, his cousin and his sister Georgia. “My dad has taught me so much,” says Fraser, who became a father himself earlier this winter. “He was there when I caught my first fish, and he also had me washing dishes and cleaning toilets at a very young age.”
Fraser and his generation of Murrays were the driving force in expanding Nimmo Bay’s offerings to include a wider breadth of activities beyond fishing, such as heli-hiking, whale watching, whitewater rafting and glacier trekking.
“We have all dedicated so much of our lives to Nimmo Bay that it is hard to separate life from work,” Fraser admitted. “Dad taught me the value of a long, hard day’s work and to never give up on something you believe in. I would say the only thing that was ever bigger then Nimmo Bay in our lives was our family, and this is true to this day.”
Younger sister, Georgia, agrees. “It is very special to be a part of a family business,” she said. “We are so lucky to be carrying on our mom and dad's legacy and putting our own stamp on it.”
As for me, I am lucky to have the chance to visit this remarkable place and this remarkable family in less than three months. Given the Murray’s legacy, it is fitting that this trip will be my last great adventure before I myself become a father later this summer.
I hope one day I will be able to share my love of the Canadian wilderness with my son or daughter as Murray has done with his.
The website for Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort is www.nimmobay.com. To contact the resort, email email@example.com or call 1-800-837-4354.
Photos courtey of Jeremy Koreski.