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Tony Capecchi

Woodbury, Minn.

Father’s Day in the Canadian Wild

There is no finer fishing partner than one’s father. In my case, Dad has been not only my lifelong fishing partner but also one of my best friends. I am grateful for this blessing today, yet I also sense that decades from now the time I spent in a boat with Dad will take on even greater meaning.

Much of that time has been in Canada. In fact, my first Canadian fishing trip was a high school graduation gift from my old man: a week-long, father-son 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. 

We loved every minute of it. 

Since that stormy initiation, the Canadian wilderness has beckoned us back annually, and my dad and I discovered a new resort we escape to every Father’s Day: Fireside Lodge. Fireside is special in many ways, from the owners (Alan and Audrey Brandys) to the fellow guests to the wilderness that surrounds the 111-year-old main lodge



There’s also the beautiful cabins, delicious food and impeccable service––not to mention word-class fishing––but increasingly I realize it’s the unexpected experiences and funny moments throughout the week Dad and I share that make our annual trip matter. To both of us.

In that vein, I thought I’d share one highlight from each day of this year’s Father’s Day voyage to Fireside Lodge.

Day of Arrival: “We’re Home!”

“Audrey, we’re home!” Dad proclaimed as we arrived at the lodge after an 8-hour drive from St. Paul, Minnesota to Fireside Lodge, just south of Sioux Lookout, Ontario. It’s become his customary greeting at the lodge, and on cue Audrey came running out of the kitchen to give us hugs.

It’s such a great feeling, a combination of excitement and familiarity as we stand in that old lodge and look down at Little Vermillion Lake for the first time since last year. We’ve been anticipating this day for the past 365. And while the individual cabins themselves are immaculate and new, the main lodge––consisting of the dining room, tackle shop, fireplace and lounge area––is neither.



The historic building carries decades-old fish and animal mounts, antique tools and a distinct, musky, wonderful odor. 

On a side note, there are two other noteworthy items about our arrival I should briefly mention. First, is that Dad caught a big muskie literally 15 minutes into fishing our first afternoon of arrival. 

Second, is that Audrey and Alan asked us about our family back home, by name, within minutes of greeting us. That’s just how they are. The couple is very genuine in the friendships they form with their guests, and you can sense how much they want you to enjoy your time at what has been their home for the past 26 years. 

In their previous life they sold watches and managed a hair salon back in Chicago, but I think it’s fair to say Alan and Audrey found their true vocation here in the Canadian wilderness. 

Day 1: Father’s Day––Lucky Seven

What better way to celebrate Father’s Day than by fishing with your dad? And what better way to start your celebration than by catching a muskie on your very first cast of the entire day––which is exactly what happened to Dad.

Little did we know when we left the dock in darkness at 3:55 A.M. that we’d have our best day muskie fishing of all time. We spent the day on Closs Lake, a small portage lake where Alan has a boat cached you can reserve for a day to be the only ones on the lake. There are three other similar portage lakes that complement the four larger, connected lakes in the Little Vermillion Lake system on which Fireside sits as the only lodge.



We always have Closs Lake reserved for Father’s Day, and this year we kicked off our Fireside trip by catching seven muskies on Day 1, eclipsing our previous single-day record by one. 

Day 2: Go For a Swim  

“Is that some type of bird?” I asked. I noticed a brown dot in the distance as we motored across Muskie Lake, a sanctuary lake that had been closed to fishing since the 1930s but opened up on a limited basis some two decades ago. 

The dot looked out of place, so we motored over to check it out and quickly realized it was a young bull moose swimming across the lake! I had spotted its head from over a hundred yards away, and we were about to get an up-close-and-personal look. 

Dad and I love seeing moose at Fireside and often get very close, but this bull swimming across the lake gave us an opportunity for our closest moose encounter to date. We got to watch the moose for about 15 minutes; it’s amazing how fast they can swim.



Throughout the day we caught 165 pike, but watching the bull moose go for a swim was our unexpected highlight of the day. 

Day 3: Eat Like a King 

Fish fry for lunch, prime rib for dinner. Guess you could say we ate OK today. Better yet, we did it in style, with excellent service in the dining room and outstanding company for lunch on the lakeshore.  

Twelve years ago we knew no one at Fireside nor anyone who’d been to Fireside. We’ve met many fellow guests over the years, however, who we’ve become friends with to the point of staying in touch throughout the year. On Day 3, we did a shore lunch with our Fireside-friends Don Landbo and Dan Szkola from Illinois, two buddies who fish the same week as us each year. 

Fireside Lodge is purely catch-and-release, with trophy bass, pike and muskie the primary targets, so Alan buys whitefish from a commercial fisherman on Eagle Lake and supplies fillets for anyone who wants to make a shore lunch. The beer-batter fish tasted delicious on a gorgeous day on the lake, and the incredible part is that the feast was followed up by a first-rate prime rib dinner in the lodge that night, with apple pie ala mode for dessert (yes, we forced it down).



Life at Fireside is good.

Day 4: Sight-Fishing

I burned the spinnerbait across the surface of the water; suddenly a jaw-full of teeth appeared and smashed the lure. I saw the splash a second before I felt the strike, and set the hook. Fish on!

That pike started a topwater flurry, in which I caught 27 pike on 30 casts – each one with an exciting eruption on the surface.

Throughout the week, we experienced incredible sight-fishing. Never before have I seen so many fish, not only as they hit but also as they cruised shallow water. My new pair of Costa Del Mar sunglasses played a huge role in that. Their ability to light up the lake and allow you to see fish, rocks, humps and other structure under the water is amazing. By comparison, my dad was wearing a different brand of polaroid sunglasses, and with my Costas I spotted four fish to every one he spotted. 

Here’s a video of our sight-fishing action this same morning. In the afternoon the topwater bite turned on, but in the morning the key was spotting fish sunning in the shallows and pitching plastics to them.

Day 5: Birds of a Feather

The cry of a loon is a signature sound of the North woods. On Day 5, we were treated to a front row seat as a pair of loons serenaded each other around our boat. The encounter was exception, but was hardly an isolated experience––every day we listened to and saw at close range loons, eagles, herons and a variety of waterfowl.





Day 6: The Fish of One Last Cast

A conspiracy theory exists among Fireside regulars that Alan has a secret War Room behind his tackle shop in which he pulls levers that trigger giant fish to strike and moose to appear. A startling amount of evidence supports the conspiracy, including the case of the Spahr family from Ohio. Each night of their trip, some years ago, they’d buy a new lure that Alan recommended. The next day, like clockwork, they’d catch a muskie while testing out the new lure––often at a big fish spot Alan suggested they fish. 

On our last day, we had one of those experiences that make you wonder if Alan is in fact related to the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. We motored through a short creek to fish Cedarbough Lake, a muskie-or-bust lake. Our plan was to swing for the fences and go for a muskie for a few hours in the morning, then head over to one of the sanctuary lakes in the afternoon to end our final day by catching a ton of pike. 

Temps rose quickly on this calm, sunny day, so after several hours with no action we decided to cut muskie fishing short. While Dad was putting away his pole, turning off the depth finder and starting up the motor to head out, I figured I might as well throw one last cast. I cranked the reel three times and––BOOM!––a big muskie struck. 

“Get the net!” I exclaimed, and a minute later we had caught the fish of 10,000 casts on literally our last cast.

Magical moments like that just happen at Fireside. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized those moments are less about the exact size of the fish we caught, and more about sharing the adventure with Dad. 

Dad and I spend a lot of time talking about a lot of things in that little boat in the Canadian wilderness. This year, our primary topic of conversation centered on sharing our boat with someone new in the years ahead: my son, Joseph. 

The precious little guy turns 1-year-old today. I love him so much, and I’m excited to take him with and include him in these special moments on our Father’s Day trip.

I only hope that someday he agrees that there is no finer fishing partner than one’s father. 

The website for Fireside Lodge is FiresideLodge.com. For more information, call (800)-545-0815 or email fireside@xplornet.com. 


 

A Mother's Day Trip Sans Kids

My life got forever better on July 17, 2014, when my son Joseph Mario was born. I’ve never been much of a baby person, but I was amazed how much fuller and happier my already-full and already-happy life became when my wife gave birth to those all-consuming 8-pounds, 13-ounces.

In the ensuing weeks of diapers, laughs, tears and several hours of sleep, I realized that no matter how hard I tried, there was nothing I could do to repay my wife for the incredible gift she had given me by bringing Joseph into the world and by being such a loving mother to him. It was humbling.

I hatched the ironic idea of a Mother’s Day trip sans baby around Christmas-time, when I observed Jodie graciously skipping certain holiday festivities because she needed to nurse the baby or get herself some much needed sleep (there are certain things Dad just can’t do). 

Jodie and I both love spending as much time with the little man as we can, but a break’s important. And so to “thank” Jodie as best I could, I decided to finally take Grandma and Grandpa up on their babysitting offer and book a dream trip for Jodie and me the week before Mother’s Day this past May.

Jodie deserves the best––although her choice in a spouse clearly demonstrates she’s willing to accept less––so I booked us for a weekend at the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach. To me, it was an obvious choice: There is no hotel with finer accommodations and service than a Ritz-Carlton, and there is no one more deserving of such an experience than the mother of my son.

The hotel features 375 luxurious rooms, 20,000 square feet in meeting rooms, two restaurants, an infinity pool and 16,000-square foot spa, and a $2 million art collection––not to mention a prime stretch of sand on South Beach.

I knew Jodie was in for a well-deserved treat; to up the ante even further we got a Club Level room. Think of Ritz-Carlton’s Club Level as boarding the best plane in the skies, then opting for first-class. 

As soon as we checked in, a staff member escorted us to the VIP Club Lounge, with magnificent views overlooking the beach. Gabor, a Club Level supervisor from Switzerland we enjoyed visiting with throughout our stay, introduced himself and poured us each a complimentary glass of champagne. We sipped on the champagne, looked out over the beach, and smiled. 

Gabor then showed us our room with an ocean-facing private balcony and, before leaving, took several pieces of our clothes to have them iron and pressed. Club Level guests receive complimentary garment pressing of up to two clothes item per day.

The best benefit of Club Level is access to the lounge itself, which offers five unique and fresh culinary offerings each day, along with an impressive liquor shelf in the evening to complement the variety of wines, beers, pops and juices available throughout the day. 

Mike Roloff, a Club Lounge-exclusive concierge from Germany, was our favorite Club Lounge personnel––though any one of the staffers will stop whatever they’re doing to make a restaurant recommendation, print you directions to a nearby attraction, or simply shoot the breeze for as long as you’d like. 

Mike has an innate kindness to him, and we enjoyed hearing him speak German with a 6-year-old guest. “He’s so comfortable here,” Mike explained later to us. “He was here two weeks ago with his family and he was very shy, but we’ve gotten to know each other a bit and he’s really opening up.” 

That interaction is what the Ritz is all about. “I shouldn’t say this, but you get to a point where a hotel room is a hotel room,” said Kevin Kelly, General Manager of the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach Hotel. “It is the ladies and gentlemen who work here, who delight in pleasing our guests, who truly set The Ritz-Carlton apart.” 

They certainly succeeded in delighting us, though I should note they do get a considerable assist from the Atlantic Ocean, the world’s most famous beach, and the South Beach night life. 

Jodie and I certainly had an amazing time, as you can see by the photos below. We returned from Florida the day before Mother’s Day to smother Joseph with hugs and kisses, and Jodie was refreshed by our stay at the Ritz. The Club Level’s impeccable service and delicious food––always at your fingertips and prepared by someone other than Mommy or Daddy––was the perfect antidote to the fatigue of parenthood. 

We raced home from the airport, dropped our bags at the front door and hugged the little guy so hard he nearly popped. Then Jodie busted out her “mommy” voice and made a comment to her son that made me grin: “Next time Mommy and Daddy will bring you, Joseph!” 

The website for The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach is www.ritzcarlton.com/SouthBeach. For more information, call (786) 276-4000.


 



We walked the beach for hours each day. So relaxing, and great people watching. Also a good way to work up an appetite, which was a challenge since we were surrounded 24-7 by delicous food in the Club Lounge. One night we dined pool-side at the hotel's Bistro One LR. Simply fantastic.
 

Each morning we watched the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean, above. In the evening, we'd watch the sun set from our room's private balcony, below.



As Mr. Kelly said, the Ritz-Carlton staff "delight in pleasing our guests." That's very evident during a visit to South Beach, as you can tell the people who work at the Ritz enjoy their careers and take pride in enhancing your stay. One kind gesture they made for our Mother's Day trip was giving Jodie a bottle of champagne as a welcome gift.
 



One of countless plates my wife and I enjoyed with the Club Level’s five complimentary culinary offerings per day. Each item was exquisitely prepared with fine, fresh ingredients. 

Some of our favorites included Arugula Melons Feta Cucumber Mint, Crab Cucumber, Smoked Salmon Cucumber, Siracha Chicken, Beet Goat Pistachio Lemon Vin, Tuna Tartar Taco, Cucumber Ginger Relish,  Wild Mushroom Volauvont, and Crab Tartlet. And that doesn’t even include the fresh fruit, giant cookies and variety of wine they had out 24-7. In retrospect, we probably should have walked more miles on the beach … 
 

Two different views of the hotel's fantastic infinity pool, above and below. In the morning, I swam in the ocean for the sunrise, then retreated into the pool. In both cases, I had the water to myself!

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