“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Charles Dickens’ famous line refers to life during the French Revolution, but he may as well of been writing about Canadian fishing trips.

Because when you’re on that dream fishing trip and everything’s going great, life doesn’t get much better. But when you’re stuck on a trip that’s a total bust, it’s a real kick in the pants––mainly because for months in advance the Ghost of Christmas Future teased you with visions of unreal fishing, and the disappointment of a squandered trip is devastating.

So, my New Year’s wish to fellow anglers is that in 2013 you enjoy the former, rather than suffer from the latter. To help with that goal, here are 3 tips for making sure your precious, hard-earned and well-deserved fishing vacation lives up to your great expectations (OK, no more Dickens’ references).


1. Don’t Go Anywhere Without A Referral

I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker. When I read in a fishing lodge brochure, “Fast and furious fishing action year-round with walleyes up to 8-pounds,” I instantly start to daydream about hauling in 8-pound walleyes one after the other.

After a second or two, reality kicks in, and I’ll remember the term “fast and furious” can be a bit vague, as can the phrase “up to.” After all, even a below-average lake can offer “fast and furious” action––at the right time––and likely has at least a couple walleyes “up to” 8 pounds … even if the average if a 12-inch dink.

Bottom line: Every lodge looks good on its own website. Better ask around. I felt a bit overwhelmed last year trying to pick the perfect fly-in to take my dad. So I used my “phone a friend,” and fortunately my friend was none other than Bill Sherck, host of Due North Outdoors.

Bill asked me what type of experience I was looking for and gave me great advice. I had his ultimate fly-in recommendation–––KaBeeLo Lodge––and some very concrete expectations on what I could realistically anticipate in terms of fishing and overall experience.

Also, a personal referral can share specific hot spots with you and, equally important, can warn you about parts of the lake that are better left un-fished. Lodge owners will rarely steer you away from any part of the lake because over the years “guests have caught fish there” and because, understandably, they don’t want to squash dreams or take away your joy of exploration and discovery. (Friends, whoever, will save you time and just tell you the best spots on the lake!)

2. Ask a “Trick” Question or Two

I’ve found in business––and in fishing––that you can learn a lot about someone by asking them a question you already know the answer to and seeing how they respond. Or by asking them a question they can’t possible know the answer to and listening to what they say.

So, as I pondered a trip to KaBeeLo Lodge, I asked owner Harald Lohn how many pike I could expect to catch in a day if I only targeted that toothy species. I loved his response. And it gave me a ton of confidence in Harald and his wife Ann.

Harald said, “I don’t know.”
He had no idea of my fishing ability, the weather conditions I’d encounter, and whether I considered a “day of fishing” to mean sunrise to sunset or just a couple hours between meals.

His answer was so honest, I knew he wasn’t blowing smoke about other claims either.

When went on to talk further about the type of fishing his guests generally have on the various outpost lakes, and he also directed me to the dated journal entries of guests at each lake––and those entries painted a clearly unedited and realistic view of the excellent fishing I could expect. Then we went and enjoyed dream fishing that exceeded our expectations, with the best walleye fishing of our lives and pike over 40 inches.

3. Pick a Lodge that Cares About YOU

In general, lodge owners are fantastic people. But you talk to enough of ’em and eventually you run across a couple who seem to think they’re the main attraction at Lodge XYZ rather than the fishing and the scenery.

Or you’ll encounter a lodge owner who cares more about his great lodge than your individual trip. He may simply be too understaffed to have time to truly serve your needs, but either way you leave feeling your trip could have been better if you had received more individual attention.

Like I said, I was a bit overwhelmed planning the fly-in for my dad last year because he had dreamed about doing a fly-in his entire life and I wanted it to go well. So I bombarded Harald and Ann with lots of emails with lots of questions about all aspects of KaBeeLo.

They responded promptly, and what impressed me further is that they always thanked me for the questions and encouraged me to ask more. KaBeeLo is one of the busiest fly-ins in Ontario because they get so many return guests, but Harald and Ann don’t act like they’re the busiest, and that makes an awfully big difference––especially when you’re on the trip.

Let’s face it: Your trip is a BIG deal to you individually, but it’s another day like every other day for the lodge owner. You want to go to a lodge where the owner will embrace your excitement and feed it with individual attention.

The night before my dad and I flew out to Bear Paw Lake, we had dinner with Harald and Ann and traded stories about fishing, family, current events and hobbies. The next morning when we flew to our outpost, they both walked us to the float plane (after loading all our gear) and wished us luck. When we returned from the outpost they greeted us at the dock and asked us all about our adventure.

It wasn’t another day to them; they genuinely wanted to make sure we had a unique, special experience and they demonstrated that by giving us individual attention. In turn, that individual attention made our experience that much better … and that’s a key thing to focus on when you’re picking a lodge.

So there you have it, my 3 tips for picking a lodge and planning a dream fishing trip. My last piece of advice: Do it 2013, because life’s too short to wait.

Oh, and one more thing … pack a Dickens book just in case.