The Aikens Lake story is a wonderful one. It was the lake on which some of the earliest tours took place. It came under the ownership of a committed Manitoba tourist leader who turned it into a family business. It is now run by his son as managing partner with his wife and partners who understand the realities of the hospitality business.
It is one of the best run fly-in fishing lodges you will find anywhere. Enjoy the broadcast.
2 minutes 15 seconds listen to Winnipeg’s morning show leader Ace Burbee
8 minutes 20 seconds hear Pit Turenne talk about the background of the lodge and his service philosophy.
18 minutes 10 seconds Julie Turenne, the heart of the operation, will explain how she runs operational side of the lodge to make it great.
25 minutes Marco Dumontier, a guide and the son of the lodges very first guide, describes his family connection and why he loves doing what he does there today.
33 minutes In this interview Ben Blankstein mirrors Marco’s feeling and talks about the way the staff work together to make it all work well.
38 minutes 15 seconds Guest John Murray there with his dad Kenneth for a father-son experience add another perspective of the lodge and how they feel about its operation.
Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge story as it appeared in the Saturday September 10 travel section in the Winnipeg Free Press
After an early morning departure, our float plane propels itself to the dock of Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge around 9 AM. We, my brother-in-law John and I, along with eight other passengers on this flight, are greeted by close to two dozen staff members and management, who have gathered to warmly welcome every guest by name, as they introduce themselves, and their roles at the lodge.
This is an event that takes place around every incoming flight with guests on board.
After our bags are identified, we are shepherded by our guide to the cabin that will be our home for the next four days. We are immediately feted to a huge breakfast, which should have been a signal of what that dining hall would come to mean for the rest of the trip.
Before long we are racing over the waters of Aikens Lake to the first spot where we hoped to catch fish. By noon we have caught enough walleye for our first shore lunch, and end up joining some of the other guests who have also just arrived.
For those who may think that meals at a fly-in lodge consist mostly of fish, nothing could be further from the truth. Shore lunches are the only times we will consume fish during our entire stay. But shore lunches are a major part of the fly-in experience guests look forward to the most.
It is the guides who clean and cook the fish, along with the freshly cut French Fries and other accoutrements. With cold beverages in hand, we admire the serenity of the view around us, and begin to get to know the people who will be our neighbours for, give or take, the same number of days we will be here.
Pit Turenne, Aikens managing partner, and his team have initiated a fun contest, which centres on catches of larger sized Walleye. Called the Century Club, every guest who catches four Walleye totaling more than 100 inches in length will receive an entry for a free return trip to the lodge. (With so many American visitors coming to the lodge, metric just does not translate easily for them.)
The winner of the first day was Virgin Radio 103’s erstwhile morning man, Ace Burpee. The challenge was on, and I was determined to beat his numbers. But each day, even with the bigger fish I was catching, I would miss the century mark by just over an inch. During our four days of fishing, however, we would catch loads of fish, including both Lake Trout and Northern Pike, in addition to Walleye.
It was an exciting adventure. Burpee would later say to me, “Would I say to someone you should do this…I absolutely would, 100%…It’s everything you could want.”
By coincidence, we are at the lodge around the same days that are known as the friends and family weekend.
Some are parents of staff, some are brothers or sisters, while others are good buddies, many of whom will be having their fly-in fishing experience for the first time.
We would get to meet a number of them. Parents especially, were so excited to be offered the opportunity to see how and why their sons and daughters, most of whom are students, were so dedicated to keeping Aikens Lake clients happy.
I became convinced that it is programs like this help create the staff loyalty that is evident from discussions with them. It is a good part of the reason, I concluded, that has led to the high standards of hospitality for which the lodge is recognized on review sites like Expedia.
Our guide was Marco Dumontier, at Aikens Lake for the second summer. His story is a unique one in that his father was the lodge’s very first guide, when it began offering tours almost three decades ago.
Many of the people who work at Aikens Lake lodge return year after year until they graduate, and move on to permanent careers. It is this youthful energy that gives the lodge a unique personality.
Marco’s own enthusiasm is contagious, and his attitude towards management was echoed by others. “Well, they hardly feel like bosses most of the time,” he said adding, “They are awesome people to work for.”
While most lodges tend to keep their staff hidden after work hours, here they are free to mingle with the clients in Molly’s Bar after dinner, joining them in shuffleboard or one of the other games available in the lounge.
On two of the nights, impromptu jam sessions took place in the lounge, with rotating performances by musicians as good as you will find in any city bar that offers entertainment.
While fishing is always the prime motivation for booking into a fly-in lodge, John and I found the other tourist type options on the lake worthy enough themselves to be destination draws, beyond the obvious sport of fishing.
Only a few minutes of boating up one of the tributaries of the lake we find hieroglyphics, left behind as messages from some aboriginal tribe’s people of the past.
Going In another direction we reach a waterfall, whose raging waters not only create a scenic attraction, but another excellent spot to cast hooks into the rapids and catch surprisingly large fish, seemingly lounging there to enjoy the coolness of the flow of water around them.
Aikens Lake is also one of only two meteor lakes in the province of Manitoba, Westhawk being the other. As a consequence parts of the lake are very deep, and the rock formations around the lake are different than you will find in most other bodies of water.
We enjoyed shore lunches along one of the many fine sand beaches that dot the lake. There is one right behind the main lodge, which both guests and staff often use during the hottest days of summer.
Two of the other guests we would also get to know were Dr. Kenneth Murray, who was there with his son John for a father-son fishing experience. In an interview with John, he reinforced Burpee’s earlier enthusiasm. “The staff make you feel like your there for a hundred years, not just 3 or 4 days. Great for a father-son’s trip, great for friends, or anyone who wants to come here.” He added, “It’s a magical place.”
Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge has been in the Turenne family since managing partner Pitt Turenne’s father Gerry purchased it in 1988. Pitt essentially grew up at the lodge since the age of 10. His father, who passed away only recently, was a tourism leader for the province of Manitoba.
Pit talks with pride about how he and his wife Julie have been able to continue the tradition of excellence on the lodge that was instilled by his father and mother.
Even though there are plenty of trophy fish caught by Aikens Lake guests annually, Turenne says, “My parents taught us. We will never guarantee the fishing or the weather in making a sale, but everything else,” he underscored “will be perfect.”
For my brother-in-law and I it was a perfect break with many laughs and fishing stories to tell, most of them true.
If you go:
In addition to the main lodge guests can choose to stay at the new 4 bedroom Lost Lake Outpost, and fish on their own. Or they can stay at the private GGO mini-outpost across the lake, with a guide plus full service meals coming to them every day.
For more information the website is http://www.aikenslake.com/ , or phone 204.237.5253 or toll free 1.800.565.2595.
The lodge will accommodate dietary restrictions, and if you let them know in advance they will make sure they have specialty items such as specific cigars or liqueurs etc.
In that regard you may want to do a Google search for diet books before you leave. You will need one upon your return home.