Call of the Tundra: In the summer of 2008, the camp was abuzz with excitement as camera crews scoured the lake capturing the experience of contestants in Toyota's annual "Call of the Tundra" promotion. The tournament-style event featured five randomly drawn (and very lucky) winners selected from dealerships from the Prairie Zone in Western Canada fishing for the keys to a brand-new Toyota Tundra truck! For four fun-filled days, we were the proud hosts of Toyota's "Call of the Tundra" grand prize trip.
The tournament begins:In two morning sessions of fishing each angler scored the total length of their five biggest walleyes (total of ten fish). The first morning of tournament fishing challenged the anglers with high West winds and cooler temperatures. Many fish were boated and each competitor got back to the dock eager to up their scores on day two. However, Mother Nature had other plans. Day two began with heavy winds and constant rain… Not conducive to filming. A revised plan had our guests fishing with the guides for fun and everyone enjoyed a classic Aikens shore lunch at the Great Gray Owl site, warming their hands by the fire and their bellies with deliciously prepared walleye.
Day 2 of the tournament: Having practiced their hook-sets and rested up for the last day’s event, the competitors (staff and film crew alike) were overjoyed to wake up to a beautiful sunny day for the final tournament session. The Back Bay had a magical fog hanging thick making for some awesome picture. Our host Dave Mercer, creator and host of “Facts of Fishing“, sounded the air horn to set off the five competing guide boats for an exciting shotgun start to day three.
At high noon, everyone congregated at shore lunch knowing that one of them would soon be the proud owner of a new truck! The afternoon was spent on the lake fishing, while back at the lodge, scores were tallied and the dining room was readied for the award ceremony. Lights, camera and action filled the lodge while Dave Mercer entertained the crowd before handing the keys to the winner. It was a very cool event to host in our spacious lodge.
The partners that made this event happen: Aikens is proud to have partnered with Prairie Toyota Dealers and Travel Manitoba in hosting this televised competition which promoted Toyota Tundra trucks, Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge and Manitoba wilderness! Also, a very special thanks to Dave Mercer for being a consummate host and for sharing his incredible talent for making people laugh anytime, anywhere.
So who won?!? Many of you are probably asking who left the lodge with such a huge prize? You will have to watch the show to find out! We are thrilled at how the show is able to showcase the incredible experience that each of the contestants had while at Aikens… and most of them had rarely (if ever) fished in their lives! It’s a true testament that the “Aikens Experience” is very unique and special in our industry. To view the show, click the link at the top of the page.
Background Info: We were first approached by Boomer Esiason in 2005 about hosting an event to raise money for the Boomer Esiason Foundation for Cystic Fibrosis (BEF). Boomer, with his son Gunnar and his daughter Sydney, enjoyed a 5 day vacation at Aikens Lake in July 2005. Although never really having fresh-water fished before, they caught on really quick… especially Sydney! She became known as the "Walleye whisperer" while she was at the lodge. She had the uncanny ability to "feel" bites 10-15 seconds before anything ever nibbled on her bait. Aikens Lake partner Dale Jensen has long been a supporter of the Boomer Esiason Foundation, being named their MVP in 1997.
The Esiason family loved their experience at Aikens Lake. So, it was at that point that we started exploring different fund-raising events that could be hosted at Aikens. It started out as a small invitational trip for 12-16 fishermen each donating a specific amount to the BEF. It then evolved into a tournament-style trip. Eventually, we teamed up with In-Fisherman and the PWT walleye tournament circuit and the idea was born. An “all-star” field of the top 10 finishers during the 2006 PWT tournaments would each fish with a celebrity in order to raise funds for the BEF.
Many prominent companies stepped up to the plate to help make this event a success. Black & Decker, Under Armour, Johnsonville Brats, Berkley, Lowrance, DeWalt, Canon, and most noticeably Office Depot made the event a fundraising success!
We hosted the Shootout over a frigid week in late September (we actually had to extend our season by a week to accommodate them!). The pros all showed up early and had 2.5 days to pre-fish Aikens. Most used trolling techniques as no fresh bait (minnows, crawlers, leeches) was allowed for this particular tournament. The tournament itself lasted two full days from 8AM to 5PM (with a 60 minute break for shorelunch… another treat the pros weren’t used to!). Despite the cold temperatures, the action was hot and it didn’t take the pros long to hone in on the large schools of monster walleye at Aikens! The action was hot both on the lake and also in the evenings in Big Molly’s Bar. Card games (those poker pros sure can read a hand!!!), live music, and general bacchanalia was the nightly theme.
In the end, over $100K was raised though this event. All the PWT pros, their celebrity partners, and the rest of the In-Fisherman and BEF representatives left Aikens with some cherished memories.
For the PWT, this tournament broke two significant barriers: 1st - It was the first event they ever held outside the USA. In fact, it became the pre-cursor to events in Ontario (Lake Wabigoon) in subsequent year.
2nd – It was the first ever “CPR” tournament for the PWT. The style of “Catch, Photograph, and Release” had never been used. In what could become a standard for future tournaments around North America, no fish were kept in livewells or weighed-in at the end of the day… all that the contestants returned to the docks with at the end of the day was a Canon camera loaded with pictures of their fish on official yardsticks and a log book of their day’s catch. After downloading all cameras, fish were verified by tournament judges right down to the 1/4” before total length scores were announced.
This style of tournament, while tougher to adjudicate, has too many positive ecological and competitive benefits to ignore. There is no danger of accidentally killing fish that don’t survive a full day in a livewell. As well, no longer are contestants limited to slot size fish or maximum lengths on any specific body of water… they can now count all of their biggest fish in any day!
The BEF was started in 1993 the moment Boomer learned that his young son Gunnar has Cystic Fibrosis. According to the BEF website (www.esiason.org), Cystic Fibrosis is a fatal genetic disorder that affects more than 30,000 Americans, usually the most vulnerable among us: our children. Although cystic fibrosis is not yet curable, the good news is that the situation is not hopeless. Since 1993, they have raised over $50M for Cystic Fibrosis research, and in that time the average life expectancy of a child with the disease has nearly tripled from early teens to late-thirties!
Inaugural PWT Celebrity Shootout Walleye Fishing Event Benefits Boomer Esiason’s Foundation, September 18-21, 2006 Rick Schroder, Mike Gartner, Kris King, Robert Williamson III, Dave Kreig and other celebrity fishing fans, will team up with the top ten professional walleye anglers from the Professional Walleye Trail (PWT), North America’s most prestigious and influential walleye fishing circuit, September 18-21, to help raise funds for The Boomer Esiason Foundation, which provides financial support to find a cure for cystic fibrosis. The event, which takes place in Manitoba, airs on The Outdoor Channel as part of the In-Fisherman PWT television series airing October 2006 through March 2007. Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, an exclusive fly-in destination in Canadian Shield bush-country terrain, will host this Inaugural PWT Celebrity Shootout Walleye Fishing Event.
Celebrity fishing enthusiasts include: NHL greats Kris King and Mike Gartner, NFL player Dave Krieg, poker stars Hoyt Corkins and Robert Williamson III, Les Stroud (star of the Discovery Channel’s Survivorman), actor Rick Shroder, and Scott Flansberg (the renowned “human calculator”).
Professional walleye anglers include: Mark Christianson, Bobby Crow, Andy Kuffer, Mark Martin, Sheldon Meidinger, Ron Seelhoff, Bill St. Peter, Dave Van Oss, Jim Carroll, and Daryl Christianson.
“Fishing events have long played a role in calling attention to causes like finding a cure for cystic fibrosis,” says Esiason. “I was just at Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge last summer with my two children and it was an experience of a lifetime. This event is a unique opportunity to show the world the amazing sport of walleye fishing, the beauty of Manitoba and, most importantly, to benefit finding a cure for cystic fibrosis.” Esiason’s son Gunnar was diagnosed with the disease in 1993.
The competition is a pro-am format with each professional walleye angler drawing a celebrity partner for two days of fishing. Teams will measure, photograph and release their fish. In a unique, and tasty, twist to the tournament scene, teams will dine lake-side at noon for an official Canadian shore lunch on the first day of competition.
“Having the PWT’s top anglers at Aikens will showcase the excitement and popularity of walleye fishing,” says Pit Turenne, general manager of Aikens. “It will also be the first time that the PWT takes its tournaments north of the border into Canada.” The PWT, a 17-year-old sporting event, is part of the In-Fisherman Communications family. In-Fisherman is the fishing industry’s leading communicator.
The 2006 PWT Celebrity Shootout Raised More Than a $100,000 For the Boomer Esiason Foundation for Cystic Fibrosis.
Aikens Lake, Sept 2006: The top ten In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail pros in the Johnsonville Brats Angler of the Year race were joined by celebrities for a fun-fishing event held at Manitoba’s Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge.
The winners were pro Mark Christianson, full-time walleye pro and guide for 29 years and Robert Williamson III, World Series of Poker winner. In accepting the first place trophy, Williamson said, “This was a great week and to thank the Boomer Esiason Foundation for Cystic Fibrosis (BEF), I will donate an additional $10,000 to help the cause.” Christianson said, “He’s the most positive guy I’ve ever met. He told me we’d win before heading out on day one, and he had never caught a walleye.
This was the first measure, photo and release event for the PWT. Pros were paired with celebrities and their top five fish were counted daily. The first place team measured a total of 240.75 inches. Second went to pro Bobby Crow and World Series of Poker winner, Hoyt Corkins with 239.50 inches.
Pro Ron Seelhoff and Discovery Channel’s “Survivorman” Les Stroud tied for third with pro Sheldon Meidinger and actor Rick Schroder. Both had 238.25 inches. The other top PWT pro participants included Bill St. Peter, Jim Carroll, Mark Martin, Dave Van Oss, Daryl Christensen and Andy Kuffer. Their partners were Dale Jensen, Arizona Diamondback owner, Kris King and Mike Gartner, NHL Hall of Famers, Scott Flansberg, the human calculator, Dave Krieg, former Seattle Seahawks quarterback, and Don Lamont, Travel Manitoba.
Many special accolades went to the Aikens Lake Lodge staff. “The setting in Manitoba’s wilderness, walleyes of all sizes, the fly-in experience and food fit for a king were enjoyed by the entire crew,” said, Jim Kalkofen, PWT executive director.
Proceeds by major sponsors will benefit the BEF. PWT sponsors E-Cell and StowMaster donated an extra $5,000 to the Foundation. Nick Koken, representing the Foundation said, “This was a great event for the BEF.”
It exceeded any expectation I had to the point that I’ve told my kids that if I get a bonus that’s exactly where we’re going. When you compare it against other luxury vacations, where you typically pay extra for a guide or various excursions, what you get at Aikens is a really good value. I’ve fished all over the world, from Alaska to Colorado to Costa Rica. I’d put Aikens over those in terms of the size fish you can catch and the quantity.
This week at Aikens for our anniversary has been absolutely the greatest gift! The only thing that would have made it better was if my dad and mom could have been with us.
They say “you get what you pay for” ... at Aikens you get more. They know what they’re doing, and it shows. Its called “The Aikens Experience.” The lodging is top notch. The food is outrageous! Aikens Lake is a dream to fish. The staff - how they find and keep so many polite, friendly, courteous, intelligent, and attentive people year after year I have no idea. They learn your likes and dislikes; they make you feel welcome and relaxed.
—Steven J Kuzmich,
People sometimes want to try new locations or lakes in Canada but I really do not know why our group would ever look elsewhere or even think about it. The fishing is world class and the accommodations and hospitality are five-star.
We wanted to get a true fly-in Canadian fishing/wilderness experience, but be able to do that without having to spend two days traveling to get there. Overall, the experience was exactly what we wanted. Great fishing, great setting, great service and accommodations that allow you to really relax and enjoy quality time with your family.
One of the coolest things about Aikens is you could have terrible fishing and have an awesome time there. Well-fed and well-served, plenty of beer to keep you warm. Tremendous service. Of course, the fishing’s great, too, but you have fun either way.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Incredible staff and amazing fishing. The accommodations are top notch and the food is first class. You won't find a better lodge in North America for pike and walleye fishing. The owners really know how to run this place. The memories made here are like no other.
What I love about Aikens? The ever present welcoming attitude that starts when you exit the plane and ends, well, never actually ends from what I can tell. The entire staff which is well selected and well trained, guides who make fishing fun and easy, the size of the lake (not too small for serious fishing and not too big for novices), the breakfasts, the shore lunches, the dinners, the awards handed out at dinner, the evening fishing with dock staff making sure your boat is ready, and the bar that gives you a chance to meet fun and interesting people to share a fishing story, a joke, or life story.
Our guide really listened to what we wanted to do and tailored our day specifically to us. To me, the shorelunch was the highlight of each day. The shorelunch sites are set-up so well in very scenic spots. You can watch the Aikens videos and read the website about the fancy cabins, and the food, and how great the fishing and the service is, but one thing you can't really appreciate until you're here is how beautiful it all is.
Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota
I’m an amateur rank fisherman and I caught a ton of fish, including a Master Angler pike. That’s what makes Aikens Lake so great, you can get guys like me that really don’t know what they’re doing, and you start to believe that you might.
My husband and my dad had always talked about going to Canada or Alaska, so when I got the idea to give them a fishing trip as a surprise gift I did about six months of research. Once I talked with Pit, I was sold. It was really a surprise to them. They were so excited, and they just had a wonderful time at Aikens. They enjoyed their dream trip, and I don’t think it will be their last time to Aikens.
Pit and his team have done a wonderful job of putting together the perfect gem of an outpost camp. We love going to the Lost Lake outpost because it provides you the seclusion and serenity without comprising the nice luxury-type components.
The Four Seasons of fishing lodges. What's truly impressive is that ownership is constantly improving the experience. Every year you arrive and notice improvements. I'm just back from our trip to Aikens with my son. In the last 15 months he's been to Copenhagen, Berlin, Estonia, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Venice, Croatia, Greece and Turkey – but said this was his favorite trip ever. He slept with his Aikens hat on last night!
Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin
Those young staff members make me realize that our future is in good hands. Every one of them are class act young people, such a joy to associate with when you see what is going on across the land. Thanks again for the great hospitality from you and ALL of the staff.
North Little Rock, Arkansas
Truly an experience you'll want to relive over and over. This father-son-grandpa trip went from being a once in a lifetime experience, to an annual fishing trip! See you next summer!
Aikens is the perfect place for a family trip. The cabins are the best we’ve ever been in, the lodge is beautiful, and of course Pit and Julie are wonderful hosts.
Wisconsin President Organization, Group Leader
My husband and I never go back to the same place twice, but we loved it so much at Aikens we knew by the end of our first week we’d be back. It’s just how well they take care of you there. They make you feel like you’re part of the family.
Lake Oswego, Oregon
I’ve taken many large groups to Aikens and I always tell people beforehand how incredible the service is at Aikens. Every person has said to me at the end of the trip, “We believed you before, but I just can’t believe how good they treat you here!” One time Pit and Julie didn’t have the type of alcohol on-hand one of our guests was drinking, so they sent a plane out and got it.
Westman Dreams for Kids
I call it a 5-star hotel in the wilderness. It’s the neatest place we’ve ever been, it’s like fantasy island.
Each year we go somewhere as a family. We’ve been to Hawaii, Disney and many other places, but Aikens was one of the best trips we’ve ever had. Our trip was terrific, and my grandson loved every minute of it.
You think you’re at a Ritz-Carlton, you seriously get that level of treatment and amenities. Nobody in Manitoba can compete with Aikens for the quality of the fishing, staff, and facilities.
Trip number five and once again Aikens Lake out did itself. I thought it impossible for this wonderful place to get any better.
NHL Senior VP of Hockey Operations, 14 year NHL player and captain, and Aikens Lake Honorary Pro Staff Guide
From the accommodations, to the staff and especially shore lunch, the entire experience at Aikens Lake is unmatched.
Former United States Vice-President
The photos are amazing and like the memories, they will last a lifetime.
Former NFL MVP Quarterback, TV Commentator, and Founder of the Boomer Esiason Foundation (against cystic fibrosis)