A Solo Adventure: One Woman’s Aikens Experience
Mar. 12, 2019
Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge has hosted numerous women’s groups over the years, but this past summer we had a first: a woman group. As in, a solo trip by an adventurous Florida woman named Maria Bailey. Maria is an award-winning author, international keynote speaker and CEO who loves to fly fish and chase saltwater fish but had never before attempted a Canadian or fly-in fishing trip.
“I was a little skeptical going alone as a woman,” Maria admitted. “But the family atmosphere was so inclusive that I never even thought twice about it once I stepped off the plane.”
Describing her Aikens Experience as a dream trip of a lifetime she hopes to repeat, Maria found our retreat-like atmosphere the perfect antidote for her busy life at home as corporate executive and mother of four.
“If you want to test your personal boundaries, it’s a really good trip for that. You’re able to test your own boundaries in a very safe, luxurious setting while at the same time reconnecting with yourself,” she said. “It gave me enough activity during the day, and I was in control of that activity. I chose when I wanted to go fishing or not. It gave me a good balance of pursuing thrill and pushing my physical boundaries, and enough quiet time that I could be reflective. After I fished all day long I found a quiet rock on the lake and was able to sit in nature, ponder and meditate. I went back to my real life much more fresh, and with the thrill that I had achieved something.”
As for the fishing itself, well … let’s put it this way: Maria is an avid angler who’s traveled extensively in pursuit of fish but said Aikens trumped all other destinations in terms of the catch.
“I’ve fished all over the world, from Alaska to Colorado. I’d put Aikens over those in terms of the size fish you can catch and the quantity,” said Maria, who caught a giant Aikens Lake lake trout she said fought harder than a Costa Rica swordfish. “I caught 118 fish in one day. We thought it would be funny to start counting, and by the time we got to 100 we were like, this is ridiculous. My arms were so sore they were like rubber.”
Fortunately, Maria had plenty of nourishment to sustain such grueling action, adding that her fabulous guide Marco joked he’d never seen someone consume so much fish.
“The quality of all the meals surprised me,” she said. “I’m a very picky eater. I don’t eat red meat, I don’t eat processed food. They were very accommodating to my diet. Everything they cooked me was so fresh. I didn’t have to give up my diet, which is typically what you have to do if you’re at an all-inclusive place or a cruise.”
Having vacationed at other upscale, all-inclusive and luxurious destinations, the value of a trip to Aikens also stood out to Maria.
“When my friend and I looked at the pricing and realized for what you get, it’s a great value,” she said. “When you compare it against other luxury excursions, where you typically pay extra for a guide or various excursions, what you get at Aikens is actually a really good value.”
The caliber and value of the Aikens trip impressed Maria, who was very sad to board the floatplane and fly away from paradise. “It exceeded any expectation I had to the point that I’ve told my kids, who also love to fish, that if I get a bonus that’s exactly where we’re going.”
As a busy executive, Maria also appreciated the ability to get so remote so quickly and easily. She flew from Florida into the Winnipeg airport, from where our shuttle service drove her 90 minutes in comfort to the float plane for a 25-minute scenic flight into our pristine boreal forest in the heart of Atikaki Provincial Park.
Back at the airport for her return flight home, Maria amazed the Delta agents by revealing she was returning from a solo, female fishing trip in the Canadian wilderness.
“When I got back the Delta agents were like ‘Did you really go fishing all by yourself?’ When I showed the female agents photos on my phone they couldn’t believe it,” Maria said. “They kept saying, ‘She went all by herself.’ I never felt like I was alone though because there were so many people supporting me at Aikens.”
ADVENTURE AT AIKENS LAKE WILDERNESS LODGE
By: Maria Bailey
I love to fish. Anyone who knows me knows this simple fact about me. If I’m not fishing on a river in North Florida then I have my rod in the ocean. My life’s irony, however, is that I am married to a man who has never baited a hook. I’ve always dreamed of going to a fly-in and fish lodge but thought it was out of the question because I’d have to go alone. That was until I was introduced to Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge.
The thought of catching big Walleye and Pike on a lake in northern Canada quickly got me over any apprehensions I might have had, including my plane landing on water, possibly being the only woman at the lodge, and not knowing the right casting techniques for lake fishing. Aikens Lake is a 30-minute small plane ride north of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada. It’s a family owned business run by Pit and his wife and a team of wonderful staff. In fact, you immediately feel like part of the family when you arrive because everyone comes out to greet you on the dock as you arrive.
I flew from South Florida to Winnipeg and was picked up the next morning by an Aikens shuttle. The 45-minute drive took me to the seaplane where we boarded, along with all the fresh foods and provisions also traveling to the lodge. Since there are no roads to Aikens Lake everything is flown in. I might be a million miler on Delta but I’ve always had a fear of drowning in a plane that crashes into the water. Sitting in the back of a plane I knew would land on water was a bit unnerving but I reminded myself that my attraction to this fishing adventure was the “fly-in” part. Surprisingly the flight was fantastic. It was beautiful to fly over untouched landscaped dotted with dozens of lakes and the landing was as smooth as any at LaGuardia. The staff greeted me as I de-planed and, after a quick breakfast of yogurt, fruit and egg whites, I was fishing within one hour of arriving.
My guide was Marco and to say that he was a GREAT GUIDE wouldn’t do him justice. This guy knew how to find fish. My stay included two days of fishing and the best part was that I could select the times, type of fish to target, and fishing techniques. Not only did I learn so much about fishing from Marco but I caught over 100 big fish in those two days.
The first day, I caught over 40 fish with three rods in the water. All the fish are catch and release except the Walleye we intended to cook for lunch. The Aikens experience includes a shore side lunchof fresh cooked fish and potatoes. They cook the fish in several ways, from beer battered and fried to Cajun spiced and it’s all done on an open fire on the side of the lake. These were my favorite meals of the trip only because I love fish so much and the ambiance of eating in the woods on the side of a lake was amazing. As a mom, I felt a little guilty to just lay on a warm rock while Marco did all the cooking but I quickly got over that when I decided to embrace the experience. Other than spotting a black bear in the woods while I was squatting, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so relaxed.
My biggest catch of the weekend was a 34-inch lake trout.
At times, I had a fish on every rod. Amazing.
I never felt out-of-place as a woman traveling alone and there were several times that I thought Aikens Lake would be the perfect girls’ weekend destination. It’s perfect for the novice or serious fisherwoman, offers beautiful scenery and a relaxing beach, food that is comparable to some of the best restaurants in New York, and five-star services. What else could a woman want? It even had a popcorn machine and pool table in Big Molly’s Bar where everyone gathered each evening to compare fish stories or just enjoy a nice glass of wine.
As Marco and I headed back to the dock after catching our 60th fish of the day, all I could think of was planning my next fishing trip to Aikens Lake. Next time, I’m bringing my entire family because there’s truly something for everyone… even my husband.