Not All Guides Are Created Equally
Feb. 15, 2019
Editor’s Note: Tony Capecchi is a Minnesota-based outdoor travel journalist. He visited Aikens this past year and wrote a series of articles on our operation. Below is one of his features.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to wet a line with a couple dozen guides from Alaska to Montana to Ireland, though the vast majority have been in my favorite fishing location in the world: Canada. Along the way, I’ve come to the realization that not all guides are created equally.
This past summer, my third visit to Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, a luxury fly-in in near Winnipeg, Manitoba, made me realize just how phenomenal it is to fish with truly excellent guides. My dad and I actually fished with a different guide each of our four days––mainly, we joked, because no guide could stand fishing with us for longer than a day. In reality, I requested the unique setup to generate more article material since this was a media trip (Aikens guests normally get to keep their same guide throughout the trip).
Fishing with a different guide each day provided to be an efficient way to learn different tips and techniques from multiple experts on the Aikens pro-staff guide team. Along the way, each guide blew us away and the Aikens guides emerged as among the very best I’ve seen. I was so impressed I felt compelled to write about my experience with the guides.
You might be surprised to know that what impressed me the most was not my time in the boat with the Aikens guides, but rather my time in the bar with them and––in particular––my time in our boat, fishing unguided, within eyesight of a couple guide boats.
The word that comes to mind in describing the Aikens guides is “camaraderie.” It is clear they were hired first and foremost for their people skills. They’re all excellent anglers and teachers but what elevates their impact is their ability to connect, engage and include guests fully in their unique team camaraderie.
Much is said in Aikens’ numerous 5-star TripAdvisor reviews about the “royal welcome” guests receive at the dock when they first arrive at Aikens––greeted by every guide and Aikens staff member––but it is actually crazy how quickly all the guides know you by name. You walk around the lodge and guides are not only asking you by name about your day, but in many cases are saying, “Congrats, I heard you caught a Master Angler today.”
Keep in mind, these are guides you might not have even fished with but they made the effort to learn your name and consistently take the time to share a friendly hello or a congratulatory pat on the back at Big Molly’s Bar following a good day’s fishing.
An extra gesture our guides often extended at the end of our guided days, knowing that Dad and I would go back out fishing on our own after dinner, was dropping a marker in a spot so that Dad and I could readily zip back to a good spot and enjoy excellent fishing “on our own” relatively easily.
Our last night fishing at Aikens this past summer stood out to me. Let me preface this by saying neither Dad nor I have ever done lake trout fishing before going to Aikens, nor did we know anything about the elusive, deep-water trophies. Aikens Lake is a big-walleye factory that offers a chance at trophy pike and lake trout, but trout are definitely rare there. We went out after dinner to a community spot close to the lodge with a couple guide boats within sight, all of whom waved to us and shouted a friendly hello when we ended up drifting by them or vice versa.
Our guide the day before, Carey, generously gave us the exact jig and plastic minnow we used during the day to catch a lake trout, so on our final night Dad and I thought we’d give it a shot and try targeting lake trout on our own. Carey is one of those guys who’s a real pleasure to spend a day in the boat with because he’s such a genuinely nice guy. That’s also true of Ben, another guide we had chatted with and who happened to drift by as we were fishing that final evening.
I asked him if he had any tips, and he humbly offered me a couple pointers and wished us good luck. Low and behold, a while later I hooked a fish we quickly realized was not a walleye and––based on the incredible amount of line it effortlessly stripped out––we knew was indeed a lake trout.
The battle was on, and we were excited. After a minute, we remembered a few tips our guides had taught us, so Dad (in the back) started the motor and chased after the fish to keep us over the trout and help maintain a good angle for my line––just as our guides had shown us. Eventually, the big fish came to the surface and we landed a beautiful Aikens lake trout.
“Way to go, Tony!” called one of the guides from the distance.
We snapped a few photos and quickly released the fish, then I excitedly declared to my dad, “I can’t believe we did that! We don’t know what we’re doing, and we don’t know anything about lake trout. I can’t believe we caught one on our own.”
Thinking quietly in the excited, shared silence two anglers often enjoy in the moments after landing a big fish, I then realized we hadn’t caught it on our own at all. Our friends, the Aikens guide crew, were with us in spirit during that special father-son moment with amber light pouring into the boat as the sun prepared to set on Aikens Lake.
They had taught us––a couple novices––what we needed to know, pointed us in the right direction to make it possible, and then celebrated our success as if we had done it entirely on our own.
As multiple guides congratulated me on the fish that night at Big Molly’s bar, I felt a very distinct feeling.