avr. 5, 2013
Ken Moody, from Kansas City, MO, is a long time guest, group leader and friend of Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge who has spent his entire life making friends and maintaining those friendships. Gerry and Lorraine recently hosted Ken and his wife Sheila at their home in Lac du Bonnet, MB to enjoy some of Manitoba's World Class Tourism products starting with some outdoor winter excitement.....riding on Manitoba's World Class snowmobile trails. Ken can now strike that off his "Bucket List" and add it to his "To Do" list.
After three days of snowmobiling, winter walks and bird watching while feasting and enjoying fine wines, our intrepid tourists headed back to Winnipeg with Gerry and Lorraine to partake in Manitoba's World Class Festival du Voyageur</strong>. Le Festival is held annually in mid February and is Western Canada's largest winter celebration. It can be compared to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival du Quebec in Quebec City. Festival du Voyageur is one of the finest in Western Canada and reflects the historical contributions the voyageurs gave to Western Canada and the unique language, culture and cuisine inherited from these real Canadian heroes. The group revelled with thousands at the opening ceremonies where Ken and Sheila actually made it onto the local news....surprise....surprise! At the prestigious Governor's Ball, they were joined by Pit and Julie and Pat and Janelle. They all sang in French and in English, danced the "Two Step" and "Jig", drank some "Caribou". They also enjoyed Festival cuisine....the famous meat pie called "Tourtière" and the infamous sugar pie called "Tarte au Sucre".
Ken and Sheila returned to Kansas City after a very full week, maybe a little tired and a little worse for wear, but glowing in enjoyment of their discoveries and new friendships. They are planning to do it again sometime in the future.
Prior to their drive back to Kansas City, Gerry interviewed Ken for another facet of insights into the guests that drive Aikens Lake. Ken has been organizing groups from Kansas City to fish in Canada for over 30 years and to Aikens Lake for the last 22 consecutive years!
Gerry:Before we get into your "Aikens Experience"</strong>, tell our readers about your most recent winter adventure.
Ken: Sheila and I sure are thankful to you and Lorraine for sharing your home at the lake, but also your friends, your family and your French Canadian culture at Festival du Voyageur. I enjoyed the snowmobile expedition and the relaxed pace of the lake. We really enjoyed the "Festival". We were all dressed in voyageur clothes with Sheila wearing her own very beautiful and appropriate beaver coat. We made the evening news at the opening ceremonies when we wished the locals a "Bon Festival"! We enjoyed touring Voyageur Park and some of the historical displays in Fort Gibraltar. We were recognized by some of the artisans at the Fort. "Whoa, Mr. Moody! What are you doing here?" It was Mathieu, the medical student who guided me at Aikens last summer. The Governor's Ball was very classy and was a lot of fun. We really enjoyed being with all the people from the visiting festivals like St. Paul MN, Lacrosse WI and even guys from Florida whom I talked fishing with. All in all, we experienced new things, met a bunch of new people, were treated wonderfully and had a great time!
Gerry: You have a long and deeply rooted association with Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge. How did that all start?
Ken:When I was young and president of the Kansas City Ski Club, we used to organize hundreds of trips and activities for our members. Organizing trips is something I've always loved to do. Anyways, after the ski trips, I started organizing fishing and hunting trips with Ducks Unlimited. One of my cohorts, Larry Dierks, and I had been organizing this one fishing trip to Canada for years. We had gone to drive-to lodges and fly-in lodges. Our group varied from 12 to 25. We wanted to look at different options, Manitoba being one of them. We went to the Kansas City Sportsmen's Show. We ran into a brand new exhibitor...first year at the show. So we stayed and talked a lot with Phil Lavack who was a partner in the new ownership group of Aikens Lake at the time. The talk was real good so Larry and I wanted to check it out further for a possible destination two years later. We asked him for a price. He said that for a group of 24, he would have Larry and me come up to the lodge to check things out for ourselves. And if we decided to bring the group up, he would make us a good deal at that time. We said that we would not consider it if we did not know the price ahead of time as we did not want to waste our time and his money coming up there if we didn't have a price. So Phil called his partner, Gerry, in Winnipeg and they came up with a price. Larry and I went up over the July 4th holiday. We had a great time and were very impressed with the fishing. I caught a Master Angler Walleye the very first morning. We were treated well by a small staff and before returning to KC, we had booked a reservation for 24 guests. I have been back with various size groups every year since, sometimes twice, and one time, even three times in the same season!
Gerry: You have seen the evolution of all aspects of the lodge: the fishing, the guides, the equipment, the food, the beverage service, the accommodations, the housekeeping and the staff. Tell us about this.
Ken: I remember well our first trip up and have seen all the yearly improvements. I can point out many ways in which things have changed.
From the fishing perspective...</strong>The first time we had four guides including Gerry and Denis. Eight guys were with the guides and the other 16 tagged along, operating their own boats. Even with two thirds of my group fishing on their own, in small boats with 10 hp motors, they still all preferred the high quality fishing here to what they experienced in Ontario for nearly a decade. I have to give credit to those four guides because they were able to cook up great shore lunches for all of us on wood fires in those old fire pits.
Nowadays, you fish out of top of the line boats with very knowledgeable young guides who put you onto the big fish, cook you the best shore lunches and look after your needs all day long. I like to talk to my guides so it's great to engage them in a few stories. Now shore lunches are nearly a religious experience for me and certainly the best part of the day, if not the whole trip.
From the accommodations perspective...</strong>The first time we came up, the lucky 16 stayed in Master Angler's Row where 4 per room shared 2 bunks, a table and 4 chairs and a 3 piece bathroom. The rest of the guys stayed in the original little log cabins for 4 guests with 2 bunks, a table and 4 chairs, a sink with cold running water and a buck stove.
Now you have all these new deluxe cabins that are bright and roomy. Hell, even Master Angler's Row, which was THE place to stay back then, was remodeled this year into super deluxe accommodations for 2.
From the dining and beverage perspective...</strong>The meals have always been good but they have come a long way over the years. The menu keeps up with modern trends but I'll tell you what...when you come in for dinner, a few hours after your fantastic shore lunch and you still can't resist what's served to you...that's why we all gain weight here!
The main lodge has been renovated inside out. I remember the smaller wood tables and old school chairs. It was "homey" but now it's bright and inviting with "Pioneer Log Furniture"dining tables and chairs. The original bar only had a few small windows so it was very dark. Now it's full of windows and has a great view of the lake. Big Molly's Baris a great feature and is a great place for guests to mingle and share their stories.
From the staff perspective...The most significant change and evolution has been the staff. Most of the kids I've met at Aikens were just starting their college education. It's been a real treat to watch these kids grow up and become chiropractors, teachers, doctors, accountants, nurses and first responders and what not. I always liked to recognize their great attitude and hard work by bringing up enough Kansas City ribs for the whole staff to enjoy a special dinner from Mike McGonigal's,complete with BBQ beans! The staff has expanded a lot since Pit and Julie took over and they have all joined in to make the "Aikens Experience"happen. I think that because both Pit and Julie worked for Aikens in their youth, that this experience gave them the knowledge to both know what needs to be done and how to recruit the right people for the job.
Gerry: Thanks Ken for giving us a bird's eye view of the evolution at Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge</strong>. You have quite a reputation up at the lodge and around Kansas City of being a tireless storyteller. Tell our readers one of your favourite Aikens Lake stories.
Ken: Well, I could go into a few of the older stories but the staff would not forgive me for going there! So...one of the deals we used to have going way back before everyone had a guide, was that Gerry would "comp" my group a rookie guide and I would rate him on various skills in guiding, boating, fishing, cooking and especially inter-personal skills. I always like to tease and joke with them. One time, I brought my nephew with me and we were assigned this nice young man who was getting along famously with my nephew. So we boated up river to the falls to catch shore lunch. We were catching Walleye and having fun when the rookie guide reached for his pack of cigarettes. He was bringing one to his lips as he said, "Mr. Moody, do your mind if I smoke?" I looked at him with a very serious look on my face and responded, "Yes I do!" He looked back at me as if to say, "Are you kidding me?" while putting the cigarette back in the pack. Before I could say anything else, my nephew said, "Uncle Ken, don't be so mean!" And I said, "Okay, I'm just kidding you. You can go ahead!" He took it back out and started to smoke. We started joking again and caught lots of fish for shore lunch. His cooking skills needed some work but he was very funny and worked hard to make his guests happy and comfortable. That tall skinny kid is now assistant manager of Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodgeand has a beautiful wife Janelle whom I have known since she started at the lodge. He is now the proud father of a future fisherman called Oscar whom I look forward to meeting next summer. Funny how time flies!
Gerry: Thanks Ken and now for the last question which is to describe your own version of the "Aikens Experience" in one word.
Can't wait to get there!
Can't wait to get back there!