déc. 15, 2016
It’s been three decades since Bob Dumontier, a physical education teacher from Winnipeg, became the first guide in Aikens history, yet when he can closes his eyes he’s back in those early days in the Canadian wilderness.
The 20-something-year-old was already an avid angler when friend Mark Lavergne invited him to the fly-in lodge his parents owned. Bob fell in love with Aikens, and quickly found himself working summers there as a dockhand and jack of all trades.
“Our tasks were really diverse. Greet planes, bring baggage to the rooms, work on construction, dig pits for septic fills,” Bob recalled. “I’d get the boats ready and keep them in order. I’d have to flip out motors, flip out gas tanks during the day––that was one of my specific duties.”
“Filleting fish was a big part of the job because people were allowed to take home fish back then,” Bob said. “You’d have to fillet fish after dinner. There was way fewer staff back then, only about nine total. We’d be filleting and packaging fish until 11 or 12 at night.”
In 1988, a half dozen summers into Bob’s stint, the Lavergnes sold Aikens to the Turenne and Lavack families. The Turennes and Lavacks began implementing their vision for the future of Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, which included providing guests with guides.
And who better to be the first guide then Bob, who knew the lake inside and out? Bob was thrilled to trade in his shovel and hammer for a rod and reel and begin introducing guests to excellent fishing on the lake he loved.
“Back then it was in the days of the Lindy Rig, but jigging, too,” said Bob, noting he use to fish Lost Lake a ton, with daily Master Anglers walleyes. “We’d go off in the evenings trolling shallow waters with Rapalas and spinners. The spots weren’t named back then, so we started naming spots. A lot of the best spots then are still the same spots that are good today, like Chris’ Corner and The Saddle.”
Bob noted that Master Angler pike and giant lake trout weren’t as common back then, but numbers were good for lakers and some guests specialized in catching and cutting up suckers to jig for lake trout with good success.
In addition to adding guides in the late 80’s, Aikens also adopted a progressive policy to protect the fishery, as Pit recalls.
“In 1989, my parents asked the province to designate Aikens Lake as a ‘High Quality Management Lake,’ which meant there were now slot sizes on all fish, and limits were reduced form 8 walleye, 8 pike and 1 trout (of any size) down to 4 walleye, 4 pike and 1 trout, all under a slot limit,” Pit said. “We did lose a lot of guests after making that change in year one––the first few years were lean for my parents.”
“Despite talking with guests about the change, they did lose a fair amount of clientele that first year after they switched … because people were used to bringing home their full limit of fish,” Bob said. “But it was the best thing to do for the lake, and Gerry Turenne had a good vision for the future.”
Our long-time guests will remember that as the business grew in later years, we realized that even allowing a few take-home fish was no longer best for the lake. Chris Jensen proposed the excellent idea of going total catch-and-release (other than daily shorelunch), and the policy was adopted in 2005 when he became an owner.
As for Bob, he has a stringer full of fish stories. Life as a guide rewards a man with such memories.
“One of the best days I ever had I fished with a group who’d been coming several years. We had only caught a half dozen fish all day. A storm was coming in and we were in a shallow bay only 5 or 6 feet deep,” he said. “We caught a nice walleye, and then right as the rain started to dump on us we noticed activity under this pine pollen. We started casting into the pine pollen. They were in there chasing minnows under the pine pollen. We caught about 50 or 60 walleyes all in the 23 to 26-inch range in the pouring rain for an hour. It was coming down thick.”
Another favorite memory involves Bob’s first time guiding journalists, a pair of European writers who’d come all the way from Belgium and France to write about the classic Canadian fly-in adventure.
“It was May, so we weren’t too sure yet exactly where the fish were and we really wanted to impress them,” Bob said. “We had success in every facet, tons of walleyes, big walleye, big pike and big lake trout. Turned out to be perfect. A lot of that was upriver, way upriver.”
Then there are the stories, as many of our guests know, that stick in your head despite having nothing to do with a fish. Like the windy Memorial Weekend Bob spotted some orange and yellow dots floating in the middle of the lake and realized it was three guys hanging on to seat cushion-flotation devices after five-foot waves had rolled their boat. When Bob scooped them up they were so cold they couldn’t talk and required 30 minutes to thaw out.
Or the story of Bob taking out a 40-year-old, East Coast lawyer and his father.
“They’d never been outside of New York and hadn’t fished much. The lawyer’s dad was filming a lot. We were along the North Shore and I saw a bear sitting on the sandy shoreline,” Bob said. “It was just sitting there like a dog on the edge of the water so I started moving in. I moved in, moved in. Then I turned off the motor and was gliding in closer.”
“The dad was in the front of the boat filming the whole time. We got to about 10 or 15 feet from the shore, and he pulled his camera away and suddenly realized how close the bear was. He scrambled to the back of the boat so fast you wouldn’t believe it.”
Guides back then didn’t have the benefit of today’s tools of the trade––including propane for cooking.
“Shorelunch has always been a big thing, but we only had a few spots for it. We had to have firewood chopped the night before. We had the potato sacks, so we’d make our wood in camp and cover it up. Some of the people from camp would come out and assist if you had a really big group.”
Bob stays in touch with his fellow guides (Aikens had a few other guides in those early years), and still feels the Aikens connection.
“Those bonds last forever,” he said. “The people you guided with, you’re friends with your whole life. It’s a life experience.”
For Bob, it has also become a family tradition. His son, Marco, just finished his second season as a guide at Aikens.
“When Marco was young I told him, ‘Maybe someday you could be a guide at Aikens.’ I relive my own guiding experiences when he recounts his guide stories to me.”
Editor’s Note: Click here to read a blog about Marco’s story as a second-generation Aikens guide.