Jul 25, 2018
Editor’s Note: Travel journalist Tony Capecchi has produced media for television, magazine and radio outlets such as NBC, CBS, ESPN2 and In-Fisherman. He visited Aikens this summer to write a series of articles. Below is a guide spotlight he wrote about his experience fishing with Aikens pro-staff guide Derek Richardson.
Guide Spotlight: Derek Richardson of Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, Manitoba
By: Tony Capecchi
As great a place as Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge is to vacation – it’s been named one of North America’s top five fishing destinations – it might be an even better place to work. That thought entered my mind during shore lunch with my dad on our first afternoon at the luxury fly-in lodge in Manitoba’s Atikaki Provincial Park this past Memorial Weekend.
Fresh caught walleyes with onion rings, baked beans and potatoes were on the menu at a shore lunch station with a filleting table, propane fish fryer and a pair of picnic tables under a wooden canopy on a scenic point overlooking 11,000-acre Aikens Lake and its countless islands, natural sand beaches and cliff walls. What an office view.
Our guide, Derek Richardson, shared his perspective on working in paradise while Dad and I devoured beer batter fish.
“I know this is the best job I’ll ever have in terms of who I’m working for and what I’m doing,” Derek said. “I don’t take that for granted, even though I’ve been here six years.”
The Ottawa native came to work at Aikens in 2013 after hearing great things about it from his friend who guided there the previous summer. Derek had seen the fish photos – Aikens is famous for its abundant population of big walleyes supplemented by the occasional trophy pike and lake trout – and knew Aikens was upscale, but he couldn’t fully anticipate the culture there until he became a part of it.
“The people here are amazing,” Derek said. “The guests are fantastic, great people to fish and become friends with, and the staff is a really good team. Everybody helps each other out, and we all enjoy being here. How could you not?”
While Richardson has enjoyed Aikens for half a decade now, he still remembers his rookie season spent as a dockhand and guide-in-training.
“My first year the lake seemed so big,” he recalled. “I wouldn’t go too far fishing. The other guides helped me learn the lake and become more comfortable in my fishing.”
Fishing nearly seven days a week for six years has helped Derek develop a long list of hotspots and build a sizable bag of tricks for days the fish aren’t cooperating. Although he is too modest to admit it, he is one of Aikens’ foremost lake trout experts and helped pioneer the lodge’s hottest trend in targeting the lake’s elusive top predator.
Lakers aren’t caught often at Aikens, but if guests do land a trout it usually exceeds 30 inches and always provides a thrilling fight. To increase the odds, Derek and a few guide friends began experimenting a couple years ago with chumming chopped up suckers at deep water depths. As the theory goes, burbot come in to eat the suckers, and lake trout come in to eat the burbot.
Anglers then target these feeding frenzy zones, and the past several years have yielded some of the highest numbers of trophy trout caught. Last year, 2017, saw 17 Master Angler lake trout (35-inches or bigger) caught in a season, which was nearly an all-time Aikens record.
As Derek’s approach has become successful in producing big lake trout, Aikens management has supported the technique. This spring, the lodge flew in 150-pounds of suckers to use for chumming in the season ahead.
“One fun thing is that something changes every year,” Derek said. “A spot could be the best spot on the lake one year, and the next year it doesn’t produce anything. And then you might discover a new spot that becomes one of your go-to spots, or a new approach becomes very effective.”
Derek points to a pike-trend led by Aikens head guide JB as an example. “JB was the first one who figured out big pike in the bays with bobbers and ciscos,” Derek said. “He got really good with how he approached it dragging bobbers along the bays for trophy pike, and I’ve learned a lot from him in how I first work the perimeter of the bay, and then go though and work the structure. Different guides learn how other guys do things differently, and we all get better as a result.”
During our day with Derek, we chased those post-spawn pike in various bays as well as at the falls, where the Gammon River spills into Aikens Lake. Bizarre spring weather didn’t help (a late ice out was followed by two weeks of dry, +80 degree weather for remarkably warm water temps) and trophies eluded us, but we did manage nearly two dozen pike with several at +35 inches. And we had an absolute blast, including enjoying a couple small pike whose eyes were bigger than their stomachs.
How could we not? The fish, scenery and company couldn’t have been much better. Two things are abundantly clear about Derek: here’s both a fish-head and a genuinely kind, people-person.
And there’s that third truth … that Derek has a dream job. As Derek talked about the magic of Aikens, I playfully suggested to my dad that he apply to work a summer at Aikens after he retires next spring from 40 years at 3M.
Dad gazed out at the lake at the suggestion and thought for a moment, but was interrupted by a twitch of the rod. Fish on!