2021 Season Update – May 28

May 29th, 2021 by

The Rumors have begun. Unfortunately, the reality has changed very little since our last update. Several articles were published last week citing unnamed sources predicting a unilateral opening of the US side of the US/Canada border. The predicted opening was June 22, but several of the articles went on to state that the Canadian side would likely continue to be closed to US anglers. Further reporting has poured more cold water on this story, but that has not stopped the hopeful emails and phone calls coming into my office. After several days of answering these queries, I decided it was time for me to post a comprehensive update.

I am writing this in my office at the lodge, but the process of crossing the border felt like stepping back in time. I have been fully vaccinated for some time but that did not matter. I was required to apply to a Canadian government travel app called ArriveCan, which is a screening tool and a way to prove that you know the rules and have a quarantine plan. I had to have a negative PCR test 72 hours prior to arrival at the border. I was required to video conference and self-administer another Covid test on Day 1. I am required to check in with the Canadian government each day of my 14-day quarantine. Yesterday I completed my 3rd Covid test, which was day 8 of quarantine.

The entire Province of Ontario is in lockdown. School kids are back home with on-line classes. All retail stores are closed. Aisles with non-grocery items in Wal-mart are roped off to prevent non-essential shopping. The Manitoba / Ontario and the Ontario / Quebec borders are also closed to non-essential travel. It feels like a different planet from the basically open world I left in Iowa.

I give these details to let you have a better understanding of the mood North of the border. There are more and more Canadians getting frustrated with the never-ending lock downs, but the Provincial and Federal governments have been consistent in their stated commitment to a slow and careful reopening. Trudeau has stated specifically that he wants to see a vaccination rate of 75% before regulations are relaxed.

The vaccination rates today in the US as reported by The New York times state that 50% of Americans have had one dose and 40% of Americans are fully vaccinated. At the same time, 55% of Canadians have received one dose, but only 5% have been fully vaccinated. When Federal officials are pressed as to when they think the border will reopen, the only cautious responses have been “The Fall.” Even though the vaccination rates have increased in Canada, September is still the predicted time frame when most Canadians will have been fully vaccinated.

Premiere Doug Ford gave a news conference this week that outlined an extremely cautious 3 step process for opening Ontario. With stringent vaccination and health benchmarks, the earliest the Province could possibly be mostly open would be the end of July. Progression to step 3 with indoor dining would require 70 – 80% of adults to have one dose and 25% of the population to be fully vaccinated.

Like everyone else, all I want to know is when the border will be open to US anglers and right now, no one is going to tell us. I immerse myself in every piece of news that I can find to give my guests the most informed decision that I can so that they can better make plans for their summer vacations. There has been no sudden good news to change my opinion – the US/Canada border will likely NOT be open to US anglers in time for us to put together a viable 2021 season. Even the most optimistic view of the current situation would see the border itself being open in September at the earliest.

How late is too late? Any decision has to make economic sense. I have just 2 Kingfisher boats in the water at the lodge right now. I chose to wait and see what was going to happen before I entered into the lease of the remaining 13 engines. The decision to bring all of the boats back out to the lodge would cost well over $100,000.00. It would be impossible to cover the costs of entering into those leases with only a 3 – 4 week season in the Fall. Further complicating the possibility of a late opening would be the logistics for rehiring, relocating, and training staff for a weeks long season.

It would take dramatic changes in policy to envision the border opening anytime soon. Combined with the economic and practical difficulties of operating an extremely abbreviated summer, I just can’t picture a way to make the fishing season work for American anglers at Silver Water Wheel in 2021.

Again, I wish I had better news.

All deposits are safe and I expect almost all guests will transfer them to lock in their dates for next year. With so much up in the air I am committed to working with all of my groups as we transition back to more normal times.

As part of the process of securing loans to bridge our finances from now until next year, we did set aside some additional funds to proceed with a construction project for this summer. We are planning to demo the current storage shed and to replace it with a new and larger pole barn on top of the hill. We expect construction to begin around late July.

The Wheel without guests is very quiet. The lodge without guests and staff feels empty. All of our thoughts and efforts this summer will be focused on a return to better times when we open up the lodge to US anglers in 2022. We can’t wait to have you back.

Mike Willems

April 9, 2021

April 9th, 2021 by

We have all waited patiently for some good news and it just isn’t coming. We had been holding out for an official announcement from either the Canadian or US government but there seems to be little motivation on either side of the border to talk about the Summer.
Canadian vaccination rates are the metric most often mentioned by Canadian epidemiologists and government officials as to when the border will be open. The vaccine roll-out North of the border started poorly. As of the beginning of April, less than 2% of the population was fully vaccinated. Due to the lack of vaccine available, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization made the controversial decision to extend the interval between first and second doses of vaccine from 4 weeks to 4 months. With limited vaccine available, this decision to mostly protect more people is probably a good one for Canadians in general.
From a lodge owner’s perspective, it likely will seal the fate of the 2021 Summer season. I personally do not believe that the Trudeau or Ford administrations will approve of an open border to non-essential travelers until most all Canadians are fully vaccinated.
Further complicating matters is news that a Third wave of Covid 19 with variants of concern is building across the country. Ontario has implemented another lock down order extended for a minimum of 4 weeks.
Even without an official government statement I can tell you that the border will not be open in May, June, or July. Some operators are still hoping for an August or September opening. I personally don’t see it happening. We made the decision to make our opinions known now so that guests can look into alternative options for their summer vacations.
All deposits are safe. Most guests will likely transfer their deposits again to next season to secure their dates for next year. For those guests that need a refund, just let us know. Surprisingly, demand for spots is at an all time high. We currently have more than 70 groups on the waiting list. I mention this so that there are no surprises for guests that do ask for a refund. I will fill any vacancy in the book quickly.
We never imagined losing one full season, let alone two. It is a major blow but SWWL is a mature business and will not suffer long term damage. We will be forced to take out loans to make it through to the Spring of 2022, but we will survive.
We know how disappointing this is going to be, especially for all of us who are currently fully vaccinated. We can’t tell you how much we look forward to putting this in the rear-view mirror and getting back on with life. Until then, we encourage everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible, stay safe, and feel free to check in with us at any time. We will sincerely miss seeing you again this summer.
Mike Willems

August 12, 2020 – The Lost Season

August 12th, 2020 by

The cabins are closed up. The boats are on their way to Kenora to received new engines for 2021. All but the most senior staff have gone home. And we are calling an end to the 2020 season. The shock is slowly wearing off and the only thing left to do is to prepare for the next season.

We were able to host several Canadian fishing guests over the summer and that allowed us to work on our new hygiene and meal service protocols. The response from guests was strong. A few admitted that they missed the camaraderie and social atmosphere of eating breakfast and supper in the lodge but others enjoyed eating on their cabin deck. They all understand that social distancing just would not work in our dining room.

Several guide’s families visited this summer including Gouws’ Dad, Dr. Werner Oberholzer. Dr. Oberholzer had a great visit and at the end we talked about Covid 19 issues. His opinion is that a fishing trip to Silver Water Wheel Lodge is probably one of the safest vacation options available. The lodge and staff are isolated from the outside world. We control who comes up to the lodge and our screening process is very similar to what is in place to enter his hospital to work. Anglers stay in their cabins with their families or fishing buddies and they are out in the fresh air on the lake fishing. I agreed and explained that we know that we can’t eliminate all risk, but we intend to provide as safe of an angling adventure as we can.

There is no way for me to talk about 2020 without admitting a gut wrenching and emotional loss. I expected to hear the same heart break from many of our guests who missed their annual fishing trip to the Wheel. At the same time, I was surprised at the level of support and concern that so many guests expressed. And we Thank you.

As a company policy, I have informed all guests that I have talked to, that their 2020 deposits are safe. I have and will continue to give all booked guests the option to transfer their deposits to 2021 or I will send a check and refund deposits. The vast majority of groups have chosen to transfer their deposits to 2021. The up side for them is that they lock in their dates for next season.

With Covid and the related economic downturn, we know that there will be a few more cancellations and schedule changes for the upcoming season. We have already begun to work on many requests and will continue to do so as we move to the next marketing season. Like 2009 and 2010, this next season will likely have a few more options for the guests on our waiting list to find a spot in the schedule.

I am going to remain optimistic and ready for the scientific and medical breakthroughs over the Fall and Winter that will result in the lifting of the border closure. We have spent the summer of 2020 preparing for next season:

 

~ Cabin 5 was moved up the hill and is being remodeled to become Brett’s new home at the Wheel.

~ Removed all overhead power lines.

~ Spent most of the summer training our 3 new first year guides.

I am hoping that it is like watching your kids grow up. You don’t see them get bigger on a daily or weekly basis, but the changes over a year can be huge. I sincerely miss having guests at the lodge. Trust me, Silver Water Wheel in the summer just isn’t the same without you. When you do return, we want you to know that as a crew, we have been thinking about you and we have been planning on how to put on the best show possible in 2021.

Looking forward to a New Season,

Mike Willems

Silver Water Wheel Lodge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 5, 2020 – The beginning of the end

July 5th, 2020 by

There is no way to describe the sad and hollow feeling in my heart.

There were no fireworks tonight.

There was no late-night party on the deck with music and conversation.  My kids didn’t coerce funds from their lemonade stand before they roasted spidey dogs over the fire.  Usually, I take the dogs and any kids upstairs so they don’t have to hear the fireworks…..  This year,…..just me.

Quiet!   And more Quiet…

The deadlines for the Quarantine Act have been extended to Aug. 31.  That means any group scheduled prior to that date is subject to a 14 day quarantine before they can go to their lodge.  That means that the border remains effectively closed until Sept. 1.

I believe that the decision has already been made.  Politically, it sounds too bad to say out loud that everything is closed now, but I believe the entire 2020 season is going to be lost.

******We are not the only ones going through this. Watch this video put together by lodges in the area.

I don’t see any combination of variables that will open up the border this year.

I hope that I am wrong…..    But I also know the mood up here….

We will take care of the crew as best we can, but the reality is that there likely will be almost no revenue coming in this year.

We gambled and lost….

We are still banking on 2021.   It has to be perfect and we are ready, but we have to have zero surprises to make the season work.

Everything that could be done for 2020 has been done.  To a fault.   2021 is the only way forward out of this mess.

We hope to see you all then.

Mike W.

SWWL

June 20, 2020

June 20th, 2020 by

The border closure has been extended to July 21, 2020.  Again, I will not be surprised if the closure is extended again.  I am still concerned that there are growing odds that we will lose the entire summer season.

Missy and the kids were allowed to cross the border and are currently in quarantine for 14 days.  The Gov. of Canada, the Province of Ontario, and the Northwest Health unit have all called or emailed several times to confirm that they are following through with the quarantine requirements.  The OPP came out for a site visit.  The Canadians are taking the pandemic very seriously.

The new fixed dock is complete and looks sharp.  We will tie it into a new boat house some year after we open up for business again.  The landscaping of the new cabin is coming along, but some of our new trees are going to have to be replaced.  And most importantly, we are still on the water every day training our new guides for their future guests.

Ice out was May 15 and the lake opened up lower than average and continues to be low.  Overall spring was very warm and dry.  We blazed through our typical spring  bites and are already catching numbers of fish on the main lake.  It is much more difficult to follow bites and patterns with just a few guide training boats on the water.

We are scheduled to begin hosting a few Canadian fishing groups the first week of July.  Until then, we will remain hopeful and ready to open up for all of our US anglers.

June 2, 2020

June 2nd, 2020 by

June 1, 2020 – Not Season Opener:

We should be well into Season by now, but 2020 is going to rewrite the History books for everyone. There has been surprisingly little news or information about what to expect for the remainder of the Summer. My concern is that no news is bad news. As of this date, all we know is that the border will continue to be closed, at least until June 21. I would put the emphasis on “at least.”

Missy and the kids are still not allowed to cross the border even though they plan to quarantine for 14 days when they arrive. They remain in Iowa packed and waiting.

We continue to work on our projects. The new fixed dock is coming along nicely. The guys are working on the landscaping of the new cabin. And most importantly, we are on the water every day training our new guides for their future guests. Along the way, all 3 have managed to catch and release some big fish this spring.

We look forward to introducing you to our newest guide staff members:

 

 

May 16, 2020

May 15th, 2020 by

A season preview:

At the end of January our budget forecast predicted that we were about to have the best business year in our history.   And like the rest of the planet, our world turned upside down in a matter of weeks in the face of a Pandemic. I have spent the last 3 months trying to research and plan for whatever level of season we could muster in the age of the Corona Virus. After all of that thought and effort, we still don’t know what is going to happen.

As of today, the US / Canada border will be closed to tourism at least until June 21. Personally, I do not believe that they will open it any time soon after that. There are dozens of polar points of view to be found written on the subject, but the fact is that there have been far more Covid cases in the US than anywhere else in the world. To date, the US is reporting over 85,000 deaths at the same time that Canada is seeing their cases decrease with more than 5,000 deaths. The different rates of infection between the 2 countries does not make me optimistic that we will see the border opened to US tourists any time soon.

We have been through the stages of grief and are left only with a plan to salvage whatever we can from a crippled 2020 season, but more importantly to improve for 2021 and beyond.

Many lodges have already made the decision to close for the entire 2020 season. We made the decision to bring some staff up to the lodge and complete our newest 10-person cabin. The Eagle’s Nest is nearly finished and is situated where the old cabin 5 used to be. Additional projects under way or in the works are a complete rebuild of the old fixed dock and installation of a new 80 kw generator. All of the old overhead power lines have been removed and replaced with underground service. By this time next year, the lodge will have a new and improved look.

When the border does open, we will be OPEN. At the same time, we know that we are going to have to change our current business model to adapt to the challenges of the virus. A new and more rigorous disinfection protocol will be implemented covering the entire property. The biggest challenge will be getting around the close seating of our current dining room. Our plan is to discontinue meals in the dining room and serve guests both breakfast and dinner in their cabins. We will miss the family style atmosphere of the lodge and the Master Angler Award ceremony but we feel that we can provide a safer meal service by compartmentalizing our groups in their cabin. Of course, shore lunches will continue to be served with your group on the beach. We still have a few more details to sort out before guests arrive, but we are confident that we can continue to provide a safe, high quality angling experience in the great Ontario outdoors.

I will try to provide updates with news reports on a regular basis. In the meantime, if you are a current SWWL guest and have concerns about your booking, please call me or email. I don’t know exactly when we will see all of our guests again, but when we do, we plan to continue to provide one of the best fishing adventures to be found in the north.

Friday, September 20, 2019

September 21st, 2019 by

Kirk Bernhagen 31.25

It was a week of warm daytime temps and lots of different wind speeds, but all from the south.  There was even enough heat to generate large thunderstorm systems on three days – unusual for us this time of year.  Despite the temperature change, the lake surface temps remained around 60 degrees, and we found walleye in both shallow transition depths and deep summer water again.

Interestingly, the cold early in September and then the return of warm weather this week seems to have the walleye stuck in between summer and fall.  Just a week ago I would have said we were well on the way to an early fall transition and been searching transition depth structures for big walleye.  Instead, this week we split our time almost evenly between transition and summer fishing again, but the warm weather does seem to have moved the top end fish back into summer pattern depths.  We saw some volume fishing transition, but all of our top end fish were caught out of 25-35 feet of water at classic summer structures.  We also returned to gulp and speed this week.  There were more active fish to be found and gulp at speed was a good volume producer at times, though the big ones came on live bait rigs. The daily guide sheets averaged 20-25 walleye over 18 inches, and for the week we boated 9 walleye over 27 inches, but the top end was still good with 2 – 29.5’s, and an incredibly bulky 31.25 incher.

Beth Rush 29.5

We tallied 56 guided days on the water this week, a little over half that of an average summer week.  And the majority of our groups spent that time in pursuit of big northern.  Steady water temps and some warm, sunny days meant no big change in lake conditions.  No heavy winds to knock down the last of the weeds, and the big pike held to the remaining weed beds again this week.  Some of our favorite fall big pike producing spots are rock – points and outside edges of back bays.  They were just not producing this week; all the bait and all the big fish were in the weeds.  For the week we boated 18 northern over 37 inches, including 4 – 39’s, 1 – 40, and 2 – 41’s.  Blades were what most of the biggest fish ate, and spoons remained the volume producer.

On a side note: It’s been a trend in the last few years that we catch some big bass on main lake rock piles.  3 – 19’s and 1 -20 incher this week.

Friday, September 13, 2019

September 13th, 2019 by


Bill Jablonowski 30.5

There were a lot of grey skies and cool temps this week.  The cool air temps kept the lake surface temps dropping – lake surface temps were down to the 50’s by Friday.  That’s a much earlier temperature drop than most years.  There has been enough wind to mix that surface water with the rest of the water column, so water temps are likely similar at all our fishing depths.  As the week progressed and the cool weather persisted our best walleye bites moved into deeper water.  Plastics and speed were generally ineffective, and slow and subtle live bait presentations were the method of choice for our guides most of the week.  One interesting note, as we moved to fishing deep water in some of our favorite big fish spots we saw a big surge in the number of fish under 18 inches.  Contrary to our usual pattern, some boats were able to catch big walleye by spending the time to sort through the high volume.

 

 


Joel Schnieder 28.25

This week we had just 41 guided days on the water, less than half an average week in the summer.  About half of those days were devoted to hunting for big northern, and the top end walleye remained strong for the boats targeting them.  For the week we caught and released 16 walleyes over 27 inches, including 4 – 28’s, 2 – 29’s, and 2 – 30’s.

A lot of our guests this week chose to spend their time in pursuit of big pike this week in spite of the weather.  The heavy north winds from a week ago stripped most open water weed beds away, and low lake surface temps meant northern were just as comfortable back in the bays as on the main lake.  As a result, most of our best fish this week came from sheltered water, in the remaining weed beds.  The big pike were heavily concentrated in those weeds, there were a couple of days mid-week when we moved and saw 4 or 5 big northern for every one we caught.  For the week we boated 13 pike over 37 inches, with 2 – 39’s, 2 – 40’s, and a 42 incher.

 

Bill Jablonowski and Joel Schneider are a pair our guests that have fished with us in the fall for many years.  They had an incredible week this fall, catching nine “photo walleye”, including two 29 inchers and a gigantic 30.5 incher.

 

Friday September 6, 2019

September 7th, 2019 by

Dave Donohoe 30.5

The weather this week had a little bit of everything – sun, clouds, warm, cool, windy, and calm.  But no extremes of anything.  Overall, it averaged out to pretty stable, and lake surface temps remained in the 60-65 degree range.  That meant pretty similar water temps from the surface down to 30+ feet, and the walleye had a lot of water in their ‘comfort zone’ temperature range to choose from.  We haven’t yet found many fish in less than 15 feet of water this fall, but we’ve caught good walleye from depths ranging from 15 to 40 feet.  Our time and our best production were split pretty evenly between classic deep summer water and transition depths this week.

Joel Schnieder 29

When the walleye are both deep and shallow, finding fish takes time and a back and forth approach.  Many of our guides used speed and Gulp this week to search the various depths as efficiently as possible and pick up any active fish.  Then they went back and targeted the less active biters with jigs and live bait.  Overall, we spent more time with live bait and most of our big ‘eyes came that way.

This is the time of year when our staff numbers shrink, and we run at about half to two thirds the number of boats on the water.  We average over 80 guided days a week throughout the summer months – this week we totaled 48 days on the water.  Volume was spotty and heavily weather dependent, the average day’s guide sheet had 22 walleye over 18 inches. The top end was good, for the week we boated 22 walleyes over 27 inches, with 6 – 28’s, 1 – 29, and 4 – 30 inchers.

Our boats spent more time pike fishing this week.  The weed beds are well into their fall die-off, and the big winds last week helped speed that along.  That means the big pike are more concentrated now in the fewer remaining weed beds than they were throughout the summer, and we invested a lot of our time searching the weeds when the sun shone.  But some of our best fish came from transition -type rock structures when the weather was grayer.  Spoons and spinnerbaits remained our best producing baits when we were working the weeds, but deeper diving lures and jakes worked on rock structures.  For the week we caught and released 9 pike over 37 inches, with 3 – 38’s, and 1 – 40.

My take-away: The seasons change, the weather changes, the bite changes, but ‘the program’ remains the same.  Go fast, slow, deep, shallow – experiment, gather information, and apply it.  The fish will come.