Gangler’s North Seal River/Churchill Experience with Wanda Taylor
‘The first of many firsts to come’
I didn’t know what to expect flying from Winnipeg to the North Seal River area of Northern Manitoba to Gangler’s fishing lodge. It was 6am and barely light when departing on Calm Air Charters ten passenger plane. We were greeted by our German born pilot and Native Madagascar co pilot, both speaking better English than my Southern slang. They went over the safety rules and offered us snacks and water before takeoff. The flight was two hours with a gas stop in between to stretch our legs and have a wash room break and coffee. We all settled in for a mornings nap with dreams of fishing in our heads.
By 9am we were landing on Gangler’s sand packed runway. ATV’s met us with owner Ken Gangler warm welcoming us all to his home. We settled into our cabins and met for breakfast at the lodge. Amazing blueberry French toast, bacon and, of course, Canadian maple syrup. The staff came by and introduced themselves followed by Ken’s outline of our first day fishing at the lodge. We met at 11am at the dock and our native Cree and Dene guides were waiting in boats to take us fishing on the hundreds of miles of fishing at the lodges back door.
All tackle is welcome at Gangler’s, but my favorite is fishing with a fly. I was fortunate to have Kelly, a native Cree, as my guide. He had fished many fly fishers before me and he, himself, was learning to fish with a fly. My being a teacher of the fly, welcomed the opportunities for his teaching me to catch my 1st Pike on a fly and I to teach him to become a great fly angler/guide. We came to an early partnership and the mission was on for both of us. We took a boat ride for maybe an hour around islands, granite rock, little stick trees, eagles, otters and not one boat or person within miles.
We came to a gliding stop and he suggested for me to rig up a 9 weight sink tip fly line. I showed him my flies. He picked one, I tied it onto a wire bite tippet for those notoriously toothy critters Pike are. I was just casting my line out to control my line, the fly accidently hit the water and BAM….I missed my first Pike. After that, GAME ON! We caught and released maybe 25-30 fish before heading back to the lodge for dinner. I had caught my first Pike on a fly today. The beast and I are one.
Back at the lodge we had hors d’ouevres and cocktails between 5 and 6 pm. I headed for my cabin for a shower before dinner and fish stories. Five star dinner at 7pm. After that, you could relax to great music in the lounge area, take an Esker trail ride through the erratic boulder fields, kayak for an evening paddle or mountain bike ride. Most nights when the sky was clear around the camp fire area, you might be lucky enough to see a meteor shower or in the early hours of the morning the Northern lights. Yes another first for me.
Next morning, I was awakened by the engines of float planes at 6am. They were staging themselves at the dock, readying to fly us to parts unknown, to fish water that hasn’t been fished in a while. Staff delivered coffee to my cabin at 6:30. I called them angels of the morning. Love my Java. 7am breakfast and 8am on a float plane to fish. Again, another first for me. I absolutely loved being able to visually see from the air, the clear water and islands below in hopes of maybe spotting a moose or sasquatch.
This is where it got sticky. My guide Kelly told me that it was my responsibility to catch a pike or walleye for my shore lunch or we did not eat. You know what happened right, no fish showed up. I had brought a granola bar that we could split but that didn’t sound very tasty by 1pm. It was like we had bananas on the boat. The Pike would look at my fly and turn or bite the tail in tasting to see if it was real. Finally I caught a medium sized Pike. We boated it for lunch, but it was a bit over sized for two people. Next I caught a junior and Kelly revived the medium one for a release and we were headed to shore for lunch.
We landed on an island and I expected him to pull out a gas barbeque, with a set up day camp with tables, seating, etc. What happened next was another first for me. For a moment I forgot I was with a native Cree, he used his boots to move dirt in making a pit. Next he gathered rocks to make a circle around the pit and added twigs and moss to start a fire. He then filleted the Pike, added spices while the oil was bubbling in the skillet. He diced potatoes, onions, mushrooms and sautéed them after the brown Pike was draining.
Before I knew it, I was served lunch. Fresh Pike from the waters it was caught, with a cool shade, music from the loons and happy to be enjoying another experience of a lifetime. Kelly had it timed to take an hour and we were back fishing heading for the historic North Seal River for walleye. I had never seen a walleye, much less caught one. I love streamer fishing and with the moving water of the mighty Seal, I had my happy place as an angler of down and across presentations of a fly. Catching my 1st walleye was a dream come true. They were as beautiful as I had been told. Their eyes are huge, pointed outward and have an optical ability of seeing well in low-light conditions. That’s what I want in a fish, to see my fly in low light and attack it, as they did, gaining size with each one we brought to the boat.
Evening comes and another day begins at Ganglers. Early as usual, planes at 6am, coffee at 6:30, breakfast at 7am and flight at 8am. My today’s first were fat Grayling and lake trout. What more could an angler ask for? Five star food, check, quality lodging, check Wifi, check, eco-tourism, check, Northern lights, check!
Tears in my eyes flying out to part II of the Gangler’s Travel Manitoba Eco Adventure tours. I don’t want to leave……
Ganglers Part II Churchill
“The first of many firsts to come”
There are no highways to Churchill, the polar bear capital of the world. Flight to this town, with a population 700 is made possible every day by Calm Air. We arrived close to lunch to the Churchill airport and were met by a van to take us to our hotel. On our ride to town we drove by acres of limestone terrain running down into the Hudson Bay shores. We had been there less than an hour and could see Beluga whales surfacing in the distance. White dots that looked like icebergs bobbing up and down. I knew right then and there that I was in the right place for many more firsts in my life.
I am a farm girl from a small town in north Georgia . I felt right at home in Churchill with no red lights and everyone waving at each other as we passed them on the road. ATV’s zipped around, along with bicyclers and locals out for a stroll with their friends. I couldn’t wait to unpack and explore. First, lunch in the Seaport hotel where we were staying, excellent food and cold Canadian libations. I had packed a small back pack with binoculars, camera, jacket, water , bug spray and sunscreen. I was ready for my walking tour to get my bearings in this unique community.
I wondered though shops, markets, museums, tour operations, churches, coffee shops and art galleries. There are a few buildings with stunning art work on them two stories tall, as well as, stacked rock art like cairns. But the most spectacular attraction of Churchill, to me is the Hudson Bay. I was drawn to a 12ft tall piece of rock work that looked like a rock man to take a photo. When I got close I could see the bay through his legs and whales. I spent most of the afternoon till dark walking the colorful rock shore and whale watching through my binoculars. Beluga whales in a towns backyard is breathtaking.
I walked back to my hotel and had a quick dinner and shower reading for bed and heard a siren go off around ten pm. I called the front desk to see if we were to evacuate. She laughed and said, “No, it’s a reminder that all children under 16 years of age have to be off the streets and safe at home.” I love this town more every minute. Falling asleep pretty fast, I was awakened by loud explosions around 2am. I hated to call the front desk again at this hour, but I did. Once again there was laughter on the other end of the line telling me it was fireworks to encourage the polar bears to move off the beach back into the wilderness. I laughed and rolled over and went to sleep with a smile on my face.
Rising early, because today I am kayaking with Beluga’s. The Sea North Tours had us to meet them at 8am for our thirty minute ride to the launch. We were greeted by our guides that went over all the safety rules including not touching the whales. Wait, I was going to be close enough to touch a whale? Now I’m excited after watching them from afar yesterday. Life vests, kayak skirts and paddles were handed out and we were lead down to the water where the kayaks were to be launched. There we met our safety guides running two zodiacs that would stay with us the 3 hours on the water.
I was launched and paddling behind my guide and a few families of tourist towards an island the whales frequented. We could see a white mother whale with her dark blue grey calf swimming towards us feeding on small bait pods. They didn’t seem to even notice us it seemed while they were having breakfast. I pulled out my camera to video them as they came within an arm’s length from me. My hands were shaking in excitement, then there was a larger one swam right under me and blew bubbles in front of my boat in saying, “ Hi, I see you.” This went on for the entire 3 hours. Kayakers were singing to them to get their attention in their direction. I just drifted back away from the crowd and had my own private pod that just started playing tag with my kayak. To my surprise one of them swam under my kayak and lifted me off the water scratching its back. Wow, another first, picked up by a beluga whale had me screaming and laughing at the same time. If this is not on your bucket list, it should be.
After arriving back into town, I ran into a couple of new friends I made yesterday on the beach. They had gone snorkeling with the whale in the Arctic Ocean and could not stop talking about how grand it was. I told them about my day and they were paddle boarding with them tomorrow. I told them I don’t swim well and was afraid I would be very cold. They assured me that the wet suits would keep me very warm and I didn’t have to swim because the wet suits made you float. I took their bait and went into Sea North Tours and signed up for the next day. I am way out of my comfort zone now. It would be a high tide afternoon snorkeling trip so I was scheduled for a Zodiac tour of Fort Prince of Wales and Polar Bear watching. There is always something exciting to do in Churchill year round.
The Zodiac tour of the Fort was very well done and we all learned a lot of amazing historical information about the English, Spanish, French trade with the Cree and Dene Indians. On this tour from the Fort we went Polar bear watching , gliding past islands were we spotted several sleeping or walking the shores. I highly recommend this tour.
Now it was finally time for me to snorkel with the whales. Our Captain Alex de Vries-Magnifico is second generation living in Churchill. In the winter months he’s a photographer and has a gallery in town. There were six in our Zodiac from Vancouver, Denmark, Newfoundland, and me USA. Our first mission was to locate whales in clear blue water of the Arctic Ocean. We found a few pods of maybe twenty –five but they were traveling on a mission off shore. Most were herding schools of fish and teaching their young to work in a team with other family members. At last we found a group of whales that seemed to be just playing. We all entered the water, cleared our face mask and blew any water out our snorkels and started floating near them. Immediately a mother and baby swam right up to me and inspected me for a few seconds before moving on. I was so astounded that I forgot to breath and when I did, I took on a little water and had to surface. Pure shock in their beauty and the noises of chatter and whistles that they make to each other. I didn’t know I would be able to hear that, they sounded like a bunch of teenagers in a school lunch room together.
After an hour, my face had a brain freeze and I crawled back into the boat to have a cup of hot tea. Others slowly came in and we moved to find other groups of whales. On our way we encountered a mother polar bear and her cub out for a swim following a seal. The cub had found a buoy and was trying to climb on it for a ride and she would push him off. They batted it back and forth for a few minutes giving us camera geeks plenty of memorable photo moments. A day I will never forget.
I hope you will put Gangler’s North Seal River Travel Manitoba Eco Adventures on you bucket list. You will never be the same after experiencing it with your family or loved one. I know I’m changed forever in knowing how magnificent Northern Manitoba really is. I will be back.