Most fishing lodges have the one-size-fits-all plan, but Thompson’s Camps has a totally different marketing plan: Make your own Canadian fishing experience.
After driving for about an hour north of La Ronge on a mostly unpaved roadway along the boundary of Lac La Ronge Provincial Park you roll into a small community called Missinipe, home of Thompson’s Camps, nestled on the shoreline of immense Otter Lake. Missinipe is the Cree for Great Water, which aptly refers to the mighty Churchill River flowing through Otter Lake and many other sprawling shield lakes in the area.
Thompson’s Camps is part of Jim Yuel’s Adventure Destinations International (ADI), which is largest outfitter in Saskatchewan. With an occupancy of 150, its own floatplanes (Cessna 185 and a trusty Beaver), and a bevy of licenses for outposts and fly-out fishing adventures, you’d have to be awfully finicky to not find something you like.
You can haul your own boat up to Thompson’s Camps and have a do-it-yourself experience on Otter Lake, which has maintained good fishing compared to most northern Saskatchewan lakes with vehicle access. You can also rent a boat and hire a guide to get you started on Otter Lake. You fly out for a day trip on a lake only a handful of anglers see each year. You can fly to two full-service lodges, Selwyn or Twin Falls. Or you can fly out to one of six outpost camps where you can have a truly most remote fishing adventure.
You can even make Thompson’s Camps the destination for your corporate retreat or family reunion or wedding spiced with a little fishing. And between trips, you can stay right at Thompson’s Camps, choosing from a variety of accommodations, ranging from luxury vacation homes to motel units to log cabins, and enjoy its full-service, licensed restaurant with a deck overlooking Otter Lake and cozy little lounge beneath it called The Ottering Hole where you can watch the hockey game on satellite TV and enjoy a cold brewski. You also have a grocery store and public beach and playground for the kids.
And on top of all that, next year, notes manager Ron Striker, you might be able to own a piece of it all. Thompson’s Camps plans to try a new concept called “time-share fishing cabins” by building eight new units and selling them a week at a time.
“We have something for every budget,” Striker assures.
Striker has been managing Thompson’s Camps since 2004, and I can assure you that no grass grows under this man’s feet. In addition to managing a thousand details per day and always leaving time for a friendly conversation with guests, he’s a pilot and spends much of his normal fourteen-hour-day in the air flying anglers to remote lakes, outposts or lodges.
We needed a month to see all Thompson’s Camps has to offer, but thanks to the kind support of Tourism Saskatchewan, we were at least able to enjoy a few days. In addition to a few nights at the home base on Otter Lake, we had enough time for a day trip and an overnighter to an outpost camp.
On the day trip, Striker flew us into Dead Lake with a guide, and we spent the morning catching walleyes on the Churchill River where it flows into the lake.
Then, at noon, Striker and our guide, Mike “Odie” Strandberg, cooked a traditional shore lunch on the beach in front of the company’s new high-tech, solar-powered outpost cabin, the first of its kind. All other lodges and outposts have generators, which are noisy and smelly and don’t really mesh with the wilderness ambiance. Plus, the price tag of generators, transporting and maintaining them, and constantly flying in diesel fuel makes them very costly.
That’s all changing if the Dead Lake plan catches on, which I suspect it will. The completely remodeled, environmentally friendly, cost-efficient outpost runs on solar power, including the showers. Just in case the sun doesn’t cooperate and the storage batteries dip below a certain level, the back-up generator automatically fires up and re-charges them.
“This is the model,” Striker says, without boasting about his company’s innovation. “The initial investment is high, but it’ll pay off in the long run. Plus, guests don’t have to listen to the generator. Just makes sense for lodges and outposts, eh?”
But it isn’t all business for ADI. “We also focused on the environment,” he notes, “always trying to do the right thing.”
After catching more walleyes and a few pike and digesting a great lunch, Ron flew us back to the Thompson’s Camps base at Otter Lake, so we could get packed for our first outpost experience.
An outpost is a primitive cabin on a remote lake, almost always accessible by floatplane only. In some cases, as with our trip to the Upper Foster Lake, outposts have a camp setter. In our case, it was well-named Ron Gentleman. The camp setter isn’t a guide, but he takes care of the camp and helps anglers get oriented on the lake, plus offering a few fishing tips and showing us a few good spots to get started.
After this starter advice, though, you’re on your own at an outpost camp. This can be a little nerve whacking, to be honest, running the boat yourself on an enormous lake like Upper Foster, trying to miss the reefs and not get too lost–because you’re almost guaranteed to get a little lost. But that’s part of the wilderness experience, eh?
Regrettably, we only had two days at Upper Foster. It took the first half-day to get oriented, but then, we got into some truly fantastic fishing for lake trout and monster pike, the kind of fishing experience you dream about back home while laying in bed too stressed from work and life in general to sleep.
Each outpost cabin accommodates 6-10 anglers and has a refrigerator, stove and cooking utensils and dishes, even showers in some cases. But you have to bring your own food, fishing gear and sleeping bag. Most groups stay a week at an outpost, and after our brief taste of it, it’s easy to see why. I can’t wait to go back.
Thompson’s Camps and Outposts
Owner: Adventure Destinations, International.
Manager: Ron Striker.
Mailing address: Adventure Destinations International, #11 Hangar Road, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, S7L 5X4
Nearest floatplane base: Missinipe.
Phone: (306) 635-2144 Fax: (306) 635-2134, Toll Free: 1-800-667-5554
Access: Motor vehicle and floatplane.
Capacity: 150 at home base, plus about 50 at six outpost camps.
Fishing waters: Churchill River, Otter Lake, Dead Lake, Upper Foster Lake, and several other remote lakes.
Primary species: Arctic grayling, lake trout, northern pike and walleye
As an interesting side note, carefully following Gentleman in his boat, we stopped by to see the only resident of Upper Foster Lake, Bob Mahoney. He built an incredible cabin in a secluded bay and lives there year-round, even during the glacial winter common up on the Precambrian Shield, living off the land with the exception of a few staples like flour, beans and coffee. Seeing Mahoney’s place and chatting with him really made me feel like I’ve lived a pampered existence.
When we were at Thompson’s Camps in early June, business was booming, even more than usual. Late ice had forced many lodges to cancel early bookings. Many anglers had already made long trips to Missinipe but then couldn’t be flown into their lodge–and were looking at the prospect of going back home without wetting a line. Because of the size and diversity of his outfitting biz, Striker was able to accommodate many of them at the last minute, something almost impossible for most lodges to manage.
Based on what I saw at Thompson’s Camps, the only way Striker and his hard-working employees better serve guests would be creating a 48-day and ten-day week.