Working at a Fishing Lodge

By Kyle Sanson

Imagine being able to fall asleep every night to the sounds of loons calling and waking to the view of the sun rising over a glassy lake. During the day, you can fish in some of the best trophy waters Canada has to offer, watch a moose and her calf swim across the bay, or take a boat trip to one of the many waterfalls on the lake. At night you can see more stars than you’ve ever seen before and maybe, if you’re lucky, the northern lights will make an appearance. This was my experience during the summer of 2015 when I worked at a fishing lodge.

Located in Northern Ontario, the lodge is situated in the middle of Lady Evelyn Lake, a fishing paradise. Filled with countless walleye, trophy pike, and football-sized smallmouth, the lake was a perfect place to spend five months. Accessible only by float plane or a half-hour boat ride, it truly was in the middle of nowhere.

The remoteness of the island and everything that came with it was exactly what I was looking for. There was a telephone, although reception was sporadic, and it could be very frustrating for the person on the other end of the line. There was Internet, but it too was frustrating. Perhaps the best part about the lodge was the lack of cell signal. By lack of, I mean none at all. None of the guests or employees were able to use their cell phones or tablets. The result was that people engaged in face to face conservations.

Arriving in early May, it was still relatively cold. The first boat ride to the island felt like it took four hours and I couldn’t wait to get out of the wind. There was still snow on some of the rock faces, and we had to pay close attention to the direction of the boats due to fallen trees.

In the first month we had several staff changes as people realized the remoteness of the lodge was not a good fit for them. The days were long, from sun-up to sundown, with a break from 12:00 until 4:00.  In the middle of the summer, when it isn’t dark until 10:00 pm and work starts at 7:00 am, the days were especially long.

That being said, the work was interesting and kept us on our toes. I was part of the Operations and Dock Staff, meaning I cared for the guests’ boats and performed maintenance and daily duties around the island.  The lessons that I learned will come in handy not only in life, but as an outdoorsman.  I learned how to troubleshoot issues with boat motors and how to fix these problems.  I learned how to clean fish, and how to clean fish fast!  My ability to operate a boat improved drastically.  As well as various outdoors skills, I learned life skills.  We were taught how to problem solve and think of ways to complete tasks efficiently.

With the majority of the guests being American, it was interesting to experience the differences in culture.  Some arrived like professional anglers with multiple rods and several tackle boxes; others had one rod, five jigs and crank bait.  Whatever their style or reason for coming to the lodge, they were always appreciative of the work we did and made our jobs easier.

I took this job because I love the outdoors and I love to fish.  I was able to experience both of these every day I was there.  The fishing was amazing.  On my birthday I caught my first pike of the summer; my roommate, Danny, pulled in a 30-inch pike while dragging a spoon behind the boat.  Seeing him jump out of his seat and yell with excitement is something I will never forget.

How To Get A Job At A Fishing Lodge

Glassy Fog

Remoteness
The first thing to consider when applying to a lodge is how remote it is.  Not all fishing lodges are as remote as Island 10.  Some are just off the highway and have all the amenities a regular resort would have.  If you love fishing and the outdoors but aren’t looking to live in a remote location, one of these lodges would be better suited.  Some are close enough to towns that you will be able to pick up food, toiletries, etc.  There is also a high chance of having some cell signal and better Internet so for the tech savvy, that would be ideal.

The more remote style lodges come with their own challenges which will increase the workload for the staff.  Fishing lodges require gas for the boats and possibly diesel for the generators.  If the lodge is accessible by road this usually isn’t a problem. However, remote lodges must find a way to get fuel drums to their location. This lodge was accessible by boat which made this tricky process a little simpler. Fly-in locations have to load drums into planes and unload them once they land.  At close to 500 pounds each, 45-gallon barrels are not an easy lift!

Delivery of food also presents a challenge for remote lodges.  Road-access lodges can back the truck up to the door.  They can also run to the store to get more food if necessary.  Remote lodges don’t have this luxury.  Kitchen staff must plan ahead and be able to predict how much food they will need.  This is especially important for fresh produce and meat.  There is only so much fish guests and staff can eat!  What it comes down to is; the more remote the lodge, the harder the staff have to work to maintain a high level of customer service.

Location
The lodge’s location relative to home also plays a role.  I chose Island 10 because of its remoteness, but it was also closer to home than the majority of fishing lodges in Ontario. It was only a six-hour drive from the landing to my house. Other lodges I looked at were 20-plus hours away. In my case, I had to come home to attend graduation so I knew I wanted to stay close because of that. It would not be fun to spend a day or two driving home, attend graduation ceremonies, and drive back the next day. If you have no plans for coming home for the season, then considering a lodge farther away is possible and creates a different set of opportunities.

Positions 
One of the most important aspects to consider is the job you will be assuming. Lodges generally offer similar positions with minor tweaks depending on how they operate. As already mentioned, I was a dock hand and operations staff. The other staff positions on the island were housekeeping and wait staff. They would serve the guests breakfast and dinner, and would clean the cabins while the guests were out fishing.  Some lodges split these positions so that dock staff only work at the docks and operation staff only perform maintenance around the lodge. Generally, the larger the lodge, the more likely it is that these positions will be more focused in one area. Performing both roles would just be too much work at some of the larger locations.

Guiding  
Guiding is another job available at many lodges. The majority of lodges offer this position to locals and anglers who know the lake, but some will offer it to newcomers. One lodge I applied to had guiding and combined it with the dock staff and operations position. Since there wasn’t enough demand for guides at the lodge, they didn’t hire guides to only guide and instead made sure their dock staff knew the requirements of the job in case a guest requested one. Another lodge I applied to wouldn’t give first-year hires a guiding position at the start, but did offer a spot at their guide school at the beginning of the season with a chance to guide once they learned the lay of the lake. Getting a guiding position at a lodge is more difficult than a dock staff position because fewer lodges offer it and the requirements are higher.  That being said, working as a guide means you get paid to fish, so the work it would take to get the position is worth it.
Type of Service
Another aspect that affects duties available at lodges is the type of services the lodge offers. There are generally two types of lodges, American plan and Housekeeping plan. American plan is essentially all-inclusive meaning all the meals are cooked for the guests and cabins are cleaned by the staff. Housekeeping means guests are responsible for their own meals and the cleanliness of their cabin. If you are looking for a job as wait staff or housekeeping, searching for American Lodges will certainly lead to greater success.

How to Find A Job
The task of finding lodges that are hiring is a relatively simple process. The hiring process usually begins in the New Year. This is a good time to start looking for lodges and applying to them.

A quick Google search for fishing lodges in your desired location (Northwestern Ontario for example) will provide you with plenty of results. Some have pages dedicated to employment, while others do not. If you find a lodge that appears desirable, send an email to the lodge indicating your interest and attach a resume. Also include a cover letter in your email. Cover letters should describe your passion for the outdoors and why you think you would be a good fit at the lodge. This is helpful when sending emails to lodges as a resume usually does not highlight your hobbies and love for being outdoors.
If seeking a dock staff or operations position, make sure to highlight any knowledge of trades you may have. These staff positions focus a lot on maintaining motors and some construction around the property and any mechanical, plumbing, or carpentry knowledge will make you stand out from the rest of the applicants.

The most important thing to remember is to be honest. Lodge owners are attempting to get a good understanding of the staff that they will be spending five or six months with. Staff will likely live in close quarters so allowing the owners to get a solid understanding of your personality will help them decide how you will fit in. They will attempt to hire staff that they believe will get along which in turn, makes your time at the lodge more enjoyable. They take their hiring process very seriously and the process will often include multiple interviews. Some interviews will be over the phone and if possible, in person. Lodge owners want to make sure the applicant understands what they are applying for and that they will be a good fit in the team. For me, the process of being hired at Island 10 took about a month and included multiple phone conversations, a reference check, and finally an in-person interview. It is important to not leave applications too late because by then many of the jobs will be filled.

Working at a fishing lodge is an adventure. It is not a job for everyone, but for those who are suited for it, it provides memories that will last a lifetime. It will take a lot of hard work and the days can be very long, but it’s all worth it knowing that you will be able to hit the water and fish once you are done. Whether you work at a remote lodge as dock attendant, or as a waiter at a lodge five minutes from the corner store, living in fisherman’s paradise is an extremely rewarding experience. The pay is just a bonus.

2 replies
  1. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Working as a dock hand for the next 5 months in Northwest Ontario, what gear would you recommend to be comfortable in the elements?

    Reply
    • admin
      admin says:

      I would think the lodge would provide most of what you need but some good rain gear is probably one of the most important things. And if you will be working into the colder fall weather, then some warmer, waterproof outerwear as well. Also multiple pairs of footwear. Some good rubber boots, sandals, runners and some good sturdy insulated hiking style boots. This way you will be prepared for all working and time off situations. You will also want to consider things to keep you conditioned during the day depending on what you’re doing such as a good insulated water bottle or thermos. Long days spent in the sun can wear on you. And no matter how tough and resilient you think you are, a hat, some good sunscreen and some afterburn/aloe gel. Water and sunscreen will help prevent heatstroke and sunstroke and burns which will take you right out the game and can be extremely dangerous.

      Reply

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