Former rocket scientist, philanthropist, continues father/son fishing tradition at North Knife Lake Lodge

Dick Gadomski with Lake Trout at North Knife Lake.

Dick Gadomski with Lake Trout at North Knife Lake.

A fisherman, a philanthropist, an engineer, a company builder and a rocket scientist went fishing together at North Knife Lake Lodge earlier this summer. Guess who caught the most fish?

Dick Gadomski.

Sorry, that was a trick question. The 76-year-old Gadomski is actually all of the above, and he was at North Knife Lake Lodge for the third time this summer to continue a father/son tradition that began 68 years ago with his own father.

“Dad liked to fish for northern pike and bass,” said Gadomski. “I was mostly the oarsman. I would row him around the lake and he would cast. We would catch fish for the cabin, clean and fry them ourselves. We spent a lot of time together on sports and fishing. As I got older I preferred the action of fishing for bluegills and crappie. Now, I’m continuing the family tradition.”

Gadomski first came to North Knife Lake in the late 1980s with his father Chester, son Greg and his son-in-law Jay. He returned in 1995, and rekindled the fire again this year with stepsons Chris, Mark and Rusty Gilbreath, and Rusty’s son Ty.

DickGadomskiandGilbreathsNK

The Fishermen: L to R – Mark Gilbreath, Dick Gadomski, Chris Gilbreath, Rusty Gilbreath and Ty Gilbreath.

The group engaged in a family-friendly poker game in the evenings after heavy days of fishing, and Ty won the game on every night but one. On the family’s final evening at North Knife Lake, grandfather Gadomski defeated grandson Ty in a classic showdown.

Ty can take solace in the fact that he lost to a former rocket scientist and current philanthropist who has lived an amazing life loaded with unique experiences, accomplishments and a connection to the first man on the moon.

Poker champ Ty lost only once.

Poker champ Ty lost only once.

Early in his career Gadomski was a research and project engineer on the teams at North American Aviation and Brown Engineering that analyzed and designed Propellant Management Systems for the Saturn rocket.

It seems only appropriate that we’re posting this on the 47th anniversary of Neil Armstrong becoming the first person to walk on the moon on July 21, 1969. Armstrong flew to the moon with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on Apollo 11, which, was powered by a Saturn V rocket.

A self-admitted “below average” student at St. Patrick High School in Chicago, Gadomski went on to complete a BS in Engineering Chemistry at Christian Brothers University in Memphis and an MS in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles before his graduate studies at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Then the real work began.

After his work on propulsion systems, Gadomski took a position as a project engineer/manager at Kraft Foods Humko Products Division in Memphis, implementing capital projects for various edible oil products including oils used in margarine, shortening, baking, frying and coating applications. Projects included new boiler facilities, plant automation, storage and loadout facilities, and process improvements to almost every area of vegetable oil processing.

Gadomski then worked as a project engineer/manager at BASF Corporation in Ludwigshafen, Germany and Parsippany, NJ on various major projects for the production of plastics, dyestuffs, pigments, and intermediate chemicals including additions to existing facilities and large grass roots plants.

In 1974, using every ounce of his practical experience, Gadomski founded and became CEO of the PSI Group of Companies in Memphis, Tennessee.

Deeply involved in engineering, fabricating, construction management, and general contracting from 1974 to 2001, the PSI Group established a worldwide reputation in the processing of grains, oilseeds and sugars, into higher value added products such as corn starches, corn sweeteners, edible oils, cane and beet sugars, ethanol and biodiesel.

The PSI Group of companies executed a large variety of projects for the brewing, food, chemical and package handling industries and new product introductions included high fructose corn syrup, fuel ethanol, Michelob Classic, Splenda, White Mountain Cooler, and Zima,

In 1998 Gadomski sold his highly-awarded company, which was the largest engineering and construction company in Memphis, to Lurgi, the second largest General Contractor in Europe. He retired in 2001 after doing leadership transition and having company annual sales in excess of $100 Million.

“I’m just an inner city kid from Chicago,” said Gadomski. “I was brought up in a loving and caring environment by blue collar parents, Chester and Adeline, who were first generation children of Polish and Italian immigrants who were devoutly Catholic. Every day they showed me and my brother that they valued hard work, integrity, unconditional love, family, and a good education for their children. My brother and I have followed in the tradition they set for us.”

Gadomski has never forgotten his early influences, and has always given back to the communities and the people who have helped him achieve success. Among his numerous charitable endeavors, he spent more than 20 years as board member and former chairman of Christian Brothers University and five years as their Alumni Fund Chairman while also supporting the Memphis and Shelby County United Way and coaching youth soccer.

Currently co-chairing Faith in Progress: The Campaign for Advancing Education, a $70 Million Capital and Endowment Campaign for Christian Brothers University and the Memphis community, Gadomski also has variety of philanthropic involvements supported by the Gadomski Family Foundation donor advised fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, and he is a Society of Entrepreneurs Mentor for their Insights Program, helping local entrepreneurs develop their businesses.

Gadomski’s incredible business accomplishments and philanthropic endeavors were sadly balanced by personal tragedy. Only six weeks after selling his company he found out that Dolores, his wife of 37 years, had breast cancer. Dolores passed away in 2000. Gadomski also lost his son Greg to cancer in 2003.

“Christian Brothers University and my first wife changed my life forever,” said Gadomski. “They educated me and she made me get serious about life. I was blessed with a loving wife and two great kids.”

“I had been married for 37 years, and Dolores was the leader of our family,” said Gadomski in the spring 2009 edition of the Christian Brothers Magazine belltower, in an article entitle entitled It’s Not Rocket Science (pages 31-39). “I took care of PSI, and she took care of everything else. I was lost.”

Devastated, Gadomski kept himself busy with his philanthropic work, until a chance meeting and a blind date that almost didn’t happen brought him together with Florence “Flo” Smith, the favourite aunt of his longtime executive assistant Vickie Hall.

Flo planned to cancel the date, but Vickie wouldn’t let her, and even had her mother follow her aunt into town to make sure she kept her brunch date with Gadomski.

“When I looked down the long corridor, I saw this lady dressed in a black dress and a string of pearls, as she said she’d be dressed,” said Gadomski in the aforementioned article. “She had this beautiful smile, and I said to myself, ‘Boy, I sure hope that’s her.’ And it was Flo.”

They were married two years later.

“God provides,” said Gadomski. “I met my current wife Flo after she had been single for almost 20 years, and inherited her three boys, whom you have met, and they have become my sons. We have blended our families together and it consists of 19 when everyone shows up.”

Flo’s three sons, Chris (54), Mark (53) and Rusty (50) Gilbreath, shared Gadomski’s love of fishing, and the group was soon on the water together in Florida, Alaska and Canada.

“We grew up with Mom,” said Rusty. “Dad wasn’t around much. Dick’s secretary knew our Mom, suggested a date, and it was on from there. You could not ask for a better person. He helped Mark and Chris and I go into business. And he has this ability to talk to people and make everything alright, especially with children. He’ll sit down and discuss problems with them and the next thing you know they’ll get up and everything’s all fixed. He’s a remarkable man.”

Shore lunch!

Shore lunch!

Gadomski had already been fly fishing in Alaska, Florida and Costa Rica, and had fished at Wollaston Lake in Saskatchewan, as well God’s Lake, Big Sand Lake and North Knife Lake in Manitoba with his father and son, before meeting his new stepsons. He’d also been involved in a partnership that owned Snowbird Lake Lodge in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

“Ten of us owned it for about five years,” said Gadomski. “Cisco was the natural feed in the lake and there would be feeding frenzies after the ice broke up. The seagulls and Arctic terns would be flying above and the trout would come to the surface. We were catching them on surface lures.

“My responsibility was to interface with the guides and help them focus on the customer experience, to help the guides learn more about the lake so they could create the best fishing trip possible for the guests. We could only have up to 25 people at a time at the lodge, as we were limited by the facilities we had.”

Chris Gilbreath with Lake Trout.

Chris Gilbreath with Lake Trout.

The fact that Gadomski decided to return to North Knife Lake for a third time spoke volumes for the North Knife Lake fishery and the Lodge, considering that he had once owned a fishing lodge and that he had fished in some of the world’s most spectacular places.

“The last time I was at North Knife with my son he caught six Master Angler Lake Trout on a nine-inch Canadian Wiggler,” said Gadomski. “And this time the boys thoroughly enjoyed the trip, the camaraderie, and the food. No matter what the chef prepared it was delicious. It was great experience. Everything was terrific.”

Gadomski and sons have now fished at a few of Manitoba’s finest fishing lodges as well as in the Florida Keys for tarpon and shark and in Alaska for salmon, among other places.

Mark with Northern Pike.

Mark Gilbreath with Northern Pike.

“We caught six different species of salmon in Alaska,” said Gadomski. “And the grizzly bears were fishing in the river next to us.”

“Alaska was beautiful and we caught a lot of fish,” added Rusty. “But the bugs were really bad and it got to the point we’re I’d be hoping for rain just to keep the bugs down.”

And it was never just about the fishing. The family also shares a common love for the beauty of nature according to Rusty, the comedian of the family who also took the brunt of the jokes while showing off his Master Angler hat at the dinner table at North Knife. Rusty loved the fishing action at North Knife Lake, but also said he once spent a few amazing but fishless days fly-fishing an area in Colorado that reminded him of the movie A River Runs Through It.

“I never caught a fish,” said Rusty. “But it was beautiful. And I do kind of look like Brad Pitt. That’s what you were thinking right?”

Rusty "Brad Pitt" Gilbreath with Lake Trout.

Rusty “Brad Pitt” Gilbreath with Lake Trout.

All kidding aside, the boys from Memphis were already researching their next family fishing trip. There was talk of fishing in the Amazon and of going after the world’s hardest hitting fish, the Golden Dorado in Patagonia in South America. Going back to Florida to fish for Tarpon was also mentioned, but action-filled northern pike fishing in Canada would always be on the list.

“You can only catch so many Tarpon,” said Rusty. “They’re great fighters, but it takes you forever to get them close to the boat. And then they take off again and run out another 100 yards. After catching a couple you’re done. Northern pike are just fun. Ty loved it and I loved it, especially the shore lunches.”

“The boys and I have decided to take our next trip to Alaska,” said Gadomski, who appeared chipper and ready for action while at North Knife Lake, but who has also had his share of sports injuries over the years. “I’m pretty healthy right now. I exercise daily. The Lord has blessed me. We had a fabulous experience with everyone at the Lodge and out on North Knife Lake.

“Absolutely great memories!”

The fun of operating in bear country

Bear boards were not a deterrent.

Bear boards were not a deterrent.

by Russ Mehling, General Manager, Webber’s Lodges

Webber’s Lodges is well known for offering comfortable, yet remote, hunting adventures. Our caribou, moose and goose hunting camps are well off the beaten path and you’ll never see another hunter (outside of you own group) while sharing camp with us.

Or, I should say, another two legged hunter.

No matter what camp you are in, or what game you are after, you have to pay attention to the “other hunters” in the area at the time. I am referring mainly to bears: polar bears, grizzly bears and black bears.

During the hunting season, these bear encounters may add to the excitement of the hunt. In the case of polar and grizzly bears, cameras may be used to capture these special moments. Now, if a black bear crosses your path, and you have the appropriate license, an added hunting opportunity is created!

The downside of sharing the landscape with these burly beasts is the fact that for most of the year, they are left unsupervised. As you can imagine, our hunting camps emit many desirable aromas by the end of hunting season. The more successful the season, the better the camps smell to the bears.

Once the season ends, the camps are closed up for 11 months. Our managers and guides do their best to “bear proof” camp as part of the shutdown process. One thing that cannot be measured is a bear’s instinct to be ruled by its stomach, especially when he’s focussed on adding body weight to ensure survival through a long, cold winter.  This trait, along with a bear’s intensity, strength and voracious attitude, can sometimes mean destructive visits to our outcamps.

During the fishing season at North Knife Lake Lodge we take the opportunity to visit our nearby moose hunting outcamps. The summer of 2016 proved to be record breaking in a less than desirable way. We had varying degrees of bear damage at three of our outcamp locations.

One of our goose camps was hit hard by a grizzly at least three times over the course of a week, each time doing a little more damage to an otherwise pristine location. After noticing the initial damage, a quick visit to repair the door and some decking was scheduled. Shortly after completion of the work, a fly-by showed the bear had been back and did not appreciate the renovations. He re-asserted his opinion of how the lodge should look and moved on.

The goose camp had a visitor.

The goose camp had a visitor.

A second visit for repairs was followed by yet another visit by said bear. Again, some damage was done, some groceries were eaten and a content grizzly walked off with a full belly and a sense of accomplishment. On our third visit into camp, we were smart and left a guard on standby to thwart any attempt by visitors wishing to redecorate. Of course, the bear was smarter than we were and refused to show up while the welcoming committee was there.

At one of the moose camps there was another visitor, this time of the black bear variety. Black bears tend to be more polite when they visit one of our camps. A bit of clean up and quick carpentry had that camp as good as new in no time and, so far, the bear has respected our request to leave things as they are at that location.

The third site hit was one of our caribou camps. The suspect? Another grizzly bear. We knew it would be bad when we arrived and saw the bear boards pulled off the door and picture window. Walking up to the cabin, we could see the door frame damage and knew the bear must have made himself at home for a while.

"Beary" messy.

“Beary” messy.

Very little structural damage, but oh, what a mess!

He started in the kitchen (where else would a hungry bear start?), clearing the shelves of all dishes and breaking most of them in the process. He then headed for the pantry, where he struck gold. After tossing the freezer around and realizing it was empty, he proceeded to clear every shelf of its bounty. In doing so, he created a trail of partially eaten containers of canned foods, snacks, cereals and powdered soups.

The good news is that the bear found what he wanted in the kitchen and left all bedrooms and bathrooms unscathed.

It’s all part of the adventure and a few days of elbow grease should be enough to get all three camps cleaned up for the start of our fall hunting season.

Ahh… life in the wilderness of northern Manitoba!

Three-generation musk ox hunt much more than that for Yuel family

Jim Yuel

Jim Yuel

There are some common threads running through the families that hunt and fish with Webber’s Lodges.

Not only do they cherish the outdoors and understand the true value of nature when it comes to raising a family, they’re also strong supporters of conservation organizations. And many of the patriarchs who bring their families on trips with us are also self-made men with strong traditional family values similar to those of our own.

Jim Yuel was recently up with us for a musk ox hunt in Nunavut, and he brought along his son Greg and grandson Yuri. The trip was organized by his hunting buddies Joe Moore and Gord Banda, who were also on the hunt.

“Joe and Gordie and I have fished together for years,” said Jim. “We’ve been to Alaska and a lot of different places. Joe had arranged a caribou hunt with Webber’s Lodges about four years ago. The three of us went up and I took my grandson with me on that hunt as well. He was 18 or 19. We each got our caribou.”

Now 74 and soon to be 75, Jim Yuel has been on quite a few hunting and fishing adventures over the years, but he’s certainly earned his opportunities.

He grew up on a farm in Manitoba, quit a good job and started his own business selling water treatment chemicals to small towns on the prairies. That was 40 years ago. What was then known as Prairie Industrial Chemicals is now known as the multi-million dollar PIC Investment Group Inc.

Has he retired yet?

“I guess so,” he laughed. “But I spent all day today in a strategy meeting with one of our companies. Ten years ago I turned the presidency of the company over to my son.”

Jim plays more of an advisory role in the company these days. Greg is now the CEO of PIC Investment Group, but despite the hectic lifestyle of running a large company, he still makes time for hunting and fishing with his father and son.

“Greg loves to go along on the hunt,” said Jim. “He loves the camaraderie. He’s a little more compassionate than I am, although as I get older I find I also have more compassion for the animals. Yuri is 23 and he absolutely loves hunting, bird hunting, big game hunting, fishing and all of the outdoor activities.”

Greg Yuel

Greg Yuel

The group flew directly from Saskatoon to Baker Lake with their own aircraft. The hunt was supposed to last until Saturday but everyone had tagged out by Thursday, so they used the Friday to do their registering with conservation officers, look after the hides and the meat, and left a day early.

“It is absolutely excellent meat,” said Jim. “It’s obviously a little chewy just because it’s fresh and quickly frozen, not given the opportunity to hang or properly cure like you would normally do, but the taste is phenomenal.”

“Russ (Mehling, Webber’s Lodges General Manager) was great,” said Jim. “He really looked after us. We had a couple of Inuit guides. They were really good. Really knew their stuff.”

“Really good outfitter and local guides,” added Greg. “That was really nice and certainly required in that hunt. Local guides are important and I understand why. They were very professional guides first and local guides secondarily. They took a huge amount of pride in their guiding ability and they were extremely respectful of the wildlife. I was quite impressed with that.

“And it was a tricky hunt, as you would know. The identification of a musk ox from 200 yards away is pretty near impossible. We had lots of sights on individual animals and excellent communication with the guides. ‘Second from the right? Is it a good shot?’ Looking through the binoculars, the guide would say nope or yep. It’s impossible to tell a bull from a cow but they knew. I never would have guessed it would be that hard.

“They would look at the distance between the horn, the amount of material between the horn, and the fullness of the horn. Is the horn bushy or is it flat? Talk about hard. Females have an inch wide gap between the horns, while the male’s come almost together. And the female’s horns are broader and flatter. The male’s horns are stouter and bushier, so that they can bash each other. How do you tell that through a set of binoculars 200 yards away, when their head has been used to scratch the snow and dirt back from the lichen, which is a foot deep. Every animal has dirt and rocks and snow all over their foreheads.

“And you’re supposed to tell that there is a one inch difference between the horns from this one to that one? Are you looking at a cow? Are you looking at a bull? Are you looking at a calf? If you’ve got 20 animals, a lot of variety, then you can look at the big ones. That’s a female. That’s a male. But when you’ve got group of four animals? Good luck. They’re all the same size and look exactly the same. But the guides picked 100 percent accurate every time. And even though they said ‘Yes, take that one,’ when they approached the dead animal the first thing they’d do was pull the leg back and double check and make sure that was a good animal. Local guides, professional guides that are musk ox guides, are imperative.”

The weather was extremely cold for the second of two musk ox hunts according to Jim, but the group had anticipated well and dressed for it.

“We had the clothing for it,” said Jim. “There’s no question that if you had any bare skin exposed for a minute or two it was going to be frozen, but we were appropriately dressed. And the snow machines  they provided were excellent, top of the line as far as I’m concerned, which was good because we covered up to 200 km in a day. There is only a few inches of snow there and it’s packed as hard as cement in ridges. So you need very, very good machines with great suspension to be able to take the pounding.”

All part of the adventure that Jim, Greg and Yuri thoroughly enjoyed. Greg is a lifelong hunter who started hunting with his Dad as a kid, but mostly went fishing. He’s now hunted caribou, moose, deer, elk, buffalo, musk ox and bears, the latter also with Dad, just to watch him.

“Dad is an expert bear hunter,” said Greg.

Jim has hunted Alaskan Brown Bear three times and has been going archery hunting for bear every spring for 40 years.

“I’ve seen thousands of bears,” said Jim. “But have actually shot only two with the bow. Not for lack of opportunity, it’s more about the hunt, about seeing the animals, viewing them, taking pictures, videoing, watching the personalities and reactions of different animals.”

Both Jim and Greg are supporters of multiple conservation charities including Ducks Unlimited, the Wild Sheep Foundation, the Saskatoon Wildlife Federation, the Saskatchewan Wildlife Foundation and more, and PIC Investment Group gives back to the community in five major areas that include disease research, youth development, municipal/provincial economic development, nature, and community quality of life, with multi-year contributions towards the Rick Hansen Institute, the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan, the Ducks Unlimited Chappell Marsh project and the Meewasin River Landing,

“The reality is the only people who really put any serious money towards conservation are hunters and fisherman,” said Jim. “Those people that run around protesting, they put almost no money towards true conservation.”

Joe Moore

Joe Moore

“The musk ox hunt wasn’t about just going out and killing an animal. It was about the adventure, about the challenge, about the elements, to see a different part of the world, a different part of the country. To get up there to Nunavut at the end of April, when people are out golfing in Saskatoon, and have to put on gear that’s going to protect you against -40 temperatures and go on a skidoo for a couple 100 km to find a few musk ox. Over country that no matter which way you turn it all looks the same, and you’re riding with guys who are going through there like they were on city streets with signs. It’s a pretty amazing experience.”

While Greg and Yuri also loved the adventure, Greg was looking forward to this particular hunt for another reason.

“I traveled to Europe 4-6 times a year for a number of years to a business we own and we were flying over the Nunavut area specifically, and over the Hudson Bay through the Arctic, and Greenland. I always enjoyed seeing Canada from above, looking down, and wondering what the heck was down there, and how anything could live there. So I was really looking forward to being on the ground there. And it was super cool! An extremely fulfilling experience, I now understood what was down there and how something could live there. It was very gratifying in that regard and it was a really beautiful, a beautiful place to be. I loved the community and where we were at, and I definitely loved the animals. It was awesome.”

The hunting tradition will obviously continue in the Yuel family based on great memories of adventures past and present, but it’s even more likely that a fishing tradition has been passed on to Jim’s seven grandchildren, four in Calgary and three in Saskatoon.

“He takes all seven of them fishing every year,” said Greg. “At first he took them in groups of two or three, so for several years it was three trips per season. Then, when they got old enough, he started taking them all together on one trip. He’s been doing that forever. So really, my kids’ relationships with their cousins are due solely to my Dad taking them fishing each year. And they are great friends. My sister and I, we just don’t get together otherwise. And really, that’s thanks to Dad.”

“To me, it was important to do that,” said Jim. “It was important for me to spend time with my grand kids. Fishing and hunting and camping are something I’ve done since I was a child and I’ve taken a huge amount of joy in it. I realize that there are a lot of people who simply don’t have the ability to do that with their grand kids, but there are also a lot of them that do have the ability and just don’t do it.”

Gord Banda

Gord Banda

Being outdoors together as a family has amazingly positive effects on relationships, and is highly valued by the Yuel family. The lost art of personally connecting with people has been ingrained in the Yuel youngsters. Beyond the obvious benefits, how important will the ability to actually connect with people be in the future — for jobs, for family, for future successes, and just good old-fashioned happiness?

“You know, people are different when they’re out together around the campfire or they’re sitting in a boat together,” said Jim. “They’re open and they’re honest and they’re up front and they talk. They share things. That doesn’t happen in almost any other venue. When they were young, preteens and early teens, yes they were excited about going and I thought it would wear off, but it’s not true. They’re just as excited looking forward to that trip now as they were when they were 10 years old. Now, when you get them all together they get laughing and joking with each other and they start sharing memories of previous trips. It’s just amazing to watch.

“Despite all the technology, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter, they’re not really connecting there. They’re anonymous. They’re throwing things out there. They’re reacting to responses. There’s no personal connection. In this case they’re really connecting. They’re remembering past experiences and relating to one another.

“It’s been great because I’ve got three grandchildren in Saskatoon and four in Calgary. I know numerous families where they have that kind of split and those grandchildren wouldn’t recognize each other if they met on the street. These ones, they’ve had that interaction every year for 10, 12, 15 years now. And it’s huge. It’s been tremendous as far as tying the family together, keeping them connected and keeping them informed on each other. And now, with email, these kids are emailing back and forth all the time, because they know each other. There’s no comparison via email if you’ve actually met the person you’re emailing.”

“In the outdoor environment everyone gets to learn how to do things for themselves,” said Greg. “They learn how simple things really are. You think of the outposts that the kids go on for fishing trips. They get dropped off at one of the Canadian adventure destinations, where there’s just the cabin, and the boats and the gas, frying pans and dishes, and that’s kind of it. You’re making all the fires, you’re cooking all the food, you’re killing the fish and skinning it and cooking it. Everything is really basic and it’s really simple. And that’s a good thing.”

As for the future? Jim Yuel goes to the gym three times a week and spends an hour with a personal trainer. He’s also got an understanding wife, Lisa, who says he should do what he wants, because he earned it. And you know he’s planning to do just that, especially with his grandkids.

“I want to be 76,” he laughed. “I’m just trying to take care of myself. There’s not a lot of fun in being old if you’re not healthy.”

More adventures to come.

Yuri Yuel. The next generation.

Yuri Yuel. The next generation.

Knaebel fly-out fishing trips to Small Lake result in big fish, stronger family connections

Jeff Knaebel with 47-inch Norther Pike caught on Small Lake.

Jeff Knaebel with 47-inch Norther Pike caught on Small Lake.

Jeff Knaebel won’t soon forget hooking into a monster 47-inch northern pike while fishing with Webber’s Lodges last year, nor will his brothers, uncles and cousins, who were on the fly-out trip to Small Lake with him.

The core group of brothers Rich, Joe, and Al, has been fishing with Webber’s Lodges for 15 years, but nephew Jeff edged them in the fish department this time.

“Everybody else caught some good fish too,” said Jeff. “They weren’t far behind that one. But that was the best one of the trip for sure. It was our first day fishing. Probably mid-afternoon, I was fishing with my cousin Michael, and the water was pretty calm.

“I remember casting out about 15-20 feet from shore in about 8-10 feet of water, feeling the bite, setting the hook, and it just kind of felt like a log or a rock or something. It didn’t move. Then it took off swimming and jumped out of the water and splashed several times. I have no idea how long it took to land it. It seemed like quite a while.”

Jeff caught the 35-pound northern pike on a red and white #5 Mepps with a small bucktail, something he’s used quite a bit over the years on both family and corporate fishing trips to North Knife Lake Lodge and on fly-out trips to Small Lake.

“I could tell when I got him close he was for sure one of the bigger ones that I caught,” said Jeff. “Then when we put the tape measure on him, clearly he was three or four inches longer than anything I had caught up there before. He was out of the water for less than 30 seconds and swam away aggressively. It was a great experience!”

It was Jeff’s second time on the Small Lake fly-out trip. His first trip came years earlier, and it was to North Knife Lake Lodge with his grandfather, uncles and several cousins. Brothers Rich, Joe and Al have been on every trip, with Rich being the main organizer.

“Jim Hanson was the pilot who recommended Webber’s Lodges,” said Rich. “He flew us up on a trip to one of our business vendors and we told him we were looking for a fly-in place to take our Dad Northern fishing. ‘I’ve got just the place for you,’ he said. And he introduced us to Webber’s. That was over 15 years ago and it’s been great.

“When my Dad was alive we always took him to the main lodge at North Knife Lake. But after he passed away we started flying out to Small Lake. We took Dad to North Knife until he was about 85. He was in real good shape. He died at 87. He had some good blood in his veins.”

The early trips to North Knife Lake Lodge for the Knaebels were family oriented, a way to reconnect with each other. They started out with Rich, Joe and Al and their father Joe Sr. More family became involved over the years and corporate fishing trips followed as a way of appreciating clients and staff.

“We’ve each brought sons and son-in-laws on a couple of occasions,” said Joe. “It’s good fishing and we like Doug and the family. We know them. It’s predictable. They’ve always treated us right. It’s just a great experience. We used to do the guided routine over at the main lodge. When my Dad was alive that was fine, but that’s eight-to-five type fishing and we really fish harder than that. Most of us are good enough and we know the lake. We know where the best fishing spots are. We don’t mind roughing it a little more and doing our own cooking to have more hours of fishing.”

“They’ve learned the lake enough to fish themselves, which everybody likes doing,” said Jeff. “They fish on their own schedule and everybody kind of likes the experience of being able to cook, stay in the lodge and do our own independent thing. The food is a lot better at the main lodge and it’s nice to be served, but it’s also nice to be on your own schedule and do your own thing. Being out there and staying at the only lodge on the lake is pretty nice. And knowing you’re the only one to fish those spots that year is a pretty cool experience.

“We’ve had more than one fish on several times. We had a picture from a few years ago that showed Dad and I with two Master Angler pike we landed at the same time at North Knife Lake. It was at the far north end of the lake. And it was nice to catch some lake trout in there along with the Northerns. The food, the fishing, everything about the experiences has been great.”

While the North Knife Lake adventures have always been good for the Knaebels, the Small Lake experience has brought the family even closer together.

“It’s nice to spend time with everybody,” said Jeff. “We don’t get that group together very often. It’s a special experience just to get out with everyone for a full week. In the city everybody stays in contact, but not the close contact you get a Small Lake.”

“Small Lake is a little rougher than the main lodge at North Knife,” said Joe. “But the fishing and the experience is good in both places. You’re more remote at Small Lake but you’re on own and that appealed to us.”

Both Al and his wife Pam and Rich and his wife Barb have been on 4-5 day couples’ fishing trips into Small Lake and have stayed at North Knife Lake Lodge before flying back to Thompson. The next generation has also become involved.

“We’ve taken some of our kids into Small Lake,” said Rich. “My daughter Megan has been up with us. She graduated high school and is married now with three kids, but a couple of years ago I took my son-in-law Brad up there and she got mad at me because I took him instead of her.

“And the business people we’ve taken have been thrilled. We really look to find people who appreciate what an adventure it is. It’s a once in a lifetime adventure. There’s been a time or two when we’ve had clients want to try something different. One of our clients, who had been to North Knife Lake Lodge and on our fly-outs, wanted to go to Great Slave Lake, but when he got back he said, ‘You know, it just wasn’t the same as when you took me to Webber’s.'”

Clients that have joined Rich, Joe and Al over the years have arrived courtesy of their business, Mid-Am Building Supply, Inc. which their late father Joe Sr. started in 1967. Joe Jr. is now retired, Rich says he is “mostly retired” and Al is President.

Mid-Am Building Supply distributes building materials to lumber dealers, offering products including but not limited to interior and exterior doors, windows, siding, roofing, insulation, fasteners, cabinets, moldings, locks and many other items. They currently have over 335 people on their Mid-Am team and serve customers in 12 states from their service centers located in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Illinois.

“All the materials you need, other than lumber, to build a house,” said Joe.

Mid-AmBuildingSupply

“I’ll tell you a compliment,” said Rich. “One of the gentlemen that used to come with us up there passed away and at his funeral visitation they had a lot of family pictures. Included in those pictures were all the trips he took to North Knife Lake Lodge with us. Those trips meant a lot to him. There’s nothing like it.

“Doug and Helen and Mike and their families want to make it personal. And they want you to have a good time. They really sit down and talk to you there, genuinely really nice people. They treat us well. It’s hard to explain until you’ve tried a few other lodges. Webber’s sets a pretty high mark. They’re the kind of people you want to come home for supper with you.”

Rich is a both a hunter and a fisherman. He’s harvested Boone and Crockett elk in Colorado and Mexico and also moose with Doug Webber in Manitoba at North Knife Lake, but he says he’s enjoying the fishing more now, especially at Small Lake.

“I really love Small Lake,” he said “I’ve probably fished it a dozen times or more and I know it like the back of my hand. Last year I was there with my son-in-law and he got six Masters (Master Angler Northern Pike). I think we took 12-15 Masters out that week. Plus you’ve got walleye in there. They’re nice to eat.”

Joe Knaebel Sr. took his children fishing when they were growing up, and they reciprocated later in life, further deepening family connections that will result in strong family relationships for generations to come. The tradition now continues at Small Lake, where roughing it a little only serves to enhance the experience, and that includes the culinary creations.

“I cook fish pretty good,” smiled Rich. “But I can’t cook like Helen.”

Webber's Lodges' cookbook authors Helen Webber and Marie Woolsey.

Webber’s Lodges’ cookbook authors Helen Webber and Marie Woolsey.

Spring musk ox hunters beat blizzards, achieve 100 percent success rate

Suzanne Short with her musk ox at Baker Lake.

Suzanne Short. Musk ox hunter.

We went into the ring with Mother Nature for our first spring musk ox hunt of 2016 in Baker Lake, Nunavut and won by a knockout.

Four hunters joined Webber’s Lodges’ General Manager Russ Mehling for our first hunt of the year, including Suzanne Short from Alaska, Weston Millward from Utah, Dale Peterson from Minnesota and Terry Fowler of North Dakota.

All four were successful in taking potential Boone and Crockett calibre bulls in the 105-114 range, but you just never know what Mother Nature is going to throw at you in the far north, and she had a few haymakers for us in the first four days of our hunt, which was scheduled to run from April 18-24.

After a 4-legged flight from Winnipeg to Churchill to Chesterfield Inlet to Baker Lake, we all checked into the Nunamiut Lodge Hotel in Baker Lake. It was 13˚ F and we took the snowmobiles out for test drives and sighted our rifles. Ready for action!

Then came the wind, snow and zero visibility.

Weston Millward smiling with his musk ox.

Weston Millward. Musk ox hunter.

On Day 2 the temperature was normal at 13˚ F but gusting winds of up to 42 mph left us with less than 500 metres of visibility. We made a visit to the local museum, took a few short trips in town and hoped for better the next day. The wind continued to gust on Day 3 and temperatures dropped to -13˚ F. This time we spent most of the time in the hotel, hanging out in the lounge and watching TV.

“If I had to compare the snow at Baker Lake to rainy days somewhere else, I’d rather be up there,” said Peterson. “The accommodations were very comfortable, and of course the TV doesn’t hurt anything. I did bring three skinny paperback books with me, and I went through those rather quickly. It wasn’t bad at all. The people and the food up there were absolutely tremendous. I think everybody gained weight.”

“We were treated very well,” said Short. “I felt that Russ was very motivated and really paid attention to everyone. All four of us were kind of likeminded, it was just way too cold to go out, so we were grateful to be inside. If you wanted to get dressed, if you wanted to go through the rigmarole of getting dressed, you could walk up and down the main street there just to get exercise if you really wanted too.”

On Day 4 we were hopeful and decided to venture out on the snowmobiles despite the continuing high winds and low temperatures, but we were back at the hotel an hour later due to lack of visibility. Day 5 featured even higher winds and lower temperatures with a visibility of less than 300 metres.

“The lodge was very comfortable and the food was very good,” said Short. “And we had entertainment and books to read. But we did get a little antsy, especially on the third and fourth day when you’re sitting there, starting to think we’re running out of days, but the whole thing just kind of worked out.

Terry Fowler. Musk ox hunter.

Terry Fowler. Musk ox hunter.

“It was kind of a blessing, because we got to sit there with the native guides and they told us what their lifestyle was like. I knew a little bit about them, but to talk to the guys who really live it, about hunting the musk ox and where they find them… and then when we finally went out and found them… I feel like I got the whole experience. You feel like you’re one of them. Their whole life revolves around the snow machine and the animals that they hunt. It’s ordinary to them. They know we come from far and wide to shoot musk ox, but to them it’s just another day.

“They had interesting stories about hunting whales and the polar bears, things that we’re not allowed to participate in, but they hunt those pretty regularly. And there’s a lot of difference in their diet, it’s so different than what we eat. They eat the beluga whale blubber, caribou tongues…”

On Day 6 temperatures ranged from -10˚ F to -15˚ F but we were rewarded with almost a mile of visibility between wind gusts and the hunt was on!

We located two good bulls early but went by them in search of a larger group. We soon found a group of 8-10 that had been only half a mile away. We hadn’t seen earlier them due to the poor visibility but we had them in our sights now. There were several good bulls in the bunch and Weston Millward took the first one. Shortly afterwards, Suzanne Short took another great bull from the same group.

Terry Fowler and Dale Peterson traveled back with their guides to the first two bulls we had seen, and after a short stalk both took their shots to complete a perfect 4-for-4 day.

“It was a lot of work in one day,” said Peterson. “But with four hunters and four guides it worked pretty good. We all got our musk ox on the same day.”

“I know that’s the way Russ had it planned,” he laughed.

Dale Peterson. Musk ox hunter.

Dale Peterson. Musk ox hunter.

“I was pretty confident that even if we had one day that we’d still get our musk ox,” said Short “That’s what the guides were telling us. And from what I understood and from watching videos, you just need one good day. It’s kind of a guarantee that you’re going to get one.”

“Great hunter attitudes saved the hunt,” said Mehling. “Having a comfortable place to wait out the weather was a bonus. All animals were potential Boone and Crockett contenders. The area has a great population and incredible ‘big bull’ genetics, so even on a “one day” hunt, hunters didn’t have to ‘settle’ for just an average bull.

This was the first musk ox hunt for Suzanne Short, who is part of a growing population of female hunters, and she’s already planned her next hunt. She’ll be heading home to Texas to hunt Barbary Sheep, also known as Aoudad, around Christmas time.

“I didn’t get into hunting until I was an adult,” said Short. “I’m only 33 right now, and right after college I moved from Texas to Alaska. I knew some people that got me into it, and some family. I was working with the people that invited me, and I got more and more into it, so I got my own gun. From there, I just started doing different things. I really like it because of the opportunity to travel, the adventure part of it. You just never know what’s going to happen.

“I know some women who hunt that are very driven. Some of them do things differently than I like to do. Some of them just like to go for the meat. Some of them are into it for the physical activity like climbing mountains. And others do it just to see a new place, new animals. There are so many different objectives.

“I know some other female hunters. We go out from time to time. I’d like to see more women involved in it. I think it’s an untapped market really. I’ve never been included in the market, never been treated seriously as a hunter.”

You have now, Suzanne.

North Knife Lake Lodge holds special memories for Try-It Distributing CEO Paul Vukelic

Paul Vukelic on North Knife Lake.

Paul Vukelic on North Knife Lake.

North Knife Lake Lodge owns a treasured piece of Paul Vukelic’s heart, and not only because of the fishing.

“The fishing obviously lends itself to us wanting to come back every year,” said Vukelic, who has now been venturing to North Knife Lake for 20 years. “The remoteness of it means the water is rarely fished, so you’re guaranteed certainly to catch a lot. You get a lot of action. And we’ve seen a lot of wildlife, bear, eagles, moose, wolves…”

“We go fishing at our cottage in Parry Sound (Ontario, Canada) for bass, pike and muskie, but the fishing is not as prolific as it is at North Knife. I’m more of a leisure fisherman than I am serious, but my love of fishing really bore itself out of all these years fishing at North Knife.”

Life is not quite as hectic as it once was for the 53-year-old CEO of Try-It Distributing, the largest distributor of Labatt products in the world, but it still offers its challenges, and good people have made travel possible for both work and leisure. This summer will be the 20th anniversary of Vukelic family visits to North Knife Lake Lodge.

“This trip gives us an opportunity to get away from technology, to get away from work. It’s a very stress-free environment at North Knife Lake. You really get to let your hair down, so to speak. I think that’s why we like it so much there. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world where we feel more relaxed than we do when we are there.

“We are fortunate to have a lot of good people working for us who look after the day to day tasks. That allows me the time to work on expanding our business and establishing relationships. You’ve got to gain people’s respect and one way of doing that is by getting to know people, caring about them and their businesses.

“We really try to teach that to our employees, who we like to call stakeholders. We’re distributors, but most of our business is centered on selling. So we spend a lot of time and energy on training people, and let them know that once you’ve gained a person’s trust and friendship you get their respect, and it’s a lot easier to work with them. They certainly buy a lot more from you if they respect you and know you and trust you. This is very, very important to our business.”

The North Knife Lake trip is considered an adventure by the Vukelic family. Fathers and sons, brothers, uncles, people who are close to them.

“It’s a time that we really cherish together,” said Vukelic. “Not only the days of fishing but getting together back at the Lodge later on, getting a nice fire going, especially on those cold days, just sitting around hanging out, having a good time with each other. It’s good clean fun. There are no TVs; no Internet, no other technological distractions. In my mind, the way life really should be.”

While there is a TV for playing movies on at North Knife Lake Lodge, and Internet service if required, these amenities are certainly not overused by guests, most of whom prefer to escape the noise of today’s busy world.

Paul and his wife of over 30 years, Amy, bought a cottage in Parry Sound a few years ago and it had three TVs in it. Not anymore. The couple took two of the TVs out and left one, as at North Knife Lake, without cable, just to watch occasional movies.

Vukelic still remembers the early days of going to North Knife Lake Lodge with his father Gene, recalling the hospitality his family received from Doug and Helen (Webber), their daughters Jeanne, Toni and Shari and sons-in-law Mike, Nelson and Dave.

“They’re a family business, we’re a family business,” said Vukelic. “We can really identify with that. And I think they appreciate that. They have an appreciation for what we do. There’s just a mutual respect and love for each other, given that we’re close knit families. Certainly the hospitality is second to none. And of course the food, you can’t speak enough about the food. You don’t expect to find gourmet food when you go on a fishing trip like this, but they really, really, do have great food.

“They get their family members involved, just as we do. They really take it to heart. It’s very, very, important to us that we take care of our people and we do treat them like family, and we feel like they are family. They’re important. I can see that in the Webber family too. They take great pride in their people. You treat them right and they’re going to treat you twice as well.”

Both family businesses also give back to the community.

“We found out that the more we give, the more successful we are,” said Gene Vukelic in an earlier interview. “The guy upstairs looks after you.”

“It certainly seems that way,” said Paul. “We put a lot of trust in God from our standpoint. That’s what it’s all about, no doubt about it, if you have the wherewithal and the means.”

The Vukelic’s did have the means to help someone in 2007, and it resulted in one of Paul’s most cherished memories. A personal memoir of the feeling someone gets when they’re able to experience a week of fishing at the North Knife Lake.

One of Paul’s childhood friends, Mike Gomel, ran into some problems in 2007 and moved back to Buffalo. Paul and his wife Amy took Mike into their home for eight or 10 months to try to help him get back on his feet again. They had four young children at the time, who also welcomed Mike with open arms.

Vukelic family at North Knife Lake Lodge. Paul Vukelic far right in green jacket. Friend Mike Gomel to his left in orange. .

Vukelic family at North Knife Lake. Paul Vukelic far right. Friend Mike Gomel to his left in orange.

“My Dad knew his father,” said Paul. “And I’d known Mike since we were kids. He was an only child and had become clinically depressed and an alcoholic. Mike was a very pleasant guy. And he loved fishing. He was a serious fisherman, all his life. His family, our family and four other families shared a cottage in Parry Sound growing up. He and I would go up there together with other friends, in our college and post-college years. We were very tight.

“So I took Mike on this trip to North Knife Lake. He didn’t have a dime to his name. We went out, bought him the gear… I just knew that it would be good for him. We took him up and he had a great time. I hadn’t seen him smile like that in a long, long time. He was just really in his element.”

A few months later, while out of town, Paul felt something just wasn’t right with Mike, who had by that time moved into his own apartment, but who hadn’t answered his phone for two days. Immediately after landing at the airport, Paul rushed to Mike’s apartment, where his worst fears were confirmed. His longtime friend had passed away.

“Mike hadn’t been happy for probably years and years,” said Paul. “But for those five days of his life at North Knife Lake Lodge, he was smiling every day and back to his old self. It was good to have my old buddy back, even if only for five days. It was worth it. That’s the kind of place North Knife Lake is.

“For me, it is very, very special.”

Double Whammy Cookies

Double Whammy Cookies. They won't last long!

Double Whammy Cookies. They won’t last long!

Are there many kids, (big or little) who don’t like chocolate and peanut butter? Better teach them how to make these for themselves. Why? Because they’ll be begging you for more!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white flour (250 mL)
  • ½ cup cocoa powder (125 mL)
  • 2 tsp. baking soda (10 mL)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder (5 mL)
  • ¾ cup butter, softened (175 mL)
  • ½ cup peanut butter (125 mL)
  • 1 cup white sugar (250 mL)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (250 mL)
  • 1 cup peanut butter chips (250 mL)

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and peanut butter. Add sugar and eggs and beat well. Add the flour mixture and both kinds of chips. Stir until well combined.
  3. Drop by tablespoonful on an ungreased cookie sheet. Do not press down.
  4. Bake at 350° F (180° C) for 10-12 minutes for a soft cookie. Let cool before removing from pan to a rack.

Makes 3-4 dozen cookies

(From our Cranberries & Canada Geese cookbook, page 93)

Fishing action, family values, bring Vukelics back to North Knife Lake Lodge for 20th year

Greg, Paul and Gene Vukelic. All smiles at North Knife Lake.

Greg, Paul and Gene Vukelic. All smiles at North Knife Lake.

They came for the fishing and stayed for the family.

Twenty years ago, Gene Vukelic, Chairman of Try-It Distributing Co. Inc. in Buffalo, New York, was part of a large group on a Labatt-sponsored trip deep into the heart of polar bear country to see the great white bears on Canada’s Hudson Bay coast. They stayed at a remote polar bear lodge near Seal River owned by the Webber and Reimer families of Manitoba.

Two years later the Vukelic family returned for another trip with the Webbers and Reimers, but this time it was for a fishing adventure at Webber’s Lodges’ North Knife Lake Lodge.

They’ve been coming back ever since.

“Good people, great guides and the best food,” said Gene. “And they treat us very well. We have a strong bond with the Webber and Reimer families. Doug and Helen, Mike, Jeanne, Toni, Nelson, Shari, and we know all their grandkids by first name.

“We’re coming up with five sons and seven grandsons this year. We’ve got good fishing around Buffalo and we have a place in Parry Sound on Georgian Bay where we fish for northern pike, but the big difference between fishing here and fishing at North Knife Lake is the natural environment, the outdoors. And we can catch between 150-200 fish per day. Sometimes they’ll strike as soon as the lure hits the water. Other times we’ll be reeling in a smaller fish and a big pike will grab it. We use barbless hooks and the guides are very careful with the fish. It’s all catch and release.”

Mike Reimer and Gene Vukelic with big northern pike at North Knife Lake.

Mike Reimer and Gene Vukelic with big northern pike at North Knife Lake.

Gene especially enjoys the shore lunches and the camaraderie that has developed between the two families over the years.

“The shore lunches are phenomenal,” he said. “Every day is different. My favourite is still the fried fish fresh from the lake, with home-fried potatoes and corn and beans out of the can. The big breakfasts, sitting around enjoying the cocktails… the kids might watch a movie after dinner and we’ll be out on the deck smoking cigars.

“One night we’ll have a pizza party. All the guides come in showered up, Master Angler awards are given out. We always enjoy talking to the guides, learning about their lives. We talk about hockey, football and we always try to bring up some Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres merchandise or something for them. The guides, our sons and grandsons have formed strong bonds over the years. We have a great time and we’re very respectful of the staff.”

Shore lunch at North Knife Lake.

Shore lunch at North Knife Lake.

That first fishing trip 20 years ago brought the two families together for a second time and the relationship flourished over a mutual love of fishing, similar family values and a strong work ethic. The successes and similarities between Try-It Distributing and Webber’s Lodges, now in their third and fourth generations as family businesses, are understandable based on the backgrounds of the family patriarchs.

Both Gene Vukelic and Doug Webber have built multi-generational businesses with “sweat equity” as the main ingredient and a supporting cast of virtues that includes trust, dignity and commitment.

And both men were born between 1930 and 1945 into the “Traditional” generation, which is defined by characteristics that include an unmatched work ethic, discipline, loyalty, love of country, a strong sense of right and wrong and traditional family values. “Traditionalists” survived The Great Depression and World War II, and their era includes some of North America’s greatest innovators.

Gene’s father Stephen arrived in North America from Croatia in 1904 at the age of four with his parents. Gene grew up near a steel plant in Lackawanna, New York, and spent his childhood living above his grandparent’s successful restaurant with his Mom and Dad.

“They were good cooks,” said Gene of his grandparents. “All Yugoslavians are good cooks. I worked in the restaurant, washed dishes, did running around… When the restaurant was sold I went to college and then joined the United States Marine Corps for two years. After that I worked for General Motors and that’s when my father asked me to take over the distributing business. We started out with virtually nothing, worked seven days a week and my wife Carole raised all the kids.”

Gene took over Try-It Distributing in 1960, 32 years after his father had started the business and guided it through part of the Prohibition Era (1928-1933). In 1933 the company became a beer distributor and in 1946 they acquired the rights to distribute Anheuser-Busch products. In 1949 they started distributing Labatt products. They had six trucks and 12 employees.

Try-It Distributing Truck in 1934. Photo courtesy of Try-It Distributing.

Try-It Distributing Truck in 1934. Photo courtesy of Try-It Distributing.

Fast forward 65 years later.

Try-It Distributing now has 520 employees including four of Gene’s sons, three nephews and three grandsons. They’ve grown through acquisitions and subsidiaries that now include Balkan Beverage, Try-It Wine & Spirits and Saratoga Eagle Sales & Service. And they are the largest distributor of Labatt products in the world.

“Labatt has been very good to us,” said Gene. “Canadians are great to do business with. Honest, forthright and trusting. Exceptional associates. The Canadian experience is wonderful. Canada is a very special place. It’s a great country.”

Balkan Beverage distributes name brands that include Red Bull energy drinks and Arizona teas. Try-It Wine & Spirits distributes high quality products that include Debauchery Wine, Copa Di Vino, Mu and Recipe 21. Saratoga Eagle Sales & Service has seen exponential growth since its acquisition by Try-It Distributing and now delivers over 5,000,000 cases of beer and wine per year.

It’s a family affair at Try-It Distributing, which also believes strongly in community service. Gene’s son Paul is President/CEO of Try-It Distributing; son Tim is VP of Inventory Management, Training and Safety; son Matt is VP of Business Operations & Development; son Jeff is the President/CEO of Saratoga Eagle Sales & Service; and son Peter works in the travel industry.

Try-It Distributing in 2016.

Try-It Distributing in 2016. Photo courtesy of Try-It Distributing.

Try-It Distributing advances education about responsible consumption of alcohol in awareness programs that include both schools and media, and is a major supporter of numerous organizations and charities. Try-It Distributing staff and management serve on a number of community boards and the company has received several national awards including a “Family Business of the Year” Award from Canisius College.

“We’re very active in supporting community organizations, schools and hospitals,” said Gene. “We found that the more we give the more successful we are. The guy upstairs takes care of you. We’re very proud of the fact that the Vukelic family is highly respected in the community.”

Both Try-It Distributing and Webber’s Lodges possess traits that are found in almost all successful businesses — a strong set of morals and values that have been passed down through generations of family members, and a hiring process that looks for the same when bringing on new employees.

“It’s like a three-legged stool,” said Gene. “Trust, dignity and commitment. Our job as a family is to keep the business secure and safe. When we hire we look for those three legs. We treat our employees with dignity and respect. We like to call them stakeholders and we have an obligation to all 520 of them to improve the quality of their lives. We offer good jobs, incentivize our stakeholders and make sure they are fulfilled in their jobs. We have the same commitment to our customers.

“We look for good people who work hard and who pay relentless attention to detail and preparation, who have the courage to go to work every day, to look after family obligations, and to face any issues that arise head on and deal with them. Our stakeholders make us valuable. We have to trust in family, ourselves and our stakeholders. This results in trusting relationships with our customers as well as with the community at large.”

Jeff and Tim Vukelic relaxing in the boat on North Knife lake.

Jeff and Tim Vukelic relaxing in the boat on North Knife Lake.

The similar family business philosophies of Try-It Distributing and Webber’s Lodges have been heavily influenced by their respective patriarchs and founders, and the resemblances don’t end there.

Both Gene and Doug served in the armed forces and both men have been married for over five decades. Gene, now 85, served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and Doug, now 73, served with the Royal Canadian Navy. Gene and his wife Carole have been married for 58 years and Doug and his wife Helen have been married for 51 years. Both now have children and grandchildren that will form an important part of their respective businesses for many years to come. Additionally, both have received awards for their businesses and they have made sustainability and the environment a priority.

Doug grew up in Stettler Alberta and worked on farms belonging to relatives during the summers before taking a job in an uncle’s Chrysler dealership. He then joined the Royal Canadian Navy and was stationed in Churchill, Manitoba, where he met and started dating wife Helen, a third generation Churchillian who also happens to be the co-author of the award-winning cookbook series Blueberries and Polar Bears with co-author Marie Woolsey. Helen and Marie have been preparing delicious meals for guests at Webber’s Lodges for almost 50 years, and they’ll be back at North Knife Lake Lodge doing it all over again in 2016.

Doug spent his leisure time hunting and fishing, often with friends of Helen, and his first real adventure came in 1967 when he took part on an expedition to York Factory to bury a time capsule. Shortly afterwards, he and a friend purchased a goose camp at Dymond Lake and he became an “official” hunting outfitter. Doug bought his friend out in 1972, started to build North Knife Lake Lodge in 1976, and began a family legacy that has been heavily involved in the community and in the development of hunting and fishing tourism in Manitoba.

A licensed pilot, Doug has now been responsible for, or involved in, the development of 10 separate lodges and outpost locations in Manitoba and has hired, trained, and mentored countless students, aspiring guides, bush pilots and First Nations people.

The Mayor of Churchill from 1990-1996, Doug received the Award of Distinction from Travel Manitoba at the annual Tourism Awards in 2012. The Award of Distinction recognizes an individual, business or organization reflecting exceptional leadership in Manitoba’s tourism industry.

Grandsons Christopher and Gregory Vukelic. The next generation.

Grandsons Christopher and Gregory Vukelic. The next generation.

“I could never have done any of this without the help of my family,” said Doug after winning the award. “They’ve been with me every step of the way from that very first summer. Everyone helped out every season. They’re the main reason for our success and for our repeat customers over the years. All of our lodges are family-run and many of our guests appreciate that. Success is a team effort. My family deserves this award as much as I do.”

Like the Vukelic family, the extended Webber family has been intimately involved in the expansion and success of their tourism business. Wife Helen, daughter Shari, daughter Toni and her husband Nelson, daughter Jeanne and her husband Mike have all been major contributors to the development and growth of Webber’s Lodges over the years, as have many of their children, who are now helping to instill the company culture of service and value in employees and future generations.

Mike and Jeanne Reimer also now own and operate three remote lodges on the Hudson Bay coast, where they have pioneered the world’s first and only on-the-ground polar bear safaris using the same unique culture. It all started with Webber’s Lodges.

Doug and Helen Webber

Doug and Helen Webber

“Doug and Helen and their families are special people,” said Gene. “They treated us so well that we started to bring our sons and grandsons.”

“All the kids and grandkids that can make it to North Knife Lake when the Vukelic family is there will be there,” said Doug. “It’s like they grew up together. They wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Doug’s feelings for the Vukelic family, for North Knife Lake Lodge, for his family and his customers, are mirrored as he stands on the edge of the dock and points proudly into some of the most pristine water in the world, at a thriving school of northern pike minnows… the next generation.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” he says.

Rest and recreation leads to big tuna in Panama

L to R, Doreen, Nolan, Big Tuna, Mike and Jeanne :)

L to R Doreen, Nolan, Big Tuna, Mike, Jeanne :)

With our own fishing season fast approaching at North Knife Lake Lodge, boss Mike decided some of the management should get out and do some fishing. So off to Panama we went looking for tuna!

Day one was all travel to get to a private island and join Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge owner Shane at his amazing location. We arrived around 1 p.m. and spent the rest of the day snorkeling at the beach and checking out our new home for the week.

Day 2 began early and we were soon on our way to the tuna grounds. It turns out it should be called tuna hunting and not tuna fishing. Looking for birds hunting from the air and dolphins hunting from below are the first two steps.

After that Shane positioned us in front of the herd and the live baits hit the water. Everywhere we looked tuna and dolphins were breaching and frigatebirds were leading the charge of sea birds diving out of the sky, hitting the water and enjoying a feast.

BANG! Fish on! After 20 minutes Nolan gave up exhausted and passed the rod to Mike so he could take over the fight. Twenty minutes later a 90-pound tuna was in the boat.

Mike and Nolan with tuna #1!

Mike and Nolan with Tuna #1!

We all figured that was the craziest thing we had ever seen, until it began all over again. This time Mike was casting poppers. We had talked earlier about how cool it would be to watch a tuna leap out of the water to attack a surface lure. And then it happened!

A gigantic tuna breached full body out of the water and came down hard on Mike’s 8-inch popper. Mike fought the beast from the deep for the first 30 minutes before handing the rod to Nolan to try and finish up. Nolan pulled on the second tuna for another half an hour or so and finally landed the monster. There was no official weight recorded but numbers thrown around by the Captain and First Mate estimated it to be over 210 pounds. It certainly looked the part in the photos!

Not to be outdone, Mike’s wife Jeanne showed the guys up when she pulled in an 80-pounder by herself. It was an epic battle but she held her form perfectly and somehow managed to get the giant into the boat. Shane and Juan were just as impressed as we were witnessing Jeanne’s fighting spirit! It was what fisherman would call a fabulous day on the water by any standards, and it just happened to be our first day on the grounds.

 Doreen on the left, Jeanne on the right, with her 80-pounder!

Doreen on the left, Jeanne on the right, with her 80-pounder!

Mike and Nolan were heading back to the tuna grounds bright and early the next day in an effort to top an incredible opener, while the ladies were set to enjoy some beach time and explore their island paradise. They would soon however, be back in tuna country.

And Doreen was already getting pumped up for battle.

Packing for an Arctic spring hunt

Hmmm... I don't see any clothes in here.

Hmmm… I don’t see any clothes in here.

by Russ Mehling, General Manager, Webber’s Lodges

Selecting a species, doing the research, speaking with the outfitter and references, dreaming of making the perfect shot… these are the exciting parts of booking and planning a once in a lifetime hunt. But just as important are the smaller, detail-oriented tasks related to hunting different game in a new area.

One of the more menial tasks is packing for your upcoming adventure. This becomes even more important when air travel is involved. Every one of our adventures is going to involve a portion of travel in the wild blue yonder, so we are asked regularly about packing for the trip. Since we are nearing that time of year, we’ll look at packing tips for our upcoming Arctic spring hunts.

We offer two adventures during the Arctic spring, a muskox and Arctic wolf hunt and a grizzly bear hunt. These hunts take place in and around the community of Baker Lake. This setup makes this remote hunt extremely easy to pack for.

Empty gun case. That looks better!

Empty gun case. That looks better!

We use a hotel as our base of operations in this case, so hunters are not required to pack for a typical, backcountry hunt. Leave your towels and sleeping bags at home. Even soap and shampoo are supplied for you. And since camp is a comfortable, temperature controlled hotel, very simple camp clothes are required.

Another advantage is air travel into this area. We are using Baker Lake as our base, so hunters fly in on a regional, commercial airline, allowing for more room and weight than the standard float planes used on some of our other hunts.

The airlines regulations are: two checked bags of up to 70 pounds combined weight and neither weighing more than 50 pounds; and two carry-on items of less than 20 pounds combined weight. Keeping these factors in mind, below is how we suggest you pack.

Clothes in. Gun cozy. That's more like it!

Clothes in. Gun cozy. That’s more like it!

In your carry-on baggage you should have any important medications, your camera/video camera, important travel documents, identification and money. Your carry-on bags are also where you may want to put some of your fragile items, such as your goggles, binoculars etc.  Remember, you have up to 20 pounds!

Packing your checked baggage will also take some planning. Even though the airline does its best to ensure all baggage reaches its destination with its owners, they may ask you to prioritize your two bags, ranking them by importance.

We suggest taking the foam or padding out of your rifle case and replacing it with a good portion of your hunting clothes. You will be surprised by how much clothing you will fit into a gun (or bow) case. The airlines require a hard case for your weapons, so you may as well use that to your advantage.

Clothes in. Check. Gun covered. Check. ready to go!

Ready to go! Oh, shoot. Where’s my tooth brush?

In your other bag, place items that you need for the trip, but that you could do without for a day or two — such as extra clothes, camp shoes etc.

Lastly, though you may look a little odd at the airport in Winnipeg, wear your winter boots and maybe throw a heavy coat over your arm for the flight. When you land in Baker Lake, you’ll be glad you did.

See you here!