The prize that these fishers were after were the fast growing and large rainbow trout stocked annually by myself and by the men and women who raised them at our Provincial Fish Hatchery near Westhawk Lake.
Obviously I knew these fish were in there. What I did not realise, until I started meeting some of these fishers, was that they were not only from Manitoba but the United States. In fact, the majority came across the border from North and South Dakota, Montana and Utah. These folks had heard about our cluster of stocked nutrient rich stillwater trout lakes through various sources and of course, word of mouth. They were spending longer and longer periods of time in the cooler open water seasons in both spring and fall, seeking the behemoth rainbow and brown trout of East Goose, Spear, Silver Beach and Tokaruk Lakes. As I talked to more of these passionate individuals, a common name kept ‘popping up’. That name was Bob Sheedy. I had heard his name before in various print articles about the areas’ trout lakes. Seems the word had spread in that respect and Manitoba’s Parkland was receiving more and more of these seriously addicted hard core fly fishers hell bent on hooking up with legendary ‘Shamu’ or ‘Silver Pig’ or ‘Tokaryk Take’, all terms allegedly penned by the aforementioned Sheedy.
When I finally met Sheedy late in 1997, it was obvious what he wanted… more trout lakes! From a regional perspective I could see it right away and pondered that thought myself. Obviously Sheedy would benefit being the local ‘fly fishing guru’, but at the time he seemed genuinely excited about attracting more non-resident catch and release fly fishers to the area. I saw it as a real sustainable development and eco-tourism initiative combined into one. At the time, this was lacking in the area, only because it had never been tried before.
A number of things needed to be accomplished before we could proceed. We needed to develop a regional community team approach. Educating and communicating the possibilities of such an initiative to the whole Parkland area was an absolute necessity. Town by town. Municipality by municipality. We had to build that team by bringing in folks as different as they were alike, bonded by similar goals and objectives.
Week after week, Sheedy, myself and Bob Sopuck, a fellow parkland resident and avid fly fisher himself, hit the road communicating this idea to various community leaders and players. I also had to do the same with my own work colleagues.
We built the support. We built an executive, and we basically built ‘FLIPPR’, the Fisheries Lake Improvement Program for the Parkland Region. The mandate developed was primarily to assist in the creation, enhancement and sustainment of trophy trout lakes in the Parkland Region of Manitoba. That mandate and the formation of the FLIPPR board of executives came to fruition in April of 1999. Bob Sopuck, the first president, with Vern Rosnoski, Bill Pollock, Joan Forbes among some of the directors, Wally Melnyk as secretary/treasurer with myself as a technical advisor.
By the end of that summer I had developed a lake survey protocol specifically designed to assess lakes for possible development. FLIPPR would not necessarily build these lakes but would facilitate all the information and technical assistance to a town or municipality to do so. FLIPPR lakes would be developed in clusters in order to offer both local fishers and fishers from afar a quality angling experience. Most FLIPPR lakes would require aeration to keep fish alive year round. FLIPPR lakes would be developed in conjunction and close working contact with Manitoba Fisheries Branch.
Patterson Lake was the first lake developed within this format in 2003 with the RM of Rossburn. It was and is stocked annually with an equal combination of rainbow and brown trout. Twin Lakes, our world famous catch and release Tiger Trout fishery, was developed with the RM of Park North (now the RM of Shell River) in 2004. I left the area in 2005 and was asked to serve as a director at that point. However, I found it extremely hard to function as a director at a ‘distance’ and reluctantly resigned. Since 2005 FLIPPR has developed three more lakes. Corstophine (2007), Pybus (2007) and Persse Lakes (2010). Tees Lake, just south of Persse, is scheduled for a 2015 opening.
Funding for the capitol costs (aeration) came from the original Fisheries Enhancement Initiative (FEI) and the later Fisheries Enhancement fund (FEF). Both of these funds are made entirely up of monies generated by a stamp associated with angling licence sales. FLIPPR also held an annual Trout Festival every spring. This festival raised about $15,000 during my tenure as festival chair 2001-2005. The money raised helped however my primary vision for the festival was to educate local people about this initiative. We rotated the Festival site to different communities annually. Local municipalities and towns donated countless hours and all the businesses in the area donated to the cause.
FLIPPR also worked closely with our American fisher friends. Fishers like Dr. Lee Brend, who brought about 60 dental surgeons to Russell for a week every spring for what they called a ‘dental conference’. They basically fished most of the time. Bob Morenski and Dave LaFrance have been coming to the Parkland for years. To this day, Bob acts as a technical advisor to the group and Dave spends weeks in the Parkland annually. Mike Andreasen and friends from Utah come to the Parkland twice a year for weeks at a time. Fly fishers from across the United States have been donating cash to help with winter aeration costs. Mike plays a large role in organizing this generosity.
A huge score for FLIPPR and the Parkland was landing the first ever Canadian National Fly Fishing Championships (CNFFC) in 2001 based in Russell and again in 2010 in Roblin. The economic spinoff was obvious. As well, some competitors are returning to the area due to the awesome reputation for both trophy trout fishing and of course the infamous Parkland hospitality. Rumor has it the Nationals are returning in 2016. The locally run Bug Chucker Cup based in Roblin was spawned after the 2010 CNFFC and still runs to this day offering competitive fly fishers a chance to showcase their talents.
Once a few lakes were developed, it was time to market this resource. To that end, ‘The Complete Angler’ Don Lamont played a huge role right from the early years with his TV Show. We had The New Fly Fisher TV show out many times as well as the late Tony Dean Outdoors TV show from South Dakota.
There was always no doubt the new lakes were contributing to the local economies. It was not until recently that the level of this contribution was tracked. In 2013, the RM of Rossburn took it upon themselves to show ratepayers that their aerated lakes were a positive source of revenue to the area. They hired the home grown company AAE Tech Services, to conduct an economic evaluation of the various aerated lakes within their municipal boundaries. That included Patterson and Tokaruk Lakes. What they found was that for every dollar invested in aeration development, twenty-nine to thirty-six dollars were generated in return. I would say mission accomplished!
Certainly there have been some growing pains. Extreme weather events, aerator breakdowns and various bait bucket illegal stocking have occurred over the years. Fisheries staff have changed and budgets have been reduced drastically. FLIPPR executives have resigned and volunteers eventually burn out. However, FLIPPR still exists and there are still plenty of awesome stillwater trout lakes in the Parkland that the whole world of fly fishing is aware of. Google ‘Manitoba Parkland Trout Lakes’ and see what you get. This is a unique ‘Made in Manitoba’ initiative that so far has withstood the test of time. This coming April 2015 will be the 15th year since the formation of the first FLIPPR board. To this day I consider in an absolute honor to have been involved in formation and evolution of FLIPPR and hope to one day be involved again.
Sure it is the lakes that bring those hard core fly fishers from all over the world to Manitoba’s Parkland, but it’s the people who built and look after them that sustains the unique entity called FLIPPR.