Published July 30, 2010, 08:00 PM

Long days go with the territory for owner of Crowduck Lake Camp

Owner of Crowduck Lake Camp in Manitoba’s Whiteshell Provincial Park, Bill Kolansky begins each day at 3:30 a.m. with a cup of tea. And rarely does he stop until he powers down the generator at 11:30 p.m. Scroll down to see video clip of "pet" walleyes being fed from the dock.

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

CROWDUCK LAKE, Man. — Bill Kolansky’s vision for running a fishing camp requires long days and an attention to detail that has to be experienced firsthand to fully comprehend.

Owner of Crowduck Lake Camp in Manitoba’s Whiteshell Provincial Park, Kolansky begins each day at 3:30 a.m. with a cup of tea. And rarely does he stop until he powers down the generator at 11:30 p.m.

This he does seven days a week from the beginning of May through the end of September, supervising a crew of 12 full- and part-time employees, shuttling supplies and passengers with large aluminum freighter boats across Big Whiteshell Lake and the two-mile truck portage into Crowduck, and tending to the myriad needs of customers who come from across the U.S. and Canada to sample this wilderness getaway.

It’s not a job so much as a lifestyle, Kolansky, 54, says. And when the camp closes for the season, the real work begins: winterizing the seven cabins, the lodge and employee quarters, repairing boats, replacing docks and planning for larger projects such as building a new lodge to replace the structure that has stood since the resort was built in the early 1960s.

That’s on tap in the next couple of years, Kolansky said.

Even in the winter, Kolansky says, he spends 10-day stints in camp, cutting holes in the lake for water and working nonstop on even the coldest of days preparing for spring. Winter is his favorite time of the year, Kolansky says, and he heads back to his home north of Winnipeg only long enough for a much-needed shower and a couple days of rest.

“I love it,” said Kolansky, a carpenter by trade before getting into the camp business. “I wouldn’t do anything else, and I’m not going to stop anytime soon.”

First-time stay

Four friends and I recently took advantage of a rare cabin vacancy to spend a night in camp to sample Manitoba’s only catch-and-release walleye fishery and take a welcomed break from battling behemoth catfish on the Red River near Lockport, Man.

We’ve made day trips into Crowduck — which is accessible only by portage — a regular part of our annual catfish excursion since 2006. The camp operates a fleet of 31 rental boats and offers day trips seven days a week, but this was the first time any of us had spent the night.

The walleye fishing wasn’t as fast as we’ve experienced some years, but for context, our crew still boated upwards of 100 walleyes up to 25½ inches.

As for the camp, it runs like a well-oiled machine.

According to Kolansky, service has been a philosophy since he and his dad, Nick, who still spends time in camp, bought the place 27 years ago. They started out with one regular customer, Kolansky said, and the customer base grew in the ensuing years as the word got out.

Crowduck in those days was known as a pike and smallmouth bass fishery. But in the mid-1980s, Manitoba Conservation decided to launch an experiment and planted 6 million walleye fry from 1985 to 1989. The fish responded, and Crowduck soon became known as one of the hottest walleye destinations in Manitoba.

“Business absolutely exploded,” Kolansky said, and it got to the point where the camp started offering day trips to keep up with the demand.

Walleye fishing on Crowduck has been catch-and-release only since 1993, but anglers can keep pike and smallmouth bass.

Successful formula

Kolansky said his goal for running the camp is to treat people the way he would like to be treated. That includes employees as well as customers. And if you want to get spoiled, few wilderness getaways rival Crowduck Lake Camp.

No wonder, then, Kolansky’s camp and its seven cabins are always filled to capacity with guests who typically stay six nights or take advantage of the opportunity to stay a seventh day for free.

While the camp has a website, word-of-mouth has been the best marketing tool.

“You can go anywhere in Manitoba and catch walleyes,” Kolansky said. “We like to think it’s the service that keeps people coming back.”

That was obvious when we stepped onto the deck of our cabin and found a huge cooler filled with ice. The cooler was refilled when we returned from fishing that evening. And dockhands, who are always onsite, drop whatever they’re doing to start the outboards — even though the 25-horse Hondas are electric start — every time camp guests head out to go fishing.

Mike Mustag of Winnipeg, who’s worked at Crowduck Lake Camp for nearly a decade, said he’ll usually slip up about once a summer and not have the motor running when a guest walks up to the boat.

Usually, he said, Kolansky’s there to see it; and always, he said, he’ll get a reminder not to let it happen again.

‘Pet’ walleyes

Fishing might be the main attraction on Crowduck, but it’s not always necessary to head out on the lake to enjoy the walleye action. The resort has a regular contingent of about a half-dozen “pet” walleyes that hang out below the dock near the fish-cleaning house to wait for scraps.

Guests aren’t allowed to fish from the dock, but the walleyes put on quite a show when they grab for the scraps. There’ve been times, Kolansky says, when one of the dockhands will dangle a scrap at water level and hang on when a walleye hits the other end.

He said the walleyes won’t let go even when they’re lifted from the water.

“We’ve had 8- to 10-pound walleyes flopping right on the dock,” Kolansky said.

That night on shore, we relaxed on the deck with a cold beverage and watched a nearly full moon rise above the trees on the other side of the bay. Somewhere in the distance, the haunting cry of the loons echoed across the horizon.

Darkness had descended, but Kolansky was still at work around camp. He’d be back at it long before sunrise.

On the Web:

Crowduck Lake Camp: www.crowducklakecamp.ca.

Travel Manitoba: www.travelmanitoba.com.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com.

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