Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

The abundance of wildlife was just one of the memorable features of a Canyon Creek man’s recent stint as a guide at a lodge in the Northwest Territories.

“I pulled out so many 25-lb. lake trout my arms were sore!” says Keith Denoncourt, who spent about three weeks at Aylmer Lake Lodge on (you guessed it) Aylmer Lake.

A lot of things made a strong impression on Denoncourt, who was a first-timer out on the vast tundra of Canada’s north. One was definitely unexpected.

“No bugs!” he says.

Denoncourt has no explanation for the absence of pesky insects, but is happy to have gotten lucky in that regard. Otherwise, he gives the impression of somebody who has hit the jackpot, having a chance to take part in something that fit so well with his lifelong passion for hunting, fishing, education and environmental conservation.

How he landed the gig was he had gotten to know lodge owners Kevin and Patti McNeil through a shared interest in hunter education and habitat conservation.

“They knew what I do with non-profit groups,” he says. “I’ve put a lot of time and effort into hunter education.”

Another thing in Denoncourt’s favour was his video production business, which he started up after retiring from teaching school. Part of his job at Aylmer Lake was to do video recordings. He came back recently with a whole lot of footage, and last week was hard at the processing part of the job. Some of it will end up as promotional stuff for the lodge. Some will become educational videos, which he plans to post online.

One particularly memorable experience with the video camera came when he and Kevin McNeil went out to get footage of some musk oxen. They sneaked up fairly close and got some good shots of a sleeping bull that Denoncourt says was huge. But somehow, (he didn’t say exactly how it happened) on the retreat, Denoncourt ended up falling in the water up to his neck.

“Save the footage!” was his cry to his concerned boss. The camera never got wet, and Denoncourt got himself out of the freezing drink not much the worse for wear.

His ‘mustang suit’ had a lot to do with the happy ending to that episode. This is a full-body garment designed to protect the wearer from the cold as well as providing a bit of buoyancy.

Denoncourt says safety is a very high priority at the lodge, and all kinds of modern equipment and methods are employed to reduce the change of mishaps.

“World class,” is how Denoncourt describes the procedures; also the general quality of the guides. Four or five of these were employed at any one time, he says – some of them quite famous people who have written books on hunting and fishing or related topics. His esteem for lodge owner McNeil only grew from the experience.

“Kevin is the real deal,” he says.

The McNeils, by the way, are from McLennan, Alberta. Their company is called Blue Sky Outfitters, which they have been running since 2000. They purchased Aylmer Lake Lodge in 2012.

Speaking of well-known people, Denoncourt says several of the clients were there to do filming for their own outdoor TV shows. This included noted angler TJ Schwanky, host of Outdoor Quest TV. Denoncourt says some of the video work he did was “backup footage” for the TV show people.

Denoncourt says he’ll definitely be back for another stint at the lodge in 2023. Nor has he ruled out another visit this fall.

“I’d go in a heartbeat,” he says.

Keith Denoncourt with his trusty video camera. He fell in the lake while holding it, but managed to keep it from getting wet.
Jim Sanford, one of the clients of Aylmer Lake Lodge, holds a 47-lb. lake trout, which was released right after the photo, taken by Keith Denoncourt
The view of Aylmer Lake from the lodge site.