By Brent Frazee
The Kansas City Star
Jeanne MacLean has come a long way since the days when she grew up in Trenton.
When her dad, Fuzz LePage, retired from the Missouri Highway Patrol, he set out to find adventure as a bush pilot in northern Minnesota and southern Canada. And he took his family with him.
Jeanne was well aware of what her new lifestyle would be. The family had vacationed on Lake of the Woods, fishing, staying at resorts and relaxing in the beauty of the land of lakes.
But even she wasn’t prepared for where life would take her at a young age.
“My dad … was flying over this one lodge in 1981 and decided to land and ask them if they needed his services,” said MacLean, 52. “They said, no, they were trying to sell the place.
“Well, dad came back to me, sat me down and told me, “I think you should buy it. ’ ”
That might seem like good, old-fashioned fatherly advice — until you consider that Jeanne was only 20 years old at the time.
But dad knew his daughter could handle it. At a young age, MacLean had been her dad’s dock girl at his fly-in business. When she was 18, she had moved to Montana for a short time and worked as a camp cook in an elk-hunting operation.
So when her father told her about the resort for sale, she jumped at the chance. She became the owner of Fletcher Lake Lodge, a remote fly-in lodge about 50 air miles north of Kenora, Ontario. And she’s been at it ever since.
MacLean will celebrate 32 years in the business when she appears at the Kansas City Boat and Sportshow at Bartle Hall this week. Spring and summer are for greeting guests at her wilderness fishing lodge. Winter is for traveling to sports shows, visiting with longtime customers and recruiting new ones.
It’s a lifestyle MacLean loves, but not one without its special set of challenges. Just two years after buying the resort, a forest fire roared through the area and destroyed all but one of the cabins at her resort.
“When I bought the resort, interest rates were high, and it was hard for me to make payments,” she said. “Then when the resort burned down, I thought that was it. I cried for many days.
“Finally, my dad grabbed me and said, ‘Stop. We’re going to get through this.’ And we did. We rebuilt the cabins and had them shingled and ready to go by the following spring.”
The rest of the story? Well, MacLean has thrived in Canada and has been in business long enough to greet several generations of some fishing families.
“Ninety percent of our fishermen are repeat customers,” she said. “We have a lot of customers who are really attached to this place.
“We have four fishermen who wanted to have their ashes scattered on an island we call The Church. That says a lot.”
MacLean is attached to the wilderness where she lives, too. She has caught several trophy fish, including a 31 1/2-inch walleye. But that fish, as well as many others she has caught, went back into the lake.
MacLean realizes the resource isn’t endless, even in Canada. In 1995, she established a policy that fishermen could take home only two fish under 18 inches in length. In return for following that policy, fishermen got $100 taken off their charges.
Later, the waters that Fletcher Lake Lodge customers fish were designated as part of the Trophy Waters Area, a cooperative program involving the Ontario government, resort owners, and other groups. On lakes in that program, restrictive size and creel limits were imposed.
Some of MacLean’s older customers grumbled at first; they were accustomed to taking home coolers of walleyes. But times changed, MacLean said. With increased fishing pressure and the slow growth rate of the fish in northern waters, there was a need to protect those fish so that they will be there for future generations.
The changes helped the fishing, MacLean said. Today, it’s as good as it has been in some time. Trophy walleyes, smallmouth bass, northern pike and muskies are caught each year. And the spirit of adventure in North Country is alive and well.
“I still love it up here,” MacLean said. “I have lived on a lake all my life. Even when we were in Missouri, we lived on Trenton Lake.
“It’s just in my blood.”
By Brent Frazee