DICKINSON, N.D. — What started as a dream fishing expedition to the icy waters of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba, quickly turned into a nightmare for one Dickinson resident who found himself stranded abroad.
“It was quite the experience,” Tanner Ouellette said. “I learned a lot from it and met a lot of people because of it.”
Staying at the Inn and Conference Centre in downtown Selkirk, Ouellette and his friend Wyatt Wahl, of Bismarck, awoke at 5:30 a.m. and quickly set to the task of preparing fishing gear for their excursion.
The frigid winds outside kept the winter weather well below zero as Ouellette loaded his 2016 Sierra Denali with a collection of years’ worth of expensive fishing gear before finally securing his four-wheeler on the trailer.
Fully packed and ready to hit the road, Ouellette stopped at the adjacent McDonald’s for a cup of coffee before setting off on the half hour trip to Lake Winnipeg.
“I jumped out, locked the truck and ran inside real quick,” Ouellette recounted. “I walked back out about 5 minutes later, and the rig was gone. I was stunned.”
Standing outside, Ouellette’s heart sank when Wahl approached and asked where his truck was.
Hours from anyone they knew, in a foreign country without transportation, funds or passports, the young men knew they were in a bad predicament.
“We called the police there in Canada, which are a little different than here, and they took my information and said they’d call me back,” Ouellette said. “About 45 minutes later, they called and said that they found my truck.”
Luckily for Ouellette, his newer model truck came equipped with OnStar. Local police contacted the company, which provided law enforcement with the location of the truck. According to GPS location, the truck was traveling down a dirt road about 25 miles outside of Selkirk heading toward a reservation.
“OnStar actually shut my truck off on the guys who stole (it),” Ouellette said. “The thieves scrambled and ended up stealing another vehicle and took all of my gear and sped off.”
According to Ouellette, police notified him that his truck was being impounded while a forensics investigation was underway.
“I didn’t know when I was going to get it back,” he said. “I didn’t have any of my fishing stuff, it was all gone. Now I’m up in Canada, a different country, my passport is stolen and I don’t have anything. I was scared.”
Never one to let an opportunity to be friendly neighbors pass, local Manitobans stepped up.
“Someone put a post out on the Ice Fishing Manitoba Facebook page and it went viral up there,” Ouellette said. “A bunch of people kept calling me and texting me, messaging me on Facebook and Instagram, asking me to go fishing. It was crazy awesome that the Selkirk community stood up and showed what Manitoba friendly was.”
The original post, by David Obirek, generated more than 100 comments and nearly an equal number of shares. It wasn’t long before offers were extended.
For Ouellette, the entire ordeal was surreal.
“Some guy came up to us and offered us his car with all his fishing gear,” Ouellette said. “There were crazy awesome offers. Some were saying, ‘I’ll come pick you up right now and take you out fishing.’ It was awesome to see that.”
Then a local guide they’d encountered on another fishing trip reached out to the young men via social media.
“Dave Kozyra is a local guide up there and he texted me on Facebook and said ‘I heard about your situation and want to take you guys out fishing,’” Ouellette said. “I said perfect, and thanked him for his offer.”
Kozyra picked the young men up the following morning and they spent the day on the ice.
“I ended up catching the biggest fish in my life,” Ouellette laughed. “I caught an 11 pound Walleye, that’s a big fish. So I guess you can say, it all worked out in the end.”
When asked what he learned in this experience, Ouellette said the takeaway was simple.
“Everything is positive if you have a positive outlook on life,” he said. “I was in a bad situation up there and I kept my head up when I could have just curled up into a ball and said ‘poor me.’
“But if you calm down, act positive and are nice to people, good things will come back to you. I met a bunch of very nice people up there who I plan to fish with for the rest of my life.”