By Matt Straw
Green cylinders of predatory rage come gliding through shallow water—a visual that causes average fly anglers to tangle lines on rod tips and other anglers in a desperate effort to get a fly out there, anywhere in the vicinity of those cruising giants. Up here, if a pike sees the fly, it gets ripped.
Some memories can never be extinguished. Like the sight of a 25-pound northern at the end of a fly line, thrashing heavily in shallow water. Penned in by bottom, reeds, shoreline, and a boat, the only direction for the fish is up. Encounters like that are common from one end of Saskatchewan to the other. And chances are good that squadrons of giant walleye or lake trout will be a short boat ride from that spot.
Tim Geni is a walleye pro from just south of Regina in south-central Saskatchewan—a short drive from three of the world's finest walleye and pike lakes. "The best open-water venues for drive-to pike and walleyes would be Last Mountain, Diefenbaker, and Tobin," Geni says.
"You can stay in a resort, bring your own boat, or hire a guide. Do your homework, fish the proper times and locations, and you can expect the fish of a lifetime in any of these waters. Walleyes over 17 pounds are a reality here. You will catch double-digit size pike and walleye out of any of these three lakes every day if you time it right. And most of the action is shallow."
Walleyes and pike don't provide the only trophies from scenic Lake Diefenbaker. "I've been spooled by rainbows in Diefenbaker," Geni says. "I've caught several over 10 pounds while fishing for walleyes." One of the "Fishing Geeks," Sean Konrad boated the 48-pound, all-tackle, world-record rainbow trout there—on Sept. 5, 2009, eclipsing a 2-year-old mark held by his twin brother, Adam. Konrad and crew catch world-class rainbows in open water and through the ice. Few things in fishing are more exciting than the blistering run of a giant rainbow—and nowhere on earth do they grow bigger than here.
"We like to troll for them with Original Floating Rapalas, Husky Jerks, and Mepps spoons," Sean Konrad says. "Rainbows are best in fall, and the browns are best in spring." Browns are flying under the radar since a big flood on the Bow River flushed them over the lower dams on one of the region's finest trout rivers. "I caught a 26-pound brown in 2013," Konrad says. "A 20-pound brown is not uncommon in Diefenbaker— we've caught 6 over that size since the floods in 2010. We catch them all sizes now, and suspect they're naturally reproducing."
Diefenbaker is but one trophy trout venue in the region. "Saskatchewan has one of the best stocked-trout programs in Western Canada," Konrad says. "So many little lakes around here have rainbows and monster browns up to 15 pounds, it's crazy. Most of the lakes stocked in Saskatchewan have really big trout. Lakes stocked by the Fort Qu'Appelle Fish Culture Station are posted on the Ministry of Environment website."
"Big pike patrol Diefenbaker, too," Geni adds. "We cast spoons and topwaters in the back ends of shallow, weedy bays all summer long. Big green torpedoes ripping through reeds and cattails on the hookset gets your heart racing. Nothing can stop some of them—they're just too big. Spring runoff raises the lake level, forming perfect habitat for pike and there are 25-pounders back there. Every cast produces a 10- to 20-pounder with a spoon. It's a great environment for fly fishermen, too. It's pretty visual. We cast blind a lot, but you see big gators cruising around the shallows every day. Fishing is awesome from ice-out (mid-May) right through summer. We find big walleyes back there, too. One day I saw more than 100 in 2 feet of crystal clear water at the back of a 'coolie' (shallow, finger-like bay). That was in the middle of June."
Tobin Lake—about 220 miles north of Regina—also part of the Saskatchewan River, which produces magnificent pike and walleyes all along its course. An 18-pound walleye stands as the record here, and northern pike weighing 30 pounds or more are real possibilities in Tobin. "A river channel runs through the lake," Geni says. "Every pike in that old river channel is over 20 pounds, it seems like. We throw crankbaits and spoons or troll plugs. And the pike are pretty shallow there, too—down only 6 to 15 feet in most cases, all summer long. Don't come too early—runoff can keep Tobin muddy. But don't come up here without visiting Last Mountain—less than an hour north of Regina. Huge pike and walleyes are biting there all summer and fall, from June through the first week of October. If you don't catch a 10-pound walleye almost every day on these lakes, you're doing something wrong."
In the northeast along the Hanson Lake Road there are good drive-to lakes abound. "Like Jan Lake," Geni says. "If you want to drive to a lake full of walleyes, that's the one. Lots of Saskatchewan residents make the drive up there for the experience."
The roads end somewhere north of Flin Flon, just inside the Manitoba border. Beyond that the In-Fisherman staff has towed boats over axle-busting trails at a snail's pace to the Churchill River—the far northern frontier of drive-to fishing. The mighty Churchill arises near the Alberta border to the west and runs east over 1,000 miles to Hudson Bay. Along the way it opens into lakes and backwaters that house giant pike and big numbers of walleyes and lake trout before narrowing back into a powerful sub-Arctic river. We found lots of pike over 40 inches in the backwaters during spring (late May or early June up there). The folks at Shadd Lake Cabins on the Churchill say some pike top 30 pounds, and a 15-pound walleye was caught there a few years back. Catching 100 walleyes in a day is far from unusual, and the fishing is almost spiritual in the shadow of outcroppings of Canadian Shield rock framed with towering pines.
It may not be too far from road's end, but Shadd Lake is a fly-in. And just beyond the road extending farther north is another fly-in lodge on massive Reindeer Lake—which sprawls across 2 million acres of pristine habitat. The folks at Reindeer Lake Lodge claim that guests land over 1000 pike exceeding 40 inches every year. And the In-Fisherman Staff believe it—because we've been there. Massive lake trout are under-fished, largely because the draw of the massive toothy critters is impossible to resist, but 20- to 30-pounders are common. Shallow habitat for trophy pike seems endless, though—a fly-fisherman's dream.
Beyond The Roads
The northern tier of Saskatchewan is trophy-pike and lake-trout country. From a float plane, it seems more like a sea full of islands than a landlocked province. Expanses, fingers, and ribbons of blue stretch through the pine forests as far as the eye can see.
Lakers are the only native trout in the province, and giants are common. Some 50-pounders have come out of Lac la Ronge. Wollaston Lake also is a trout angler's dream.
But the "Eighth Wonder" of the lake-trout world is the dominant geological feature of northwestern Saskatchewan. Lake Athabasca is the eighth largest lake in Canada at over 3,000 square miles. The water is cold, deep, and bound for the Arctic Sea via the Slate and Mackenzie rivers—a perfect environment for Salvelinus namaycush. The cold keeps them shallow in June and again in September, where fly-fishermen can target visible specimens in the 20-pound range. But the biggest grays, the ones over 30 pounds, tend to fall more readily for "car parts," like the biggest Luhr Jensen Dodger used not as an attractor, but as a lure with a big 7/0 Siwash hook attached.
Rocky hills, ridges, and highlands dominate the shorelines and islands of northern Athabasca, where Lakers Unlimited runs Johnston Island Lodge, hosting some of the best lake-trout fishing on earth. But their Spring Bay Lodge is situated near the lowlands and connected marshes that raise some of the biggest pike in Canada. Several weighing 30 to 33 pounds have been taken by guests at Spring Bay over the past few years. Creek mouths and rocky shoals on the main lake provide fly fishermen with world-class grayling fishing. And lake trout over 40 pounds have been recorded at both camps.
Across the northern tier to the east is that other huge Saskatchewan feature, Reindeer Lake, which breeds gigantic lakers. Fish over 30 pounds are relatively common, and numbers are high. Even somewhat smaller venues like Cree Lake, Lower Foster Lake, and Milton Lake are known for bulging grays in Saskatchewan's boreal north. Lakers of 20 to 30 pounds can be found there. During mid-summer you can reach the biggest trout in most of these waters with a big Worden's Flatfish or Luhr Jensen Kwikfish trolled 80 to 150 feet back on 30- to 40-pound braided lines with 25-pound fluorocarbon leaders and no added weight. The fact that these huge trout stay high in the water column all year, attracts fly fishermen by the score to Saskatchewan's northern wilderness. Arctic grayling, the exotic "sailfish of the North"—another fly-fishing favorite—can be found at all of these lakes and connected streams.
Up near the northeast corner of the province lies Misaw Lake. The In-Fisherman Staff spent many a day prowling the relatively small interconnected waterways attached to Misaw, drawing serpent-sized pike out of the many dense cabbage beds there. Yet, even on this small waterway, lakers of 43 pounds have been taken, and 20 pounders are common. Smaller lakers and grayling crowd the tailing currents of every neck and rapids, taking small spoons and flies on every cast.
These dynamic fisheries barely scrape the surface. Saskatchewan is vast—peppered with lakes and rivers teeming with fish. Yet the entire human population is barely one million, and the majority of them are concentrated in the more populous cities in the south, leaving most of the province's 252,000 square miles all but uninhabited. Adventures here, in this boreal angling paradise, this land of giants, form vivid memories the mind won't ever extinguish.
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