April 06, 2023
Pat Babcock’s background in cattle farming, oil field trucking and sod farming prepared him for the rugged Northern Saskatchewan landscape in which his Cree River Lodge resides. That experience has also instilled a deep appreciation for sharing the region’s appealing blend of tranquility and sport-fishing amazement.
Inspired by his younger years spent at his grandparents’ Deception Lake Lodge, Babcock purchased Cree River Lodge in 2008. Since then, he has focused on creating close connections with the guest he considers fishing friends.
“It's all part of being a small lodge,” Babcock said. “I don't just get to shake your hand once a day; I, and the staff, have the luxury of being able to spend real time with all of our guests.
“We get to learn about what matters to you, and be part of that. That's what's really unforgettable.”
Located on Wapata Lake, this rustic lodge presents a comfortable layout that allows restful privacy, as well as common spaces for the natural camaraderie emanating from sport-fishing reflections. Taking advantage of the pandemic pause, Babcock undertook an ambitious renovation project that significantly improved the lodge’s accommodations.
“We built a new dock, new kitchen, new guest cabin, and added new bathrooms in all guest cabins,” he said. “We built a beautiful gazebo behind the lodge, which we laughingly call ‘the internet cafe’ (because that is where our cellular phone booster is installed).
“For this upcoming season, we have Starlink internet service, which should be an enormous improvement. We've also built about 100 meters of new decking and boardwalks around camp, so nobody is tracking sand around like we used to.”
With a mix that includes walleye, arctic grayling, perch and whitefish, Cree River specializes in trophy Northern pike fishing. During a past visit, I saw firsthand how indiscriminate these aggressive fish can be. Spoons, spinnerbaits, topwater plugs, crankbaits, swimbaits and even walleye jigs tempted pike—and Babcock told me the working a frog through shallow reeds is an overlooked course to a vicious pike attack.
And talk about accessible. Each afternoon, following the day’s excursions, someone would make a few casts off the dock; usually with a spoon. Once, I watched a guy catch two respectable pike right in front of the lodge.
“Warm shallow bays accumulate big fish early in the season, but pretty quickly we develop cabbage beds in slightly deeper water,” he said. “These, especially the ones near to current, consistently hold big fish throughout the season.”
Some of the places you’ll visit are so remote and unpressured that the fish demonstrate astoundingly unfettered aggression. Case in point: While pausing to appreciate a fellow angler’s catch, I was dangling my spinnerbait off the port bow, when my rod suddenly wrenched to the side.
Regaining my grip, I realized a big pike had literally grabbed my bait maybe 3 feet from the boat. The fish ripped off a good stretch of line, but after a spirited battle, I put the brakes on this brazen beast and held it for one of my favorite trip photos.
Babcock points out a fairly new opportunity: “We’ve also started doing a certain amount of bear hunting, both at the main lodge and at the newly opened Pilot's Lodge outpost on the Fond du Lac River (available to fishermen, after bear season).”
If you’re willing to spend a little more running time and rattle through turbulent rapids, the River Trip takes anglers to the land of the giants. Running up the Cree and the Pipestone rivers, this limited-access journey commonly produces fish in the high 40-inch range.
“We run four sets of rapids to reach what we call ‘The Dunes,’ which is an outcropping of the Athabasca Sand Dunes,” he said. “We catch a lot of big fish there.
“We also run further up the Cree River and through another set of rapids to what we call ‘The Crater’—a small lake that lies at the bottom of wide rapids. This also produces an exceptional number of big fish.”
Cree River Lodge accommodations comprise five two-bedroom cabins, each with four beds. Cabin five is slightly larger than the others and includes a bathtub, while the others have showers.
“We’re geared up to take 14 guests at a time, which we will only do if all 14 are part of a single group,” he said. “We prefer to take no more than 12 at a time, because that allows us to give the best service and keep from crowding the fishery.”
Before and after each fishing trip, guests enjoy delicious meals prepared by accomplished chefs. And for the freshest fish you’ll ever enjoy, Cree River Lodge offers a relaxing shore lunch with a handful of “eater” size pike, walleye and whitefish (available on all but the River Trip).
“Every day at noon, everyone usually gets together on ‘shore lunch island’ located just below the narrows that divide Wapata Lake,” he said. “It's no more than a ten-minute drive from anywhere the lake.
“It's set up for your comfort with tables and chairs and a small cooking area, where the magic happens. Expect our friendly neighborhood mink to put in an appearance.”
Describing what makes the Cree River Lodge experience special, Babcock said: “I think that differs for different people. Some would say the northern lights, some might talk about wildlife (you are very likely to spot bears, moose, mink, otters, bald and golden eagles, and maybe wolves. Some might say just the sheer spectacle of unspoiled natural beauty they see every day.
“But more than anything, especially for our regular guests, I’ll bet it would be a sense of camaraderie; almost a sense of family. These are so much more than just our customers; we actually intend to become part of one another's lives. I'll bet (after the fishing) most of them remember the people they met and the friendships they form that last forever.”
Cree River Lodge uses an Edmonton-based charter service that usually has guests at the dock by 8:30 am, so every day is a full day of fishing.
To book the dream fishing trip of your lifetime, visit CreeRiverLodge.ca.