January 16, 2017
By Matt Straw
In early-morning light under gray skies, waves crest over a long reef. It extends hundreds of yards, out toward a massive expanse of clear, blue water from an island on northern Lake Athabasca. The spine of boulders reaches to within 4 feet of the surface in some spots, 8 feet in others.
Approaching that reef in September reveals long cylindrical shadows everywhere—lake trout the size of mastiffs, swimming lazily to the side as the boat passes overhead. Standing up to get a better view sends chills spider-walking down your spine. Breathtaking. Like an open aquarium brimming with huge, not particularly spooky lake trout. The beasts spawn here among the boulders, and are just beginning to stage.
The sight-seeing tour is viciously interrupted by something trying to rip the heavy trolling rod out of your hands. Line flies off the levelwind. That "something" has to be pretty big. It ate a magnum dodger sporting an 8/0 Siwash hook. Anywhere else, a 9-inch dodger is used as an attractor ahead of a smaller lure. Athabasca lake trout commonly gorge on whitefish weighing 5 pounds or more. A dodger, by comparison, is a saltine cracker. Lakers weighing 40 pounds or better are common here.
Athabasca is almost 200 miles long, sprawling over the Alberta border to spread most of its vast area across the wilderness of northwest Saskatchewan. In addition to lake trout, northern pike rivaling the North American record of 45 pounds have been caught here. From a vantage atop the rocky hills bordering this massive inland sea, a pristine wilderness stretches in all directions. Rocky islands rise out of azure waters that cover over 3000 square miles of world-class fishing for lake trout, pike, whitefish, and Arctic grayling. It's the eighth largest lake in Canada, but just one of Saskatchewan's many pristine wonders populated with giant trout.
One of the rivers feeding Athabasca is the Fond du Lac, which rises in Wollaston Lake. That flow ends up in the Arctic Sea via the mighty Mackenzie River, but Wollaston has another drainage—the Geikie River, which sends its water to Hudson Bay via the impressive Churchill River, making Wollaston one of the most unique watersheds on earth. And one of the best fisheries, too. Filming for In-Fisherman television, we once boated a lake trout and a pike—both exceeding 30 pounds—in a single afternoon, with time left to catch dozens of other fish in the 12- to 25-pound range.
There are many big lakes with big reputations, here. Lac la Ronge has produced some 50-pound lakers—big as any south of Great Bear. Cree Lake is known for bulging grays. Selwyn Lake and Milton Lake hold their share of 20- to 30-pounders. Lower Foster Lake is known to be one of Saskatchewan's best lake-trout venues for size and numbers. Reindeer Lake breeds gigantic lakers. Dozens more Saskatchewan fisheries produce trophy trout. 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 prompted a viral fad, attracting fly fishermen by the score to Saskatchewan's northern frontier. Arctic grayling, the exotic "sailfish of the North," and another favorite for fly fishermen, can be found at all of these lakes, in the streams that feed them.
If solitude and unpressured waters are high on your list of considerations, Saskatchewan should be, too. It maintains a population of just over 1 million people, yet covers 252,000 square miles. Almost 10 percent of that area is fresh water. In all, Saskatchewan has 100,000 lakes and rivers—too many to list. Numerous lodges offering great accommodations—some strictly fly-to, some you can drive to. Regional and Provincial parks number over 100—most with camping, fishing, and boat or canoe launches.
Many anglers visiting Saskatchewan come for the outsized walleyes. Lakes like Amisk, Tobin, Diefenbaker, and Last Mountain belong on every serious walleye angler's bucket list. These unique, scenic waters produce big numbers and wall-bending trophy 'eyes in the 10-pound range and up. Tobin yielded an 18-pound, 4-ounce giant for Father Mariusz Zajac, setting the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame's world ice-fishing record. Measuring 36½ inches in length, that marble-eyed beauty is proof positive of Tobin's trophy-producing powers.
Diefenbaker, the largest lake in southern Saskatchewan, might be better known for producing elephantine rainbow trout, including the current 48-pound, all-tackle world record. But its 200,000 acres comprise a walleye-angling paradise easily reachable by road. Depths, forage, habitat, and structure are perfect here for maintaining a huge population of walleyes.
Northern pike also draw people by the thousands to Saskatchewan. The latitudes between the US border and the Northwest Territories are absolutely perfect for growing and maintaining mammoth pike. Missaw Lake and its quality fly-out options up in the northeast corner of the province is a gem. Reindeer Lake, with its many shallow, weedy bays is a must for trophy pike enthusiasts. Wollaston, Athabasca, Cree, Scott, Tazin, Tobin, the Churchill River—these are waters brimming with needle-sharp teeth in Jurassic-sized heads.
Lac La Plonge, Canoe Lake, Deschambeault Lake, Jan Lake, St. Brieux Lake, the Chain Lakes, Lloyd Lake, Rafferty Reservoir—so many trophy waters, so little time. And the list of species with trophy potential is long, including splake, brook trout, whitefish, brown trout, largemouth bass, rainbow trout, and tiger trout. Piprell Lake, 3 hours northeast of Saskatoon, once held provincial records for both brown trout (17 pounds) and tiger trout.
The diversity of angling opportunities and environments in Saskatchewan truly boggles the mind. Where can one day of angling produce a 30-pound lake trout, a 30-pound pike, and a trophy walleye or Arctic Grayling? Very few places on earth. Outside Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan Provincial Parks
Lake Trout, Saskatchewan
Fishing & License Information
Saskatchewan Angling Atlas
Top 10 Walleye Spots
Top 10 Pike Spots
Top 10 Ice-Fishing Spots
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