Exploring one of Canada’s many remote lakes for trophy northern pike that have never seen a fly.
[by Ben Romans]
IF SOMEONE ASSURES YOU SHOTS AT FRESHWATER FISH over 40 inches, any species of freshwater fish, they better be able to deliver.
But that’s exactly what Cree River Lodge owner Pat Babcock was promising only five minutes after I stepped out of a floatplane and onto the dock of his one-of-a-kind resort in northern Saskatchewan. He swore up and down that over the next four days I’d latch on to more than one trophy-sized pike.
The hum of the twin propellers hadn’t faded away, and the plane’s wake hadn’t completely reached shore, but fish were clearly feeding on the surface of the water in front of us. I could see the swirls in the glare of the setting sun. Some fish appeared quite big.
“What are those, 18-inch grayling?” I asked, half joking.
“Maybe, though we usually find those farther downriver,” Pat said. “But I’ll bet there’s some stupid whitefish mixed in. They tend to splash a little more. You’d think they’d learn not to be so bold because it makes ‘em an easy target. The pike eat ‘em all the time. Believe it or not, we catch a lot of big fish right off this dock. Some of them stretch in the high 40s.”
I started thinking, ‘If I had a dime for every outfitter that said you could catch a trophy fish off the dock, I’d be. . . ’ But before I could finish the thought and call Pat’s bluff, a splash that sounded like a rock dropped from the sky erupted along the shoreline, 50 yards from where we were standing.
“See, there’s one of them now,” Pat said laughing. “The pike up here eat anything. In fact, not long ago, I tied into a 50-incher that had a hard lump inside its stomach. I traced it with my fingers and it came out in the shape of an adult duck.”
I was glad I kept my mouth shut.
Whatever remaining pessimism I had washed away after I stepped into the lodge and saw photographs of gigantic pike, retired lures and treble-hooked spoons dangling over the bar and tables, pike replica mounts, and a log book full of over 40-inch, and a few 50-inch, pike entries.
In fact, that’s the main draw. Pat sees the region’s trophy pike as an untapped resource for fly anglers. So at the invitation of Cabela’s Joe Arterburn, I traveled north, along with outdoor writer Brad Fenson and Field & Stream fishing editor Joe Cermele, to see if we could sway some of the fish into striking a fly. I hadn’t even wet a line but was already starting to think that if I was ever going to land a trophy pike on a fly rod, surely, this could be be the place.
If you want to find aggressive, trophy-sized pike, sometimes you have to be willing to travel far to find them. From Idaho, I flew to Denver, connected a flight to Saskatoon, overnighted, and endured three more puddle-jumper flights north before finally reaching Stony Rapids, the northernmost airstrip in the province. I later learned you can drive the homestretch on a less-than-primitive dirt road, but it reportedly eats truck suspensions and tires for breakfast and is a good place to get robbed by vandals on ATVs, so I didn’t complain about all the air time.
In Stony Rapids we boarded a small floatplane for the final jaunt to Cree River Lodge on Wapata Lake—a unique, virtually inaccessible lodge with access to hundreds of miles of rivers and lakes just a stone’s throw south of the Northwest Territories border, and home to trophy grayling, walleye, and pike.
The advantage Wapata Lake has over other waters is its connection to the Pipestone River. On its own, the river is a world-class fishery, but it also deposits a constant influx of cool, fresh water into Wapata and all the other neighboring lakes and bays. Pike in relatively stagnant impoundments often travel to deeper, cooler water in the summer. But since Wapata and Pipestone’s water temperatures stay chilled all summer, the pike have no reason to go deep. Here, the fish stay shallow and are easy to target with a floating or sinking-tip line, from June through September. In fact, Pat says July and August are often anglers’ most productive months.