As a boy growing up in very rural Red River County, Texas I remember reading about fishing in the pristine waters of northern Canada. The outdoor magazines of the day featured articles of anglers catching monster pike, good eating walleye, lake trout and the darling of the north, the Arctic grayling. I read about the “fly in” pristine wilderness lakes that could only be accessed by float plane or a long wilderness back trip. The shore lunches, where anglers would meet on an island and enjoy a noontime meal of fried fish caught fresh from some of the most pure water on the planet, potatoes and beans especially appealed to me.
I never dreamed that one day I would have the opportunity to travel to this fisherman’s heaven and do battle with those hard fighting pike, walleye and grayling. A couple years ago, my lifelong dream became a reality. Thanks to the coordination of my friend and fellow outdoor writer Brad Fenson, The Saskatchewan Department of Tourism and the good folks at Cree River Lodge, I found myself spending 5 glorious days on the awesome Cree River fishery, situated just a few miles south of the Northwest Territories.
Like many good things in the outdoors and life in general, once is just not enough! I left those northern waters a couple years ago making plans for a return trip. In early June, I will again head back “up north” to join Fenson and several other friends for another 5 days of fishing, cooking fish and enjoying being in some awesome country where moose, deer and bear outnumber people.
We will fly commercial airlines to Saskatoon and from there drive about 4.5 hours to Otter Lake, where we will spend the night and the next morning, board a float plane that takes us up to Iskwatikan Lake Lodge, situated on an island on Iskwatikan Lake. Once settled into one of the cabins, we will arrange our fishing tackle and make ready for a few days when our most difficult decision will be whether to fish for pike, walleye, lake trout or grayling. Bryce Liddell, the owner of the lodge will give us a tour of the waters around the lodge, pointing out the best areas to target each species, and we will fish on our own from comfortable boats. We will be free to fish when we wish, cook when we get hungry or simply “soak” in the wilderness.
Fenson has fished these waters many times and says to get ready for some “one hundred fish days”. “You don’t need a guide when fishing Iskwatikan Lake” says Fenson. “While it’s impossible to find a “bad” area to fish, there are spots that are more productive than others for the various species. The big lake trout gang up on one particular submerged hump each morning at first light and catching them is just a matter of being there and getting a lure in the water.” Fishing for walleye and pike is good throughout the day. Grayling prefer current and fishing for them usually equates to getting away from the still waters the pike and walleye prefer and fishing streams. Before my first fishing trip to these northern waters, I had convinced myself that I would spend all my time targeting grayling; that was before I learned about doing battle with the big pike, the brutes of the northern waters. I instantly became “Hooked” on catching these aggressive predators. My largest one actually sunk its teeth into a sixteen inch walleye I had hooked, and never let go. Even when netted and in the boat, the 43 inch pike’s teeth were still in the walleye that had taken my bait. Pike are brutes, plain and simple and when you catch a big one, you know you’ve been fishing!
The smaller pike are excellent eating and I discovered a couple years ago that I enjoy eating them every bit as much as the highly touted walleye. There is a trick to filleting pike though, a trick I haven’t learned! I was pleased to learn from Lydell that all the fish that we choose to eat will be expertly filleted by one of his helpers there at the lodge. I’ve never caught or eaten lake trout but being of the char family, I assume they will lend themselves well to grilling, smoking or baking. Some of the folks from Camp Chef will be with us and I’m betting they along with my buddy Fenson who lives in Alberta will know exactly how to prepare them. There are some serious outdoor cooks in our group and Fenson informed us to be ready to chow down on a smorgasbord of game meats including moose, elk and bear. I’m pretty handy around a grill or cook fire myaelf and make one heck of a sous chef, firewood packer, skillet scrubber or whatever needs doing. I know for a fact that all the folks traveling with me from Texas absolutely love game and fish.
PLANNING A TRIP Cost is always a factor when planning an “out of the country” trip. When I began planning for my first fishing trip to Saskatchewan, I learned pretty quickly that while some of the top end lodges aren’t cheap, there are plenty of excellent fishing/lodging opportunities available on a working man’s budget. For instance, for this upcoming trip, round trip air fare is a little over $600. Cost of the fishing trip is just over $1,000 this includes cabin, boat, motor and gasoline as well as round trip float plane from Otter Bay and back. The cost of a rental car from Saskatoon to Otter Bay needs to be factored in as well as food. Guests do their own cooking in the fully furnished cabins and cost of food and fishing license needs to be factored in. I’d estimate the total cost somewhere around $2,500 for the fishing trip of a lifetime. To learn more about fishing in northern Saskatchewan, visit www.iskwatikanlake.com then give Bryce Liddella call for particulars. The Saskatchewan Department of Tourism is a storehouse of information for travelers, contact these good folks at www.tourismsaskatchewan.com .