Although there are plenty of big pike in the UK, I have always had a hankering to go pike fishing in Northern Canada, where for half the year the lakes and rivers are frozen solid. After watching many videos of shallow bays full of big pike engulfing angler’s flies, my good pal Ken Dawes and I booked a four-day fishing trip to Wollaston Lake Lodge in Saskatchewan. The option there is either four or eight days, and I don’t like to be away from my wife and doggies for too long – (she understands but they don’t, and consequently become sulky and depressed when “Daddy” is not with them!).
This venture entailed three flights – London to Montreal, Montreal to Winnipeg, and finally Winnipeg to Points North. Things started to go wrong at Montreal where, somehow or another, Ken managed to miss the connecting flight, despite my repeated calls to his mobile – which fell on stony ground!
I landed, alone, at Winnipeg, and was met there by Dan from the lodge. I explained that I had no real idea where my colleague might be. Worse still, despite the ever-worrying long wait, our bags failed to appear on the carousel! At this stage I felt ready to abort the whole mission, but Dan reassured me the lodge was a five-star operation, and whatever we required would be provided. Given that, as well as no partner, I had no toiletries, clothing, or tackle, this sounded like a slightly tall order…
Things improved slightly when Ken called from Montreal saying that he was coming via Toronto, and would hope to be landing at 2am. The final stage of the journey entailed a 5am start, so when my phone alarm sounded at 4.40, I was relieved to see Ken asleep in the other bed. He’d only managed an hour’s sleep (probably not helped by my snoring), but it was good to have him back! I am a really heavy sleeper, and apparently hadn’t stirred when he eventually made it to our room in the Marriott Hotel.
Our short coach journey to the airport was in a real downpour, with thunder and much lightning, and things looked pretty bad for a while, but we boarded after waiting for the deluge to ease, and were soon away.
The lodge is situated some six or seven hundred miles from Winnipeg, and touching down after a couple of hours’ flight we were pleased to find that conditions looked fine. A forty-minute, bumpy bus ride delivered us there, and very impressive it looked too! We had been allocated a very comfortable chalet, very close to the main building, with a bedroom each and all the trimmings – we even had an iced-water machine which was lovely!
Judy – the attractive, smiling wife of Mike, who owns the lodge, soon appeared with waterproofs, shirts, trousers, socks, and even underpants! We were loaned ten-weight Orvis fly rods and reels, and Andrew, one of the guides, came to our chalet, generously giving us a selection of his excellent self-tied flies.
After getting a few toiletries from the shop, we were set up and ready to go. We met Fred, our 26-year-old guide, and after a first-class breakfast we were away in one of the best equipped boats I have ever seen.
Neither of us had ever seen a walleye, and we wanted to “get the skunk out” with this species first. A very short, gentle boat ride in a deepish river close to the lodge put us “on the spot”, and we were each given a very light spinning rod outfit. End tackle consisted of two swan shot, about twelve inches from a buoyant jig-head, onto which was threaded half a lobworm. A short throw followed by a slow “jiggy” retrieve soon produced six handsome walleye of two/three pounds for Ken, while I failed to get a touch – much to his glee – especially as he was referred to as the “Walleye Maester”!
Eventually I managed a couple, the first of which, my first ever walleye, was slightly bigger at about 4lbs. Three of these fish were filleted ready for shore lunch later. We then headed out into the open water, at breakneck speed. What astonished me was the awesome size of Wollaston Lake. We sped along for probably thirty miles before easing into a shallow bay. Once there it was up with the fly rods, floating lines and suitable pike flies on a 25lb leader and 15” American Fishing Wire traces.
My chosen fly had a large pink deer-hair head and a 5” greeny- coloured sparkly tail. It was quite buoyant, making a wake for much of the time, and rarely going more than 2” below the surface. The pike liked it however and I soon had the first fish to the boat – an 8lb, spectacularly dark fish, with pale primrose spots typical of most of the fish we caught during the four days. Several more followed in quick succession, punctuated by many follows, takes and on/offs. One of my hard-fighting customers turned out to be a nice walleye of about five pounds. Fred was amazed. He told us that in his four years on the lake he had never seen a walleye take a surface fly. I was thrilled.
Fred suggested lunch. At a suitable spot he lost no time in making a small log fire and slicing some potatoes into slimline chips. These cooked in the boiling oil in a few minutes, and we nibbled on them while the bread-crumbed fillets were tossed in. With beans, sweet-corn and an exquisite sauce, the meal was greatly enjoyed by all.
After lunch we visited several different bays, some of which were many miles apart, and caught more nice pike, including one to my rod that measured 41″ in length. It looked to be a “scraper 20” and was the best of a great first day!
After dinner in the main lodge, and a Cuban cigar, we both felt understandably “knackered” and went off for a lovely sound sleep in our very comfy beds.
Day Two on Wollaston Lake
The girls brought us coffee at 5.30am, after which we started to feel very much at home. We were raring to go. Breakfast at 6.30 was excellent, and we had plenty of time to prepare for “the off” at 9am. Again we travelled at high speed for almost an hour before fishing more shallow bays, most of which seemed to be almost devoid of pike. It was a much slower day on the whole and lowered our morale slightly, although I did manage another 40”-plus 20-pounder, which fought like a tiger. The Canadian pike are much slimmer, and prettier, than ours, and fight considerably harder – more like salmon.
If we were worried, we need not have been. On day three Fred put us in several spots where the pike were coming at our flies two and sometimes three at a time. Furthermore, as the water was so shallow and clear, almost all of the strikes were visible, and we were able to cast at fish that we had already spotted.
In one bay, many of the pike totally ignored our offerings, which was a shame as most of them looked really big. Strangely though, the very first one I cast at, which I thought may have been a log, flew at the fly and engulfed as if its life depended on it. This happened in full view of all three of us – an awesome sight! After a prolonged and fierce fight, Fred lifted out another beautiful “20”, with which I was well pleased.
After many more unrewarded casts, Fred motored us to a secret spot, where he said we should get loads of action – and he was right! Takes, follows, on/offs, and fish came one after another, mostly from smaller fish, but with some decent ones amongst them, and 6 or 7 sizeable walleye as well. This was much more like it!
While we were casting, I noticed that Ken, who doesn’t fish nearly as often as I do, was struggling to get the shooting head out of his tip ring before launching his cast. This was impeding his distance, so that evening I cut three metres of the head and re-spliced it to his running line. A few casts from the jetty showed that he was finding things much easier, and we had high hopes for the morning, despite the fact that high winds and a storm were forecast for the afternoon. For some reason, thus far, I seemed to be getting all the big girls. Ken was praying for a “20” on fly, and a nice photo to take down to the pub at home. He had one more day to do the deed…
Fred, after the usual lengthy ride, found us a lovely sheltered bay that seemed to be alive with pike. Almost every cast something seemed to happen, and many fish started coming to the boat. Ken’s casting had improved considerably, and he started catching more and more pike. One of his was 14 or 15lbs, but it still wasn’t the one he really wanted.
Although we were sheltered it was obvious that the wind was really starting to increase, and having boated a forth “biggie” I stopped fishing to give my pal every chance of achieving his goal. Sure enough, just before lunch, Ken’s rod hooped over into an obviously big fish, and after an anxious 10 minutes or so Fred lifted out a magnificent “20”. To say Ken was pleased would be somewhat of an understatement. He had a grin like a Cheshire cat! We were both delighted – as was our guide!
Feeling extremely satisfied we landed for a shore lunch of pike fillets, beans, corn, and chips, all cooked on a log fire in the open air. Anyone who thinks that doesn’t sound delicious could not be more wrong. Pike from this cold water taste a bit like haddock, and we agreed that it was every bit as good as walleye, which is saying something! This was followed by a chocolate cookie, by the way – just to make life perfect!
In view of the deteriorating weather we decided to head back to the lodge. The waves were quite big, the rain came down, and the seemingly endless journey back was spine-jarring, wet, and generally unpleasant; however with my mate having got his dream fish, we felt we had it cracked. Fred asked if we would like to catch some more walleye near the lodge, but we declined in favour of a shower and a few celebratory beers!
We had caught nearly 100 pike, including five “20s” and sixteen walleye. We’d seen beavers, a black bear, and basically, after a slightly inauspicious start, we’d enjoyed the whole thing immensely!
I would be very keen for a return visit, but it won’t be for some time, as I already have three trips booked for 2019. Happy days!!
Wollaston Lodge is a wonderful place. It runs like clockwork, and nothing seems to be too much trouble for the staff to ensure your comfort and happiness. Highly recommended!