Fishing Real Estate

Armed to the Tooth: The Northern Pike of Wollaston Lake

Written by: Phil Monahan

Orvis’s Tom Evenson prepares to launch a 43-inch northern pike, which hit a topwatere slider sample.
Photograph by Joel Ruby

“Can we please change this fly?”

Information Dan Lembke–all six-foot-eight, two-hundred and ninety
kilos of him–was sitting within the middle of the boat, rebuilding my wire chief
and contemplating what fly to tie on, when Sandy’s exasperated request got here from
the casting pulpit within the bow of the Lund. Sandy hopped down onto the deck and
held out the red-over-yellow, bead-chain-eye baitfish sample he’d been casting
fruitlessly for the previous half hour or so.

With out even wanting up, Dan stated calmly, “Sandy, are you able to do me a


“Will you get again up there proper now and begin casting that
damned fly?”

I laughed as Sandy sheepishly turned, climbed again up within the
pulpit and resumed casting.

About three casts later, his 9-weight was bent into the cork, as
he fought the most important northern pike of our journey, a forty-two inch beast with a
mouth that would simply maintain a basketball. It was the form of life-list fish
that we had traveled to Wollaston Lake to catch and simply the most important fish of
Sandy’s life up to now. As he lifted the massive pike out of the water to provide us a
view of its full magnificence, Dan deadpanned, “I can change that fly now, if
you need.”

The largest pike of our journey was Sandy’s Day 2 monster.
Photograph by Phil Monahan

Studying to Love the Wolf

I’ve lengthy been fascinated by northern pike. Throughout my first
season as a information in south-central Alaska, I initially discovered to fish for pike
by casting a frozen herring, suspended below a basic red-and-white bobber, on
the sandy flats of Hewitt Lake. Within the crystal clear water, you would watch the
fish glide warily as much as the bait, typically stopping simply inches away for a number of
moments earlier than deciding whether or not to eat it or not. About half the time, the
pike’s tiny mind would register one thing amiss, and the fish would slowly
swim away. However even when  the pike did take the herring, success was not
assured. You needed to let the fish swim with the bait for a number of seconds earlier than
setting the hook, or threat pulling the rig out of the fish’s mouth. When you
drove the hook dwelling, although, it was time to easily grasp on, because the water would
erupt in a sprig of anger, adrenaline, and survival intuition.

It was thrilling and enjoyable, however as a fly fisherman, I actually needed
to trick these predators into attacking one thing made from feathers, fur, and
flash. One thing shifting like a reside baitfish. It wasn’t till a pair
years later–at a distinct lodge, within the Bristol Bay area–that I acquired my
probability. Though the friends got here to fish for rainbow trout and sockeye salmon
within the close by Copper River, the lodge itself sat on Pike Lake, and my fellow
guides and I spent many evenings casting Clouser Minnows for water wolves in
the weedy bays and alongside rocky factors. The pike didn’t develop notably giant,
however they positive have been enjoyable to catch. Within the single, blurry picture I’ve of myself
holding a 10-pounder from that summer season, I look inordinately happy with my

The pike of northern Saskatchewan develop to epic proportions.
Photograph by Sandy Hays

Over the subsequent twenty years, I fished for pike simply as soon as, on Lough
Muckno, close to Castleblayney, Eire. My information was a diehard bait fisherman, and
after I took out my fly rod firstly of the day, he tsked and
stated, “Dese fish gained’t eat a fly.” However by the tip of the day, he was cackling
maniacally each time a pike hammered my deer-hair frog because it chugged by
the lily pads. By the point we headed again to shore, the poor frog was lacking
each eyes, all its hackle, and one leg. Though not one of the fish was over ten
kilos, I used to be reminded of how a lot I like these toothy predators.

O, Canada!

To lastly fulfill my dream of catching a very massive pike on a
fly, final summer season my pal Sandy Hays and I traveled to Wollaston Lake, within the
northeastern nook of Saskatchewan. The lake is big–greater than 100 miles
lengthy and forty miles broad, dotted by a whole bunch of islands–and it’s dwelling to
large northerns, the actual monsters exceeding fifty inches. All of this water is
fished by the friends of simply two lodges and members of the Hatchet Lake First
Nation, which has a reservation on the jap shore of the lake. The bulk
of fish have absolutely by no means seen a fly or a lure.

From day 2 to day three, the climate switched from sweltering to “bundle-up!”
Photographs by Sandy Hays

As a secondary aim, I additionally needed to catch a pike on a Mallard Duckling sample tied by Pat Cohen. A grasp of spun deer hair, Cohen creates all method of baitfish, frogs, and basic bass bugs, however I’ve lengthy admired his Child Chicken collection, that are elegant, articulated, and gigantic. Created largely from spun deer hair and feathers, they’re tied on dimension four/zero and a couple of/zero hooks. I figured that the Mallard Duckling can be simply the factor to tempt a monster northern to the floor, and I selected the larger of the 2 choices. I crammed out my pike field with some large streamers, poppers, and mice.

On our first day within the boat with Dan, nevertheless, I used to be shocked to
study that the guides at Wollaston lake Lodge typically desire smaller, sparser
flies through the midsummer season, so most of my monstrous patterns stayed in
the field. As an alternative, we began out casting fairly sparse bucktails with
bead-chain eyes.

We had flown to the northern finish of the lake in one of many lodge’s
two DeHavilland Turbo Otter float planes after which hopped into a ship saved on
an island. After motoring for simply ten minutes, it was time to start out our quest.
Dan allowed the boat to float alongside the financial institution of a slim passage between two
islands, as I solid from the bow, and it didn’t take lengthy to deliver the primary
pike to the boat. Though we have been casting subsurface patterns, the expertise
was nonetheless visually thrilling.

There are tons of those “little guys” in virtually each bay.
Photograph by Sandy Hays

On about my tenth solid, as I stripped my line again to the boat, a
pike appeared to look out of nowhere behind the bucktail, nevertheless it didn’t
strike. I began to gradual my retrieve to let the fish catch up, which made Dan
leap to consideration.

“Don’t cease!” he stated. “Strip sooner.”

With the fly simply ten toes from the boat, I made two fast strips,
after which watched in awe because the pike shot ahead, flared its gills, and inhaled
the sample proper in entrance of us. As quickly as I made a strip-set, the fish
turned and headed for the underside. My 10-weight fly rod bent sharply, as I attempted
to strain the fish to the floor, however she resisted by both bulldogging
downward or operating away from the boat. After a battle that additionally took my line
below the bow and across the motor, Dan lastly attain down and lifted the large
woman from the water.

“That’s about thirty-six inches,” he stated. “Somewhat greater than
common for this lake.”

Attending to far-off components of the lake includes fast hops within the lodge’s floatplane.
Photograph by Sandy Hays

It was a stunning specimen, tinged in grays and greens, with some
rust within the tail. That magnificence was an auspicious begin to 4 days of
fly-fishing, throughout which we skilled extremes of climate, spells of
outstanding fishing, and a few powerful stretches throughout which we struggled to hook

Going to Extremes

The primary two days have been downright tropical, with punishing solar and
temperatures within the 80s; on the bow of the boat, it felt extra like The Bahamas
than northern Saskatchewan. That didn’t hold the fish from biting, nevertheless, in
locations the guides name “Field Bay” and “Bay of Pigs.” Dan defined that water
temperature, greater than climate or construction, determines the place fish are holding,
and he took cautious readings in all places we stopped. Issues went decidedly south
on day three, nevertheless, once we have been blown off the water by highly effective rainstorms
that ended up dumping 5 inches of rain in a single day and dropping the water
temperature of your entire lake by a number of levels. After we headed out late on
day 4, the fishing had clearly gone off the boil. We nonetheless caught a couple of
dozen pike, largely in sheltered coves, however Dan needed to work more durable to search out fish
prepared to eat.

Catching a pike on the Mallard Duckling was a aim of the journey.
Photograph by Sandy Hays

The morning earlier than the rains got here, nevertheless, we loved one of the best topwater fishing of the journey, which meant that I had the chance to interrupt out the Mallard Duckling. As a result of it’s each heavy and wind-resistant, the sample isn’t any enjoyable to solid, even on a 10-weight rod. After a couple of half hour with no motion, I converted to one in every of Sandy’s many mouse patterns and instantly began getting strikes. I put the Duckling again on, and on my second or third retrieve, as I lifted the fly to re-cast, a medium-size pike lunged out of the water, making an attempt to pluck the fleeing hen from the air. The strike missed, however because the fish re-entered the water, its jaws closed on the slack line that I’d stripped onto the floor beneath the casting pulpit. The pike swam away slowly and bit my fly line clear in half.

I shortly grabbed Sandy’s rod, tied the duckling on, and solid into
a transparent patch amongst some weeds. I slowly stripped the monstrosity, attempting to
imitate a struggling hen, and the water erupted as a pike smashed it. We
whooped and hollered as I fought the fish, excited to have caught one on such a
loopy agglomeration of spun deer hair and feathers. It wasn’t my largest pike
of the journey, nevertheless it was definitely probably the most memorable.

It wasn’t a monster, nevertheless it positive was hungry.
Photograph by Sandy Hays

Northern Objectives

Reasonably than merely fulfilling my need to catch a giant pike on a
fly, my journey to Wollaston Lake has renewed my fascination with these apex
predators, and I plan to commit extra time to pursuing them. There are good pike
waters not removed from my dwelling in Vermont, and I discover my thoughts wandering to
locations corresponding to Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territories. I used to be the one
one in my social gathering who didn’t get a fish over forty inches–even the photographer
did!–so I nonetheless have that aim to chase, as properly.  There’s one thing
particular concerning the aggressive confidence of a pike smashing a fly that can hold
me coming again.

If You Go

Journey: A visit to Wollaston Lake, within the northeastern nook of
Saskatchewan, requires an in a single day in Winnepeg, adopted by an early-morning
constitution to Factors North Touchdown, a gravel airstrip in northeastern
Saskatchewan. Company of Wollaston Lake Lodge then board a faculty bus for a
forty-minute drive over gravel roads to the lodge.

From the air, you’ll be able to actually get a way for a way large Wollaston Lake is.

Seasons: Fishing season is brief up to now north, operating from the second
week of June, by the third week of August. Every month presents totally different
circumstances. The largest fish are often caught after ice-out; the climate is
good and fish numbers are excessive by July; and August brings “cabbage
season,” when the weeds unfold out on the floor and large pike begin to hunt
earlier than winter.

Gear: An Eight- to 10-weight rod, a reel with a robust drag, and a floating
line will do a lot of the obligation. A sinking-tip or intermediate line will are available
useful for fishing deeper water.

Flies: The season dictates fly dimension, so speak to the lodge about one of the best
decisions on your journey’s time-frame. A number of giant baitfish patterns in a
number of colours and weights might be most helpful. At all times embody topwater
poppers, sliders, and mouse patterns. And maybe a Mallard Duckling from

Contact: Wollaston Lake Lodge, 2018 Orvis-Endorsed Fly Fishing Lodge of the Yr.

This story initially appeared in Grey’s Sporting Journal.

This pike smashed a mouse sample stripped by a weedbed.
Photograph by Sandy Hays

Mike Lembke proudly images his spouse, Judy, and an enormous, 45-inch northern.
Photograph by Sandy Hays

The red-over-yellow streamer that Dan most well-liked caught extra pike than some other fly throughout our journey.
Photograph by Sandy Hays

The pike of Wollaston Lake are beautiful and wholesome.
Photograph by Sandy Hays

A shore lunch of stir-fried pike and greens and hand-cut fries was spectacular.
Photograph by Sandy Hays

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