Planning that first trip "up north"
As a young boy growing up in northeast Texas, I would read the outdoor magazines and dream of one day fishing in the remote, pristine waters of Canada. There was something about this wild country that has always drawn me like a magnet. The cry of the loon on a still evening while casting for pike, walleye and lake trout in waters where the fish have never seen a hook or, enjoying a noon meal of very fresh fried walleye or pike cooked over a campfire on an island surrounded by pristine water is something every angler should experience.
I made my first trip to northern Saskatchewan a few years ago and spent 5 glorious days fishing and soaking in the wilderness country. We hear much about a “bucket list” experience these days, I can tell you one thing from personal experience, once I actually fished up in this wild country, my “once in a lifetime” bucket list experience became a yearly event!
Like any type of outdoor endeavor, there are many options. Fishing up in Saskatchewan at a five star lodge with fancy meals and guides comes with what I consider a pretty hefty price tag but for those with the desire and the means, it’s money well spent. The past two summers, I’ve enjoyed more of a “do it yourself” type trip, headquartering at Iskwatikan Lake Lodge owned by Bryce Liddell. Bryce has become a friend and last winter, when his part of the world was covered in ice and snow, he and his buddy Gary made their way to Texas where some buddies and I exposed them to everything from giant blue catfish at Lake Tawakoni to hunting wild hogs. They were just as excited about what Texas has to offer in the way of hunting and fishing as we were about visiting the wilds of Canada.
My friends and I enjoyed the adventure ‘up north’ so much that we are planning a return trip in June of next year. For most of us, cost is always a factor. The fishing trip we enjoyed last summer and are planning again next June will cost, roughly $2,400 (USD). This includes airfare to and from Saskatoon. The cost of 5 days fishing which includes float plane to and from the lodge, a comfortable cabin, boat motor and fuel and fish cleaning costs just under $1,000. I think many of us are hesitant to try new experiences because of lack of information.
Most any fisherman with a little experience can “do” this trip. Guides are really not necessary on Iskwatikan Lake. Bryce gives a tour and points out the best areas for catching the various species. Fishing begins in late May and continues throughout the summer. As a general rule, the fish move out of the shallower bays into the main body of water as summer progresses. Boats are very safe aluminum V bottom with modern tiller steering outboards, gas and fish cleaning is included. We used a bottom bouncing rig for walleye and found trolling to be very effective for everything except the lake trout which hold on a couple of the deeper submerged humps on the lake and prefer a vertical jigging presentation.
This summer, I landed a 40 inch northern pike on an over-sized spoon, casting into shallow, weedy coves around the islands but smaller pike 24 to 34 inches in length are very common. Before our trip, my group of friends and I vowed to eat fish every day and that’s exactly what we did. A method of ‘soft blackening’ walleye and the smaller pike proved to be everyone’s overall favorite but we had fish fried, baked and boiled in crab boil and served cold with sauce. This soft blackening is a very easy way to cook fish and because it’s cooked over medium heat, does not create a lot of smoke like the conventional blackening method. Heat the butter to the point it sizzles, dust blackening seasoning liberally on both sides of the fillet and cook till the edges are crispy. This is a recipe I have tried with striper here at home and it is equally tasty.
This year, we plan to eat fish every day for the evening meal again and possible enjoy a few noon time fish frys as well. We will purchase spices for blackened fish, baked fish, fried fish and probably grill some pike fillets over the campfire. Pork and beans, fried potatoes with onion and canned veggies will accompany our main course of fish. Breakfast will be simple with meals such as bagels and instant oatmeal. We are so anxious to get out on the water to fish each day that we usually wolf down a couple cups of coffee and the easy to prepare breakfast in record time! We really enjoyed our self-guided trip the past couple of summers. It’s nice to choose your own hours to fish. The lodge is located on a centrally located island and after the tour Bryce gave; it was easy to navigate the waters. The farthest we traveled from the lodge to fish was no farther than two or three miles or a fifteen minute boat ride.
It’s really nice to have the fish filleted by folks at the lodge, especially the pike. Walleye fillet much like a bass or crappie but I have yet to master the art of cutting around the “Y” bones of the pike. Although walleye are known for their flavor, I found the smaller pike to be excellent eating also. The big lake trout are usually finished with their spawn in by June and that’s when they stack up on a couple of deep humps in close proximity to the cabins. So, if you are contemplating making that fishing trip you have dreamed of “up north”, I strongly suggest you make it happen. I’m also betting your bucket list trip will become an annual event. The call of those loons and fast paced fishing will call you back, year after year.That blackened walleye is not too shabby, either!
GETTING THERE: We booked round trip flights to Saskatoon. Once in Saskatoon, we rented a car, purchased the groceries we needed for 5 days, and made the 4.5 hour drive to Otter Lake where we lodged for the night. In Saskatoon, there is a Wal-Mart within a few hundred yards of a Cabela’s store that has everything you might need for the fishing trip. The fishing department there was well stocked and the sales staff very knowledgeable. The next morning, we loaded our gear in the float plane and about 25 minutes later, touched down on Iskwatikan Lake. There was plenty of room in the float planes for our gear and supplies. We began fishing within minutes of getting our gear stowed in the cabin and soon learned that catching fish was about as easy as getting the right bait in the water.
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If I can help you make plans for your first trip to Canada, I’d be happy to. Contact me via email through www.catfishradio.org