Fly fishing for northern Saskatchewan’s giant lake trout


John Cleveland hoists a chunky laker

One of the many things I love about fishing is experiencing new places, especially far-flung locales such as Cree Lake. And with its innumerable islands and 782 kilometres of shoreline, much of it peppered with white sand dunes, Cree certainly had plenty of geography to explore. It also presented a bit of a surprise on our second day of fishing, with Brandon as our guide this time.

After spending the morning hitting various sunken reefs in search of monster lakers—we caught no end of fish in the 30-inch range—Brandon brought us to a place called Turner Island to check out the ruins of an old fish-processing plant. As it turns out, Cree once supported a major commercial fishing industry, and walking through the overgrown compound, you could see it had been quite a major operation. Some dilapidated buildings were still standing, complete with the old fish-packing machinery, while the remains of big wooden fishing boats littered the shoreline.


The remains of Cree Lake’s fish-processing plant

I later did some research and discovered the plant was built in 1957 by Waite Fisheries, which had already been mining Cree’s abundant lake trout since the early 1920s. And mine they did. In the mid-1960s, for example, the plant was shipping out as much as 180,000 pounds of trout a year, primarily to markets in Buffalo, Chicago and New York. I’m not sure when the operation shut down—surely decades ago, judging by the sorry state of the facility—but it stands testament to the fact that Cree has a decidedly robust lake trout fishery, having withstood such pressure for all those years.Certainly, John and I weren’t suffering from a lack of fish as we continued our hunt for record breakers. In particular, I was after a 40-plus-inch laker, which would give me the new catch-and-release record for 14-pound tippet, while John was challenging himself to break his own 10-pound-tippet record with a fish better than 39 inches. Later that second afternoon, I came close to reaching my goal with another 38-inch trout.

Lodge co-owner Adam Schreiber heads out on Cree Lake

On our third and fourth days, Adam manned the 60-horse tiller as we ventured to the south end of the lake, exploring new waters. We dubbed one boulder-strewn shoal “Cleveland Reef,” because John got all the big lakers, including two 38-inchers. Still no record, but man, did we catch fish—according to my notes, I released dozens of trout, plus a couple of dink pike, on the fourth day alone.

And what a spectacle it was in the shallow, gin-clear water over the reefs, watching the fish come tearing in to attack our flies. The fishing got so crazy on the fourth day, in fact, that John and I actually started pulling our flies away from the smaller trout that were clearly not record contenders. But if that day was crazy, our fifth and final day on the water was nothing short of bedlam.