How last summer’s unprecedented soaring temperatures gave a whole new meaning to the term “hot spot” on northern Saskatchewan’s Reindeer Lake
Much of the reason I need not have worried about the fishing was our affable guide, 31-year-old Zach Dunning, who had already been putting visiting anglers on fish for the previous four summers. When not guiding at Arctic Lodges, Zach works as an executive chef for Coastal Gaslink, feeding work camp crews in Vanderhoof, B.C. And when he’s not working or back at home in Prince Albert, Zach is fishing, often meeting up with his Inuit father for another adventure. Last year, for example, the pair made their second visit to P.E.I to successfully battle giant bluefin tuna. In short, Zach knows his way around all manner of tackle, from fly rods to trolling gear. He also had a solid roster of honey holes for us to tap on Reindeer, so Ted and I were in very good hands.
Plus, the fish themselves seemed unfazed by the hot world above the waves. As this magazine’s fishing editor, Gord Pyzer, assured me before I headed for Saskatchewan, the pike in particular would still be doing what they’re supposed to be doing at that time of the year, staying relatively shallow and within range of our fly gear. Don’t be fooled by the warm surface temperature, he added, and he was right. We ended up catching countless northerns on the fly over the course of our four days of fishing, with me casting Clousers, as well as EPs and Seaducers kindly tied by Outdoor Canada’s associate editor, Scott Gardner. More on the pike later.
The big lake trout had also yet to go deep. Ted proved that the first day after we dropped our gear at the lodge, had a quick brunch and headed out onto Reindeer with Zach. By 1:30 that afternoon, with the temperature by then topping 33°C (that’s an astonishing 91°F for you folks who still prefer the Imperial system), Ted caught what would be his biggest laker of the trip, and on a shallow troll at that. Measuring 45 inches in length, with a girth of 26.5 inches, it was a true trophy, with a calculated weight of just a half-pound shy of 40.
“Jacked!” Ted exclaimed when I asked him how he felt after live-releasing the big trout. “That was a beauty fish, man!” His bait of choice? A chartreuse T-60—hint, hint, by the way, to anyone contemplating a trip to Reindeer and wondering how to get the action going.
It’s also well worth mentioning, given the incredible heat, that we were able to safely get quick photos of Ted’s fish, and all our subsequent lunkers, thanks to our boat’s livewell. Standard on all of the lodge’s 18-foot Crestliners, the well allowed us to rest the fish once they were brought in and unhooked. Then we’d photograph our catches and rest them again before letting them go, as lively as when they’d been caught. Kudos to Arctic Lodges for that excellent conservation measure.
Back at the lodge that first evening, the other 12 guests were also reporting excellent catches, chief among them renowned B.C. fly angler Phil Rowley. He was there with his cameraman shooting an episode of TV’s The New Fly Fisher, and he already had some excellent footage, having caught three 40-inch-plus pike on the fly, the longest a 45-incher. They were all caught in shallow bays, Phil told us, some of which had surface temperatures as high as 25°C, again showing the brutal heat wave was not slowing down the fishing.
And while the hot weather may not have affected the fishing, it certainly got the better of me. Having spent the prior 15 months largely couped up in my home office owing to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, I was excited to be travelling again, in particular to one of my favourite places in Canada, the wilds of northern Saskatchewan. As a result, I was so eager to get out on the water that I simply didn’t pay attention to the sun and soaring temperature, and ended up with a touch of heatstroke. It was just that hot. Thankfully, the first of many five-star meals courtesy of gourmet chef Ryan Cain helped get me back on an even keel, and ready for three more days of fishing action.