Lake Athabasca

Lake Athabasca


Species: Pike, Trout

Season: Fall: Late September


Coordinates: 59°16′N 109°27′W

Location: Northwest corner of Saskatchewan and the northeast corner of Alberta

Surface area: 7,850 square kilometres


Hottest spot: Russian Reef

Why we chose it:

In 2012, ranked #26 in all-time hot spots

Lake trout. That’s why we wrote about Athabasca in 2000, 2011 and four times in between. Covering almost 8,100 square kilometres, this is another immense Canadian lake boasting huge lakers, including the all-time record—a 102-pound behemoth netted by commercial fishermen. While there are also plenty of trophy pike, lodge consultant Ted Cawkwell summed up Athabasca’s laker fishery best in 2010, praising the “outrageous numbers of 20- to 40-pound fish in shallow water.”


In 2011, Best for numbers of big lake trout

I’d gone to Athabasca intent on catching and releasing as many northern pike as possible on the fly (mission accomplished), but was persuaded to spend three late afternoons chasing lake trout. I’m glad I did. On the first outing, my buddy Ted and I boated 13 lakers topping 20 pounds, along with a pile of teens. And so it went for the other two afternoon trout sessions punctuating our week-long pike fest.

In all, we recorded 27 lake trout weighing more than 20 pounds (and countless lower double-digit fish), including six double-headers and one triple—after Ted released his first fish and picked up his spinning rod to drop down a big Bondy Bait. Very cool, considering we spent less than 10 hours in total targeting lakers. It was also extremely impressive in that we weren’t even in the hottest section of the lake for trout, let alone fishing during the peak bite.

For an even crazier tally of big fish, the time to go is late September, hitting the spawning shallows in the vicinity of mid-lake Johnston Island farther to the east. Ted was there a few years back and his boat chalked up 90 lakers tipping the scales past 20 pounds—in just three days of fishing. And of those trout, eight weighed more than 30 pounds. Says Ted: “It was awesome.”

Hot lure: Silver-and-chartreuse Kwikfish

Hot fly: Flashtail Whistler

Patrick Walsh

Learn more: Lakers Unlimited

In 2010: Lake trout; Outrageous numbers of 20- to 40-pound fish in shallow water

When to fish: September and October are best.

Where to fish: Work the Russian Reef and other rocky underwater structures in seven to 20 feet of water.

Tip: Troll Kwikfish and T-60 FlatFish over reefs, smashing your lures into bottom as aggressively as possible. Kickin’ Minnows and large crankbaits work well in deeper water.

—Ted Cawkwell, consultant for sportfishing lodges and other businesses, and former owner of various sportfishing operations in his home province of Saskatchewan

In 2009: Lake trout; Lots of big fish

When to fish: Late July through August is prime.

Where to fish: Fish deep water near structures, such as mid-lake islands or humps.

Tip: Troll a Williams C90 Whitefish or a W70 Wabler in the Half & Half Nu-Wrinkle finish, tipped with a four-inch white Exude Tube or Curly Tail on a downrigger.

—Mark Stiffel, vice-president of marketing at Brecks International

In 2008, Pike; Good numbers and sizes of fish, and a great lodge

When to fish: Late June to late July.

Where to fish: Deep weedlines or shallow bays with emerging weeds in the eastern end.

Tip: Cast spoons or big spinners on heavy-action baitcasting gear spooled with at least 20-pound test.

—Ray Carignan, host of Outdoor Passion

Lake trout; The best lake in the country for catching giants

When to fish: July and August.

Where to fish: Any of the thousands of shoals.

Tip: Troll giant Kwikfish on downriggers.

—Darryl Choronzey, host of Going Fishing TV