Bait size fish have sought sanctuary in a dense weed bed. Nothing moves, except the boat as it moves slowly through the water, The only shade is from my long peaked cap. Optilabs polarised sunglasses help my eyes to seek and search deep into the dazzling shimmering water.
I blink, then squint, can it be, or is it a shadow, I squint again. Yes there it is, I spot a fin movement, Then a tail moves slightly. My squinting blinking eyes move slowly up the length of a fish it must be forty five inches long. I gasp! My heart beats a little faster. It's a big one. Perspiration rolls off my forehead, into my eyes stinging as it does so, despite the cold wind. My hands shake a little, I start to feel nervous.
My brain goes into overdrive (yes I do have one!) Its like a computer as I work out the angle of the cast, the distance to target. I aereolise ten yards of line, I need another five. I pull this off the reel quickly all the time keeping my eyes on the big one. I'm the hunter. The hunted is a fish that goes back a few million years. It weighs twenty pounds plus. It's there for catching, if I don't make a mistake.
The fish is moving ever so slowly away. I only have one chance. I shoot line to land the fly at the interception point which is two feet to the left and a foot in front of the quarry. My cast is spot on. The fly lands with a plop hardly breaking the water surface. The fish moves its head slightly then slowly turns. This is the moment I have been waiting for as I twitch the line to impart life into the fly. A fly that was created in Northern Canada. Its tied up on a 3/0 Partridge hook using Polar bear hair and a few strands of crystal flash. It's some six inches long and comes alive in the water when retrieved.
Slowly I take in six inches of line. The pike's off the starting blocks, moving fast towards the fly, creating a bow wave as it does so. I give a quick three inches pull, the fly has really come alive the big one can't resist it, she hurls herself at the fly. You see a huge head appear - the fly has gone - there's a rocking of water, a big swirl. I strip strike on feeling the fish, then strike sideways as hard as I dare. Her speed and momentum carry her skywards like a Polaris missile, its head shaking, gills flared. For a second, perhaps two I stood spellbound watching twenty pounds plus of fighting fury crash back into the water. It's like an explosion as the water erupts. The ever increasing circles go out over the bay. A water bird screams in disgust at having been interrupted from its peaceful slumbers. The tip of my nine weight Thomas and Thomas rod is savagely pulled down to the water, The reel screams likes a scolded cat or demented demon. Fly line disappears in a blur. This is fishing as goods it gets.
My mate John and I had come to Fort McMurray in northern Alberta. A bustling, booming oil town; they say there is as much oil in the sands of Alberta as in the Middle East. Huge powerful steam pumps are used to force the oil from the sand. Sand and soil are replaced, the whole area is then planted with trees. Insects and wildlife follow, in some areas the moose are back. Our final destination was Colin Lake, three hundred miles further north. Allan Proulx and Tim Gillies of Air Mikisew / Mikisew Sports fishing were our hosts, what great company these two guys were. Though I did worry about their health. They had a tremendous work rate, it seemed as if they didn't stop more than five minutes in any day. Allan and Tim worked hard to ensure that John and myself, along with the four Canadian anglers. father and son Roy and Dan Bamber, Rick Wright and Glen Shaw would have a good time. We were the last group of anglers to fish Colin Lake before it closed down for the winter months. We booked ourselves a room for the night in the Quality Hotel in Gregoire Drive just a short distance from the airport. The price was right. The staff were extremely friendly and helpful, even storing some of the equipment we wouldn't need at our next destination.
Mikisew Sport Fishing have three other lakes; Charles, Cornwall and Ryan in this northern wilderness area of the Canadian Shield, where the only sounds you are likely to hear are the cry of the Bald Eagle, the call of the Loon, Osprey, Ravens and Red squirrels. At night you might hear the wolves. Moose and bear also inhabit this environment. Colin Lake is situated in the Northeast corner of Alberta some sixty miles south of the 60th parallel, close to the Saskatchewan border. The lake covers an area of 10,510 acres. Fish species include: northern pike, lake trout, perch and whitefish. There are two cabins, one sleeping four, the other a small trappers cabin, measuring twelve feet by sixteen feet sleeping two people. A generator pumps water from the lake to the two cabins and shower room. You will find plenty of wood for a fire should you need one. The camp site is located on the north-western shoreline in a small cove with a sandy beach and boat jetty, boats are fourteen foot aluminium with nine HP Mariner engines.
Our pilot Paul Hagopian of Air Mikisew, is well experienced, flying the Caravan 1 an amphibious plane. Having done all his checks, making sure we passengers were aware of the safety arrangements, we taxied down the runway. Sitting up front I could hear Paul talking to the control tower, receiving the all clear, Paul turned up the revs, we roared off down the runway quickly getting airborne. Reaching cruising speed and altitude, Paul switched to auto pilot. After bringing his log book up to date, he told my listeners to At The Waters Edge programme on BBC Radio Lancashire all about the aircraft, our flying time, route and other bits of interesting information. All the time keeping a close watch on the various gauges, not just relying on the auto pilot.
Passing over Lake Athabasca, Paul discussed the local history, pointing out various places of interest. A few miles from Colin Lake, Paul returned to flying the plane then coming out of some thick cloud I got a glimpse of Colin lake. Dropping down to three hundred feet I spotted a group of moose. Up ahead the lake looked magnificent in the autumn sunshine. Flying over the lake we made a right turn along the western shoreline. A group of guys who were leaving stood close to the jetty. Paul made a pass, then circled back round for his landing, as the revs dropped we lost height then glided in for a smooth landing. I didn't even feel a bump, this pilot was good. The next minute we were alongside the jetty and tied up.
Half an hour later, the kettle was on for a much needed mug of tea. I didn't unpack my bag, just grabbing things as I wanted them, replacing my dirty clothes in a spare bag. Three Thomas and Thomas nine weight rods, each one carrying a different line, one a Cortland Ghost tip, the second a fast sink, while the third rod was matched with a Teeny four hundred and fifty grain shooting line, which really does get down fast and deep. These three set ups should cover all depths of water and fishing conditions.
John, having put the food away, made some sandwiches and two mugs of tea. Within two hours of landing everything was ship shape, we were ready to tackle the 'toothy critters'. Dressed in warm clothing, we headed for the boat jetty. Loading all our gear, I made sure the fuel tank was topped up. With one pull on the starting cord the engine was purring nicely. Untying the mooring ropes I pushed the motor into gear, slowly moving away from the jetty. Reaching the deep water I opened the throttle then pointed the bows for the eastern shoreline, I had been told the wind had been blowing in this direction for three days.
Seeing a small bay with lots of rocks, sunken branches and weed, we dropped anchors. Within twenty seconds of casting, no, probably only ten, I hooked up to my first fish of six or seven pounds on a Polar fly fished on a Ghost tip line. What a start! In the next four casts, I had four more pike averaging some six pounds. Ten minutes with no takes, we moved off along the shoreline for another spot. I was quickly into a fish about five pounds, another followed within minutes. Fishing was good with several around the eight pound mark. After two hours of fishing, the wind freshened up considerably from a westerly direction. I could see white caps in the channel, it was time to seek shelter on the lee shore. The first part of the journey was quite bumpy, close to the lee shore the water was quite calm. Conditions looked good, but apart from two hits. We didn't have a fish. Deciding to call it a day we moved off for the jetty and our warm cabin. Rounding a small island, I said to John "Lets have a few chucks". I caught three pike, unhooking the last fish John said "That will do for supper" so it was retained.
Back in the cabin we had fried pike, potatoes and a couple of mugs of tea. The wood burning stove glowed red, it was all fuggy in the cabin. Outside the temperature was below zero and later it snowed. After cleaning and polishing our fly lines, I had a mug of chocolate then crawled inside my sleeping bag tired out, but ready for the next days fishing.
Day Two - Battered by Rain and Wind
Opening the cabin door I looked up the lake. I could see big white caps, tree tops were swaying in the fierce wind, the snow was replaced by icy cold rain. It was going to be a tough day afloat, no chance of reaching Eagle Bay at the southern end of the lake, it would be suicidal. I chose instead to fish the lee shore, hoping for a picture fish. Breakfast over and kitted out in wet weather gear, I loaded all our gear in the boat, then topped up with gas. I also put an extra gas tank in the boat while John cut some extra logs for tonight's fire.
After telling the other guys of our destination, we motored down the western shoreline. For some three hours we cast, retrieved, changed flies and tackle set ups without a hit. It was tough going. Rounding a rocky point, we came into a shallow weedy bay, it looked an attractive spot. Still the rain sheeted down. After a lot of casting and retrieving, I had two small pike, with several strikes from small lake trout.
I could see the trout hitting my fly, some were pricked, not hooked. The wind increased in strength, time to move. We motored across some rough windswept water into another small bay. An hour or so of being battered by wind and rain, with only one small fish each, we decided to call it a day. Keeping close to the lee shore with John in the bows watching out for rocks, which could be the size of a small car we slowly made our way back to base, shipping a lot of water as we did so. Reaching the jetty I said to John "That was a cold, wet and tough day" The Canadian lads got back at lunch time. They chose to play cards rather than troll lures. They also invited us over for dinner, and a good evening was had by all, within sixty seconds of crawling into my sleeping bag I was fast asleep.
Day Three - A Cold Bright Day
It snowed overnight, it was a cold day and temperatures were several degrees below zero. Thankfully the wind had decreased. With no white caps we decided to hit Eagle Bay where the water varied in depth from three to twenty feet. A creek flowed in which attracted lake trout. Not far away from these fish, we should find the pike. Well wrapped up in warm clothing, wearing life jackets as we do every time we go afloat, we left the jetty about nine am heading straight down the lake. After about twenty five minutes we passed through the narrow neck leading into Eagle bay. Moving close to the creek mouth, we dropped the anchors. Ten minutes later I was ready to fish with the Cortland Ghost tip line with a Sally Rand fly pattern. It's a big fly with lots of orange marabou tied up on a size 5/0 hook. Five chucks, five hook ups all good hard fighting fish around the seven to eight pound mark.
On the sixth retrieve, a very big lake trout in the twenty pound bracket, tried to grab the fly as I was lifting off for another cast. It came as quite a shock. I didn't expect it to happen, neither did I expect to see such a big lake trout in five feet of water. I tried to catch the beast without success. Then moved the boat a dozen yards or so to the mouth of a weedy bay. I chucked a big popping frog pattern, a good pike hit first cast.
A dozen casts later with no more bites I said to John "Lets try the narrows", he agreed. Motoring across the bay we dropped anchors so we could fish both the shallow and deep water. Picking up my Thomas and Thomas nine weight matched with a Teeny four fifty grain shooting line with a Ballydoolagh bomber tied up by Kent Sherrington on a size 8/0 hook. It's a fly with a very buoyant head of plastazote. As you retrieve the fly goes downwards - stop retrieving, it rises a couple of feet. Looking up the bay I could see some huge rocks plunging down into the water giving an appearance of very deep water. I fished the 'Bomber' along this drop off.
Three casts later, I shouted to John "This is a big one". Suddenly the rod tip was pulled downward by a powerful force, line was dragged from the reel. I could feel the awesome power of a good fish slowly moving up the bay. This was my picture fish, if I was lucky to be the winner of this titanic scrap with a big powerful angry pike! If I got this fish in the landing net, I would be a happy angler. Some people would probably say "It's a big lake trout". I knew differently. This was a good pike. For several minutes the fish was boss, as it slowly and powerfully took line from the reel.
I cramped on as much pressure as possible, lowering the rod tip to make use of the extra power in the butt section. A few minutes later I gained some line. Suddenly the fish changed direction, winding like a demented demon I managed to get the slack line back on the reel. Occasionally my heart missed a beat, when the fish moved faster than I could gain line. Occasionally it shook its head in a bid to remove the big fly on a barbless hook. This pike tried every trick in the book as it fought for its freedom. The fight then turned into a give and take scrap but some minutes later the pressure started to tell. I was winning the fight. We discussed how big the fish might be, agreeing it's a twenty pounder.
Ten yards from the boat, the water erupted, then boiled. A big fish swirled then tried to lift itself from the water, only the head and shoulders appeared and with flared gills it shook its head, the mouth looked huge. I could see the Bomber in the corner of the mouth. This was one big angry fish at the end of my line. Suddenly it dived, I gave line quickly. Within minutes I was getting line back on the reel as the fish tired. John stood with the big landing net, the Masterline mat / weigh sling was on the bottom of the boat to protect the fish from the boat's hard bottom. With the net sunk deep, I tried guiding and pulling the fish close to the net. This fish had other ideas, it twisted and swirled but slowly inch by inch it came to the landing net.
I shouted "John lift the net". The handle was well bent under the weight of the fish. Laying down the rod, I grabbed the net with both hands then lifted. Swinging the fish inboard onto the padded mat. What a super fish - it taped out at forty five inches. Punching the air I said "Yes, Yes, Yes" The scales gave a reading of around twenty six pounds. We shook hands. After some quick pictures, the fish was held in the water until it fought clear of my grip when it moved off swiftly. After a ten minute break we recommenced fishing, catching several more good fish including some nice lake trout, but non as good as the big one.
The wind blew strongly from the North-east. John changed to spinning. We could see big white caps sweeping down the channel which we had to cross before we reached the lee shore. I hoped the wind would abate but it didn't. We fished on, catching a lot more fish. Flies certainly out fished the spinner or plug twenty to one.
Half an hour before dusk, I hooked a big fish that wouldn't move off the bottom. Twice I felt its tail hit the line, the fish went where it wanted for some ten minutes, until the fly was thrown back to me with contempt. We called it a day. With John in the bows looking for rocks I guided us back to camp and a welcome mug of tea. Roy, Dan, Rick and Glenn were waiting for us and invited us to join them for a dinner of lake trout, rice and vegetables. They all had something strong to drink while I enjoyed a mug of Yorkshire Gold tea.
Day Four Strong Winds Blue Skies and Sunshine
It was another windy day and we decided to fish Eagle Bay. Thankfully we were dressed in Patagonia waterproofs as I motored straight down the lake to Eagle bay through some rough water and white caps, wind blew the waves and spray into our faces, my hands were cold and numb. After thirty minutes I was able to use the islands and lee shore for shelter, as we went through the narrows into Eagle Bay I gave a sigh of relief. We started fishing along the deep drop off, twenty yards further on from where I had the big one yesterday.
Second cast I was into a good fish on a Sally Rand fly using a Cortland Ghost tip line. It stayed deep taking line under pressure, slowly moving up the bay. You can't hurry these big fish. Minutes later the pressure started to tell, as I gained line I could feel the fish shaking its head in its bid for freedom. John was ready with the net. The padded mat was on the bottom of the boat. The wind was blowing from all points of the compass. Yesterday it was gusty, today it blew all the time. Slowly I pumped the fish to surface, before it could dive John had it netted. The pike came alive turning the water into a white foam as it thrashed and twisted in the net. Laying the rod aside I bent down grabbed the net with both hands then lifted the fish over the side of the boat onto the padded mat.
A good fish which taped out at thirty nine inches. A couple of pictures and the fish was released. I suggested to John he should occasionally use a mouse pattern. An hour later John had a good fish grab the mouse close to the boat. A surprised John said "I didn't think a fish would eat that mouse" I said "They make them for pike to eat" John used a Masterline telescopic spinning rod which proved ideal for the job. We were both impressed with the rod's action. I picked up the net, pushing it deep in the water, as John pulled the fish over the net I lifted. A good fish was engulfed in the deep netting. It taped out at thirty eight inches, a couple of pictures then it was released. During the day I caught lots more pike on flies. John had one nice lake trout on a spoon and I caught a couple on flies fished deep, but before we realised it, it was getting dark. I decided to run straight up the lake to camp, a very bumpy and spray swept trip. I didn't fancy being on the water after dark. An hour after leaving Eagle Bay we were back in our cabin having a mug of tea. The only food and drink we had each day, were a couple of crunchy bars and a mouthful of water.
It had been a great trip with lots of fish, I made some new friends, saw some interesting wildlife and caught some good fish. I travelled with holiday charter company Canadian Affair, Hillgate House, 13 Hillgate Street, London W8 7SP. Tel 020-7616-9999 E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
My trip was arranged by Alberta tourism flying from Manchester to Calgary then by car to Edmonton. Then by Westjet airlines to Fort McMurray. If you need any further information please E-mail me email@example.com
I will be going back again next year, if you want to join me you're most welcome!