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It’s 2:30pm and my wife and I just arrived at the Fort Myers, Southwest Florida airport ready to endure the seemingly endless check-in and security procedures. First, we were told to use the electronic kiosk to check-in. We were traveling to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and, having made this same trip previously, I knew the kiosk would not recognize the destination and it didn’t. The Northwest Airlines agent said to try again, same result. Grudgingly, the agent checked us in. Actually, security went well, even though we were loaded down with fishing tackle. Our flight took us through Minneapolis and then on to Saskatoon. We arrived in Saskatoon after 11:00pm and by the time we reached our room it was well after midnight. We spent that very short night and the next day and night in Saskatoon, a very scenic and pleasant city to explore. We then exited the hotel at 4:30am to catch a charter flight to Points North, Saskatchewan, 125 miles or so from the outer ring of the top of the world. Points North is a combination air, supply and support terminal for the mining industry and the take off point for fishing lodges in the area. Our journey, however, had not yet ended. It is, after all, a rather lengthy trek from the far end of Florida to the top of the hemisphere, but, as you’ll read, it’s more than worth it.
Following a quick rest stop, we boarded our venerable but reliable Otter floatplane for the 45minute ride to Phelps Lake and Wolf Bay Lodge. Otters fly low, slow and noisy, but they allow great views of the scenery. The countryside is stark and rocky with spikey, short limbed conifers and the occasional birch tree providing cover and color. Ground cover consists mostly of a gray green moss that provides quite a comfortable resting place for a Canadian siesta following shore lunch. Most amazing, though, is the water, it’s everywhere and in all sizes and shapes. Circular potholes, small symmetrical ponds to lakes of all sizes and shapes appear directly below the Otter and all the way to the horizon. Wolf Bay Lodge is located on a peninsula on one of the larger and more scenic lakes, Phelps.
Wolf Bay Lodge is primitive, but quite comfortable with sleep encouraging beds, sink, shower and plenty of hot water. Outhouses provide toilet facilities, but the ladies that may be in camp are provided a porta potty in the room. The kitchen and dining area is small but very serviceable and offers great home cooking. Only a total of eight anglers share the facilities and lake and that is a real pleasure as compared to most Canadian lodges. Phelps is a lake of significant proportions and is loaded with rock reefs, large and small bays, deep trout holes and more. Oh yeah, it’s loaded with Pike and Lake Trout as well and, I mean loaded, large numbers reaching true bragging size.
After a great breakfast, we loaded up our aluminum boats powered with Yamaha four stroke 25 hp motors, speed not being an issue since all the rocks, reefs and shallows prevent eye blurring, hair blowing boat rides. The Phelps Pike love to tear up whatever tackle you are most comfortable with; spinning, casting, fly, light or heavy. Our tackle choice this trip was pretty standard Bass weight casting equipment utilizing 20 lb. test mono. There’s no reason to use excessively heavy tackle and ruin the fight of these great fish. Spoons, bucktails, crankbaits (Mann’s One Minus a favorite), jigs, topwaters and more will serve you well (all barbless). Black, orange, red, white, yellow, chartreuse and combinations thereof are all good choices in color. It’s best to dress in warm layers and peel off as needed. Even if it is comfy warm in camp, it’s usually cool on the lake. Good quality rain gear and watertight footwear can be essential and you should never leave the camp without either.
Bonnie, my wife, and I met our guide, Jason, and we headed off for our first day of fishing. I’ve been to Phelps three times previously, so one could easily assume I’ve met with continuing success each and every trip and your assumption would be correct. The last trip I managed to land two 49inch Pike and many more over 40 inches. You can also wear yourself and your tackle out on 30 to 35 inch Pike that seem to fight with boundless ferocity. Jason’s location choice for the first day’s fishing was the west side of the lake, an area I’m not very familiar with. Our first stop was a small but very scenic bay with a fast running creek pouring into the bay from a far, rear corner. Immediately, we landed a couple of high 3O’s fish and lost another larger fish. My wife cast an orange spoon towards the creek mouth and hooked up with a BIG fish that charged to the front of the bay, peeling drag easily. Bonnie stayed with her allowing her to run when she took the notion, but maintaining control. Of course, as with most Pike, this one charged the boat and spent the rest of the fight trying to cut herself off under the boat. Jason, to his absolute credit, treats these wonderful Pike with great care and respect and makes sure the landing is as safe for the fish as possible even to the point of receiving a “land that %&@#* fish Jason” from an over excited angler such as myself. The fish was 48 inches long and it was just the very first morning of the very first day. This was one angry fish even after the fight and landing. A very few minutes later she hit again and I landed her this time. It was her bay and she wanted us the heck out of there. We followed her orders and left before she decided to eat the prop off the motor. Since Bonnie was the first to land a “board” fish, 36 inches or larger, in this bay she is granted the pleasure of naming the bay. The Bay is now named Grace Bay after one of Bonnie’s favorite Doberman Pinchers, our companions of choice. Starting with Grace Bay, we also named Walrus Bay, Christopher Bay and Caloosa Bay. The naming idea was a great one and fun for Wolf Bay anglers.
We moved on to a bay Jason had the privilege of naming Bay Of Little Pigs, good name huh? It’s a large open bay that narrows to a rocky, shallow, unusable cut leading to another bay. We caught several medium size fish on the way to the back of the bay. Casting a topwater towards a rocky, weedy point at the entrance of the cut, I rolled a seriously large fish. She did not respond again to the topwater, so spoons and bucktails were lobbed in her direction with no result. We immediately decided to return another day and give her another try.
The weather the first three days was quite good, comfortable temperatures and partly cloudy with just a very light rain on occasion and that mostly in the evening. Fishing was terrific. Quantities were exceptional and a considerable number of board fish, many over 40 inches. Another team landed a 49 incher in a bay directly behind the camp, one of my favorite bays. The same team, Bob, Fred and guide Mark, also enticed a number of Trout in the high teens to attack their offerings. I don’t want to downplay the Trout fishing, it’s excellent as well, but I’m mesmerized by those huge water wolves. The fourth day of the trip was a transitional day in terms of weather, not bad but sort of ominous. Ominous was the correct choice of descriptions, since the last three days were cold, high 30’s and low 40’s, with strong winds and constant mist and rain; very tough conditions, and somewhat unusual in my experience for mid June on Phelps. The Pike and the Trout, however, remained mean and hungry showing great disdain for any angler discomfort on our part.
On the fourth day it was back to the Bay of Little Pigs and a second attempt at “Bertha”. By this time the potential size and fierceness of the fish rolled on the first day was reaching mythical proportions requiring the fish be named. Hey, you’ve got to have something to regale the other anglers with at the dinner table. As I said earlier, the weather was in process of change, but still fairly good. This turn in the bay we only caught a couple of small fish on our way into the area Bertha called home. As you enter the area there is the deeper channel entering the cut with grass and lily pads on one side and just lily pads on the other. Shooting our lures towards the point where the fish first rolled the topwater failed to create any interest. As we were moving back out Bonnie cast her orange spoon directly into the slightly deeper channel. Instantly, the spoon was struck and the fish tore off on a rocket ship run pulling the spoon free before any of us could react. It was Bertha for sure. We were all disappointed, especially Jason, who was determined to land this fish. He immediately planned a return to the Bay of Little Pigs the last day and put in his claim to do just that at the next guides meeting.
The weather really turned bad making travel around the lake very uncomfortable; high winds, rain, sizable waves and wet, cold anglers. It’s a good time to note that there is plenty to see and explore around the lake. Eagles, bear and, sometimes, wolves make themselves visible to the uninvited guests in their territory. Also, enhancing our daily angling experience was having a guide that prided himself on his culinary expertise. Baked Trout, stir fry Trout, blackened Pike and more cooked to perfection over an open, wood fire made for a fine break in the day. There are, also, distant areas of the lake to explore, some having little or no human visitation. On this trip to Phelps the water levels were higher than I’d experienced previously allowing us to explore areas not usually available to us. We had to traverse some very rocky, fast water to do it, but it made for an exciting and memorable trip especially under the conditions, the winds were howling and the rain bone chilling cold. While we continued to catch fish, the conditions made it a real challenge and chore. Considering the conditions, we made a good decision to cut our exploration short and make for camp. The ride was long, rough and wet, especially a very riled stretch of open water and a run against the flow of the rapids that took some nifty boat handling and paddle work. All in all though, it was an exciting and challenging experience and worth all the effort.
Hardly believing the trip was coming to an end, we had come to the last day and it was still gloomy, cold and raining on and off. As planned Jason set off for the lake’s west side. The day before was afflicted with about the same weather and we had found that the duller colors were creating more strikes than the bright colors we had been using earlier in the week. Bonnie had switched to a gold spoon and black trailer two days before, the orange spoon had lost its effectiveness. I tied on a black Muskie size bucktail in-line spinner. Our first stop was Grace Bay where Bonnie had caught her 48. We fished this bay thoroughly with a few fish teased into striking, but none board size. Next stop would be the Bay of Little Pigs. During the week small groups of lily pads had pushed their way to the surface and were plainly visible now, especially at the very front of the Bay. This was a considerable distance from Bertha’s haunts, but still deserved our attention. Having experienced how Pike often relate to small groups of pads on previous trips, it made sense to give one of the small groupings of pads a try. The black bucktail had not shown much promise, so I dug through my box and extracted a 3/4 ounce Five of Diamonds. It was still dark and gloomy and I find yellow to be a good color on dark days. Making my first cast to the outside of the pads, it was instantly rewarded with a 36inch fish. The next cast produced a 34. Bonnie, continuing with the weedless gold spoon, cast directly into the pads creating a vicious, explosive strike and a violent battle. The fish proved to be a 42inch beauty. Four more board fish came off these same lilies, three over 40, an amazing spot no larger than a very small room.
Letting the honey hole of the trip rest, we fished the other pad groupings and Bertha’s lair with little result. I managed to let one big fish escape me, but we knew it wasn’t Bertha. After an hour or so we returned to the magic pads. Again, we were rewarded with two more quality fish. Casting the Five of Diamonds next to the top most point of the pads, the lure just stopped after hitting the water. I set the hook and nothing happened. I just stood there trying to pull against an immoveable object. An inch or two gained resulted in an inch or two lost. Jason was backing the boat off the pads, so I released the spool and kept pressure with my thumb so as not to create any slack line or, in the reverse, create too much pressure and pull the hooks free. At a safer distance from the pads, I applied a bit of increased pressure and the fished bolted to my right and then back to the left. The power of this fish was incredible, not speed, just raw power. The ground I gained was time after time lost. The big fish had made a run to my left and then turned back towards me and headed towards the boat. Jason then got the first clear look at the fish. “It’s her, it’s her” he bellowed. Jason was clearly shaking and he wasn’t the only one. She just swam off about 20 yards from the boat and then turned and rushed the boat, under and around she went, but when she came around the bow it gave me the opportunity to put some serious side pressure on her bringing Bertha to the starboard side of the boat and into the waiting cradle. Jason was loath to use the cradle, but this fish and me demanded it. Three trips to the Bay of Little Pigs and countless casts and Bertha was ours. It wasn’t just her length but also her girth that made her a true trophy fish, 491/2 inches in length and a girth of 20 inches or a little better. A quick couple of pictures and about 90 seconds and she was back in the water. With what appeared to be a look of disdain and a “try that again fellow” smirk, Bertha returned to the hunt and the Bay of Little Pigs.