Seeking pike in the remote, Canadian sub-Arctic
view from the turboprop over sub-arctic canada
Photo: Chris Hunt

The charter terminal at the Winnipeg Airport is manic this morning. We’re part of a group of anglers awaiting the conclusion of a long journey—one more flight on a tough little turboprop, and we’re there.

Reindeer Lake.

The guys mill around the terminal, watching as the crew weighs and organizes a cargo hold burgeoning with fishing gear. One rod case is a good 12 feet long, spurring me to remark to my buddy Mike, “Who’s fishing with the pole vault?”

The first officer of what amounts to a flying aluminum tube comes in and announces that we have to jettison some baggage. We’re about 500 pounds overweight. We wander out onto the tarmac and start sifting through bags. I ditch my clothes. They’ll arrive on the next charter later in the day. The fishing gear? That’s going on the plane, damn it.

The clothes on my back, and a fly rod. Priorities.

Everybody’s all smiles, as they should be at the start of a five-day fishing adventure to the lake situated on the border of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. There, potholed in the back spruce and and bright green birch the lake awaits the deluge of a couple dozen anglers from all over the continent—Idaho, Colorado, Connecticut, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia—we’re all on the same charter and we’re all after the hefty tug from a massive, toothy critter that remains an underrated fly rod target.

Monster pike await, and so do sly, bullish lake trout that might still be wandering the shallows in search of unsuspecting whitefish and the occasional small grayling. The lakers will go deep any day now, but maybe we’ll get lucky.

The pike? It’s when, not if.

We’ve sorted out our bags. We’re on the plane. In minutes, we leave the Winnipeg metro area behind us, and the boreal forests, lush and green after a recent rain, spread out below us.

This is the stretch of Canada that Midwesterners know all too well. Big northerns chase spoons and spinners recklessly, making them prime subjects of those old weekend outdoor shows that seem to persist on local TV channels and occasionally on some obscure satellite network. Old Tony Dean reruns and Babe Winkelman episodes find their way to the airwaves late at night, and I can’t help but settle in and watch. These formulaic programs feature hefty old white guys tossing hardware and horsing fish to the boat, all the while promoting their latest sponsor or touting the great cooking at the lodge that’s hosting them. They look across the water at the camera boat, show off a fish or two and talk about various baits and spinners, and what makes the pike and the lakers go nuts on this particular remote lake at this particular time.

Truth be told, the pike and the lakers aren’t terribly particular. We’re headed to Arctic Lodges, whose website features the old tried-and-true red and white Dardevle lure. Heavy. Durable. Proven.

Old school.

We’ve spent the days leading up to the trip at the vise, tying concoctions out of feathers and fur that look a hell of a lot like that old Dardevle, minus the treble hook and the swivel, of course. And poppers. We have poppers.

The plane fishtails through the sub-Arctic skies amid a summer front that’s blowing through. One stop at some remote airstrip for more gas, and then we’re on the way again. Only 45 minutes left, the captain announces, until we touch down at Reindeer Lake and meet our guides. We should be fishing by 10 o’clock, or so the brochure says. Shore lunch will be served around noon should we be fortunate enough to catch a meal.

Fathers and sons. Far-flung fishing buddies. Neighbors. Uncles and nephews. Even a couple of Germans. They’ve all come together on this airborne tube, and they can’t wait much longer. The itch to fish needs scratching. The anticipation is palpable.

There’s big water below us. That must be it. Yes. That’s it.

The landing gear drops. Smiles cross happy faces. The plane hits the dirt airstrip and hustles to a stop before it hits the lake. We’re here.

We’re going fishing.