Last week, I travelled to the extreme northeast corner of the province to take part in a five-day, fly-in fishing trip to Potts Lake. I’d been invited on the trip by my friends, Rolf and Shirley Ann Schwabe, of Vauxhall, AB. Joining us on this adventure were Rolf’s brothers, Garry and Henry, and Henry’s wife, Gwen. I’d made a couple of excursions to northern Alberta with Rolf and Shirley Ann before, but this was our first visit to Potts Lake. Although there’s a variety of sportfish present in the lake, including lake trout and whitefish, it was pike on a fly we were aiming for.
Our group drove to Fort McMurray and we’re met at the municipal airport by Tim Gillies, General Manager of Mikisew Sport Fishing. Rolf had been in contact with Tim a week prior to the trip to check on last minute details and was informed there was still a considerable amount of ice covering the lake. Needless to say, we were relieved to hear Potts Lake was completely ice-free, upon our arrival in Fort Mac. While chatting outside the Mikisew hanger, Tim explained that spring was at least a week or two late arriving to northern Alberta this year. Spring was late arriving to southern Alberta, too, and it really didn’t surprise us that the ice had only been off Potts for a few days. The lake had opened just in time and we were excited to be the first group to fly in this year!
We returned to the airport at 7:00 am the following morning and loaded our gear onto an Air Mikisew, Cessna 208 Caravan, equipped with amphibious floats. On our last trip we had flown in a Piper Navajo from Fort McMurray to Fort Chipewyan, where we transferred our gear (and ourselves) to a waiting deHavilland Beaver float plane, before flying to our lake. This time, though, we would enjoy a direct flight and would not need to wear ear plugs, as is generally the case when flying in a noisy Beaver. On this trip, ear plugs would only be required at night … to drown the sound of my (our) snoring!
It was a quick, 90-minute flight to Potts Lake from Fort McMurray. Along the way, we passed over Lake Athabasca, the largest and deepest lake in Alberta, then followed it’s western shoreline for a brief time, before heading inland. Much of the western portion of this immense lake remained locked in ice. As we approached our destination we flew over what seemed like countless numbers of remote wilderness lakes, and miles upon miles of forest. It had been a few years since my last fly-in trip and I’d forgotten how beautiful the scenery is in this part of Alberta.
It was cool, drizzly and windy when we arrived at the lake. Bruce, our trusty bush pilot, was not keen having his aircraft battered against the dock by white-capped waves and departed as soon as our gear had been unloaded on shore. We didn’t blame him for not sticking around.
Because of the inclement weather, we weren’t in a hurry to get out fishing and decided it would be best to organize our camp, first. The cabin at Potts is located on an island and there really wasn’t anywhere to go anyway, unless we climbed into one of the waiting boats. After settling in, we fished a bit around camp but didn’t have much success, only hooking one or two small pike. Water temperature in the lake was 7° Celsius, not very conducive for the type of fishing we were hoping to do. We turned in early that evening, with hopes of an improvement in the weather by morning.
Mornings come pretty early in the north country at this time of year and the sun had already been out for a while when we awoke. We were anxious to begin fishing and after a quick breakfast we loaded the boats, strung our fly rods and headed toward a shallow bay on the northeast corner of the lake. The bay was calm and its waters were crystal-clear, so we spent some time exploring for signs of big pike. We didn’t find any. The water temperature was a chilly 8° Celsius. It became evident early on that the water was going to have to warm up before we’d likely find any big fish hanging out in the shallows. There were small pike present, 3 to 4 pounds, and we caught a few of them on Bunny Bugs and Deceivers. We decided to head over and try another nearby bay. The entrance to this one was a bit deeper than the first and we noticed the bottom contained submerged rock shelves, ledges and large boulders. We headed straight for the shallow end, where once again we found (and caught) a few small pike.
Garry and I headed back toward the mouth of the bay and deep water, and continued to fish. I was using a #4/0 White Bunny Bug, with a floating line. It was easy to follow the fly, as I stripped it through the clear water, a couple feet below the surface. Just then, a fish lunged through the water and inhaled my fly. At first I thought it was a monster pike, but as soon as I set the hook and the fish turned toward the lake bottom, I noticed its deeply-forked tail. At that point I realized it was a lake trout, and a huge one, at that! It took a while, but I eventually guided the laker alongside the boat, where Garry scooped it from the water, using the cradle. It was a magnificent fish, measuring 36″ in length!
We spent a couple more hours fishing the bay and caught another 8 or 10 lake trout, along with some small pike. Late in the afternoon, we followed the shoreline to reach yet another quiet bay. The water was a bit warmer here, but there was still no sign of large fish. Our quest for monster pike would have to wait until tomorrow, as it was time to head back to camp.
Note: Click on the “more …” tag below to see additional photos and trip info.