Even During the Tough Times

As some of you know, I am a pike fisherman for the most part and have seriously pursued larger specimens of this wonderful species for many years. For 35 years, Mary and I have traveled across the upper regions of the North American continent, from Minnesota to the Arctic and Alaska, in search of the largest pike available. All this travel resulted in visits to most of the top known camps and waters in the north.

Time teaches one well and over the years we learned a lot about pike and how to catch big ones. And we’re still learning. One thing we’ve picked up on is that experimentation is definitely the key. Yes, there are days when they’ll bite just about anything in front of them and those are the days that keep us coming back. But there will be many days that it just isn’t that simple. Weather is most often to blame for a tough bite, but with persistence and experimentation, one can still catch those fish of a lifetime.

As an example, let me explain what happened on a trip we took in early July to one of the most storied pike waters in all of North America. Wollaston Lake has been known for big pike for as long as I can remember and is a spot we’ve always wanted to fish. We booked our trip in January and I knew the 6 month wait would leave me fully pumped by the time July rolled around.

Sitting in our motel room in Winnipeg the night before we flew into camp, I turned the TV to the weather channel to check out conditions. The report was less than favorable. A tornado had cut a huge swath through Saskatchewan that day and things were not looking good. But we’ve dealt with adverse conditions before and were still excited to get to camp.

Arriving at the camp, both Mary and I were amazed at the simple sight of this place. The main lodge was absolutely one of the nicest we’ve ever seen and included the dining area, a bar and a game room upstairs. One display I thought was very cool was a case with 2 of John Wayne’s custom made fly rods. Without a doubt, this place is 1st class all the way and no detail was left unattended. The food was great, our guide Kenny did his job well, and all their equipment was top notch. I have to add that in 35 years of visiting these camps, Wollaston Lake Lodge is the smoothest running operation I’ve ever seen and that includes a long list of camps.

Hitting the water that first day spelled it all out. This wasn’t going to be like shooting ducks in a barrel. Oh, the big pike are there, we saw a bunch, but getting them to bite was a study in frustration. We tried everything we could think of and then everything guide Kenny could think of.

We could see huge pike positioned at the edge of shallow weedbeds, but when we’d cast they’d just slowly move further into the thick stuff. Smaller pike were plentiful and most willing to bite, but big ones are a different animal. We worked hard that first day and saw several real trophies, but couldn’t get one to bite. That evening I had a great conversation with lodge owner, Mike Lembke. He is a long time piker and very knowledgeable. Mike suggested some bunny jigs and I found 2 waiting at my doorstep the next morning. And this well known pattern came through again. Even though the pike fishing remained tough throughout the 4 days we fished there, those bunny jigs put several pike over 40 inches in our boat.

In talking to some other guests, we learned that other species were biting better than the pike. There was a group of 4 couples that held a “gender tournament” with the women pitted against the men. The girls won with a walleye count of well over 100 fish for 1 day! And I met a young man who won the Wollaston Grand Slam Award. The lodge logo features 4 fish, those being pike, lake trout, grayling and walleye. Winning the Grand Slam requires catching all 4 species. Kilian Wald had 2 species going into the last day and ended it in grand fashion. After catching his grayling on a flyrod, Kilian decided to troll for lakers in an attempt to finish the Slam. His laker came in at over 45 pounds! Folks, that is a serious lake trout anywhere! Congrats again, Kilian.

If you find yourself dealing with tough conditions, remember that experimentation is the key to success. In this case, the fish wanted something low and slow. And that’s a very good choice for a tough bite.

The very first rule in catching big fish is to fish where big fish live and Wollaston Lake Lodge is the perfect example. There is a great population of huge fish there. And there are lots of locations where you can catch big fish during perfect conditions, but when you find a spot where you can catch big fish during poor conditions, well, you’ve found a gem. Wollaston is one of those. And if you’re looking for a first class experience all the way, I can think of no better camp than Wollaston Lake Lodge.

Jack Penny

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