AFTER OUR GUIDE CUT THE OUTBOARD, I GRABBED MY FLY ROD, STEPPED UP TO THE BOW DECK, AND SURVEYED THE SCENE.
It had been a long, exhausting journey from my home in New York to way-way-way-northern Manitoba— four flights in two days, the last of which was a short stint in a floatplane that dropped us off at our fish camp on the Cree River—but the boat ride to the pike grounds was restorative. I was ready to fish.
I double-hauled toward the riverbank and stripped my streamer once, and a fish struck. The pike was small, but I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that I had landed one on my first cast. And again on my second… And on my third…
All of the fish so far were hammer-handles, but the takes were strong and, best of all, visual. Even in water as clear as the Cree’s, the chains that run along the flanks of a pike camouflage the fish so naturally that you don’t see one till it appears from nowhere to kill your fly. My consecutive-strike streak ended at three, but the bites remained constant, and the fish got bigger—up to 37 inches. And after I released yet another fish, I remember thinking, Where the hell am I? Right on cue, my buddy Brad Fenson, who’d been matching me pike for pike, shared some advice.
“Be sure to take some moments this week just to appreciate where you are,” he said. Unlike me, Fenson has fished these waters and stayed at this camp many times before. He knows how incredible it is here. “It’s easy to keep casting and casting because you just want to catch more fish—but try to slow down now and then and just enjoy this place.”
I thanked him, then just stood there on the bow for a moment, gazing at the water and feeling it gently pulse beneath my feet. An eagle glided over the river. The sun had fallen, and the air had chilled. Soon we’d have to return to camp for the night—but not quite yet. So I fired another cast.
The next morning, my buddy Jesse Riding and I jumped into Pat Babcock’s boat. We had a long ride ahead of us—almost two hours—but Babcock promised it’d be worth the trek. We were off to hunt monsters.
Could we have stayed closer to camp and gotten after some trophy walleyes and lake trout? Sure. But the real draw to a fly-in camp like Cree River Lodge (creeriverlodge.ca) is northern pike. Nowhere on Earth will you experience better fishing for Esox lucius than in a place like this. The conditions—a steady flow of cold, clean water, an abundance of forage—are pitch-perfect for a healthy popu lation of pike. And because these rivers and lakes are so remote, the fish see relatively little angling pressure and are eager to strike lures and flies alike; these fish don’t discriminate. And as for the size of these pike? Expect to be spoiled by so many 30-plus-inchers that you’ll forget what a trophy that kind of pike would be back home. Expect to catch a few in the low to mid 40s during your trip. And expect a couple of lucky souls in camp to net northerns that flirt with the 50-inch mark on the tape. So, while I can appreciate a big walleye or lake trout, if I have to choose between jigging or trolling with my eyes glued to a fish-finder and sight-casting to trophy pike, I’m taking northerns every time—even if it means starting the day with a lengthy boat ride.
As Babcock navigated through the tight and winding channels, Riding said the setting reminded him of Florida backwaters. “Have any gators up here?” he joked.
“No,” Babcock said. “Just big pike.”
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