Monster Pike of Phelps Lake
|Top water pike makes any piker's day.|
Mike Quinn has been a fishing buddy of mine for nearly 20 years. Yet each time I send a message asking him if he wants to join me on a fishing expedition, he has forgotten the clouds of mosquitoes, the driving and constant rain, and the heavy loads over portage trails – he described one of our trips as “borderline miserable.” Our trip in June 2016 to Phelps Lake in northeast Saskatchewan fit the latter description.
Anderson Clipping was our guide and he took us to Perfect Bay. It’s called Perfect Bay because it has the qualities that hold monster pike in the early spring post-spawn period. It’s relatively small at about 10 surface acres. Two small creeks drain into the rear of the bay trickling warm water in the bay. It’s quite shallow, perhaps as deep as eight feet at the most. On the day we were there, wind kept warm water from escaping the closed mouth of the bay. In fact, while we were there, waves on the main lake were increasing in intensity.
We fished for several hours and Mike and I each caught a couple of pike over 40 inches. While pike this size are pretty common at Phelps Lake, each one was a wonderful opportunity to yell encouragement to one another, exclaiming the beauty of the particular fish caught, and reminding Anderson of his skill in maneuvering to catch another one.
Shortly after 11 a. m. we made a common-sense decision to pull the boat into a corner of the bay protected from the wind, get coffee out of the vacuum and take a break. Mike was in the bow with a line in hand prepared to tie to a shore line tree.
Suddenly, the slowly moving boat stopped dead. It hit a rock none of us had seen. Mike was pitched head first over the bow into three feet of cold water – the next time I ask Mike if he wants to go it will have to be one of the moments he will have to forget to agree to come.
Anderson took us back to Wolf Bay Lodge, eight miles through four foot waves; the weather had taken a turn for the worse since we left after breakfast. It was a rough ride, but done with skill and care. I’ve fished many times with Anderson, and he is among the best guides I know in any weather conditions.
Mike and I caught many of our trophies on fly rods. We used 8-weight rods with matching reels and floating lines. Our leaders were tapered to 9 feet and a 10- or 20-pound test tippet. We fastened titanium leaders to the tippet. Once when I hooked a big pike on a commercially prepared cable leader, the knot between the cable and monofilament failed. The titanium was tied to the monofilament with an Albright knot and the fly to the wire with a clinch knot. Our best flies were zonker strip flies, often called “bunnies” because the zonker strips are narrow bits of rabbit hair.
We also caught pike on a variety of lures we threw with bait casting gear. For really big pike like those we caught at Phelps, a musky style rod is appropriate. And on fly -in trophy like trips – as is the case at Wolf Bay Lodge – I carry two-piece rods as they are easier to carry in float planes. I have a Bass Pro Shops Pete Maina Signature Series, 7-foot, 6-inch rod and a St. Croix 7-foot Premier. I have options with these rods, depending on the lures I use.
Mike’s lure of choice was an ugly chartreuse spoon about five inches long (see Mike's Ugly Lure). In the week we fished Phelps Lake, Mike caught dozens of pike on it and many of them exceeded 40 inches. Midweek, however, Mike lost it. Anderson and I had a good chuckle as Mike Rifled through his tackle, bemoaning the loss of his prized spoon. Down in the bottom of his box, he found another.
After several days watching Mike catch big pike on his ugly spoon and teasing him about his choice, I pulled from my box one of the same color. There’s a limit to my pride if my buddy is catching pike the size and frequency Mike was catching them. Within a few hours and several nice pike on the ugly spoon, I cast it across a windy point. Something big grabbed it and headed for the far end of the bay. Pop – the line broke and I lost the spoon.
In addition to the flies and spoons, Mike and I caught pike on jerkbaits like the Long A or Rogue and on topwaters, like the full size Zara Spook of Poe’s Jackpot. Jig-and-pig combos worked when the pike were a little less aggressive. For me, a half ounce spinnerbait with a red-and-white trailer was a steady producer.
Over the last 30 years, I’ve fished from many pike fishing lodges scattered across North America. Among them, the prospects for a trophy at Wolf Bay Lodge are better than any I’ve been fortunate to visit. On different trips, I’ve caught two pike over 50 inches, both on fly rods. One of my trips to Phelps Lake was featured on Pete Maina’s TV show, The Next Bite.
Wolf Bay Lodge is not a luxury outpost. On my first trip, there was bear spray in the outhouse. On my most recent trip, each cabin had its own indoor facilities Meals are wholesome and filling, served family style. There are no hot tubs or open bars. Yet, if you want to catch multiple pike over 40 inches with some over 45, you won’t go wrong with a trip to Phelps Lake.
In our week at Phelps Lake, Mike and I caught several hundred pike and 40 were over 40 inches. Results like that will mean my friend will have forgotten his dunk in the lake next time I call.
Last updated on May 2, 2018