North of the Border

10 great hunting and fishing adventures you'll find in Canada (and nowhere else.)

Outdoor Life Online Editor

To a sportsman, Canada can be whatever you want it to be. Looking for a budget trout trip? Float an Ontario river for copper-bright brookies. Want to blow your bonus on a trophy whitetail hunt? Book with an Alberta outfitter. You can spend more than $6,000 on a guided Arctic Circle expedition for musk ox or polar bear, or a couple hundred bucks on a do-it-yourself prairie waterfowl hunt. Fly in or drive, splurge or skimp, test your physical limits or kick back.

If you've been considering a Canada trip, now is the time to cinch down the details. Here are a handful of destinations and opportunities to consider in the Northland. Some require a thick bankroll, others only a tank of gas and a good canoe. Take your pick.

[pagebreak] Saskatchewan
South Saskatchewan River
Snow geese, Canada geese, specklebelly geese, sandhill cranes // Cost: $ // Exertion: xx

There's no calm in the eye of a snow-goose cyclone. Only awe, and a frenzied attempt to reload your shotgun. You can experience thousands of geese dropping into your decoys almost any October morning on the pea fields along the South Saskatchewan River. Snow, specklebelly and Canada geese, as well as sandhill cranes, come off the river into stubble fields, and decoying can be so consistent you don't need an outfitter. Access is fairly open here. Just pick up a Rural Municipality map that details land ownership and knock on a lot of doors.

Pack as many shell and flag decoys as you can carry. A couple dozen dekes won't cut it when flocks number in the thousands. Generally, the snow goose action is better to the west, along the Alberta border, centered out of Leader. The honker and speck shooting is better east toward Elbow.

Last year the Saskatchewan goose limit was 8 dark geese and 20 white geese, plus 5 cranes, daily. The nonresident game bird license costs $116, and you also have to buy a $19 federal permit. The first week of October is prime.

[pagebreak] Newfoundland
Humber River
Atlantic salmon, sea-run brook trout // Cost: $$$ // Exertion: xx

The Canadian government spawned controversy when it shut down commercial netting of Atlantic salmon off the Newfoundland coast in 1991, but the result has been the renaissance of the Humber River's sport fishery. While Atlantic salmon remain an endangered species south of the border, up here they're in relatively good shape.

Sixty percent of all Atlantic salmon in North America return to Newfoundland rivers, and the Humber leads the province in salmon production. This is the river that angling legend Lee Wulff said "has to be visited at least once in every salmon angler's life." Come here in late June and in July for high catch rates of 4- to 7-pound keeper grilse (as smaller salmon are called here) as well as sea-run brook trout to 3 pounds. Bigger salmon run from late July through early October. These salmon range from 20 to 35 pounds. Some monstrous Atlantic salmon tip the scales at over 40.

All fishing is done with fly gear, and bushy dry flies take a good percentage of Humber salmon. The local favorite is the Orange Bomber, which looks like "a cigarette butt with hackle spun around it," according to guide Bill Bryden at Eureka Outdoors in Corner Brook, Newfoundland (866-272-5666). In the big-fish section near the mouth of the river, Bryden recommends anglers pack at least 200 yards of backing on their fly reels lest they're spooled by some wide-shouldered rocket. Farther upstream, the river's shoals are conducive to wade-fishing, and Bryden offers dozens of lakes where brookies can be fished with spinners and bait.

You must have a guide to fish the Humber. Most package trips start at about $2,700 (U.S.) for a week.

[pagebreak] Quebec
George River Caribou Herd
Woodland caribou // Cost: $$$$ // Exertion: xxx

The rld's largest caribou herd isn't in Alaska or the Yukon. It roams the muskeg barrens and stunted forests of northern Quebec and Labrador. The George River herd numbers approximately 750,000, and the herd at Leaf River contributes another 430,000.

Once the herds begin their southern migration in early August, the entire landscape appears to be a moving quilt of hides and antlers. The best hunting for these woodland caribou is through October along migration routes.

You'll need an outfitter, mainly to get you to the remote caribou camps along the Quebec/Labrador border northwest of Goose Bay, Labrador. A guide is useful, but the main hunting strategy is to get in the way of the epic migration of this huge herd, then wait for the right bull, or "stag" as they're called here, to walk past. The limit is two stags, and since caribou sport the largest antlers in proportion to body size of any big-game animal in the world, most hunters are tickled to shoot a mature bull.

Hunting trophies requires a little more work. Book an outfitter equipped to boat the confusion of freshwater lakes and rivers and put you in position. Once you select a worthy bull, stalk through the tundra to get within range.

Most hunters fly to Montreal, then take a regional flight to either Goose Bay or Schefferville, where they meet their host and begin a long drive or flight to camp. Expect to pay from $3,000 to more than $4,000 (U.S.) for a week-long guided hunt, which often includes black bear and ptarmigan along with lake trout and char.

[pagebreak] Ontario
Algonquin Provincial Park
Brook trout, walleyes, smallmouth bass, lake trout // Cost: $ // Exertion: xx-xxxx

A day's drive north of Buffalo or northeast of Detroit puts you in the heart of the North Woods brook trout district. You can drive Highway 60 through the southern end of Algonquin Provincial Park, but to get the most out of this maze of rivers and glacial lakes, bring a canoe and traverse the interior of the 4,800-square-mile park, more than twice the size of the state of Delaware.

The park features 1,500 kilometers (about 1,000 miles) of designated canoe routes, many of which thread through lakes and flowages that hold brookies, lake trout, smallmouth bass, walleyes and muskellunge. The best way to enjoy the park is to rent a restored backwoods ranger cabin, which will cost anywhere from about $31 per night to about $400 per week (U.S.). You can also stay in developed campgrounds along Highway 60, but be sure you book sites well in advance, as this is a popular weekend destination for Ontario families. To make reservations for campsites or cabin rentals, call 1-888-668-7275 or Algonquin Park Information (705-633-5572).

Brook trout are the target species in most of the park. Fish average 16 inches, with trophies hitting 5 pounds. Bright spinners and spoons and small crankbaits work well, as do worms and salmon eggs. Fly anglers drift terrestrial imitations such as Parachute Hoppers and Black Ants and strip big streamers in rapids to catch bigger brookies.

[pagebreak] Manitoba and Ontario
Lake of the Woods
Walleyes, muskellunge, pike, smallmouth bass, crappies // Cost: $$ // Exertion: x

You could stay at a different lodge every week on Lake of the Woods and spend 10 years meeting new hosts. There are that many backwoods fish camps and full-service lodges on both the Minnesota and Canadian shores of the huge lake. The reason for the abundance of concessionaires is twofold: The lake is close enough to Midwestern population centers that outfitters do a steady business in budget-minded, drive-up vacationers; and the fishing for muskies, northern pike, walleyes and smallmouth bass is consistent enough to justify all that traffic.

In fact, the fishing can be so good that lodges don't have to offer top-notch amenities to stay in business, so Lake of the Woods has more than its share of underwhelming accommodations.

You can skip a land-based lodge altogether and rent a houseboat. Lake of the Woods has so many remote coves and big-bay weed beds you can fish a different spot each day and stand a good chance of catching something. If you don't, simply weigh anchor and move. Ontario Wilderness Houseboat Rental (www.wildernesshouseboats.com or 800-359-6199) in Morson, Ontario, provides a fleet of houseboats. It also rents 16-foot outboards you can tow behind the mother ship, then cast off and take to whichever shallow coves and points you want to fish. Rates range from $1,000 (U.S.) for four nights aboard a 44-footer that sleeps five to $3,100 (U.S.) for a week on a 64-footer with 11 beds.

The best months to fish Lake of the Woods are May and September, but you can catch fish even at the height of summer, though you might have to go deeper and cover more water for your limit. Bring standard walleye tackle, a variety of big crankbaits, spinnerbaits and topwaters for pike and muskie and a selection of plastics and jigs for bass and crappies. The lake is a loafing spot for a variety of southbound ducks, so if you're here in October, bring decoys and shoot ducks before your day of fishing.

[pagebreak] The Northwest Territories/Nunavut
Victoria Island
Greenland musk oxen, island caribou, lake trout, arctic char // Cost: $$$$$ // Exertion: xxxx

The galvanized grain bins out on the tundra don't store soybeans or corn. They're bunkhouses, meant to keep polar and grizzly bears from fussing with caribou and musk-ox hunters. The best hunting for both species is from the 60th parallel north to the Arctic Circle in both the Northwest Territories and the Nunavut district. The window for caribou hunting is short-about three weeks starting in mid-August. Musk-ox hunting is best in late August by boat and again in March for snowmobile and dog-sled hunters.

The established outfitters operate from fly-in lakes along the caribou migration routes. Some, such as High Arctic Lodge on Victoria Island in the Nunavut region, also offer island caribou hunting. Surprisingly, the featureless Arctic tundra teems with wildlife-from wolves and arctic foxes to arctic hares and ptarmigan.

Musk oxen on Victoria Island number about 50,000. Hunters generally tag out in the first two days, says High Arctic's Fred Hamilton (800-661-3880, www.high arctic.com). That leaves time for three days of lake trout and arctic char fishing at the scores of lakes within float-plane distance of the lodge. Hamilton's 2004 rate for a 4- or 5-day hunt starts at around $5,300 (U.S.).

[pagebreak] Saskatchewan
Lake Athabasca
Lake trout, northern pike, grayling, whitefish // Cost: $$$$ // Exertion: xx

Great Slave Lake, in the Northweiness, so Lake of the Woods has more than its share of underwhelming accommodations.

You can skip a land-based lodge altogether and rent a houseboat. Lake of the Woods has so many remote coves and big-bay weed beds you can fish a different spot each day and stand a good chance of catching something. If you don't, simply weigh anchor and move. Ontario Wilderness Houseboat Rental (www.wildernesshouseboats.com or 800-359-6199) in Morson, Ontario, provides a fleet of houseboats. It also rents 16-foot outboards you can tow behind the mother ship, then cast off and take to whichever shallow coves and points you want to fish. Rates range from $1,000 (U.S.) for four nights aboard a 44-footer that sleeps five to $3,100 (U.S.) for a week on a 64-footer with 11 beds.

The best months to fish Lake of the Woods are May and September, but you can catch fish even at the height of summer, though you might have to go deeper and cover more water for your limit. Bring standard walleye tackle, a variety of big crankbaits, spinnerbaits and topwaters for pike and muskie and a selection of plastics and jigs for bass and crappies. The lake is a loafing spot for a variety of southbound ducks, so if you're here in October, bring decoys and shoot ducks before your day of fishing.

[pagebreak] The Northwest Territories/Nunavut
Victoria Island
Greenland musk oxen, island caribou, lake trout, arctic char // Cost: $$$$$ // Exertion: xxxx

The galvanized grain bins out on the tundra don't store soybeans or corn. They're bunkhouses, meant to keep polar and grizzly bears from fussing with caribou and musk-ox hunters. The best hunting for both species is from the 60th parallel north to the Arctic Circle in both the Northwest Territories and the Nunavut district. The window for caribou hunting is short-about three weeks starting in mid-August. Musk-ox hunting is best in late August by boat and again in March for snowmobile and dog-sled hunters.

The established outfitters operate from fly-in lakes along the caribou migration routes. Some, such as High Arctic Lodge on Victoria Island in the Nunavut region, also offer island caribou hunting. Surprisingly, the featureless Arctic tundra teems with wildlife-from wolves and arctic foxes to arctic hares and ptarmigan.

Musk oxen on Victoria Island number about 50,000. Hunters generally tag out in the first two days, says High Arctic's Fred Hamilton (800-661-3880, www.high arctic.com). That leaves time for three days of lake trout and arctic char fishing at the scores of lakes within float-plane distance of the lodge. Hamilton's 2004 rate for a 4- or 5-day hunt starts at around $5,300 (U.S.).

[pagebreak] Saskatchewan
Lake Athabasca
Lake trout, northern pike, grayling, whitefish // Cost: $$$$ // Exertion: xx

Great Slave Lake, in the Northwe