Pike Meltdown

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Fly-out time. Wollaston Lake Lodge (aka WLL; main lodge, background) offers daily fly-out trips to a number of lakes or distant bays on the main lake, within 10 to 30 minutes, on one of two DeHavilland Otters. The nine-passenger plane typically carries three guides and six anglers plus gear.

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Fly-out sign-up board. While the majority of guests fish the big lake by boat from the lodge, most days, many do enjoy a day or two flying out which is a very different (and yeah, very cool) experience. This board on the outside of the main lodge let's guides and guests know who's going where and when. What's pretty astounding is the punctuality. If the plane is scheduled to leave at 8:45 am, it will leave then -- anglers had better be at the dock by 8:30 to be ready. If it's then scheduled to return to the lake and pick up a group at 5:45 pm, it will be there then. Would that major airlines were so punctual!

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Flights are short but scenic; I think everyone ought to do this at least once.

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Where's Wollaston? In early July this year, fly-outs were particularly popular. Why? Because more than half the main lake was still covered under a layer of ice -- the latest ice-out in the history of the lodge -- so boats were limited in where/how far they could go. This shot was taken from the float plane en route to Michael Lake.

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Bye-bye, now: The Otter is about to depart for its next assignment while three guides prep three boats for the day's fishing.

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Grand slam, part one! Our guide, Clayton Schick, holds up the first walleye caught by fishing partner (and spousal unit), Jackie. It's her first fish of the trip and one of the four species she hopes to catch to give her a fairly unique grand slam of the north: walleye, northern pike, lake trout and grayling. This one hit a Sebile lure in Michael Lake, which is known for hand-over-fist walleye action.

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Grand slam, part two! Jackie's first northern which grabbed a local early-season favorite, a chartreuse spinner. Mepps and Blue Fox No. 5 and No. 6 spinners catch everything here and particularly in June and much of July, when northerns seem more enthusiastic about snapping at small lures.

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D'oh! Without much prompting (and no high-sticking: Jackie knows better and I was a witness), one of our single-piece spinning rods became a two-piecer. She landed the modest pike anyway.

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Shore lunch! WLL takes huge pride in this convention on its fly-out trips. It's an option (vs. sandwiches aboard) but one most guests eagerly sign up for. Just enough fish are kept that morning for lunch (otherwise, this is 100-percent catch-and-release fishing; shore lunch offers guests their only shot at fresh fish) and the inventive guides cook them and other vittles up in various and mighty tasty configurations. A well-spent hour.

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You're not in Kansas anymore... . On the morning of Day 2, I wasn't sure if this evil-moose skull was saying, in its own way, "welcome to Waterbury Lake north" or perhaps saying "Proceed at your own risk!"

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The moose skull notwithstanding, Waterbury Lake -- about a 20-minute fly-out -- proved to be a lovely and very large lake with lots of areas to cast for northerns.

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We cast-and-retrieved, with a stiff wind behind us allowing long casts. Sometimes beasts like this, which Jackie caught on a little Mann's 1-Minus, would follow the lure 150 feet and snatch it in a boatside explosion. Talk about your pounding pulse! Other times, we could see them swirl, flash and grab lures cast within a foot or two of the shore; I had good success doing that with a bright orange-and-gold jointed Storm Thunderstick. Her reel, a Daiwa Steez, was loaded with 10-pound braid. Be advised that guides prefer nothing less than 20 for fear big pike will be fought for too long and risk release mortality; however, even monsters like this took Jackie no more than two or three minutes to get to boatside.

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Mean Mr. Pike -- a portrait.

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With waters just beginning to warm after June ice-out on Rabbabou, a distant arm of Wollaston, sight-casting to pike is a grand sport. Again, smaller, brighter lures generally did best. Note in this shot, as Clayton prepares to release a pike, the tiny black dot far back on shore, at left.

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The tiny black dot! When this 350-pound black bear came lumbering up to water's edge, it was no longer so tiny. Clayton continues to cast (permitting me to get a shot of angler and bear in the same frame) but keeps an eye on our new-found friend, only 30 feet or so from the boat. He said the boar was unusually bold, probably attributable to late ice-out and lack of berries for hungry ursids.

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By this point, I was happy to have 30 feet of water between us -- and 40 Yahamahorses vibrating on the transom. Fortunately, this was as close as we got to Mr. Bear.

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And just as well we stuck around: Shortly after our bear wandered off, we nailed this 45-inch beauty, a fun catch anytime but in three feet of water, all the sweeter.

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Grand slam, part three! And done in style -- when Jackie decided to catch her first lake trout, it was a beauty. Being early in the season, lake trout were still patrolling the shallower bays requiring no deep-trolling. This unexpected catch struck -- yep, a Blue Fox spinner! -- in true pike fashion, right at the boat.

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Again in shallow back bays, we found pike galore, laid up like logs in clear-brown water a couple feet deep. Getting them to strike was a challenge.

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Finally, I tried a small (3-inch) salt-and-pepper twin-tail plastic bait on a Mustad worm hook, fished very slowly in very small hops along the bottom in front of the pike; that turned out to be our most effective offering.

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Often the smaller northerns like this would pick up a lure but some to 36 inches provided real excitement in the quiet little bay where we could count a dozen fish at one time.

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Last stop for the grand slam, grayling country. Arctic grayling are found widely around Wollaston, in fast-flowing streams (and sometimes in the lakes, adjacent, as well). Jackie casts a tiny spinner as Clayton directs her throw.

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Grand slam, part four! A lovely grayling is admired briefly before it's released. And, voila, Jackie has become a member of a unique grand slam club.

Looking for the biggest northern of your life? There's no place like Canada at ice-out.