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Right about now record numbers of fly anglers are reserving summer trips to Canada’s far north for one of fly fishing’s newest stars northern pike. That’s right. While some old-school anglers may recoil at the thought, Hall of Fame fly anglers such as Lefty Kreh, Larry Dahlberg and Flip Pallot have all made repeated trips northward to fish for pike. So have owners of some of the best trout-based fly shops in the Rockies.

It’s true that fly fishing for wilderness pike isn’t for everyone, especially anglers who revel in the challenge of spending hours picking the right dry fly, making a perfect cast and then landing an acrobatic fish on spider-web tippet. Pike rule northern waters with the same ferocity as the wolves and bears that rule the land, meaning they savagely strike at flies the size of canaries. Indeed, pike are the perfect fish for the office-bound angler who wants to catch a summer’s worth of fish in one week and drop a photo on a co-worker’s desk afterward of a fly-caught fish as long and thick as his leg. Pike are also a great fish to get a spouse, or child, hooked on fly fishing because they will likely get into scores of fish up to three feet long, or longer, on a daily basis.

One of the reasons for the ferocity of northern pike is that they spend about eight months of the year under ice. That makes them tend to pig-out the other four, from about June through September. Unpressured and focused on getting the most from a limited forage base, they can be some of the most unwary fish on the planet. Boats passing within yards, or another fish writhing against a hook can get them more excited than spooked. Harvey Kroll, manager of Saskat- chewan’s Hatchet Lake Lodge, regularly hears tales of pike trying to wrestle a fly from a hooked fish’s mouth, or guides deliberately running their boats into dense weeds to flush fish into open water, where they immediately turn to take a fly. Piscine Einsteins, they ain’t.

Interestingly, fly anglers targeting pike tend to be more successful that spincasting or baitcasting anglers. Why? Because a five- to 10-inch deceiver or bunny fur leech looks more realistic than any spoon or spinner. On cold-front days, and when the ice-out bays are super cold, the ability to fish slowly with fur and feathers is another huge advantage.

It’s the take, as well as the size and numbers of fish, that provides much of the excitement in wilderness pike fishing. Anglers can see probably 90 percent of the attacks, and it’s nothing to watch a 15-pound fish travel many yards to torpedo a fly at full speed. Others may rise from unseen weed bed lairs and slowly stalk your fly, gradually cutting the distance before opening and closing their mouths on your fly only a few feet from the boat.

As for the fight of a pike, I admit that it is good but not great. The fish are built for speed, not distance, and they tend to tire quickly. Also, pike anglers usually use pretty stout tackle 7- to 9-weight rods, 0X leaders with wire tippets and No. 2 to 4/0 hooks. Again, pike fishing is a long way from casting tricos on 6X for 20-inch rainbows in fast water, but still

Fly fishing for pike does have its challenges. Wind can hamper casting, though there’s usually a sheltered bay or inlet to be found. Cold fronts can neutralize Northerns the same way they neutralize other fish. And, finally, most North Country lakes are huge, meaning there are thousands of acres of water with few, if any, pike. And that is where a good guide comes in. If you go pike fishing, insist on being assigned to a guide who knows local waters and how to handle a fly fisherman.

Importantly, most pike waters tend to harbor another desirable fish the grayling. A good set of grayling rapids with a caddis hatch in full-swing can provide dry fly fishing that is about as good as it gets in terms of numbers. Catches of 50 to 100 grayling per person per day are common; that includes anglers with modest fly fishing experience. Mid-hatch grayling hit about anything that floats. Even a bright fly line or a fly dragging in the current can inspire hits.

So, where can you get into some pike fishing this coming summer? There is quality pike and grayling fishing all across northern Canada, and you can get into it from facilities as simple as a rental cabin that includes a small motor boat in the package to a full-service luxury lodge deep in the wilderness. Here are three of the latter that come highly recommended by avid fly fishermen I’ve spoken to:

Hatchet Lake Lodge : One of the strongest names in quality wilderness fishing, Hatchet Lake Lodge has been a fly-in destination for more than 40 years. It’s still run by northern legend, George Fleming, who left his native Scotland at the age of 17 for adventure and built an impressive lodge largely with his own hands in extreme northern Saskatchewan.

The lodge sits on Hatchet Lake, which is larger than most major American cities, but the best trophy pike and grayling fishing is usually found in the 20-plus surrounding lakes that anglers are flown in and out off on a daily basis. Each lake has its own reputation: one for huge pike; another for high pike numbers and great grayling; another for a good mix of both species. The fly-outs aren’t cheap, mind you. The place is known as much for its great customer service and meals as its world-class fishing. A five-day/four-night package is $3,695; nine days and eight nights is $5,395. Fly-outs range from $350 to $400 per person, depending on the number of anglers.

Gangler’s North Seal River Lodge & Outposts: Located within the legendary North Seal River drainage of northern Manitoba, Gangler’s was probably the first fly-in lodge to start pushing fly fishing for northern pike and grayling. That’s probably because lodge owner, Ken Gangler, is a widely-traveled fly fisherman in his own right.

Like Hatchet Lake Lodge, Gangler’s offers access to more than 20 lakes. They provide daily fly-outs, or anglers may be dropped off at wilderness outpost camps, each with its own camp manager, guides, great meals, web access, etc. Gangler says at least 40 percent of his clientele do at least some fly fishing during their trips. The main lodge has a complete pro shop and fly tying equipment for those in need. Most years, the lodge offers instructional fly fishing clinics led by some of the best people in the industry.

How good is the fly fishing? Legend Lefty Kreh has been there eight times. Last summer, a fly fisherman landed and released a 50-inch pike estimated at close to 40 pounds. Seven-day trips here range from $2,595 to $3,995, depending on the camp one chooses.

Nueltin Fly-In Lodges (800-361-7177; Nueltin’s fishing lakes and rivers cover about 14,000 wilderness miles within some of the most remote parts of Manitoba and Nunavut. The home lake alone is about 120 miles long, with another 23 fly-out lakes available. In addition to the five-star main lodge, they offer outpost camps for luxury corporate retreats. Also available are drop-off, semi-guided camps and basic on-your-own fishing.
lodge owner Shawn Gurge avidly pushes fly fishing and says it’s a huge portion of his business. Big pike are one of his specialties, but he also like to tout the region’s great fly fishing for world-class grayling. Grayling of 20 inches are common, and fish to 23 inches have been landed. Nueltin’s rates range from $2,595 to $4,795, depending on the number of days and which of Nueltin’s five facilities you choose.

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