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River Fun - One Bite At A Time

 

The slip bobber hung lazily in the slack water, for all purposes relaying the events of the day. The bite was slow, with the odd sucker making an appearance. Sometimes, though, that’s the way it goes when fishing on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. But this was all about to change and I could feel it. Clouds overhead moved in, a slight wind from the west picked up, and the sun started to get lower in the sky. In concert, these events were all good predictors that a hard and fast bite was coming.

Fishing walleye in cloudy conditions on the North Saskatchewan River

Walleye are plentiful all season long

A couple hours before sunset the bite started, first slow, then the intensity, and frequency of the bite picked up. What started as tentative nibbles gave way to aggressive strikes, the bobber plunging under with authority. The low light and weather change flipped the switch and the bite was on. Every cast was met with a determined fish, ready and willing to crush our worms and minnows. Most were walleye, but even the suckers picked up their enthusiasm and paid us some visits, as did a couple goldeye and a bonus pike.

Bobber fishing North Saskatchewan River produces walleye, suckers, goldeye, and pike

The bite came on strong as the clouds moved in and evening approached

In those two hours we went from a couple suckers to a dozen or more walleye plus a few cameos from other fish, all from this one small pool. At the height of the bite, with the fishing as good as it had been all day, we packed up the rods and called it a day. We had our fill of great fishing, and we were satisfied.


Slip bobber fishing is a great way to catch a lot of river fish. The basic premise being to suspend the bait just off bottom, or let the bait lightly drag along the bottom and have the fish come to you. It’s an excellent way to pick up a light bite and will catch walleye, as well as, all species of sucker. Catching the other popular fish, namely the pike, goldeye, and mooneye are best targeted differently.

Slip bobber fishing the North Saskatchewan for river gamefish

Goldeye, and outstanding river gamefish

For goldeye and mooneye a bobber and fly, like a bead head prince nymph, or a bead head pheasant tail nymph are golden. The trick to catching either fish with regularity is to concentrate your efforts in areas where they are likely to live. Give a goldeye the choice of any spot on the river and 9 times out of 10 he’ll set up shop right on the current seam where fast water meets slow water. There they will rise with fair regularity making them easy targets for the bobber and fly. The fly is best fished high in the water column. Try hanging the fly 12 to 18 inches under the bobber and let the goldeye take care of the rest. It doesn’t matter if the water is 6, 7, or 10 feet deep, the goldeye and mooneye will come to the surface just as sure as the sun will rise and the tide will ebb and flow.

Low light bobber and fly fishing for mooneye and goldeye high in the rivers water column

Low light on the river is prime time

Pike, on the other hand, are the river wild cards and while you will occasionally tag one of the toothy critters with one of the methods mentioned earlier they are first and foremost fish eaters first. They like the taste of goldeye, mooneye, and especially sucker. A hint that any of these fish are in distress will immediately put pike in a hunting and feeding mood. The road to success is to hunt them, cover water and imitate a fish. This is one arena where larger lures are not out of the question, and a magnum Rapala, or an equally large jerkbait or spoon will generally get a response. Sometimes a strike so fierce it’ll blow up your rod and promptly bust your line.

River pike fishing with large jerkbait or spoons

A bonus pike.

On one occasion I came up to a pool smack in the middle of downtown Edmonton where I cast a large spoon and immediately hooked up to a very respectable pike. The fish was a healthy 26 inches, but the reason this situation sticks out so vividly in my mind is that, as I was reeling it in, its every move was shadowed by a monster northern nearly twice its length. I was staring at an honest four footer. I’m not sure if the monster was just curious or simply trying to make up its mind whether or not to eat it. I didn’t care. It was huge and my mind was racing.


The big pike decided against the attack and drifted back into the deep green of the pool. I landed my fish, measured for reference, then let it go. "Twenty-six inches...wow!" I said to myself, thinking about how truly large that other pike was. I then put on one of my largest pike lures, a 10 inch Suick, firetiger pattern. Twice over the next two days I had that exact fish follow my hook right to shore before fading back to the depths. It was unnerving, and heartbreaking. Not deterred though, I hatched a plan to use a full size sucker for bait. I arrived back at the river for round 3 armed with my heaviest outfit, fully rigged with a home made version of a sucker harness. The entire harness was made out of steel leader material. I was taking no chances. If I could get the bite I wanted to land that fish. I also had a trout rod with me to catch a sucker at the head of the pool, where I’d dispatch it per the regs, and put it on the heavy duty sucker rig. I felt the plan was good.


I went to the head of the pool lowered a worm and split shot to the bottom and waited. In a couple minutes I felt a light rhythmic tugging. I lifted the rod skyward and hooked a sucker and then the water exploded, scales, spots, fins, teeth; my rod doubled over and the line snapped in the same instant. The spray of water doused me, the shore was drenched. The monster pike apparently wanted the sucker more than I did and made good its attack. The sucker was gone, my line busted, I was drenched and the fish was gone. That was the last I saw of her. A true river monster.

River longnose sucker is food for a northern pike

The longnose sucker, fun fish to catch and also pike food should a monster northern be lurking nearby

This is life on the river. I’ve made good on some other big pike opportunities though, including one that scared the goldeye I had just released right up onto the river bank. I haven’t even talked about sturgeon yet, but that’s best left for another time. It truly deserves an entire piece dedicated to the pursuit of our river dinosaur.


But here’s the guarantee. With the river only minutes from over a million people, a host of fish species ready and willing to strike, there is lots of angling action available very close to home. I for one, will be one of those out there, enjoying it to the fullest.


Previous Fishing Articles

(1) River Fun - One Bite At A Time

(2) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers

(3) Going With The Flow

(4) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman

(5) Swinging The Fences

(6) A View From The Aerie

(7) Dixieland Delight

(8) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts

(9) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon

(10) Montana's Cool Missouri

(11) Pretty Is As Pretty Does

(12) Toothy Critters

(13) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake

(14) Top Ten Flies

(15) Northern Exposure

(16) Home Water Lessons

(17) Chicken Of The Sea

(18) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish

(19) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

(20) Keep It Up!

(21) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

(22) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood

(23) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(24) Hawg Holes

(25) Saltwater Salmon

(26) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

(27) Down a Lazy River –
A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan

(28) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead

(29) IN SEARCH OF SPECKLED FOOTBALLS

(30) FISHING CANADA'S PRAIRIE CITIES

(31) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(32) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(33) Fall Walleye

(34) Wet Flies

(35) Versatility the Key to Success

(36) Grayling of the Boreal

(37) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(38) Size Matters

(39) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(40) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(41) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(42) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(43) The Point Of It All

(44) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day

(45) Fall Fly Fishing

(46) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(47) Big River, Big Fish

(48) Bottom Bonanza

(49) Fishing Small Flies

(50) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(51) Four Seasons of the Bow

(52) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot

(53) GEARING UP FOR SMALL STREAM TROUT

(54) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

(55) Don’t Leave Home Without Them –
10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box

(56) Edge Walleye

(57) FLY FISHING STRATEGIES FOR HIGH WATER

(58) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(59) Four Corners – Four Waters

(60) Chasing Pothole Trout

(61) Springtime Stoneflies

(62) The Torrents of Spring

(63) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(64) Bust Them With Bait

(65) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(66) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(67) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(68) Terrestrials

(69) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(70) Rocky Mountain High

(71) Reading the clues

(72) Where the Trout Are
The art of locating feeding trout
in rivers and streams.

(73) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin

(74) Fly Fishing 101

(75) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod

(76) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(77) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(78) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

(79) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital

(80) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(81) Trust Your Electronics

(82) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(83) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(84) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(85) Walleye can be Humbling

(86) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed

(87) Winter Flyfishing

(88) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(89) Hot Fall Pike Action

(90) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down

(91) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(92) Frequently Asked Questions

(93) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(94) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(95) Deep Water Perch

(96) Post Spawn Brookies

(97) A Fisher's Life

(98) The River's Last Stand

(99) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(100) Coho on the Coast

(101) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(102) Summer in the Mountains

(103) Peak Walleye Season

(104) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(105) Last Ice Rainbows

(106) The Burbot Event

(107) Tackle Matching

(108) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(109) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(110) The Lure of Brook Trout

(111) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(112) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

(113) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies

(114) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(115) The Vesatile Plug

(116) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout

(117) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(118) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(119) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(120) Daily Fish Migrations

(121) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(122) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

(123) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing

(124) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(125) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(126) The Fun in Ultra Light

(127) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(128) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(129) Never Stop Learning

(130) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(131) Jigging through the Ice

(132) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(133) Rainbows on Ice

(134) The Season of Ice Begins

(135) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(136) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(137) Facts On Cats

(138) West Coast Adventure

(139) June Walleye Frenzy

(140) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

(141) "First Fish of the Year - Pothole Rainbows and Browns"

(142) "Northern Exposure"

(143) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish

(144) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(145) Man Overboard