Straddling the Saskatchewan - Manitoba border, Reindeer Lake is the 9th largest lake in all of Canada, so it’s no surprise that it hosts a broad diversity of fish. 230 km long by 60 km wide at its broadest point, Reindeer boasts in excess of 6500 sq. km. of surface area and islands too numerous to count, though surely numbering in the several thousands. First discovered by legendary fur trader, surveyor and mapmaker David Thompson in the late 1700s, Reindeer Lake today offers recreational anglers some of Canada’s best wilderness fishing south of the Territories.
While you can drive to the lake’s southwest corner, near where it drains into the Reindeer and Churchill Rivers that eventually flow into Hudson Bay, for all practical purposes it’s a fly-in lake for fishermen. Once there were half a dozen or more lodges operating on the lake; today, thanks in large measure to the last half dozen years of a softened U.S. economy, there are just two or three. A friend and I recently had the opportunity to visit one of these, Arctic Lodges, owned and operated by Jan and Ray Littlechilds and located near the central point of the lake. We weren’t disappointed and after my first visit to Reindeer I came home with some wonderful memories and the burning desire to return.
The list of available fish species here is long, including walleye, perch, lake trout, northern pike, Arctic grayling, lake whitefish, cisco, burbot and more. But based upon what I saw, the real attraction are the big pike and the lake trout, both of which are numerous and easy to catch.
Jim and I spent much of the first day looking for pike. We’d boat among the countless shallow sheltered bays, casting spoons, crankbaits and topwater lures. Seldom did any likely-looking spot not produce a pike, several; post-spawn, the northerns were still shallow and clearly ravenous, as they attacked whatever we threw with reckless abandon.
The yardstick for pike worthy of mention at Reindeer is 40"; on that first morning we each passed the vaulted mark, including a 44.5" lunker that Jim fooled with a ½-ounce jig tipped with a six-inch silver shad-style soft-bodied bait. In terms of numbers of fish, it quickly got too many to track for those of us more focused on the fun than the tally.
Given its size, Reindeer can be an intimidating body of water, especially to the newcomer. I wouldn’t advise anybody self-guiding on the lake to dare venture out without a GPS. Fortunately, Arctic Lodge boasts experienced Cree guides, most from the local communities of Southend or Kinoosao. These guys were born and raised on Reindeer Lake and know the waters intimately. Twenty minutes from camp under the overcast skies and I was completely turned around, but our guides travelled from island to island and bay to bay with the easy confidence of those who’ve been there 100s of times. Undoubtedly because they have. With experienced guides and the lodge’s comfortable 18-foot boats powered by 40- and 50-h.p. outboards, Jim and I were free to leave the navigating to the experts while we focused on the fishing.
By noon, and with the first-day anxieties of fishing anywhere new worn to a nub by the dozens of fish we’d hooked, we enjoyed one of the subtle pleasures of wilderness fishing - a shore lunch. Freshly-filleted pike with sides of beans and potatoes is a northern shore lunch staple that never fails to appease, especially when cooked by someone else. Over our three days at the lodge we enjoyed both lake trout and pike fried over a wood fire; I think we both settled on pike as our favourite.
After lunch on day one we trolled for lake trout, just to mix it up a little, and it wasn’t long before we were into them. Though we didn’t hook any of the 20-, 30- or 40-pounders (and larger!) known to swim Reindeer’s clear waters, we caught enough in the six- to 10-pound class to satisfy our itch. All the while, however, we couldn’t get our minds off the prospect of getting back after the northerns.
While we were at Reindeer some of the other anglers came back at the end of a day with stories and photos of walleye up to eight pounds, and Jim and I spent a fruitless hour throwing dry flies in search of grayling one morning, but by and large it was the big pike that had everybody’s attention. In fact there were two groups of European anglers at the lodge, one from Germany, the other from Poland, who’d travelled across the pond exclusively for Reindeer Lake’s massive pike. Replete with tackle boxes jammed full of big lures I’d never seen before, the thought of lake trout, walleye or grayling never crossed their minds over more than a week of fishing - it was all about pike for them.
To be fair, Reindeer’s walleye are widely scattered and difficult to pattern, the grayling fishing is best when the little beauties amass around reefs and islands in August (we visited in June), and the lakers are most easily targeted in late summer when they congregate in the deeper holes. So perhaps it only stands to reason that early-season anglers generally focus on pike, when the ravenous mature hens can be found in shallow water adjacent to their spawning habitat.
Over our three days at Reindeer, Jim and I enjoyed world-class pike angling. I spent most of one day fishing only with my fly rod, and at one point hooked 12 pike on 15 successive casts, throwing big polar bear-hair streamers on a floating line. Another afternoon I fished exclusively with a Luhr Jensen Woodchopper that ended up so battered and bruised from marauding pike that no amount of repair could save it from the garbage pail at the end of the day.
As is so often the case, our time at Arctic Lodges flew by way too fast, and we left wishing we’d booked another few days. Hopefully I’ll get back there again - until then I’ll have to be satisfied with photographs and memories, the finest fishing trophies one can earn.