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As our float plane from La Ronge, Saskatchewan, arrived at Sportsman's Lodge, we looked down at a cluster of log cabins nestled in forest beside McIntosh Lake. The fly-in lodge draws Canadians and Americans for trophy lake trout, walleye and northern pike fishing.

Aerial view of lodge, docks and boats on McIntosh Lake in Churchill River
Aerial view of lodge, docks and boats
on McIntosh Lake in Churchill River
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

When Tom Pierce built Sportsman's Lodge, he picked the south end of McIntosh Lake because he wanted a location no more than 30 minutes by float plane from La Ronge. "Our Cree fishing guides said we wouldn't find any blackflies on this section of the Churchill River," he said. "And they were right."

Where to find walleye

Maxine and Ruffo Schindler now own Sportsman's Lodge. Guests stay in comfortable log cabins and fish for northern pike, walleye and lake trout from 16-foot aluminum boats. A fishing guide goes out with two fishermen.

Fishing guides know how to find the holes where large walleye hide out. When you find one of these holes, you can pull out five walleye in 15 minutes or less.

Lodges vs outpost camps

Northerns lie in eddies and feed on walleye attracted by the rapids. On most fishing trips, you find walleye in one location and northern pike in another. But here, they are all together.

We weren't convinced that fishing from Sportsman's Lodge was as good as fishing from an outpost camp until we tried it. Why spend extra dollars to fly to remote fishing camps if the fishing is no better than here?

Fishing guides and guests in boats beside Sportsman's Lodge docks
Fishing guides and guests in boats beside Sportsman's Lodge docks
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Recommended tackle

Guides have trouble convincing people to minimize the amount of tackle that they bring. "You don't need to bring your tackle box with all the lead you've collected over the past 25 years," said one guide.

Our guide used Len Thompson's, red and white spoons and yellow "five of diamonds" wobbling spoons to catch northern pike. For walleye, he used 3/8-ounce lead heads with rubber double tails.

Walleye season

Because the Churchill River starts 200 miles (322 kilometers) west of Sportsman's Lodge and continues all the way to Hudson's Bay, the water is cold right through the summer. The Churchill River also has an enormous flow, so the walleye fishing season extends through the heat of summer, unlike on still lakes.

After a day of walleye and northern pike fishing, we joined other guests at Sportsman's Lodge for a delicious roast chicken dinner, followed by mouth-watering lemon meringue pie. The portions were enormous. Because guests eat shore lunches at noon, the lodge serves meat for dinner.

Fisherman leaves cabin.
Fisherman leaves cabin.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Fishing stories

Lodge guests were in upbeat moods, comparing notes about their catches. One guest announced: "Mrs. Nelson, here, caught the most beautiful stick. You should've heard her, whooping and hollering! She even claimed she could see two little ears, sticking from it. It gave her a real fight too!"

Not to be outdone, a man at the next table said: "I was once out fishing with my son. He was pulling in a two-foot northern and I turned around just in time to see a big three-footer grab it in the middle and take it away from him!"

After pausing to catch her breath from laughing, a woman told the group about her winter fishing trip on small lake in the Churchill River area. "We were ice fishing with our black Labrador retriever. Because he was playing around and not watching where he was going, he fell through a hole in the ice. The next thing you know, we heard a scream and saw a woman running out of the hut next to ours. Our dog had swum up to their ice hole and came bounding out of it, soaking wet, scaring the life out of the people inside!"

Float plane at dock on McIntosh Lake
Float plane at dock on McIntosh Lake
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"You have to be real careful and wear a life jacket," added another fisherman. "You can fall overboard so quickly. You reach back to cast and a big northern comes along and grabs the lure, tipping you over backwards with its weight."

Fish tales

You will certainly hear a lot of fish stories over dinner at Sportsman's Lodge. The big one always gets away. You don't lose a 15-pounder. If you're going to lose your catch, you may as well lose a 26-pounder. And on the Churchill River, it's difficult to dispute stories of large fish.

We reluctantly left Sportsman's Lodge and boarded our float plane to La Ronge. As we got in our rental car to drive to Saskatoon, 235 miles (380 kilometers) south of La Ronge, we turned on the radio. The newscaster described a 50-pound lake trout caught by a local fisherman in the Churchill River.

"You have to see it to believe it," he said. "He caught the 42-inch-long, 32-inch-girth lake trout on a 10-pound test line, using a barbless hook. Just think," he continued, "if you wear size 32 pants and you measure yourself around the waist, that's the size of this big lake trout."

If there's anything bigger than the lake trout and northern pike that you'll catch on a Canadian fly-in fishing trip, it's the fish stories you'll hear in northern Saskatchewan.


Sportsman's Lodge: www.facebook.com/ruffoslodge/

Tourism Saskatchewan: www.tourismsaskatchewan.com

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