The aquatic attack dogs of the Canadian far north

Around the second week in June, schools of northern pike suddenly appear in the sandy-bottom shallows of tea-colored Wollaston Lake in northeastern Saskatchewan. These are lean, gold-green creatures with dark, inset eyes imbedded in long, fierce snouts sheathing multiple rows of sharp, sinister teeth. They are sunning themselves. They have survived the winter, listless and immobile, under a thick sheet of subpolar ice, now melted from the first-warming margins of the great, glacial lake just above 58 degrees north latitude. That's roughly the same latitude as southern Greenland. And at times, it's as chilly.

Wollaston Lake is immense. Covering 2,286 square kilometers, not counting islands, it's the largest natural lake in the world draining in two directions-to the Arctic via the Mackenzie River and to Hudson Bay via the Churchill River.

Its most famous residents aren't ordinary freshwater fish. Nor are they ordinary pike. They are the aquatic attack dogs of the Canadian far north. They eat suckers and snakes and baby muskrats and their own young. They are huge pike. Rip-your-head-off giants. Many exceed 40 inches in length. There are so many exceptional fish here that to be entered in the daily catch log at Minor Bay Lodge-a cozy collection of pinewood cabins tucked along the shoreline of the lake's southwest corner-a so-called "board fish" must measure at least 36 inches. More than 1,000 qualify each season.

Shorter fish, impressive nearly everywhere else in the world where pike are appreciated and assiduously pursued, receive little attention. At some point, for most of us, confronted with any embarrassment of riches, the thrill is gone, or at least the shock value. Nod discreetly and mentally move on. But not here. Because you may never get this chance again-and your next cast may just be an extraordinary, eye-popping beauty for the pike wall of fame. While I fished Minor Bay last year, an American angler in camp caught and released a personal record pike of 51-and-a-half inches.

It takes a pike hatched in Wollaston Lake a dozen years or longer to grow up to be big, mean and nasty. The growing season is short. Despite the apparent abundance, given the aggressive nature of these fish and their frequent extreme enthusiasm for attacking whatever moves and might be tasty, the sport-fishing policy nowadays at all responsible lodges is to ask angling guests to release nearly all trophies boated. This effective rule-and relatively light angling pressure as pro-actively managed by the province-is keeping the wild population of northern pike in this wilderness refuge robust and as diverse as nature created.

Measure it, take a quick picture to e-mail to your brother-in-law back in the city, and away slips another golden, ivory-spotted predator as long as your arm. Hear that loon calling in the distance? You're in Pike Heaven-keep casting!

Wollaston Lake Airport has a 3,800-foot gravel runway. Another option would be to fly into Saskatoon John G. Diefenbaker International Airport, which has an 8,300-foot paved runway, and then make the last leg north on a Transwest Air scheduled or charter flight.

Mid-June through September

Minor Bay Lodge, (888) BIG-PIKE,

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