Minnesota’s bizarre ice season had me looking north in search of good ice and great fishing. When the opportunity to travel to Saskatchewan presented itself I had no choice but to commit. Who wouldn’t want to go to Saskatchewan in February?!! Anticipation grew and my departure drew nearer. Just saying “Saskatchewan” brought with it a bit of an adrenaline rush. I was advised by a friend that in order to fit in I would be advised to pronounce the province Sas-KATCH-win as opposed to the Minnesotan version Sas-Katch-u-juan. Armed with this cultural knowledge I departed for SK with rods and gear for a weekend of Saskatchewan ice fishing. I’ve heard great stories of ducks, deer and amazing fishing and was eager experience first-hand what Saskatchewan had to offer.
The context of my invitation added to the excitement. The city of Prince Albert was hosting an inaugural fishing marathon to raise money for local charities. The event would coincide with Canada’s largest winter festival, an annual event held in P.A. (that’s local-speak for Prince Albert). I was eager to share my experience fishing in the annual Fishing for Life marathon held on Lake Minnetonka each summer.
Saskatoon is the largest city in SK and is easily accessible from the Twin Cities with 2 hour 5 minute direct flights from Delta and cheaper connecting flights on United Airlines via Denver. As we approached the runway for landing we buzzed Wholesale Sports which holds a little-known piece of Minnesota history. Rochester bow huntress Michele Leqve is the first woman to kill a polar bear with a bow. Federal regulations forbid her to import her trophy so it’s proudly displayed at Wholesale Sports. After a quick photo op we were on the road to Prince Albert which would be our base camp for the next few days.
Michele Leqve's Polar Bear on Display in Saskatoon
My host for the weekend would be Strikemaster pro-staffer and fishing legend Holly Chow. Holly is a renowned guide in Manitoba chasing trophy walleye on Lake Winnipeg in the winter and guiding for trophy catfish on the Red River during ice out. Holly committed to promoting a couple events in the PA area but appears to have been adopted by the community and will most likely not be allowed to leave, ever. At 5’ and approximately 100 lbs Holly possesses unbridled passion that goes well beyond her physical stature. I met Holly on a shoot last year at Lake Winnie shooting a story on the ladies of Strikemaster…a group of pro-female anglers who share a passion for fishing. While our top priority was fishing, it was clear to me that Holly’s passion goes well beyond our favorite pastime.
Fishing Pro Holly Chow
Prince Albert is a community of 45,000 people in central Saskatchewan that’s not immune to the challenges facing many rural cities in the US and Canada. There’s no shortage of disadvantaged children who are in need of positive role models and opportunities. Fortunately for them there are individuals like Holly and the organization she represents, The Indian and Metis Friendship Centre of Prince Albert, who care deeply about the kids and the community. My first night there I was invited to attend a music show called Voices of the North which featured singers from across the province. It’s an American Idol style event but was created about a decade before Idol. While all the singers were good I bet at least two of them were American Idol caliber talent. It was inspiring to see a community come together to support their own talent.
The fishing marathon started bright and early on Saturday morning. 45 anglers had been issued pledge packets and were tasked with soliciting pledges for the fishing marathon. Participating anglers would be eligible for some fantastic prizes, many of which donated by Minnesota companies including Big Lake auger manufacturer Strikemaster and Medina-based Clam Corporation. Fishing on the river proved challenging….for me it was a physical challenge as I drilled 50 holes through 30” ice! For the anglers it was battling rough currents and less than ideal conditions (clear sky and a pressure system that blew through the night before) Fish were few and far between but that didn’t dampen spirits. The honor for biggest fish was awarded to Lauren Ball, who also was a top earner in the pledge category. He wasn’t too proud of his freshwater burbot (that’s eelpout to you me!) but I assured him that somewhere in the Walker, MN. area people would be pleased.
Lauren Ball and His Prize Winning Burbot (eelpout)
The marathon ended with participants leaving with some sort of prize package and over $10,000 raised for the Friendship Centre. Everyone left with a sense that they contributed to the future of the youth of Prince Albert so I would say it was a success!
The end of the marathon meant Holly and I were free to explore the lakes of Saskatchewan. We headed north with Friendship Centre VP Ron Fiddler, his son Ryan, and Prince Albert Tourism Director Dwight Bergstrom. The landscape changes on the north side of the Northern Saskatchewan River. The road looks like Highway Two heading north out of Two Harbors and turns to gravel after about 30 miles. I was on the lookout for wildlife as the area is thick with deer, moose, bears, coyotes and even wolves. I only spotted a couple of coyotes but noticed they use anatomically-correct deer signs (below) as opposed to our backwards-antlered deer signs!
After about 90 minutes we rolled into the Rainbow Lodge on Piprell Lake and were greeted by owners Rich & Shelly Lawrence. After a quick change of clothing and a brief fishing report we drove out on over 24” of great ice. Within about 30 minutes of fishing we accomplished goal number one which was to get Dwight on his first ever fish through the ice. Mission accomplished with this nice Rainbow!
Prince Albert Tourism Director Dwigth Bergstrom
Piprell is a stocked trout lake loaded with trophy splake, rainbow, brown and tigers. It’s a gem of a lake situated in the middle of a treasure trove of prime fishing water. Within an hour of the lake you can find trophy northern, lake trout and walleye lakes including Lake Tobin where the world record walleye was caught last winter.
Fishing was relatively slow but we made the best of a beautiful sunny and 35 degree day and had a walleye fish fry on the ice. By late afternoon the bite had picked up and we landed several nice splake including this one...the biggest of my career!
Mitch Petrie and his Career-Best Splake
Darrell Prokopie, President of Prince Albert Winterfest
After a full day of fishing we headed back to Prince Albert for our next adventure….a sled dog experience! This week in Prince Albert is the Canadian Sled Dog Challenge which is a race from Prince Albert to La Ronge and back which is about 300 miles round trip. Last year’s winner finished the course in just over 12 hours. This race is a qualifying race for the Iditarod which starts in 9 days (and no, despite internet rumors the Iditarod hasn't been canceled!).
My whirlwind tour ended with a 1.5 hour drive back to Saskatoon and an uneventful 2 hour flight home to Minneapolis. In less time than it takes to drive to my home town of Mankato I was able to escape to a Canadian winter paradise and was very happy I made the trip. I look forward to future trips to Saskatchewan and will undoubtedly return for more fishing, hunting, Canadian wilderness and some of the nicest people on the planet!
For More Information:
Rainbow Lodge on Lake Piprell : Tel: 306-426-2100