Gators of The Cree
Hunting northern Saskatchewan’s monster pike, flats- style on the Cree River.
By Gil Greenberg

While Covid hasn’t shut down my travel plans, it has forced me to stick closer to home than usual. That has allowed me to share my adventures with family and friends. Last summer I was invited by Lori and Pat Babcock to fish at Cree River Lodge, which is located in Northern Saskatchewan, on Lake Wapata. Joining were Jen Westowski, fellow angler Darryl Rosalin and his wife Lorrie Newyen, and the man behind the lens, Curtis Hall. Lake Wapata is a section of the Cree River and harbors northern pike, walleye, Arctic grayling and lake trout. Cree River Lodge has exclusive access to the best sections of the Cree.

From the moment we stepped off the floatplane and onto the lodge’s dock, we were treated like family. Pat came down and greeted us before showing us to our rooms and handing us off to Lori, who showed us around the main room and kitchen, giving us the lowdown on how things work on the Cree.

The next thing we knew we were ripping across the water, starting our hunt for northern pike, a.k.a., the water wolf.

We spent the first couple days fishing a mix of weedbeds, drop-offs, shoals and other structure, sticking relatively close to the lodge. Our guides mostly focused on areas known for large fish and also good numbers of fish. I spent much of my time capturing video, but still managed to catch at least 20 pike a day.

Here’s the first of three 40-plus inch pike that Darryl caught while fishing out of Creek River Lodge. This one—the largest of the three—measured about 44 inches. While we weren’t specifically targeting monster pike, there were a few around.

Darryl’s better -half, Lorrie, with her first fish on a fly rod.

A lot of operators and guides claim to offer saltwater flats-style pike fishing. What they really mean is if you time your trip right, you can sight-cast to laid-up, post-spawn pike in the bulrushes and heavy grass. Cree River Lodge takes this idea to the next level by using a tunnel-hull boat, a poling platform, and a push pole. When conditions are right, which usually occurs in June and July, this is the preferred method.

It's hard to miss a pike in super skinny water—especially when they are “tailing."

Good- size grayling can be caught in an area called “the rapids” on a variety of dries, nymphs and streamers.

Landing a trophy fish takes hard work, dedication, perseverance, and often numerous days of “fishlessness”. That is, unless you're fishing the Cree River with guides Dwayne “Chip” Cormarty, Gary Hanke, and Adam “Georgie” George. It wasn't easy, but each member of our group walked away with a legit 40-inch long fly-caught pike. And Jen caught a behemoth on a spoon.

Pat and his team have secret shore lunch spots set up around the Wapato system. Each day we enjoyed fish fries consisting of walleye and pike, prepared in a number of different ways. George has a culinary chef background and his pike “ribs bites” were fantastic. Fun Fact: pike from the cold waters in Northern Saskatchewan taste better than walleye—proven via countless “blind tests.”

While pike are notorious for shredding flies, a well- tied synthetic provides durability and can stand up to multiple eats. This particular fly has accounted for a hundred fish and is still going strong.

While 8- to 10-weight, single-hand rods are preferred by most anglers, Jen preferred an 11-foot 6-weight switch rod. Casting large pike flies with this rod, often into the wind, put less strain on her wrists.

The weather was a little nasty one morning, so we decided to tie flies. Chip and Gary are phenomenal anglers and tyers, and were happy to share their knowledge with us. While pike fishing isn’t very technical, these guides were very focussed on fly design and materials. A number of years ago I switched from hollow-tied synthetics to Zonker strips as I believed that Zonkers moves better in the water. And, bunny style flies can be tied quickly. After spending a week with Chip and Gary, I’m back on the synthetics.

A happy staff makes for happy clients and good vibes. After dinner, we would all hang out, enjoy a few beers and tell fishing stories.

On the last day of our trip we decided to go on a little adventure and check out the “dunes”. We ripped downriver for about three hours to a faster flowing section where these massive sand dunes seemed to just appear out of nowhere.

That afternoon we left the girls (along with quite a few beverages) in Georgie’s hands and focussed on finding a giant pike. While we did find a number of solid fish, including a couple 40-inchers and some aggressive popper killers, we didn’t find the 50-incher we were hoping for. But Jen did. The girls traded in their long wands and went for a little cruise. With the beers flowing and spoons trolling, Georgie quietly kept circling back to an area where he’d spotted a monster four hours earlier. Jen’s rod doubled over. She thought she’d hooked bottom until line started peeling from her reel. After an eight-minute battle Jen had a 50-incher in -hand. Simply a perfect way to end a fantastic trip.

Cree River Lodge offers the perfect balance of grit, comfort and value. While visiting Cree, guests enjoy large, spacious rooms, hearty meals, and extremely knowledgeable guides . . . all at nearly half the price of similarly equipped lodges. While remote fly-in fishing is never “cheap,” I can honestly say Cree River Lodge offers, dollar-for-dollar, the best pike fishing I have ever experienced.

Northern Saskatchewan is a great place to be, especially during summer with a big pike in-hand.

Gil Greenberg
Gil Greenberg is the founder of Gil’s Fly Fishing International. He holds a degree in marine biology and has always felt most at home on the water. At age 18, Gil bought his first fly rod and took it on his family’s annual walleye fishing trip. Just like so many fly-fishers before him, he was instantly hooked on the fly. To date, Gil has thrown flies at fish in over 25 countries, spanning five continents. Before getting into the fly-fishing industry, Gil served in the IDF and worked as a fisheries consultant in the Solomon Islands.