On a recent business trip to Edmonton, I thought it would be a good opportunity to set aside some time and get out on the water with our good friends; Phil and Patsy Rowley. We decided some Pike fishing was in order and being close by, Wabamun Lake was selected as the choice to cast for some hungry fish.
Wabamun Lake is located about 65km west of Edmonton. This 82km2 lake is bounded by a number of towns including the villages of Wabamun and Lakeview. A number of coal fire plants utilized the lake for cooling and were fed by the CN rail line that ran coal long the shoreline of the lake. The last of these plants were decommissioned in 2010. In 2005, as a result of a faulty rail, a train derailment lead to the release of over 1.3 million litres of oil and other hazardous chemicals. The legal proceedings against CN Rail would later confirm that approximately 196,000 L of heavy oil ended up in lake. This took a significant toll on the environment including the eradication of the native Walleye population. After 10 years (nearly to the day) since the derailment, the lake seems to be recovering well demonstrating just how resilient nature can be when given a little helping hand with clean up and recovery efforts. Northern Pike and Whitefish are among the popular species caught from the lake regularly.
Having been in Alberta for over half a year it has become routine to check the weather reports frequently and even more frequently when planning day or longer trips. A critical element of these reports is wind speed and direction. When it was reported that 15m/h winds were expected in the morning tapering to a butterfly fart in the afternoon, there were smiles around the breakfast table. The reality at the boat launch was more like a scene from the Deadliest Catch. The group was stoically loading the gear over the gunnels and preparing the boat for the water, and glancing apprehensively at the whitecaps on the lake. We were bounced around the boat like pingpong balls as we headed straight into heavy winds. 15km/h… my ass! This turned the ride into a long rodeo ride across the lake.
Once we arrived at our first weed bed, it was like someone had finally intervened with the wind on our behalf as the lake quickly settled down to glass calm. Figures! As we cast streamers in search of big, green, slimy pike, Phil described the efforts being make to reintroduce walleye to the lake. In Ontario, walleye are heavily harvested, which one can only assume is because of how ridiculously good they taste! Due to over harvesting and loss of habitat in southern Alberta, walleye are largely catch and release fisheries or harvested under a three tier tag system. They are affectionately referred to as the ‘pets’ of the province.
While Phil and I talked fish biology, Patsy got on with the business of the day and brought the first Pike to the boat. It was a respectable one at that! We quickly realized that despite the rises and splashes on the surface, we had to fish deep to catch these fish. Annoyingly deep. So, we cast out and waited, but between excitement and impatience, we struggled to wait long enough. That is when we discovered the “Timbit Countdown” method. Apparently, the time it took the fly to sink to the perfect depth is the same amount of time it took to eat a Timbit. Twenty Timbits later and almost as many fish, we realized that we never bothered to actually time how long tit took to eat one leaving us back at square one with target depth!
Patience and sinking lines brought Pike after toothy Pike to the boat with some by-catch, Walleye in the mix . The 5 Walleye that were caught offered evidence that the government ‘repatriation’ plan is working. These walleye were healthy, bright gold and their mouths were full of big, sharp teeth. These teeth would give a small Pike a run for its money! By far these were some of the healthiest walleye I had ever seen. They may not have been large, but they will be some day soon! Its interesting to note that the Pike didn’t seem to be in the same condition. While still voracious, these pike were very thin and many had bite marks and scars from territorial and competition battles. Could these small, mean looking walleye be impacting the Pike? That’s a discussion to have over a few beers later in the evening.
As the afternoon grew warmer, the lake became more populated. This lake seems to offer it all, sailing, fishing, water skiing, kayaking etc.. and while great to see, the user conflicts were apparent. We were even “encouraged” to leave one of our spot by a boat dragging a water skier within a few yards of Phil’s boat. At least they had stopped by first to tell us they were going to ski right over the spot we were fishing! Its hard to imagine what a circus this lake could look like on a long weekend.
Lot’s of Pike to chase and eat our fly offerings, beautiful family of loons on the water nearby, a few surprise walleye and best of all great company made for an amazing day on Wabamum Lake. Many thanks to Phil and Patsy for the hospitality and great time on the water!