Where to Go

Lake Athabasca

One year an angler staying at the Lakers Unlimited camp on Lake Athabasca lost a huge trout off the tip of one of the islands. He swore it had been a 50-pounder. He booked a trip the following season, telling the camp's owners, Jeff Perala and Cordell Sihlis, that he was coming back to catch "his" 50-pounder. On the first day of his return visit he went to the place where he'd lost the big fish and caught a 52-pound lake trout. This sounds like an exaggerated fish story, but when you talk to anglers who've fished with Lakers Unlimited, incredible stories become commonplace. At first I was skeptical when my friend Dick Bengraff told me about catching extraordinary numbers of 20- and 30-pound lakers from Athabasca.

Then I met Charlie Wentzel, who said that he and a partner spent a week on Lake Athabasca in 2001 and caught 41 lake trout, most from 20 to 29 pounds but with six over 30 pounds. That's around 1,000 pounds of trout. I also met Eddie Wagner and Dennis Diefenderfer, who fished with Lakers Unlimited in 2001 and caught 660 lake trout in seven days, the two biggest of which weighed 37 and 40 pounds. Last September, I had to go to Lake Athabasca to see if the tall tales were true.

Fish, Eat, Sleep, Fish Located in northern Saskatchewan, the 200-mile-long Lake Athabasca is the ninth-largest lake in North America. It is lightly fished, especially in the scenic north-central area. There are rocky islands with rugged shorelines, deep bays, and numerous reefs swarming with big trout. This is the beautiful setting of Johnston Island, home to the remote Lakers Unlimited camp. Don't come to Lakers Unlimited if you're looking for the type of fishing lodge that pampers you. There is no satellite TV, no cocktail bar, and no noisy generators. There are also no complaints from guests, who abide by the sign posted on the kitchen wall: fish, fish, eat; fish, fish, sleep; fish, fish, fish. The clientele can tell you a lot about a fishing lodge. Lakers Unlimited has an 85 percent return rate among its customers. Most of these visitors are serious anglers who have fished a lot of other Canadian lake trout waters.

Seven-time regular Todd Cubbon calls the camp, which opened in 1995, "a place for diehards who want to catch lots of trophy-size trout, more than they can anyplace else." Lakers Unlimited anglers have caught several fish in the 50-pound range over the past nine years, with 55 pounds being the heaviest. In 2000, a 58-pound laker was caught and released in Athabasca, a provincial record. What makes Lakers Unlimited especially attractive is that it not only has arguably the best fishing, but it's also at an exceptional price. The cost is $1,100 to $1,600 less per week than at better-known lodges on other "trophy trout" lakes. My visit coincided with a week of terrible weather. Snowstorms, fierce winds, and freezing temperatures kept us from fishing many of the reefs. But despite conditions that camp employees considered the worst in their nine years of operation, the 12 anglers there collectively caught 17 lakers from 30 to 35 pounds, over 100 trout in the 20- to 29-pound range, and another 100 or so in the mid- to upper teens. These results would have been extraordinary for a month of fishing almost anywhere else, but here, everyone insisted it was a below-average week. This may sound like a fish story, but when a lake is as good as Athabasca, even bad weather isn't enough to hurt the fishing.

The Lodge

The Johnston Island camp can accommodate 10 anglers and has a modest kitchen and dining room, common bath and showers, and unlit paneled one-room cabins with propane heat. A weeklong trip runs $2,400 U.S., double occupancy, inclusive from Edmonton, with a guide.

The Fishing

The season runs from June 7 through September. Early and late are preferred by many for shallow lake trout, although large fish are caught the entire time. In September, if conditions are right, you might bee able to cast to big spawning lakers on reefs. Husky Devle spoons and Kwikfish plugs are the main lures.

How to Go

Lakers Unlimited will arrange transport from Edmonton. Contact Lakers Unlimited, Dept. FS, Box 325, Tofield, Alberta T0B 4J0, Canada; 780-662-3513;

www.lakersunlimited.com.

-Ken Schultz