Kasba Lake Lodge

by James Smedley | January 1, 2013
Kasba Lake

Following the lead of guide Jordan Day, I dip my cup into the clear waters of Kasba Lake and take a long draw. It’s early July, yet it’s only been a few weeks since this 1,500-square-mile lake, on the border between the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, saw the ice go out. The cold water makes my teeth ache.

Day has just throttled back at the entrance to a large bay, and we peel off layers and rig rods. The clear water betrays a shallow, sandy flat extending out from a gravel shore before dropping to blackness. “We’ll troll this edge,” says Day.

As I pay out line, I look along the west shore at an elongated, raised gravel deposit, pocked with stunted conifers. “That esker runs all the way down to Saskatchewan,” says Day.

My study of the stark low landscape is interrupted by “I got one,” the now familiar cry of my wife, Francine. Jordan cuts the motor and we both sit and enjoy her animated reeling in of a fish.

Amidst the excitement, I look down. The 8-pound lake trout is holding close to the sandy bottom, as we drift into shallow waters. I expected this, but what surprises me are the others. “Look at the followers,” I cry, pointing to four or five fish clustered around Francine’s. I toss out a white tube jig and it’s instantly clamped.

The Kasba express
From the south, the trip to the exceptional fishing this remote northern lake offers is seamless, what with a charter flight available from Winnipeg to the Kasba airstrip.

From the airstrip, rocklined pathways lead to guest cabins and the main lodge, just steps away. Within the first few days fellow guests return with photos and stories of lake trout over 20 pounds. Although we target big fish with muskie-sized spoons and plugs, we spend most of our time casting 1⁄2- to 1-ounce spoons and 3⁄8-ounce jigs over shoals and shoreline edges. We are entertained with the abundance of 6- to 10-pound lakers.

Seeing schools of aggressive trout rise off the sandy bottom to smash everything from soft plastic to spoons is unlike anything I’ve experienced. I cast a white bucktail jig towards a dark shape and give it a twitch as it sinks toward bottom. We’ve been expecting the action to die down, but yet again the jig disappears and I set the hook. “I think we’ll keep this one for lunch,” says Day, extracting the hook from the 5-pound lake trout.

Nourished in style
Our first shore lunch is Thai pineapple glazed trout (our second is classic deepfried lake trout over the fire). Satiated, we return to the sand flats to find the trout still ravenous. With the sun, gentle breeze, and great fishing, the afternoon slips blissfully by. On our way back to the lodge we work a few shallow bays for pike. “Northerns have been pretty tentative the last few days,” says Day, and we only manage to stir up a few followers.

Back at the lodge, most of the 26 guests are repeat visitors and all seem to know each other. The relaxed atmosphere means we don’t hesitate to pull up a chair with any of the guests, guides, or staff gathered for hors d’oeuvres in the lounge, where owner Rob Hill tells me as many as 70% of the clientele and most of the staff return year after year to what has been a family-run business from the start.

“My dad flew in a John Deere bulldozer piece by piece back in 1974,” says Hill, who shares ownership with his father Doug and brother Mike. It was re-assembled on the shores of the lake and Rob, Doug, and Mike carved an airstrip out of the wilderness, welcoming the first anglers in 1975. “We have been making improvements to the airstrip and the lodge every year since,” he adds.

One of the most interesting bits of news Rob delivers is that Francine, Jordan, and I are scheduled for a flight to the Kazan River the next day.

Trophy grayling
Kasba Lake has coughed up a 36-pound pike and a 56-pound lake trout; other specimens nearing these lake records are caught every season. The Kazan River, flowing out of the northeast end of the lake, holds trophy arctic grayling — the largest to date is a 5-pound 10-ounce beauty, just four ounces shy of the world record.

Our plane begins its descent where the Kazan narrows into a series of white water rapids. We land on a widening of the river and clamber into a 14-foot aluminum boat.

Clear water flows over gravel and boulders, and on the surface, rising fish. I’m vibrating with anticipation as I tie on a small caddis fly. Standing on the bow casting platform, I launch the fly and mend the line as I watch a sleek, steel-gray fish break surface and arc down on my fly.

My first Kazan River grayling is a little over three pounds. Well aware of its magnificence, the noble fish extends its large iridescent dorsal fin and holds still just long enough for a photo before flipping out of Day’s hand back into the river. Francine wields a spinning rod and an 1⁄8-ounce jig, and nails a fish approaching four pounds. “And this is just the first spot,” says Day, grinning broadly.

In the grayling world, anything over 21⁄2 pounds is considered a trophy. Day weighs each large fish and, for the record, we end up catching more than a dozen “trophy” grayling, almost all on dry flies. Every now and then a big lake trout smashes my fly and wreaks havoc with my six-weight rod.

We break for lunch in the shallow, still water at the head of yet another rapids. Grayling rise from the dark waters, a mere 10 feet from where we chew on sandwiches. The sun is shining, the wind is light, and we are immersed in the rare and exquisite experience of the Kazan River. We have the rest of the afternoon here, followed by a short flight to the warm embrace of Kasba Lake Lodge. At the moment, I can’t think of a better place to be.

Kasba Lake Lodge
PO Box 96
Parksville, BC
V9P 2G3

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