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Dokken: Canada fly-in trip delivers adventure

After a week that passed much too quickly, gear and other essentials await loading onto a DeHavilland Beaver floatplane July 13, 2014, at Kamatsi Lake in northern Saskatchewan. (Brad Dokken photo)

We still were more than 500 miles from our fishing destination in northern Saskatchewan, and the excursion already had been an adventure.

A funnel-shaped cloud that popped out of the sky and rapidly began moving in our direction made sure of that.

It was late afternoon July 5, and four of us were traveling north on Saskatchewan Highway 11 about an hour south of Saskatoon when I noticed the funnel emerge from the ominous-looking wall cloud that dominated the horizon.

The words, “Is that a tornado?” were barely out of my mouth when the funnel hit the ground to our west. At its closest, the tornado might have been five miles away as we plowed north through torrential rains and pea-size hail.

That was close enough; we still could see the debris the tornado was kicking up as it raced across the Saskatchewan prairie in our general direction. We didn’t have much choice but to keep going and hope the tornado either rose back into the clouds or crossed the highway far enough behind us to escape the wind and fury.

The whole encounter lasted maybe 20 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity. At least we weren’t on motorcycles, like the sorry-looking crew that raced past us on the highway through the wind and rain and hail and lightning. Being in a pickup was bad enough, and all of us breathed a sigh of relief when the funnel disappeared back into the clouds.

The tornado was all over the news that night in Prince Albert, Sask., where we ended the first day of our trek north, but it dwarfed the tornado that touched down about that same time near Outlook, Sask., some 40 miles northeast of the road we traveled.

A fly-in fishing trip some five years in the planning definitely was off to an eventful start.

Our destination, which we’d reach the next afternoon, was Southend, Sask., a settlement named for its location at the end of the road on the south end of Reindeer Lake. By road, it’s more than 950 miles northwest of Grand Forks, and the last 120 miles are washboard-y gravel.

We’d board a floatplane in Southend for our destination on Kamatsi Lake, a rustic outpost camp owned by Randy Engen of Tolna, who has operated Lawrence Bay Lodge on Reindeer Lake, since the 1970s.

After a fuel stop in LaRonge, Sask., and a short break at the Churchill River, we arrived at Lawrence Bay Airways in Southend more than two hours ahead of our scheduled 5 p.m. July 6 departure time.

But there was a problem, Randy Engen said as he met us outside the air service office. The DeHavilland Beaver floatplane that was to fly us into Kamatsi had been deployed to carry firefighters battling a series of forest fires that had broken out the past few days.

Our departure for Kamatsi might be delayed a couple of hours.

We never made it to Kamatsi that night. Instead, we ended up staying at the main lodge on Reindeer Lake, a full-service facility where meals, guides and cabins with generator-powered electricity and hot and cold running water are part of the package.

We flew into Kamatsi the next morning, and after unpacking our gear and getting the outpost cabin and boats whipped into shape, were on the water before noon.

Kamatsi is a big, deep lake where lake trout are the dominant species, and the fishing didn’t disappoint. Lake trout prefer water temperatures of 50 degrees or colder, and with the surface temperature in the 60s, the lakers had moved into 40 to 60 feet, where we caught them at will by jigging lures such as Buzz Bombs, Kastmasters and tube jigs.

We landed about 250 lake trout, mostly in the 5- to 10-pound range, and released all but a dozen that we ate. Some we grilled; others, we incorporated into dishes such as a linguine-pesto mixture that was spectacular.

Walleyes are a secondary species on Kamatsi, but we found enough for a fish fry in a bay close to the cabin. Characteristic of walleyes in the North, the fish were blackish-gold with yellowish-colored bellies.

The only downside to the trip was the weather, which took a big turn for the worse the last two days. Intermittent rain and — worst of all — strong winds prevented us from reaching the best lake trout spots and kept us cabin-bound for the better part of two days.

The long drive home was much less eventful, but the trip from start to finish had been an adventure, one most of us would like to repeat someday.

Preferably without the excitement of a funnel cloud.

Dokken reports on outdoors for Forum News Service.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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