Our Man In Canada
January 10th, 2000

Saskatchewan's Inland Sea
Lake Diefenbaker, Part 2

Chris Marshall

By Chris Marshall from conversations with Bob Sheedy
Bob Sheedy Photos

Coulee Hopping

Most of the shoreline of Lake Diefenbaker is private farmland with only limited public access, which means that most of the coulees are hard to reach by land. Permission can be obtained from some landowners, but the simplest means of access is by boat. This is what local fly fishers call 'coulee hopping'.

Exploring a Canola Fringed Coulee

A boat of at least 20' is desirable, as the wind frequently funnels down the lake, raising a vicious chop, which make it dangerous for anything smaller. While it's possible to fish from the boat, it's much more effective to use the boat merely as a means of getting from one coulee to the next and to fish either from shore or a float tube. This is because the rainbows, particularly, are easily spooked in the clear water. Trout are much less sensitive to anglers wading the shoreline or paddling a float tube within casting distance of the weeds and other structures along the shore. However, as places where it is shallow enough to wade are few, a float tube is virtually indispensible.

Techniques for rainbows and goldeye are very similar. The only significant differences are that goldeye are much less easily spooked than trout, and that they travel in much more coherent schools - if you get one goldeye, you're sure get a bunch more in the same place.

A 6wt outfit with both sinking and floating weight-forward lines is ideal in normal conditions, but a step up to a 7wt or even 8wt is necessary to punch out the line in windy conditions. Fine tippets are often needed, especially when the rainbows are finicky, but should be heavy enough to hold big, strong fish among weeds and other structure. The reel should have enough capacity to hold plenty of backing, as 20' plus rainbows can take off on blistering runs.

When either species is feeding on baitfish, you'll frequently see the latter scattering or the swirls of the former as they pursue them. The usual technique is to cast beyond the disturbance and strip a minnow or leech imitation just beneath the surface, or twitch a more bulky pattern such as a marabou muddler in a series of skitters and dives on the surface. Leech patterns and woolly buggers are often used when the fish are right in the weeds.

Neither the rainbows nor goldeye are particularly selective. There's considerable room for experiment here both with pattern and colour.

    Tom Thumb
    Hair Wing Caddis


    Marabou Muddler
    Woolly Bugger
    Minnow patterns, especially emerald shiner.

The best dry fly action usually occurs from just before sunset until darkness, when the surface comes alive with both rainbows and goldeye gulping in caddis and chironomids. Hairwing caddis patterns fished with the occasional twitch can provoke explosive takes. There are hatches from June and throughout the summer, with one of the most spectacular, the Big Brown Sedge, coming off in September.

As the water cools after September, hatches decline, but action is still possible by using subsurface invertebrate patterns such as scuds and damselfly larvae. However, the best action is with baitfish imitations for rainbows foraging in pockets of water close to sun-warmed structure. This action can last right into November.

Where to Stay
There are motels in a number of small towns close to the lake. These include: Elbow, Hanely, Guernsey, Lanigan, Outlook, Vanscoy, and St. Louis. The most convenient is Elbow, which besides its on-shore location and launch/marina facilities, is close to two provincial parks with shoreline access.

On occasions when it's too windy to use a boat, there are a few places where there is easy overland public access to coulees. These include the three provincial parks, four regional parks, and marinas such as the Lake Diefenbaker Yacht Club at Elbow.

The Future

Lake Diefenbaker is still in the process of being explored by fly fishers. At this point they are a tiny minority compared with the number of other anglers who troll for walleye and pike. The prospect of discovering the huge potential for fly fishing is incredibly exciting, particularly since the recent experimental stocking of Atlantic salmon. And although it is considerably smaller than the Great Lakes, Lake Diefenbaker is big enough to have a similar potential as a first class fishery - not to mention superior opportunity for fly fishers. After listening enviously to Bob describe his and his friends' exploits there, I'm determined to return to that valley I last saw almost 40 years ago, to experience its transformation first hand. Next June sounds like a good time. ~ Chris Marshall

Winter Issue
We thank the Canadian Fly Fisher for re-print permission!

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