The first thing you do when going to Pine Island Resort for the fishing adventure of a lifetime is go to the Osprey Wings floatplane base in Missinipe, Saskatchewan. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to chat with Gary Thompson, owner of both the floatplane service and the resort.
Thompson has been around a long time, and along the way, he has fielded all the stupid questions anglers can ask and has answers ready. For example, when we went in to check in for our short flight to Pine Island Resort, we could hardly find a place to park, so, stupid me, I asked why so many vehicles parked around the base. He quickly replied, “Those belong to all the people we flew out somewhere, but forgot where we took them.”
He was joking, eh?
(Just in case you might be a bit confused about the name, as we were, Thompson used to own Thompson’s Camps, which is next door. Hence the name. But he sold it a few years back to Jim Yuel of Adventure Destinations International.)
Click to Play. Video by Gene Colling
After dodging a few more quips from Thompson like having to pay a photographer’s fee to take his picture on the dock and something about having a used pickup truck sale soon, we piled in to his trusty Beaver and took off for a few days of fishing at Pine Island Resort, thanks to the kind support of Tourism Saskatchewan.
Camp managers and co-owners Vickie and Bart Bricksaw met us at the dock, looking a bit weary, because as we arrived, a huge group was departing on a Twin Otter. As soon as Vickie showed us our cabin, I knew something was special about this lodge, the cabins.
The Bricksaws took over in 2003, and since then, they’ve been busy refurbishing and upgrading the four guest cabins and giving them fish-eating bird names–Eagle, Kingfisher, Loon, and Pelican, reserving Osprey for the main lodge, which is perched aesthetically on a rocky peninsula jutting out into the Churchill River.
After six years of hard work, the cabins are clearly several cuts above what you find most fishing lodges, complete with new bathrooms, efficient wood stoves, real tile floors, decks with BBQs, stunning views, and original artwork from none other than Gary Thompson, who must have started to paint for a living when he couldn’t make it as a stand-up comic.
Besides the spiffy cabins, all connected with raised boardwalks, Pine Island stands out from other fishing lodges we’ve visited because of its great location, only a short hop, about 15 minutes, on the floatplane. And there’s only one other lodge on vast Black Bear Island Lake.
When asked what’s special about Pine Island, Vickie quickly agreed, “Without a doubt, it’s the location. It’s a short flight, and the Churchill River flows right by here, so we get a continuous supply of new fish. And there’s no mosquitoes, except at night.”
“It’s also special,” Bart adds, “because you can depend on early June fishing. We’re a bit south of a lot of lodges, and we have the Churchill River flowing right by the lodge, through Black Bear Island Lake, which is more or less a wide spot in the river with a lot of islands and bays.”
Late ice, incidentally, is a big deal in years like 2009. Usually lakes in northern Saskatchewan give up their ice in late May, but this year, there wasn’t enough global warming. We weren’t even planning on visiting Pine Island this year, but another lodge we had scheduled couldn’t open because their lake was still frozen from shore to shore–and stayed that way into mid-June. In fact, dozens of lodges had to cancel or re-schedule early June bookings this year. Pine Island and some other lodges have the luxury of being part of the Churchill River system, where the moving water moves ice out earlier and owners can reliably book the first week in June.
“We’re a small camp, private, only four cabins, and everybody gets to know everybody in camp, and everybody leaves as friends.” Vickie continues. “We just love this place. We come in May and don’t leave until September. Where else could we go that’s nicer?”
As a travel and outdoor editor, I get around, and I agree, Vickie, not many places are nicer. None come to mind as I write this, and not only the lodge itself that Vickie refers to, but also the environs. Regardless of what you’ve heard, all shield lakes are not born equally.
Black Bear Island Lake is close to the nicest, if not the nicest, of a dozen or so shield lakes I’ve fished. It has more birch trees, for example, to add more color diversity, and it seems to have a classic beaver lodge in every bay. That’s because, according to our guide Toby Forest, the fur market has gotten so unprofitable that “there’s no more trappers.”
(Even when September rolls around, incidentally, the Bricksaws haven’t had enough of the fishing lodge biz. They simply move a few hundred kilometers south, down to Foam Lake, Saskatchewan, where the own and help manage a series of cabins on Fishing Lake. Click here to check them out.)
Even though the cabins and incredible scenery add a lot to the wilderness lodge experience, let us not forget that we go to places like the Pine Island Resort for the fishing. And it didn’t disappoint.
Pine Island Resort
Bookings: Rachelle Schertzing.
Mailing address: Box 990, La Ronge, SK. S0J 1L0
Nearest floatplane base: Missinipe.
Phone: 306-635-2422 summer, 306-425-5722 winter
Options: Full plan or light housekeeping.
Fishing waters: Black Bear Island Lake, Churchill River.
We didn’t get a good draw on the weather, but we were smart enough to bring the gear to endure it. I’m sure the fishing–and the weather–gets even better, but we had plenty of action, both walleye and pike, including one 44-inch lunker. Two weeks after we left, somebody landed a 50-inch monster, the pike of our dreams. Click here to see it.
That’s the gold standard for pike. The quest for that 50-incher keeps pike aficionados like me going back again and again. And I happen to know there aren’t many places you even have a chance at a 50-incher, with Black Bear Island Lake obviously being one of them.
So, considering the easy access, great location, refurbished cabins, great food, and terrific fishing, what’s the chance of being disappointed when visiting Pine Island Resort?
For more NewWest.Net coverage of fishing in Saskatchewan, click here.