Pilgrimage To An Angling Mecca
By Mike Borger
One Woman’s Quest In Canada’s Far North
Sunlight filtered through the canopy of trees overhead as young Jacquie Day hurried to catch up with her big brother. Pedalling madly on her small bike, fishing rod braced against the handlebars she followed a well worn path to the small creek flowing near their home in rural Indiana. Many happy hours were spent fishing the banks of this tiny creek. It was high adventure and instilled a true love of the outdoors in a young girl who yearned for more.
As she grew older and horizons broadened pack and paddle propelled her and son Grant through the wilds of the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. Something strikes an elemental chord camping alone in the wilderness. Food, clothing, shelter and transport are carried on your back. Each day brings new adventure as portage trails are crossed and new lakes are explored. You sleep when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry and fish to your hearts content. It drives home the point just how little we as humans truly need to be content in this fast paced world we live in. Still…Jacquie thirsted for more. True wilderness beckoned – the kind you can lose yourself in. Broad sweeping vistas, crystal clear waters teeming with fish and not another soul around for miles, this was what she craved. Lying within the Northwest Territories in Canada’s far north, sprawling Kasba Lake provided the perfect backdrop for her pilgrimage. She’s travelled there three times now with her son Grant each time revelling in the purity of the landscape, the fantastic fishing and the comforts provided by Kasba Lodge – the only one on the lake.
A Fishing Fantasy
Several memories from those trips stand out. Kasba Lake is large enough that from year to year many spots rarely get fished. Fantasy Bay in the far north east corner of the lake is one of them. Last year Kasba guide Tyler Jones took Jacquie and Grant on a tour to test its waters. Joining them was friend Ted Chien and his son in a second boat guided by Matt Hill. Slipping quietly into the bay they began to cast spoons in the sun warmed shallows searching for large northern pike – and they found them. Jacquie’s first cast saw three oversized esox charge her lure in an effort to chase it down. Grant in the bow of the boat was already into a giant of his own when the smaller of the three fish slammed Jacquie’s lure boat side in a shower of spray. Ted in the boat next to them had hooked one of his own and pandemonium ensued. The bay was teeming with overgrown pike and at any given time 5-6 fish would chase after their lures resulting in numerous triple and quadruple headers. Tyler being an environmental scientist by trade and prone to experimentation began to try different lures in a effort to find one that didn’t work. He failed. Twelve casts with 12 different lures saw twelve burly pike hooked and landed. Lots of laughs, lots of big fish, and memories to last a lifetime.
Kasba Lake lies at the headwaters of the fabled Kazan River, a designated Canadian Heritage River. In its upper reaches it’s a cartographers nightmare with numerous short channels and fingers connecting a myriad of sprawling arctic lakes. Its rapids teem with arctic grayling and trout most of which grow old and die without ever seeing a lure. Kasba offers its guests the option of flying to the Kazan for a day of world class river fishing, something that Jacquie has enjoyed on each one of her trips. Fishing with legendary Kasba guide “Crash” on her first foray to the Kazan she had never fly fished before in her life. “This” said Crash, “is something you need to try!” He stuck a fly rod in her hand and with minimal instruction Jacquie was soon clambering along the rocks, rod in hand while Crash sat back and snapped photos. Fly fishing is just as much artistry and grace as angling technique and Jacquie took to it quickly. Numerous football sized grayling succumbed to her novice flailings and a fly angler was born. “It was”, she mused, “a defining moment for me.”
Quest For The Triple Crown
A common goal for many of Kasba’s guests is the Triple Crown – trophies of all three species. Last year Jacquie quickly had her trophy pike and grayling, but surprisingly the lake trout was eluding her. She finally did catch it, and in dramatic fashion to boot. Once again she and Grant were fishing the Kazan River with Crash when Grant hooked yet another grayling. As he played it close to the boat a huge shape materialized behind his fish and took a swipe at it. It was a behemoth trout. Jacquie quickly grabbed a spinning rod from the bottom of the boat and flipped out a spoon where the lunker had surfaced. These far northern fish are not only abundant, they’re incredibly aggressive. The second her lure splashed down she was tethered to a very large, very powerful lake trout bent on mayhem. For those who believe lake trout are sluggish fighters dredged from the depths on heavy tackle they’ve never battled one on light spinning tackle in a large northern river. These trout are lean and muscular from a life spent surviving in cold northern currents. The fish immediately peeled 50 yards of line from her reel in a blistering run downstream and Crash was forced to follow with the boat. Soon the runs grew shorter and were punctuated by wide slow head shakes as the fish slowly but surely began to tire. After a protracted battle Jacquie drew the fish close and Crash wrestled it into the boat. Twenty five pounds on the scale, it completed the triple crown with ease!
Kasba is off the grid – far off the grid – yet one its charms is the gourmet quality food their guests enjoy. A true anomaly for such a remote locale. The lodge is renowned for its cuisine with entrees such as prime rib, stuffed pork tenderloin and chicken in filo pastry. No one ever goes hungry when they visit Kasba. Jacquie has enjoyed all of it, but what really stands out for her is the shore lunches. As she said “It’s a highlight of our trip every year”. For those who have never savoured a meal of freshly caught fish prepared over an open fire that alone is worth the price of admission. Not surprisingly Kasba guides have taken the traditional shore lunch to another level whipping up epicurean delights such as salsa baked trout with cheese, and Thai curried trout with sweet chili potatos. These are men of many talents. “One day”, Jacquie said, “we were catching smaller trout in the 3-5 pound class as fast as we could throw out our spoons. Our guide cleaned one in the boat, sliced it up razor thin and marinated it with some lime juice, soya and spices”. “We ate it with crackers and it was amazing, something I’ll never forget!” Sashimi a la Kasba.
Opulence In The Outback
There’s no denying that as one gets older one tends to appreciate the finer things in life. Coming from a female’s perspective, even one as outdoorsy as Jacquie, the amenities offered at Kasba are welcomed. Every cabin is private, well appointed and facing the water with a spectacular view. The comfortable main lodge is a popular gathering place among guests each evening. As Jacquie noted “we’ll get together after dinner around the bar swapping stories and often someone will even pull out a guitar”. “It’s great fun!” “The camaraderie and friendliness of everyone is a big reason why I return every year.” Beyond the welcoming atmosphere Jacquie has always felt safe. “I like to run and most evenings I’ll lace up my sneakers and jog along the gravel airstrip behind the lodge”. “Never once have I felt threatened or unsafe which is amazing considering just how remote Kasba really is. It’s like a second home – I just love it!”
That sums up the Kasba experience perfectly.
I have been to Kasba 10 times and every trip seems like it is the best one. The fishing is always great but what separates Kasba from other lodges is the passion of the guides. The Hill family has established a great culture with their guides that is awesome.
Terrific fishing at a very well run lodge. Great people and a great experience. My 4th time visiting Kasba. Superb accommodations and meals. Great equipment and guides. Pike, grayling and lake trout on a magnificent lake.
Unbelievable trip. Unforgettable time and experience. The staff and guides are second to none. We were on trophy fish in no time at all. The accommodations were above expectations. I cannot wait to plan this trip again.