ONLY $7.00

(includes shipping)

 with Rob Miskosky


Situated at nearly 5500-feet is Maligne Lake, Alberta. This majestic lake runs crystal clear and hosts a good population of rainbows and brookies that eagerly accept a well-presented fly. In fact, it was the attraction of being one of the first on the lake, fly-fishing right at ice-out that had me excited. Maligne’s beauty would be the added bonus—this is truly one of the most scenic regions in the world.

Alberta Outdoorsmen pro-staffers Gord Trenholm and Pierre Frigon, residents of Jasper, had been watching the lake for the first sign of breakup and we’d been in contact regularly since the trip had been planned—a trip featuring the “Rainbow Warrior”, Gordie’s hand built freighter canoe, a treat in itself. But the weather wasn’t cooperating and the lake held firm under rotting ice.

And then, finally, Gord called.

Pierre Frigon stands behind a fully-loaded Rainbow Warrior prior to our departure.

Home Bay was open and the rainbows were spawning in the Maligne River where it exits the lake. Beyond Home Bay only sketchy reports were filing in. Mostly saying the same thing though—”You might get through, you might not.”

We decided to take a chance on June 5th.

We were headed 13.5 kilometres up the lake to Fisherman’s Bay, one of only two small camping areas allowed on the large lake, the other being at the far end. With only three days to spend we opted for the first. But now the question was, “Can we get there?”

The ice jammed up in the narrows of Maligne Lake.

Standing on the boat launch with binocular in hand Pierre confirmed the worst. “It looks like ice to me,” he said. “Quite a way out but it’s definitely ice.”

Gord and I both confirmed Pierre’s suspicions—a long, gray line about a mile out was definitely visible and it could only mean one thing—ice!

“Well, let’s go fishing. If we get to the edge of the ice and can’t find a way through, we’ll fish Home Bay and go back to Jasper. What have we got to lose,” said Gord.

He was right. We had the canoe loaded with enough food and gear for three days; we weren’t going to give up that easily. At worst we would still get in some good fishing.

The Rainbow Warrior was soon cruising at electric motor speed away from the dock. With six 12-volt batteries on board we were set. If we could make it through the ice we had two batteries to get there, two to fish with, and two to get back. Gas powered motors, short of tour boats and the park warden’s boat, aren’t allowed on this 22.5 kilometre long lake. Paddling or electric motors are the only options.

The weather was cooperating; so far the anticipated rains forecast for that day had yet to find us and the wind was only moderate. Dark clouds loomed around us, hanging in the peaks of the Rockies but the sun was warm, the scenery was incredible and now Gordie had the first of what would prove to be several trout on the end of his fly rod—we weren’t even two hundred yards from the boat launch. His red wooley bugger pattern was already working.

Gord with one of several Maligne brookies.

After a gallant battle that included several jumps trying to shake the fly from its mouth, the brilliantly coloured rainbow, fresh from glacial waters, was quickly released after a couple of photos.

Suddenly the telltale “zing” of Pierre’s spinning rod could be heard as line peeled out under the strength of another rainbow, this one on Pierre’s brilliant orange hotshot. He had yet to settle into the fly gear deciding to use something different from both Gord and I and it had worked, even with the ribbing he had taken over his choice of tackle.

And then, as Pierre was reeling in, Gordie’s line bucked and another rainbow danced on the surface of the turquoise lake—a doubleheader! Soon both fish were brought in and carefully released.

And now I was taking the ribbing—I had yet to feel the strength of a fish on the end of my line. It wouldn’t last for long though, as the black wooley bugger on the end of my fly line was suddenly gobbled up and the fight was on. Soon I had a scrappy brook trout boatside for photos before it too was released back to its waters.

The red wooley bugger that worked so well.

With the fishing being as good as it was, we had forgotten about the ice.

Gord took survey. “It doesn’t seem to be getting any closer,” he said. “I think the wind is pushing it ahead of us.”

We had been on the water now for the better part of an hour and hadn’t seemed to get any closer. A wind had picked up and the waves were starting to build. Soon we had our rain gear on in anticipation of a coming storm as the Rainbow Warrior rode the waves faster toward the ice. The air temperature had dropped as well. Our luck, weather wise was being threatened, but we had still yet to reach the ice. We were now chasing it!

And so for the next hour we did exactly that, only stopping at known hotspots to drop a line and catch a brookie or two. The rainbows had suddenly stopped biting but Mother Nature was still cooperating; she was throwing some wind at us and creating rough water on the large lake but we were headed in the right direction and rain had yet to fall.

Gord Trenholm mired in ice.

And then, like a mirage, the ice was suddenly right in front of us, and there appeared to be no way through.

“It’s all jammed up in the narrows, ”said Pierre, better known for his prowess hunting moose, not ice breaking. “Unless the waves and wind push it through, we’re not getting through.”

He was right. Gordie now had the Rainbow Warrior smack dab in the middle of what appeared to be chandelier ice, but only this stuff was three feet deep. We could hear the prop of the electric motor struggling against the ice beneath the lake’s surface. The Rainbow Warrior had ridden the waves like a champ to get to the ice, but now she was facing something entirely different; the ice was breaking against her wooden sides and the waves were pushing us further in. And then, just when the call for paddles was made, the electric motor found its way through and pushed us out into open water.

Our only options now were to continue fishing in the rough water or head to shore and warm up. We chose the latter. One of just a handful of picnic areas was near the narrows—we would head there and get out of the wind and waves and wait to see if their power would push the ice through the narrows. Our prospects for making it to Fisherman’s Bay were dwindling but we weren’t ready to quit just yet—we were so close.

On shore we debated the ice and watched it through binoculars. Biding time, I decided to follow a trail beyond the picnic area to see where it went. Soon I was face to face with a very pregnant mulie doe. And she wasn’t backing down. I called to Pierre.

“You’re not going to believe this! I’ve got a mulie doe bearing down on me here pretty fas...” I quickly turned and ran... straight into Pierre. Realizing what was happening, he too turned and we both bolted for the shoreline warning Gordie of the insane doe that wanted to kick our backsides. She suddenly stopped short, just before stepping out onto the small beach where the Rainbow Warrior sat rocking up against the rocks in ice water. Gordie was trying to hold her steady. The threat of the pregnant doe suddenly became secondary as both Pierre and I grabbed onto the freighter and held her steady, realizing we had to save it from crashing on the rocks. And then we were back out in rough water and heading for the ice that was once again moving ahead of us, and fast.

Gordie cranked up the electric motor and the Rainbow Warrior was once again riding the high waves behind the ice, leaving the pregnant doe to her business. This time, however, there would be no catching the ice, the wind and waves had punched it through the narrows. We were going to make it at last!

Soon we found ourselves in calm waters and sunshine. The ice was nowhere to be seen and with the mighty Maligne showing her calm side, we cruised into Fisherman’s Bay and tied up to the dock. It was time to set up camp and relax. I could feel my legs swoon as I walked on solid ground carrying a load of gear up to our chosen campsite. On my return back to the Rainbow Warrior I lifted her middle seats to get to the compartment below. To my astonishment it was full of water. Pierre and I had been sitting on a few hundred pounds of water that had leaked in from somewhere—an assortment of gear was now floating in the compartment.

Gord applying the melted tree sap to the bottom of the Rainbow Warrior.

In short order we had the freighter unloaded and tipped over on the beach. The Rainbow Warrior had been compromised; a hole had been punched through her bottom, most likely where the ice had forced us to the shore of the pregnant doe and unseen rocks had hid under the ice. We had ridden her for nearly an hour with a punctured bottom in waters so cold that hypothermia would set in quickly should an accident happen. The craftsmanship of the Rainbow Warrior truly showed through; Gordie had built a fine boat.

With a little ingenuity we patched the big freighter with collected tree sap that was boiled in a pop can. It set up fast but the hole was sealed.

The next two days were spent fly-fishing and exploring the splendor of Maligne in warm weather—Mother Nature had treated us well and the fishing had been excellent.

Returning to Jasper we discussed our sheer luck and good fortune. Fishing the magnificent Maligne Lake with all its history right at ice-out is a treat in itself, but to follow the ice and witness ice-off face to face, and the sheer power of wind and waves first hand, is something I will remember for a long, long time. ■

For previous Outdoor Pursuits click here.

Sports Scene Publications Inc.
10450 - 174 Street, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T5S 2G9
Phone: 780-413-0331 • Fax: 780-413-0388

Privacy Policy

© 2016 Sports Scene Publications Inc. All Rights Reserved