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Guided Fly Fishing on the North Saskatchewan River

jet boating the north saskatchewan river

I’ve been waiting all summer to book a guided fishing trip on the North Saskatchewan River and I finally had the opportunity this past weekend. Our summer has been a wet one and I was waiting for the river to calm down and clear up before I booked a trip. The conditions were still not perfect, as the river is still running high and the water is a bit stained, but I couldn’t wait any longer. My guide on this trip was James Prasek and we met at the Reid’s Fly Shop booth during the 2019 Edmonton Boat and Sportsmen show. James owns and operates River Valley Guide Co, a fly-fishing guiding service here in the Edmonton area. I was really excited to have the opportunity to fish from a jet boat and learn the river from an experienced angler.

This was my first time hiring a guide and although guided trips in general seem pricey at first glance, I can tell you they are worth it. I wanted to hire a NSR guide for my first trip on the river for a few reasons. First, a guide can really shorten the learning curve on new water. Second, they have all the right equipment so you don’t have to prepare a thing and, most importantly, it is their personal mission to get you on fish. 

My wife and I met James at the boat launch in Fort Saskatchewan on Saturday night. As we drove up, the miserable rain we’ve had for days stopped, the sun came out, and it made for a great evening on the water. As our guide was making the final preparations on the boat we got to know each other a bit. James has been fishing on the NSR for years but just started his guiding business two years ago. He specializes in fly-fishing for big fish and had some pretty hefty rods and streamers rigged up and ready to go. Since he is sponsored by Loop Fly Rods he had an assortment of rods and weights for me to try out. I was excited to try out a couple of different actions and rod weights and learn to chuck some big flies.

north saskatchewan river pike fly fishing

As we set off to our first spot we talked a lot about the river, it’s history, and how it gets a bad rap in the fly fishing community with the famed Bow River being so close. Sure the NSR is big and muddy, but it’s home to a huge variety of fish, and a variety of those fish are huge. The first spot we hit, I managed to hook into a decent pike while shaking the rust off my fly casting skills. I thought this pike seemed to fight a bit harder than similar sized lake pike and James said it’s because they spend their life swimming in the current, so they are naturally quite strong. After a few more casts we decided to change up the scenery. We cruised upriver and found a nice deep eddy along a steep bank. James set me up with a freshly tied 4” clouser minnow and on one of my first back-casts I got it hung up on on a tree. I felt a little bad as James scrambled up the bank to retrieve it, but he assured me it’s the guides job. 

fly hung up in a bush
My bad…

Once I got used to the back casting space we managed to hook into a couple of small walleye. They must have been stacked up pretty tight in that eddy because cast after cast we were pulling them into the boat.

north saskatchewan river walleye fly fishing
That clouser minnow really took a beating.

After catching a whole lot of walleye, we packed up to move further upstream to a large, wide bend where James knew the Goldeye would be setting up for the evening. As we arrived and waited for the Goldeye to begin rising, James dropped anchor and we tried another eddy with the clouser minnow and caught another fair sized northern pike. Finally, it was time to try for some goldeye. I started off throwing an indicator rig, similar to trout fishing, but was missing strike after strike. I found it really hard to hook up. James gave me some encouragement while he re-positioned the boat and we kept at it. Still, I kept missing the hook sets. James laughed and said he’s never had to work this hard to catch a goldeye. As I struggled, he tied up another rig and we swapped rods. At this point James got on the oars and was working the current like a drift boat. He started calling out targets for me to cast to and I was really getting into it. I imagine that’s exactly what an evening of flats fishing would feel like. That is, of course, if the difficulty was set to super easy, it was a lot cooler in the Bahamas and the Bonefish were really tiny. As drifted along, we floated up to a big rock sticking out into the current. James called out to cast just ahead of the seam. I nailed the cast and began a great looking drift. As the fly worked its way into the eddy, it disappeared beneath the surface and I was finally able to set the hook on a feisty North Saskatchewan River goldeye. A quick net job and some high fives and I had my first goldeye on the fly.

North saskatchewan river goldeye fly fishing
My first Goldeye

Overall, it was a fantastic evening and the just the introduction to guided fly fishing I was looking for. Looking back at the trip, something that really stuck out to me was how much care our guide, James, took when handling the fish. He always kept the fish in the water once in the net, he would wet his hands before handling them and made sure they were back in the water quickly after our picture. It really demonstrated a level of care and detail that is not only given to the clients but to the resource itself. I learned a lot about the river on this trip and picked up some casting and fishing techniques I will be able to use on future outings. It was an awesome evening and by the time the sun set, I knew I would be doing this again. 

Thanks again, James, I look forward to the next one!

River Valley Guiding Co:

north saskatchewan river walleye fly fishing

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