Written by Harold
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You Really Can Get There from Here - Eventually
Our usual routine is for the crew to gather in Edmonton on the second Thursday in July, fly to Yellowknife (YK) the following day, and then catch our charter to Great Bear on Saturday morning.
Because things invariably change from year to year, we have come to realize that there really is no "usual," which is all just part of the fun when travelling to the Arctic.
This year, due to the rather bizarre restrictions that Aeorplan has in regards to points usage - unless of course you want to spend several zillion points flying business class - I was compelled to leave for Yellowknife Thursday evening, rather than on Friday morning with everyone else.
The Harback's were coming into Edmonton from Harriman, Tennessee, which almost qualifies as one of those "you can't get there from here" situations, because in order to make their Friday morning flight to YK, they had to come in on Wednesday.
In any event, we all made it to Edmonton, and with a little luck would all be in YK come Friday.
Our numbers have certainly shrunk over the years, going from a high of 24 in the mid 80's to 5, which is one off of our all time low of 4, that we set in 2008.
Nevertheless, it's all about quality not quantity as they say, and this year our little group consisted of Rodney Harback, Art Ross, Kevin Adwell, Ken Gold and yours truly which, if you totalled up the number of years each of us has been going to Great Bear, adds up to well over 100.
We did our usual thing in Edmonton, buying all manner of rods, lures, and food of various kinds, that for the most part we probably didn't need - but what the hell, we were on vacation.
Because my flight to YK was at 7pm, the guys dropped me off at the airport around 5, and then headed out for dinner.
When Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
2014 will likely be known as the year of the forest fire, particularly in the NWT.
When I flew into YK, it was covered in a thick blanket of smoke, and I was told by one of the many firefighters who were milling around the airport, that there were over 180 separate fires currently burning. That number would eventually increase to well over 200 as the summer wore on.
Depending on the wind direction, the city could be clear, or completely enveloped in smoke. One observer described YK as looking much like Beijing, China, which apparently is covered in very thick smog most of the time.
While the fires never actually threatened the city, at least not while I was there, Plummer's Great Slave Lake Lodge, which is located east of YK, barely escaped complete destruction.
The smoke certainly made landing interesting, as it had a nasty tendency to hover right around the level where the pilots either had to commit their aircraft to land, or otherwise abort.
Fortunately, we landed without incident, and I hitched a ride to the Coast Fraser Hotel with the Plummer's representative who was there to meet me at the airport.
Friday, July 11
Thanks For the Light Bulbs Mr. Edison
The wind direction had changed during the night, and I awoke to a clear, bright sky.
After some breakfast, and wandering around town for a bit, I picked up our rental van, and hung around the airport, waiting for the guys to arrive.
Once everyone had checked in, and grabbed some lunch, it was time to engage in, what to some must seem like our favourite pastime - more shopping!
Rodney takes great pride in ensuring that he has at least one of everything he, or anyone else will ever possibly need on our trips, either on his person, or in one of the many bags he brings with him, or has stored at the lodge.
This year he took things to a new level by purchasing, and taking up a mess of light bulbs because apparently, he has never been fond of the ones provided at the lodge.
The guy never ceases to amaze.
The annual YK Air Show was scheduled to take place on Saturday, and we watched a number of the performers practicing from our hotel balcony, including the Snowbirds.
Unlike the restrictions that are in place during the Toronto Air Show, in terms of where the aircraft are allowed to practice, there didn't appear to be any such restrictions in YK, as they were flying all over town, and putting on quite the show.
As usual, there was a lot of discussion about where to go for dinner, and we ultimately decided on Coyotes - which, as it turned out, was a very good choice.
Everyone seemed pleased with their meal, and I enjoyed a pan-fried, Cajun spiced fillet of fresh, Great Slave Lake Walleye, which was served with garlic-mashed potatoes, and a medley of perfectly cooked vegetables.
It was excellent, and if you ever find yourself in YK, give this place, and in particular the fish, a try.
Saturday, July 12
Memo? What Memo?
It never fails.
Some idiot, or idiots in this case, pay little or no attention when they are told what time, and WHERE they have to be to catch our charter flight to Great Bear.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, the Air Show was in town, and as a result, the air space was going to be completely shut down at 11am.
All airlines were therefore advised, that if their flight(s) had not left before 11, they would not be going anywhere until after the show, which ended later that afternoon.
We were dutifully at the Air Tindi terminal by 9am, as were the majority of our fellow travellers.
Despite the assurances of the Plummer's representative that she had specifically told them where we would be boarding the aircraft, and at what time "wheels up" was scheduled, there were several people missing in action.
Following a number of frantic telephone calls, and a trip to the hotel where they were apparently staying, they finally turned up, having gone to the International Airport rather than the Air Tindi terminal, as they had been clearly told.
Their bloody ears must be painted on.
We did manage to get off before the air space was closed - barely - and the rest of the flight went without incident.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by some familiar faces, Harvey Anderson, and Paul Reynolds - who would be guiding Rodney, Kevin and Art - Ernie, who missed one season, and apparently swore never to come back, was also there, as was Chris Brekke, who was on his way out, having only come in to guide during the previous week.
The fishing had been good, with the biggest being 51 pounds. There were also a number of fish taken in the 20 to 40 pound range, with a 41 apparently caught at Tripod.
Once we had been ferried over to the lodge, Kenny and I were introduced to our guide, a rookie by the name of Josh Gelinas. Josh was an accomplished fly fisherman, and a Red Seal chef, so there was no question that he knew how to cook. But could he guide?
Only time would tell.
If everything went according to plan, we would be heading out for the Katseyedie at some point tomorrow morning for 3 or 4 days of camping, so rather than do any fishing, we spent the rest of the day getting all of our gear and provisions together.
We seemed to have a very animated, and inclusive bunch of guys at the lodge this week. In years past it was not always that way, with some groups being somewhat cliquish, and not intermingling with the rest of guests for the most part.
This was not going to be one of those years, as there was a very gregarious group from Calgary, and a couple of great guys from Tennessee - all of them first timers.
I really enjoyed just sitting back and listening to the animated chatter, as they talked about their first day on the lake, and their nervous anticipation in terms of what Great Bear might have in store for them over the course of the coming week.
It gave the lodge a great vibe.
Sunday, July 13
What's the Plan Stan?
The phrase, "Hurry Up and Wait," can be used to describe pretty much anything that one might attempt to do in the Arctic, and while we of all people should be used to it by now, it's still frustrating when things don't happen as planned.
The plan was that the guides would leave the lodge around midnight, make the run to the Katseyedie, and we would fly out and meet up with them around 10am.
While getting away on time, unfortunately they ran into some very rough water at Second Light, and were forced to turn back. They headed out again at 6:30am, and if all went according to plan (Ha!), we would meet them at the Katseyedie, mid to late morning.
Now, according to the plan, our plane was supposed to arrive just after breakfast, but for reasons that were not entirely clear, it did not arrive until noon.
By the time we unloaded the supplies that had been sent over from the main lodge, and loaded our gear, we did not get away until 1:30pm. Fortunately, the Katseyedie is only about 45 minutes away by Turbo Otter, so we were able to set up camp, and then head over to the sand flats to do some fishing, by 4pm.
The guys had something of a bumpy crossing, but even though they took it easy, made very good time nonetheless.
While setting up camp, we were engulfed in swarms of deer, or as some refer to them, "bulldog" flies. There had obviously been a hatch, and by the time the cook tent was up, the floor was littered with hundreds of little corpses.
Fortunately, the swarms were short lived, and by the time we returned that evening, they had pretty much disappeared.
The fishing was very good, with Art getting a 28, and Kevin a 30 deep in the flats, while Kenny caught a 20 and 22 near the top end, precisely where the rocky bottom transitioned into sand. In fact, we took a number of fish in that transition area.
On the way back, we stopped to fish the shoal just west of the camp, and caught quite a few in the "teens."
We were back in camp by 9:30, cooked up some dinner, and then hit the sack shortly thereafter - it had been a long day, especially for the guides.
All in all it was a great day. The weather was perfect, the guys made it over safely, we caught some nice fish, and most importantly - we were camping at the Katseyedie once again!
Monday, July 14
McGill Bay: It's Not Just Another University Town
The discussion at breakfast centred on whether to go west to Tripod, or east to McGill Bay, with McGill getting the nod once all of the votes were in and counted.
In case you didn't know, and for that matter are even remotely interested, McGill Bay is named after McGill University, which is located in Montreal, Quebec.
Our ride over was relatively smooth, and we were all on to fish in no time, with Kenny and I fishing the trough, just off of the point where the Harback Hilton was once located,and the others working the shoal near the entrance to the bay.
While we caught a few fish deeper in the bay, the majority were taken nearer the entrance.
In total, the 5 of us caught approximately 90 fish, including a 20 for Art, a 23 for Rodney, and a 22 and 25 for yours truly.
As the afternoon progressed, the wind began to freshen from the west, and around 4pm we decided it would be prudent to make for camp, as the wind was showing no signs of abating.
The ride home, through 3 to 7 foot swells was a rough one, and we got slammed for over 3 hours, before reaching the relative calm of home bay.
I think it's fair to say that Josh earned his stripes that day, and while you could see the tension on his face, he did a very good job handling the boat, and getting us safely back to camp.
After the ride we just had, other than Kevin making a few casts from shore, no one was particularly interested in doing any fishing after dinner.
In addition to some great fishing, today had also been a good one in terms of wildlife viewing.
We saw Tundra Swans, Bald Eagles, a herd of approximately 25 Muskox on the north shore of McGill, and a first for me, a Moose on the north shore of the lake.
As our current position was pretty much right on the Arctic Circle, it was my understanding that this moose, would have been at or near, the extreme northern range for the species.
This chronicle would not be complete without a word about the infamous "Outhouse Thrush."
While in actual fact, the little critter was not really a Thrush, I THINK it is an Olive Sided Flycatcher; it made using the outhouse at the old Branson's Lodge outpost camp rather interesting.
Instead of building her nest in a tree, like any other self-respecting bird, oh no, this little harrier decided to build it inside the outhouse.
Now I'm will to bet that some of you may be thinking, why not just close the door, which we would have happily done if there was one - door that is.
It was interesting indeed having to concentrate on the task at hand, while trying to keep the bugs, and a rather pissed off bird at bay - at times while only having the use of one hand, if you catch my meaning.
Tuesday, July 15
"Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him!"
Today started off like most days.
Put the coffee on, prepare breakfast, get everyone up and feed them, grab our gear, and then head out.
But today was not going to be just another day of fishing on Great Bear Lake.
Our destination was Tripod Point, and while we had something of a bumpy ride over, and were hit with a couple of light showers, the wind eventually dropped, the sun came out, and we could not have had a better day.
As we were making our way towards Tripod, Josh suddenly stopped the boat and announced that we were "here." Kenny and I looked at one another, and then asked him just exactly where "here" was supposed to be. Tripod he said, No, you're not even close we replied, what makes you think we're at Tripod?
During this time he was peering at his GPS, and when he looked up, told us that we were at the waypoint Harvey had given him, ostensibly marking Tripod.
I suggested that he either entered it wrong, or Harvey was having a bit of fun with the rookie, because we had at least 2 more kilometers to go.
Upon our arrival, and after Josh had entered a new waypoint, we fished a 2 to 3km stretch west of the point, and caught fish pretty much everywhere along that stretch.
Our boat landed 40 fish, with the biggest being Kenny's 22, 25 and 35, together with my 22 and 30.
The fish were in shallow, and when the sun came out, we could see them swimming by the boat. In fact Kenny's 35 was caught in no more than 4 feet of water.
Art, Rodney and Kevin, while having caught a number of fish, had yet to break 20 - but that was about to change in a big way.
On our way back to camp, Paul Reynolds suggested we stop and fish a place that was a favorite of former Branson's Lodge owner, Ernie Dolinsky.
All 3 boats stopped in the same general area, and in short order, we picked up a couple of nice fish in the mid to high teens.
Just as we were releasing one Art, who was fishing with Kevin, radioed that they had a good one in the net, and it might go 30 pounds.
Nice fish we thought, until Art got on the radio again, and said that it might be bigger, and after a short pause, we thought we heard him say it was a 70.
"Say again," we asked, to which he replied 70, seven - zero.
We immediately brought our lines in and headed over to their boat, which was no more than 100 yards from where we had been fishing. Rodney and Harvey were already there, and Harvey was measuring the fish, while Paul cradled her in his arms.
To make a long story short, the fish was measured, photographed, and thanks to the efforts of Paul and Harvey, released unharmed.
This fish was an absolute monster, and was obviously still in need of a snack when it enveloped Kevin's T60 Flatfish, because there was another fish clearly visible in it's gullet.
Shades of the 66.5 that Rodney caught in 1990, that also had a very large fish protruding from its gullet.
Chance Prestie, who was guiding at Trophy, and just happed to be a fisheries biologist, estimated this fish to be in and around 100 years of age. It was simply a remarkable fish, and an incredible experience for all of us.
To catch, or even to be a witness to someone catching a 70 pounder is something that you will never forget, nor is it very likely to be repeated any time soon.
After we arrived back in camp, and had our dinner, no one expressed any particular interest in doing any more fishing - I wonder why - although Paul, Kevin and I took a long, pleasant run up the Katseyedie in search of an eagle's nest.
It was definitely a day for the angling history books.
Wednesday, July 16
Returning to the Scene of the Crime
So would lightning strike twice?
Let's face it, there was no way in the world that we were not going to head back to the place that had been now christened, "Kevin's Creek," just on the oft chance that Kevin's fish might feel like another snack, or had invited some of her really big friends over to play.
While nothing huge appeared to be around, we did pick up a few fish, including a 28 pounder.
We also went back to the area where Kenny and I caught our bigger fish the previous day, but other than a few small ones, there was not much doing.
Because pick up time was scheduled for 5pm, and we had a lot of work to do in order to break camp, we decided to finish up close to home, and after arriving in home bay, started trolling along the west shore.
My first fish was a 20, and we caught about 15 more before deciding to head in, and start packing.
Our plane was there at 5pm on the dot, and we had a nice smooth ride back to the lodge, although we did see some nasty weather to the northwest, and hoped it would steer clear of the guides when they crossed the arm.
They made it back in about 4 hours - which is very good time - and other than running into some hail of all things - it was an uneventful ride.
We had called Gunther on the satellite phone that morning, to tell him about Kevin's fish, and he obviously told a few people, because a small group of guests and guides, including Chuk Coulter, manager of Great Bear Lodge, were there to meet us when we landed.
There had also been some very nice fish caught at the lodge while we were away, but the big excitement was the Grizzly who made a surprise visit.
After the initial sighting, everyone was on high alert, but for the remainder of the time we were at the lodge, there were no further sightings.
Thursday, July 17
Pike, Pike, Pike and More Pike
Let me state for the record, that anyone who travels to Great Bear Lake and fishes the Smith Arm, and who does not take advantage of the world class pike fishing - is really missing out on a fantastic experience.
While some may think it rather odd, or even sacrilegious to waist any time whatsoever fishing for pike on the world's greatest Lake Trout water - who really cares what they think?
Not only are the numbers of fish you can catch staggering, they can get pretty damn big. My personal best was a 32 pounder, and between Kenny and I, we have caught a good many in the 20 to 30 pound range over the years as well.
The day began in a blustery fashion, with the wind howling in from the North/West, thereby ensuring that everyone would be staying pretty close to home, unless of course they wanted to get slammed trying to get out of Ford Bay.
It was an easy choice for us. So we headed off for what we thought was the "Pike River," located on the South/East side of the bay. While Josh had never been there before, he did have it marked in his GPS, so no worries - right?
He either needed to get his eyes checked, or Harvey was really having him on, because wherever it was he took us, it was definitely not the Pike River.
Now you would have thought that having been there many times ourselves, we could have easily got him pointed in the right direction, but the truth of the matter is, we are rarely facing in the direction we are travelling, and the guides we had in the past, actually knew where it was.
Oh well, on to plan "B."
Not really wanting to fish the "Gap," we decided to try a relatively small weedy bay adjacent to the Lodge.
While we had never fished there, or for that matter heard of anyone who had - because you would catch pike off the lodge dock from time to time - we figured they had to come from somewhere, and this seemed like the logical place.
This bay was in fact a mini pike factory. They were in very shallow, and tight to the weeds, and although pretty small for the most part, it was loads of fun, and more importantly, out of the wind.
We caught between 40 and 50 of the toothy critters, with the biggest being about 15 pounds.
The biggest came from a small cove in the back of the bay, that was considerably deeper than the surrounding area, and absolutely loaded with baitfish.
Deciding to give the pike a rest, we went out to the Gap, and were able to raise the other guys on the radio to sort out our lunch plans. We agreed to meet back at the lodge at noon, and because no one had any trout as yet, we started working the Gap, and in no time had a lunch fish.
Lunch featured grilled trout, with a homemade Cajun rub of Josh's making, which was absolutely delicious. It was without a doubt, one of the best tasting grilled fish I have ever had.
While we were finishing lunch, the wind started to die down, and by 3pm, the water was perfectly flat.
This type of phenomena is one of the more unique characteristics of Great Bear Lake. Because it's such a huge body of water, you would think that it would take some time to settle down, once it had been given a good stir.
Well, if you thought that you would be wrong, because the Bear can go from a raging sea, to a mill pond in matter of just a couple of hours.
Deciding to stay with the pike theme, and because we had yet to visit our favorite pike spot, we bid everyone adieu, told them not to hold dinner for us, and headed west to the Whitefish River - or Pike Heaven - as Kenny and I like to call it.
And even though it would mean missing the weekly wine and cheese soiree put on the lodge, so be it - the pike were calling - and we were about to answer.
This may have been the best fishing we have ever had on the Whitefish, and that's saying something, given some the days we have had in the past.
In the 5 -1/2 hours we fished, we caught in and around 200 pike, with a best ever average size of approximately 10 pounds, including a number of fish in the 12 to 18 pound range, and 4 over 20.
Our lures of choice were a 7/8 oz., "Cabela's" red and white weedless spoon, and a #5, Blue fox spinner, both of which were tipped with a 3" white grub.
The fish were at, or near the mouth this year, and while there were plenty on both sides; the bigger fish came from the east, or left hand side of the river.
When we arrived back at the lodge, the Calgary contingent was in fine form, having had they're pumps suitably primed by the wine, and Bloody Caesars served up by the lodge, together with anything else they had in their possession, that contained at least some measure of alcohol.
They partied well into the wee hours of the morning, with Kenny adding to the fun, by regaling us with some of his better jokes and stories.
Friday, July 18
And So Endeth the Fishing Trip
Inevitably, all good things must come to an end, and as it is with every trip, it comes far to quickly.
The consensus opinion was to head east, and perhaps fish Second River, Bobby Hull Bay, and then meet at the Naiju River for lunch.
This would give Kenny and I the opportunity to fish the river for pike - no, we hadn't had enough just yet - and work the shoreline for Grayling.
As we turned right out of Ford Bay, and onto the main lake, we found ourselves faced with a very stiff east wind, which was going to make for a very bumpy ride.
While the other 2 boats continued on, Kenny and I figured we had caught enough of Lake Trout, so rather than getting slammed all the way to Second River, we tucked into the relative calm of the Naiju for some pike fishing.
Not surprisingly, there were plenty of fish, and we added about 100 more to our total. Most were small, with only a few in the teens, but I did have one follower that would have easily gone 20 pounds, but she was only a tire kicker, and wouldn't take my spoon.
Lunch was a multi course extravaganza, featuring Cajun fried fish, fried potatoes with onions, hush puppies, steak, grilled salami, and an amazing chili/lime stir-fry that Josh prepared.
He also served up steaming mugs of Potentilla and Black Spruce tea, which I have to admit, was pretty damn good. If you would like to find out how to brew a pot of this delicious "country" tea, you will find the recipe in the blog section on this site.
The wind had died down during lunch, and while the rest of the guys decided to do a little pike fishing, Kenny and I began working our way back towards the lodge, casting into the shallows for Grayling, as we slowly moved along the shoreline.
In total we caught about 25, with 2 of them being 24" in length.
Once back, we packed away all of our gear, enjoyed a delicious dinner, and spent the rest of the evening laughing, and talking about the week that was with our newfound friends.
It had been a good week of fishing all around, with trophies for pretty much everyone. The final tally was, 31 fish 20 and over, with our group contributing 16 or them.
The trophy Lake Trout caught and released, weighed in at:
28, 30, 22, 25, 23, 20, 35, 25, 22, 30, 22, 28, 20, 20, 22, 47, 45, 36, 35.5, 33, 28, 27, 26.5, 24, 22, 44, 45, 36, 20, 20, and of course 70.
There were also 4 pike over 20, so I suppose the actual number of trophies was 35 - and yes, pike count.
That was some great fishing, or as Ed Harback, the old Shangbanger would say:
"Mighty fine, mighty fine!"
Saturday, July 19
It was time to play hurry up and wait again, as we sat around the lounge, waiting to be ferried over to the strip for the flight back to YK.
Everything went pretty much as scheduled, and as we got closer to YK, we could see fires burning everywhere, but fortunately the wind was blowing in the right direction, and the city was clear of smoke.
We made a return visit to Coyote's, and the walleye was just as good as it had been the first time.
The guys decided to retire after dinner, but I headed over to the Black Knight Pub, where I hooked up with some of the guys who had been working at Plummer's Great Slave Lodge, and not unlike the guests, had to be evacuated because of the forest fires.
We all wandered over to the "Strange Range," and after a couple of drinks, I made my way back to the hotel.
Sunday, July 20
Rodney and Kevin, having decided they wanted something more substantial than the continental breakfast provided by the hotel, went off in search of some "hen fruit," "hogs hip," and "cat heads."
Unfortunately that meant I didn't get a chance to say adios, because my flight to Edmonton was scheduled earlier than theirs, and I had to leave for the airport before they returned.
This was easily one of the best trips in a long while - but in fairness, there are NO bad trips to Great Bear.
There were plenty of big fish to go around, including Kevin's remarkable 70 pounder, the weather was, for the most part perfect, and we could not have wished for a better bunch of guys to share the week with.
Chuk came through with our aircraft, as he always does, and Gunther and Ernie saw to it that we had all of the provisions, fuel and other supplies we needed to ensure that our camping trip was a success.
Harvey and Paul were both on top of their games, and Josh turned out to more than just a good cook. He was a very competent guide, who was willing to learn, and always striving to improve his skills. If he sticks with it, he has the potential to be one of the "Bears" best.
Needless to say, plans are already in the works for 2015, and as always, it can't come soon enough …