Written by Harold
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“The deep waters hide many things, many secret things that are never seen by those who abide in the shallows…”
July 16 and 17
I Gotta Get Me One, or Two or Maybe Even Three of Those…
These first two days were in fact travelling, and what I like to refer to as “acquisition” or “procurement” days.
Edmonton was our first port of call before heading off to points further north, and our usual buying frenzy was somewhat more subdued this year, in that the Harriman Tennessee contingent, consisting of Rodney Harback and Kevin Adwell, arrived on the 15th, and had already made several critical purchases, including the UV milk used for making hush puppies.
Once all of the technical details had been sorted out, such as picking up the rental van and checking into our hotel, we went off in search of something rather unique – a satellite telephone.
Ken Gold, who usually rents a sat phone so we can stay in touch with the lodge while camping, said he was simply too busy and didn’t have time to pick one up.
Given this somewhat specious excuse, in that he had just recently sold his business and effectively had nothing but time and money on his hands, we made some appropriate and less than complimentary remarks, but then immediately turned this into an opportunity to shop for something entirely new and different.
Our first stop was Mountain Equipment Co-op, and while being a bust in terms of acquiring a phone – they were only available on line – it nevertheless opened up what can be best described as Aladdin’s Cave of Wonders for the guys who had never seen the inside of a MEC.
Once various purchases had been completed, it was off to Cabela’s – where a satellite phone was acquired – and finally to Wholesale Sports for a general look around before heading off to dinner.
BTW – Wholesale Sports have the best prices around for T60 Flatfish, and at the store we visited, they had a decent selection of colours as well.
Despite some sketchy weather in the Edmonton area, the next morning our flight to Yellowknife (YK) went off without a hitch, and upon arrival we picked up yet another van, and checked into the Yellowknife Inn.
With respect to our group – and Rodney in particular – the procuring never seems to end.
After picking up a new charger for Kenny’s cell phone, we made a beeline to Wal-Mart, where Rodney filled a shopping cart with various odds and ends. Unfortunately they didn’t have his favourite brand of cheese and cracker snacks, so it was off to the Co –Op Supermarket, where a potential disaster was averted because they had plenty in stock.
On our way to dinner later that evening, Rodney asked if I would mind stopping at Wal-Mart just one more time.
Apparently he forgot to pack one of his many cameras, and because the camera on Kevin’s smart phone was deemed inadequate, a more appropriate unit was therefore required.
Never one to waste a trip to Wal-Mart by only making a single purchase, Rodney picked up a few other things in order to make it worth his while.
Hey what can I say, the man is a shopping machine and he loves his stuff!
July 18 – Day #1
Other than a slight bit of confusion regarding which shuttle was suppose to pick up who and at what hotel, we made it to the Air Tindi base on time, and achieved “wheels up” just after 9:30am.
As I have learned over the years, there is no such thing as a “plan” when you are travelling, or for that matter doing anything requiring a degree of precision in the arctic; at best you operate under a set of broad and extremely elastic guidelines.
Allow me to elaborate.
This was the first time in a good many trips that someone didn’t show up on time, thereby causing a delay in our departure. Therefore, we got off the ground pretty much on schedule, the weather appeared to be relatively stable all the way to Bear, and it didn’t look like any of the forest fires burning throughout the NWT were going to come into play.
But what about the fog? Fog, what bloody fog? Who said anything about fog?
Well no one really, so it came as quite a surprise when the pilot announced we were diverting to Norman Wells, because the strip at the lodge was completely enveloped in a thick blanket of fog.
Ah well – c’est la vie as they say, and having never been to Norman Wells, I chose to view this unplanned diversion in a positive light, and enjoy the opportunity to see the Wells and Mackenzie River for the first time.
One of the more unique features of the Norman Wells airport terminal was a designated waiting area/lounge specifically for “Elders.”
Unable to take any pictures because my camera case was inadvertently loaded into the hold of the aircraft, I was not worried in the least because Art Ross would take more than enough pictures for the both of us.
Which he did, and subsequently lost for reasons yet to be determined. So you’re just going to have to take my word for it that we were there.
C’est la vie – but I guess I already said that.
Fortunately our enforced confinement in Norman Wells was relatively brief, and with assurances from the pilot that the fog had indeed lifted – we were off.
We landed without incident, but while the aircraft was being unloaded, I noticed two relatively large black shapes moving slowly across the mid point of the runway.
I asked Ernie, Trophy Lodge’s resident “Mr. Fix-it” what he thought they were, and he gave a little shrug and said: “Muskox.”
A few minutes sooner and I know what would have been on the menu for dinner, but come to think of it, I’m willing to bet that Muskoxen and propellers don’t mix very well.
When finished admiring the Muskoxen, we noticed that a tire on the wagon used to transport people and gear from the strip, to the boats that would ferry us over to the lodge, had a very suspicious looking flat spot on the bottom.
Ernie was clearly not amused when I suggested it should be fine because it was only flat on the bottom, so Kenny and I high tailed it to the boats before Ernie got really wound up.
Once at the lodge, we introduced ourselves to Daniel, who was the freshly minted “new – new” manager. I am referring to him as “new - new” because the “new” – now previous manager - having had enough after just one week on the job, was heading out on the plane we just came in on.
After signing our licenses, it was time to grab some lunch and attempt to find out when – and if – the plane would arrive to take us to the Katseyedie, where we would be setting up camp.
In terms of guides, we were assigned a veteran crew that consisted of Harvey Anderson, Josh Gelinas and Dave Jackson.
There were whispers around the lodge that they had scored big time in landing their current chef – and score they did.
Lunch consisted of homemade beef/vegetable soup, together with warm, thick cut roast beef sandwiches, served on homemade rolls, with sautéed onions and peppers, all smothered in a house made BBQ sauce.
Dinner featured a garlic shrimp appetizer, followed by grilled NY strips; ranch flavoured mashed potatoes, sautéed button mushrooms, and a choice of homemade blueberry pie or apple crumble.
The rest of the meals we had during our stay were every bit as good.
Did I already say yum?
We usually spend the first day getting our camping gear and such sorted, but because we had yet to hear when to expect the plane, Kenny and I decided to kill a couple of hours annoying the Pike in the small bay adjacent to the lodge.
In this particular case the Pike decided to annoy US by refusing to bite. After catching a few small fish we decided to head over to the Pike River, with assurances from Josh, that unlike last year, he had now pin pointed the location of the river.
Lets just say that the Pike in the river had nothing to worry about from us, or our directionally challenged guide.
Some one picked up a 40 pounder that afternoon just off the edge of the airport reef, which as it turned out, was a sign of things to come.
July 19 – Day #2
You may recall that I started off this narrative with a quote that spoke of deep waters hiding things that you won’t come across if you muck about in the shallows.
The reason for this was twofold.
Fist off, for those of you who read this and don’t know me, I wanted to impress you with an obscure quotation thereby conveying the impression that I am indeed most assuredly erudite. Secondly, for those of you who do know me, and therefor know better, it’s a round about way of saying that if you wanted big fish – you had better go deep.
The ice had, for the most part gone out by mid June, which meant that by the time we got there, the fish had moved onto the deep main lake shoals, such as Airport and the X Shoals.
In addition, given the lodges operating schedule, we were compelled to come a week later than would have normally been the case, so our chances of finding any big fish in the shallows was extremely remote.
The guys who were there the previous week didn’t catch very many big ones, because in my estimation they were caught between a rock and a hard place, in that the fish were likely in transition between the shallows and deep water.
We received confirmation that our plane would be coming in that evening, and we would depart for the Katseyedie the following morning right after breakfast. Unfortunately we would only get 2 days of camping instead of our usual 3, because the plane was going to be tied up running side trips at the main lodge.
Because it no longer takes much time to organize our camping gear, we gave the chef our grocery order and Daniel our fuel requirements, then Kenny and I headed west to the Whitefish for some Pike fishing, while Art, Gary, Rodney and Kevin went east in the general direction of the Naiju and Second River in search of Lake Trout.
It rained throughout most of the morning, but it did clear up long enough for us to have lunch, although we did get hit by a couple of random cloud bursts later that afternoon.
We had heard that the Pike fishing at the Whitefish was nothing to brag about the previous week – likely because they had already moved out of the shallows in search of deeper, cooler water – and if anything it got worse.
In almost four hours of fishing I don’t think we caught 20 Pike – none of them even close to being a trophy. This was easily the most disappointing day of Pike fishing we had ever experienced on that river.
To compound our frustration, we were unable to come up with a lunch fish off Pele Point! That place is usually automatic, but undaunted we caught one in short order off the southern tip of airport reef.
Lunch was at a place known locally as Echo Beach, and featured an amazing Thai Red Curry stir-fry. Definitely one of the best, and most unique dishes I have ever had at a shore lunch. If you would like to cook up a batch, check out the recipe section on this site.
We fished the airport reef for a couple of hours in the afternoon, using 4 oz. weights, and transitioning between depths ranging from 30 to 80 ft., with our efforts being rewarded with 2 small Trout.
The guys who went east caught a few Trout, and a mess of Pike outside the mouth of the Naiju, but nothing of any size. While they didn’t catch all that many fish, there were loads Muskox for their viewing and picture taking pleasure just east of the Naiju.
As a matter of fact, nothing big was caught by anyone today – but that was about to change big time in the days to come.
Our plane arrived just after dinner, with a surprise guest on board in the form of no other that Chummy Plummer himself.
The mountain had indeed come to Mohammed!
The guides left around 8:30 pm, and hearing no boats return throughout the evening or the early morning hours, we assumed that they had arrived safely at the Katseyedie.
July 20 - Day #3
Little House on the Katseyedie
All of stars and planets were obviously in their proper alignment, because we all made it over to the Katseyedie pretty much on schedule and in one piece.
At this juncture I would like to extend our thanks to Chuk Coulter, Manager of Great Bear Lake Lodge for coming through yet again, by ensuring we had an aircraft at our disposal to transport us, and our gear to the Katseyedie.
We managed to set up camp in about and hour and a half, jumped in the boats, made a sharp right once we exited the bay, and pointed our bows in the direction of Tripod.
Stopping to fish a couple of spots en route, two of the boats developed motor problems.
With a few helpful hints from Harvey we managed to get them started, but ours developed a mysterious, and rather severe gas leak.
Despite giving it a good going over, we could not find the source of the leak. Fortunately the motor was now running fine, but we used twice as much gas during the course of the day than we would have otherwise consumed.
In the event we were unable to correct the problem, we had a potentially serious problem on our hands. That satellite phone may indeed come in very handy.
Our guess was that both boats got some bad gas, and once back at the camp, tanks were changed and in our case, the leak mysteriously disappeared.
Just east of Tripod we spotted a small herd of Muskox that included 2 large bulls, one with a pronounced blond stripe down its back, several females and one calf. Luckily for us they were in a cooperative mood, and I got some great pictures.
Water temperatures were optimum on the north shore, being in the 46 to 52 degree range, which was about 5 degrees warmer than on the south shore – so we decided to fish the shallows and see what happened.
Once we arrived at Tripod my first fish was an 18 pounder that fought like something twice as big. Unfortunately it was pretty much all down hill from there, with the exception of a 20 that Art caught.
On the way back to camp, we stopped at “Kevin’s Creek,” the storied locale where Kevin got his 70 the previous year, and I picked up a 21 pounder together with a few smaller fish.
We fished the west shore of home bay for about an hour and caught all manner of fish in the 5 to 12 pound range, and although the sonar screen was virtually filled with what were clearly big fish – they all had a bad case of lockjaw.
It was at this point that I asked Josh to make sure that he had not inadvertently engaged the simulator function.
The weather was good while we were out fishing, but there was a big black cloud hovering right over our campsite.
Maybe it was trying to tell us something…
July 21 – Day #4
The Rain Man Commeth and Commeth and…
Although there was a small streak of blue sky to the southeast, we were clearly in for some weather, but Mother Nature was kind enough to let us finish breakfast before she decided to water the plants – and water them she did.
Other than one very small break, it rained continuously in and around Katseyedie from about 9am up until 8pm. She seemed to be of the view that forcing us to eat, as well as fish in the rain would have been bad form, so the showers were suspended just long enough for us to have dinner.
I’ve heard it said that fish bite better in the rain, so maybe she was just trying to help. And if you believe that load of crap…
Our plan today was, stop and fish the sand flats and then make our way over to McGill.
Notwithstanding some decent water temperatures, there was not very much doing either in the flats, or on the west shore of Kroger Island. Art, Rodney, Kevin and Gary decided to continue on to McGill, but Kenny suggested that because of the nasty looking weather in the area, it would be prudent to stick closer to home.
Kenny’s point was that he did not want to risk the possibility of get slammed during the 20 mile ride back – like we did last year – and after suggesting that he was beginning to sound like my former fishing partner, who did not want to venture too far afield because it MIGHT get rough at some point – we headed back towards the Katseyedie.
Kenny has a sensitive back, and I can assure you that 20 miles of bouncing is not all that pleasant, even if your back is in good shape.
So the Katseyedie it was, and there was certainly no shortage of fish throughout the entire bay.
We fished the west shore, and also worked the south shore opposite our camp, alternating between shallow and deep water There were fish everywhere – but other than a 24 that Josh caught on Kenny’s rod while he was taking a break – we could not coax any of the “hooks” that filled Josh’s sonar screen to bite.
The interesting thing about this area is that it features very steep, abrupt drop offs. You can work the shoreline in 10 to 15 feet of water, move out another 10 yards and suddenly find yourself in 100 to 200 feet of water.
The closest we may have come to something big, was a massive strike that I got soon after we started fishing the west shore, but after making about a 50-yard run, my line suddenly went limp. Because the fish hit and immediately ran, I never did get the opportunity to get a solid hook set.
One of the most confounding puzzles that I have ever come across is in regards to the complete collapse of the fishery at, and just inside the mouth of the Katseyedie River.
When Branson’s was operating their outpost at the Katseyedie throughout the 70’s and 80’s, it was a rock solid guarantee that you could catch as many 3 to 10 pound trout as you wanted in that area, but when we made a return visit in the late 90’s, there was not a single fish to be found – not one.
The bay was, and to this day remains lousy with fish, but as for the river itself – no cigar.
Spotting some weed growth in the river Kenny, who can smell a Pike through 10 ft. of reinforced concrete, suggested taking a break from Trout fishing, and making a few casts in the river.
I suggested that his time would be more productively spent taking a nap, but when he gets that “pikey” gleam in his eye it’s best not to argue.
Much to my surprise, not only were there some Pike in the river, he got a couple of taps that were likely Lake Trout. Maybe things are beginning to change yet again? Your guess is as good as mine, but if and when we visit the area again, I will keep you posted.
Although it rained all day the winds remained calm, the air temperature was mild, and the guys who went to McGill had a smooth ride back.
The fishing in McGill was ok in terms of numbers, but there were no really big fish. Together with a number of smaller ones, Rodney caught a 25, Art a 22 and Gary a 20.
On the way back they fished the flats once again, and while there were fish to be caught up in the shallows, the biggest was Kevin’s 20.
July 22 – Day #5
BTW – What’s that Big Yellow Ball on the Eastern Horizon?
That would be the sun of course! At least we hoped it was…
Our ride home was scheduled to arrive about 4 pm, so we would not be going too far afield today, because we had to break camp and have everything ready to go.
Given the number of fish we caught, and saw on the sonar the previous day, Kenny and I decided to spend our remaining time fishing the bay.
The others, no doubt in search of greener pastures, headed back to the Sand Flats.
We picked up right where we left off, and I started the day with a 24, but unfortunately, while we caught well over 50 Trout, the only other big fish was Kenny’s 20.
The guys didn’t catch anything over 20 on the Flats, and although Art and Gary caught 22 fish, Rodney and Kevin only caught 1.
In fact the biggest “catch” of the day for those guys, were a small group of Cariboo they spotted and photographed on the West shore of the Flats.
We started breaking camp at about 1:30, and just finished packing when the plane glided in at 4 on the dot. When the pilots at Plummer’s give you a pick up time, you can pretty much take it to the bank.
I should also mention that while the sun shone for most of the day, Great Bear decided to flip us the bird, and it rained for about 10 minutes while we were breaking camp, which was just long enough to get all of our gear nice and wet.
We had smooth ride back to the lodge as did our guides, who made the trip in just under 4 hours.
While camping can be very enjoyable, and we did catch loads of fish, I was more than ready for a hot shower and a soft bed.
During our absence, the fishing on the reefs – the X Shoals in particular - had really picked up, with a 50 and numerous fish in the 40’s, 30’s and 20’s having been caught.
July 23 – Day #6
Go East Young Man – Go East!
Today Kenny and I planned to head east in anticipation of fishing for Pike in the Naiju, and the world’s largest Grayling along the shore line between the Naiju and Second Light.
The other guys in our group were going to try their luck on the X – Shoals.
The Grayling were feeding on Caddis, so for us non - fly fisherman, it was a bit slow. That said, we did catch some very nice ones including a 22 ½ incher, and 6 more over 20 inches. If you know anything at all about Grayling, you will appreciate that these were huge fish.
If you are ever inclined to target world record Grayling, this particular stretch of shoreline is the place to go.
Once we arrived at the Naiju, the Pike had definitely moved out of the river, and were were splashing around chasing Cisco’s right at the mouth.
This was yet another indication of how advanced the season was, because it was the first time in all the years we have been fishing the Naiju, that we saw the Pike move out of the river.
We caught a mess of small fish at the mouth, and then decided to see what was going on in the river. There were plenty of them tight to the east bank, but unlike in years past, the large, mid river weed bed located about 150 yards upstream, only held a few fish.
Lunch time had arrived, and while Josh had originally intended to prepare a Trout baked with salsa and herbs, after informing him that I was not a big fan of baked fish – especially with salsa – he put on his chef’s hat and created a wonderful teriyaki stir fry.
He sautéed onions and red pepper, then added a bit of soya sauce, and continued cooking the vegetables until they caramelized. He then added the fish, some Italian seasoning, and finished it off with teriyaki sauce.
It was so good, that once Kenny and I had licked the finish off of our plates after our first helping, we were plotting against one another to see who would get the last little bit left in the frying pan.
While we were enjoying lunch, the bigger Pike had moved out of their hiding places.
We began fishing the east shore between the mouth, and the first visible weed bed located about 75 yards upstream.
In addition to numerous others, we caught 6 in the 12 to 15 pound range, and Kenny got one over 40 inches that was a solid 20 pounds. All of the fish hit hard and fought hard. It was a great day of Pike fishing, and we estimated that we caught and released in and around 150 fish.
Following another hour of Grayling fishing, we headed back to the lodge.
Scanning the trophy board, we almost missed seeing the 65 pounder that Jim Case caught earlier that day. Jim already had a 42 to his credit, but I guess he figured that it was not quite big enough!
Jim’s guide, Robin Stewart, told us they were fishing aimlessly over the X – Shoals with a T60 Flatfish in about 75 ft. of water, using the “stop and drop” method.
The way this works is that you troll for a ways, stop, let the weight/lure sink to the bottom and begin trolling again, then simply repeat the process over and over again. He also mentioned that they had 3 other good hits that may have been big fish as well.
When it comes to working the deep shoals in the Trophy Lodge area, no one does it better than Robin.
Unfortunately, Art, Gary, Rodney and Kevin had a very slow day, but then again - that’s reef fishing. Long periods of boredom followed by brief moments of sheer terror.
Thursday is wine and cheese night at the lodge, and it gives the chef an opportunity to put aside the regular menu and do a bit of showing off.
There was off course plenty of wine, cheese and pitchers of Bloody Caesar’s, together with sweet, garlic spare ribs, lemon pepper and Indian style chicken wings, a cream cheese and Lake Trout dip, sweet and sour meatballs, some outstanding chocolate/banana tarts (I ate 3 of them and don’t even like bananas), and a bunch of other stuff that I can’t remember – all of it good.
July 24 – Day #7
I had been battling a cold or a bug of some kind for most of the week, and it finally caught up to me Friday morning, so I decided to hang back and see how I felt around lunchtime, then perhaps do some fishing in the afternoon.
The guys were talking about treating the chef, and the rest of the kitchen/housekeeping staff to a shore lunch, but I never did hear what had been finally decided.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get the memo – but more on that in a little bit.
Relaxing in the lounge with a book, the chef and the rest of the staff were talking about heading off to the shore lunch, and upon inquiry, was told it was taking place on the point just around the corner from the lodge at 1:30.
Feeling better, I was about to head over when Kenny and Josh pulled up to the dock, and after being assured I was ok, gave me a lift to the lunch spot.
Kenny was in something of a state of euphoria, having spent the morning fishing for Pike in the small bay adjacent to the lodge – they decided to bite this time – and in Pike River. He had caught well over 100 fish by lunch, and was looking forward to adding to his total that afternoon.
To Josh’s credit, after failing to find the Pike River the first day, he took off on his own after breakfast the following day, and got the coordinates locked into his GPS.
Lunch was presided over by Rodney and Kevin, with Harvey doing much of the prep work, and Josh contributing a dish as well.
• Fried potatoes and onions (duh)
• Beans and corn (double duh)
• Hush puppies
• Cajun spiced, fried trout
• Lemon/herb, grilled trout
• Italian style, baked trout
• Chili/lime stir fried trout with rice
It was a feast to be sure, and a great way to finish off the week.
Unfortunately there was some confusion about the location, because we didn’t connect with Art and Gary until lunch was finished, and while a few heated words were exchanged, like most family squabbles, it was over and forgotten in no time.
I tagged along with Kenny over to the Pike River, and by the time it was all said and done, he had caught about 200 Pike, and while most were small, he did manage a couple in the 12 to 15 pound range.
The other guys worked the reefs for the entire day, and while they didn’t come up with anything big, a few more trophies were added to the board.
Once back at the lodge, the evening was spent packing, clearing up our bills and reflecting on the week that was.
So, other than that, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
Other than some rain, the winds were generally light and the air temperature very pleasant throughout the entire week.
Despite being pressed into service at the last minuet, Daniel had the lodge running like a Swiss watch and he, together with the chef and Ernie, ensured we had everything we could possibly need for our camping trip.
Our guides were excellent, and for that matter listening to the comments from other guests, so were all of the others.
In terms of the fishing, while I personally don’t like fishing deep while at Great Bear, and really didn’t even bother trying all that hard, those that did hit the mother load.
Of the fish that topped 20 pounds – all of which were released - the total weight was 1535 pounds, for an average weight of 32 pounds - or to put it another way - more than a ton and one half of fish, not counting the hundreds that were caught under 20 pounds.
Rodney's 25 and my 24 never made it onto the board, so the total weight was actually 1584 pounds, but then again who's counting.
The biggest Trout of the week was Jim’s 65 pounder, and to round things off there was Kenny’s 20 pound pike, and 11 Grayling over 20 inches.
The biggest Trout for the week of July 18 to 24, 2015 were:
65, 50, 48, 43, 43, 43, 42, 42, 41, 40, 40, 40, 40, 39, 38, 38, 38, 36, 35, 35, 32, 32, 31, 30, 30, 30, 30, 29, 28, 28, 26, 26, 26, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 24, 23, 22, 22, 22, 21, 20, 20, 20, 20, 20.
It’s been a few years since I’ve seen a board like that.
Our fellow anglers were a great bunch, and from what I could tell, they were more than pleased with the entire experience, and wouldn’t be surprised to see some of them return again at some point.
Overall it was a good week, and I have no doubt that if we had spent more time working the reefs, we would have come up with a few more trophies. But having said that, I love fishing the shallows right after ice out when you can see the fish, and at this stage in my fishing career, how I fish is every bit as important - if not more so - than what I catch.
Great Bear Lake has so much more to offer in addition to the best trophy Lake Trout and Grayling fishing on the planet.
Magnificent wildlife, stunning scenery, an outstanding and underrated Pike fishery, a rich history and if you find yourself getting thirsty, 12,000 square miles of pure, sweet drinking water.
You really should think about giving Great Bear Lake a try, because it’s truly one of those places where angling dreams, can and do come true…
The fishing on the X - Shoals picked right up where it left off the following week. There were 4 fish in the 50’s, with the fish over 20 lbs. weighing in at a rather remarkable 2164 lbs. – yes more than a ton – for an average of just over 33 lbs. per fish!