Written by Harold
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Don Wiggans and Tim Walker made their "trip of a lifetime" to Great Bear's Trophy lodge this July - and what a trip it was!
For years now the number one thing on my bucket list has been to fish Great Bear Lake. Well, last week Timmy and I went to Plummer’s Lodge and fulfilled our dream!
Great Bear Lake is in the Northwest Territories and is the largest lake in Canada, and the eighth largest in the world. The 72-pound world record lake trout was caught on Bear, though we met a gentleman who had a picture of a fish he caught that was estimated at 83 pounds but he never officially recorded it.
I arrived in Yellowknife to spend a few days with my dear friend Phil and to organize my stuff. Timmy arrived Friday in time for our flight to Bear on Saturday morning. All our stuff showed up including my huge duffle bag of tackle and the 6-inch diameter plumbing pipe I was using as a rod case. Everything went perfectly.
We flew out on a Dash 7, a four-prop plane on wheels. It was an hour and forty-five minute flight to the lodge. Flying over the massive lake, the visions of us in a little open boat on this huge body of water started to get a little freaky.
We landed on a gravel runway that was more like a field of wild flowers. We were then taken by boat over to the lodge. It is situated on a sand peninsula that you can walk across from one side to the other in no time.
The lodge was very comfy with a lounge area and a big stone fireplace. We each had our own room. I ended up in the honeymoon suite at the end of the hall – perfect for post fishing partying with the guides before dinner! We told fish stories as we pored over the big map I had put up on my wall.
Meals were in the dining room where we sat with these crazy Americans who were in search of the world record trout. Some of them had been coming to Bear for 40 years!! The food was amazing. The camp had a great chef – we had bacon every day! The lodge employs three native girls from Deliné, the only community on the lake. They cleaned the rooms, helped serve the food and worked at the bar and tackle shop.
Our Guide was Josh Gelinas or Jelly Man as they called him. Jelly is a 21-year-old keener, only his second year on the lake as a guide. He is a trained chef, and on the Canadian Fly Fishing Team. He also had the fastest boat in the fleet. Jelly had never caught a forty pounder before, and neither had we. All that was about to change.
Our boat hammered a 52 pounder, a 45, 42, 40, 31, 27, 26, 25, 25, 24, 24, 23, 22, 21, 21, 21 ... and many more in the teens!! Jelly drove the boat like a champ through the big waves that were so punishing on our backs. We were in a small open 18-foot boat with a 30 hp.
There was an opportunity to catch lots of smaller fish up to 10 pounds right in front of the lodge. Timmy and I have fished Great Slave Lake for many years and have caught lots of trout up to 30 pounds so we were looking for the big boys!
This meant fishing for long periods of time not getting a bite and then sheer mayhem when one of those Hogs buckled your rod over.
Typically people fish the huge sand flats in front of the lodge but because of a very early ice out this year the big fish had moved off the shoal to deeper water.
We had to travel 35 kms out to the middle of the lake to best fishing spot called the X Shoals, a huge flat about 30 to 60 feet deep. Since it was so far to the spot weather dictated if we could go or not. We made it out to the honey hole three days. All three days all 9 boats caught Huge Hogs!! It was a Hog Fest, as the Guides would say!
We were running about 4 to 6 ounces of weight with a 60 lb. fluorocarbon leader. Lure of choice was a T60 in Chartreuse with a twister tail on the end. Big Eppinger spoons also did well.
Barbless hooks are the law in the NWT making it much better for Jelly’s hands. The guides were very careful with these precious fish. Because of the short season it takes these fish many years to grow. Studies suggest that a 40-pound fish is over 60 years old.
Only fish over 20 lbs. are netted in really oversized nets, and then kept in the net in the water until it is time for that all important photo! Then the guide hands you the fish and it is all you can do to lift it up, let alone stop this massive monster from flipping out of your arms.
Once the glory shot has been taken, we would carefully release the fish back into the clear green water and usually with a splash from its huge tail, it would swim off. We managed to capture some amazing underwater footage on Timmy’s waterproof GoPro camera ... very cool!
The battles were crazy! The fish bend your rod down to the water to the point where it is impossible to reel in. An elephant like shake of its head follows as the massive trout tries to shake the lure free. Then with screams of joy from all three buddies in the boat, a Trophy trout is finally netted.
One of the best parts of the trip was hanging out with the guides. After dinner we were invited to what they called Guide Land. The guides live in little cabins away from the main lodge. Guides must have a few screws loose to guide on this giant lake.
Nights in Guide Land were spent in Harvey’s cabin, the oldest guide at the lodge, a weathered old sea dog with attitude.
All the young guides would sit around on the edge of the beds or on coolers listening to his every word. With cigarette smoke heavy in the air and country music in the background, fish tales were told till early in the morning, making it tough to get up for breakfast at 7:30am. The boat and guide would be waiting at the dock at 8am ... ouch!
We would spend all day on the water, some days stopping with the other 9 boats for a great shore lunch with fish served many different ways even with French Fries. Then back on the water till 6pm. We always left some time to dump pictures to Jelly’s laptop and party in my room with the guides before dinner.
It would have been nice to see some wildlife. We heard people were seeing Muskox, Caribou, Moose, Grizzly and Black Bears. We did see huge dints the Grizzly's has made in the side of the round metal food cache silos near the Lodge. Then there was the story of the Grizzly bear that broke into the Lodge and bit the fish mounted on the wall. We also saw a Jerry Can all chewed up by a Grizzly.
We had always heard Great Bear Lake is number one on the planet for lake trout fishing and now we know it is!
The untouched beauty of Bear is like no other.
Breathing the fresh air as you are zipping along in an open boat on this massive body of water is like no other feeling. You can drink the water right out of the lake. And if you are as crazy about fishing as we are, this truly is heaven.
To be trolling along with good buddies, knowing there could be a world record trout looking at your lure ... well there really is nothing like it. The funniest part is anybody can do it ... if you have lots of money. Plummer’s does everything for you. But good technique and planning ahead seemed to help catch more big fish.
Up at Bear it is all about luck, and being in the right place at the right time. It really is a needle in a haystack! And the fish God has to be on your side to help you reel it in.
Just one last thanks to Plummer’s Lodge management and staff who truly made our trip of a lifetime possible. Everyone was more than happy to help with anything we wanted. The rooms were perfect and cleaned everyday. The food was excellent. A top notch job done by all.
Thanks to Josh Jelly Man, our guide, for putting up with two crazed fisherman. He did everything to put us on fish! Lets do it again!!
Thanks so much,
Don Wiggans and Tim Walker
Hug and Release