Great Bear Lake - 2016: The True North Strong and "Tree"!
Written by Harold
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The "Aisle's" Have It
Now, I don't know what your thoughts on the matter are, but it's usually not a good thing when they call your name, and ask you to see the agent at the gate prior to your flight.
So when my name was called while waiting for my Air Canada flight from Toronto to Calgary, I was determined to think positively, that is until they informed me that I had initially been bumped from the flight because it was oversold - but not to worry - they had found me a seat!
Not the one I had booked mind you, because they moved me from my window seat to the aisle. Grrrrrr.
How they managed to declare a flight over sold that had any number of empty seats I don't know, but someone must have looked up my file, and realized that I'm considered a frequent flyer, and before take off, the agent came on board and offered me a premium window seat at no additional charge.
No harm - no foul I suppose.
The rest of the flight went off without incident, and because of a five hour layover in Calgary until my flight to YK; I became very well acquainted with departures level, so if there is anything at all you want to know about that section of the Calgary Airport - I'm your guy.
Once the flight to YK was called, and while waiting for my "zone" to be called, I hooked up with Chuck Brill, who hails from just outside of Los Angles.
I met Chuck through the Great Bear Lake Outdoors - www.greatbearlakeoutdoors.com -, where he had contacted me regarding information about Great Bear, and a canoe trip even further north, that he was planning to undertake with a guy by the name of Adam Shoalts.
His plan was to spend a week fishing on Bear, following which Adam would join him, and they would embark on a 150 mile round trip, that would take them up the Dease River, to Sandy Creek, then across the tundra to the western most tip or the Dismal Lakes.
"Fortune and Glory, Kid. Fortune and Glory."
(Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom)
Adam is very much into coloring in blank spaces on the map, and has been referred to as "Canada's Indiana Jones."
His book, "Alone Against the North" is well worth reading, if for no other reason than in the paper back version, the publisher was discerning enough to reproduce an excerpt from the review I published on my Cabin 14 site - www.cabin14.ca - which no doubt explains at least in part, why sales have picked up!
In talking to Adam, he mentioned in passing that this little sojourn is nothing more than a tune up for his "big" trip next year, which will entail a five - month journey across the top of the continent, from Alaska to Hudson's Bay.
Knowing this guy, he will probably do all of it solo, using nothing more than his feet and a canoe.
Did I mention that he is also an archeologist?
The flight to YK was a little late getting off, but once we touched down, the Plummer's representative was on hand to greet us, and arranged for a shuttle to take everyone to they're hotels.
I had decided to stay at the Yellowknife - now Comfort Inn - rather than the Explorer where most guests stay, having managed to book a room on line for about half the rate the Explorer was charging.
While it's a bit short on amenities, by putting the $100 differential towards my room on the way home, I essentially got two rooms for the price of one nights stay at the other place.
After checking in, I asked Chuck, who was staying at the same hotel, if he was interested in grabbing a bite, and checking out YK's newest eatery the NWT Brewing Company/ Woodyard Brewhouse and Eatery.
Other than the fact that it was at least 100 degrees inside of the restaurant - and no, I'm not exaggerating - the food was very good, and we enjoyed a sampling sleeve of all four of their house-brewed beers - KickSled Cream Ale (my fav.), Ragged Pine Ale, Honey Bucket Nut Brown, and Bug Repellant IPA.
Each was smooth, well balanced, with a flavor profile as unique as their names.
In retrospect we should have grabbed a seat on the patio, because it was at least twenty degrees cooler, and would have been worth risking the possibility of being chewed up by the bugs, rather than melting inside.
After dinner, I took Chuck on a walking tour of what is arguably YK's most eclectic neighbourhood - the Woodyard - which also included a stroll down their most famous street - Ragged Ass Road.
The Return of the Kaiser!
Not to worry, old Wilhelm isn't on the prowl once again - but more on this in a moment.
When they dropped us off at the hotel, we were told the shuttle would pick us up at 6:55am - sharp - so Chuck and I headed on over to the Gold Range Bistro around 6am to grab some breakfast.
This little gem is located in the Gold Range, or as the locals call it, "Strange Range" Hotel, and serves up a very good home-style breakfast.
The owner/waitress was extremely welcoming and attentive, and at no time were we allowed to see the bottom of our coffee mugs.
Much to my surprise - you have heard me go on about "Arctic time" in the past - the shuttle was right on time, and after a brief stop to pick up the balance of the guests at the Explorer, we headed on over to the Summit Air base for what was supposed to be our 8am flight.
Upon arrival at the air base, we were greeted by a sea of familiar faces. I had thought all of the guides were already up at Bear, but Gelly, Pike Mike, "Shirtless" and several others were flying up with us.
There were also a number of canoeists on our flight, who were planning to spend two weeks paddling the Horton River -which is where the aforementioned Kaiser comes in.
The "Kaiser" in this instance was in fact a cardboard box full of Kaiser buns that were apparently so special, one of the canoeists brought them on to the aircraft as his carry on.
They must have been very special indeed, because while at the lodge, he was never seen without them tightly tucked under his arm. The last I saw of them, and the Kaiser Bun Mule, was when he carried them onto the Otter en route to the Horton.
I gotta get me some of them buns, and see what all the fuss was about!
The canoe tripping part of Plummer's business has apparently been growing over the past couple years. In talking to the trip leader from Black Feather - the company that organizes and leads the trips - in addition to the Horton, they had two more trips planned on the Coppermine later this summer.
Because of some technical difficulty with the larger aircraft we were supposed to be using - I think it was an ATR 72 - the passengers (and Kaiser buns) flew up in a Dash 7, with the food and luggage following in a smaller ATR, set up in cargo configuration.
"Arctic time" reared its predictable head yet again, and because of the situation with the aircraft, we were about an hour late getting underway.
Following a smooth flight, once at the lodge we enjoyed a delicious lunch, featuring corn chowder, several unique salads, a selection of cheeses, sliced deli meats, homemade rolls and plenty of sweet things.
While we unpacked, the guides did the same, and also prepared their boats for action. When all was said and done, most everyone was out on the water by 2 pm at the latest. Josh and I on the other hand, didn't get out until 3 pm. No sense in rushing a good thing.
Before we go any further, now is as good a time as any to introduce you to Pike Mike.
Mike, who has been guiding on the lake for over ten years, is one of the best, and has an impressive record of big fish to back it up - and he doesn't just confine his exploits to the big lake either.
His Tree River record is second to none, and if I recall correctly, Josh told me that he has at least three Char over thirty pounds to his credit.
If you happen to be a fan of TV reality shows, Mike may look familiar, because he starred in the recently cancelled, "Ice Lake Rebels."
As I understand it, the show chronicled the adventures of YK's "house boaters," and while I heard that Mike didn't actually live on a houseboat, at least not at that time, they simply liked his style and cast him in the show.
While hanging around the dock, he entertained us with one of his many stories, which in this instance was about the Heart of Great Bear Lake.
According to him, legend has it that the heart of the lake is not a monster Lake Trout as most of us may have thought, but rather a giant Burbot that resides at the bottom of the lake. It has been said that the water never freezes over the place were this mystical fish resides.
Mike was going to be guiding Chuck, and there was no question in my mind, that he would have a very good time.
Not wanting to go to far afield given the hour, Josh and I fished Buffalo Island and Grayling Rock for most of the afternoon, and caught a number of fish, including a seventeen and several smaller ones, - the majority of them on the fly.
On the other hand, at least one of our fellow anglers - Eric Anderson, who hailed from Alaska - faired much better, and caught a fifty-one, thirty-four, twenty-five and twenty-two pounder in and around the Fingers. Apparently all of these fish were caught on a T60 Flatfish, in about ten to fifteen ft. of water.
That was one hell of a start to be sure, and while everyone caught fish, Eric was clearly going to be the guy to beat - or rather his fifty-one pounder was.
Dinner featured warm, lightly smoked Lake Trout fillets, and if this was any indication of what the rest of the meals were going to be like, we were going to eat very well indeed.
Chuk - that would be Chuk (one "c") the lodge manager - came by during dinner and asked if I wanted head up to the Tree the following morning -duh.
The only catch was that they had not been able to send up a crew to open the camp as yet, because the Arctic coast had been enveloped in a thick blanket of fog for several days.
I was more than willing to help open up; because there was no way that I was not going to be on the plane.
The True North Strong and Tree!
While the weather report from Kugluktuk indicated there was still a bit of fog in the area, it was expected to clear by mid - morning, so we were floats up just after 10 am, and had a smooth, fog free flight into camp.
On the way in we spotted a big Grizzly, just north/west of the camp. He may have been a lot closer at one point, because Chummy, who was part of the crew, said that one had been busy digging holes on the strip where the DC3 once landed.
There are loads of Sic Sic's in the area, so the bear was likely trying to excavate a snack.
The rest of our small, but formidable crew consisted of a mechanic from the main lodge, Josh, Chris - the camp manager, chef, Ryota Oki - or Yoda as he is called - yours truly, and Maggie, Chris' dog.
With the help of an old, small blue Ford tractor, which the mechanic had to hot wire because no one could remember where the keys had been stashed, we got the pieces of the float plane dock down a fairly steep embankment and into the river, where it was then bolted together, and secured to the bank with steel cables.
Once that was taken care of, we transported gear, equipment, food and people to camp, where the real work began in getting things operational.
Plumbing had to be inspected, repaired and turned on, the generator fired up, fridges and stoves put back into place and made operational, cabins made up, and all manner of other equally important tasks.
In fact, they were still at it while I was making these notes at 10 pm.
Chummy and the mechanic headed out for Kug around 5pm, where they would top up the tanks on the Otter, and drop off some empty fuel barrels before heading back to the lodge.
After lunching on some sandwiches and smoked fish, Josh and I got out on the water about 4 pm.
We tried a few spots below the first falls, but had our best, and for that matter only luck along the "scum" line where the water from Chummy Creek - located just downstream from camp - intermingles with the water of the Tree.
Our days total consisted of four Char and one small Lake Trout.
Two of the Char were caught on a white Zonker, and the others on a red/silver Pixie. It was not easy catching them a fly, because the water was very high, and it was tough getting the fly deep enough.
After dinner I shot some footage with the drone, while Josh headed up above the first falls, to get the boat ready, because we would be fishing the upper pool, or first bay as it's called, right after breakfast.
Hopefully tomorrow will bring something in the way of a breeze, in that it was extremely hot and muggy, and the bugs were well north of awful.
Once Josh returned, he directed my attention to what he claimed was a herd of Muskox. Given the fact that they were at least 10km away, I stared at what appeared to be nothing more than a cluster of little back dots for quite a while, until I finally detected some movement.
Perhaps with a bit of luck they will make their way closer to camp over the next few days.
It was certainly great to be back in this magnificent place, and with the rushing water singing a sweet lullaby just outside of my cabin window, sleep came quickly and easily.
The Spiders from Mars
My sincere apologies to the late Mr. Bowie and his old band mates, but who would have thought there would be spiders this far north? I'm talking a couple of km's from the Arctic Ocean. Not me, that's for sure. They could have been from Mars for all I know.
But sure enough, I spotted one scrambling among the rocks just in front of the cookhouse. I wonder if Josh had a fly pattern to match that particular type of spider?
Right after breakfast, Josh and I started working first bay and the area around Trophy Island.
By the time we broke for lunch around 11:30, I had caught ten Char, including a twenty-one and nineteen pounder. Josh, who was using his fly rod paired with a white Zonker, had three fish on but didn't land any.
With the exception of one I took on a fly, all of mine were taken on a red and silver Pixie. As mentioned earlier, because of the high water levels it was not easy to get the fly deep enough to where the fish were, so I stayed primarily with the Pixie, which seemed to have the inside track under these conditions.
We got some company just before lunch. Chuck came in, along with a couple of other guests, two guys from Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures, and guides Reid Stoyberg and Scotty Orr.
They were there to evaluate Plummer's operation, and if it met Yellow Dog's standards, the lodge would be listed, and actively marketed through their organization.
Chuck hooked up with me, and what an afternoon he had.
We went back to first bay, where Chuck proceeded to catch six Char, including a twenty-six, twenty-one and nineteen pounder. I got another around twelve pounds.
What I didn't know was that Chuck, who had likely never seen a Char in his life, was armed with a secret weapon, supplied by none other than Pike Mike himself.
The "secret weapon" in this case was a white Rocket Devel with a silver back that Pike Mike had altered by painting on seven red dots. He called his creation the "7 Nipple Lure."
Given the way that lure performed over the next couple of days, it was easy to understand why Mike has three, thirty pound Char to his credit.
Needless to say, at one point I gave some thought to waiting until Chuck fell asleep, and then...
The other guys, who were fishing below the first falls, got some fish as well. The gents from Yellow Dog hiked all the way up to the 3rd falls to do a little fishing, and take some pictures and video.
The Yellow Dog photographer, Bryan Gregson, had an array of equipment that most people can only dream about, including a DJI Inspire Drone, and a top of the line Canon SLR, paired with a selection of lens' that I estimate cost more than my first house!
By the time the dinner hour rolled around, we had caught twenty Char, and a couple of Lake Trout. A two to three fish day is considered a very good one on the Tree, so I'm not sure how to accurately describe the kind of day we had.
After dinner, rather than continue to fish, Chuck, Josh and I headed off to the Arctic Ocean.
The conditions were perfect, and Chuck was bound and bent he was going become a member of that somewhat exclusive group of individuals (other words have been used to describe this particular group) who took the plunge into the ocean, and were presented with a T-shirt in recognition of their efforts.
Because it was still very hot and muggy, albeit with a nice breeze that helped keep the bugs down, the thought of a cooling dip did have some appeal.
On the way downstream, we turned a corner and came face to face with a bull Muskox that was standing right on bank of the river, munching on some foliage.
We pulled to within twenty feet of him, and he could have cared less. After posing for a few pictures, he ambled off with his entourage of about ten zillion mosquitos in tow.
In addition to this big guy, we spotted an even larger one some distance away, two Tundra Swans, an Osprey, and what we believed to be a couple of Golden Eagles.
Unfortunately they were backlit by the sun, so we couldn't make a positive identification, but given their size, and the fact that Golden's are common in the area, we were pretty confident that's what they were.
Once we arrived at the coast, and before heading over to the "swimming spot," Chuck inscribed his name on the sandstone rock face, that many who have gone before him had likewise done.
Some have drawn some pretty impressive pictures in addition to inscribing their names, and there are even a few famous individuals who added their signatures to the wall, including Wayne Gretzky and Billy Joel - yes, the Piano Man himself.
Fact is, when I was taking pictures of the wall, I inadvertently got most of his name in one of the frames - although I didn't know it at the time. Check out the right side of this picture.
True to his word, Chuck took the plunge, which I captured on video with the help of the drone.
While we were standing around admiring the scenery, Josh threw out a Pixie, and jigged up a Rock Cod, which as you will see a bit later, Chef Yoda transformed into something rather spectacular.
The entire day was perfect on so many different levels, and upon reflection, served as a stark reminder of why I was so hell bent on getting back up here in the first place.
The fishing, the weather, Yoda's Arctic Char chowder and homemade biscuits, the wildlife, and our visit to the Arctic coast, all contributed to an experience that for me at least, will likely never be duplicated, and that hopefully, I won't forget any time soon.
Hail to the Chief!
It was yet another cloudless day, and fortunately the humidity had subsided, and we had a good stiff breeze blowing that for the most part, kept the bugs at bay.
We started at first bay once again, and by 11 am had booked another six Char, bringing our total to twenty-six.
Today we also planned to go on a hike. Our objective was to get as far as 3rd Falls, and the Presidential Pool, which in case you didn't know, was named in honor of George H. W. Bush ("W's" daddy), who visited the pool a number of years ago.
After finishing lunch, which featured fresh, egg salad sandwiches - I don't usually like egg salad, but if anyone had tried to grab mine, they would have lost an appendage - we started hiking along the trail that parallels the west side of the river.
I went as far as the 2nd Falls, or Nieland Bay as some call it, and let Josh and Chuck continue on to the 3rd. Having been there before, I was quite content to leave the remaining couple of km's to them.
After making a few casts, and taking about 100 pictures - or so it seemed - I moseyed on back to where we had left the boat, fished some, and played around with the drone, until Josh and Chuck returned.
Chuck caught a couple more fish, but not content with merely catching fish, embedded a fly into his chest, that Josh had to surgically remove. He was fine following the procedure, and the hole that Josh cut out of his shirt to get at the fly, made a definite fashion statement.
Someone else was fishing first bay, so we went up to Chummy Creek and added one more Char to our total - which now stood at twenty-nine.
Enough about fishing and hiking for now - please let me formally introduce you to the Tree River Camp - Chef de Cuisine - Ryota Oki - of "Yoda" as he is better known.
You may ask how did a guy with such obvious talent wind up in a place like this?
The only thing he loves more than cooking is fly-fishing, so what better place to indulge both of his passions.
Yoda is one of an increasing number of talented chefs that have decided to come north to cook, and experience the best fishing this planet has to offer - and not only that - get paid to do it!
The previous day I caught a small Char, that because it was bleeding profusely, we decided to keep it, and if I may digress for a moment, I really hate killing these magnificent fish - but this one was obviously not going to make it - so waste not, want not.
The fish was full of roe, which was given to Yoda, with a request that he work his magic. This was the same day Josh caught the Rock Cod, which was turned over to Yoda as well.
So what did Yoda create using these rather unique, and otherwise extremely hard to come by ingredients?
Arctic Rock Cod Brandade with Arctic Char Caviar, Green Onion Chiffonade and Fireweed
There were no crackers in stock, and due to time constraints he was unable to make any from scratch, so he took some slices of white bread, flattened them with a rolling pin, cut them into squares, which were then baked until lightly browned, and crisp.
When asked about the Fireweed, he explained that native peoples use it as a kind of salad green. I didn't find out until later that he had spent time before he came up, reading up on what types of "local" ingredients were edible.
Based on everyone's reaction, I don't think anyone in the group - guides included - had ever tasted anything quite like it - and oh by the way - it was off the scale in terms of presentation and more importantly - taste.
The appetizer somewhat overshadowed the main meal which featured a roasted beet salad, roast beef - served medium rare - mashed potatoes, herb and butter roasted root vegetables, and homemade gravy.
Dinner was nicely complimented with his personal version of apple-iced tea.
Desert was warm apple crisp, served with dollop of citrus flavored whipped cream.
We didn't fish after dinner - it was hard enough just walking after that meal - so Chuck decided it was time to dig out the flag he was carrying on behalf of the Los Angels Adventurers Club.
As a club member, he was accorded the honor of carrying the flag with him throughout his stay in the Arctic and, following the completion of his journey, would present it, together with an outline of his experiences, at a club dinner to be held later this fall.
It is customary for those who have assisted club members along the way to sign the flag, so he set about the task of gathering signatures.
The Ice Cream Man Commeth
It was another cloudless day in paradise, and thankfully there was a strong breeze blowing that kept the bugs from being a nuisance.
After breaking our fast on a perfectly cooked vegetable/cheese frittata and hot, homemade biscuits, together with the guys from Yellow Dog, we humped it over to first bay.
We ferried them, along with their guide Reid over to Trophy Island, while Chuck, Josh and I fished first bay from the boat.
It has been said millions of times that they call it fishing and not catching for a reason - and the reason became abundantly clear that morning, because despite our earlier success, we couldn't buy a hit. Nothing - nada…
The guys fishing Trophy Island managed one small Char, and while there were still a few fish rising, speculation regarding the lack of action ranged from a noticeable drop in barometric pressure, to the fish having moved up stream, or perhaps we had simply exhausted the pool.
As our flight would be leaving shortly after noon, we knocked it off around 10:45, and enjoyed a delicious lunch consisting of grilled Char fillets, with a sweet Thai curry sauce, rice pilaf, and the Tree River version of a Waldorf Salad, made up of romaine, apples, shredded carrot, oven roasted pecans, tossed in a light vinaigrette.
I have since officially named it Yoda's Kogluktualuk Salad.
It was certainly an incredible few days, and between six anglers, we took over fifty Char - a remarkable total by any measure.
We had a pleasant flight to Kug, where the plan was to fuel up before heading back to the lodge. Apparently the regular fuel truck operator was otherwise engaged, and unfortunately his replacement was unable to figure out how to transfer fuel from the truck to Otter.
Not to worry, someone was dispatched to find the regular guy, and once he was on the scene, we were able to top up the tanks.
While waiting for him to appear, some of the guys wandered over to the Co-op, and Ried came back with a box of ice cream bars. It was very hot, so ice cream was just the ticket, even though they must have cost him a weeks pay.
On the flight to the lodge, our pilot was kind enough to follow the route that Chuck and Adam Shoalts would be taking to the Dismal Lakes the following week, thereby giving Chuck an opportunity to scope out the terrain.
We arrived about 3, and Chuck had two surprises waiting for him. The first was that his bear spray had arrived, with the second being that his guide Pike Mike, was waiting to greet him just as he stepped off the plane, and immediately informed Chuck he had ten minutes to get ready, because they were going fishing!
I told Josh that we would take the rest of the day off, and invited him to join me after dinner, where we could debrief, and plan the rest of the week over a bottle of wine, and a bag of chips that Ried picked up for me in Kug.
While I was chilling in my room before dinner, Chuk came by and handed me with a Plummer's "Team" jacket. It even had my name embroidered on the front.
Seeing the look of surprise on my face, he explained that it was just a token of appreciation for maintaining my Great Bear Lake Outdoors blog, and helping whenever possible to promote the lodge.
It was one hell of nice gesture to say the least, and much appreciated.
Butterflies and Greenbacks, and Fairy Tales…
Having already borrowed from Mr. Bowie, I thought why not bastardize Jimmy's Little Wing in coming up with a title for this chapter.
The evening before, several of us decided that a fly out to the Cove would be in order, so right after breakfast we piled into the Otter, on what was sunny, somewhat breezy day.
Surface temperatures in and around the area where we landed, were in the sixty degree range, so we obviously had to find some cooler water.
We stared trolling south, along the western shore towards the main lake, and as the water temperature began to drop, the fishing picked up. We also worked the large sand flat that is located in the middle, near the mouth of this very large bay.
There were some fish on the flats, which we caught using a "Malibu Barbie" Husky Devel. I don't know who conferred that name on this particular spoon, but it was an apt description indeed. The spoon was pink, covered entirely in sparkles, with yellow diamonds and a silver back.
What can I say - it worked.
We came off the flats and fished closer to shore in eight to fifteen feet of water, and started to pick up fish on a regular basis, with the biggest to this point being around eighteen pounds.
It's worth mentioning that many of the fish were what the guys refer to as "Butterfly's." They appear to be distinct sub-species of Lake Trout found in Great Bear, and feature extraordinarily long, flowing pectoral fins.
While they tend to be on the smaller side, they are nevertheless very beautiful - and fight like the devil for good measure.
Josh, who was trolling a "Bullnose" T50 in the Watermelon colour pattern, set the hook on a fish that proceeded to run off over 100 yards of line.
Because the wind was pushing us into the shallows, he asked me to take the rod so he could take us out into deeper water.
I explained that because he had hooked it, he should land it, and that I was perfectly capable of moving the boat. While we were "discussing" the matter, the boat was almost up on shore, so I relented and took the rod.
Although I managed to get some line back, the fish took off again, and was running so hard that I suggested to Josh that if we wanted to land this beast, we had better give chase, otherwise it was going to spool us.
We finally got the fish close to boat, but it was not until it turned sideways, displaying its girth, that we realized what a big fish it was.
It was a beautiful forty-three pounder, which after taking a few pictures was gently released to fight another day.
Our last fish of the day was about an eight pounder, and just as Josh was reaching over the side of the boat to remove the hook, a twenty something came out of nowhere and took a swipe at it.
In total we caught approximately thirty fish, the majority of which were either "Butterfly's" or "Greenbacks."
The other boats caught a lot of fish as well; with they're biggest being nineteen pounds.
Our ride home was there right at 6pm, and it was back to the lodge for wine and cheese night. I was really looking forward to it, because this evening has taken on legendary status over the years, with the Chef pulling out all of the stops to showcase their culinary skills.
The only other time I was at the main lodge, we missed it because we got trapped out on the lake by the ice, and didn't make it back until almost 11pm.
There was plenty of wine and Bloody Caesar's on hand to get one's pump primed, but oddly, not a single piece of cheese in sight - but not worry - the Chef did indeed pull out all of the stops.
Lake Trout Tempura
Pike Sliders with Charred Scallion Mayo
Smoked Trout & Garlic Pizza
Lake Trout Sashimi
Char Stuffed Mushrooms,
and Trout & Fireweed Bruschetta
Who the hell needed cheese?
After liberally stuffing ourselves with all of this wonderful food, someone had the effrontery to ring the dinner bell!
The last thing we needed was more food, but we dutifully trudged over to the dinner table, where we were served some outstanding dry rubbed ribs, with a side of crispy, wedge potatoes. This was followed by carrot cake with a citrus, cream cheese icing.
The ribs were so flavorful and moist; they didn't require any type of sauce whatsoever.
When asked how he prepared them, the Chef explained that he first put the ribs on the grill to give them some colour. Next they were rubbed with a spice mixture he created, then braised in the oven for about five hours at 275 degrees, in a pan to which he had added about one cup of apple juice.
Once they were close to falling off the bone, he crisped them up on the grill.
Wine and cheese night has at times been a very raucous affair, with the guides and the rest of the staff joining the guests for anything from karaoke, to someone picking up a guitar and serenading the crowd, but this week it was somewhat subdued, and broke up rather early.
Maybe they should have brought out the cheese after all…
No Lake Trout Were Harmed in the Making of this Shore Lunch
Another beautiful, cloudless day dawned, and to top things off - it was also "Formal Friday."
"Formal Friday" was started last year by one of the guides otherwise known as "Shirtless" (this was his guide, or lodge name as conferred upon him by Chuk) when he showed up one Friday wearing bits and pieces of several very ugly tuxedo's.
Not many of the guides got into the spirit of things this week, but both "Shirtless" and Pike Mike were resplendent in their formal attire, adding a bit of tone to the atmosphere around the lodge.
Josh and I decided to head over to Jimmy Dock Rock, so named to immortalize former guide Jimmy Dock, and the sixty-four pounder he caught there several years ago.
We made one pass with spoons, but after seeing some fish rising, switched over to flies, and stayed on our fly rods throughout the balance of the day.
Casting to the rising fish with small flies, we got several takes but didn't land any, so we started trolling with large streamer flies - all of which were unique patterns tied by Josh - and the action was non stop.
It was almost time to break for lunch, and we still didn't' have a lunch fish, so Josh suggested heading over to Fort Confidence to see if we could jig up a small fish.
En route we stopped at Falcon Island in the hope of seeing the nesting Peregrine that was reputedly in residence, but unfortunately, the bird chose not to make itself available for photographs.
There are a seemingly endless number of reasons why I enjoy fishing with Josh.
He is a great guide, a good conversationalist, we share a love of food, he cares about the fish and how they're handled, is a world class fly fisherman, and to top it off an outstanding cook - so shore lunch is always something to look forward to.
His plan was to prepare a special pasta dish of his own creation, which I subsequently named Gelly's Fort Confidence Penne, but the Lake Trout had other ideas.
We had an incredible day on the water in virtually every respect, but believe it or not, we could not catch a Lake Trout small enough to feed just the two of us.
The pasta dish was outstanding (the recipe will be featured in Great Bear Lake Outdoors) and I can only imagine how good it would have tasted with the fish added in!
While we were enjoying our pasta, a Bald Eagle was kind enough to join us for lunch, keeping a sharp eye open for any leftovers that might become available.
We stopped off at Falcon Island again, where using the drone; I took some overhead video of Josh fly-casting. He even managed to catch a small trout, thereby adding a bit of drama to the film.
It was then back to Jimmy Dock, and it picked up right where it had left off, with a fish on virtually every pass, including several double headers.
As we were just passing the rock, something smashed my fly and sped off with a vengeance. It took me down to the backing twice, before I landed a very feisty fifteen pounder.
Immediately after landing this fish, and no sooner did I get my fly back into the water, I got yet another massive hit, and was down to the backing in a matter of seconds. To add to the fun, the fly line broke off where it was attached to the backing.
Thank you Mr. Albright!
We chased down the line, which was floating on the water, and gave some thought to hand lining the fish in. Once I had grabbed the line, I gave up on that idea in a hurry, because the minute there was some pressure on the fish, it took off, ripping the line out of my hand.
By this time I was thoroughly pissed, and said to Josh between clenched teeth: "There is no way I'm losing this fish!" - or $75 worth of fly line for that matter - so the chase was on yet again!
When we caught up to the line again, I threaded it through the guides of Josh's trolling rod, and attached it to the braided line on his reel. Because of the diameter of the fly line, the reel filled up very quickly, but fortunately managed to get it close enough for Josh to net.
Considering the way this fish fought, you would have thought it was a monster, but this fireplug of a Trout would have barely made twelve pounds.
Given the time, we decided to head back to the lodge after the next fish - and it was well worth hanging on for just one more.
Josh was the lucky one, and after yet another incredible battle, he landed a twenty-two pounder. A fitting end to one of the finest days on the water I have had in recent memory.
Once back at the lodge, accounts were settled, and I did an on camera interview for a fly-fishing movie that Josh and "Shirtless" were making. My only hope for a possible career in film is that it doesn't all wind up on the cutting floor!
When All Was Said and Done…
You may have gathered that I made the trip solo this year.
After last years trip, I decided it was once again time to visit the Tree River, but the other members of my usual group were not all that interested in spending a lot of time at the Tree, and decided to take a year off. But no worries, we all plan to be back at Trophy Lodge in 2017.
I could not have scripted a better week given my overall objectives for the trip.
Chuk, delivered on all counts as he always does, the staff were more than accommodating, the food was amazing, and I had a guide who in my opinion, is one of the finest to have ever guided on the big lake.
Spent four days at the Tree, where we caught more, and bigger Char than I imagined possible, there was plenty of wildlife to be seen, visited the Arctic Ocean, caught loads of Trout - including a forty three pounder - did a lot of fly fishing, met some great people, and the weather was picture perfect.
On the way out, I met up with Adam Shoalts on the strip, and wished him and Chuck well on their trek to the Dismal Lakes.
I had managed to book a 6am flight from YK to Edmonton, which combined with a timely connection from Edmonton to Toronto, got me home by 3pm.
Seriously folks, if you are in the market for a truly unique experience, you should give the folks at Plummer's a call, and prepare to be amazed.
I've been doing this for over thirty-five years, and each and every trip is unique in and of itself, and has never disappointed.
Who knows, maybe I just might see you up there one day…