Great Bear Lake Lodge - June 29/July 6, 2019
Written by Harold
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That’s right, just once I would like to check in at the airport without some sort hassle!
I’ve had to deal with all manner of crap over the years, including the time my rod tube, the very same one I’d been flying with for as long as I can remember, suddenly, and without warning, magically grew to a length requiring me to pay an additional fee.
In this instance, when asking an Air Canada representative to give me a hand with my baggage tag – I still haven’t figured out how to properly put those damn things on – she took one look at my carry - on, and said, “I think that may be too big.” Seriously? Too big for what?
Have you seen all those monstrous backpacks and such that people bring into the cabin – apparently without encountering any difficulties at check in? I assured her it was the right size, and fortunately there was one of those carry-on measuring racks handy, and because it slid right in, I figured that was the end of that. Ya, right.
She then insisted it be weighed, and after doing so, informed me it was too heavy, and if I didn’t want to check it in – and pay a fee for a second bag of course – I would have to remove some items, and get it down to the proper weight.
Now where the hell are you supposed to put the stuff that you just removed from your CARRY ON, after you have checked your bag through???
They made the same suggestion a couple of years ago with respect to my checked bag, and I asked if it was ok to hold a mini yard sale at the check in counter, because I had nowhere to put the items that to be would have removed. In that case, I knew beforehand that my bag was heavy, and would be charged an additional fee, but really – take stuff out?
Anyway, my carry on, which is in fact my camera case, was the same one, with exactly the same stuff in it that I had been taking along for the past several years, without any problem whatsoever. In any event, I explained that because the case was filled with delicate camera equipment, neither checking it in, nor removing some items was feasible.
In fairness, the Air Canada Rep., who was very pleasant throughout, asked me to wait a moment, beetled off and came back several minutes later, informing me that her supervisor had given the green light to take the case onto the aircraft.
I’m sorry for being so long winded, but there is a moral to this story – learn how to put your own bloody baggage tags on, and keep your carry - on out of sight!
My flight to Edmonton went off without further incident, and after picking up my luggage, I settled in to wait for Art Ross and Ken Gold, who were on a WestJet flight that was scheduled to touch down shortly after my arrival.
Rodney Harback, our buddy from Tennessee who we thought would be at the hotel waiting for us, having ostensibly come in the evening before, had his own problems to deal with en route. He usually meets us in the lobby of our hotel, but was nowhere to be seen, and upon inquiry at the front desk, was told he had yet to check in.
He eventually turned up that afternoon, the reason for the delay being that he got trapped in Houston because of some nasty weather, and had to spend the night curled up on the floor of the terminal building, before catching an early morning flight out.
While we were checking in, Kenny realized that he had somehow managed to leave his backpack at the airport.
Great panic then ensued, because it contained not only his wallet, with all of his id, credit cards and cash, but also his phone, and tickets for our upcoming flights.
It was a pretty tense drive to the airport, with Kenny muttering all the way that some guy was probably having a field day with his credit card, called Moscow on his cell, and had already spent the cash.
We tracked down a couple of security guards, who said they would initiate a search after Kenny told them where he had stopped before heading over to baggage claim, and while they were doing their thing, on a hunch, I went back down to the baggage claim area where I had first hooked up with him and Art, and there it was all by its lonesome, propped up on a chair.
What a dope…
While that was indeed good news, the first thing Kenny asked when I triumphantly brandished the backpack, was if I had taken anything out of his wallet. The guy never misses a beat.
Everything was apparently in tact, and on the way back I suggested he might want to consider keeping his really important stuff on his person, or in the alternative, let someone with a working brain look after it for him.
Once all of the panic subsided, we headed out to do a bit of shopping, and when Rodney finally arrived, picked up a few more essentials, grabbed some dinner, and because it had been two years since all of us were together, just hung out and caught up on things.
Payback is a…
First thing in the morning we crammed our gear into the rental, and drove over to the airport for our morning flight to Yellowknife on Canadian North, and it was during the check in process that Art struck a blow for weary travellers everywhere who have heard those dreaded words:
“Sorry but your bag is too heavy, and you’ll have to take some items out, or there will be an additional charge.”
Art was going to be charged for an overweight bag, but managed to remove enough stuff to make the weight. A few minutes later when I asked what he had done with everything he just taken out, he smiled, and said that once it was off the scale, he put it all back into the same bag, and they checked it through – no charge.
Priceless, absolutely priceless!
After taking a look around the check in area to ensure that Kenny had not left anything behind, we enjoyed a smooth flight to Yellowknife, and were even treated to a hot breakfast, courtesy of Canadian North.
While we did a bit of shopping in Yellowknife, for the most part we just chilled until the rest of our crew, Eric Van Gorder and his son-in –law Chris Tulk, arrived later that day, and rather than go out, had dinner at the Explorer Hotel, where we enjoyed a very good meal, including some tasty braised Elk ribs.
Because the charter to Great Bear was “supposed” to leave relatively early, instead of taking our rental back to the airport first thing in the morning, I decided to return it after dinner, and fortunately ran into Yvonne, who is the Plummer’s expediter, in the lobby, and she kindly offered to follow me to the airport, and give me a lift back to the hotel.
Yvonne is 89 years young, going on 25, and has lived in Yellowknife for over 50 years, where she once ran a flight school. The way to stay young and engaged she said, was to never do a job you didn’t like – which apparently she never did – because if you hate it, you won’t be happy, and do a lousy job to boot.
I’d love to sit down with her one-day, and have her tell me about her experiences in Yellowknife over the past 50 odd years. She probably could, and for that matter should write a book about it.
Once back, I joined Chris in the Trappers Lounge for a nightcap, where we were entertained while watching someone, who had clearly had never operated a beer tap, try to get more beer than foam into a glass.
Now Was That AM or PM?
We were told that the shuttle would arrive at 7:30 to take us over to the Summit Air base, for our 9am flight to Bear, and because that would not have given us enough time to grab breakfast in the hotel dinning room, we opted for room service – they have 24 hour room service at the Explorer – and it worked out quite well.
If I recall correctly, Kenny tipped our server, only to find to his great consternation that the gratuity was already included on the bill, and while in the lobby waiting for our shuttle, I noticed him speaking to someone at the front desk, probably demanding the return of his $5.00 gratuity, although what he actually gave the server was more in the .75-cent range.
While the shuttle was right on time, our “9am” flight did not leave until 10:15. Why you might ask? Because this is the Arctic, and nothing ever arrives, or leaves on time.
Once we finally got airborne, it was a smooth one hour and seventeen minute flight to the lodge, although during the last 20 minutes or so, we had the pleasure of viewing something none of us were planning on, or hoping to see for months to come – ice – and if you didn’t like the look of the stuff floating around on the south shore, there was plenty more to choose from on the north shore.
It is what it is, or was what it was – whatever – and we were going to have to figure out some alternatives in a hurry, because our plan to camp out on the south shore of the peninsula around from Cape MacDonnel, was looking pretty sketchy at best.
As has been the case on numerous occasions in the past, it was Chuk to the rescue, and he came up with the idea that we could “camp out” in Neiland Bay for three or four days.
Not only could we leave the majority of our camping gear back at the lodge, because Neiland, which had operated as a “full service” lodge in the past, had pretty much everything we would need, including good boats and motors, bedding, BBQ’s, a full commercial kitchen, and to top things off, the area had not been fished for a number of years.
Now if that did not get your propeller spinning, nothing would!
But before heading off to terra incognita, we booked a flight to the Cove for the following morning, because we wanted to be the first to fish there in 2019, and if it was even half as good as last year, we were in for a treat.
Josh “Jelly” Gelinas, who would be guiding Kenny and I, introduced us to the rest of our “Dream Team,” Justin and Hayden, and while Eric and Chris went out fishing with Justin, the rest of us stayed back and got our gear and grub organized for the trip to Neiland.
The Higher You Go – The Longer the Fall (and the harder the landing…)
While as noted, expectations were running high regarding our trip to the Cove, experience has shown that expectations are much like assholes, because while there are usually plenty of them around, they rarely deliver as promised.
Lets just say that while not a total bust, I’ve had better days.
Not only was the weather crappy – cold, rain and high winds – the big fish, which we saw loads of on the sonar, had decided to take the day off. I don’t know if it had something to do with the water temperature, or low pressure system that was locked in over our part of the lake, because except for a 35 and 32 that Art hit right from the get go, thereby making us THINK we were in for the kind of day we were expecting, it was something of a wash out.
Each boat caught about 20 fish, with the next biggest being Chris’s 21½, but otherwise they were all relatively small.
Although we had initially asked for a late pickup, given our overly optimistic expectations (there is that word again) for the day, about mid-afternoon, the wind and the rain had really picked up, and because the same could not be said about the fishing, we sent a message to the lodge asking them to get us the hell out of there ASAP.
Larry the Pilot buzzed in around 4pm, and after securing the boats as well as we could under the circumstances, and because of some very low hanging cloud cover, flew back most of the way ducking in and out of the clouds.
Once back at the lodge, we all made an immediate beeline for our cabin, where some kind soul had our stove cranking our some serious BTU’s, which we all huddled around in an effort to thaw out.
The group that flew into the Inlet didn’t fare any better than us, but those that went to the Sulky River, caught a ton of Grayling and small trout, but then again, that place is somewhat bullet proof, and produces regardless of the weather.
Buon Canada Day!
Joyeux jour du Canada!
Šťastný deň Kanady
Or if you prefer, just plain old Happy Canada Day!
Josh, Justin and Hayden, headed off to Neiland right after breakfast to get things set up, and let me say, they worked their butts off, not only getting the lodge ready for our arrival, but also buttoning everything up when it was time to leave. It was a shit load of work at both ends, and did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
We flew in later that morning, with “Iron Man” at the controls, the story being that he was given that particular moniker, because he is in fact an “iron man” competitor.
There was still a lot of ice outside of the bay, which given the wind direction was breaking off and floating right past the lodge. Therefore once we landed, and using the boats, the boys towed the Otter out of harms way, so we could off load, and he could take off without any risk of coming into contact with a pan of ice.
Oh well, you know what they say about ice:
“If you're skating on thin ice, you might as well dance.”
And “dance” we did, in a manner of speaking that is, because after looking around some, stowing away our gear, and getting the cook stove working, it was time to finally do some fishing.
Chris, who was making his first trip to Great Bear, was filled to overflowing with a rookie’s enthusiasm, and started firing spoons off the dock shortly after his feet hit the shore. It turned out to be a good move on his part, because he was rewarded with a fish on virtually every cast, the biggest being about 10 pounds.
For some of us, this was our second time fishing the McVicar Arm, having been to the Johnny Hoe River many, many years ago, but none of us had fished this part of the Arm, virtually in the shadow of Saoyú, or Grizzly Bear Mountain.
Fishing some relatively shallow sand flats, not too far from the lodge, between our 3 boats we caught a total of 40 fish, the biggest being a 27 for Eric and a 20 for me. It was not a bad start, but knew that we were going to have to find some warmer water, as it was pretty chilly around the lodge, because of all the damn ice that was continuing to float into the bay.
That evening we dined on grilled top sirloin á la Ball, fried potatoes á la Gold and a mess of canned corn. And speaking of fried potatoes, you could say that Kenny had been allowed to cook the potatoes twice on one occasion – first and last – because lets just say that he managed to get them to a level somewhat north of golden brown and crisp.
After dinner, we made a campfire down near the waters edge, and watched the Sea Gulls glide past while standing on the ice, but other than the entertainment value of watching the bird laden mini-bergs float by, about the only good thing I could say about the ice at this juncture was that it cooled things down to the extent that bugs were not a problem.
Now You Hush Up Puppy!
Not only was the ice blocking the entrance to the bay, meaning there would be no trips to either Grizzly Bear Mountain, or the legendary “Stock Yards,” our plans to fish the North/West section of Neiland were thwarted, because the ice had blown in during the night, and cut it off completely.
Fortunately there was still plenty of open water, and all 3 boats fished the South/East part of the bay.
Water temperatures were very good, being in the high 40’s to low 50’s, and we found a huge sand flat that ran from 12 to 20 feet, which produced tons of fish for everyone.
Kenny and I caught at least 50, with many in the 18 to 20 range, including Kenny’s 25. Chris and Eric boated about 40, their biggest being 21, and Art and Rodney also hauled in about 40, with Rodney’s 31 - pounder turning out to be the biggest of the day.
The hottest lure for us was a Husky Devel in the Malibu Barbie colour pattern (good luck finding any more of these btw), together with both “Old Faithful,” a T60 in CHT with black and red dots, and a red/green/chrome T60.
Art and Rodney used all manner of spoons in various colours, including Husky Juniors, Half Waves and Chargers, while Chris and Eric stayed primarily with T60’s.
While our day dawned sunny and calm, and stayed that way for the most part, some ice fog did put in appearance later in the morning, but fortunately dissipated very quickly.
The fog rolled in again later that afternoon, causing a noticeable drop in the air temperature, and overall visibility, and given the fact that there was still a lot of ice moving into the bay, we didn’t want to run the risk of being cut off from the lodge, therefore discretion being the better part of valour, moved back to where we could see the camp and keep an eye on the ice.
During the day we watched the largest concentration of Arctic Terns that anyone of us had seen, constantly diving and picking up what turned out to be Midges off the water. Because they only need temperatures in the mid forties to get a move on, Midges are one of the first emergers to pop their tiny heads above water, and were clearly considered a very tasty snack by the Terns.
Dinner this evening was to be fried and baked Lake Trout courtesy of the “Dream Team,” together with Rodney’s famous Hush Puppies, which if you have never tasted them, you really don’t know what a treat you are missing.
The boys built another campfire after dinner, which came in really handy as a source of heat, because tonight’s entertainment was none other than Chris, doing his imitation of a Polar Bear, by donning his Speedo – which clearly traumatized both us and the fish, because it completely shut off in front of the lodge – and plunging into the ice cold water.
Hey, who needs reality TV when you have Chris along!
The Neiland Bay “Gentlemen’s Club”
The Neiland Bay guide cabin, or “Gentlemen’s Club,” is perhaps the most famous, and clearly the best-appointed guide cabin on the lake. While most guide cabins can be described as Spartan in nature, with few, if any amenities, the one at Neiland boasts both an indoor shower and toilet, and is without question the Waldorf Astoria of guide accommodations.
Unfortunately the cabin had some visitors over the past couple of years, and they left it in a condition that could best be described as disgusting.
Whoever the hell you are, there was no need to leave it like that.
Ryan O’Donnell or “OD,” who probably knows Neiland better than anyone, left a somewhat melancholy message on the wall of the cabin:
’03, ’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09, 2010, 2014.
At Main Lodge 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
2000 to 2014 still no 60 pound trout 55 only so far
Probably my last year (2014) – certainly my last visit to Neiland
This place is home;
I’ll truly miss it OD”
Hey, What's For Lunch?
Although we started out with a cloudy, cool and foggy day, by early afternoon the skies cleared, the fog dissipated and it turned pleasantly warm.
Because of the ice conditions, we fished much the same area as we had the previous day, and although the water temperatures had dropped a little, we still found plenty of fish in the 10 to 15 foot range.
In fact, between our 3 boats we caught just over 140 fish, with Kenny and I leading the way with 54, and Art and Rodney a very close second with 49. The biggest of the day was Rodney’s 22, and I lost one at the boat that Josh thought would have gone north of 30.
In terms of numbers, we were doing very well, with pretty much non-stop action, but the big boys and girls had so far managed to elude us.
Before we flew to Neiland, Josh mentioned there were a couple of spots that may hold some Pike.
Yesterday, Justin took Eric and Chris over to what I suppose was one of these spots, where Chris caught a nice one, and once Kenny managed to dig up of that little piece of intel, there was no holding him back.
As we were looking for the entrance to the river, where the Pike apparently resided, I noticed Kenny surreptitiously chewing away at something, and upon further investigation, found that the bugger had made himself some lunch without so much as offering to make Josh or me something before we left camp, nor did he even have the civility to offer us some after he was found out.
The man knows no shame…
After a couple of try’s Josh found the entrance to the river, which I christened the Beelzebub River in honour of the Philistine god, or more particularly demon, who according to legend was one nasty SOB, not unlike the River now bearing his name.
Without going into all manner of detail, if there were 1/10,000th the number of Pike as there were bugs, it would have been a very enjoyable break from Lake Trout fishing. Kenny did manage to catch about 12 – I didn’t fish, my strength being depleted brought on by a lack of sustenance – with the biggest being about 20”.
Later that afternoon the wind swung around to the North/West, and once again started pushing very large pieces of ice into the bay.
With the wind blowing off the ice it got downright cold, and as the evening progressed, our old friend the ice fog put in another appearance.
With a scheduled pick up time of 4:30, and with a fair amount of work to do in terms of packing and buttoning up the lodge, we had an early breakfast, courtesy of Rodney and Art, and were out on the water by 8am.
Not unlike the previous couple of days, there were fish all over the place, and we boated over 100 in 5 hours of fishing, including several in the high teens, with the biggest being Rodney’s 22.
Once back at the lodge, we were concerned about getting our flight out, because there were still large pieces of ice constantly blowing into the bay that could make landing on floats somewhat tricky, if not down right impossible.
Fortunately, we needn’t have worried, because Larry the Pilot dropped his Otter right next to the dock, and if any ice came a bit too close, he just casually pushed it away with an oar.
It was “Wine & Cheese” night at the lodge, and after taking a hot shower, the Chef treated us to:
• Salami and Mushroom Pizza
• Lake Trout Spring Rolls
• Beet Root and Chèvre Bruschetta
• Lake Trout Nigiri
• Brie and Blue Cheese Pizza
• Lake Trout “Popsicles”
• Apple & Sage Sausage Rolls
• Lake Trout Gravlax
• Green Olive and Balsamic Tapenade
Usually the Chef creates one or more dishes featuring Arctic Char, but the Tree River, his only source of fresh Char, had been virtually unfishable because of the extraordinarily high water.
The water continued to rise throughout the week, and had risen so high that Chummy, who had flown in earlier during the week to open up the camp, had only just made it back, because until today, they couldn’t even land a plane.
Just Another “School” Day
Did you know that Annemarie Kroger, a geologist with the University of McGill in Montreal, named McGill Bay after her school?
Tragically, this was her last camp on Great Bear, because shortly thereafter, both Annemarie and her travelling companion Joan Goodfellow drowned while carrying out research for the Geographical Branch and the Arctic Institute. You may recognize their names on a map of Great Bear Lake, as both Kroger Island and Goodfellow Point were named in their honour.
But enough with the history and sad stuff for now, because we were going to be fishing McGill today, and what a day it was!
How good a day you might ask? This good:
20 – 20 – 20 – 20 – 20 – 20 – 20 – 21 – 21 – 21 – 22 – 23 – 23 – 24 – 24 – 26 – 28 – 29 ½ - 31 – 31 – 34 – 36 and 39, for an average of 25 pounds per fish, and that does not include the many, many, many fish that were in the 12 to 19 pound range.
Now mind you, in the past we have had a number of daily totals that exceed this fish count and per fish average, but all things being equal, this was still one hell of a day.
We caught the majority of the fish deeper in the bay, both around the pick up spot and along the south shore, and while initially there were some fish on the outer reef, which is were Rodney caught the 39, once the wind shifted from the North/West to the South/West, it blew in a mess of cold water from the main lake, which was still covered in ice, and shut things down out there.
Temperatures inside the bay ranged from 46 to 54 degrees, and was just what the doctor, or in this case, the fish ordered.
Kenny picked up a new nickname – “Short Line Gold” – because he caught both his 34 and 36 right next to the boat. The 34 was especially entertaining, and could be described as an “angling tango” of sorts, featuring Kenny, Josh and the fish.
This particular fish, who obviously didn’t spook easily, casually swam along just behind the boat for several minutes, until through a combination of Josh changing speeds, and Kenny working his T60 – my contribution being limited to staying out of the way while telling Kenny to stop playing with the fish – they coaxed it into taking the plug.
From a fishing perspective, this was clearly the best day of the trip, and a great way to finish the week off.
Jelly and Justin were off to Trophy Lodge that evening, so we said our goodbyes, and thanked them both for putting up with us throughout the entire week.
This evening our Chef prepared a delicious dinner consisting of homemade mushroom soup, grilled, bone-in beef tenderloin, a medley of stir fried vegetables and warm bread pudding.
As Rodney’s dad, the old Shangbanger - Ed Harback would say:
“Mighty fine! Mighty fine!”
A Final Note…
Kenny and I have been fishing with Jelly for the past 4 years, and during that time we have watched him develop and grow from a wide-eyed rookie, to a seasoned professional, who has never lost his infectious enthusiasm, or burning desire to put us on fish. He’s now a permanent member of “our team,” and I can’t even imagine what it would be like to fish the Bear without him.
Justin, who we met a couple of years ago at Trophy during his rookie year, has also developed into a first rate guide, who goes about his business in a quite, unassuming and professional manner.
Hayden, the remaining member of our 2019 “Dream Team,” was in his first season at Bear, and some may say got the short straw, when told he would be guiding Art Ross and Rodney Harback, 2 grizzled veterans with over 80 years of experience between them on the big lake.
Rodney can be somewhat intimidating and demanding, but if your willing to listen and learn, he will also teach you how to become a very good guide, and kudos to Hayden – who, by the way, can eat more than any human being alive – for sticking with it, even though he had to be as nervous as an African family when Angelina Jolie hits town throughout most of the week.
Good work man, because even those two curmudgeons had stopped muttering about being assigned a rookie by the end of the week!
Now this would usually be when I sign off until next year, but not this time, because Kenny and I were not finished just yet.
So stay tuned for part 2, as we come full “Circle,” in a manner of speaking that is…
My apologies, well sort of, for not including more pictures of fish, but both Kenny and I prefer to effect a quick release while it’s still in the water whenever possible, rather than bring it into the boat either to remove the hook, and/or to take a picture. And just to be clear, this is not a criticism of any kind being directed at those who choose to do otherwise – it’s simply a matter of personal choice.