Written by Harold
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While at times it seems to fly by, a year is actually a very long time – particularly between our fishing trips to Great Bear Lake.
Anything can, and sometimes does happen that threatens to throw a wrench into our plans, but in 2012, not unlike the previous thirty plus years for many us, the fates were once again in our corner, we overcame the odds, and would soon be gathering in Edmonton on the first leg of our journey to the "Bear."
Thursday - July 12
You Go On Ahead; I'll Catch the Next One
Although it is possible to fly from Toronto to Yellowknife on the same day, we prefer to spend the day in Edmonton, do a little shopping, have dinner, and then catch a mid morning flight to YK the following day.
This way there is no danger of us missing our connection, and it's a great opportunity to relax and discuss our plans for the week ahead.
Our group consisted of Great Bear veterans, Art Ross, Ken Gold, and Rodney Harback, together with rookies Brian Lambie from Mississauga, ON, and Gary Title from Toronto.
Because most of us use different rewards plans to book our flights to Edmonton, we rarely fly the same airline, or arrive at the same time, with this year being no exception. Brian and I were to be first to arrive in that we were on the same Air Canada flight - or so I thought - then Rodney, and last - and certainly least - Art and Kenny.
I did think it somewhat strange that Brian and I had not hooked up at the airport in Toronto, but thought that perhaps I had gotten his flight information wrong, and he was using a different carrier.
After checking the baggage carousel that was servicing the West Jet flight that landed shortly after I arrived, and seeing no sign of Brian, I scanned the arrivals board to see when the next flights were due to arrive from Toronto.
Nothing was scheduled to come in for another couple of hours, so I picked up the van, checked in at the hotel and then headed back to the airport, where hopefully Brian would appear.
I eventually found him, and to make a long story short, he slept through his alarm, having been up most of the night finishing a ton of paper work, and just managed to grab about the only remaining seat on another carrier that would get him into Edmonton at a reasonable hour. While that extra bit of sleep turned out to be somewhat expensive, he got here, and at the end of the day that was all that really mattered.
Everyone else arrived pretty much on schedule, and we spent the balance of the day, driving from place to place, buying all manner of things that if the truth be told, we probably didn't need, but had a great deal of fun buying in any event.
Friday - July 13
Home, Home on the Range, the Strange Range that is…
Our mid-morning flight to YK went off without a hitch, and there to greet us was my daughter Christine, who lives in YK, and is a manager at the Coast Fraser Towers Hotel.
Professional shoppers have nothing on us, because after checking in at the Coast Fraser, we were back at it again. We hit the Wall-mart, Liquor Mart, Shoppers Drug Mart – YK seems to have a lot of stores that end in "Mart" - Canadian Tire, a butcher shop, two banks, and the Gallery of the Midnight Sun.
We also intended to stop in at Weaver and Devore – a great store with a very interesting history – but they were just closing as we pulled up. Undaunted, we continued on our way, and I took the guys on a tour of Latham Island, "Old Town," including the "Wood Yard," and a ride down Yellowknife's most famous street - Ragged Ass Road.
While bumping along Ragged Ass, Kenny, who is in the scrap – sorry, I mean auto and metal recycling - business, yelled at me to stop, because he had spotted a tiny scrap yard someone had set up on their front lawn.
The owner of the "yard" had a fair amount of copper on display, and the look of pure pleasure on Kenny's face was even more intense than it was after he landed his 53 - pound Laker several years back. My guess is that if I had not started driving away, he would have jumped out and bought up the guys entire stock, simply on impulse.
It just goes to show that while you can take the man away from the scrap, you can't take the scrap away from the man – or something like that anyway.
Following an excellent dinner at Thornton's Wine and Tapas Room, which included some very good Asian style dumplings stuffed with Muskox, Christine decided it was time for Brian and I to take in some local colour. She took us to what is arguably the place with more "colour" than any other within 1000 miles of YK, The Gold Range Hotel, or as many of the locals call it: The Range or Strange Range.
"Locals" of every shape, size, description and ethnicity, together with a good number of people from "outside," drank and danced up a storm to a decent live band.
The price of a beer was rather steep even for YK - $10 for a Keith's – but in my opinion, worth every penny. The Range, which apparently is Yellowknife's longest operating bar/hotel had a great vibe, and together with the smell of stale beer and old cigarette smoke, oozed with atmosphere.
There was even some live entertainment on the sidewalk out front, as several groups of men and women, who had obviously not been deterred by the price of the beer, and had happily consumed a vat or two, or three, scuffled and staggered around harmlessly as we squeezed past on our way back to our hotel.
Saturday - July 14
It Has to be Around Here Somewhere!
Wheels up for our Air Tindi – Dash 7 was at 10am sharp, and the two-hour flight to the strip at Trophy Lodge went off without a hitch – well almost.
While doing an initial fly by of the strip, the cabin steward came walking down the aisle asking passengers, apparently on behalf of the pilot, if this was the right airstrip.
At first I was too stunned to say anything, but then piped up and informed him that the only others within 100 miles or more, were either at Sawmill Bay, on the south shore of Great Bear, or Norman Wells on the Mackenzie River.
I guess the pilot must have forgot to bring along a map.
Once the pilot received assurances that he had not somehow ventured into Russian airspace, and was about to touch down in some place with a name ending in "grad," we landed, and then were shuttled over to the lodge where we received our fishing licenses, guide and room assignments.
Paul Reynolds, who has been guiding on the big lake for many years, would be chauffeuring Art and Rodney around. Harvey Anderson, another Great Bear veteran was assigned to Brian and Gary, and Kenny and I were introduced to Andrew Townsend, an experienced guide who had spent much of his time guiding at Plummer's Neiland Bay lodge.
As is our custom, the plan, subject to all manner of variables, was to camp out at the Katseyedie River for three to four days. In that we had not received word from Chuk, who manages the main lodge, regarding the availability of an aircraft, and what the cost was going to be, there was no real urgency to get our camping gear ready, so everyone, with the exception of Art and Rodney, headed out to do some fishing.
Kenny and I usually like to try and get some Pike fishing in at the Whitefish River on our first day, but because it was somewhat late in the day, we chose a spot closer to home and crossed Ford Bay to what is known locally as Pike River.
We had a great time, and in about an hour caught about twenty fish, with the biggest being in the mid teens. Pike River usually produces good numbers, but is not noted for big Pike, although one close to twenty pounds was caught during the previous week.
Having annoyed the Pike long enough, we moved over to the "Gap" to try our luck for Lake Trout, and although we had several hits, only managed to land one small trout.
Gary and Brian had decided to leave the Pike to Kenny and I, focusing instead on Lake Trout. They caught a number of fish, with Brian catching several on a fly, including a fifteen pounder.
Once back at the lodge there was a message waiting from Chuk, to the effect that a plane would be coming in Sunday evening on a fuel and food run, and would fly us to the Katseyedie first thing Monday morning - assuming the weather cooperated, and the guides could get the boats over first.
Sunday - July 15
Pike for Your Drink Anyone?
Having packed up most of our camping gear the night before, we now had the entire day to fish locally.
Today was to be spent primarily in the pursuit of Esox Lucius – the not so friendly Northern Pike - and the place we intended to seek the toothy critters was the Whitefish River, located at the southern end of Bydand Bay.
While milling around the main dock waiting for our guides to bring the boats around, I noticed a cow moose and her calf standing in the water just off the small point to the right of the dock. Andrew swung by with the boat, and after hopping in I managed to get close enough to get several good pictures before they ambled back into the bushes.
They were likely out in the water because something had been stalking them, although no one mentioned seeing any other animals in the area. That said, it's not uncommon to see both wolves and Grizzly's in the vicinity of the lodge, and you can bet that it was not a Sic Sic that chased those two into the water.
All three boats converged on the Whitefish, and while not a banner day in terms of size or numbers, Kenny and I caught between 40 and 50 fish that morning, with the biggest ones being in their mid- teens. Brian and Gary did well, landing plenty of fish – most of Brian's were on a fly – with several topping 30" in length. Art and Rodney stuck around for a while, and if I recall correctly, Art caught one around 20 pounds.
This year the fish were well out of the mouth of the river, and we caught the majority about 100 yards from the month in the weed beds that line the river channel.
With lunch time fast approaching, and not being even remotely inclined to have Pike on the menu, Gary, Brian, Kenny and I headed out into the bay to hook up with Art and Rodney, who had left the river some time ago, and hopefully catch a couple of lunch Trout.
Bydand Bay is normally loaded with fish, and in no time at all we had our lunch fish, but apparently Gary didn't get the memo that it was a lunch fish we needed.
As Brian was landing their lunch fish, Gary reeled in his half wave right up next to the boat, but for reasons known only to him, left it dangling just under the surface of the water. While watching Harvey deal with Brian's fish, something grabbed his lure.
Brian radioed over that they had a lunch fish in the boat, but shortly thereafter, we could see Gary fighting a fish and Harvey go for the net. While it's not unusual for a guide to use the net to land a small lunch fish – particularly if they are really hungry and don't want to take any chances – they already had one in the boat.
Several minutes later, Gary had a 44 - pound Laker in the net, which stood up as the biggest fish of the week.
The general consensus was that this fish had clearly committed suicide, but Gary would have us believe that he had planned it that way all along.
Lunch consisted of fried Trout, coated in Cajun spices, grilled salami, fried potatoes and onions, corn, beans and a grilled fish, courtesy of Andrew.
When Andrew took his fish off of the fire, I peered over and suggested that he might want cook it a bit longer. He assured me that it was perfectly cooked, but when he cut into the fillet, it was clearly still in the "sushi" stage.
I didn't say a word, but as he walked past me on the way back to the fire with his "slightly" under done fish, he muttered under his breath, "Just shut up."
Overall it was a very successful day. Rodney and Art caught over 25 Lakers, Brian and Gary, together with all their Pike caught a bunch of Trout – including Gary's 44 – and while Kenny and I did not fish all that hard for Trout, we did catch a few.
The water temperature throughout the bay was between 58 and 61 degrees, and we were fishing at a depth of approximately 15 feet over 30 feet of water.
The top lure of the day for Lake Trout was the giant, red and white Half Wave, with a chrome back, and for Pike, a #5 – Silver/ Chrome Blue – Blue Fox Vibrax Spinner.
Although it had been calm for most of the day, soon after arriving back at the lodge the wind began to pick up, and the clouds starting rolling in.
At approximately 8:30 pm our guides headed out, with strict instructions to call us on the satellite phone, either if they decided it was not safe to cross the arm, or had made it safely across.
We hadn't received any word, one way or another by midnight, so we assumed they had decided to cross. What was somewhat troubling is that a thunderstorm, complete with lightening slammed into the area around the lodge, and continued to rage throughout most of the evening.
While we were certainly concerned, they were all very experienced guides, and would not take any unnecessary chances. In addition, it was not unusual for the weather on the north shore of the lake – where they were headed – to be completely different from what it was around the lodge.
Monday – July 16
Mr. Barnum – Let Me Introduce You to Mr. Bailey
There was a message waiting for us in the morning that the guys had made it to the Katseyedie.
It had taken them 7 hours to cover the 58 miles, and they had to contend with 6 to 7 foots waves while crossing the arm. Once on the other side, while calm, the lightning caught up with them, so they tucked into shore at a place known as "Fenway Park," which is about 20 miles west of the Katseyedie, and waited it out.
Right after breakfast we loaded the Otter, and with pilot Larry Zurloff at the controls, enjoyed a smooth, 30 - minute flight to our campsite.
Last year, there was some talk about replacing our screened in cook tent with a newer model. In the spring of this year, Art received a package from Rodney that took 2 guys to drag off of the delivery truck. The postage alone was over $100, and it took up most of the space in Art's dental office.
The cook tent had arrived.
Art made inquiries about the cost to ship the tent to Yellowknife, and then up to Great Bear – assuming Plummer's would even agree to take it up to the lake in one of their aircraft - and if I recall correctly, the cheapest quote was around $600, and that was just to get it to Yellowknife.
This information was passed along to Rodney who promptly sent another, lighter tent. Art's dental office was now starting to resemble a camping store, because together with the tents, Rodney also sent a new deep fryer.
At the end of the day, our Barnum and Bailey size cook tent - with a retail price of approximately $100 - together with taxes, shipping and duty, wound up costing about $1200. That said, it certainly was solid, and a snap to set up and break down.
To put it another way, it was easily the best $100 tent that we had ever paid $1200 for!
Once camp had been set up, we were all itching to get out on the water, and decided to headed over to the "Sand Flats," which are located about 10 miles east of the Katseyedie.
The Flats are usually best just after ice out. Hit it right, and the fishing can be spectacular, hit it too late, and all you will do is wash lures.
We hit it right.
In just over 4 hours, we caught and released well over 100 Trout. While no one came up with anything huge – which has been known to happen while fishing the Flats - Kenny did land one between 25 and 30 pounds, and Art caught another in the 20 - pound range.
Most of the fish were in and around the 8 to 12 pound mark, and were caught on the outside edge of the Flats, in water ranging in depth from 8 to 35 feet. Water temperatures were between 58 and 60 degrees, with the top lure being a T60 Flatfish in the CHT colour pattern– or "old faithful" as we call it.
Wanting to give our new deep fryer a test drive, dinner that evening was to be steak and frites. Art, who is the designated frite, or French fry maker, cooked the potatoes en confit – or in other words, he poached, rather than fried them in hot oil.
Due to some technical issues regarding the height of the deep fryer relative to the flame on the propane burner, our frites were in the oil for upwards of 2 hours, before it could be brought to the proper temperature to crisp them up.
All things considered, they were not too bad, and we had another Katseyedie first – frites en confit – courtesy of Sous Chef Ross.
As if it were a welcoming gesture of some kind, the beauty of the Katseyedie revealed itself to us later that evening.
There was not a breath of wind, and the glass like surface of the water was dimpled by hundreds of rising fish. The esker that forms the south shore of the bay was bathed in soft pastels, as it reflected the light of midnight sun, and the only sounds were of fish rising, and the barely audible splash of Brian's lure, as he made a few "last casts" before calling it a day.
Once tucked into my sleeping bag, I took a few moments to reflect on what it actually takes to make it even this far.
There are all manner of variables and challenges that must be overcome to put this part of the trip together. Aircraft, guides, equipment, provisions, fuel, ice conditions and the weather generally, must all coalesce in just the right way within a very narrow window of opportunity – and to be honest – you just have to be downright lucky.
But enough reflection for now - where will it be tomorrow? Macintosh, McGill, Tripod or…
Tuesday, July 17
Who's Making That Damn Tapping Sound?
At some point during the night, the high-pressure system that had been following us around for the first few days had been replaced by a low, and we awoke to the staccato beat of rain tapping on our tent.
Following our customary animated discussion about where to fish, the consensus was to make the 15-mile run west to Tripod Point.
The trip was smooth enough, but the rain dogged us the entire way, and it really never cleared up until later that evening. Fortunately the winds, which were from the north, were moderate, and it remained relatively warm and calm throughout the day.
Not unlike the Sand Flats, Tripod is a hit or miss place, and while we all caught fish, including a 22 pounder for Art, there was nothing overly big.
We caught the majority of the fish in 5 to 10 feet of water, and because we were fishing so shallow, the T60 Flatfish was our lure of choice.
We fished our way back to camp, picking up fish pretty much everywhere we stopped. Frites were on the menu once again, and after Rodney fine-tuned the burner, Art produced a batch fries that were light, crispy and thoroughly enjoyed by all.
After dinner, Kenny and I decided to see if the fish were still on the Sand Flats, and while the trip over was smooth, the Flats were extremely rough, because the north wind that had been blowing all day, had picked up in intensity, and was howling directly across the Flats.
Battling 3 to 6 foot swells; we decided to look for some quiet water after Kenny had – with some difficulty – landed a 15 pounder. The fish appeared to be there, but given the conditions, if we got into anything big, landing it would be a crapshoot at best.
We headed back towards camp, and stopped to fish the small channel that leads into Power Lake. Switching over from a Flatfish to a large Musky plug, with a colour pattern very much resembling a Great Bear Lake Grayling, it was not long before I caught a fish.
The ride back was rather rough, but other than being a little damp we were no worse for wear. Gary and Brian were smart enough to stay in home bay, and fishing the west shore, caught a lot of fish, including one in the 20 - pound range Brian hooked while jigging with a Giant Half Wave.
Before calling it a day, Kenny and I stopped to fish the edge of the shoal that runs out from shore, just west of our campsite. It drops from 5 feet to over 30 in a big hurry, and the best pattern is to start shallow and run your lure over the edge. There have been some very nice fish taken off of that shoal, including a 40 pounder – caught by yours truly - a few years back.
I stayed with the Grayling coloured plug, and on the first pass, caught a 16 pounder.
Not having nearly enough, Brian continued to fish – and catch – from shore, long after everyone had turned in. The bay is loaded with fish, and he had a very good chance of tying into something well over 20 pounds.
Subject to what Mother Nature had in store, the plan was either to head 18 miles east to McGill Bay, or make the 25-mile run across the arm to Macintosh Bay.
Wednesday – July 18
What Happened to My "Big Mac?"
We awoke to a cloudless, bright blue sky, and what appeared to be a moderate west wind. I say, "appeared to be," because until you were out of the bay and on the main lake, you couldn't really tell what the actual wind conditions were.
The decision was to run out to the main lake, and if reasonably calm, we would cross the arm to Macintosh. If not, it would either be McGill, the Sand Flats or possibly Tripod again. In the event it was really howling, we would just fish home bay.
Fortunately – or so we thought - the main lake was relatively flat, so Mac Bay it was.
It was a good trip across, a little bumpy until we got into the lee of Ikanyo Island, but overall it was fine. Art, Rodney and Paul headed into the bay to fish the "3 rivers" area on the east side, while our boat, along with Harvey's, started fishing Knife Point, which forms the western most lip of the bay.
Everyone was really pumped, because the ice had just gone out, water temperatures were in the low to mid 50's, we had a light "Lake Trout" chop, and Macintosh had not been fished in years – in other words – perfect conditions.
Unfortunately, no one had told the fish.
We started off by picking up a number of chunky "red fins" in the 10 to 12 - pound range, and after about an hour, decided to work our way back into the bay along the west shore, in the hopes of finding some bigger fish.
The further back into the bay we went, even though the water temperatures remained about the same, we caught fewer and fewer fish. We tried to raise Art and Rodney on the radio to see how they were doing at the 3 rivers area, but they did not respond.
Assuming that they were still in that area, and their radio was on and working, Kenny offered the opinion that perhaps they were into some good fish and didn't want any company.
I voiced a dissenting opinion, saying that they would never do such a thing, but after a quick vote, which by the way was unanimous, we all headed across the bay to see what was going on.
The reason we could not raise them was because they had left the area. Their boat was nowhere in sight, therefore we assumed they must have headed north, and were fishing in the vicinity of Goodfellow Point.
Like the area around Knife Point, the conditions appeared to be perfect. There was a light breeze blowing into shore, and we saw numerous clouds of baitfish swimming throughout the area. We started to fish, and Kenny immediately caught a 15 - pound "blue back."
Convinced that we had finally found them, and it would be only a matter of time before we were landing, 20's, 30's, 40's, and maybe even something bigger, both boats began working the area.
Well, the fish didn't get this memo either – and Kenny's 15 pounder was the only fish we caught in that huge, 3 rivers area. Where the hell had all of the fish gone? That bay should have been packed with them.
One thing we are not inclined to do – Kenny and I in any event – is to flog a dead horse. If the fish don't appear to be in a particular area, or simply stop biting, we move on, and perhaps try for a different species, or just do a little sight seeing and/or exploring.
Tired of washing lures, I suggest we climb to the top of Goodfellow Point, visit the old gravesite, take a few pictures, and with a bit of luck, we might see some of the Caribou that are known to frequent the area. It would also provide us with a good view of the surrounding area, and maybe we would be able to spot Art and Rodney, who appeared to have gone missing.
Harvey, Brian and Gary joined us, and while we didn't see the other boat, or any Caribou, it felt good to stretch our legs, and everyone got some good shots of the grave, local bird life, and the numerous wild flowers that grow in the area.
Following our modest nature trek, we moved outside of Goodfellow, and could see the other boat making their way towards us. They had not only fished the entire 3 rivers area, they worked both inside and outside Goodfellow, and had even fished their way east along the shore line for several miles – and for all of their efforts - they caught 1 FISH!
Having been given a good thrashing by Macintosh Bay, everyone crossed the arm with the intention of eventually meeting back at camp. Once across, Art, Rodney, Kenny and I stopped at the Sand Flats, and did catch a number of fish.
The ride back to camp from the Flats was very bumpy, as we were going directly into the teeth of very brisk north - west wind. Andrew employed an old mariners trick, by drafting in behind Paul's boat, and we rode in the relatively smooth water that was created by their wake. Brian and Gary had gone directly back to home bay, and enjoyed some excellent Grayling fishing along the shore, directly across from our camp. Harvey mentioned that several of the Grayling would have easily been in the 3-pound range.
As usual, Chef Rodney was at the controls for our evening meal, and we enjoyed a big mess of fried trout, that were first dredged in a spicy coating, fried potatoes and onions, fried corn (are you detecting a theme?), homemade milk gravy, freshly brewed coffee, and what was left of the homemade chocolate chip cookies the lodge had packed in our grub box.
None of the boats went out that evening; instead we sat around and tried to figure out what was behind the train wreck that was Macintosh Bay - but more on that discussion later in this narrative.
Tomorrow was our last day of camping, and if we were going to get into some big fish, time was fast running out.
Therefore the question before the House was – where?
Thursday – July 19
Packm' & Stackm'
Being our last day at the Katseyedie, it would be a short one, as were where scheduled to be picked up at 3pm, meaning we would have to start breaking camp no later than 1 or 1:30.
That morning we had some cloud cover, with the occasional sunny break, together with a light wind from the west. While it had cooled off from the previous day, it was not unpleasantly cold.
Kenny and I made the decision to give McGill a shot, as this was the last of our "can't miss" places we had yet to visit.
We began by fishing inside of the bay, just off our old campsite, but there was nothing doing. Moving out onto the reef just outside the mouth of the bay, we started to hit some fish, including a 20 – pound red fin, courtesy of Mr. Gold.
Although the action was steady, checking the time, we decided to pack it up, and fish home bay until it was time to head in and break camp. On the way back we made a quick stop at the Sand Flats, but the fish had departed to places unknown. We could see Art and Rodney trolling along the north shore of Kroger Island, but decided to leave the spot to them and kept going.
As we rounded the point into home bay, we spotted Brian and Gary working the west shore, and went over to see how they were doing. They had spent the entire morning in the bay and were having a blast, catching fish, after fish, after fish. Nothing big, but the action was non-stop.
The bay that the Katseyedie River empties into is very deep, and depths of over 200 feet have been recorded both back in the bay and in the channel leading out to the main lake.
We were trolling along the east shore, not far from the mouth of the bay, and Andrew set up a pattern that was taking us both into the shallows and over the deep water. As we were passing through a stretch that ranged from 90 to 140 feet, he started to see some rather large "hooks" on his sonar, that were just off the bottom.
Maybe that's where all of the big ones had been hiding – strange perhaps – but we had managed to determine that they were not in shallow, so maybe we had been looking in the wrong places.
At Andrew's suggestion, we put on some heavy spoons - I dug out a Fire Tiger, Husky Devel - and we dropped them down about 140 feet or so, and then slowly trolled back into the shallows, dragging our spoons up the wall of the drop off – and it paid off.
Not anything big, but we did catch a couple of fish and had several hits. Because we were using mono, it was very difficult to get a solid hook set at those depths. Next year we plan on trying it again, and will bring along a couple of reels spooled with braided line.
Art and Rodney stopped to chat on their way back to camp, and while they didn't catch a ton of fish at Kroger, Rodney got a 29 and Art a 23 pounder, which was a nice way to finish.
The Otter was there to pick us up at 3 sharp as promised, and we made it back in plenty of time to have a hot shower, and enjoy the traditional "Wine & Cheese" soiree held at the lodge on Thursday evenings.
Paul, Harvey and Andrew had a smooth ride home, and covered the 58 miles in just over 4 hours.
Friday, July 20
What a "Crock"
As usual, the week seemed to fly by, and our discussion that evening centered on where to finish off the week.
Harvey suggested we try Second River, as only a few boats had visited, and in his view, it was due to "turn on" any day now. Anxious to catch some bigger fish, we agreed that – weather permitting – Second River would be our first stop.
If the fish were not in that area, there were plenty of other places, including "Bobby Hull Bay," and the Crockeche River area that might possibly hold some bigger fish.
There are times when the best plans are those that are changed or modified just before you are about to put them into action. As we were heading towards Second River, Kenny and I made an executive decision to stop at Second Light and fish Grayling.
Second Light can produce some incredible Grayling, and today the water was flat and we could see fish rising, so the trout would just have to waitWe caught some very big Grayling including one that we all thought was a Lake Trout, until I finally brought it up beside the boat. It was the biggest Grayling any of us had ever seen, and while we did not weigh it – the consensus was that it might very well have gone upwards of 5 pounds.
Once we had our fill of Grayling, we made yet another executive decision, and decided to leave Second River to the other guys. We stopped to photograph a juvenile Bald Eagle, who was kind enough to perch on a rock right at the waters edge, and got some great shots of 2 large Muskox. We also went looking for the herd of Muskox that have taken up residence in the area, but did not see them.
By this time we had come as far east as the Crockeche River, and because it is damn near impossible for Kenny and I to drive by a Pike spot without stopping – we stopped.
We went into the river and the Pike were everywhere, particularly in the mid river weed beds. It was impossible to make more than three casts without catching a fish, nothing big as yet, but there were a couple of followers that would have easily topped 20 pounds. Unfortunately they would have to wait until after lunch, because the time had come to exit the river and acquire a lunch trout.
The other boats had returned from fishing both Second River and Bobby Hull Bay, and while they caught fish, the big ones managed to elude them once again.
Everyone gathered for lunch at what is without a doubt, my favourite shore lunch spot on the planet – the mouth of the Crockeche River. Good landing area for the boat, plenty of wood, minimal bugs, great fishing for Pike, Grayling, Trout and occasionally Whitefish right from shore, lots of Muskox in the area, and beautiful vistas of the lake from atop the esker.
Following a very pleasant lunch, we were anxious to get back at the Pike, and things picked up right where they had left off. Working our way slowly upstream, there was not a patch of weeds within the mile of river we covered that did not hold fish.
Some weed beds held nothing but small fish, while in others there was a noticeable increase in size. Our biggest was about 20 pounds, with plenty of others in the "teens." Gary and Brian and caught some good ones near the mouth, with 10 of them exceeding 30" in length.
While Art and Rodney did not fish Pike for all that long, conservatively we caught over 200 in total. Gary even managed to catch a 22 - pound Lake Trout later that afternoon just off the mouth of the river.
The ride home was bumpy, as we had to contend with 3 to 5 foot swells, but Andrew handled the boat beautifully.
For the first time in all of the years I have been going to Great Bear, I finally attended the Friday night campfire that is hosted by the lodge staff.
To top things off, Zen gave me the "cooks tour" of Guideland, including his personal cabin, "The Bump," which featured what may be the worlds only Len Thompson - 5 of Diamonds chandelier.
Saturday, July 21
Down – and Out…
The last day of the trip is usually a hurry up and wait affair, and as a rule, nothing very exciting happens – but some would say that rules are there to be broken, and in this instance, the rule took a bit of a beating.
As the plane would not be leaving YK until 10 am, breakfast was moved up from its normal time at 7:30 to 9. This was ostensibly done to shorten the amount of time between breakfast and being ferried over to the strip.
Fact is, we were all up and about at our usual time, so the only thing the time change really accomplished was that we ate more food, because we were that much hungrier having had to wait an extra hour and a half for our breakfast.
After breakfast we were told the plane would be about 30 minutes late – the plane is ALWAYS late – and staff would begin moving everyone over to the strip at noon.
While hopping up onto the flat bed trailer that the old front-end loader would use to pull us, and our baggage up the hill to the strip, we could see the Dash 7 on approach, so it would likely be down before we got to the top.
What we didn't anticipate is that it would be down – and out…
Arriving at the strip, the incoming passengers were in the process of disembarking, but what was unusual – and never a good sign – is that the entire crew were all huddled around the nose wheel.
I then noticed that there was a deep rut where the Dash 7 had made its turn at the end of the runway. At the end of the rut was the nose wheel, which was pretty much buried in the dirt, and at a 45-degree angle to the nose of the aircraft.
Someone suggested using the front-end loader to pull it out of the rut and on to solid ground, but the pilot advised that you could not tow a Dash 7 by the front wheel, and the only way to extricate it safely, was by driving it out under it's own power. Having settled that, the crew and some of the staff started digging around the wheel, which as luck would have it, was wedged up against the only rock within a mile of the place. Once the rock was removed – I personally carried it off and tossed it into the bushes, well off the runway – it was now show time.
In order to take some weight off the nose wheel, several of us climbed into the back of the aircraft and crossed our fingers. All 4 engines were engaged, and when power was applied, the pilot was able to straighten the wheel and move us on to the hard pack.
Having flown in and out of that strip on numerous occasions without incident, it was rather puzzling how this managed to happen. The only explanation offered – that made any sense anyway – was that because there had been an unusually high amount of rainfall over the past couple of weeks, the area around the hard pack had become too soft to support the weight of the aircraft.
There was some suggestion that we might land in Norman Well's to have the nose wheel checked out, but after giving it a thorough cleaning, the pilot managed to convince the airline officials that a stop in the "Well's" would not be necessary. What we did do to ensure that all of the dirt had been removed, was fly around for 10 minutes or so with the gear down.
Our pilot took all of this in stride, and commented that with all of his hours flying into some of the most remote corners of the north, this was a first. He even laughed when I suggested they start carrying corn seed on these flights, because if he was going to plough, why not do some planting?
We arrived in YK at 4:15 without further incident, although our flight did take us about 20 minutes longer than usual in that we had to fly around a storm.
That evening we had dinner at the Black Knight Pub, and Christine and I hooked up afterwards with Craig Blackie, a former Plummer's guide and photographer par excellance, and took in the live entertainment at the pub, featuring Glen Walsh and his east coast styling's.
Because our flight to Edmonton was not scheduled to leave until early afternoon, Craig offered to take me fly fishing for Whitefish on the Yellowknife River. I invited Brian along, and while we did not catch all that many fish, it was a very pleasant way to spend the morning.
When It's All Said and Done…
As trips go, there were far more hits than misses.
We were able to camp yet again, and lodge manager Gunther Konecnik and his staff were more than accommodating in terms of ensuring we had everything necessary in the way of food, gas, propane and the like.
Chuk came through with an Otter - at a very reasonable price - to get us to the Katseyedie, and there was not one place that we had planned on fishing that we didn't manage to give a good going over.
Our guides were first rate, and other than a little rain and wind, the weather could not have been better.
As for the fishing, this is the puzzling part. While we literally caught tons of fish, other than Gary's 44, and several others on the plus side of 20 pounds, it was the second year in a row that we didn't catch several big fish.
But before I go on, let me qualify what I mean by "big fish." For Rodney, Art, Kenny and I, a "big fish" is one that is 40 pounds or better.
While we have caught more than our share in the 20 to 40 pound range over the past couple of years – putting the 44 aside - we've had something of a dry spell of late when it comes to the big ones.
And what of Macintosh?
Rodney, Art and I have had some of the best days of fishing in our lives in that bay over the years, including Rodney's 66.5 pound World Record, and we were all astounded by the lack of fish of any size, not only within the massive expanse of bay itself, but on the outside edges as well.
So what's going on - and not just in Macintosh, but also in those other area's that have produced so many big fish in the past?
• Have most of the big ones simply disappeared?
No. Lots of big fish – as we would define them - continue to be caught on Great Bear each year.
• Are we there at the wrong time of the season?
We have been coming to Great Bear during the second week of July for over 30 years, and our record of catching big fish speaks for itself.
The water temperatures this year would suggest that the fishing should have been good in the areas and at the depths we were focusing on – but the fact is – they were not there.
• Because in years past we didn't handle the big fish as gently as we do now, did that cause a higher than usual mortality rate, ultimately resulting in fewer big fish today?
That's a big maybe.
While this may be a contributing factor – because it does take at least 20 plus years to produce a 30 pound trout in these waters - given the size of the lake, and the lack of fishing pressure, particularly in the areas we fish, I don't believe that this would be a significant factor, and as mentioned above, the lake continues to produce many big fish each year.
• Are environmental changes affecting the movement and location of the big fish?
I don't know to what extent Great Bear has been experiencing any significant climate change, but there are signs that things are not the same as they were even 30 years ago.
There is some evidence that the water is warming slightly, and there have been several years where the lake has experienced higher than usual snowfalls. It's usually very arid, with temperatures well below the freezing mark in and around Great Bear Lake during the winter months, but snow tends to come when things warm up somewhat.
An example that I personally believe is water temperature related is the fishery that once existed at mouth of the Katseyedie River. Once a can't miss spot for significant numbers of smaller Lake Trout and big Whitefish, over the past several years we have not caught a single fish at, or near the river mouth.
The fact is, over the last few years, the majority of the big fish have been taken in deeper water. As noted earlier, Andrew marked some very big hooks on his sonar at depths exceeding 100 feet.
• Are we simply being stubborn, and/or too lazy and complacent?
Success can build complacency, and having fished much the same way, at the same time of year, and in the same places and depths for over 30 years – with incredible success for the most part – it's not easy to change.
For example, in 2011 we fished our usual patterns and spots, and while we did ok, the guests who were fishing in deeper water, did much better from a big fish perspective.
Part of our problem is that we simply don't like to fish in deep water. While it does produce some very big fish, they are usually scattered, so there is a much longer wait between fish.
When you fish the shallows – 5 to 20 feet - if the fish are there, they tend to congregate in numbers, and the action can be fast and furious.
So once again we are focusing on past successes, and not reading the signs and/or taking the changes that are happening around us into consideration.
When it's all said and done, it is likely a combination of any number of these factors to varying degrees.
While patience and perseverance are excellent qualities, particularly when it comes to fishing, so too are adaptability and flexibility.
I think the lessons to be learned from our experiences over the past couple of years are that if we want to catch more big fish, we must be open minded, adaptable, and take what the lake is prepared to give us, rather than trying to force the issue.
When we first started fishing Great Bear, with the odd exception, we didn't just stumble on to big fish. Knowing little or nothing about the lake, it was first necessary to forget about how we fished back home, and concentrate on learning how to fish a body of water unlike anything we had ever experienced.
We tried different areas, depths, lures, patterns, and began to understand the role water temperature, and structure play when it comes to locating fish – and in time we started to catch, and not just the smaller ones.
During our next visit, the time will have come for us to start thinking, and fishing, outside of the "box" that we now seem to find ourselves in.
Now on the other hand, perhaps I'm over analyzing things, and should take a page out of Gary's playbook by pretending not to fish, thereby lulling the big ones into a false sense of security.
It worked for him – although you will never convince me that he was just pretending…