Written by Harold
- Published in Trip Journals
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While it has always been my intention to write this story one day, recent events have given me cause to fast track it to the top of my "to write" list.
Together with a small group of close friends, we have been making an annual trek to Great Bear Lake for over 30 years, and but for hitting a speed bump of sorts, which took the form of a trip to Alaska in 1994, most of us have never missed a year - until now that is.
Despite a great many things that have come up over the years which threatened to derail this ritualistic excursion, we somehow managed to overcome the odds, and scrape, claw and/or drag our way back to the Bear, each and every July.
One thing about luck, it has a tendency to change, and in 2013, that incredible run of good luck finally came to an end.
Without boring you with all of the details, the long and the short of it is, Great Bear was just not in the cards for us this year.
I don't think the reality of it has truly sunk in as yet, but come the second week of July, there is going to be one very big hole to fill.
Personally, it has given me pause to reflect back on all of the incredible trips we have enjoyed over the years, but as I scroll through them, the one that stands head and shoulders above the rest - was my very first.
To many fishermen, Great Bear Lake was, and perhaps still is, one of those mysterious, out of reach places, that only oil tycoons and other zillionaires can afford to visit, and while something of an exaggeration, fishing the Bear does perhaps signal to the recreational angling community that you have "arrived".
I found it very hard to get my head wrapped around the notion that there was this massive lake - bigger than either Lakes Erie or Ontario - located in a very remote, and relatively unknown part of the world, that only a handful of people fished for a very short time each year.
And the fishing - unbelievable didn't begin to describe it.
During the mid-70's I recall reading an article about Great Bear Lake in a newsletter published by the Fenwick Rod Company.
The author painted a picture of a truly remarkable place, and when describing Great Bears monster Lake Trout, happened to mention that the NWT Department of Fisheries, during a tagging program they were engaged in at the time, netted 2 trout weighing 101 and 104 pounds respectively.
Well, lets just say I was hooked - lame pun intended - and one way or another, I was going to get up there.
The cost of a trip in 1979 was around $1200, and after engaging in some disciplined belt tightening and creative fund raising, I managed to scrape up enough for both the trip, and my flight to Edmonton.
After handing over my deposit to Branson's Lodge owner Ernie Dolinsky, at the Toronto Sportsman's Show in March, I don't recall having a good nights sleep until my second night at the lodge in July.
To say that I didn't have a clue what to expect was, as understatements go, a true classic, perhaps even right up there with the one by Thomas Watson, former chairman of IBM when he said - "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
The next 3 months were spent harassing Branson's Toronto area agent Ed Barbosa, with hundreds, if not thousands of questions about everything from clothing to fishing gear.
Despite his sage advice, I bought all manner of things - particularly tackle - that proved to be, for the most part useless, but live and learn as they say.
Arriving in Edmonton on Thursday, July 12, and despite yet another sleepless night, I did manage to make it to the Municipal Airport in time to board the North Cariboo Airways Convair that would be flying me, and 39 other lucky anglers to the Arctic.
Following a quick stop in Yellowknife to take on fuel and provisions for the lodge, we then embarked on the 300 - mile flight to Great Bear.
The country between Yellowknife and the lodge was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was dotted with what appeared to be thousands of lakes, in every size and shape imaginable, and I couldn't help but wonder how many of them held fish.
My face was so firmly pressed against the window for the duration of the 2½-hour flight, I'm willing to bet that an imprint of my face was permanently etched into the glass, and the only way anyone was going to see clearly out of that window again, would be if they replaced it.
Once the Convair touched down on the gravel strip at Port Radium, and after peeling my face off of the window, we were shuttled over to the lodge by float plane, then treated to a sumptuous buffet lunch, which was followed by what seemed to be Ernie's never ending briefing outlining meal schedules, and the general routine around the lodge.
Right after the briefing, Ernie asked if anyone would be interested in flying to Conjuror Bay to do a little fishing, and then bring back a couple of boats that had gotten iced in the previous week.
Although I had no idea what, or where Conjuror Bay was, my hand went up like a bolt of lightning, and shortly thereafter several of us piled into the lodge Beaver, and were on our way to Conjuror.
When it came time to head back, the ride to the north east entrance of the bay was as smooth as could be, but that all changed in a big hurry once we were out on the main lake.
We got absolutely slammed, and thoroughly drenched during the 20 - mile trip back to the lodge. Our guide didn't seem all that concerned with the pounding we were taking, and kept us moving ahead at full throttle pretty much the entire way - 4 to 6 foot waves notwithstanding.
Welcome to Great Bear Lake kid.
After swallowing, without really tasting what was likely a very good dinner, I grabbed my casting rod, and began working my way along the rocky shore adjacent to the lodge, making cast after cast as I stumbled along.
Although the sun was still up, I was finally starting to feel a little tired, and decided to pop back into the lodge, have a coffee, and take a short break before heading out again.
Finding both the lounge and dining room completely deserted, I stuck my head into the kitchen, and asked a guy who was busy taking loaves of freshly baked bread out of the oven where everyone was?
Appearing somewhat surprised by my question, he replied that they had all likely gone to bed, but would be up shortly because breakfast would be served in just over an hour.
Breakfast? Sure enough, it was 6 am, meaning that without even realizing it, I had fished throughout the entire night. I guess you could say that I was in some kind of an Arctic daze.
With so many new and different things being thrown at me each and every day, the entire trip was something of a blur, but fortunately a few things did manage to stick with me.
To begin with, I had the opportunity to meet a very diverse and interesting group of people.
There was a sports writer from the Los Angles Times, several tackle company representatives, a land developer, seasoned bush pilots, a Deputy Chief from the LAPD, professional guides, native people from Deline, 2 hilarious guys from Hollywood, who were involved with the sitcom M.A.S.H, and several individuals who have since become good friends, that I would eventually share many more trips with throughout the coming years.
More importantly, it gave me the opportunity to experience a rather impressive number of "firsts."
I caught my first Lake Trout, Grayling and Arctic Char.
Fished under the midnight sun, crossed the Arctic Circle, flew over the Arctic Ocean, saw the Coppermine River and Coppermine Mountains, enjoyed my first shore lunch, and stood on the northern edge of the continent.
Participated in my first ever snowball fight in July, flew in a floatplane, landed on a gravel runway, fished the Kugaryak and Camsell rivers, drank ice cold water right out of the lake, and visited Edmonton and Yellowknife for the first time.
Floated on water that was so clear, I could see to depths of over 100 feet, walked across the tundra, encountered plants, birds and animals I had never seen before, and took my first breath of pure, sweet Arctic air.
But of all these "firsts", the most significant was the trip itself - because it was the first of many more to come.
While I have returned a great many times since, nothing can compare to the pure excitement, suspense and thrill of travelling to, and experiencing Great Bear Lake for the very first time.
I hope that someday you will have this same opportunity - and just in case you're wondering:
I'll be back…