Fishing In The NWT

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A fishing adventure in the Northwest Territories

From Edmonton to Yellowknife, and from Yellowknife to the most beautiful middle of nowhere that I have ever seen.

Welcome to Yellow Dog Lodge.

My husband, Jeff, and I were invited to spend five days fishing on the remote waters surrounding Yellow Dog Lodge, which is a short, 20-minute floatplane ride away from Yellowknife. Owner Gord Gin promised us lake trout, pike and walleye, but we still weren’t prepared for the exciting fishing action that awaited us in the Northwest Territories.

After arriving in Yellowknife, we had a few hours to kill before we had to meet up with our pilot and head to the lodge. Later that evening, a cab brought us down to the water where we met up with Peter, our pilot, and loaded our suitcase into the floatplane. Jeff is not a fan of flying and was quite nervous about the plane ride, but once we were in the air, his worries disappeared. It was incredible to see the Northwest Territories from that viewpoint.

Yellow Dog Lodge is situated between Graham Lake and Duncan Lake, which is where we were going to focus the majority of our fishing efforts, but guests also have the opportunity to fly to five other lakes nearby – Johnston Lake, Wagenitz Lake, Prestige Lake, Wedge Lake and Crapaud Lake. To access these lakes, a floatplane simply picks guests up at the lodge and boats are ready and waiting at the lake.

As he showed us around the grounds, Gord explained that the lodge starts up for the year just after ice out, which usually occurs around the beginning of June. The staff will stay until demand drops off, often August or September. Ideally, Gord said he likes to keep the lodge open until Labour Day.

The accommodations at Yellow Dog Lodge were comfortable and about as close to glamping (glamorous camping) as I’ve had the pleasure to experience. The lodge is rustic, but contains all of the creature comforts of home. There’s an indoor bathroom (and shower!) in the main part of the lodge; Heddy Jacobson, the chief cook at the lodge, made us breakfast and supper every day; there’s a beautiful deck that overlooks Graham Lake, complete with chairs so you can read a book or enjoy your morning coffee; and on the other side of the deck there is a wood-fired hot tub. Yep, you read that right – a wood-fired hot tub. It’s just as glorious as it sounds. And every morning you get to wake up to the sound of the river flowing past the lodge and the birds in the trees just outside your window.

Because we were visiting the Northwest Territories in July, we didn’t really experience a sunset during our trip. At that time of the year, the sun sinks just low enough to give you the impression of dusk, but then it comes right back up again a few hours later. This just meant more time for fishing!

We woke up early the next morning to begin our first day of fishing. Heddy treated us to a wonderful breakfast and then our guide for the day, Kirsten Tarves, made sure our boat was packed with all of the rods, bait, lures and life jackets we would need.

We were hunting for lake trout on Duncan Lake on our first day, and Kirsten had several packs of frozen ciscoes to do the trick. We outfitted these tasty treats to a cisco rig and then used weights on our line to get the bait down to the right depth.

The trout were wily, that first day. They would nibble or take big bites out of our bait, or follow the bait right up to the boat as we reeled in our lines, but then swim off at the last second. And the ones we did hook into liked to fight! We caught several fish that day, mostly in the four or five-pound range. Jeff hooked into what looked to be an 11-pound lake trout, but it spit the hook back just as he got it up to the boat.

We kept one fish from our morning excursion and motored to the south beach on Duncan Lake to join Garrett Fyfe, the senior guide at the lodge, and his two fisherwomen, for a shore lunch. Garrett and Kirsten unpacked a large pot and some cooking ingredients, filleted the fish and coated them in a flour batter and soon we had a nice fire going and they were frying lake trout, potatoes, cans of brown beans and corn were heating up on the edge of the flames.

Although a seemingly minute detail in the grand scheme of the trip, the shore lunches (we had two during our stay) were some of my most favourite parts of that adventure in the Northwest Territories. On the south beach, we were able to hike up the rocks and take in a wide view of the lake, the shore and the wilderness surrounding us. The water was pristine and it was hard to wrap our heads around the concept that, besides those fishermen and women that are flown in, no one else has fished this lake. Coming from southwestern Ontario, I’m used to huge lakes and seeing many boats, and all day I kept thinking we would see other boaters or fishermen. But within the entire expanse of the two lakes, there was only our boat and Garrett’s boat.

After an awesome lunch, we fished the rest of the afternoon away and got back to the lodge just in time to wash up and sit down to Heddy’s home-cooked supper.

The next morning over breakfast, Gord told us he would be taking us over to Johnston Lake in the afternoon, to fish for walleye. This meant Jeff and I had the morning to do as we pleased. So we packed up a boat and motored onto Graham Lake to do some lake trout fishing by ourselves. We found a sweet spot near the north end of the lake and trolled for the morning, pulling in four trout each. They were feisty and all around the four-pound mark – not monsters, but they were entertaining and easy to care for once we got them in the boat, since most of them didn’t get the hook very deep.

We arrived back at the lodge and had Heddy’s soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, and then we met up with Gord and Peter, our pilot from our arrival, and we loaded into the plane and flew over to Johnston Lake, about a 10-minute ride. This lake is the most northern lake on which you can fish for walleye.

There were two boats waiting on shore for us – Peter and Gord loaded into one boat and after we divided up the tackle, they took off to what they thought would be a good fishing location. Jeff and I found a few hot spots on the water, and one in particular was situated between a small, rocky island and the shore. We caught walleye and several small pike that afternoon, and we sure had a lot of fun getting them into the boat. I mostly took pictures, but Jeff had an entertaining time, experimenting with different lures and fighting against feisty fish. We pulled the boats back onto shore around supper time and jumped into the plane just as the rain started to pour down.

We spent the next, and final, fishing day out with Garrett – we had great success with lake trout in the morning and I was able to use a cisco rig and downrigger to catch some beautiful trout. Jeff used weights on his line and pulled a seven-pound trout into the boat. Although it was no comparison to the 30-pound laker another guest had caught two days before, that was our largest trout during our trip.

We met up with Kirsten and her two fishermen for a shore lunch, on the north shore of Duncan Lake this time, and then Garrett took us to a small bay to fish for pike.

Up until this point, fishing for lake trout had been an awesome new experience for Jeff and I. We fished many lakes in Alberta, but the lake trout we caught at home didn’t come close to the lake trout in the Northwest Territories, in size and the number of fish we caught. But pike fishing in that small bay added an entirely new level of excitement and experience to our trip.

Pike, being a predatory and aggressive fish, are fun to catch at any time. But the pike in that bay were big, they were wily and quick and the best part was that because the bay was shallow with a muddy bottom, we were able to spot fish for them. We could clearly see the pike in the water so we threw our lure out to them and watched as they stalked the bait, following it along, and then we watched in hushed excitement as these monsters struck our hooks and we reeled them in.

During that afternoon we caught pike after pike after pike, but our biggest ones measured 37 inches, 42 inches and a massive, 46-inch monster. Garrett did all the hard work for our biggest pike, from spotting him and luring him onto the hook, to setting the hook properly and then fighting with the pike and wearing him out enough that we could get him into the net and then into the boat for some pictures. At one point, that pike was towing our boat as he fought.

We finished that day with another home-cooked supper from Heddy and sadly packed our bags for our trip home the next day.

We had three solid days of fishing at the lodge, and we also had time to go hiking and take several dips in the wood-fired hot tub. There’s no comparison to the beauty of the Northwest Territories and there’s just something about sitting in a boat, in the middle of a clean, clear lake, knowing that for miles around there’s only a handful of other human beings, that just sits well with your soul. It’s a true escape from it all.

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