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Once Is Not Enough!

Canadians don’t have to venture to New Zealand or Alaska to achieve a fly-fishing Zen, they can do it right at home. Fly anglers, in particular, can enjoy unparalleled fishing opportunities for iconic char, salmonids and monster northern pike in some of the best waters on earth. Anglers from other countries can only dream about such opportunities. In my estimation, Arctic char, lake trout and northern pike really are the premier species to take by fly angling. The best fishing for them is on wilderness rivers, lakes and streams in Canada’s far north. Not to be overlooked, however, are destinations that feature trophy Arctic grayling and (yes) ‘bows in the Yukon of all places. Some places are just too good to fish only once. I’ll describe some of them in this story. On that note, however, even experienced anglers must go through a steep learning curve when they fly angle, in particular, new waters for the first time. The second time around though they will likely be much better prepared and do much better in terms of both numbers and sizes of fish landed. I’ve picked some of my favorite Canadian fish camps that have five-star ratings because the fishing adventures have been so good. I can hardly wait for a return visit!

Tree River lake trout
Fishing Guide Trevor Nowak (L) & Duane Radford with a Tree River lake trout.

Tree River, Nunavut – Plummer’s Lodge

brad-myles
Brad Eliason (L) & Myles Radford with a Tree River Arctic char.

Getting to the Tree River is an adventure in itself because it’s one of the most remote fish camps in Canada, within sight of Coronation Gulf on the Arctic Ocean. I took a side trip from Plummer’s Arctic Lodge on Great Bear Lake the first time I fished the Tree which is the way most anglers would likely go there nowadays. The second time I fished there my son, Myles, and I took a flight from Edmonton to Kugluktuk. From Kugluktuk, we took a charter flight to the storied camp which is no longer an option. Because some anglers told Plummer’s they wanted to fish for a whole week on the Tree River a new trip during the last week of August is a new option. Guests will fly into Yellowknife where they’ll embark on a chartered float plane (weather permitting) on a Saturday and fly directly to the lodge, the same day, returning to Great Bear Lake Lodge the next Thursday. They can then fish Great Bear all day Friday before flying back to Yellowknife on Saturday morning. As you might imagine, space will be limited on this special excursion. The current International fish and Game (IGFA) all-tackle world record is a 32-pound 9-ounce fish caught in the Tree River in 1981. Large char are still being taken to this day so there’s always a chance to break the record.

The Tree River is a large cascading, treacherous, turbulent wild river and no place for sissies. Get in good physical shape before your trip because you’ll do a lot of walking over some rough ground and the banks are often rugged. It will challenge the best of anglers. There really are no guarantees you’ll even catch a char. All the marbles are on the table and you have to be on top of your game or you’ll get skunked. During my first trip I only caught a few Arctic char and one humongous lake trout (yes) because I didn’t have the fly angling drill down pat.

The second time around, I knew what I was up against, I’d figured out go-to flies and how to fish them. My son and I both landed 10+ char each daily which is about the best Arctic char fishing you’re going to get anywhere on earth. Remember, these are large, scrappy fish that often weigh 15-20+ pounds so it takes a while to land one! Do your homework before you leave home to capitalize on your chances and be persistent during your trip.

trevor
Trevor Nowak on trail from Tree River Camp, Nunavut.

Great Slave Lake, NWT – Frontier Fishing Lodge

Frontier Fishing Lodge is located on the east arm of Great Slave Lake in one of the most picturesque areas in all of Canada, at the gateway to Thaidene N n , Canada’s newest National Park Reserve. Nearby Redcliff Island is quite simply spectacular. The lodge had been owned by the Whitherspoon family for 29 years since 1990. It was purchased by the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation in 2019. I’ve fly angled out of the lodge at both the start and end of the season and enjoyed outstanding fishing both times. Going forward, guests will fly into Yellowknife before taking a chartered or twin-engine flight directly to the community of Lutsel K’e (formerly called “Snowdrift”) and then take by a boat to the lodge.

The target species at the lodge are lake trout, Arctic grayling and northern pike with the caveat being that the best fishing for pike is in the spring as they’re hard to find afterwards. While you may not catch lake trout that are as large as those in Great Bear Lake which boasts the world record you should catch a lot more and some of them will be huge, maybe in the 25+ range, all on a fly rod. One of the highlights is the daily shore lunch of lake trout fillets cooked over a campfire. Accommodations are rustic but very comfortable with all the amenities of home. The meals are wholesome with lots to eat in a roomy dining area. There’s a lot of great fishing near the lodge and if the winds are up you should still be able to find some sheltered spots to go fishing. Fly angling for grayling in the nearby Stark River is excellent, with grayling topping 20+ inches taken on nymphs and streamers in the spring and dry flies later in the summer when the water level drops.

grayling
A Stark River, NWT, Arctic grayling out of Frontier Fishing Lodge.

Wapata Lake, Saskatchewan – Cree River Lodge

The Cree River Lodge is situated on Wapata Lake, south of Stony Rapids, a small settlement east of Lake Athabasca. When I took my first trip to the lodge with my son it was billed as the “Northern Pike Capital of the World” and they might have been right! Even though it also boasts fine fishing for Arctic grayling and walleye, particularly in the Cree River close to where the lodge is situated, the pike fishing was so good that they quickly became the goto target. One of the best features of this lodge is that there’s no end to prime water for trophy pike. Fishing seems to be good just about any time during the open water season because of the mighty Cree River flow through the system. Fishing conditions stay ideal from spring to the autumn when the lodge closes. During my second trip with my wife, Adrienne, there was no letup in catches of monster pike so we focused on them too, giving the grayling and walleye a break.

adrienne-pat
Adrienne Radford (L) & Pat Bacbcock at Cree River Lodge, Saskatchewn.

The action is non-stop and you can expect to catch trophy pike all day long just about anywhere the guides suggest. Any pike over 36 inches is a fine trophy and it’s not unusual to catch several daily that top this size. Actually, during the trip my son and I were on we caught many 40+ inch pike, all on a fly rod, several 44+ inches long. It was the same during the trip my wife and I were on, the fishing was that good. I know of only one other lodge in the Northwest Territories where you can expect pike fishing to be comparable, but that’s another story. Seriously, anglers should expect to catch pike that exceed 40 inches and you might catch one that makes 50 inches.

“Any pike over 36 inches is a fine trophy and it’s not unusual to catch several daily that top this size.”

As a fly angler, I really appreciated the 16-foot Lund Alaskans boats at the lodge which had a spacious open floor design and swivel seats, as well as an enclosed storage areas to keep items dry and secure; these boats were among the best I’ve ever seen for fly fishing in many trips to numerous fishing lodges across Canada. There was nothing to snag a fly line on which made for worry free for casting.

Dalton Trail Lodge, Yukon

Dalton Trail Lodge
Lakeside chalet at the Dalton Trail Lodge.

The Dalton Trail Lodge is a drive-in lodge located on Dezadeash Lake near the highway to Haines, Alaska south of Haines Junction. It’s a two- hour drive from Whitehorse but this does not diminish the fantastic fishing opportunities in any way shape or form. I’ve been to this lodge six times, it’s that good and I hope to be back again. Yukon has been referred to as Canada’s “last frontier” and you can expect one adventure after another at the Dalton Trail Lodge. The lodge has very comfortable accommodations. It features a first-class dining room and lounge to relax in at day’s end. The chef will cook what you catch as an appetizer to the main (often) European dinner. The lodge is situated on the flanks of the towering, snowcapped St. Elias Mountain Range, best known as Canada’s Himalayas. Kluane National Park is located nearby. The scenery is stunning. Wildlife abounds. Travelers are few and far between.

rainbow-trout
A rainbow trout from the Kathleen River, Yukon out of the Dalton Trail Lodge.

The drill is to decide which lakes and streams you want to fish and what kind of fish you’re after and the lodge owners will accommodate your wishes. Some species of fish can only be taken in a short window seasonally, such as Chinook Salmon in the mighty, Tatshenshini River, so check this out before you make a booking. You’ll travel by 4×4 trucks and quads to reach your destinations. You can even take an overnight trip on Aishiak Lake and stay in a log cabin at a remote location. If you’d just like to stay near the lodge there’s good fishing for lake trout in Dezadeash Lake and northern pike near the outlet. A day on the Kathleen River would be time well spent in search of ‘bows and Arctic grayling, as well as lake trout seasonally. I’d rate the Kathleen River as one of Canada’s finest fly angling streams. It features an exciting jet boat trip down to where it’s not navigable and back to the put-in point. Expect to see grizzlies on this and other trips, they’re common in the region.

Conclusion

If the above fish camps aren’t on your bucket list they should be – make plans to visit them, you won’t be disappointed. Because space didn’t permit me to go into a lot of detail regarding angling techniques in this article, for further information serious anglers are encouraged to read a book that I co-authored with Dr. Ross H. Shickler, Fishing Northern Canada for Lake Trout, Grayling and Arctic Char 2015) as well as another book I wrote Canadian Fly Fishing – Hot Spots & Essentials (2017). These books can be ordered online and contain the skinny on how to make the best of trips to these fabulous destinations.

Arctic-grayling
There’s lot of great fishing for Arctic grayling out of the Dalton Trail Lodge.

By Duane Radford
(photos © Duane Radford)

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