Imagine a place where the lakes are so plentiful with ﬁsh that grow to sizes beyond your wildest dreams.
A place where it comes down to the strength of your fishing knot and your physical endurance being the two most important factors when ﬁshing in these waters.
Imagine having the chance of catching the ﬁsh of a lifetime, every single moment your lure is in the water.
These places still exist.
THE NORTHWEST TERRITORIES
One such place is the Northwest Territories, home to dinosaur-like fish roaming throughout an endless selection of lakes. Untouched waters so remote that the element of one’s survival is always at hand and one must be prepared for anything when out on the land.
Very few anglers ever have the chance to ﬁsh in the Northwest Territories and the ones that are fortunate enough, could spend an entire lifetime up here and never ﬁsh the same place twice.
Being a former southern Ontario boy, I now am truly blessed to live next to one of the greatest watersheds in Canada, Great Slave Lake, in Yellowknife Northwest Territories. The deepest and 5th largest lake in North America, Great Slave is home to massive Lake Trout and Northern Pike, Arctic Grayling that look like they just swam off a painter’s easel, as well as the predatory Whiteﬁsh species, the Inconnu, often referred to as the Arctic Tarpon.
Not to forget the plentiful Walleye, Whiteﬁsh and the bottom-dwelling Burbot (here often referred to as bait). Every and all these species could be roaming beneath your boat at any given moment, hunting down their next meal, and with a very good chance, they have never seen a lure before!
The 2 most sought after ﬁsh species in the Northwest Territories are the Giant Northern Pike and Prehistoric Lake Trout.
THE BEHEMOTH NORTHERN PIKE
Northern Pike, or Jackﬁsh as the locals call them, are one of the most plentiful ﬁsh species found in the shallows throughout the lakes and rivers in the North. One does not have to go far to catch these wolves of the water.
Whether you are ﬁshing on foot, in a boat, in a Fishing Kayak (lots of fun), or even through the ice, there are many ﬁshing methods to choose from when pursuing these shallow-water monsters.
Fly ﬁshing adds another element to the chase, allowing you to stalk these giants in the shallow bays, all done by sight ﬁshing. Passing up the “little guys” to lay a perfect cast alongside a gigantic Arctic gator is what it is all about (it often leaves you second-guessing yourself, thinking it has to be a log). Then, in the blink of an eye, your line screams off into the distance because that “log” just ate your ﬂy. It’s all you can do to keep your feet planted while embracing a death grip on your rod as it feels like its only a matter of seconds before it is torn from your hands!
Lucky for you, if you’ve made it this far, the big gator runs out of steam quickly on a lengthy tear, but then circles back and charges the boat as you reel like you have never reeled before trying to pick up the slack. The rod loads up again, now you’ve got her, or so you thought.
The death roll begins, hang on tight! This is where they get crafty, trying to slice your line above the leader as they barrel roll for what seems like forever, consuming your leader line around their body to get to the mainline. It’s as if they know how the game is played!
Finally, all tangled in the line, she begins to roll back unwinding and you think it’s ﬁnally over, Wrong! Unless you were quick with the net, off she goes again peeling line as she was just hooked, headed deep into the weeds. The battle is a tough one, but if your gear stood the test and you managed to stay calm and cool, your trophy of a lifetime no sooner lines up perfectly for the net and the battle is over. Now it’s time for high ﬁves and a few clicks of the camera and a short time to relish in the experience that just unfolded as the lake monster you just tamed, slowly swims away to hopefully be caught another day!
Trust me, this has happened to me time and time again. It can happen to you as well.
For the conventional angler, heavy Bass and Muskie gear with high-speed reels equipped with heavy braided line work best. As for lures, large plastic baits are deadly but, you better bring a bulk bag, as 100+ ﬁsh days are very common and these guys shred plastic beyond repair! I ﬁnd myself gravitating more to hard baits, spoons or hand-tied jigs and ﬂies, as they tend to hold up longer when dealing with so many teeth. Heavy 80-120lb Fluorocarbon leaders work best for me, but Titanium or Steel leaders will also do the trick. If giant Pike are on your list, Great Slave Lake is among one of the best locations in the world to catch the ﬁsh of a lifetime.
Now if you want a unique catch on Great Slave, check this fish out.
THE GARGANTUAN LAKE TROUT
Lake Trout are the prized ﬁsh of the Arctic, growing to unimaginable sizes; so big they look prehistoric. They can be found along the shallow shorelines and shoals within the lake for most of the year. When the ice melts in July and freezes back up in October (yep, July to Oct., unreal!), it doesn’t leave much time to warm up. Luckily, Lake Trout thrive in the cold waters.
Heavy Action trolling and jigging rods are your best bet up here! Heavy Bass gear will get the job done, rigged with 30-65lb braid and 20-50lb ﬂuorocarbon leaders, just make sure you have lots of line on your reel of choice.
If you want to dance the tango with this beast, break out the Muskie gear and soak that giant bait all day, in search of a not so average sized ﬁsh. You must remember; this is the land of giant ﬁsh, and they aren’t just going to give themselves up. You still must hunt them down and put in the time just to be rewarded with the chance to catch that ﬁsh of a lifetime.
Trolling the largest of spoons and hard & soft-bodied glide and swimbaits are best for searching out big NWT Lake Trout. Casting shorelines with smaller spoons, jigs and body baits can also be very productive at times, but later in the year. When the ﬁsh move out deeper, vertical jigging can be your best bet if you want to load the boat in a ﬁshing frenzy.
Fly ﬁshing should not be overlooked if you want the added challenge of pursuing the ﬁsh of your dreams on the ﬂy. There are numerous opportunities to take Lakers on the ﬂy, right at the surface all throughout the open water season.
If numbers of ﬁsh are on your list, then Great Slave Lake is your best choice. It is known for producing 100+ ﬁsh days. It also has its share of big ﬁsh with regular catches of 30 lb+ Lakers every year and the real possibility of a giant. The largest Lake Trout recorded from the lake is a mere 74 lbs which was caught in a net not too long ago. I believe the lake record is a massive 65-pounder seen here.
GREAT BEAR LAKE
If you desire to hunt for a world record Laker, Great Bear Lake is hands down the best place on earth. Imagine yourself ﬁghting a 6-8-pound Lake Trout at boat side, when in the next second, a dinosaur-like creature appears out of nowhere, swallowing your Trout and breaking your line off under the boat!
We all know this carnivorous kind of event happens with Pike when they grab a small Walleye or even one of their own, however, Lakers bring it to a whole new level.
It’s happened, I’ve seen it!
A guest I was guiding had this exact same incident happen to him. He looked at me and said, “Did that just happen?”
I said “Yep, just keep Fish’N. The shaking in your arms will settle, and make sure you hang on to that rod!”
It’s not uncommon to have a smaller Trout swallowed up whole boat side by a monster Laker, looking to pack on the pounds before winter. If you didn’t know any better, you might think that you had just encountered a Fresh Water Shark! Multiple world records are swimming around these waters, testing the nerves and stamina of some of the very few anglers that get to visit Bear each year.
If the biggest, baddest Lake Trout in the world are what you are after, then Great Bear Lake is where you want to be. It’s been known to spit out ﬁsh over 80 lbs, although no one has caught one yet on a rod and reel.
A GREAT PLACE TO VISIT, HOWEVER, IF YOU’RE GONNA’ LIVE HERE…
Despite getting my hand nearly chewed off by a giant Pike while stranded on the Mackenzie River, accidentally ﬁnding new ﬁshing spots with my outboard motor’s prop, surviving the frigid -50C Winters with everlasting darkness, my experience in the north has been nothing short of truly amazing.
The endless days of near 24 hr summer sun and the array of giant un-pressured ﬁsh in every direction, are all worth the long wait through the Ice and Snow. Every trip out is another great adventure into the unknown and being well prepared for anything that comes your way is an absolute must. Survival up here is all up to you; preparation is your top priority.
The farther you get away from town the less chance you are likely to run into someone, and when you’re that far out, cell phones don’t work. You must be able to survive in the wilderness on your own, so a good survival kit, shelter, food, and a plan are a must.
A truly amazing day on the water can turn into a nightmare in a few short minutes, so be sure someone knows where you are. With today’s technology, keeping in touch off the grid is far easier than ever, it’s peace of mind when out on extended adventures.
If you ﬁnd your self on that dream, guided ﬁshing trip of a lifetime, TRUST YOUR GUIDE! They tend to know what they are talking about and will do their best to help you load the boat with ﬁsh and get you back to the dock safely at the end of the day.
Living life in the north while raising a family and having the opportunity to ﬁlm my very own ﬁshing show, have all been childhood dreams come true. This Spring/Summer keep an eye out for Season 1 of Fish’N The Arctic, brought to you by NorthwesTel Community TV, the Government of Northwest Territories Film Commission, Polar Tech Recreation and Streamside.
Be sure to follow along with the adventures on Social Media and please Like and Subscribe to my Fish’N The Arctic YouTube channel to catch future episodes along with additional content throughout our Season 2 adventures. Other links are on my Bio page.