From the boreal forests on its southern boundary to the islands of the Beaufort Sea, Canada’s Northwest Territories offers adventures unique to all the world in one of the last great stretches of remaining wilderness. Whether it’s battling trophy fish with lifelong companions or experiencing incredible solitude that is as alone as it gets under the dazzling and surreal Northern Lights, visitors never forget the “Land of The Midnight Sun.”
Picture yourself there—north of the tree line by hundreds of unpopulated miles, water rushing around your thighs, and nobody in sight. Line slipping through fingers. Fly rod bent and thrashing. It’s just another long Arctic day amidst the staggering beauty of the Northwest Territories.
The quarry is Arctic char—the most exotic peacock of all northern fish. Cherry red from dorsal to belly, every run, twist and turn stands out like a crimson punctuation mark under reflections of ancient green, grey, and blue landscape. The flesh, cooked on an open fire, is tastier than salmon, and higher in Omega 3s than any other fish on earth.
The breathtaking expanse of the Arctic Ocean sprawls to the horizon from the window of your plane as you make your way to Kugluktuk for fuel, where discussions with the fascinating Inuit residents lead to descriptions of hunting whales in 18-foot Lund boats. From Tree River Lodge back to another oasis in the world’s last great wilderness, Plummer’s sits on Great Bear Lake—eighth largest body of freshwater in the world and home to the all-tackle, world-record lake trout. Currently standing at 72 pounds, the official all-tackle record laker was pulled from the startlingly blue waters of Great Bear in August of 1995. The unofficial world record of 78.85 pounds was also caught on Great Bear. Battles with specimens even distantly approaching that size can last upwards of an hour.
Tackling fish like this is just one of many lifetime-best adventures awaiting in the vast expanse of wilderness known as Canada’s Northwest Territories.
If the wind is up and trolling the giant lake becomes treacherous, relax in the lodge surrounded by a library of books and movies, enveloped in the awesome aroma of the next gourmet meal on the menu. If the lake is flat, pull out a 10-weight fly rod with a sinking line, tie on a Lefty’s Deceiver, and ply the mid-depth boulders and granite outcroppings for a line-class record. Great Bear Lake never gets warm enough to force lakers deep here in the tundra. Fighting a 30-pounder on a fly rod? Unforgettable.
If world-class northern pike are more your style, the most exciting trips in North America exist on or near the next giant waterway south—Great Slave Lake. Trout Rock Lodge on Great Slave is run by adventurer Ragnar Wesstrom, famous personality from the reality show, Ice Lake Rebels. The lodge is a mere five-minute flight from the enigmatic gold-rush city of Yellowknife, situated in some of northern Canada’s most unique and beautiful terrain.
Trout Rock Lodge is situated in an archipelago composed of dozens of islands along Great Slave’s North Arm. The archipelago shields many square miles of perfect pike habitat—a shallow, weedy, rocky, baitfish-infested esox paradise. Pick your poison—a big bunny-strip streamer presented with a fly rod, a spoon, or a bucktail. Throw it out there and it’s lunch for a big toothy critter. We caught and released over a dozen pike apiece per day between 40 and 50 inches, and smaller fish of all sizes by the score. The lodge is spacious and comfortable, the meals and shore lunches awesome, and the aurora borealis will light up the sky for you at night, which is a perfect segue to Aurora Nights Lodge on the Taltson River, which flows into Great Slave. A little more rustic than Trout Rock Lodge or Plummer’s Great Slave Lake Lodge, Aurora Nights offers world-class pike fishing with a backdrop of cascades, waterfalls, and boreal forests. Plans are underway for a larger kitchen and bigger cabins. Guests can take ATV’s on wilderness excursions, rent Skidoos in the winter, and take guided forays up one of the world’s finest pike-fishing rivers. Walleyes can be found here, too, making for memorable shore lunches in untouched surroundings with nights awash in polar light.
Far to the east, along the border lies Kasba Lake Lodge. Lakers in the 40-pound class were almost a daily occurrence on our first trip here. One of the most memorable things about Kasba is the world-class Arctic grayling of the Kazan River. Specimens in the 5-pound range are possible, (the lodge record is an amazing 5 pounds, 10 ounces) and most days the fish average over 3 pounds. Readily taken on a wide range of flies, the grayling of the Kazan belong on every fly fisherman’s bucket list. Making the trip even more memorable are the world-class meals and gourmet shore lunches, rivaling any lodge in the North.
Nestled into the boreal forest along the NWT’s southern boundaries, just west of Kasba, is Selwyn Lake where I was lucky enough to visit with Ron and Jimmy Lindner as guests of Gord Wallace before he opened his brand new lodge almost 20 years ago. Every point, hump, reef, and sunken island held trophy lake trout—several topping 30 pounds—as we demonstrated modern techniques to Wallace’s fresh lineup of green-but-eager guides. Now peopled with seasoned veterans, Selwyn offers fly outs to some of the best pike fishing in the area. (Fly outs to remote lakes for practically untouched fishing are, in fact, common to most NWT lodges these days.)
In addition to awesome trophy fishing, many lodges offer scenic wildlife tours—chances to spot an exotic musk ox, polar bear, barren-range grizzly, ptarmigan, beluga whale, or a pair of team-hunting Jaegers making acrobatic maneuvers with swept-back wings in pursuit of smaller birds. Hunting, skiing, hiking and many other opportunities await. Competition is stiff among lodges these days, resulting in more comfortable surroundings and incredible cuisine provided by chefs from places like San Francisco, Vancouver—even far away New Orleans in some cases.
|Aylmer Lake Lodge||Lake Trout, Grayling||780-536-7298|
|Blachford Lake Lodge||Northern Pike||867-873-3303|
|Frontier Fishing Lodge||Lake Trout, Pike, Grayling, Whitefish||877-465-6843|
|Hearne Lake Lodge||Lake Trout, Pike, Arctic Grayling||866-729-7453|
|Lac La Marte Adventures||Pike, Lake Trout||877-335-8855|
|Peterson’s Point Lake Lodge||Lake Trout, Arctic Grayling||867-920-4654|
|Plummer’s Great Slave Lake Lodge||Lake Trout, Northern Pike, Grayling||800-665-0240|
|Scott Lake Lodge||Northern Pike, Lake Trout||715-362-7031|
|Taltson Lake Lodge||Lake Trout, Northern Pike||888-649-5566|
|Watta Lake Lodge||Lake Trout, Pike, Grayling, Whitefish||867-873-5330|
|Yellow Dog Lodge||Pike, Lake Trout, Arctic Grayling||403-668-9936|