I will never forget my first fly-in fishing trip to the Northwest Territories. Looking out the windows, as our floatplane circled the lodge on Great Bear Lake preparing to land, we were stunned by the transparency of the water. It was so pure and so clear, even from a couple of hundred feet up in the air, we could easily see the logs lying on the bottom of the bay.
Then, we realized: holy smokes, they are not logs, they are lake trout.
It was an early lesson that I have subsequently relearned on every trip back. When you fish in the Northwest Territories, you expect the unexpected.
It was also a fitting introduction to the finest freshwater fishing on earth, and to steal a phrase from the classic movie, Casablanca, the start of a beautiful relationship.
Indeed, the fishing is not only as good today as it was back then, thanks to a strong catch-and-release ethic promoted by lodge owners, guests and the NWT Natural Resources agency, it is better.
How can it possibly get any better?
Well, half way down Kasba Lake, one time, our guide swerved the boat quickly as the water erupted in front of us. I thought he was veering to avoid hitting a submerged reef or floating deadhead. Nope, it was a giant lake trout that was sunning itself inches under the water, out in the middle of the lake and he didn't want to run over it.
I thought he was joking, until several more trophy trout started splashing and cavorting like playful porpoises.
But that is not the half of it.
A short time later, my partner and I were trolling half-silver and half-gold Williams Whitefish spoons from which we'd removed the treble hooks, replacing them with barbless singles to which we had skewered five-inch long white curly tail grubs. It is one of my favorite NWT trolling tactics for lake trout because it so perfectly matches the ciscoes, whitefish, grayling and juvenile lake trout that the giants devour with glee.
As we trolled past some friends in another boat, however, who were trolling in the opposite direction, we watched as a huge lake trout smashed our buddy's bait and quickly stripped every inch of line from his spool. I kid you not, try as he did to tighten the drag and control the beast, the trout emptied his spool of line and left him speechless.
Now, how ironic is this: my partner felt a hit at the very same time, but from a much smaller fish that he reeled into the net without a lot of fuss. That is when I spotted something dangling from his hook. It was the loose end of our friend's line who had just been spooled.
I quickly grabbed the line as it streamed through my fingers and put it between my lips as I quickly reeled in my lure. Then, I tied the loose end on to my spoon via a triple surgeon's knot, threw it back over the side of the boat and wrestled a better than 40-pound lake trout into the net.
Like I said, you expect the unexpected when you're fishing in the Northwest Territories.
Another case in point and a lesson to the wise.
Some of the very best fishing that I have ever experienced in the Northwest Territories has come after I had pulled aside my guide and asked him if there was anywhere on the lake that he had yearned to fish, but hadn't had the chance yet to explore?
Invariably I have been greeted with starry eyes and tales of ghost-like lake trout and gargantuan northern pike, the size that which would chew off your leg.
"So, let's do it," I always say, and I've never once been disappointed with the decision .... or the results.
Like the time I popped the question to my guide, Cubby, and was regaled with whispered tales of The Dome, a mysterious hidden hotspot at the far end of the lake, that was allegedly festooned with giant lake trout.
Well, forget the hype, because The Dome proved to be even better than its advance billing. It is where my buddy, Mark and I landed 20 lake trout weighing between 20 and 40 pounds and watched mammoth fish literally swim out of the top of a wave and into the air as they chased after our lures.
Are you kidding me?
In fact, the fishing was so outlandish, when we pulled onto the tip of a nearby island to enjoy shorelunch - what, you never eaten fresh fish, cooked over a crackling driftwood campfire - I grabbed a spinning rod from the bow of the boat and made a cast out to deeper water while Cubby prepared our feast.
On my very first cast, I felt a jolt and hooked a 24-pound lake trout, followed by far too many of its hefty brothers and sisters to tally. If it was the first time I had seen it happen, I would have said it was a pleasant, unanticipated, unforeseen, surprise.
But, I was fishing in the Northwest Territories, where I have come to expect the unexpected.
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