Was a short but sweet season for me up on Great Bear Lake, only 5 weeks this year. The year started out awesome and was looking very promising. The lake was still locked solid with ice. But a couple good storms and POOF! the ice was gone in a week. Pretty insane! Years where the ice stays late concentrates the fish and you can get that one day that every guide hopes for, "the day of days", where you have just a lights out, epic day for big fish. But it didn't happen this year...it's what keeps luring us back up there.
I was the first guide up there this year and did a 7 day camping trip to a river south of Great Bear Lake called the Johnny Hoe River. This area is the most northern population of Walleye as far as I know. This area is chalked full of walleye and pike. The plane dropped me off the evening before my guests arrived. I setup camp and decided to do some casting from shore. Every cast from shore I had a strike and I managed to catch several walleye 20-27" and a 40" pike. Was pretty awesome!
The week was pretty epic with some huge pike catch 48", 47", and lots in the 35-45" range. The walleye fishing was the most incredible I have ever seen. Sight fishing for walleye that would chase and compete to get to your hook first. We had them striking topwater baits and absolutely anything you tossed at them. Was pure craziness. We traversed the entire length of the Johnny Hoe, down five sets of rapids, and 14 miles across Great Bear to a bay to fish for lakers. We managed to catch a few including a 25lb. On our way back across we were greeted with some violent 6ft waves which almost capsized us at one point. At that point we were 7 miles from shore and the water was a balmy 38F! We headed for shore with the waves and lucked out that there was an island we could seek refuge on without having to worry about the waves swamping the boat. We stayed on this island for 4 hours before we decided to head back out. We almost made it to the river mouth before we decided to again seek refuge on an island. This time we stayed the night. I built a big fire and kept it stoked all night. Luckily the wind blew steady all night which kept the bugs at bay. The next morning we set back out at 5am and got back to our camp around 11am. Was an epic journey that we didn't repeat. haha.
When we got back to the lodge my guests wanted to try and get the grand slam. We still needed a grayling and a whitefish. Unfortunately the ice was still locking us in the bay so grayling was out. We did find a pod of 75+ monster whitefish. The average fish were 6-8lbs with fish over 10lbs in the same school! We got into a few of them and I hooked 3 and landed 1 on my 4wt.
The rest of the summer was spent on the Dease Arm of Great Bear Lake. In this area the main two species to target are lake trout and grayling. Unique to Great Bear Lake, there are 7-9 subspecies of lake trout in the lake. (depends on who you talk to or which study you read) These subspecies are very easy to distinguish just by looking at them. The main three are Blues or Grays, the big piscivorous fish that get 50lb+; butterfly redfins, a generalist feeder that gets to about 20lbs; and the Redfin which is also a generalist feeder that will sip caddis but also eats ciscoes when available, the Redfins get to about 25lbs.
Redfins are great fun with a fly rod. They eagerly take streamers and when they are sipping bugs on the surface you can dry fly fish for lakers.
The Grayling in the lake are very plentiful and are virtually found on every shallow, rocky point or shoreline. They get big in the lake with average fish in the 16-18" range and a 20" grayling is almost a guarantee. My biggest was a 22" that I personally got while out fishing with a fellow guide. We took out a couple 4wts and drifted a shoreline, casting to riseforms and fish. I spotted a big grayling come up and eat a caddis and I put my fly right in front of him. It's pretty rare that they refuse a fly. They're very easy to catch and fairly scrappy fighters.
Until next year Bear.