After much planning, we touched down in Yellowknife Airport excited for a new adventure. July at this latitude equates to sufficient sun for safe nighttime navigation so it was decided to do the midnight run to our island base-camp in order to avoid the strong winds which were likely to arise later the in the day. This summer season is a particularly bad one for forest fires in the Northwest Territories, and we got lost in the smoke for a while. Thankfully, a GPS unit was on hand and we arrived safely. 



The boys' goal for this leg of the trip was a giant 40lb+ Lake Trout while my ambition was focused on a 20'' Grayling. Gord was quick to finish pitching his tent and brought in two nice Grayling on consecutive casts.




I was smiling ear to ear to be back in Grayling country, and while everyone else slept, I walked the perimeter of the island casting spinners into the turquoise water. The Grayling proved to be tough customers, but two did hit the rocks including a nice lifer for Roughie.
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Alisha and Gord woke up and put the tea on just in time for me to hook into a bigger fish. It turned out to be the first of many Lakers of this trip.
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Mike tells of five or six races of Lake Trout found in Great Slave Lake and the above is an example of a typical 'gray'. Contrast that with the striking colours and markings of a 'redfin' hooked shortly after. When this fish flushed for the first time, the thing that jumped to mind was Greater Redhorse. Redfins apparently do not get as large as the grays.
While eating breakfast, I set out a still line with a dead cisco. It was picked up by this beauty not ten minutes later. I was starting to grow a new respect for these fish.
Time to troll and the lure of choice proved to be the Rapala Trolls-To20. Trolling was slow by East Arm standards, but we all caught fish, and I shattered my PB with this 37"er. 


Mike got a fatty as well.

After stopping on another island for supper, we focused on casting island points in search of Grayling. Like the Lakers, the Grayling seemed to be a bit off but again, we all caught fish. Pretty as they are, small Lakers can be annoying when targeting Grayling. On light tackle, it can take several minutes to boat a small trout by which time your angling mates have picked off all the Grayling from a given point. 
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In the evening Mike nailed this 40" beauty on a cisco from our camp. Such an awesome fish.
Plenty of time to sleep when I'm dead so bright and early the next am I was once again walking the island while everyone was making Zs. Woke up the wife to take some photos.
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Then more trolling and island hopping.
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With the livewell full of supper, we returned to our island to eat, chill, and watch the sun go down. I tripped like an asshole, and cracked the tip off my rod. Too bad as they don't make them anymore and I've caught some sweet fish with it. From Dogfish to Pikeminnow to Grayling. The rod's remains were committed to the flame, I got the OK to use one of Mike's light setups for the rest of the trip ,and all was right in the world. 
A cisco was put out and I broke yesterday's pb with a 39" beauty. Char respect meter was going through the roof. In 2012, Mike ruined Pike fishing for me in Southern Canada. He's now done the same thing to my Lake Trout fishing on my home waters.
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Sun went down, Gord and I shot the shit and fed the fire and the mosquitos. Sometime after midnight it was just me when the alarm beeped twice and line started to leave the spool at a snail's place. Those of you who fish for carp with hair rigs probably know that a slow run typically means big fish. Apparently trout are no different. Ten minutes into the fight, the fish decided to pull towards the right side of the island which brought me near Gord's tent.
"You up?"
"Gonna need a hand here."
It was dark and the fish stayed far out and well below the surface for a while. When it finally rose I saw a back with a huge dorsal. 15lb leader that's already been strained by several large trout. Do not fuck this up.
After several attempts Gord had the fish in the cradle. The tail stopped at 44".
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According to Mike, that fish would have been a fry around the time JFK was assassinated. I'm glad it swam away strong.
Very little sleep that night. I was up just past 5am to make a fire and soak ciscos. The bites were very steady and I went four for four over four hours. 
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As we were making plans for the rest of the day, I defied every law of physics known to man and managed to sink a treble into the back of my ear on a cast. Lucky for me only one treble went in and lucky for me I had packed the bolt cutters. Unlucky for me it was in the back of my ear! I was also beginning to feel pretty green from lack of sleep and dehydration. After debating pushing the point through it was decided to leave it in, move camp to an island closer to town and visit the hospital the next morning. 
We trolled a few different areas and filled Mike's livewell with trout for the smokehouse. An honest attempt was made to get Roughie a lifer Inconnu but we ended up with only a few pike in the low 40"s to show for it.
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Gordo boated this lovely lady as we trolled near a river mouth. 
In the early afternoon, the sickness was coming on strong. I was later told that I looked like absolute shit. The fellas -- awesome guys that they are -- decided to sacrifice an evening's fishing and get me back to town before I got into real trouble. Half way through the ride I vomited off the side of Mike's boat. So that's what sunstroke feels like.  
Yellowknife Hospital is likely the most efficient hospital in all of Canada. I was admitted through the ER, had my ear frozen, hook removed, was infused with a bag of sweet sweet saline, and had some kind of anti-emetic concoction pushed into me all within an hour and a half. Hospital bill: $0.00.
The next day we bought supplies in preparation for our roadtrip down the Alaska Highway. We left the day following but unfortunately had to spend the night parked at a roadside rest area one hour out of Yellowknife as the highway was closed due to forest fire. Next morning we drove through the aftermath. Lots of hotspots were still burning and plainly visible from the road but there was no one in sight working to put them out. 
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Our first stop was at the Blackstone campground where the Blackstone River flows into the muddy Liard. After looking at burnt trees, the beautiful Nahanni Mountains were a sight for sore eyes. 
The Liard owed me a Burbot in a big way but proved reluctant to pay up. From the time we arrived to the time of our departure at mid-morning the next day, Mike and I soaked siscos without so much as a sniff. I did catch seven Flathead Chub on bacon chunks as a small consolation.
We drove on and crossed into British Columbia.
Stone Sheep feeding along the Alaska Highway.
On  the way to our next campground, we made a pit stop at the Toad River so that I may try for a lifer Mountain Whitefish. Recent rains have swelled the river and the flow was way higher than ideal. We spent about an hour poking around a logjam the fish were likely to use as a current break. I did have three follows right to the shore but could not entice a hit. Disappointed, we moved on. 
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The campground was situated on the shore of a gorgeous medium size lake flanked on all sides by the Northern Rockies. While I put up the tent, Alisha went off to take pictures but quickly returned to report she was seeing a lot of fish rising at the campground dock. That was all the convincing I needed, and after a quick bite we were off. 
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A few casts in, a strong hit and up came a lifer Mountain Whitefish! Not a tiddler either. I absolutely love the look of this species and of all my catches on this trip, this one is my favorite. Caught on a #0 Aglia Long.
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Mike joined me on the dock and we proceeded to catch dozens. They were for the most part small lakers including one that went fully airborne during the fight. First time I see a Lake Trout jump. Mike enticed two more whitefish confirming my fish wasn't a fluke.
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Mike -- the undisputed King of the Mountain Whitefish. We baked them in foil then next evening.
Next am we made few roadside stops along the Trout River. Like the Toad, this stream was running higher than normal and the pouring rain did not help things one bit. Bull Trout were the target species. With water levels being what they were, fishing was slow as expected. I finally got my lifer bully from behind Mike's lucky boulder (bottom left). 
Head of a laker, tail of a brookie. Orange spots. I get the attraction.
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I love BC. Top to bottom it's a wonderful place to live. I know we'll end up here one day. IMG_0801

Lot's of wildlife to be seen along the Highway as it snakes its way back and forth between Northern BC and the Yukon. Bears, fox, bison were all seen. I saw my first ever wild caribou which was awesome.
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I don't recall the name of the lake we camped on on our first night in the Yukon, but it was said to have a population of Pygmy Whitefish. As awesome a lifer as that would have been, the dropoff was way too far from the end of the docks to allow for any kind of fishing. Great place to camp nonetheless. One thing which seems odd about campgrounds in the Yukon is that they operate on a quasi honour system. The idea is that you pull into an unmanned campground, pick a site, put cash into a provided envelope with your plate number on it and drop it into a slot. This would be ok if a. people actually carried cash on them b. there were ATM machines available nearby and c. the charge was an amount that can actually be paid with paper money -- not $12 which obviously requires coins (for us Canadians anyway). This is a pretty frustrating arrangement, but we managed.   
Dawn broke and we were Alaska-bound. The day could not have been more perfect for admiring the beauty of the Yukon wilderness. Had we pulled off the road to take pictures each scenic lookout, we definitely would have lost another day of travel. 
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Siksiks were all over the road.
We posed at a particularly stunning lookout along the highway, complete with sow bear and cubs.
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As the elevation of the road increased, we could see the trees get progressively smaller and then disappear all together. 
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And just like that, we were at the Alaska border.
Angling goals included Dolly Varden and anything and everything the North Pacific had to offer. After dinner, Mike and I headed down to the docks to see what would chew.
View from the Haines docks. Not a bad setting for busting some lifers.
I was first to connect and bring up a Yellowfin Sole. 
Shortly after, a Great Sculpin and a Staghorn Sculpin made an appearance. 
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Mike was quick to catch up and raise several sole, including a very good sized specimen which he shared with Ruffie, along with his own lifer Staghorn Sculpin and Pacific Tomcod.
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Next morning we went hard after the Dollies. Destination was the Chilkoot River. After a few hours of washing lures I had hooked and lost what was likely a Dolly while Mike manged one small one. This was a big milestone for Mike. Having caught a Dolly Varden he has now caught every Char species in North America!
Other than that, there were very few signs of fish here. We saw a few splashes in the deeper water, but that was it. Tourists were everywhere and not shy about taking pictures of "locals fishing" (we're not even from this country!) which was kinda annoying. 
The wildlife here was nice but trudging through chest-high sedge grass knowing there are grizzlies around put me on edge.
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Back to the town docks. Down went the swimbait on a vertical drop and after a terrifying twenty minute ordeal up came a fresh King Salmon. Totally unexpected fish but I was very happy to get my hands on it. How it did not straighten my el-cheapo hook or wrap me around the dock chains I do not know.
I've caught them before in the freshwater of Lake Ontario and in the streams feeding into it. None of those fish pulled half as hard as this salty creature fresh from the Pacific Ocean.
We were visited by three local kids who were quick to spill the beans about the local Dolly Varden hotspot a few docks down. I had my doubts but followed them and was happily surprised to see a pile of fish hanging out under the fish cleaning station. 
Mike joined me and we each caught a bunch of Dollies using roe. Another lifer for me.
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There were other species here too, including juvenile Chinooks and Pacific Herring. The herring would swarm he fish eggs as they sank through the water column but proved very reluctant to take a hook. We downsized to #18 hooks and freelined single eggs to get our lifer herring.
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Mike also got what I initially thought was a Eulachon but field guide consultation proved it to be a Surf Smelt. Either way, I remain envious.
The kids hung around. One was pretty sharp for his age and I was impressed to hear him say that local commercial fisherman were wasteful when it came to cleaning their catch and that there was often a lot of good meat left on the discarded carcasses. The other two were cretins, swinging lures all over the place making me nervous about getting another one in me past the barb. One of them kicked my net into the water. Had they not showed us the spot in the first place, I would have scattered them.
Dinner consisted of fried sole and dollies. The sole were delicious. Mike said the dollies were indistinguishable from the Arctic Char he caught in the far north in terms of both internal morphology and taste.
In the evening we fished again. The sole were plentiful to the point of redundancy. Mike got his lifer Great Sculpin and another larger specimen. These fish actually get a lot more impressive than this, reaching sizes of 30"+. 
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I caught soles and three Dungeness Crabs. The Yellowfin Sole is extremely plentiful and it clearly has some significance to the local Indigenous People.    
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Back into the Yukon we went for our final two days of the trip. Pine Lake was our stop for the first night. There were Round Whitefish here but again the dropoff was too far out to enable shore fishing. I spent a bit of time presenting to a Mottled Sculpin which was sitting shallow but it had a serious case of lockjaw. 
The next day Mike and I each caught a small Grayling from a random stream on our way to Whitehorse. Unfortunately these fish proved to be our only catches in the Yukon. 
After dropping Cara and Alexie off to do some exploring in Whitehorse, we headed north. With a little effort we found the right turnoff an after a few minutes there we were, standing on the marge of Lake Laberge. It had been a goal of mine for this trip to see and cast a line into this great Canadian Lake. No fish were caught, but I was thoroughly satisfied with the experience. If only we could have had just one more night of fishing on this shoreline. Catching a Laberge burbot under the midnight sun would have been insanely awesome.
Brothers of the Angle.
A great adventure with some great company. Spectacular fish in spectacular places. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. 






Species List:


Deftik's picture

I never tire of reading these far north reports. I guess I think of it like the final frontier, where your average vacationer doesn't think to go, cold, raw wilderness...and obviously awesome fishing. Just the stuff that awesome is made of. Good stuff all around guys, keep reports like this coming and I'll keep reading, with my jaw hitting the cellphone!

Mike B's picture

That trip was just what the doctor ordered. Thank you Eli and Alisha for joining my family on an epic adventure. I wonder if that was the first time the regulars fishing for salmon at the Haines dock ever witnessed anyone shrieking with joy after catching a Great sculpin (me).
A word about Eli. He never gives up on the fishing. It could be two o clock in the morning with a sky full of unbreathable forest fire smoke and he is out there catching a 44 inch trout when everyone else is exhausted and asleep, or jigging the pier in a blinding gale to catch a couple late night lifelisters. A couple of those lifelisters, the bull trout and mountain whitefish in particular, were very tough catches with the streams so choked with rain. Most would have given up and spend the rest of the night drinking beer around the campfire. Awesome dedication to his craft.

mike b

Corey's picture

Love the photos and the scenery - the incredible fish are just icing on the cake.  Absolutely stunning.


When talking about the different "races" of lake trout, I wonder if either of you have read Dan Gapen's book "River Fishing: A Happy World". He fished lakers in a river in northwest Canada and wrote a chapter about what he called "River Sharks" - a breed of cannibal lake trout with a different head shape that he claimed killed and ate other lake trout. I've always wondered if there was anything to it. It's a very old book but you would probably recognize the rivers he was fishing.


Thanks for sharing your adventure with all of us!

Gunnar's picture

Just got my lifer staghorn sculpin the other day too. (Actually, it's one of the many species I had caught but not photographed before I found this site.) Tried hard for another sculpin species (one biologist I know calls the Northwest US--and I assume BC and up the coast--the "epicenter of sculpin diversity"), but caught a million staghorns. Sculpins are astonishingly photogenic. Way more interesting to look at than salmonids, in my opinion.

Amazing trip report. Again.

Jealous. Again.



Redhorse ID cheatsheets, gars, suckers:

2020: 10 days fishing 11 species 0 lifers. 2019: 34/45/13 2018: 39/40/5

johnny's picture

Wow, what an adventure indeed.  I hope someday I can go on a trip like that and have memories to last a lifetime.  Thank you for sharing!

Just your run of the mill Orvis Boy.  Fly fishing elitist.  I cannot hear you over my false casting.  All guided trips every day.

Fishing for compliments since 88.

pmk00001's picture

Simply amazing in every way, great photos, fishies, and company, thanks for the write up!

RiverRat's picture

I gotta say you guys have a way with the fish. A way with the camera. A way with the written word. Always a good read with how you bring such an epic experience to life. Congrats on the lifers and obtaining some great memories. 

Moose439's picture

That's out of control you guys, the variety of fish is amazing. Those lake trout are unreal, like they don't look real, but I know they are.



D.T.'s picture

In so many ways. I can't even describe how awesome that trip musta been. You did though. Very good reading and the pics are just killer. So cool. I'll say it also, Thanks for sharing. Someday.....I would love it to be able to experience that. Except for the getting sick part.

Hengelaar's picture

Such vast and copious amounts of rad, that words fail me. As they have done before, and will no boubt do again, but never yet so profoundly as now.


Holy shitsticks, dudes.


Fishn sure is neat

spazz's picture

Ok after reading your East journey I realized its been far too long since I've been out there & booked my trip mind you I'll be land locked in NS & now I hear that my "brother" , his eldest is engaged to a local NWT gent, I'm hoping for a destination wedding!!

I don't know you gents but you guys rock!!! Thanks for the inspiration

drawer.bli's picture

Words cannot describe how jealous I am right now. And those are some monster lake trout!

andy's picture

I just re-read this story, and all I can say is WOW again!  Such beautiful fish, and such beautiful photos...