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Lunker Lakers Near the Circle  at Cabela's

Lunker Lakers Near the Circle

Author: Frank Ross

When it comes to fishing for lake trout, an angler would be hard pressed to find better action than that which exists near Canada's Arctic Circle. In this barren and formidable environment, awash in pristine lakes and streams, life is on an exaggerated schedule with feeding cycles compressed into a season of soft water that is measured in weeks.

Lake trout run big in Canada's Northwest Territories.

This year, the ice finally melted in mid July. Bugs started to hatch, collecting on the surface, and every species that prowls these crystal clear waters began to gorge themselves to recover from a long winter and prepare for the next -only a few months away. After 45 days of relatively warm weather, Aylmer Lake had a surface temperature of only 53 degrees. Below the surface, temperatures drop dramatically. In the darker regions of its 100 foot-plus depth, the temperature hovers just above freezing.

During winter, the lake freezes to a depth of five feet or more and every water-bound species slows down to a pace that consumes as little body fat as possible. For fish, the spring thaw is like busting out of a fat farm where celery sticks are the main fair, and standing before a giant buffet table filled with delectable entrees and deserts piled high with whipped cream. When the dinner bell rings, they gorge themselves and understandably it doesn't take a master's touch to turn a strike.

On a recent trip to Aylmer Lake Lodge, just a few miles south of the Arctic Circle, in Canada's Northwest Territories, I was treated to rod bending action that far exceeded my expectations and the billing. I've fished in a lot of places, some of the top spots in North America, and with only a few exceptions the fishing fell short of billing. "You should have been here last week, we were stacking them up like cord wood," is a phrase that has been uttered more times than I care to recall. Its utterance casts a pall on the proceedings like lifting a bride's veil and seeing a grinning face with four missing teeth.

This time there were no excuses because none were necessary. This part of the world is almost untouched by man and the action was just short of fish jumping into the boat. Most importantly, this isn't a downrigger fishery. Big trout can be caught by sight casting, trolling just below the surface or even fly-fishing. When your arms get so tired that you sit down and stare at the horizon, you know that what you are experiencing is beyond special. Such was the sum of my days spent plying the waters of Aylmer Lake. To be sure, the fish weren't everywhere, but I had an exceptional guide who knew exactly where to find fish, and more importantly big fish.

This trip can be taken as a package deal with caribou, or booked as a fishing only expedition through Cabela's Outdoor Adventures and I had opted for the caribou/fishing combination. After catching a floatplane from Yellowknife, seven days of blissful adventures evaporated all too quickly. Wanting to get my caribou first, I spent the first day spotting and stalking big bulls. Mid-day during this action, the wind that had blown hard the previous day, dropped to less than a whisper and the lake flattened out to a mirror. As we made our way across the vast, open expanse of the main lake, trout were working the surface. My guide, Greg Rebane, asked if I wanted to catch one. Since we were in the middle of the lake and no bulls were in sight, I thought why not. They were feeding and I was certainly willing!

Lake trout feed on everything that moves on or below the surface, including smaller versions of their own kind. At this particular moment, they were hitting black flies that had landed on the surface. If you've ever been bitten by a black fly, you'll agree that a better end could not have befallen this vermin. I was temporarily without weapons, since I had not planned on fishing this day, but Greg is never without a rod. Within easy grasp he had a wide array of large spoons and his trusty spinning rig which he passed to my grateful hands.

It didn't take long to nail my first laker.

The large Dardevle spoon created a graceful arc of 12-pound test line and a decided thunk as it met the glasslike surface. I retrieved the spoon slowly with great anticipation, then threw it again when no fish rose to its metallic flash and rhythmic wobble. The second cast was directed a few feet beyond a swirl and I slowed my retrieve even more. I was admiring the lure's erratic movement in the crystal clear water, when a flash of white darted from the dark blue depths and inhaled my offering. These fish are fighters to the finish, but I soon had this one alongside our boat. Hefting it from the water, I guessed its weight at somewhere around six or eight pounds, and remarked to my guide, "that was almost too easy."

The call of caribou urged me onward, and I handed the rod back to Greg. We spent the remainder of the day looking for bulls and glancing wistfully at surfacing trout. The temptation was almost too much to bear. The following day was overcast with spitting rainsqualls racing across the lake. It seemed like a day more appropriate for fishing than hunting, so I put my rifle in the boat, just in case, and gathered my fishing tackle.

Before leaving on this trip I stopped by the fishing department to visit with Cabela's specialists. We discussed the lake's characteristics, areas where I expected fish to be holding, baits to use and the size of my intended quarry. Following their recommendations, I brought a variety of rods and reels including spinning, and casting to field test. Just for fun, I threw in a 10-wt. fly rod for trout and a 4-piece 4-wt. for grayling.

The combination that was slated for big trout was Cabela's Fish Eagle Tournament II plus TP3000 reel that I was dying to try. It was matched with the Fish Eagle II GS705 two-piece, 7-foot spinning rod. Now that combination might sound a little on the beefy side, but I was going to target big fish in the 30-pound class. Little did I know at the time, but the fish I would catch would test my tackle beyond all reasonable stress levels.

When we set out that morning the wind was back at it, and yesterday's placid waters were a thing of the past. With the occasional whitecap whipping the lake into froth, spotting surface fish was out of the question. As we were headed for an area called Horseshoe Island, I was torn between sweeping the shoreline for caribou and the anxious anticipation of catching more big trout.

Guide Greg Rebane releases another nice trout.

With the wind peaking at 15-20 mph using the fly rod was something I didn't relish, so we pulled up along the rock-strewn shoreline and started to slowly troll large spoons about 30 yards behind the boat. Since there was only two of us in the boat, Greg took a break from his guiding duties and wet a line. Hooking his rod around his arm, he held it firmly with his right hand while he controlled the outboard motor with his left. In less than 10 minutes he grunted, killed the motor and as I glanced over I could see his rod bent severely. After releasing a fat trout, pushing 12 pounds, we resumed our trolling. Minutes later he did it again. While he wound steadily against the reluctant brawler, he let me in on the secret. "I'm letting out less line than you are, and picking up the trout that we're passing over sooner than you," he advised.

That was and easy adjustment to make, but it wasn't necessary at the moment. I was into another fish using an orange Cabela's Five of Diamonds spoon. This is a catch and release fishery, but we were allowed to keep a couple for a special dinner, and soon we had three in the five to six-pound class on a stringer. "These fish grow very slowly. The really big fish are ancient, so we're very protective of the fishery," he said.

Greg's biology lesson was interrupted when I hauled back on what felt like a good-sized fish that turned out to be similar to the 12-pounder that Greg had just caught. Although this was fun, we weren't finding the big fish that I was looking for. After releasing the fish we headed for another area where he thought the big fish might be staging for their fall spawn. "I don't know if they're up in the shallow rock areas around the river mouths and points yet, but I've got an area where the big fish congregate. It will only take us a few minutes to get there," he shouted above the wind and whining outboard.

As he dropped the boat down off of plane, I was rummaging through my fishing box for a special lure I'd brought. I'm a believer in the theory that big lures catch big fish. While the trout were certainly active and more than willing to take the spoons we were throwing, we were catching a smaller class of fish. "What have you got there?" Greg asked with a note of skepticism in his voice. "This is a Castaic soft bait, in their trout pattern," I replied. "Ever seen one before?" "No," he said, with a tone that implied he would stick with his Dardevles.

Cabela's Fish Eagle Tournament II combo and Castaic's soft plastic swimming trout did the trick.

We began our first run through a rocky area between shore and an island that narrowed gradually. Looking down into the water, I could see large boulders in the depths below. "These trout like to spawn in rocky areas, and their eggs lay dormant over the winter and hatch in the spring," he said. "Around this time of year the big females begin to stage for the spawn and anxious males are waiting in the wings."

Lowering my lure into the water, I watched as its tail wobbled violently. "That tail should send out some good vibrations," I said, letting it drop back into the boat's wake. It hadn't been in the water but a few minutes when Greg jerked hard on his rod and seconds later my rod bent double. "Whoa, this one feels like a boulder but it's leaving too fast to be a rock," I said.

Greg quickly killed the motor as we both fought our own leg of the daily double. Fifteen minutes later Greg was able to horse a monster to the side of the boat. "I'll get this one in the cradle net and then give you a hand with yours," he said, straining against the weight of his fish. "How much do you think that one will weigh," I asked. "Somewhere between 25 and 30," he replied. "I'll measure it in a minute, but right now let's get yours in."

That was a task that was proving to be difficult. I briefly caught a glimpse of my Titan's tail but at the same time it caught a glimpse of our boat and wasn't having any part of it. I had spent the better part of a half-hour working it close and now the drag was singing. I adjusted the drag several times; looking for the exact setting that would give me maximum pull without breaking a line that was singing like a string on a Stradivarius.

Again and again I recovered line only to have it taken from me through the eyes of a severely bent rod. Wow, I thought, for a two piece rod, this Fish Eagle is really taking a strain without complaint. It's designed for fish up to 30 pounds, but I was beginning to feel very strongly that the denizen I was battling against was a lot bigger than that. The fish was pulling us into the wind and dragging the boat with its considerable strength.

When it broke the surface my heart moved up into my throat.

Finally, as the muscle in my right arm was beginning to cramp, I got the best of this fish. As it drew reluctantly closer to the surface it turned and showed us its full length. "Oh, man, what a fish," I shouted. During the battle I had teased Greg that my fish was bigger than his, but I had no idea that it was twice as big. Grabbing the cradle net that held his beauty; Greg quickly released his fish and readied the net for a trout that was beyond my wildest expectations.

I gently negotiated it toward its temporary birth and breathed a deep sigh of relief when it was finally contained in the cradle net. I dropped down on the seat cushion somewhat dazed by what had just taken place. I was hoping for a 30-pound fish, but this one was huge.

While Greg grabbed his tape, I held one end of the net. "Ok, 48 inches on the length. Nice fish, real nice fish. The girth is 28 inches, and I held it a little tight he said. We'll check the chart when we get back. Let's get a few quick pictures and get her back in the water," he said.

To make sure that the fish wasn't dropped, I sat down in the front seat and Greg hefted the net and sat it on the floor in front of me. With considerable effort he handed the fish to me and I tried to raise it up in the air. My arms were weakened from our long battle and I couldn't manage to get it off of my knees. Unfortunately, with its huge belly compressed against my knees, the fish isn't as impressive and it was in real life. A couple of quick shots and we lowered her back into the water. She said goodbye with a mighty swish of her big tail. "She's in good shape," he said. "Let's catch another one."

We regained control of the boat and ran back up the lake for another troll through the area and I dropped my lure back into the water. In less than 100 yards I shouted "fish on" and was once again doing battle. This fish was decidedly smaller and the Tournament II made short work of it. Looking down into the water, we quickly determined that this one was around 20 pounds. "You want a picture of this one?" "No, too small, turn it loose," I replied, somewhat amazed at calling a 20 pound fish too small.

Taking a break for lunch seemed like a good idea. After we finished our sandwiches, we quenched our thirst with a deep cold drink of lake water. It's that pure and clear!

"What now?" Greg asked. "You want to catch some more trout?" I pondered the question for a moment and rubbed my sore biceps. "Why don't we cruise the shore and see what the caribou are doing? The weather is improving, and we might stumble into one." With a quick pull the Merc was humming and we made a quick transition from rods to rifle. We spotted a few bulls but none of the class I was looking for, and returned to camp anxious to refer to the chart that would tell us the weight of my trophy.

Unfortunately, I couldn't lift this beauty off of my knees and the picture just doesn't do it justice.

I was storing my gear in the cabin when Greg came out of the door to the lodge. "What would you say if I told you that fish was well over 30 pounds. "Great," I said, having no idea what it would weigh. "How about if I told you it was over 40?" he said, toying with me. "Well, that would be even better," I replied. "According to the charts it was 48 pounds, but that doesn't account for the spawn and she had a lot more than two pounds of eggs in her. You'd be very safe to say it was at least 50 pounds." I was stunned and very thankful that I had quality gear with me.

The next two days were spent glassing more impressive bulls, then I finally took my shot on Wednesday afternoon. That business complete, I was anxious to get back to trout and prove that catching big fish on my lure wasn't a fluke. On Thursday morning we returned to the same area where I had caught the 50 pounder.

I dropped my lure in the water and paid out of few yards of line, then set myself in a comfortable position, expecting to put in some time before anything happened. We'd gone about 200 yards when I was wailing on another monster. Greg grinned as he readied the net, confident that this too was going to be a photo worthy fish. Neither he nor I was disappointed as another bruiser came alongside our boat. Almost in disbelief I sat down to pose with the second of two fish that most people will fish for all their life without drinking from the cup. This time I was able to lift the fish, so I knew it was less than the previous, but still impressive none the less. The tale of the tape revealed a 41-inch length and 27-inch girth. With the two-pound adjustment for spawn, this one was 39 pounds +. "Unbelievable, what a fishery you have here," I said.

"We've got a lot of quality fish, but lots of guys fish this lake hard and don't catch a fish close to the two you've caught. We've got one guy that has been up here four times and hasn't caught one over 30 yet. He's caught a bunch of 27s and 28s, but can't seem to crack that 30-pound barrier. He's coming in next week. When I tell him you've caught two he'll be fired up." "I'll leave this lure with you, and you can let him try it," I said. The lure was starting to show some wear so I reluctantly laid it aside. "Let's go try some grayling, I'm dying to try out the 4-wt. fly rod that I brought," I said.

We laid into the grayling, and I had a great time catching one 18- to 20-inch grayling after another, but that's another story.

A week after I returned home, I checked with Gregg Severinson of Cabela's Outdoor Adventures, who books this trip. I was anxious to find out if my lure had brought Gregg's other client the luck I'd experienced. "Oh, yea. I talked with him yesterday. He caught a 34 and a 37. He's real happy. What lure did you give him anyway?"

I sat down and the fish stories started to flow. Severinson has been up to this lodge several times, and caught many fish over 30, but any fisherman worth his salt wants another lure. I guided him through our on-line store and showed him the Castaic killer bait. Not one to be outdone, I'm betting that on his next trip several will be in his tackle box.

For information on this amazing trip to fishing heaven, call Gregg Severinson at 1-800-346-8747 to check it out on-line.






Author Frank Ross
Frank Ross grew up on a lake in Florida, where fishing and hunting were second nature. He has pursued his passion from the jungles of South America to the northern reaches of the Arctic Circle and most points in between. With a background in newspapers, the wire services and magazines that began in 1970, Frank brings a unique perspective to his work with Cabela's. He is an award-winning photographer with a flair for getting to the bottom line of every story.







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