The Yukon Territory Part 1 - A Lake Trout Expedition
Posted on 12 February 2020
In the days leading up to our expedition I tried to picture what the Yukon held in store. Nothing that I had imagined was even close to the beauty that is the Yukon Territory. This area of the world holds so many wonders that on any given day you cannot possibly absorb everything around you. The landscapes are breathtaking, the air is clean and within all of this runs river and lake systems teeming with fish. This is the fly-fisherman’s paradise of the freshwater north, and should be considered what the Seychelle Islands are to saltwater, a Mecca to which all fisherman dream of facing.
Base of operations for our expedition was the town of Whitehorse. Whitehorse provides the perfect combination of wild and civility for our journey. The town is situated on the banks of the Yukon River and is within a two-hour striking distance to more rivers and lakes than we could possibly fish in fourteen days. The junction of the Alaska Highway North and West is just a few kilometers from town; this convergence yields access to some of the purist most untouched waters anywhere.
We went to the Yukon armed with rods from two to nine weight; primed to catch many trout, grayling and if we were lucky giant Pike and Lake Trout. The Pike in the Yukon are huge and the Lake Trout are hardly ever caught on a fly because they prowl such deep waters. Packed to the gills with warm clothing and an abundance of flies, we went in arrogant in our abilities and ready for all of the challenges that this untouched territory held in store.
Our plan was to attack the rivers and creeks on our own and then to charter a boat with a local captain to fish the great lakes of Northern Canada. Numerous times before departing, I had questioned our guide about the fly-fishing opportunities on the local waters. We had unanimously decided to dedicate ourselves to the fly, despite the fact that it had rarely been done under his charge. Obstacles this September would be the wind, cold and the deep churning currents of the lakes, easy to troll yet almost impenetrable with a fly line.
As it so often happens on trips like this everything did not go as planned. Having only two days of fourteen to work the lakes, we had to commit ourselves to a definitive plan. It was decided to spend the first day hunting for Lake Trout and the second day pursuing large Pike in shallow water. These ideals were yeoman’s tasks in themselves and we went in thinking we could succeed on both fronts.
Time was of the essence. We all felt a certain amount of pressure that first day as we left the slip. I looked over the boat rail as we motored into a stiff wind thinking that perhaps we had undertaken an impossible task. The wind was howling and the usually flat calm lake was choppy and belligerent. I felt all of my surety from the previous day being sapped away as the depth finder hit 900 feet. We had all fished in many places and environments and understood that our fly gear had certain inadequacies. I had been in similar situations before, where you know the fish are feeding but are just out of reach.
Despite thoughts of failure, our twin Suzuki outboards droned on as the Carolina Skiff continued moving in the vast unknown. After an hour of downwind motoring aided by 15 knots of breeze the fish finder chirped to life. We had found fish in water shallower than twenty-five feet and grinded to a halt in the three-foot swells. The only chance would be to attempt a down wind drift with a sinking line and a very short leader. This first morning on the lake we learned the weaknesses of our fly gear. In these conditions we could not get down to the feeding Lake Trout.
The plan devised by our guide was to find fish in shallower water on the leeward side of one of the lakes islands. This would offer some protection and the ability to hold the boat in position, consequently giving the line and fly time to sink into the feeding zone. Pulling into the first cove and seeing bottom in twenty-five feet was motivational. The rugged hard day seemed to soften. We were finally able to make casts and wait the thirty seconds for the fly to sink before retrieving. Before long our tactics had proved correct. We quickly hooked up to a fish in the twenty-pound range, which was fat from eating grayling. We hypothesized that this fish had been feasting on baby grayling that live at the river mouth. Six hours had been spent to catch this fish and we had finally gotten the message. We were leaving the lake to wade the river mouth to catch these fish on foot. Catching these fish while wading had been my ideal goal from the start. The boat, although very efficient, takes away a large part of the experience. Fishing on foot requires a certain level of commitment from the angler and also pays the angler back with the ultimate sense of accomplishment.
The water at the river mouth was so incredibly clear that finding the deep-water channel was effortless. We all stood atop a steep decline to the rocky-river bed, looking at the deep convergence of lake and river. With much anticipation we descended the steep sandy bank. Visions of giant Lake Trout filled our minds as we entered onto a small stone beach that borders the river. The deep-water drop off was very close and dark that evening, holding within it’s depths hope and promise….
This is part I of a four part series written by: