Inuvik Pike by the Midnight sun
In advance of Maestro and I heading to Inuvik NWT for a conference on boom and bust northern community economies, I gave a call to a mutual friend who works at the Inuvik office at the department of fisheries, Wade Norman. We agreed that I would join him for some midnight sun fishing – the sun never actually sets for two full months in Inuvik (coming within 20 degrees of the horizon for about three hours each evening).
Saturday June 21 is not only Summer solstice, (longest day of the year), but is also National Aboriginal Day”. There were a number of celebrations taking place within Inuvik which presented an excellent opportunity to experience Inuvialuit culture first-hand.
Saturday night came and Wade pulled up in front of my hotel with boat in tow. We had a five minute drive to the launch, and another 1.5 hours by boat that would take us down one of the McKenzie’s minor channels, across Big Lake, down another channel and over another lake, up a 3rd channel and then our destination which was a small river that drained a nearby lake.
The McKenzie delta itself is over 100 km wide and 140 km long, making it the second largest fresh water delta in North America – second only to the Mississippi. There are three main channels, thousands of secondary channels and numerous islands – many of which have lakes themselves. The water of the McKenzie is chocolate brown throughout the open water season, but crystal clear during the winter.
Wade moved to Inuvik from Ontario with his young wife the year previous and is an avid outdoorsman. He said the Pike in the clear-water rivers that feed the McKenzie are numerous and can be caught on just about anything, including pop cans. The weekend previous, Wade also managed to catch 11 Coney at the spot where we were headed; a species related to the White Fish which reach sizes upwards of 60lbs.
Upon arriving at the clear-water river, Wade pushed the nose of his boat up onto the bank just inches downstream of the mostly submerged beaver dam. I moved to the back of the boat and began chucking my silver spoon into an 8-foot deep pool where the Coney had been caught the weekend previous. Wade cast his spoon up and over the dam.
On Wade’s first cast he tied into something really huge that quickly stripped over 200 feet of line from his reel, turned the corner in the river up-stream and then shook off his barbless spoon. On his second cast Wade tied into another brute that we managed to get into the boat after about 20 minutes of action – much of it taking place beside the boat and which involved my use of his landing net.
Wade’s next cast tied him into another monster Pike that once again, battled our efforts boat-side leaving us both wet and ecstatic.
I suggested to Wade that since the Coney didn’t seem to be biting, that maybe I could give the pool up-stream a shot? We changed places, and I immediately tied into a six-pounder
Several casts later I was executing a figure eight with my spoon just up from the Beaver dam when my lure stopped moving. No obvious strike, just a solid feeling as if the lure had suddenly attached itself to a log. And then it started.
My rod bent over and the reel began to relinquish line with an increasingly shrill wine. Wade looked over just in time to see the fish flash its tail. After about five minutes of the fish continuously taking line, he cautioned that I try to stop the fish from going past the turn in the river about 50 yards up-stream. I tightened down the rear drag on my Shimano Spirex 4000, and to my relief the fish turned back just prior to the bend.
My challenge was to now prevent the fish from swimming under a particularly large log located at the bottom of the pool. I dropped my rod tip and by exerting pressure in the opposite direction of the log, I managed to spur the fish into another up-stream run. By now I had my drag tightened down to the point where the 40lb PowerPro braid was literally zinging through the metal guides of my 28-year old Fenwick 2-piece medium-heavy spinning rod. The fish seemed even more frustrated now and I thought for sure this time it would make the bend in the river, but once again I turned it back just in time.
After working the fish away from the semi-submerged log for the second time, it shot back up the river on its third tare — still without having offered up a glimpse of its size. Again, I managed to turn the fish prior to the bend in the river, and back down it came. The entire process was repeated for a fourth time without the fish showing any signs of fatigue.
On the fifth run I was able to turn the fish well short of the bend. It was finally tiring, and with some careful manoeuvring I managed to bring the fish to the boat where Wade established visual contact for the first time. I heard him say in awe, “it’s a huge Pike”.
I carefully worked the fish up to the boat and Wade, I’m not sure how, scooped the fish into the boat using, what seemed to me, a seriously under-sized landing net. Never-the-less, it was in the boat and I was ecstatic.
Using pliers Wade extracted my Northam spoon from the fish’s jaws, and placed the fish on the scale – 26 pounds. We then exchanged positions in the boat and I grasped the fish by the tail with one hand and began to tentatively slide my other hand up its body towards its head. I had never before caught or even held such a large Pike in my life. I lifted the fish with considerable trepidation fearing that, with one mighty flick of the tail, the fish would leap from my grasp and either beat itself to death inside the boat or, just as bad, leap to freedom. No worries for me however, as the fish’s five powerful runs seemed to have drained it of much of its reserves.
Wade snapped a couple quick picks, and then I handed the fish to wade to apply some resuscitation. He worked the fish in the current for what must have been five minutes before its tail thrusts were significantly vigorous to warrant its release.
My new personal best and a fight that I will remember for the rest of my life. It was the biggest caught that night, but there were plenty of others that came close. I don’t think we caught a single fish under 3lbs, with equal numbers between 5-10 lbs and the mid-teens.
What made fishing this beaver pond even more thrilling was the fish’s determination to catch our lures. On almost every cast a fish would follow the lure up to the edge of the dam, and it would only take a little pause and flick to provoke their strike – the larger of which would simply grasp the lure in their mouth and begin, calmly at first, to swim away with their prize.
At one point the owner of the pond, the Beaver itself came along to investigate. One can only imagine the courage that Beaver demonstrated by swimming in that pond –I Wouldn’t even consider washing my hands in it –thank goodness for disposable baby wipes. After the Beaver witnessed what was taking place, it gave a tremendous whack of its tail on the water, and left the seen.
By midnight it seemed that most of the larger fish had moved on. We decided to begin our run back with the view of stopping at a number of other fresh-water rivers Wade had marked on his new GPS chart-plotter on the way in.
The first river we came to proved to be dry about 100-feet up stream, and the second river produced only one Pike within the first ten casts, so we kept pushing on. The third and final river we came across was quite narrow leaving just enough room for Wade to paddle the boat up-river about 30 feet. He suggested I fish off the back, where there were less over-hanging branches and the river was wider, and he would fish off the bow. On each of our first casts, more like lobs, we both tied into Pike. Once again, Wade operated with the pliers, and, again, we both cast out and again both tied into Pike. After freeing these two seven-plus pounders, we decided to call it a night.
Wade was concerned that we had come close to filling our limit with injured Pike, and he didn’t want to take the chance of going over if two more seriously hooked fish came aboard. So far, we had managed to release all of the 10lb+ Pike un-hurt, but we did collect a number of 5-10 pounders that had been maimed.
It turned out our stringer had 7 Pike. The smallest Pike caught that evening had been about 3lbs.
You often hear about remote northern fishing lakes and rivers that hold abundant numbers of large hungry fish that can be caught on bare hooks. I think it’s the dream of every fisher to one day fish in such a place. Whether my good fortune was due to the ice having only gone out on the lakes 10-days prior, or to the week of great weather, or simply Wade’s knowledge of the water, it’s hard to say, but I can now claim to have fished one of these bodies of water that dreams are made of.
My Inuvik adventure included getting to hear a flock of 60+Trumpeter Swans lifting off from the water, getting burned under the midnight sun, having Maestro teased by Ravens, witnessing a Lynx swim across from one island to another, observing a Horned Owl beat a hasty retreat from it’s perch on a felled tree, eat freshly prepared White Fish over an open fire, stand at the grave of the “Mad Trapper” [Albert Johnson], catch up with an old friend, Donald Kaglic, (Inuvik’s blind Dene story teller), cross the McKenzie Delta from East to West and back again by boat and by small plane, and learn first-hand how northern communities might manage the economic booms and busts to which they are so often subjected.
While attending the conference we participated in several tours of Inuvik and neighbouring communities organized by Kyle Kisoun Taylor, owner of Up-North Tours (www.upnorthtours.ca). Kyle and I snuck off for a quick lunch-time fish on a near-by lake with his Husky Inuk, during which we managed to boat about 30 decent Pike in about just as many minutes. Kyle assured me that if and when I come back to Inuvik he would be more than pleased to arrange for me to get to the Husky Lake area for some Lake Trout fishing.