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Great Bear Lake sits in the northwestern section of Canada’s Northwest Territories, with its upper arm lying above the Arctic Circle. It is the fourth largest lake in North America, after three of the Great Lakes, and it is one of the few northern Canada lakes with a good fishery that has never suffered the scourge of commercial fishing. Great Bear is very deep, very cold and pristinely clear. It contains grayling, northern pike and the largest lake trout in the world. Arctic char are available in nearby Arctic Ocean tributaries, which are a couple of hours by bush plane to the north.
I recently made a trip to Great Bear Lake to check out the fishing and the only operator here, Plummer’s Lodges (*). They have dominated the lodge-fishing business here ever since they established the first lodge on the lake in the 1940’s. Other lodges have come and gone since then, but Plummer’s has outlasted them all. They currently have three lodges on the lake (see below), offering a variety of services.
Northern Canada is still widely viewed as a place where limit-seeking hardware fishermen reign supreme, and it is true that the largest lake trout are still taken with trolled lures. Nowadays, however, Plummer’s Lodges enforce a strict catch-and-release policy and they are increasingly catering for fly and light tackle fishermen. Make no mistake, all of Great Bear’s species are indeed catchable on flies and light tackle. One reason is, the water in Great Bear doesn’t turn over as it does in most lakes to the south. Consequently, its lake trout normally stay in the top 50 feet of water. They consistently feed in shallower water near the shoreline and along shallow reefs. A surprising number of lakers weighing from one to 10 pounds actually feed extensively on surface insects.
As for the lake’s grayling, northern pike and whitefish, they tend to stay in the top 10 feet of water. Grayling are also found in some of the swift-flowing inlets of Great Bear and along shallow, rocky, south-facing bays of the lake. The numerous grayling come in at 19-plus inches and are great fighters; plus, they take almost any fly thrown in front of them. As elsewhere, Great Bear northern pike occur along shallow, weedy bays and stream mouths. We ran into some great action for pike in the one to seven-pound category using deer-hair Megadiver dries.
Plummer’s also runs a DC-3 shuttle to the Tree River, an Arctic Ocean tributary that contains the largest Arctic char in the world. We were able to coax char to hit a white, sinking, three-inch-long streamer by stripping it across the break-line from swift water to back eddies.
When trekking to Great Bear, it’s advisable to take a variety of gear. Fly anglers in search of lakers should bring an eight-weight or nine-weight rod at least nine feet long with weight-forward, full-sinking line and eight to 16-pound test tippets with large, sinking, streamer-like flies. Our greatest success came when we cast into the wind toward shore and shallow shoals, then let the rigging sink for several seconds. We used a slow retrieve with short strips.
If you want to target top-feeding lakers, be aware that Great Bear has a recurring hatch of tiny (18 to 20) caddis flies. Four to five-weight rods and various dry flies will work for these top feeders. The same equipment will work for grayling, so taking lighter equipment makes sense.
Light tackle anglers should bring white jigs (for lake trout and char), spoons (for lake trout), Mepps spinners in size #0 to #2 plus rubber-tailed jigs and half-inch spoons (for grayling) and buzz baits, spinnerbaits and larger spoons (for pike). Line weights from six-pound-test up to 15-pound-test are appropriate, depending on the level of challenge you want. Be sure the lures you bring are appropriate for the line you want to use.
A one-week stay with Plummer’s is $3,295 (US). That’s the all-inclusive cost to fish for a week at any one of the three lodges currently open for busines