by Mark Feldberg
First published June 1, 2013
For those anglers just arriving to Yellowknife, welcome! For those of you residing here and itching to catch fish, I have some tips, techniques and a few “go to” spots that are going to increase your chance of angling success. Before we get into the good stuff, I should include a little background of how I arrived here, why I fish, and a few credentials.
I started fishing long before I remember. My father was an avid angler and I spent much of my adolescence beside him fishing fresh and salt waters in the U.K. I also had the pleasure of fishing with my Uncle Terry, who was a competitive angler and one of the best anglers I have known to this day.
After immigrating to Canada, I fished lakes and rivers west of Edmonton with my father, grandfather and great uncle. With their combined knowledge, experience and dedication to the sport, I was able to catch many different species of fish in various conditions with considerable success.
I found myself fishing every opportunity I had. Fishing after work and on weekends was just not enough, so I pursued a career in fisheries and worked as a fisheries technician for the Alberta Government. I was employed to catch fish and interview anglers during the summers in lakes throughout Alberta. I had to collect samples and record catch rates in an effort to help manage a collapsing fishery. In between contracts, I travelled and fished in Europe, Australia, Asia, Mexico and the U.S. Each country offered a new species and a new technique. Life was good!
For the past 12 years, I have resided in Yellowknife continuing my employment in fisheries within the private industry, consulting, guiding, and currently owning my own business in the commercial fishing industry. One of the main reasons I chose to stay in Yellowknife was simply the world-class fishing opportunities in the surrounding waters. The fish are big and there are lots of them! Living in the north has also provided me the opportunity to fish with some great anglers. Terence Courtoreille, Art Barnes, Mack Stark and Darin Benoit are national and international fly-fishing competitors who have inspired me to evolve as an angler to where I now compete on a national level.
So, for the novice angler, near-novice, or those who have never had the pleasure, learning to fish is the easy part. Catching fish is when the challenge begins. Most people think that fishing requires luck, and yes luck can never hurt. However, you can improve upon that “luck” by following a few techniques honing in on some of the intricacies of our northern lakes and the magnificent species that thrive here.
Yellowknife and the surrounding area are very unique in that they have an abundance of water, varying habitats, conditions and species. Fishing here can be a very daunting and confusing enterprise, even for the experienced angler. Our goal is to focus on the basics, get you started and hopefully help in landing your first northern fish. If you have already been fortunate, then read on to improve your success!
• License – Visitors Centre: $10 resident, $20 non-resident (excellent deal and quite possibly the most inexpensive fishing license in the world!)
• Rod (medium action), reel, line (10lb min)• Lures (Five of Diamonds is a great start and will catch most species), spinners (Panther Martin, Mepps), jigs with rubber tails (yellow )• Needle-nose pliers, wire leaders (if fishing for pike)• Bug protection – repellent, jackets or hats• Good footwear• Clothing – layers (wool will be your best friend — over a billion sheep can’t be wrong), rain gear• Sunglasses or protective eye wear (hooking one’s self or a friend is a painful experience; just imagine one in the eye!)• PATIENCE
Species of fish and tips for success:
• Lake Trout:
• Summer – Fish are typically 20 feet and deeper as water warms. Less success fishing from shore. In a boat use downrigger with plugs, spoons or ciscoes. Vertical jigging works great if you can find numbers of fish holding.• Northern Pike:• Most common sport fish and relatively easy to catch due to their aggressive nature and broad range of habitat.• Summer – focus on weed lines, creek mouths, points and drop offs. Bigger fish will be deeper as the water warms.• Walleye (AKA Pickerel):• One of the more sought-after game fish due to their excellent table fare.• Summer – Walleye will be found deeper, but will move into shallows and feed at night or in overcast conditions. During the day, fish with bottom-bouncers with a worm harness tipped with minnows or leeches. This is a great technique for locating fish. Walleye are typically concentrated, so once you are onto a few fish, anchor and jig off the bottom. Bait fish are walleyes main forage. Tipping jigs with a minnow will increase your success.
Local “hot spots”
These areas are easy to access and are within city limits. Also, it’s totally legal to fish at a lake in town, as long as you have a valid license. There are many areas to fish from shore and most have boat-launch access.
• Kam Lake – Pike, Walleye, Whitefish
• Grace Lake – Pike, Walleye, Whitefish• Jackfish Lake – Pike, Whitefish• Yellowknife River – Pike, Whitefish, Walleye, Inconnu, Trout/Grayling in upper reaches (Tartan Rapids)• Great Slave Lake (Back Bay – Gov’t dock) – Pike, Walleye, Grayling• Long Lake – Pike, Whitefish
For those with more time and a fishing budget, there are various outfitters and guides in town. Two you won’t be disappointed with are Yellowknife Outdoor Adventures, owned and operated by Carlos Gonzalez, for some serious pike fishing on Great Slave Lake and Greg Robertson’s Blue Fish Charters. If you are looking for a custom fishing trip in style, check out Yellowknife Open Water Charters Inc. with Peter Palmes. He offers float-plane fishing trips for the day in Cessna 185s . Not only is he a great host, he’ll put you on some big fish!
Points to consider: weather, time of year, time of day, water temp, habitat type.
Yellowknife and area is situated on Precambrian Shield, which provides us with some serious challenges as anglers. As a result of the cold water for much of the year and bare rock for a lake bed, it limits productivity of plant growth, aquatic invertebrates, bait fish and, in turn, sport fish. There are large areas of water that simply do not hold fish. In northern waters, 90 per cent of the fish are found in 10 per cent of the water. A big part of your success will be keying in on suitable habitat where fish are going to be found. Success lies in fishing productive water with the correct presentation.
Regulations and ethical angling:
Pack it in – pack it out – there is nothing worse than fishing in pristine waters only to find cigarette butts on the shore or beer cans at the bottom of the lake. Take everything you bring in the boat back home with you.
Be mindful – big fish breed and pass on their “big fish” genetics. Take a picture and give others the opportunity to catch a trophy.
Know your limits – Northern lakes are very sensitive systems and daily catch limits are there for a reason. The fish are slow growing; they mature later and are easily affected by overharvest. Enjoy a fresh shore lunch, by all means, but there is no need to fill your freezer.
Barbless – the NWT has a barbless-hook regulation. This is designed to reduce handling time so the fish can be released as quickly as possible.
Most of the fish found in northern waters are all excellent however you choose to prepare them. The most important factors to consider when eating fish are to make sure they are kept fresh and not overcooked. If your fish smells or tastes “fishy” it may be too late.
• Lake trout are excellent cooked whole on the bbq or baked in the oven. Wrap them in foil, stuff them with your favorite filling and have a party.• Pike and walleye are great pan-fried. Keep it simple; salt and pepper dusted with a little flour and cooked in butter and oil and you won’t be disappointed.• Deep-frying any fish is always good… what food isn’t? Always remember to make sure the oil is hot and a wet-dry-wet formula (example egg-flour-milk) when battering your fish for the best results.• To impress your guests, try preparing some ceviche. Any white-fleshed fish (pike, walleye, whitefish) is excellent when prepared in this manner and recipes can be easily found online.• Inconnu is an oily fish and can be overwhelming for some. The best way to prepare it is by poaching or smoking, though it’s also excellent in curries and chowders.