“Our plans to spend several days camping were on hold, because our original choice of location was completely iced in
So what choices did we have? Make the best of it around the lodge? Attempt to set up camp on the North shore of the lake or - and this was a long shot – fly 100 kilometers south east of the lodge to Deerpass Bay, or Narre ella as it is known to the Sahtu Dene – the people of Great Bear Lake…”
Each year it seems to be much the same. We plan, we speculate, we wait, we worry and then we arrive. You would think that after all our years of fishing Great Bear Lake we would have figured out that on the “Bear,” if you come to expect the unexpected, you will rarely, if ever be disappointed.
Normalcy or routine has no place here.
This year winter was to linger well on into the summer, and ice enveloped the majority of the lakes’ 12,000 square mile surface throughout most of July and August. The folks who are concerned with global warming should have spent the week with us, as it may have given them pause to reflect on their assumptions and calculations.
A small group of friends and I have been fishing Great Bear for over thirty years, and what keeps bringing us back year after year is the opportunity to camp on the land, to explore, and with sincere apologies to Gene Rodenberry, to fish where no man has fished before. There are very few places where you have the opportunity to be “first,” and Great Bear Lake is one of the few, and one of the last.
Our plans to spend several days camping were on hold, because our original choice of location was completely iced in. Perhaps what I should have said was that we plan, we speculate, we wait, we worry, we arrive and then we adapt. So what choices did we have? Make the best of it around the lodge? Attempt to set up camp on the North shore of the lake or - and this was a long shot – fly 100 kilometers south east of the lodge to Deerpass Bay, or Narre ella as it is known to the Sahtu Dene – the people of Great Bear Lake.
Deerpass is an immense bay, covering an area of more than 240 square miles, and is framed by Edacho, or the Scented Grass Hills to the North and Sahyoue, or Grizzly Bear Mountain to the south. Both Edacho and Sahyoue have been named as National Historic Sites because of their historical religious significance to the Sahtu Dene.
While the North shore was a possibility, if the ice moved we could easily become trapped, so in our view that left us with only one viable alternative – Deerpass.
From what I could see of it on the flight over to the lodge, the bay appeared to be open. Great Bear is noted for its mirages, and it’s not unusual to see what look like floating islands or mountain ranges that continually appear in places where you know they don’t exist, so the fact was, we wouldn’t really know what the conditions were until we got there. To add to the uncertainty, it had been many years since anyone had traveled to Deerpass, so there were a number of questions running through our minds as we began to plan our trip. Were boats available, and if so what shape would they be in? Was the bay really ice- free? And so on.
Because there was only one sure way to find out, we loaded up the Beaver, crossed our fingers, and headed off towards the unknown.
Fortunately the landing conditions were perfect, and we struck camp on a beautiful point located in the bottom part of the bay, under the watchful eye of a magnificent Golden Eagle. It was obvious this place had been used by the Dene as a hunting and fishing camp for many years, as evidenced by the wooden tepee frame, hand made fish net weights, and the numerous caribou bones that were strewn about. In reading some Sahtu Dene history, a tribal elder was quoted as saying, “Since the beginning of time our forebears have worked the land. The land is our source of survival.” In other words, take only what you need, and leave it how you found it, and this was the context within which we visited Deerpass.
As for boats, we found several scattered along the shoreline near our campsite, and although they were old and rather beat up, a few pieces of driftwood and several rolls of duct tape later, we were in business.
Our luck continued to hold, because there was virtually no ice to be seen throughout the bay. With at least four days of fishing ahead of us, we now had the opportunity to do some serious exploring ,and given its size, we were going to need at least that amount of time to do it justice.
While the water temperatures were very much on the cool side – averaging about forty-five degrees throughout the bay – the fishing did not disappoint. Between our three boats, we averaged about 100 fish per day, with a total of thirty-two fish that were twenty pounds or better. Although we did not catch any “hogs,” at least by our own definition – the largest being thirty five pounds – the structure throughout the bay was magnificent, with sand flats tapering off into deep water, well defined drop – offs, and deep trenches that stretched for miles.
The potential of this area is virtually unlimited. All you need is the opportunity and time.
Perhaps if the water had been a little warmer, or if we had been there a week later, or if… There will always be “what ifs,” and with any luck, there will also be a next time.