“I have fished a good many places on Great Bear Lake over the years.
While they have all produced big fish at one time or another, particularly Macintosh Bay, where on one rather remarkable day four of us caught and released thirty lake trout totalling 901 pounds – including one monster that tipped the scales at sixty six and one half pounds– the place that brings back some of the fondest memories is McGill Bay…”
I have fished a good many places on Great Bear Lake over the years.
While they have all produced big fish at one time or another, particularly Macintosh Bay, where on one rather remarkable day four of us caught and released thirty lake trout totalling 901 pounds – including one monster that tipped the scales at sixty six and one half pounds– the place that brings back some of the fondest memories is McGill Bay. Located on the north shore of the lake, at about the half waypoint between the Smith and Dease arms, it has produced more fifty and fifty plus pound fish, than all the other areas combined.
Many years ago, while fishing out of Branson’s Lodge, several members of our group would camp out in McGill for the entire week, and each year they would win our big fish contest hands down. It became so automatic, that we even offered to pay them off at the beginning of the week so we would not have to shell out while looking at the self satisfied smirks on their faces once they got back to the lodge. McGill was not only a “big fish” factory, but gave them the added advantage of not having to travel more than two minutes from their camp to be in prime trophy waters.
Branson’s closed in the early nineties, so we moved our base of operations to Trophy Lodge. Not surprisingly, we chose to spend our time trying new places in the Trophy area, with the result that McGill fell off our radar screen. While those places produced some great fish, this time around the ice was going to limit our options.
Although there was open water on the north shore, there was enough ice moving around in the middle of the lake, that a one-day trip could have easily turned into an outing of several days. The ice moves deceptively fast, and very quietly, so given the amount that was still floating around, even a small shift that went unnoticed, could have blocked all possible routes back to the lodge. Several of us have had this experience in the past, and we were not all that eager to repeat it.
Rumour had it that McGill, while shut off from the main lake by ice, was wide open throughout the bay itself. So, based on that rather sketchy information, we decided it was time to pay a visit to our old friend – and she welcomed us back with open arms.
Upon landing, we beached the plane on the exact spot where our campsite was once located. We used to refer to the site as the “Harback Hilton,” which was named after Ed and Rodney Harback, a father and son team from Tennessee, that we have fished Great Bear with for over thirty years.
After unloading our gear, and setting up the boats, we started to fish not fifty yards from where the plane had dropped us off. In less than five minutes, I had a lake trout in the net we estimated to be at least thirty-five pounds – and it never really stopped for the remainder of the day. Between our two boats, we caught numerous trout between twenty and forty pounds, with plenty of “teenagers” to keep us busy between the bigger fish. In fact, I don’t recall anyone catching anything under twelve pounds.
The sun was shining all day, and there was barley a ripple on the water, or a cloud in what was a stunning blue Arctic sky. From time to time, fog would roll in off the main lake ice and completely envelop us. When it did, our visibility was usually limited to about twenty feet. Early in the afternoon, while trolling along side of the esker that frames the southwest part of the bay, the fog slowly rolled in, and when it lifted a few moments later, there stood a large bull caribou, just several yards ahead of us.
Both fishermen and Caribou stared at one another for a few moments, and rather than bolt away, he walked along with us for a few hundred yards, stopping from time to time to munch on the various lichens that cover the ground at the base of the esker, as we continued to troll the shoreline.
As our pick up time approached, a particularly large, thick bank of fog rolled in, that appeared to cover the entire bay. The thought did cross my mind that perhaps our old friend wanted us to stay a while longer by making it difficult, if not impossible, for our ride home to find us – and while that may be a bit of a stretch – you never know.
Three members of our group made a return visit the following day. They enjoyed excellent fishing, and their days total included a forty-five pounder, that was a personal best for one of the returnees.
While I fully intend to visit my old friend again, I chose to stay back, as I could not imagine improving on the day that I just had, and wanted to remember it that way.