Trout on Canada's Great Bear LakeDuluth’s Jerry Butchart had been wanting to take a lake trout fishing trip to Great Bear Lake for 20 years. Finally, three years ago, he and his son made that dream come true.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
Duluth’s Jerry Butchart had been wanting to take a lake trout fishing trip to Great Bear Lake for 20 years. Finally, three years ago, he and his son made that dream come true.
“I suppose the older you get, it’s like a bucket list,” said Jerry Butchart, 74. “If you don’t do it now, you might not do it tomorrow.”
They made their first trip to Plummer’s Great Bear Lake Lodge in 2010, and have now gone back two more times. The lure is big lake trout. Anglers have a legitimate chance at a 40- or 50-pound fish.
“Dad has caught three fish in the mid-30-pound range,” said son Steve Butchart, 44, of Duluth. “The biggest was 36.”
Great Bear sits astride the Arctic Circle in Canada’s Northwest Territories. It’s the fourth-largest lake in North America and eighth-largest in the world. It stays cold all summer.
“It fishes like a lake the first week after ice-out,” Steve said. “The water temp is 42 degrees in the first week of August.”
The trips have exceeded their expectations.
“The guides are fun and friendly and knowledgeable,” Steve said.
Trout fishing is done two ways, for two different size classes of lake trout. Some days, the Butcharts jig near islands for smaller, red-fin lake trout.
“You can go there with a white jig and twister-tail and catch 60 fish from 2 to 15 pounds,” Steve said. “It’s almost every cast at times. … The water is gin-crystal clear. I’ve looked over the side of the boat and seen 20 lake trout.”
Other days, guides will take the Butcharts to a reef for the bigger lake trout that guides call “gray trout.” That’s where the big ones live.
“They get to 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 pounds,” Steve said. “You’re going to catch one, maybe two, maybe none.”
They use big spoons and T-60 Flatfish plugs for the big lakers. They troll using muskie rods with 100-pound-test line and 60-pound-test leaders. So far, only Jerry has been able to catch the big ones.
“He’s caught every big fish, and I have not cracked 20 pounds yet,” said Steve, who fished professionally for a few years.
“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when you have more experience?” his dad said with a laugh. “Here are two guys with exactly the same lure, and one guy catches all the fish. You get to feeling guilty.”
On some days, they do “fly-outs” in bush planes to other parts of Great Bear or to the Coppermine River to cast from shore for sea-run arctic char.
“Last year, we stood on the banks of the Coppermine. Dad and I caught 30-plus char from 5 to 12 pounds pitching Pixie spoons from the bank.”
Jerry considered that day the highlight of their three trips to Great Bear.
The trips cost about $4,995 per person from Yellowknife, NWT, Steve said. Tips and “fly-outs” are extra. When he and his dad made their first trip, in 2010, Steve assumed it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“We were sitting in camp at lunch one day, and dad said, ‘Next year, we should do this a little differently,’” Steve said. “I said, ‘What? Next year?’ ”
After three trips to Great Bear Lake, the Butcharts are going to try a lake trout trip to Great Slave Lake this summer, staying at Plummer’s Great Slave Lake Lodge.