The large, 45-inch-long, lake trout casually winds his way through the Nueltin Lake waters 70 feet below the surface.
The shadow from a boat distracts him momentarily as it passes overhead. Seconds later, he sees a reflective flash go by him. Looking for an easy meal, he instantly reacts by closing his wide mouth over his new-found delicacy.
Even as he chomps down, he realizes he’s made an error in judgment. His head is jerked upwards by the line attached to this solid mass he thought was a baitfish. The predator becomes the prey as he determines he will overcome this intrusion with his power and experience.
Over the 50 years of his life, he has survived many attacks and has made others rue the day they thought he would be their dinner.
He runs the line out 30 feet, then 40 feet, but its strength is unforgiving and after several more long runs, his energy begins to wane, and he senses he is losing the battle.
As he begins to accept his destiny, his life, and that of those before him, passes before his eyes. Reaching back into his DNA, he sees the rich history his forebears have experienced on Nueltin Lake over time.
Straddling the border of Manitoba and Nunavut, with its harsh, long and cold winters, this lake has experienced many stories of survival. It has been home to nations, an outpost for hunters and trappers and a sports-fishing paradise for tourists. This trout’s ancestors have seen them all.
As the Inuit and Dene peoples struggled for dominance over each other for the spoils of this large body of water, they witnessed the battles that left both camps hateful and determined for revenge.
They watched with awe at the annual seasonal migrations of the caribou herds swimming across the lake to and from their mating grounds and the lands where their offspring would be born every June.
In December of 1710, the first white men would arrive, led by the determined and resourceful Samuel Hearne in his search for the Northwest Passage. He would be the first to prove there was no such passage, but his voyages would be remembered for his discoveries as well as his courage.
The Hudson’s Bay Co., in its quest for valuable pelts, came and went from their trading posts.
In more recent times, it was the stomping grounds for the machinations of Canada’s soon-to-be-famous writer and naturalist Farley Mowat, as he penned his endearing novel, Never Cry Wolf published in 1963.
Even as today’s catch was being netted and lift out of the water, he would think back to the reclusive Swedish-born trapper and hunter Ragnar Jonsson, who spent 60 years living in the wilderness, over 40 of them living by himself on the shores of Nueltin Lake.
Jonsson’s only contact with people was when he was occasionally delivered supplies by the charter airline that used the lake as a refuelling depot. Jonsson would be removed by government authorities in 1982 when he was in his 80s and going blind.
As the trout is taken from the net, and the barbless hook removed from his mouth, he is angered by yet one final indignity before his certain death. His abductors, it seemed, were appearing prideful in taking photos of his last moments.
But this is a fish story with a happy ending. He hears "Smile, snap, got it," and he is quickly lowered back into the water by his captors to swim back into the depths of his home, to record even greater moments of history.
He thinks he is the singular lucky fish that has been granted freedom by some godly benefactor.
But Nueltin Lake is a catch-and-release fishery managed that way with no deviance by the owners of Nueltin Fly-in Lodges, the Gurke family. "This lodge was the first lodge in Canada completely dedicated to the catch-and-release policy," says Garry Gurke who purchased the lodge in 1987. "And with pride in the traditions of our Métis background we were pleased to carry on this policy and see others follow. Our commitment to that policy on this lake which is our livelihood is unwavering."
It has been 25 years since they began to place their indelible imprint on the lodge they have seen become one of the premier fly-in fishing destinations for fishers as well as hunters from all over North America, including Manitoba. They come for the very genuine opportunity of catching the really big fish that qualify for Manitoba’s Master Angler Awards.
Trout is not the only species in these waters that consistently deliver Master Angler Awards, the designation the Manitoba government gives to those who achieve catches of specified lengths. The lake as also home to giant northern pike, as well as the more elusive, but beautiful, Arctic grayling. This rare fish, caught here, can usually only be found in the clear, flowing waters of our most northern parallel streams.
In the four days we spent fishing, every guest caught at least on one Master Angler qualifier, with many bragging about achieving one or more in at least two species.
It would be logical to conclude that the prime selection on the dinner menu of a fly-in fishing lodge would be fish. Nothing could be further from the truth.
That delicacy is left for the shore-lunch experiences that provide some of the most memorable times. The smaller fish of the morning’s catch are set aside for the frying pan that seems to crackle and pop as the breaded fillets are lowered into the boiling mass of cooking oil.
Fish, as fresh as can be, eaten beside the lapping waters of a scenic lake with not a living human soul in sight. It is a dream coming true for anyone wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Before dinner, the guests gather for the appetizers and complimentary bar service offered daily at Nueltin Lake Lodge. Our first night’s dinner featured prime rib and Yorkshire pudding. Accompanied by a fine wine selection, it’s a meal fit for the proverbial king.
But after a long day and a few beverages, the king needs sleep in order to be ready for the next day’s adventure.
"What do you want to fish for today?’ our guide inquires. Soon, we are pounding the waves on our way to his own private fishing hole to try and out-catch the guests in the other boats, a source of pride for each guide who wants ‘his people’ to own the bragging rights for that evening.
After four days, we wish we had booked the seven-day option. Time has gone by quickly. From the lodge’s own landing strip we board the charter prop aircraft and less than three hours later we are back home after landing at Richardson International Airport.
The northern fly-in fishing industry is a fascinating one, and for the operators a precarious business operation.
Ice out does not occur until mid-June and most of the fishing is usually done by early August, with a short hunt-and-fish period in early September. Bookings for the next season are frequently made up to a year ahead of time. "Most of our clientele are repeat guests," Gurke underscores. "Once they have the Nueltin experience they are enthusiastic about coming back as soon as they can."
We, too, were excited about the fish we caught and after the quick photo were equally satisfied in knowing the act of releasing our catch would result in similar exhilarating moments for those who follow.
A few weeks later, the thrill is relived with the arrival of our Manitoba Master Angler Awards heralding the details of the fish that, back in the water, is once again building upon the long history it has already experienced.
To find out more about Nueltin Fly-in Lodges, go to http://www.nueltin.com .