Sitting here in the departure lounge at Vancouver Airport, we have 90 minutes to wait before boarding our Air Canada flight back to Heathrow, and I am reliving some of the moments of my latest adventure to the Kluane Lodge on Wellesley Lake in the Yukon. My aim for the week was to catch a whitefish (which I had never seen), a 20lb char (lake trout), and maybe a few pike.
The fly fishing for pike at Wollaston Lodge in Saskatchewan last summer had been fantastic. My friend Ken Dawes and I had caught almost one hundred between us, up to about 26lbs (with five over 20), during our four days fishing there. On top of that, we caught possibly 20 walleye, up to 6lbs.
The Wellesley pike were not so big on the whole. The norm was 4-to-10lbs, but there were plenty of them, and great fighters they were as well. In any event, Ricky and I had set our sights chiefly on the lake trout, or “lakers”, which were rumoured to reach 40 or 50lbs!
The big difference between these two venues was that there were only 7 anglers at Kluane, plus 4 people running the lodge, and not another living soul for 150 miles. By comparison, at Wollaston there were 40 or 50 fishermen, and endless staff, guides, and others in support.
I really loved the remoteness of Kluane. What’s more, not having a guide somehow added to the thrill and challenge of it all! Brian, who had run this operation for 23 years, gave us pointers on where to fish. It was a huge lake – 11 miles by 6 – so this was a useful start. After that it was up to us to explore.
The journey to the Yukon involved three flights: London to Vancouver, Vancouver to Whitehorse, and finally a 60-minute flight to the lodge aboard a float-plane. We made it a leisurely affair by overnighting in comfortable hotels at all three places mentioned above, before hopping aboard the final flight. The float-plane flew over totally unspoiled mountains, forests and lakes, which added to our excitement, before landing smoothly on the vast lake and making its way to the jetty by the lodge.
Kluane Lodge In The Yukon
Kluane Lodge was really welcoming. Our cabins were more than adequate, with hot showers and all the essentials, while the food, although far too much, was to die for! Having quickly unpacked, I was first out on the lake for an hour’s fishing before lunch. To get the ball rolling I opted for my pike fly-rod, a floating line, and a popper-fly. These accounted for 2 pike of maybe 4 and 9lbs. I also saw plenty of whitefish, which looked as though they would be easy to catch.
Ricky and I tried for them after lunch, and although I soon had one of about 5lbs on a damsel nymph, they were nothing like as easy as anticipated. Rick also got one about the same size, and we had quite a few offers and “on-and-offs”, but considering how many we cast at, we felt that Round One, on the whole, went to the fish!
Dave did better than us with 6 or 7 fish, 2 of which took a dry fly, after the fish began rising in the amazingly clear water. After our evening meal we were out again, this time in a more distant area. We fished our our damsel nymphs over a 6-to-20-foot shelf, about 40 yards from what they called “Long Point”. (I should point out that all the boats were equipped with electric motors, depth-finders, walky-talky radios, and a comfortable swivel-seat for the driver. We had all modern conveniences.) Rick soon had a follow from a lake trout, then hooked one shortly after. While he was playing that I also hooked what felt like a big one. Annoyingly they both came off. Unfortunately this became a bit of a pattern for the week!
After this, 3 or 4 pike came to my boat partner’s rod – all fish of about 7 or 8 pounds – none of which bit him off, despite the absence of a wire trace. Something then grabbed my damsel, and took off like a train. I could do little with it on my 7-weight rod. For some 15 minutes I was convinced it was a 25lb pike. Rick, however, said he couldn’t imagine a pike fighting for as long as that. Sure enough, eventually a big trout appeared in 15 feet of gin-clear water. I netted and weighed it at exactly 12lbs, which really made my day. I was a happy man!
We fished until midnight, when it was still light, warm and flat-calm; then it was back to the lodge for a celebratory whisky before bed!
Into A Rhythm
Subsequent days were split. We fished the shallows and drop-offs with floating or slow-sinking lines for pike; then tried for the big trout in the central areas of the lake, known as “the flats”. Here the water was 60-to-85 feet deep. A lot of fish showed up at times on the screen, but, at first, I would say that we were not overly successful at extracting them. Rick fished a fast-sinking line, while I used a lead-headed fly “jig style”, fished on a meaty fly rod with a reel loaded with 40lb braid line. Fishing this way, I could quite easily feel the fly hit bottom. Plus, I could clearly see my offering descending on the screen, enabling me to anticipate “touch-down” to perfection!
Unfortunately nearly everything we hooked fell off either instantly, or sometimes half-way up. On the other hand Joe and the other Mike had been concentrating on the depths from the off, and were building up quite a score. Among their fish were several “20s”. Dave too was doing really well – mostly on rubber jigs. On the third day, Mike boated a 25lb fish and followed it up with a monster pushing 40lbs! Brian said it was the biggest trout caught this year!
Rain Almost Stops Play
Towards the end of the week the weather took a turn for the worse. Rain fell, and a considerable wind blew for a-day-and-a-half. This made the lake pretty rough – too rough for Ricky in his wheelchair, in spite of the straps we had to lash him down with. I went out anyway, but it took me over an hour in the big waves to reach the far shore, where it was relatively sheltered. Once there I fished a slow-sinking line and streamer fly, 30-to-50 yards from the shore. This produced a very enjoyable few hours, in which I caught 10 pike up to about 10lbs, all in the vicinity of “Picnic Point”, plus many more takes and follows.
Back Into The Pike
Another day, Brian pointed us in the direction of a gully in front of a river mouth, also on the far side of the lake. He explained that this would be a good area for pike, plus possibly medium-sized lakers. The trough was 6-to-14 feet deep – deeper as it reached out into the lake – with flats of 2-to-3 feet on either side. Drifting down the margins we caught lots of pike, mine on a black streamer fly with copper streaks in the tail (beautifully tied by Ricky), and Rick with floating line and popper flies. My best of this session – and for the week – weighed in at about 12lbs. We also had several around the 10 mark, plus very many on-and-offs, follows and pulls.
Lake Trout – The Prize
On one evening, after another excellent 6pm meal, we tried the same shelf where I had caught my first lake trout. It was a bit misty and the fishing was somewhat slow, until we had a shout from Joe on the radio. He told us they were amongst loads of lakers in 75 feet of water. They were getting takes on almost every drop, and had caught many 20 pounders!
We had quite a job finding them in the mist, but when we eventually arrived, rods appeared to be bending all around! We managed 4 or 5 each and, as usual, lost many more, mine all being relatively small (up to 8lbs or so). Ricky, on the other hand, really came good. After an epic battle, his deep-fished fly produced a fabulous 25 pounder.
The Last Hurrah
On the last day we decided that we must make more of an effort to get amongst the big trout. We tried for them for most of the day. While we managed a few, there was nothing much of note to report until the evening session. Then, for a magic hour or so, we struck gold. With lots of fish on-screen, we started getting takes as soon as the flies got down to the depths. Inexplicably though, for every fish we boated, we must have lost 3 or 4. Ricky actually dropped five in a row, two of which were obviously big ones. I wasn’t much better myself. The action was so frantic though that, although frustrating, we really felt that we’d cracked it! We boated six fish each. My best one was an immaculate 20-pounder, which, of course, made my week!
Joe, Mike and Dave had all done extremely well with the big trout. They fished spinning rods, small multipliers reels, and rubber jigs, in various colours, which resembled squid. Joe decided to spend the rest of his visit using the fly rod, with a fast-sink line. Perhaps you may think that this tactical move might have slowed him down a bit, but not a bit of it. He continued catching well. We were lucky enough to be close by as he hooked, played and eventually boated a real beauty of 30lbs plus. It was a wonderful achievement, and a magnificent fish!
Dave also did well. He had an almost unbelievable last day, catching an amazing 40 fish! The cry of, “I’m in again!” resonated repeatedly across the calm surface, at regular intervals!
By the time we were finished, it really felt like a case of “job done”. We had all achieved our aims. On returning to the lodge, I enjoyed a couple of celebratory whiskies (Joe quite possibly had more!).
One To Go Back To
It is a place I would surely like to revisit, and indeed have put my name down provisionally for next year. With this experience under my belt, I feel I could do even better in future. Then again, I could hardly have enjoyed myself more, so the same again would do very nicely!
Many thanks to all at Kluane Lodge.