HAVING RAISED THREE SONS on the shores of a fish-rich lake near Yellowknife, I’ve wrestled my share of lures from the toothy, flat-snouted jaws of small northern pike. Until I decreed that, out of respect for the “jack” (as we northerners call them), we would only fish if we intended to kill and eat them. The boys accepted that fishing was no longer sport.
So there was initial disappointment when I learned that my day-long fishing trip on Great Slave Lake with Yellowknife Outdoor Adventures was catchand- release for trophy-sized northern pike, and that our shore lunch of walleye had been purchased the night before from a local fishery. “No, we will never, never keep these fish — ever,” affirms Carlos Gonzalez, Outdoor Adventure’s owneroperator, as he rustles through a shed of impressive high-end outdoor clothing that ensures his clients remain warm and dry.
Self-assured, knowledgeable and relentlessly entertaining, the 51-year-old former restaurateur could hardly be more protective of the superior genes that allow monster pike to live up to 30 years in Great Slave’s cold water. Gonzalez wants these fish to keep breeding in order to sustain their future (his too), as well as the lake’s ecology.
Yellowknife Bay is calm on this cool September morning as four passengers set off in his flat-deck boat, its fuel-efficient, four-stroke motor purring. The clouds in a grey sky glint silver linings. A 35-minute ride later, we begin fulfilling Gonzalez’s prophecy of landing “big-ass” pike on our single-hook lures, which are barbless under Northwest Territories law. “Astrid, Pepita, Gertrude,” Gonzalez calls the fish as he inspects their firm, healthy flesh, assuring me they are indeed female.
I learn that Great Slave Lake, the deepest in North America, undergoes a turnover in September, as water temperatures and density equal out, drawing nutrients and bait fish from lower depths into shallow waters, with giant pike hot on their tails. And when I land the biggest catch of the day — 120 centimetres, 10.4 kilograms — I discover that large pike have aweinspiring power that challenges and humbles my own. Gonzalez tells me that a young boy from Ontario could barely speak after catching a similarly sized fighter the day before. I realize such intoxicating encounters with these hearty, prehistoric fish can only underscore the importance of preserving them and our northern waters. And I realize that I’m very hungry.
“When do we eat?” I ask.
“2:13,” quips Gonzalez.
Years of operating an upscale Yellowknife restaurant become quickly apparent as he builds his “kitchen” on a small island while I fish wine from a backpack. Our Great Slave walleye, marinated in olive oil, garlic and basil overnight, is coated with a lemon pepper fusion and sizzles in a skillet beside baby carrots sweetened with brown sugar and pan-fried potatoes with rosemary. We are stuffed to the gills, but sample chocolate biscuits and melon with a cup of herbal tea before heading home.
Nothing can replicate food cooked on an open fire, but few visitors to Yellowknife leave without sampling the local fish fare at world-renowned Bullock’s Bistro. Still, I suggest you try fishing yourself. At very least, it will give you food for thought.