(Arctic sushi, arctic trekking, arctic plane reservations, arctic wildlife deterrent, and arctic char…)
The outfitter told me there were lake trout, arctic grayling AND arctic char at one of his camps and that sealed the deal. Most people don’t get the chance to fish for arctic char in their lifetime and the allure of the exotic was overpowering. So a few months later my Dad and I landed in Rankin Inlet on the shore of Hudson Bay.
The plan was to be helicoptered from there to a plywood shack in polar bear country on the Nunavut tundra. However, Hudson Bay is a large body of water and Rankin Inlet is very cool in the summer – this combination leads to a lot of fog. We actually spent two days in Rankin Inlet waiting for the fog to lift.
The outfitter put us up in his own house. For two days, we walked around town, taking pictures of sled dogs in their kennels and watching the locals bomb along the streets on quads. We also sampled the local cheeseburgers, which were tasty but worth about $12 each due to the fact that all the ingredients arrived by plane. And we joined in a family dinner where the appetizer was a traditional Inuit food – raw beluga whale. It had a mild taste and a chewy texture. Being the rookies in the crowd, Dad and I were given plenty of teriyaki sauce and hot sauce as condiments.
Eventually the fog lifted and a15 minute helicopter ride took us to an area known as Corbett’s Inlet. Up there, the lake trout stay shallow all summer and they like the rivers as much as any lake. If you can navigate to the base of some rapids, you are pretty much guaranteed lake trout. (For a closer look at this type of fishing look at my “Tundra Trout” article elsewhere in this blog.)
The outfitter had pointed out a particularly delectable set of rapids on our map. Being about ten miles from the ocean, these rapids held both lake trout and the sea-run holy grail of this trip – arctic char. We immediately hopped in the boat and set off.
To get to the rapids, the map said we had to pass through a narrowing of the river; however, this narrowing turned out to be a boiling cauldron of whitewater. Being self-guided in the middle of nowhere, we turned around and the Arctic char remained unattainable .
That night, by lantern, in the comfort of our plywood shack, we checked the map and noted the rapids were about ten miles away by boat. But they were only 2 miles away by land. In most wilderness on this continent, overland travel means crashing through dense bush with about the same penetrability as a brick wall.
However, we were on the tundra. There would be no bush, only rocks and spongy moss. I think the light bulb went off in Dad’s head first. “We can walk it,” he said. Brilliant!
So the next day we set off. In consideration of my Dad’s seventy years, I carried the tackle, the lunch, and the polar bear repellant – a rifle and three shells supplied by the outfitter.
Sidebar #1: Three shells are not a lot of ammunition but, according to our outfitter, if you are about to fire your fourth round, you are likely polar bear hors d’oeuvres anyway.
Sidebar #2: I later find out the rifle was a .308. I know next to nothing about guns and hunting, but is that enough artillery for large Arctic predators? I still haven’t brought myself to Google it.
The hike to the rapids was just like the map said – we aimed between the two ponds visible from camp and just kept going. It took about an hour and we did not see any polar bears.
I’d like to say that hyper-aggressive char were stacked below the rapids. We fished hard all day and landed two. They had beautiful, big white spots and were amazingly chunky. Their heads, in fact, were tiny compared to the rest of their body – a likely testament to the feeding they did in the ocean. They fought strong and deep. We left the rapids satisfied with our catch.
The rest of the trip was typical tundra fishing for lake trout and arctic grayling. The day we were ready to leave, we piled up our gear and waited for the helicopter. And waited. And waited. And then we remembered that the outfitter had given us a satellite phone. A quick call told us that our helicopter was down for repair and would pick us tomorrow. Another phone call and we had our outbound flights from Rankin Inlet rearranged. That far north, even the largest airlines become quite flexible and accommodating. We had previously lost a couple days fishing to the fog and just gained one back! Instead of sitting around waiting for the helicopter, we hopped in the boat and headed for a grayling hotspot. Thank God for satellite phones…
The next day, comfortably on board a commercial jet, flying out of Rankin Inlet, all I could think about was our tundra trek to the arctic char. I kept replaying that day over and over in my mind. And I kept hatching schemes to somehow catch a few more. I haven’t yet… But I will….