Jan 30th, 2017
Plummer’s is an iconic Canadian lodge located within the Arctic Circle in the Northeastern arm of Great Bear Lake. While known primarily as a lake trout operation for conventional anglers, Plummer’s offers some great fly fishing in addition to holding the key to the Tree River Camp, and the huge sea-run arctic char that call this remarkable river home. For the well-traveled angler this a unique and special trip not to be missed.
Expert Q&A with Ken Morrish
Top reasons to go?
1. To experience some of the most unique and rewarding fisheries in the Canadian Arctic.
2. To catch large lake trout (four species) on a fly as well as really large grayling from the crystal clear waters of Great Bear Lake (the largest lake entirely within Canada).
3. To experience and fish the remarkable Tree River and try your luck at the world’s largest sea-run arctic char.
4. To experience a number of unique sight fishing opportunities.
5. To visit a place that few anglers will ever see.
Where is the lodge?
The lodge is located 300 miles north of Yellowknife on Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories. Their Tree River Camp is located another 150 miles northeast of Great Bear Lake very near the Arctic Ocean in the native province of Nunavut.
How do I get there?
Guests fly into Yellowknife and overnight before taking an included jet charter flight north 1.5 hours to the lodge.
When should I go?
July and August. This far North, the season is short. In July, the fish on the Tree are brighter and more aggressive. In August the fish are more numerous and colorful but harder to entice.
Where do they fish?
The majority of guests fish the northwestern arm of Great Bear Lake for lake tout. The majority of anglers will depart from the lodge by boat each day. Anglers can also do fly outs to other more distant and less fished waters for an extra cost. Fly anglers are strongly encouraged to sign up for a special package that enables them to fish the Tree River for 2-3 days. Here anglers will fish primarily upstream of the camp but they might also fish downstream of the camp and if you really want to mix it up you can boat all the way down to the Arctic Ocean and fish for cod. It is a neat trip and with a heavy sink tip, you can catch lots of them and they are delicious!
Where do we stay?
The main lodge offers an array of cabins. Most have double occupancy rooms. The cabins are dated but more than adequate. At the Tree River guests will stay in wall tents that sleep four per tent. They have a plug in for charging batteries (when the generator is on) and oil burning stoves for heat. The camp has a shower complex and outhouses. It is rustic but comfortable and they have a nice simple dining cabin overlooking the river.
What are the meals like?
Meals at the main lodge are good, simple and hearty. They are served family style at each table. The same is true at the Tree River, though this camp has more turnover in cook staff. When I was there, the food was excellent. Supposedly the cook the season before left a good deal to be desired.
How would you describe the general vibe and atmosphere?
The vibe at the main lodge is different than many of of our destinations because of it size and also because their client base is comprised largely of conventional anglers. It would be easy for me to imagine small groups of 1-3 fly anglers sort of rattling around in anonymity, but with a party of four or more, you would have critical mass and create your own scene and meal dynamic. While the lodge is not particularly personal, it is friendly and very casual. Their bar and pool table are good fun and the main living room is nice place to hang out and look over all the great old images on the wall.
The Tree River camp has a similar vibe but is smaller and more rustic. Lots of groups pop in for a quick overnight and groups tend to keep somewhat to themselves. With that said, with a buddy or two, this camp is great and a place I hope to return to. During the last week of August, there is five day package where anglers spend all their time at the Tree River and never visit the main lodge on Great Bear Lake.
Is there an on-site manager, owner or point person at the lodge?
At present the manager at the main lodge is is Chuk Coulter. He tends to be rather easy to track down, especially if you ask available staff to help you. He tends to be on the dock often and somewhat available to guests as they depart and return from their fishing days. Typically guests will drive their need-based interactions with management. At times the owner, Chummy Plummer, will also be on site, but I think he is mostly there to enjoy the company of long-time return clients, as opposed to handling day to day issues or concerns. The lodge does seem to have a bit of a bias towards long time repeats clients that they see each season but in the same breath I found the guide staff, kitchen and cleaning crew to very nice and very helpful.
At the Tree Camp there was a great manager at the time of my visit in 2016. Since that camp is much smaller, management tends to be more accessible and I suspect turnover is higher there as well.
Is there internet and cell service?
Both the main lodge and the Tree camp have Wi-Fi but it is very spotty. At the main lodge it works best near the tackle shop. At the Tree with works best near the office building.
How do they fish?
At Great Bear the majority of guests troll huge spoons and plugs. Fly anglers can also do well trolling heavy lines and 3-8 inch streamers. With the right guide and conditions, avid fly anglers might be able to cast off of rock outcroppings or reefs in the lake. When it is calm you can actually sight fish with sinking lines to lakers swimming by at various depths. In rare instances, there can be caddis hatches and you can target large red fin lake trout on small dries. I caught a 10 pound laker on little dry fly on five weight and it was an incredible experience. With that said, trolling remains the norm, as guides of varying skill can perform that task in a wide range of conditions.
On the Tree, fly anglers will hike upstream stopping to fish prime spots as the go. There will be lots of pocket water fishing as well as some pools. Most of the fishing is best suited to single hand rods and both sight fishing and blind fishing will be employed. Most fishing is done with floating lines and weighted streamers but this can vary depending on time of year and guide pairing.
How many fish will I catch?
On Great Bear I would expect fly anglers to catch 3-10 fish a day on fly gear. There may be some fly-outs where catch rates might be even higher. On the Tree I expect folks to catch 1-4 fish per day. On our trip, there was a big difference in catch rates and it also seemed like the best rods ended up with best guide to further widen our spread.
What are the guides like?
The guide pool is different than the majority of operations we work with, as fly fishers only make a up as small percentage of their anglers. Accordingly, all their guides are experienced with conventional gear and their fly fishing skills vary. Most of them do a good job at taking you to where the fish are but at times I felt I needed to approach the actual fishing in a way that I sought fit to avoid spooking the fish. Also it should be noted that there are times when the native tribe that leases rights to the Tree River to Plummer’s might insist on putting their guides in rotation in place of the Plummer’s guides. While this is not common, it is an unlikely risk that all participants should be aware of.
Will we see other anglers?
On Great Bear you will see other boats from the lodge but not other parties. On the Tree it is rare to see other parties but occasionally there could be others camped there. Were this to happen it would be a disappointment.
Is there wade fishing?
There is some wade fishing off of big rocks and reefs at Great Bear (but this is an uncommon practice) and there is bank/wade fishing for grayling along certain steep shorelines. On the Tree, virtually all fly fishing will be done while wading and a good deal of hiking is required.
How far is it to the fishing grounds?
From a 10 minute boat ride to an hour and a half boat ride on Great Bear, but typically guests will troll at least half the way to the most distant locations. On the Tree anglers typically walk for 10 minutes, then take a boat for five minutes and then hike 10-30 minutes before starting to fish. A long hike home might be 50 minutes.
Does the lodge provide equipment?
Sort of. They will provide conventional gear for lake trout fishing. If you fly fish you must bring all of your own gear.
What is your favorite rod(s) for the trip?
For lake trout fishing I would bring a 9-10 wt single hand rod with a 400-500 grain head. For the Tree I would bring a 9.5 ft 8 weight and floater.
What are the top flies?
Fro the Tree River, Dolly Lamas (with strong trailing hooks) in assorted colors are really good. White and the tan/pink color combos were my favorite. Clouser Minows and Hareball Leaches are also very good choices. For lake trout bring the largest saltwater and or musky streamers you can find. The Super Mushy, Major Mullet, Cowen’s Magnum Baitfish and Airheads in the 2/0-4/0 size range are great.
Are there other activities?
At the Tree you can head down to the Arctic Ocean. You might see musk ox and you can fish for cod in the sea. It is a fun and interesting half-day trip but really this is a trip for anglers.
What are the physical demands?
If you can hike for 30-40 minutes you will be fine on this trip.
Dangers and annoyances?
There can be bugs, and at times, plenty of them. Mosquitoes and and nasty little black flies are the norm. The lake and the Tree River can both be dangerous in their own rights and weather could also provide real challenges if it kicks up.
See Full Trip Details:
Plummer’s Arctic Lodge
What everyone hopes for and a select few achieve, a true trophy char in full color from the Tree River. Photo: Craig Blackie
A serious charter jet will take you from Yellowknife to Great Bear Lake.
The dining area at the main lodge at Great Bear Lake.
Taking a break on Great Bear Lake.
An average red fin lake trout. The great grays are much larger.
Unloading the Otter at the Tree River.
The rough and tumble Tree River. It is an amazing river.
An average Tree River sea-run arctic char just starting to show some color.
The Tree River camp.
A monster laker on the fly from Great Bear.