Rite of Passage by Turnpike, Real Pike and Lakers: Grandson Shows Stamina in Vehicle and on the Water

In the true North, there are many legendary waters with monster fish. While I haven’t fished all the big-name lakes, I fished enough of them, and Lac La Martre in the Northwest Territories is my number one choice for big fish. In my opinion, it’s the best trophy pike and lake trout fishery in North America.

“Grandpa, when are you going to take me to Canada?” I was asked. “Grandpa, I’m old enough to go now.”

Every year for the last four or five years, my grandson Spencer has pleaded with me to take him fishing up north. While I’ve had him out on local ponds and lakes, I questioned if he was ready for a Canadian trip. I knew that a long car ride could be hard to take for both of us, and that after the first hour of riding I hear, “How much farther do we have to go?” frequently asked. Also. I was wondering how much hardcore fishing he could take. I didn’t want to burn him out like I have done to a few people in the past.

But now that I am older and wiser, I would let him set the pace. I decided that this past summer would be the time for him to go.

I had a pretty good feeling the kid would hold up. He is a straight-A student, an awarded scholar, was part of a championship football team that was nationally recognized and he is an accomplished swimmer—he had earned a chance to experience Canada’s world-class fishing.

The problem was where to take him. I wanted to give him a memory with Grandpa he would remember the rest of his life.

I began to mentally review many of the great trips I’ve taken since my first Canadian fly-out in 1979. Most lakes aren’t what they use to be, and on many long boat rides or costly fly-ins nearby lakes is the norm to get to the best fishing. I have caught hundreds of 40-inch trophy pike in Canada. Catching these in the 40- to 45-inch range is pretty easy in prime waters, but breaking the 45-inch barrier is another story. That is, until I went to Lac La Martre in the Northwest Territories a few years ago with my good friend Babe Winkelman, where my longest pike prior to that trip was a 47 1/2-incher. On our three-day trip Babe and I put 34 pike over 20 pounds on the big fish board at the camp. And not only that, we caught one to three a day in the 47- to 49-inch range. My biggest pike ever—a fat 49-inch, 30-pounder—came on that trip.

To make a catch like that a few things had to go right. They did. We were there sitting within a beautiful warm front in early July so pike were fighting to get into the warming shallows. Plus, I had a world-class fishing partner. We also had a bunch of our secret spring pike killer lures, Banjo Minnows and tubes. Virtually all our pike were caught sight fishing: we’d see a big pike, pitch the lure in front of it and let it slowly sink to the bottom. When the pike were in range, a few twitches would generally cause the fish to suck the offering off the bottom. The same slow-falling presentation can also be achieved fly fishing with “bunny flies” or streamers, which I also knew makes this place a fly-fisherman’s dream, and one my grandson would appreciate.

Lac La Martre was my most recent “super trip” and the ideal location to make some lasting memories with family. I met new owner Dave Thompson at the All Canada show in St. Charles where I was giving a seminar, and we picked out a time frame. Now it was just a matter of making travel arrangements.

When I broke the news to my grandson I don’t know who was more excited, he or I. There would be a lot of “firsts” for him, including the first time he had ever left the United States.

On the way up we overnighted in Yellow Knife, then got up early in the morning and took a floatplane into the lodge. His first big thrill came when the pilot asked him if he wanted to sit in the co-pilot’s seat. With eyes as big as silver dollars, he scrambled over some supplies and strapped himself in. I thought it couldn’t get any better than this as we flew over the lake-studded Canadian wilderness. Then, the pilot asked him if he wanted to steer for a while. He turned to me and gave me a big smile and a thumb’s up before he grabbed the wheel. The adventure was off to a great start.

In less than an hour, our floatplane began to skim the surface of the 1,000-square-mile lake and we glided into the dock where Dave’s partner, Greg Dussome, met us. While our bags were brought to our cabin, it was off to breakfast and a short orientation by Greg. Shortly after 9 a.m. we were on the water with our guide Steve in our quest for trophies that inhabit this wilderness lake.

The weather had been quite warm and sight fishing was not as good as it could be. A lot of the fish held a little deeper around rocks in the 3- to 6-foot depths and in the cabbage beds that were just starting to pop up. I made sure my grandson felt comfortable with the gutsy spinning outfit I rigged for him and adjusted the drag to match the 30-pound-test braid on his reel.

Within minutes he was whipping out his number 5 Mepps spinner and was poised for action, which didn’t take long. We never went too long without action and boated a lot of 8- to 15-pound pike. We took a little time to catch a couple small lake trout for shore lunch. So far day one was a big success: a floatplane ride, first large pike he ever caught, first lake trout and first Canadian shore lunch with all the trimmings.

At 2 p.m. my grandson told me he was getting a little tired and wanted to go in and rest. I took him back to the lodge and once I saw he was good I went back down to the dock and asked Steve if he was ready to go out again and fish until dinner. He was fired up and ready to go, especially after Greg told us about a close-to-camp bay that should have a bunch of big, shallow pike.

A short ride later we motored slowly into a shallow sand-bottomed bay and I immediately saw a big pike, then another, then another. I quickly grabbed my baitcasting rod rigged with a Banjo Minnow and we began our hunt. My guide had heard how effective these slow-falling plastic lures could be, but I don’t think he ever saw them fished correctly. If a pike was cruising I would toss it well in front of him in the direction it was headed. As the pike neared the lure, lying motionless on the bottom, I would then gently twitch it to get the fish’s attention. Most of the time the big pike would move closer and I would quiver or gently twitch it again. I generally could tease the fish into sucking it off the bottom; if the pike was stationary when I first saw it, the cast would be made well over it and the lure brought toward it. If the fish won’t hit a lure coming right at it, coming at it from the side or from behind it sometimes is the trigger that’s needed. I think I caught almost all the pike in that bay, with the biggest at 25 pounds. Unfortunately, my grandson missed out on that action.

After dinner we went out again, mixing pike and trout action until we had to come in a little after 10 p.m.

Day two was another long day of fishing that was only interrupted by lunch and dinner. We caught double-digit numbers of pike and my grandson caught his first 20-pounder, out of a cabbage bed. We also did a little more trolling for lake trout with chrome straight DepthRaiders and Man’s plus 25 or 30 crankbaits being the most productive lures. Lac La Marte is a world-class lake trout lake, and we trolled large crankbaits and caught a bunch, some almost 30 pounds. The key to the big ones here is to get past the smaller trout, and using “big” lures does just that.

While we were there two guests were fishing with guide Zack Brown and they “murdered” big trout. Zack used 10-inch jointed Believers and took the rear section off and replaced it with a big twister tail. The lure had to be at least 16 to 18 inches long, but it eliminated most of the smaller trout and enabled the two guests to put 44 lake trout over 20 pounds on the big fish board.

The thing I really like about trout fishing on Lac La Martre is that there is a lot of trout at 20 to 40 pounds and you don’t have to go deep to catch them. The lake is fairly shallow at 65 feet max, and most of the time trolling in 30 to 50 feet of water is all that’s needed—unless it’s fall and you’re catching them in less than 10 feet. In recent years they have begun to run late-summer trips that take advantage of the trout spawn. One angler alone caught 63 lakers over 20 pounds during the fall spawn. From the end of August into early September is the prime time for this shallow-water bonanza.

My grandson was really fired up by the third day. He fished all day with no shore lunch, went in for a quick dinner, and then I had to drag him in at the 10:30 p.m. quitting time. Fishing was more of the same—lots of pike and lots of trout. We both made the 20-20-club, which is catching a pike and trout over 20 pounds. This is not a very exclusive club, as most guests get in it.

My concerns about how my grandson would enjoy the trip went unfounded. After the first day he almost never wanted to come in and was so happy and pumped up about the experience in the lodge that two other guests talked about how it got them thinking about bringing their own sons or grandsons. My only regret was that I didn’t stay longer than three days.

Later, when I dropped him off at his house on the way home, he gave me a big hug and said, “That was the funnest thing I have ever done!”

That was the perfect ending to a trip that I hope he will always remember.

    For more information on guided trips on Lac La Martre, call Dave Thompson at 810-334-9381 or Greg Dussome at 877-335-8855 or visit nwtfishing.com.