A month in
Photographs by Hans and Ina van Klinken
How it all started
From my youth I have loved nature and almost always preferred my own company. My wife was more socially inclined and never had any real camping experience. Soon after our marriage, because of I work as a clergyman and our family are constantly in the public eye, she also recognized the need for real solitude. We decided to celebrate our first wedding anniversary by going to Bare Lake in British Columbia, Canada.
My best friend, who in infancy had
been bitten by the "fishing bug " and never recovered, selected the location. We
could not afford the lodge, nor were we interested in the type of services which the lodge
provided: motel-like beds, clean linen, communal meals, prepared for us in modern kitchens
and served to us by waiters, fine china, loud socializing, our fish cleaned and prepared
for us, etc. So we requested and received permission to camp at the north end of the lake.
This was a first for my wife. Upon hearing that we will be living in tents in the
wilderness my father in law called and asked us not to go. In a very East European manner
he explained the dangers of hungry wolf packs, and man-eating bears. We calmed him as well
as we could, and took off for Kamloops. Lots of mistakes where made on that first trip
into the Canadian wilderness. My friend for reasons, which remain a mystery informed
us that "it never rains in Canada "; subsequently neither he nor his wife
brought any rain gear. That proved to be fun!
We ourselves brought only a small
pup-tent to sleep in for three weeks, neither my wife nor I knew anything about fly
fishing and preferred to cast hardware or dunk worms; we brought meat with us which soon
spoiled (there are no freezers in the wilderness), and stank up the forest when we tried
to fry it. There where other mistakes. But we both fell in love with Canada, its
magnificent forest, its wildlife, and its fishing; we were hooked. After that first trip
almost a quarter of a century ago, with very few exceptions, we spent our vacations in the
forests of British Columbia, camping at selected lakes, hiking, fishing, taking pictures,
boating, tracking, climbing mountains and fording streams.
Four things fascinate and attract us most about being in the Canadian wilderness: its raw, virgin forests, the silence and solitude, its ability to help reaffirm family bonds, and the incredible, acrobatic fighting ability of the Kamloops rainbow trout. After a while my wife suggested that we go even further north, to an area of Canada, which is so remote and frontier-like, that it is referred to as a "Territory", rather than a civilized "Province".
During the annual International Sportsman s Exposition in 1999 we started looking for places either in the Northwest Territory or the Yukon Territory. We quickly realized that prices being what they are; there is no way that our family of four could enjoy a four-week vacation in a typical wilderness lodge. Most remote lodges start at $2500 per person, per week. For a family of four this equals to $10, 000 a week. Thus, for our family a four-week stay would cost a whopping $40, 000! When lodge operators heard that there were four of us and that we were looking for a place to spend four weeks, they realized that we would not be interested in their vacation packages and quickly lost interest in us. All the lodges were interested in selling their usual one week fishing trip packages to individual fishermen, to groups where each pays his way or much less frequently to couples. None where interested in flying us out to a remote lake, and dropping us off for a four-week stay by ourselves.Noticing the "Yukon "sign at the Tincup Lake booth we looked in to them also. We found their prices to be lower and their people to be relaxed, friendly, not at all pushy or obnoxious which is not something that can be said about many other exhibitors. We were impressed by how deeply moved they were by the beauty of the Yukon. And we were fascinated by the care, which they took to preserve this natural beauty. Tincup Lake is 8 miles long; yet, it has only the one lodge, and there are never more than 8 guests staying at that lodge at any one time. Unfortunately, they also had no ready made trip package to satisfy our search. As usual, we left our telephone and address, and continued to search the Exposition. We found nothing. That evening I received a call from Jose (pronounced "Djo Zay") Janssen from the Tincup Lake booth. "Larry and I talked it over, and we think we might have the trip which you are looking for. Could you come to our booth tomorrow to talk about a possible trip to the Yukon?"
I cancelled all appointments for the next day, and returned to the Exposition. Larry Nagy, the owner of the lodge, and Jose Janssen, who helps with the business side of running the lodge were there to greet me. They explained that not too far from their lodge they have lease rights to another place: Dogpack Lake. This lake is nestled in beautiful mountains, with a river coming in on the north end, and out on the south end; it is totally remote; there would be only two tent cabins for us to use, and the lake is full of fish. Since we would not be using the services of the lodge except for the flights in and out, plus the boats, the motors, the gas, and the tents, the price would be appropriately affordable. It was made clear that nobody had ever requested to stay a month at Dogpack Lake. Our situation was unusual and experimental; it was certainly not the rule. Needless to say, clients from Tincup Lake may be flown into Dogpack Lake at any time for a day of fishing. To Larry and Jose I must have sounded like a very bothersome mosquito myself. But I was so excited that many questions were asked more than once. The family discussed the offer. Neither Tincup Lake, nor Dogpack Lake has Kamloops trout, but they do have fish we had never caught before: large Lake Trout, Arctic Grayling, and Whitefish. At Tincup the Lake Trout can weigh over 30 lbs. with the occasional 40+ lbs monsters. The Arctic Grayling start at 19 inches. The Whitefish may reach 10+lbs; they are notoriously leader shy, difficult to hook, fight like crazy, and are not easy to bring in. And of course there is the unique wildlife. Unanimously we decided to accept Larry and Jose s offer.
On a Sunday afternoon in mid June, soon after iceout at Tincup Lake, we flew into the city of Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territory, and were met by Larry Nagys brother, Ernie. We bought food for a month, and purchased a bottle of 18-year old Wisers Whiskey to help celebrate our escape from the concrete jungle and stress factory of the Silicon Valley in California. Everything was loaded into a truck, and we embarked on a four-hour drive along beautiful Alaska Highway toward a "metropolis "known as Mile 1118 (we never saw more than 15 people who seemed to live and/or work there). Along the way Ernie pointed out many interesting places, including an elk reserve, a buffalo herd, glacial formations, and various streams and lakes. He related many stories and legends associated with the Yukon in general and Tincup Lake in particular. We found Ernie to be extraordinarily warm, knowledge able, and totally in love with the wilderness. We stopped at the town of Haines Junction for a lunch of delicious smoked Lake trout.At Mile 1118 there is a little lake behind the service station. A Helio floatplane, piloted by Larry Nagy, lands on the lake, picks up Lodge guests, and flies them to Tincup Lake Lodge. The day we arrived the weather made flying impossible, so we spent the night at one of the simple, rustic cabins at Mile 1118. The next day the floatplane flew in. Because of our four weeks worth of supplies, it took two trips to fly us into Dogpack Lake. The first trip carried Ernie Nagy, myself, and our baggage. The short flight provides spectacular scenery, including mountain sheep and moose, lakes and rivers, valleys and mountains.
We stopped at the lodge at Tincup Lake to drop off Ernie, and I was frankly delighted to see Larry and Jose again. They made me feel like we were old friends, meeting again after a parting, which had lasted too long. The lodge is incredible. Immaculately clean and neat, it has a completely equipped modern kitchen, a cozy living/dinning room with a corner bar, and a wood burning stove. The whole building is made of light cedar wood and creates the impression that it was finished only yesterday. There are two duplex guest cabins, built with the same wood, just as clean, just as cozy. As you enter each cabin, you find snow white bathrobes, soft slippers, two double beds in each room, a wood burning stove, some shelves, a desk with chairs, and two clean raincoats, which double as floatation devices. All roofs in the lodge complex are painted red. Besides the main lodge and cabins, there is a well equipped work/storage shed, laundry room, generator shed, staff quarters, a pier, boats, canoes, kayaks, a Jacuzzi, and a fantastic Russian/ Finnish style steam sauna with a trail leading into the ice-cold lake for the brave. After a short visit, we climbed back into the plane and a quick flight landed us on Dogpack Lake. By the time the plane returned with the rest of the family, I was into my third Arctic Graying! The water was literally boiling with fish in this lake. One of the two tent cabins on Dogpack Lake is used as a kitchendining facility. It has an excellent propane stove, a long work table for preparing food and storing utensils, some metal storage boxes under this table, a cozy eating table for four, and a wooden bed, which we used as a "couch ". The other tent is the bedroom, with beds, a coffee table with chairs a wood stove, and some shelves along the walls.
The first two weeks the grayling were still extremely hungry after the lean winter and the strain of breeding; they attacked almost anything. Since aquatic insects, mostly various caddis fly, small Chironomid, and mosquito larva were moving toward the shallows to hatch, the grayling had also moved into the shallows and were feeding voraciously. The water was crystal clear, fish were quite visible, and we would usually select the fish we wanted to catch and cast to it. Frequently grayling could be reached with a simple roll cast from shore. At other times it was easy and pleasant wading to get to the fish. The size of Dogpack Lake grayling is indeed surprising:19-20 inches was average, and larger ones are not uncommon. This is significantly larger than the grayling I had caught in Alaska. We never did figure out where all the small grayling were; probably they were hiding out from the Lake trout in the rivers and streams. They fought well, jumping into the air and making zigzag runs along the shore. The occasional grayling would head for the deep water. Nothing larger than a fiveweight rod with a seven-foot leader and a 5 X tippet is needed to have a sporting time with these delightful fish. A size 16 TDC or Pheasant Tail Nymph were my favorite wet flies, while a size 14 flying ant pattern or various caddis imitations where my most frequent choices for dry fly fishing for the grayling.
The graylings stomach contents were very basic: a tossed salad of various pupae and larva, plus whatever terrestrial insects they could find. A special favorite seemed to be ants, which had been blown into the water by the breeze. The larger grayling had ingested occasional small fish and snails. Grayling meat is white and firm. If filleted correctly they have few bones and are delicious to eat fried, grilled or steamed. After the first two weeks the grayling became less willing to come to the surface. But they were just as numerous in deeper water. A longer leader, a strike indicator with a nymph at the business end, and a very slow retrieve worked well.
The story continues on Page 2.
All text by Padre