Swedish version


Photo: Hans van Klinken

The inconnu, the unknown whitefish

By Hans van Klinken

Many fly fishermen visit Alaska and British Columbia each year. Most come, and return year after year, under the spell of pacific salmon and steelhead and the expectation of a good number of catches. This is what makes some parts of West Canada and Alaska pretty busy during summer. The most incredible story I ever heard was of a crowd of 260 who shared one river over a very short distance to fish for salmon. The story even reached the newspapers.

I fished Alaska and BC with great success and I mainly fished the quiet places but the spell didn’t get hold of me. How strange it may sound but in western Canada it is the fly-fishing in the Yukon that attracts me the most. There are not so many pacific salmon and steelhead in the Yukon and maybe that’s the reason why I love the fly-fishing in the Yukon so much. You wouldn’t find any fishing pressure and the fly-fishing is relatively new as well. Most fly fishers that fished the Yukon over the years came from abroad anyway. For local people, lake fishing is the most popular way to catch their fish and that’s probably why it is so well reviewed in fishing guides and reports.

About river fishing there isn’t much information available and there is a lot to explore and discover. The opportunity of fishing unknown waters is what I like so much about this area and there are hundreds of wonderful streams, brooks, and rivers that are still peaceful and unspoiled. When we travel by car we mainly fish the easy access waters but even there you don’t see any fly fishermen. You can float for hours in you belly-boat without seeing a single fisherman. Unfortunately, due to medical problems I can’t make long hikes in the wilderness anymore. Before my medical condition, I could easily walk for days beside riverbanks and through valleys, and I loved every minute. It is still hard to miss all those exciting trips and wonderful campouts and to get over it I choose for a new dimension in my life.

Photo: Hans van Klinken

I found a very good alternative by staying at fishing lodges so that I still can be as close as possible to the wild. Most lodges are located in perfect fishing areas and therefore long hikes are not really necessary to reach the hot spots. Most travelling is be done by boat and at those days we fish on our own or if a little hike is required we just keep a radio in our bag pack. When you get older and more fragile it is nice to know that there are people nearby just in case of an emergency. I often fish with fishing guides and native people. We share our knowledge and experiences and it turned out to be an excellent way to make new friends. How sparse the fly fishers really are in the Yukon is hard to say because the enormous distances but during my most recent trip in June and July 2001 I just met a handful of them. Last year I only met three people in the entire province whom exclusively fished for grayling by fly. Maybe now you can imagine that there is a lot of space left in an area that is almost as big as Spain. Fly-fishing in the Yukon is completely different from all my other fishing trips and experiences and that’s another reason why I probably like it so much.

Let me try to explain why the fly-fishing in the Yukon is so special for me. There are many reasons but in this story I will mainly tell you about fly-fishing for a special kind whitefish that surely will awake your attention. The Yukon Territory offers the fly fisher a lot but also some real big challenges. For those who are after whitefish the challenge can be enormous. When I talk about a real challenge it means that fishing for whitefish is not easy and maybe that is why so few people fish for them. Many people still believe that whitefish only exist in lakes, but they don’t. It depends on the species. Some species just stay in the lakes during winter, but as soon the rivers start to flow again they move up or even downstream. I also know of species that stay in rivers all year round. You just have to review the catch reports about ice fishing. It’s the river whitefish that is the most interesting for less experienced fly fisherman because in running water (including in- and outlets) they usually are easier to catch and are much more aggressive after our flies too.

In some of the Yukon lakes, the whitefish catches seem much easier than in other lakes and there are several lakes such as Dogpack, Wolf Lake and Tin Cup where it even seems impossible to hook them on flies. Those places got my biggest interest and attention. I simply couldn’t resist even trying harder after people told me it was useless to fish for them. Since I found some nice tricks to catch the European whitefish on dry flies and nymphs I realised that many people underestimate the whitefish as a game fish. For me, it is a wonderful fish to go for. I can assure you that all those people who like to fish for grayling will love it to catch a nice whitefish as well. If you think that fly-fishing for whitefish isn’t really spectacular then I only can say that you have missed at least one big opportunity and you surely should continue reading.

In the eighties, I only was familiar with three species of whitefish in Europe. One lives in the Bodensee and the other two we discovered in many Scandinavian lakes and rivers. At that time there was no information about whitefish in Eastern Europe, but there are some species reported in Russia. In the late eighties, I thought that I had a pretty good knowledge and experience about them but I was totally wrong. Thanks to the Internet, I know that there are worldwide over 30 different species of whitefish. Several of them even live in saltwater only.

Photo: Hans van Klinken

In fresh water, grayling and whitefish often share the same waters and it is because my passion for grayling that I get in touch with whitefish more frequently. As soon my whitefish catches improved my interest for them grown as well. It took me several years before I was able to catch some really nice ones and it was not easy to learn the difference in taking behavior between whitefish that live in rivers and lakes.

Each species of whitefish react completely different to our flies and for each individual species I have developed different type of flies. My biggest European whitefish caught on dry fly reached the unbelievable size of 66cm and I can assure you that it was a real whopper that gave me an awesome fight that is still in my memory today. In general, I succeed approximately 30% with dry fly and 70% with nymphs. In Europe, I discovered that sometimes they were easier to catch in rivers while the next day the lake fishing turned out to be the best. This surely has to do with the local weather conditions.

Most of the river whitefish I caught on really big flies in the beginning while fishing for grayling but in lakes I always succeed with very small flies and with a very thin tippet only. In the early nineties, I was finally skilful enough to fish selective for whitefish only. My favorite waters for catching whitefish in Europe are the upper part of the Glomma River and the beautiful lakes of Hodalen both located in Norway.

Photo: Hans van Klinken

Some of the whitefish in the Yukon behave a little different from the European species but one thing is the same; "they are extremely hard to catch ". For me it is a real challenge to fish for them and you surely will need a magic touch before you will succeed. I mainly thank my successes in the flies I tied at location after some intensive stomach researches. It took me two visits to the Yukon and several days of intensive fishing before I reached the stage that I could handle the more difficult places too. During all this time of exploring and experimenting I had surely one of the best challenges of my life. Even at times when the waters around me were boiling from feeding lake trout I was still trying hard to get my first whitefish.

This situation happened to me at Dogpack Lake. At this particular lake I saw shoals of hundreds of huge whitefish and I still was unable to catch one of them. This kept me very creative and innovative and in spite of getting frustrated it seduced me to open my trick box as wide as possible. I guess in my entire fly-fishing experience I never tried so many different techniques and experimental flies at one location as I did when I was trying to tempt the whitefish at the lakes Tin Cup and Dogpack.

That I am not the only one who is crazy about fly fishing for whitefish in the Yukon I heard recently while visiting Kluane Wilderness Lodge at Wellesly lake. Kluane and Tin Cup lodges work well together creating many new fishing possibilities. Wellesly Lake has offers many world record lake trout over the years and the pike fishing may be judged as one of the best in world.

Brian Chan, a fishery biologist from Kamploops, B.C has been visiting this wonderful lake for a few years. Brian is a great fly fisher and he became a well know writer after he did several great stories and a few wonderful book contributions. Most people will know him as Mr. Chironomid. Brian specially visits Wellesly to catch the whitefish on his chironomid imitations. Some people from the lodge told me that he even caught a pike and lake trout on them as well. I can understand Brian very well because the whitefish at Wellesly are enormous. Some of them reach sizes up to 10 lbs. I only had the chance to fish for them at Welllesly for one evening and got in the spell straight away. It was the first location where I succeed very well on dry flies instead of using nymphs. My biggest one was eight pounds and the average size was about seven pounds. Surely, this is a place to which we will return.

Whitefish all over the world are an important species in the food chain. In the Yukon they are food for lake trout, pike and even big whitefish. If you find a place with a lot of whitefish you can be sure there is an excellent fishing for other species as well. Because the whitefish feed most of the time in the shallows of the lakes you can select one fish and try to catch it on sight, which surely is one of the most beautiful ways of fly-fishing. I got many fish on sight and it always makes my day. If you finally hook one you quickly will discover that they fight much stronger then grayling but the risk of loosing them during your play is pretty high too. Depending on the species the landing chances easily can be 40% only! This of course because their small and very soft mouth. You will need some nice tricky flies to prevent slipping of the hook too easily. With curved hooks I finally increased the landing percentage up to 90%, which is an old trick from my Scandinavia experiences.

Photo: Hans van Klinken

The day that I finally succeed to catch the Tin Cup and Dogpack whitefish became very special for me. As soon I hit the right trick my wife wanted to go for them as well. It was a good day and amazingly it was just one of old Scandinavian nymph tricks that let us catch a dozen fish each. The next day was even better and after that we got fully into it. The whitefish wasn’t a problem anymore. Thanks to my tenancy I finally was able to catch all five species of whitefish in the Yukon. Three of them I caught in the Kluane area only. The fourth species I had already caught the year before in the Pelly River when we stay at Inconnu Lodge. The Least Cisco I got in the mighty Yukon River itself while playing around with some little nymphs. Although the catch of the Broad Whitefish, the Cisco, the Round Whitefish and the Lake or Humpback whitefish was already something really exciting it was nothing comparing to the fifth species.

The most spectacular by far was the catch of our first inconnu. This species is the biggest of all whitefish and is better known as the tarpon of the north. I guess now you understand why I wrote that if you don’t like fishing for whitefish that you missed a great opportunity. Inconnu is also called she-fish. It took me a whole year of preparation but the reward was enormously.

The first time I heard about the inconnu was when we visited Inconnu lodge, located at the banks at Mc Evoy lake. It’s a beautiful place to be but that’s another story. Inconnue lodge is surely one of the best-organised lodges in the north with many lakes and rivers around were nobody ever fished before.

Photo: Hans van Klinken

The name "Inconnu" means "unknown" in the French. It was at this place where I heard about the inconnu for the first time. In the main lodge they have two beautifully mounted real size inconnu on a huge display secured by glass and as soon I saw them I couldn’t resist learning everything about this wonderful species. On the fourth day of our visit I finally had the chance to fish for them in the Pelly lakes. Spoons catch most inconnu and I quickly find out that if you want to catch one by fly it has to be in moving water. It doesn’t matter if it runs fast or very slow as long it is moving. After an hour of intensive fishing I hooked one and lost it as soon the fish hits the surface. I felt it for only a few seconds. Unfortunately other catches stayed out for the rest of the day. I used one of the few local flies and I blame the fly for my losses. The fly I got was made on a big tin coloured hooked that looked 100 years old to me. I was sure the wire of the hook was much too thick and I guess I was right.

In the winter of 2000-2001 I designed a dozen of patterns in which I had great confidence to seduce and land an inconnu properly next time. I already had decided to return to the Yukon again and this time I had put all my efforts in some good preparation to catch an inconnu and hopefully land it this time.

Photo: Hans van Klinken

Thanks to the efforts of Larry Naggy we finally were able to catch the big inconnu while we stayed at Tin Cup Wilderness Lodge. This place is definitely one the most pleasant lodges in North America. The fishing is superb and even getting better every year thanks to a big catch and release promotion. The atmosphere at this lodge is outstanding and much different from any other place. This is surely one of the reasons why we visit this place so frequently. At Tin Cup I am able to do a lot of experimental fishing day after day and we discovered already many new locations to wet our flies successfully.

We were excellently prepared while we finally got the chance to fish for the big inconnu. So far at Tin Cup Lodge there no one ever caught an inconnu by fly before and we were the first people who wanted to fish with a fly for them. I already realised that we had to temp them from below the surface and we only had to find the right depth. We knew we had only one day so only one chance to fish for them. There were already four fish caught earlier this week so the prospects looked great and we knew the fish was there.

I already woke up at 4am that morning and the big challenge was there again. I had a good feeling and a very strong confidence in the flies I had tied for them. It actually was my wife who had the privilege to find the fish at the right dept and she caught the first one and I was very proud of her. When she hooked her first ever I was 400 meters away from her and the only thing what I saw was splashing white water around the boat from which she was fishing. Then I heard Larry calling loudly, "Inconnue, Inconnu" and his voice was echoing through the whole valley. I knew directly she had done well. I was just on time to make some nice pictures from the landing! Ina is the first woman who caught an inconnu while staying at Tin Cup Lodge and so far she is the first person that hooked and landed two by fly in less then an hour. Her first fish had the incredible size of 93cm and the second one was slightly smaller just 90cm. I got one too at same time Ina was playing her second fish and there was a lot of splashing around us. The only problem was that we both were playing so there was no possibility to shoot this spectacle on film. Mine turned out to be 89cm and I also was very happy with my first ever.

Why can the inconnu grow so big, in the Yukon, is still unknown. There is still a lot to learn about this wonderful species. The inconnu seems to like big muddy and silky rivers and associated lakes and the Yukon has plenty of them. Some people told me they live in the big lakes and spawn in the rivers that feed the lakes. Other stories say that they come from the Arctic Ocean and followed the drainages to the south. However, one thing is striking: The fight of the inconnu is the most amazing I ever seen and because we were using light tackle and flies the fish surely can played more freely than when hooked with a big heavy spoon. We fished for them with the famous Quick Decent fly lines from Cortland and succeeded at depths of about four meters. As soon an inconnu is hooked he comes up to the surface with an unbelievable speed. Before you realise that you hooked a fish he or she is already leaping.

Their fighting behavior is completely different from lake trout and pike so when the long sink tip line went to the surface with and unbelievable speed you know that it must be the inconnu that took the fly. I already had a very short experienced about this the year before. It probably seems easier for them to get away from the hook when fighting on the surface. When the line reached the surface the jumping starts and while leaping heavily an incredible show of tail walking begins and almost continues until the fish is landed. We had no clue about the real fighting behavior of the inconnue but I can assure you that we were so amazed that everybody looked at it with his or her mouth wide open. We didn’t lose any this time and that while I choose the right hooks and sizes feelingly. The wing I also made after my own preferences and that the flies were perfect was proven again when Larry caught the last one just before we had to leave. I never had seen or heard about any inconnu over one meter but Larry’s fish was 115 cm and I can assure you when he started tail walking it was a spectacle nobody of us ever will forget that.

By Hans van Klinken 2002



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