Visitors and residents over the age of 16 and under 65 require Northwest Territories fishing licences, available by mail, from government offices or at lodges and convenience stores across the territory.
There are fighting fish and there are fighting fish. There's the wily northern pike who'll head out with your line, then zoom back under the boat, just to test your skill. There's monster trout that give a gentle nibble and float along behind the boat till you try to reel them in and then watch out! Tiny Arctic grayling are fierce and flying fighters that need a very gentle but firm hand. There's a fish for every hook and fly in our rivers and lakes.
Arctic char, a member of the salmon family, can be found in rivers along the north coast of the Northwest Territories and on the Arctic islands. Char are feisty fighters and commonly range in size from 2.3 to 3.2 kg (5 to 7 lbs.), although fish weighing 6.8 kg (15 lbs) are common in some NWT rivers. Land locked char are typically smaller, and found in lakes in the northern part of the Northwest Territories. A brightly coloured fly, or dead-drifting a small bright or natural coloured nymph usually catches their attention.
Char have a dark green back that shades to silvery sides, with pale white/pink spots. At spawning time, returning upriver from the sea, both male and female sea run char are brightly coloured, the male a vivid orange-red. Flesh colour varies, but the distinctive char flavour rivals salmon.
A member of the whitefish family, grayling are treasured for their exciting action. These pretty little fish have a sail-like dorsal fin and are found at the mouth of cold northern rivers. Average weights range from 0.4 to 0.9 kg (1 to 2 lbs), but grayling over 2.2 kg (5 lbs) have been caught in the Northwest Territories. Dry flies such as Wulff, Adams and hairwing patterns are usually effective. Lures can include small spinners and spoons, size 0-1 Mepps and small rubber jigs.
Many anglers believe the Arctic grayling rivals the smallmouth bass with its jarring strikes, spectacular aerial somersaults, short powerful runs, and a preference for avoiding the net. Sensitive to pollution, the Arctic grayling has disappeared from many areas in North America, but remains a classic catch in the North. They mature and spawn at 4 or 5 years (a length of about 11 to 12 inches). Sometimes called bluefish, the grayling is dark blue with pink and purple tones and an iridescent sheen. Although tiny, they are excellent eating, fresh from the lake.
Great Northern Pike
A highly regarded freshwater game fish, hard-fighting great northern pike, sometimes called jackfish, are found in most lakes and rivers in mainland Northwest Territories. They prefer warmer water; slow, heavily-vegetated rivers, or weedy bays. Pike generally run from 2.3 to 6.8 kg (5 to 15 lbs), but range up to 18.1 kg (40 lbs). Pike will hit medium to large size spoons and spinners. They also break surface to strike flies and plugs.
Pike have long bodies with dark green to brown colours on their backs. Their sides are lighter with yellow to whitish spots, running from head to tail. They have very sharp pointed teeth, as many an unwary angler has learned the hard way. This is a lean fish, with firm white flesh, delicious fresh from the lake.
Lake trout are the largest of the trout family, ranging up to 35 kg (77 lbs). They provide spectacular sport in the cold water of Great Bear and Great Slave Lakes, and in smaller lakes on the mainland and Arctic Islands. Trout average 4.5 kg but catches of 18 kg are common. They grow slowly in our cold waters, taking 12 or more years to mature, while learning a thing or two about evading capture. They are caught by spin casting or trolling, or for spectacular sport, try a fly rod and wet flies. In early summer, they take large silver spoons, wigglers, large spinners, surface plugs and dry flies. In mid-summer, you’ll need jigs and buzz bombs.
They range in colour from light green or grey to dark green, brown or almost black, with a light coloured belly. The body and tail are covered with light spots and the tail is deeply forked. The flesh varies from ivory to deep pink, with the brighter colour indicating the fish feeds on fresh water shrimp. No matter what the colour, this fish is superb eating.
The literal translation from French is “unknown”. This whitefish averages from 4 to 9 kg (9 to 20 lbs) but some can reach up to 31 kg (70 lbs). They are common in the Mackenzie Delta, and migrate upstream to spawn in the Peel, Arctic Red and Mackenzie rivers and as far south as the Liard River. They are also found in Great Slave Lake. Spoons and spinning lures early in the season are most likely to attract these excellent eating fish. Gold and silver spoons will attract them, and they will try a drifting rubber-tailed jig.
Called coney or sheefish in the Northwest Territories, they resemble a large herring, with a dark back, silvery sides and large scales. A fat, oil rich fish, it can be cooked like salmon, and is delicious smoked.
Also known as walleye, these big fighting perch can be hooked in the Mackenzie River watershed as far north as the Delta, and the tributary streams and rivers of Great Slave Lake. They can weigh up to 2.3 kg (5 lbs). Walleye spawn in tributaries of Great Slave Lake, and are also plentiful in other inland lakes and rivers. They prefer turbid waters, sunken trees or shoals, where they are protected from the light. Usually caught at twilight, this is a schooling fish, and lures include a spinner, spoon, plug, jig or streamer flies. They are determined fighters, once hooked.
Pickerel have two dorsal fins, the front one with sharp spines. Their colour ranges from olive to golden brown to yellow, with golden flecks. A lean fish, with snowy white flesh, walleye are excellent eating.
They can be found throughout the Northwest Territories in lakes and rivers and in the Mackenzie Delta. A member of the salmon and trout family, whitefish have white flesh with a delicate, sweet flavour. They average 1.1 kg (2.5 lbs). They are good fighters on a small fly or spinner, but have a delicate mouth. They can also be taken with small gold spoons. When the water is warm, you can land them with small jigs or deep flies. Whitefish provide a lot of action, but must be hooked gently as they have fragile mouths. They have narrow silvery bodies and a small head compared to their size.
Lake whitefish are the most common commercially harvested lake fish in the Northwest Territories, and are served year round, fresh from the lake, in our restaurants.
Dolly Varden/Bull Trout
Dolly Varden is a fine looking fish that resembles a bull trout and can be found in the western Mackenzie Delta, along the northern slope of the Richardson Mountains and on the Peel River watershed. They can reach up to 1.5 kg (3 lbs) and will take imitation roe and pixie spoons. A relative of the char and trout, Dolly Varden is often confused with bull trout. Bull trout are found in the Liard and Mackenzie watersheds and the streams that flow out of the Mackenzie Mountains. Both have dark backs with small red, orange or yellow spots on the back and sides. Bull trout average about 1 kg (2.2 lbs) but can reach up to 3 kg (6.6 lbs). Bull trout are aggressive, and will take medium-size spinners, spoons and flies.
This odd looking fish is common in rivers and large lakes in the Northwest Territories. There are plenty in the outflows of small streams in the Mackenzie Delta during early winter. Also called loche, mariah or lingcod they have a distinctive appearance with their oval shaped tails and a barbell, like a whisker, under the chin. They are masters of camouflage, and range in colour from yellow to almost black depending on the clarity of the water. In late winter they can be taken with artificial lures and with jigs and spoons, through the ice. Burbot may reach 1.2 metres (4 feet) in length and a weight of 34 kg (75 lbs), but the average is under 4.5 kg (10 lbs). They are voracious feeders, feeding mainly at night. They are a good eating fish with firm creamy white flesh, often served in northern restaurants as cod or lingcod.