The author with a nice lake trout

These intrepid anglers planned to explore the NWT’s remote Aylmer Lake. The weather had other plans


The author with a nice lake troutTen minutes into the flight out of Yellowknife, I’m reminded why I’m continually drawn to Canada’s subarctic. Below is a rocky, rolling landscape of greys, blues and a full palette of greens. There’s the dark hunter green of the spruce forests, the Kelly green of the fens, and the olive green where the granite grudgingly allows the intrusion of lichens and moss. The blue is more uniform, a dark sapphire wherever lakes and rivers have carved a permanent home into the bedrock, itself a varied backdrop of grey.


The scene below is at once rugged, desolate and imposing, yet beautiful and bewitching. To the south, I see the north shore of Great Slave Lake, sliding further away with every passing air mile. Soon, we’re over the transition where the mosaic of the taiga landscape turns to tundra, and I know we’re nearing our destination—Aylmer Lake.

Although 1,700-square-kilometre Aylmer is the N.W.T.’s seventh largest lake, I didn’t know anything about it until five or so years ago. Located some 360 kilometres by air northeast of Yellowknife, the lake had seen little human activity until 2000, when a caribou-hunting lodge was built on its east end. That operation was shuttered just five years later, however, when the area’s caribou hunt was closed.

Then in 2012, the husband-and-wife team of Kevin and Patti McNeil took over ownership of the lodge, transforming it into a fishing destination. Before that, there had been virtually no sportfishing on Aylmer. Nor had there ever been a commercial fishery, or a First Nations sustenance fishery. As a result, these are pristine waters in every sense, and in discussions with Kevin, I learned that his guests seldom venture more than an hour away from the lodge—all the lake trout and Arctic grayling they could ever want can be found without travelling far.


That gave me an idea, and after running it by Kevin, he agreed to rent me and my friend Dave Kay a boat and motor to explore Aylmer’s unspoiled, historic waters for eight days on our own early last August. Did we find the untapped, virginal waters we’d dreamed of? Let’s just say that after leaving the lodge in Rockness Bay that first morning, we didn’t see another person or boat until we motored back into the lodge bay a week later. As for the fishing itself, the weather gods had plans of their own.