Fly fishing in the Northwest Territories

Far northern Canada offers many angling options

  • By: Fly Rod and Reel
Fly fishing in the northwest territories.

In the far north of Canada, there are fighting fish and there are fighting fish. There's the wily northern pike who'll head out with your line, on a huge northern lake, then zoom back under the boat, just to test your skill. There are hungry trout that give a gentle take on the line and float along happily till you try to reel them in, and then watch out! Arctic grayling are fierce and flying fighters that need a very gentle but firm hand. And there's the greatest test of all— big red —the Arctic char.

Arctic Char
Arctic char 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 5 to 7 lbs, although fish weighing 15 lbs are common in some NWT rivers. A brightly coloured fly, or dead-drifting a small bright or natural coloured nymph, will catch 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.

Arctic Grayling

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. 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 clean northern rivers. Average weights range from 1 to 2 lbs, but grayling over 5 lbs have been caught in the Northwest Territories. Dry flies such as Wulff, Adams and hairwing patterns are usually effective.

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 5 to 15 lbs, but range up to 40 lbs.

Lake Trout

Lake trout are the largest of the trout family, ranging up to 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. 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.

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.


These large, 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 5 lbs. Pickerel prefer turbid waters, sunken trees or shoals, where they are protected from the light.

Lake Whitefish
Whitefish provide a lot of angling action, but must be reeled in gently as they have fragile mouths. 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 2.5 lbs. They are good fighters on a small fly or spinner.

Dolly Varden/Bull Trout
The 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. 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 2.2 lbs but can reach up to 6 lbs.

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