Catch, fry, and eat your own fish on Yellowknife’s Great Slave Lake

Bluefish Services boat on Great Slave Lake near Yellowknife

My ride for a spectacular fishing trip on Great Slave Lake


Even fishing newbies are all but guaranteed to catch a Northern Pike on guided tours

“You’re going to want to put a coat on.”

I’m standing in front of a boat at the edge of a small dock on Yellowknife Bay and Greg Robertson from Bluefish Services is handing me a winter windbreaker and a fuzzy hat with earflaps. I look at him skeptically — even though we’re north of the 60th parallel, it’s June, and the sun, which will be up in full force until well after 10 pm, is beating down.

“Believe me, I know what I’m talking about,” Robertson says, clearly used to southerners (which includes anyone from the Canadian provinces) thinking that they can withstand the cold winds coming off of Great Slave Lake. “There was ice on that lake just a week ago.”

houseboats in Yellowknife Bay

Yellowknife Bay is dotted with eclectic houseboats


I’m not convinced, just as I’m not convinced that I’ll actually be able to catch a fish out on the lake, but I put on the gear and gingerly climb into the boat. After making sure everyone is warm enough and has safely secured their life jackets, Robertson starts the motor on his boat and we’re speeding past houseboats on the 10th largest lake in the world (and the deepest in North America).

fishing on Great Slave Lake with Bluefish Services

The author works hard to pull in a northern pike with the help of Greg Robertson. Photo by Julie Van Rosendaal


Once we get past the houseboat settlements and the “skyline” of Yellowknife and zoom beyond the First Nations community of Dettah, Robertson dodges the boat through a series of dark rock islands and stops in shallow waters near an uninhabited shore. He asks us if we see any fish, and a more seasoned fisherman responds positively, so Robertson hauls some rods out of the boat’s cargo compartment. Never having fished before, I’m not feeling too confident about the prospect of catching my own dinner, but after a half dozen casts, I get a solid bite. It’s a northern pike and with Robetson’s help, I reel it in and he gamely wrestles the fish off the hook. It’s the first fish I’ve ever caught in my life. About 10 minutes later, I’ve caught a second.

Catching a Northern Pike on Great Slave Lake

Success! Photo by Julie Van Rosendaal


Before long, all four passengers on our boat have caught several fish, more than we need for a shared meal (Robertson is very careful to release the fish we don’t need back into the water). With such a large body of water surrounded by a relatively sparse population, Great Slave Lake is not only ripe for the picking when it comes to fish, but, even more extraordinarily, the water is clean enough to drink. If you’re thirsty on a fishing trip, just dip a cup into the lake and refresh yourself.

After we’ve caught our bounty, Robertson jets us over to another part of the shore to show us what was at one time a religious encampment — the only evidence remaining being some metal rings embedded in the ground to secure tents and some haphazard crosses fashioned out of trees. Then we’re off to a small island — basically a big black rock — that is also home to a small settlers’ graveyard. We peek at the white-picketed graves before hauling the fish and a small camp stove up to a sunny spot. Robertson expertly cleans the fish on the shore, tossing the guts into the bushes for gangs of birds to fight over, before cooking up a shore lunch. With a side of beans, some tartar sauce and wedges of lemon, the lightly breaded quick-fried fish tastes better than any restaurant meal I’ve ever eaten.

Blueshore Services' Greg Robertson serves a freshly caught shore lunch on a rock in the middle of Great Slave Lake

Blueshore Services’ Greg Robertson serves a freshly caught shore lunch on a rock in the middle of Great Slave Lake


The next day I help to judge the World Shore Lunch competition at the Yellowknife Visitors’ Centre, where local restaurants and tour operators compete with fancier versions of what Robertson did on that rock island the day before — a good substitute for those who can’t get out on the lake themselves as well as a chance for locals to indulge in some civic pride. The shore lunch is a beloved Yellowknife tradition, and through the competition I learn that innovative chefs can dress fresh-caught fish up with anything from tomato confit to birch syrup vinaigrette, provided that they can pack it along in their onboard cooler.

While the season for this kind of fishing trip is relatively short in Yellowknife (the lake is frozen solid all winter and into the spring), but Bluefish Services also offers winter kite flying and ice fishing trips. Summer shore lunch trips run from $125 per person to $285 depending on how long you plan to be out and which species of fish you choose to target. For more information, visit the Bluefish Services website.

For more information on the World Shore Lunch, visit the event’s website here.

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