Travel Journal: Fly Fishing the Nunavut Territory in Canada

David Radcliffe Arctic

To use the correct common term, the silence is deafening.

When you are used to the ever-constant city pandemonium, or for that matter, the quiet comfort of the country, nothing compares to the solitude of a vast far away land. This land is a place where every man, woman, and child has 52 square miles. And if you think some place like Alaska is big and exotic, Nunavut in Northern Canada will amaze, no, astound you.

This narrative best describes Canada’s newest and most vast territory of Nunavut. Nunavut was first created in 1999 after the Inuit (NOT Eskimo — “eskimo” is a word given to them by their enemies meaning eaters of raw meat and is not used in the Inuit language) convinced the Canadian government that they were a distinct culture and should run their own affairs. So, what is the connection with this far away land that has any correlation with the sport we so relish?


I was invited to visit a friend’s newly established eco-tourism lodge to make suggestions on where best to establish viewing areas for the twice-annual Barren Ground Caribou Migration. Looking on a map did me no good, nor did uncle Google, as there were just too many options with lake after lake after lake. Naturally I packed my fly rods, given I would have a considerable amount of down time.

My trip began as any fly-in fly fishing destination trip would: with a ride in a relatively comfortable Dash 7 aircraft, flying over hundreds of miles of nothing (and by nothing I mean nothing but for lakes and rivers). Not one person, civilized or otherwise, lives between the departure point and the 445 air miles. The flight left from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories and crossed over the Nunavut border somewhere into the flight, and you literally fly over seemingly endless lakes and rivers.

David Radcliffe Grayling

My friend had no intention of promoting his new establishment as a fly fishing destination, nor had he done any exploratory fishing. None. He just picked an enormous lake on a map, with a river in and a river out and one that intersects with the migrating caribou. It turns out half of the lake is within the boreal forest and the northern portion lies in the tundra, a treeless wonderland, but rich in wildlife. Ennadai Lake is not known just for its sheer size, but it turns out it is also known for its many other natural attributes … like fish.

Having fished my way around much of the world, it is often difficult to describe fishing opportunities objectively, given the amount of influencing or external factors to consider. Alberta’s Bow River, Christmas Island in the Republic of Kiribati, or the chalk streams of England all have great fly fishing opportunities. Arctic Haven Lodge has none of those.

What my friend at Arctic Haven Lodge has inadvertently found is a fishery that has never seen a fly, lure or hook.

What is has is a vigorous, ultra pristine ecosystem where the fish are so abundant, any fly you choose will likely suffice. What it has is a lake, some 60 miles in length, some 30 miles wide and a gin clear river that appears to be from a fly fishing textbook. And it has me.

The lake has northern pike, lake trout and Arctic grayling. The latter two are so prolific that it is not uncommon to have a trout trying to eat grayling that are trying to shake a fly. Lake trout come to any streamer or Clouser minnow pattern whether presented with grace or slopped down as if casting to a stiff wind. Trolling large minnow patterns in silver and black seemed to catch no limit of lake trout. The entire trip I used one single fly for lake trout. That fly, a once finely crafted minnow pattern of fine silver and glossy black with a touch of crimson red, ended the trip more resembling Cruella de Vil’ hair from 1001 Dalmatians than it did a fly. And it still caught fish.

Pike up to 25 pounds rip up 10wt. gear. The flies of choice were long, puffy and ostentatious flies that moved water. They only mildly resembled prey and more resembled mop ends after a day’s fishing.

grayling release

The Kazan River, which flows both in and out of Ennadai Lake has to be the area’s piece de resistance. Not only was it a great area to view caribou migrating both north to the calving grounds and south for winter, it has pools, runs and riffles to die for. Fishing either nymphs or dries, the Arctic grayling were a real challenge on a 4wt. The gallant Arctic grayling often clear the tumbling water multiple times and take line to the backing. It’s not that they are a challenge to catch, they readily bite what ever is drifting passed — literally anything, including leaves, grass, flies, bark. The ice out season is so short, the fish need to gorge on anything and everything in order to survive what can be a more-than-a-little challenging winter. The challenge lies in landing these alluring fish of the salmon family. And when you do, and by just sheer numbers you will, the coloration on both fins and fish are a presentation of vibrant colors – pink, purple, red, white, orange, exotic.

So, in the end, we managed to find some excellent viewing locations. Primo locations where small bands of granola heads could sit in relative comfort, and watch tens of thousands of caribou, while their predators — grizzly, arctic wolf, wolverine, would cross paths with cameras and paint brushes … with Gore Tex and bug dope. And none with a rod, line or simple fly.

David Radcliffe

And while I was doing all this, I was perpetually thinking to my self, how can I get back here for a real fishing trip?

To quote Wolfgang von Goethe, “The soul that sees beauty may sometimes often walks alone.”

This best describes not only the fly fishing, but the stark symmetry of the land and water, the innocent often cruel nature and the ever so vast silence at Arctic Haven Lodge.

– David Radcliffe

The author lives in Canada’s arctic with his wife and two dogs. Retired from teaching he spend his days either thinking of fishing or fishing in exotic locations around the globe. When not either fishing or thinking about fishing, he books clients on exotic DIY fishing trips in a myriad of locations around the world and for many different species. He can be contacted at or on his Facebook page at DIY Sport Fishing Adventures.


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