Cold Fish

Cold Fish

  • By: John Sherman
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Cold Fish

Fly Rod & Reel’s Angling Adventures 2013

 

In one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world, with just 31,000 humans spread over an area the size of western Europe, Nunavut, Canada offers one of the last great fly-fishing experiences on the planet—testing remote rivers for Arctic char that range between five and 25 pounds. The only problem with that? Anglers are restricted to a narrow, two-week timeframe—late August and early September—to fish the Ekaluk River, a window that includes the first arrival of aggressive, mint-bright char and the onset of another brutal Arctic winter. Hit that window just right, armed with a Spey rod, T-14 sink-tips and colorful flies, and you’re likely to catch anadromous fish like the pioneering Atlantic salmon and steelhead fishermen found 100 years ago, with just polar bears, tundra grizzlies, red foxes, ptarmigan and musk ox—plus a few lucky anglers—for company. That’s what photographer John Sherman found last fall. These images tell his story.

by John Sherman

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Native Inuits rely on char to sustain them through Nunavut’s brutal winters. To preserve the fish, the Inuits fillet, slice and hang char to dry in the near-constant Arctic wind. To keep birds away, seagulls are sometimes sacrificed. During Sherman’s trip char was served for almost every meal, sometimes baked, other times sashimi-style. He said eating char sashimi-style felt barbaric; brined char was so good it dissolved in his mouth like candy.

Below, an Inuit runs anglers up the Ekaluk where guide duties are taken over by master guide Jack Elofsson.

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Sherman and his companions fished about three miles of the Ekaluk, from tidewater upstream to where the river exits a massive lake. Braving high winds and temperatures in the 30s and 40s, the crew hiked over the tundra and Spey-cast into the river at likely spots. Sherman said that every char they hooked peeled into their backing, a combination of bright, strong fish and heavy current. Sherman said the char were “hotter” than the Atlantic salmon he’s caught and on par with Northwest steelhead. He said the fish weren’t as aggressive as steelhead, but they would take a bright fly if you put it in front of them. The only negative? The char rarely jumped, and when they did Sherman described them as “meager” attempts. Still, Sherman rates the Arctic and a quest for char as one of the last great fishing opportunities.

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