Found in Nunavut Canada north of the Arctic Circle, the Tree River flows northward into the Coronation Gulf of the Arctic Ocean. The river itself flows for some distance, but it is only the last 10 km, located below a large waterfall, which hold sea run arctic char. The river is unique in that it offers little fish holding water in the upper stretches due to the sheer speed the river.
The Tree River Outpost Camp
operated by Plummer’s Arctic Lodges
is located at the base of the first set of rapids upstream of the Arctic Ocean. This set of rapids divides the slow lower river from the upper whitewater section. In August 2017, I found myself working as a guide during the busiest season at the Tree River camp. This was my second year in a row guiding in the late season or the “fall” at the Tree River.
Fishing can be a bit of a challenge in late August, as many fish in the upper section of the river have been there for most of the season and have already seen many flies. On top of this, the char are getting into a pre-spawn mentality with males starting to hold territories. The lower stretches of the river see fresh runs of chrome char coming in from the Arctic Ocean to feed in the estuary and lower reaches of the river in preparation for winter in the river. These fish are always in peak condition after feeding in the sea all summer.
My first few days at the river found me too busy working to get a chance to personally fish, but eventually, I found the time and set off upriver with another guide named Steve Erickson. We hiked for a mile before we got to the small run we planned on fishing. Fishing late season at the Tree River usually results in low numbers of fish caught, but they are at their most stunning coloration of the year.
Pretty quickly into the trip, I hooked up with my first Tree River char in almost a year, a small female. After landing it, I took a break and took over net-man duties for Steve, who hooked up with another female. Female char are good looking fish, but they definitely take a back seat to the males in terms of coloration. As the evening light starting to fade, I hooked up with the fish I was hoping for. A short chase downstream to slower water and I was able to land the most vibrantly colored male char I had ever seen. I was dumbstruck at the coloration of that fish.
Following that male, I took a break to reflect on the beauty of the fish, the river, and the surrounding area. Meanwhile, Steve hooked up with and fought a few more fish, but none were brought to net. With light running out, I decided to try a few more casts before heading back for the night. I cast about 30 feet from shore in the location I had just hooked my last fish, and almost immediately had a take. After a few seconds of dead weight, a large male char began thrashing on the surface. I did everything I could to control the fish and prevent it from running into the fast current but eventually had to chase the fish downstream. About 300 meters downstream of where I hooked the fish Steve was able to slip the net under it and land it for me. It was only then that I realized how big the fish was. After a few quick pictures, I released the buck back into the slack water and it immediately took off upstream.
Over the course of the next 10 days, I managed to get back up river a few more times and connected with a few char each outing. I also fished downriver for fresh sea run arctic char. I’d spent a few days chasing these fish with clients and had come to realize they were the hardest fighting fish I had seen in freshwater. I’d caught a few smaller char and ok lake trout in the lower river, but I wanted to connect with a bigger char fresh from the ocean. On my last night at the Tree, I managed to get out fishing downriver with another guide, Pandelis Kolkas, who is the master of fishing the downriver sections of the Tree. Early in the night, I hooked into a good sized fish. After a fight that did not disappoint with multiple aerial displays I landed what turned out to be a chrome male char, and the only large char I landed that night.
Upon flying out the following day I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be lucky enough to find myself back at the Tree River in the future. If all goes as planned I’ll be finding myself back at the Tree in August 2018 for another season of chasing these beasts.
Chance Prestie is a fly fishing guide for Plummer’s Arctic Lodges focusing on big Arctic Char. Check him out on Instagram @ccprestie!
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