'Why are you fishing here?': Spat with Great Slave Lake lodge owner sparks conversation on fishing etiquette

A 'buzz killing' confrontation with a fishing lodge manager marred the day for one fisherman, and launched a discussion for others.

Rules about where to fish on Great Slave Lake? It's not clear there are any

Fishing near Utsingi Point on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake. (Submitted by Jason Squires)

If you have a fishing licence you can cast your line pretty much anywhere you like on Great Slave Lake, but many people have their own ideas about where you should and shouldn't drop a line.

Exclusive fishing rights don't belong to anyone — fishing lodges included — anywhere on the lake, according to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. 

But the regulations don't stop sport fishers from having their own opinions about what's good to go on Great Slave Lake.

'Why are you fishing here?' 

Last month three men from Yellowknife set off in their boat on a six-day camping and fishing trip to the East Arm.

One of those three men, Jamie Hynes, said it wasn't too long after anchoring near the shoreline of a fishing lodge when they saw another boat motoring toward them.

"I thought he was just coming to say hello. He looked friendly enough," Hynes said.

"Then it was 'Hello, how's the fishing?' And then 'Why are you fishing here? I can't tell you not to fish here, but why are you fishing here in our spot?'"

Hynes said the man continued to question them for about five minutes.

"It put a sour mood on the trip, to tell you the truth. It killed the buzz that day for sure."

The men were just outside of Plummer's Great Slave Lake fishing lodge, established 60 years ago.

Chuk Coulter, the general manager of Plummer's for the last 15 years, has a different version of what happened.

"We were like, 'these guys must have a problem.' Why else would they have all this water and are just fishing within 100 yards  of the lodge windows doing a U-turn and then doing it over and over again?

"I went out there and wanted  to know what they were doing," Coulter said. "If they had a problem and if there was something they wanted to tell us … it did not seem logical. I reiterated a bunch of times that: 'Boys I'm not telling you where to fish or where you can't fish. I just want to know why you are insisting on fishing right here'."

Fishing etiquette, according to the 'Mayor of Quiet Cove'

"There is no code," says Phil — the Mayor of Quiet Cove — Morck, who's been fishing in the East Arm of Great Slave Lake for more than 30 years at his camp, Quiet Cove, about 30 kilometres away from Plummer's lodge.

Phil Morck, aka 'the Mayor of Quiet Cove.' (Submitted by Phil Morck)

"Everyone can fish everywhere," he said.

Morck said he frequently fishes near the lodge.

"Heck, they come down to our camp and fish in front of our camp and we don't care."

Years ago, Morck recalls, Plummer's staff were known to be very territorial.

"They were so bad," he said. "If you were around Utsingi Point or on the north end of Etthen Island they would sweep in and try to cut your lines with their boats."

But Coulter said Morck has it wrong.

"You get the guys who think we must know where all the fishing is and they follow my guides ridiculously close," Coulter said.

"I saw one Facebook comment saying my guides had run over [their] lines. Well, I have never heard that story but I have definitely heard my guides complain about Yellowknife locals running over their line because they are [following] so close."

Know the waters and their history

Shonto Catholique of Lutselk'e, a small community on the south side of the East Arm, also believes "people can fish or set net anywhere they want."

Last summer he was a member of the  Dene Watchers of the Land Program (Ni Hat'ni Dene), where he'd go out on Great Slave Lake to talk to boaters about fishing practices and take fish samples.

"The East Arm is huge," he said. "We don't say 'this is my fishing spot get out of here'. People don't do that here."

Shonto Catholique fishing near Pearson Point on Great Slave Lake. (Submitted by Shonto Catholique)

But Catholique adds that although people can fish anywhere, some spots require more respect than others.

"There are a lot of sacred sites on the lake and legends. When you drive past certain spots you have to be quiet, to respect animals and fish. There are huge fish and even some monsters in the lake. They deserve our respect." 

Personal code gives lodges a wide birth

Randy Straker, who's been fishing on Great Slave Lake for years, said there's a code he follows, and that other anglers should respect.

Randy Straker holds up a fish he caught in the North Arm of Great Slave Lake. (Submitted by Randy Straker)

"Normal protocol is, you aren't going to fish in [a fishing lodge's] front yard within a few hundred yards. You have to respect business to some extent. They are there bringing people in and it contributes to the good of the territory, sport fishing in the N.W.T."

"But saying that, the lake is the lake and everyone has a right to find areas and fish. I think it's a big lake and there are lots of areas and nobody owns a spot on it."  


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