Well, I was standing on the bank of the Kakisa River last week wondering what the fish gods would deliver this time.

A rare photo of Mac Stark without sunglasses and holding an Arctic grayling from the Kakisa River in 2005, obviously a spawning male judging by the milt dripping from its anal fin. Mac died on Oct. 6 last year. A bench dedication ceremony will be held for him at the Kakisa River day use area on June 9. photo courtesy of John Nishi

The last few years my most consistent prize has been wet, shivering cold and little else. The mighty Kakisa, it seemed, was undergoing a grayling crisis. Plenty of soggy and miserable fishermen and fisher-girls but not many fish.

I was thinking about Mac Stark, the late, great Hay River fly fishing legend who passed away last fall. I, like many anglers on his email list, all anticipating the first bit of open water fishing of the new year, had grown accustomed to his spring reports on the state of the Kakisa, and the last few years those reports have been grim.

“No grayling – again!” He would ominously write while driving the alarm into every nook and cranny of the environment and fisheries bureaucracy.

But not this year. This spring grayling pilgrimage I’d be heading south of Great Slave with no Mac Stark intel.

When I think of the Kakisa, Mac comes to mind sooner or later. It was he, although wary of truckloads of Yellowknifers horning in on his favourite fishing spot, who convinced me to make this special river a must visit come late April/early May.

It’s not like we were very close. I’ve met him only a handful of times. I think he was a fan of the column, although one not at all afraid to hold this fishin’ scofflaw accountable for various piscarian transgressions.

One time he emailed me to complain about a Technician column where I had mentioned my use of meal worms purchased from the pet store to go ice fishing for yellow perch. He had cc’d every fisheries officer in the territory. They’re legal by the way but I digress.

I still own – and cherish – the box of flies Mac had tied and donated to the NWT Disabilities Council 10 years ago for its annual celebrity auction. The fly box was claimed by my wife as a Christmas gift, on a buzzer-beater bid on a night where it attracted numerous others and climbed in price all evening.

The flies inside were a motley assortment of ornate hairs and feathers meant to drive grayling out of their minds – and they did. I still have most of them, and they’re still deadly.

The box also came with a neat little grayling pin. I wore it on my fishing vest for many years until the grayling decal gave way, leaving only the brass backing.

Fly fishing for suckers

A few years back, I mentioned to him that I had started fly fishing for suckers and had at least limited success. A couple weeks later a parcel arrived at the Yellowknifer office containing yet another box of flies Stark had hand-fashioned for my pursuit of suckers, a not very prized fish but challenging and exciting to catch on the fly.

The box came with a note.

“These ones will work!” It said, and they did. I still have those too.

Above all, Mac was a passionate defender of fishing resources in the territory. He railed tirelessly against poor fishing practices and questionable fisheries management. And as I indicated earlier, he was a keen watchdog over the precious grayling run on the Kakisa River. He was usually the first to know and report on what was going on with the river. He must’ve driven thousands of kilometres over the years to do that.

As such, a number of like-minded people and organizations have pooled together some money to purchase a bench in his honour that will overlook his favourite perch on the Kakisa River. A dedication ceremony and BBQ is set for the day use area at the Kakisa River on June 9, starting at 11 a.m.

Not sure I’ll be able to make it but I’ll certainly be thinking of him.

By the way, the fishing on river this year was fantastic – at least for me. Lots of big Arctic grayling and a few mountain whitefish.

Sorry Mac wasn’t around to enjoy it this year, but I’m sure he would be pleased. Cheers.

Mike Bryant

Mike W. Bryant is the managing editor for NNSL Media. He started working for Northern News Services as a general news reporter in 1999. He is the recipient of numerous national and provincial journalism...

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  1. Mac Stark’s camaraderie, companionship and friendship will be greatly missed. I started fly-fishing as early as ’94-’95 with him on the Kakisa River. He taught me fly-fishing, fly-tying, along with in’s-and-out’s of flyrods, whether they’re faster-or-slower action or to keeping the weights of the rods, tippet and lines consistent. He provided me with all of my first fly-tying equipment and ties my first hare’s ear nymphs with him. I will greatly miss Mac and hope he’ll be there in spirit on the Kakisa. – SBH