In more than three decades fishing the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, Michael Briggs has never seen anything like it.
A lake trout so large it broke the the three-pronged treble hook used to catch it – and it might break a record, too.
“It looked like a small shark,” said Vance Barteaux, Briggs’s uncle and the man who hooked the 65-pound swimmer.
It was an overcast Saturday afternoon, Labour Day weekend, and Briggs and Barteaux had been trolling the East Arm’s north shore for a few hours. All they’d snagged that day was old, tangled line and other detritus floating through the lake’s murky depths.
Coming up on 1 p.m., Briggs, a freshwater fishing veteran, suggested one more pass before the pair broke for lunch. He told his uncle, an angler of minimal experience from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., to let out the line, drop the hook down deep.
“You just wait,” said Briggs, “You’re going to catch a monster.”
Within moments, the line jerked.
“I think I’ve got something,” said Barteaux.
“I think you’re right,” said, Briggs, touching the line.
And thus began a 40-minute tug-of-war with what may be the largest lake trout on record ever pulled from Great Slave Lake.
Shoulders and forearms burning, Barteaux pulled and reeled and heaved. He’d gain 100 yards and the beast would yank the line back out.
Barteaux called out to his nephew, a summertime fishing guide at his family’s Indian Mountain Lodge: “Holy cow, this must be a 40-pounder!”
Finally, Barteaux saw colour on the lake’s surface. Briggs grabbed a net and the two men hoisted the animal onto the boat’s deck.
A glistening lake trout measuring 33.5 inches in girth and 46.5 inches in length from its nose to the fork of its tail, lay heavy and still at their feet.
“I had no idea a fish could be that big,” Barteaux said with a chuckle.
“It was just enormous.”
It’s rare that a trophy fish puts up such a lengthy battle, said Briggs.
“This one fought him like a demon the entire time,” he said.
The hulking fish maxed out Briggs’s Chatillon scale, which can weigh loads up to 55 lbs. Luckily, there’s a a formula for calculating the weight of fish within a two-ounce margin of error — no scale required.
Barteaux’s behemoth clocked in at 65.24 pounds, give or take a couple ounces.
The lake trout may be among the four or five biggest ever caught by rod and reel, said Briggs. He is awaiting confirmation on this from the International Game Fishing Association in Florida.
Briggs, a lawyer in Calgary, makes a handful of trips to the East Arm each summer.
Having cast line all over the world, Briggs ranks Great Slave Lake as “one of the absolute best freshwater fishing places I’ve ever found.”
“Admittedly, I’m biased,” he added, noting he grew up in Yellowknife.
The Northwest Territories tourism website pegs the average weight for alake trout at 10 to 40 lbs. Indian Mountain Lodge considers trout weighing upwards of 20 lbs “trophies.”
At his lodge, said Briggs, catching in the 30-pound range is common. Over 40 lb is rare.
In the lodge’s more than 40-year history, Briggs could recall just two fish that passed the 50-lb mark: a 52-lb lake trout caught four or five years ago and a 54-pounder nabbed in the1970’s.
Northern News Services reported a 62.4 lb lake trout caught by Chris Bromley in 2005.
“But at 65 (lbs), this just blows all the records away,” he said.
After taking its measurements and snapping a few photos, the pair released the speckled fish back into the lake.
“It was such a magnificent fish, I just felt it had to go back,” said Barteaux.
It took the trout a moment to regain its senses before it swam back down into the lake’s watery belly.
Words can’t do justice to the feeling that comes with making an epic catch, but Barteaux offered a couple that come close: “Shocked” and “elated.”
Briggs said the fish was the stuff of anglers’ dreams, but the chances of actually snagging such a hefty trout are “almost zero.”
“The fishing gods smiled on us that day,” he said.
The historic catch put a cherry on top of what had already been a lovely week visiting family in Northwest Territories, said Barteaux, who is six years retired from his job in federal corrections in Edmonton.
“It was a wonderful, wonderful week that I’ll never forget,” he said.
“Let alone catching a fish of lifetime.”