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Canoeing in the delta: Jak Lake, NT


A light breeze ruffles the surface as I head out for the evening.
Flying over the delta - so many lakes!

A calm, clear evening set the stage for my first evening paddle in the delta. A light breeze gently lapped the water against the shore, but was powerful enough to keep the bugs at rest. I grabbed the bow handle of the green Pelican and dragged it through the muddy, grassy tundra before sending it gently into the lake, loaded with my fly fishing gear and backpack.


Jak Lake touches the property where I'm staying in a cabin this week. One of thousands of lakes that make up the Mackenzie Delta, it is quite shallow, connected to the Mackenzie River by a small tributary. As I paddled directly into the breeze, I could faintly hear the odd humming of a vehicle on the Dempster Highway, which runs parallel to the waters edge just a few hundred meters away. A buffer of stunted black spruce and aspen encircled the lake, muffling the noise into the background.


My fly line was draped into the water behind me as I paddled along the 1.8km lake. I knew this would likely be a fruitless effort, as I suspected the main fish in this lake to be Northern Pike, Esox lucius, locally know as Jackfish. A "lie and wait" predator, I have never caught these fish trolling - my luck has only been sight casting into reedbeds and aggressively stripping a streamer past their line of sight. Even if I did hook into one this evening, I didn't think to bring steel leaders with me and their teeth could easily cut through my 15lb test. Still, I couldn't resist the temptation to have a line in the water.

Still water during the paddle back to the cabin.

Once I got to the end of the lake I pulled close to shore and could actually see a juvenile Pike between the rocks dotting the bottom of the lake. In the shallow water, I also spotted an old spoon lure laying a top the muddy bottom and after a few attempts to fish it up with my paddle, I decided to beach the canoe, strip down, and swim out to get my souvenir. The water was surprisingly warm and fresh, and I saved this spot in my memory as a pleasant swimming hole for a later time.


By the time I started to paddle back to the cabin, the lake had fallen as still as a pane of glass. The quietness was broken only by the song of a pair of loons and my paddle cutting the water's surface. I stayed close to the shore, as an attempt to identify some of the birds rushing amongst the shrubby vegetation, and decided to pull out my line that was already getting caught in the weeds. Content with no bites (from the bugs or the fish), I slowly made my way back to the cabin for another evening of tea and reading in the late night light.


In many ways this trip is a just a tease - eluding to and revealing so much more desired to be explored. I knew this would happen with just three short weeks to explore. I also have three more trips planned up in the coming two years, but that doesn't change the sense of longing I have to understand and see everything here.


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