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Into the Wilderness of Grizzly Creek by Don H. Meredith © 2011
(first published in the March 2011 Alberta Outdoorsmen)

upper Smith River

If there had been any doubt that we were in true wilderness, it was dismissed when guide Dave O'Farrell placed his 12 gauge shotgun in his boat. "Did you bring your bear spray, Don?" he asked as we stepped into our boats off the lodge dock. "Yes," I said, showing him the bottle hanging off my belt. "Good," he said, "when we get to the trailhead, you take the rear. We shouldn't have any problem but we should be prepared."

It was the morning of the second full day of our trip to Skanse's Grizzly Creek Lodge in the southeast corner of the Yukon. We were about to embark on a short boat trip up lower Toobally Lake to a trailhead on the east shore. There we would start a 45 minute hike up to beautiful Jack's Lake teeming with monster northern pike. We did not see any bears, black or grizzly, but the possibility of doing so sharpened the senses and made us aware that our day was not completely under our or our guides’ control. We had come here to experience the Yukon wilderness, and the presence of bears was part of that experience.

Immersion in the Yukon wilderness is part of the package when you visit Skanse's Grizzly Creek Lodge, about 145 km northeast of Watson Lake. Yes, the lodge provides great fishing experiences but always in the context of Yukon wilderness lore and hospitality.

Grizzly Creek LodgeThe trip began for my wife Betty and me after the Outdoor Writers of Canada conference in Whitehorse this last June. As part of a conference contest, we won the trip to Grizzly Creek along with Ontario writers Peter Brewster and Grant Hopkins. The four of us dutifully appeared at the float plane dock on Watson Lake at the appointed day and hour, not really sure what awaited us 45 minutes away. Soon pilot Bill Seeley of Northern Rocky Air had us packed into his single-engine Beaver and taxied onto the lake. Within minutes we were flying over a vast expanse of seemingly uncharted wilderness not cut by a single road, cutline, pipeline or power line. It was an impressive sight of striking mountains, dark green forests, wild cascading rivers, and numerous clear blue lakes.

Cabin at Grizzly CreekGrizzly Creek Lodge is located on Toobally Lakes at the headwaters of the Smith River, a tributary of the Liard River. The lodge actually has two locations: one on each of the lower and upper lakes. We landed at the main lodge on lower Toobally Lake. Lodge managers David and Reggie O’Farrell and their son James and daughter Katie welcomed us at the dock and escorted us to our log cabins.

The cabins are more than comfortable, each outfitted with a wood-burning stove and fridge. A separate outhouse and a log, spa-like, shower house provides more than the comforts of home. Excellent meals are provided at the main lodge, which includes a very comfortable sitting area, including rustic log furnishings, where tales are told and legends maintained.

Dining room at Grizzly CreekOf course, the telling of wilderness tales and legends would not be complete without stories about bears, and this lodge was no exception. Several dogs are employed at the lodge to warn of approaching bruins; and one, a Karelian Bear Dog ensures that no bear becomes a problem. Also, lodge staff keep all areas clean and tidy. As a result, we did not see a bear, but we were made well aware that they are considerations that should not be taken lightly.

After we settled in, we all met in the main lodge where we began our wilderness immersion. The family's knowledge and passion for the Yukon wilderness and its lore is extensive. Dave has guided hunters in British Columbia and the Yukon since the mid-1980s. Today, the family guides hunters in the fall, runs two trap lines in winter and guides anglers at Grizzly Creek in the summer. Dave and Reggie have been managing Grizzly Creek since 1991 when they were hired by owners Doug and Carol Skanse of Minnesota.

Don with respectable lakerThe lodge is well placed for some amazing fishing and wilderness adventures. The first day we fished the lower lake for lake trout, catching some respectable fish in the 10 to 20 pound range. As at other northern lodges, catch-and-release is lodge policy and hooks must be barbless to facilitate quick release. Most fish are released in the water, but the larger ones can be carefully held for photographs. As I have stated in previous articles, catch-and-release in these northern waters only makes sense if these lodges are to retain the excellent fishing opportunities they provide. Only a minimal harvest can be sustained; and to that end, we did retain some smaller fish for a shore lunch and dinner.

After lunch we headed down the Smith River that exits the south end of the lower lake. At the river entrance we surprised three moose browsing on underwater plants in the shallows. Further down the river we found arctic grayling rising to flies over gravel beds in the meandering water. It was time to break out the light fly-fishing tackle and James recommended we use elk-hair caddis flies. We spent a pleasant afternoon wearing out several flies catch-and-releasing some very eager fish.

Dave with trophy pikeThe next day found us on that trail to Jack's Lake. Although you can catch some very fine northern pike in the two main lakes, Jack's Lake has an isolated population of some real "gators." Boats and motors were waiting for us on our arrival and we were soon on some very pleasant water indeed. While Peter and Grant fished with James using streamers, Betty and I fished with Dave using spoons. Soon we were all hooked up with some very nice pike that put up quite a battle.

Part of the seven-day package at Grizzly Creek is a trip to the upper Toobally Lake via boat along the Smith River. You pack gear for a three-day stay and then fish for grayling on the way. The river is as picturesque as a northern river can be, with many meanders and deep clear holes teeming with grayling. Betty observed that this trip, swinging around corners and surprising many moose, was better than any she had experienced on river or bayou.

Prize Arctic GraylingThe upper lodge has all the amenities of the lower one. The guest cabins are identical as is the log shower house with hot water. Fishing was good with several lake trout caught, and our guides cooked a delicious dinner of fresh caught trout, grayling and pike. On the last day Betty and I took a boat to the southwest corner of the lake and encountered a pair of trumpeter swans escorting a brood of cygnets on the lake. We were careful not to harass them.

On our return to the lower lake we spent some quality time fishing for grayling in the upper Smith River. We found some deep holes where the water was so clear you could see lunker grayling coming up like shot arrows from the deep. It was some of the best fly fishing I have done in a long time, and topped off an exceptional wilderness experience in the Yukon.
(In my April 29th blog, I show a sequence of photos about how the above grayling was caught, as well as a photo of the swans.)

Quality of experience is what Skanse's Grizzly Creek Lodge is all about. The lodge only hosts a maximum of four guests a week. This ensures you are not treated like a number but a true guest. For more information, check out Grizzly Creek Lodge.


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Check-out Don's adventure novels:

Grizzly One
The Search
for Grizzly One
Dog Runner
Dog Runner