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Canadian floatplane fishing adventureCanadian floatplane fishing adventure

Explore British Columbia, the Yukon, and the Northwest TerritoriesExplore British Columbia, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories

Many pilots dream of making the trip to Alaska, but let’s not forget neighboring Canada. If you love fishing and have an amphibious floatplane, we have the adventure of a lifetime for you! Beginning in the Flathead Valley of northwestern Montana and stretching 950 nautical miles to Canada’s Yukon Territory is a scenic valley known as the Rocky Mountain Trench. This trench is the most direct route to the Yukon. Along the way you’ll find places to camp, hike, and fish, as well as several luxurious fishing lodges. This trip requires careful planning, but you’ll see beauty others only dream of.

  • Chuck Jarecki and his Cessna 185 camped at Glacier Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada. Jarecki, a founding director of the Recreational Aviation Foundation, first flew to the Yukon in 1980, has explored western Canada most summers since then, and provided many of the details in this story. A trip up the Rocky Mountain Trench to the Yukon can be one of the greatest float plane trips you’ll ever make. Photo by Carmine Mobray, courtesy Chuck Jarecki.
  • Before you begin your trip, make lists of what you'll bring and calculate weight and balance carefully. Bring a GPS; current charts; current "Canadian Flight Supplement" and "Canadian Water Aerodrome Supplement"; satellite phone; satellite tracker; bear spray; 5-gallon fuel jugs with strainer and hose; lightweight layers of warm clothing; sunscreen; cap; lightweight gloves; mosquito repellent; fishing gear; and camping, fire starting, and emergency equipment. Fuel planning is critical; be sure you have enough for each leg to turn back if weather closes in ahead. AOPA has customs, regulatory, and eAPIS information on flight into Canada. Photo by Terry Parker, courtesy NWT Tourism.
  • Fortress Lake Retreat provides trophy brook trout anglers a full-service lodge accommodation. Fishing is done from the lake, and the lodge has boats, guides, canoes, and kayaks for use by guests. Photo courtesy FortressLake.com.
  • At Fortress Lake Retreat, catch and release is encouraged. BC fishing licenses can be purchased at the lodge; bring fishing gear. Photo courtesy FortressLake.com.
  • At Fortress Lake Retreat, meals are divine, wine is included with supper, and guests with special food requirements are cheerfully accommodated if notification is given at time of booking. The six guest cabins, which resemble yurts, are warm and inviting, with wood stoves, log beds, and plush bedding. Photo courtesy FortressLake.com.
  • Fortress Lake Retreat supplies boats, kayaks, and canoes you can use to go fishing or just explore the vivid blue-green lake, which is surrounded by steep, rugged mountains and glaciers. Photo courtesy FortressLake.com.
  • At Fortress Lake Retreat, hikers begin in the old-growth forest that surrounds the lake before climbing above the treeline for panoramic views. The lodge offers boat shuttles to trailheads around the lake, and radios for safe contact. Photo courtesy FortressLake.com.
  • A Google Earth screenshot shows the locations named in this article. Google Earth can help your trip planning by measuring distances, elevations, sizes of lakes, and more. Image courtesy Google.
  • Pelly Lake Wilderness Lodge is managed by Barry and Cherie Montgomery, who fly a Lake Buccaneer. Three rental cabins are not locked; it’s the honor system if no one is around (mail payment to their home address on website). Use the wood-fired hot tub and fishing boats but bring your own food. Photo by Barry Montgomery.
  • Kitchener Lake, at the headwaters of the Peace River, is surrounded by rugged mountains and offers excellent rainbow trout fishing. You may find a small rowboat you can use. You can also hike a quarter mile north of the cabin to the mouth of a small stream, and cast into the lake or even cast out from your beached floatplane in front of the cabin. You can hike to the alpine area, but there are no trails. Photo by Cameron Fraser.
  • Watson Lake (CYQH) is a “mandatory frequency” airport, so establish communications on 122.1 at least five miles out. Self-serve fuel is just west of the terminal, which is open 24/7 with wash rooms and a pilot’s lounge. A nice pilot’s campground is beside the lake. Watch the loons and bald eagles as they look for fish. From here you can fly west 200 nm to Whitehorse or fly about 100 nm northwest to McEvoy Lake and Inconnu Lodge. Photo by John Barco.
  • The Inconnu Lodge, on the north shore of McEvoy Lake, was constructed by Warren and Anita LaFave. A large dock and gravel beach sit in front of the lodge; a 2,800-ft. dirt airstrip is nearby. They welcome guests who fly in. The lodge has its own DeHavilland Beaver on floats as well as a Hughes 500 helicopter, both of which are piloted by Warren. Fuel is available; the price reflects the cost of flying it in. Photo courtesy Inconnu Lodge.
  • The northern lights glow above the Inconnu Lodge. Beautiful cedar cabins have private baths; the main lodge has a well-stocked bar, pool table and shuffleboard, lodge store, and dining room. Next to the lake shore is a hot tub and sauna. Meals are truly a gourmet delight. Breakfasts are cooked to order; dinners are four courses complete with wine. Photo courtesy Inconnu Lodge.
  • At Inconnu Lodge, activities include guided lake and stream fishing, drift boat fishing, canoeing, alpine heli-hiking or fishing, and flights to Nahanni National Park. Glacier Lake, shown here, is within the park and surrounded by the “Cirque of the Unclimbables” mountains. When hiking, look for moose, sheep, mountain goats, caribou, beavers, foxes, and 214 species of birds. From Inconnu Lodge, you can canoe for about 20 miles down a series of small lakes and streams. Or strap a canoe onto your plane and explore remote lakes; the lodge has fully equipped outpost cabins on two nearby lakes. Photo by Terry Parker, courtesy NWT Tourism.
  • Permit in hand, you can land on the South Nahanni River. The current is about five knots, so don’t lose your engine, because the docks are only about 3,000 feet upstream from the rapids above Virginia Falls, about twice the height of Niagara and 127 nm east-southeast of the Inconnu Lodge. You can hike to the bottom of the falls (allow a half-day) and then camp at the west end of Glacier Lake, about 60 nm from the falls. Photo by Hans Pfaff, courtesy NWT Tourism.

Fortress Lake, Hamber Provincial Park, British Columbia: 52*22’09’’N, 117*48’00”W

Stop in Cranbrook, British Columbia, for customs and then fly northwest up the Rocky Mountain Trench 115 nm to Golden for fuel at the self-service pump. From Golden, continue 74 nm up the Trench over McNaughton Lake to Wood Arm east of Mica Dam. Turn east and follow the Wood River about 30 nm. You’ll pass a mountain buttress on your right, and then Fortress Lake comes into view. Fortress Lake Retreat is mid-way down the lake's south shore (see photos for details on this fabulous lodge). On departure, fly back to the trench; it’s 120 nm to McBride for self-serve fuel. From there it’s another 120 nm northwest to Mackenzie, at the south end of Williston Lake, the last fuel stop for a while.

Pelly Lake, British Columbia: 56*51’28” N, 125*24’52”W

Departing Mackenzie, continue 114 nm up the Trench the length of Williston Lake to the Tsay Keh airstrip (CBN4), then turn west and fly 15 nm to Pelly Lake. Pelly Lake Wilderness Lodge sits near the northwest corner of the lake (see photo for details on accommodations). Fish for kokanee, rainbow trout, and bull trout, hike around the lake, or look for birds. Departing Pelly Lake, you can either retrace your route back to the Trench and then continue about 225 nm to Watson Lake, Yukon, or head northwest to Kitchener Lake and Cold Fish Lake, and then fuel at Dease Lake. Your next fuel is either at Watson Lake or Dease Lake.

This is your view as you fly to Fortress Lake. You’ll be flying at 6,000 feet msl, or higher and following the Wood River as it winds through ever-higher mountains that reach over 10,000 feet. Just when you think you’ll never find the lake in these rugged mountains, there it is. Photo courtesy FortressLake.com.

Kitchener Lake, Tatlatui Provincial Park, British Columbia: 57*02’40”N, 127*35’27”W

Kitchener Lake, 71 nm northwest of Pelly Lake, offers excellent rainbow trout fishing and off-trail hiking. A public cabin (see photo) sits near a gravel beach at the west end of the lake and is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Cold Fish Lake, Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Provincial Park, British Columbia: 57* 41’ 58” N, 128* 50’ 48”W

Cold Fish Lake is 56 nm northwest of Kitchener Lake, which has a dock and six roomy cabins at its northwest corner. On-site park personnel can provide detailed local information. From here you’ll fly 59 nm northwest to Dease Lake for fuel and then 125 nm to Watson Lake, Yukon (see photo for details on Watson Lake). From here you can fly west 200 nm to Whitehorse or about 100 nm northwest to Inconnu Lodge.

A fisherman holds a fine bull trout caught during a stay at Inconnu Lodge. Lake trout, Dolly Varden, arctic grayling, inconnu (sheefish), and northern pike also can be caught here. The lodge supplies high-quality rods, reels, lures, and flies at no charge; bring your own waders and buy your license at the lodge store. Photo courtesy Inconnu Lodge.

Inconnu Lodge, McEvoy Lake, Yukon: 61*48’30”N, 130*11’42”W

Inconnu Lodge, on the north shore of McEvoy Lake, is a luxurious fishing and outdoor activity destination. The lodge supplies excellent rods, reels, lures, and flies at no charge; bring waders and buy your license at the lodge store. Lake trout, Dolly Varden, arctic grayling, bull trout, inconnu (sheefish), and northern pike are all caught here. The adjacent dirt airstrip makes this lodge accessible for wheeled aircraft as well as floatplanes. See photos and the website for details on this incredible retreat.

Glacier Lake and Virginia Falls, Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories: 62*05’33”N, 127*35’02”W

A fitting climax to this trip lies just past the eastern Yukon border: Glacier Lake, one of Canada’s most spectacular floatplane destinations. Because the area is now inside Nahanni National Park Reserve, you’ll need a permit to land (free), plus pay visitor fees of $24.50 per person per day inside the park. Call the park office in Fort Simpson (867/695-7750). You can apply from home and then call again from Watson Lake, where you can receive your permit via fax. Or fly to Fort Simpson and get your permit in person. Have your permit include a landing above Virginia Falls on the South Nahanni River (see photo for details). Or have Inconnu Lodge fly you here; you’ll never forget it!

These adventurers have landed on a meadow inside Nahanni National Park, via the Hughes 500 helicopter owned and flown by Warren LaFave of the Inconnu Lodge. Behind them, near-vertical granite cliffs rise several thousand feet, forming what is known as the 'Cirque of the Unclimbables.'  Mountain climbers come here from all over the world to test their skills. Photo courtesy Inconnu Lodge.
Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as both the managing editor of Pilot Getaways magazine and editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: Canada, Seaplane

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