DULUTH, Minn. — Back in 2013, we wrote about Jerry and Steve Butchart’s fishing trip to Great Bear Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories. It was the third “once in a lifetime" trip to northern Canada for lake trout, and the father-son duo were amazed how good the fishing was.
Flash forward to summer 2019, and the Butcharts made their 10th straight annual trip to far northern Canada. This time it was Great Slave Lake, and this time the fishing was the best it’s been so far.
“We caught 309 lake trout in the week. Steve caught the two biggest, 40 and 43 pounds," said Jerry, of Duluth.
To put that into perspective, the largest lake trout ever caught in Minnesota was just over 43 pounds. (The current world record of 72 pounds was caught in Great Bear Lake, Canada, where even heavier fish have been caught in survey nets.)
Jerry Butchart is now 80 years old, but he still makes multiple fishing trips each year. This summer's Great Slave trip saw them participate in a fishing contest among clients at Plummer's Great Slave Lodge. The contest wasn’t for the biggest fish but for whoever caught the most lake trout over 20 pounds. Each boat had a guide and a camera with a time/date stamp on the images. The scale measured the fish while it was in the net, so most fish were never handled in the boat, and all were released.
Steve Butchart, of Hayward, Wis., took home the first-place prize of $2,500 for catching 14 lake trout over 20 pounds in three days. (That helped cover the $4,295 cost of a week at the lodge that picks you up in Yellowknife, N.W.T. Airfare from Thunder Bay, Ont., to Yellowknife will set you back another $700 or so.)
The father-son duo caught 35 lake trout over 20 pounds during the week.
“We had Steve’s two in the 40s, eight in the 30s and 25 more over 20 pounds … and I don’t know how many in the upper teens that look like they were 20 pounds but just missed it," Jerry said. “It was absolutely amazing fishing. The best trip we’ve had yet.”
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"We are constantly hunting for big fish, marking them on the graph and then fishing for those specific fish," Steve said. "We fish hard, all day."
Jerry said they favor Great Slave Lake for overall fishing action and the best chances of landing multiple lake trout at 30 pounds and up.
“Great Bear is the place if you are looking for that lone 50-pounder. But you won’t catch nearly as many as in Great Slave," Jerry told the Duluth News Tribune.
Great Bear "is for the elephant hunters," Steve added. "But the numbers of fish in the high 20s in Great Slave, at least where this lodge is, are unbelievable."
Jerry attributes the great fishing to the fact Plummer’s lodges are strictly catch-and-release for big fish. Anglers are prohibited from taking any fish home. Only a few small trout are kept for shore lunch meals.
‘“The fishing seems to be getting better every year," he said.
Steve said the duo started the far north trips when they were 40 and 70 years old, thinking it would be a one-year deal. Now they're 50 and 80.
"My goal is to be doing this at 60 and 90," Steve said. "I think Dad can make it. I hope I can."