Tree River Arctic Char

Tree River Arctic Char
Tree River Arctic char grow to super sizes—high teens and twenties. doublehaulproductions.com photo

Nunavut's Tree River

Tree River Arctic char grow to super sizes — high teens and twenties. doublehaulproductions.com photo



While char have proven to be highly adaptable, and populate remote and inhospitable waters, they grow to world-record proportions only under the right conditions. The International Game Fish Association all-tackle Arctic char record (32 pounds, 9 ounces) came from a place now synonymous with supersize char — the Tree River in Canada's Nunavut Territory.


The Tree River system is a relatively short stretch of water with a steep gradient. Its whitewater presents a fearsome journey for char returning to spawn or winter over in fresh water. Their journey terminates barely 6 miles from the salt water of Coronation Bay, at the impassable Third Falls.


Arctic summers are brief and intense. For char anglers, the end of runoff until the closing of the only camp on the river spans just six to eight weeks — usually from mid-July until the end of August.

You may take some consolation in the fact that long days provide around-the-clock fishing; but seasonally, opportunities remain short.


Theories on why the fish here consistently reach the high teens and twenties vary. Guide and biologist Craig Blackie speculates that one factor is the abundance of offshore capelin — a small fish of the smelt family — near the mouth of the Tree, providing these char with a significant food source and contributing to their growth.

The river itself offers another clue: With a gauntlet of Class IV and V rapids, the Tree, over time, genetically rewards the biggest and strongest fish, as smaller fish find it difficult to pass the rapids and find suitable spawning partners.

Their freshwater journey terminates at the river's Third Falls impasse. doublehaulproductions.com photo

Nature of a River

The nature of the Tree River creates a challenging fishery, one that calls for a variety of tactics. In the middle to lower sections, it has some long, gradual stretches with classic-looking runs where you can use traditional wet-fly swing tactics. In this water, getting deep with large patterns yields the best results.

Farther upstream, the river narrows and the gradient increases dramatically.

A series of rapids and small waterfalls create imposing obstacles for char as they leapfrog upriver, seeking shelter where they can.

This succession of miniature pools, small runs, bank deflections, rock ledges, and gravel bars also contains massive boulders that create giant holding pockets.

Approach these pockets the same way you would a small run. Cast to the far edge of the pocket — just inside the rapids on the other side — and mend and even high-stick to lift the line off the currents for a smooth, deep swing through the run.

In the upper river, the fish sometimes rest in shallow water away from the relentless current. Scout these places carefully. It is possible to spot the char and sight-fish to them.

Controlling swing speed and mastering your fly depth are crucial on the Tree. Bring a variety of sinking-tip lines (10- to 15-foot interchangeable tips, or spools with various integrated heads) from intermediate to fast-sinking. Change sinking-tips and vary your line mends to get down to the right depth. In situations where the water is clear, smaller patterns catch more fish. With less clarity, use larger patterns.

In the upper river, the fish sometimes rest in shallow water, away from the relentless mid-river current. doublehaulproductions.com photo

On large remote rivers like the Tree, you face all kinds of conditions and water levels, so come prepared. In the upper river, use 8- or 9-weights. Longer single-handed rods allow you to mend and easily manipulate the presentation. This is critical when fishing midstream boulder pockets.

Spey rods (7- and 8-weights), are also effective because they make it easy to mend and manipulate line. They make it easier to throw longer and heavier sinking-tip lines and bigger flies, and open up places where there isn't room for backcasts.

Char take traditional Spey flies, Zonkers, Bunny Leeches, and even sculpin imitations, as well as many other flies. We prefer #2/0 to #6 white, pink and purple, and olive patterns.

The Tree River is a special destination. Its remoteness, short season, and limited access keep it pristine and protect this incredible fishery's record-size char. Should you have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to fish it, be prepared to constantly review your tactics and adapt to the variety of water types.

A thoughtful approach to finding places where fish hold, and then adjusting your presentation accordingly, reaps the most rewards.

Getting there. Plummer's Tree River tent camp has served for years as an outpost fly-in destination for guests staying at the larger Great Bear Lake Lodge, about 90 minutes away by float plane. You can either fish the Tree as an overnight, two-day fly-out from Great Bear Lake Lodge, or inquire about a rustic, one-week fly-fishing package exclusively at the Tree. A seven-night stay at Great Bear Lake Lodge is US$4,995. Add $750 for an additional overnight stay on the Tree River.

Chris Seipio, and filmmaking partners Andrew Eddy and Dave Imbach, filmed their time on the Tree River as part of a unreleased DVD project. See doublehaulproductions.com for more photos and video from the Tree.

David Deis Graphic

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

Recommended for You

American Rivers today released its annual list of America's Most Endangered Rivers, identifying ten rivers facing imminent threats. News

2019 Most Endangered Rivers

Fly Fisherman - April 16, 2019

American Rivers today released its annual list of America's Most Endangered Rivers,...

Chip's Monster Magic. Designed in Saskatchewan's pike paradise - works anywhere. Fly Tying

Fly Tying Chip's Monster Magic Fly

Dwayne 'Chip' Cromarty - January 15, 2016

Chip's Monster Magic. Designed in Saskatchewan's pike paradise - works anywhere.

The Kamikaze Sculpin is easy to tie, versatile, and smartly designed to get the job done. Fly Tying

Tying the Kamikaze Sculpin

Charlie Craven

The Kamikaze Sculpin is easy to tie, versatile, and smartly designed to get the job done.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Black Beauty

Black Beauty

Master fly tier Charlie Craven discuss the tools and materials needed to tie the Black Beauty.

 Getting Started In Fly Fishing

Getting Started In Fly Fishing

Getting Started In Fly Fishing

Casting Backhand in Tight Quarters

Casting Backhand in Tight Quarters

A backhand cast is when you use your backcast to deliver the fly.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

George Daniels offers his advice on which types of fly-fishing leaders are best for the most common applications you'll encounter on the water. How-To

Picking the Perfect Fly-Fishing Leader

George Daniel - January 22, 2018

George Daniels offers his advice on which types of fly-fishing leaders are best for the most...

Golden riches in Wyoming's high-country heaven of the Wind River Range. United States

Wind River Range Wyoming

Greg Thomas - July 27, 2015

Golden riches in Wyoming's high-country heaven of the Wind River Range.

As you explore your home water, keep in mind what they are are eating to select the best carp flies! Flies

The 15 Best Carp Flies

Jay Zimmerman - September 27, 2016

As you explore your home water, keep in mind what they are are eating to select the best carp...

See More Stories

More Worldwide

On my knees in the grass, it was impossible for me to actually see the trout. Ed Halson had a much Worldwide

New Zealand Fly Fishing: Lord of the Rings

Ross Purnell, Editor - October 06, 2014

On my knees in the grass, it was impossible for me to actually see the trout. Ed Halson had a...

Learn what the mystical waters of Iceland have to offer in Worldwide

Fly Fishing Iceland

Ross Purnell, Editor - August 22, 2016

Learn what the mystical waters of Iceland have to offer in "Fly Fishing Iceland."

The Lehigh River has the potential to be one of the East's greatest trout fisheries and is gradually becoming a regional destination. Worldwide

Fly-Fishing the Lehigh River

Mike Stanislaw & Nicholas Raftas - January 30, 2018

The Lehigh River has the potential to be one of the East's greatest trout fisheries and is...

See More Worldwide

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×